Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Summer's Gift: Cankles

I love summer. In joyous anticipation, I recently unpacked from winter storage my sandals, cropped pants, sun dresses, summer hats, and canvas and straw handbags. But as I sat amid the pretty piles of clothing, my heart sank.

Nothing, dear readers, will ruin a cute outfit faster than CANKLES.

What is a cankle, you might ask? A cankle is not a pearly-pink seashell you found at the beach. A cankle is the unfortunate illusion that the calf and ankle are joined at the top of the foot. No indent. Thick ick.

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But wait. Add your special time of the month, and it can get much, much worse.

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What has been seen cannot be unseen, right?

It seems after I turned 40, my ankles began to puff up every summer, and the puff has gotten worse over time. Not wanting to embark on yet another summer as the Michelin Man, I raised the issue with my doctor, who shrugged, measured my ankles, and tested various things to rule anything sinister out, like high blood pressure. Thankfully, that was not the case.

Still, I hated how the spare inner tube sat on top of my feet and detracted from my favorite summer shoes. My legs would look normal all winter and at the start of each summer morning, but by midday, my feet looked like water balloons. So I did some research, and learned I had been unwittingly contributing to the flubber.

Cankles can be genetic if you store fat in your lower regions, but if your ankles are as finely turned as a piano leg in winter, only to bloat up at the first sign of hot weather, during hormonal fluctuations, or after a salty meal, rejoice because there is something you can do about it.

  • Shed fat. If you are carrying excess body fat, chances are you will see cankles at one point or another. Note that you don't have to be overweight to have an excess in body fat. As some of become more sedentary with age, we can lose up to a half pound of muscle each year. Muscle at rest burns more calories than other tissue, so as that precious lean body mass diminishes but our weight stays the same, what do you think replaces that muscle? You guessed it: fat.
  • Exercise. Long periods of inactivity (like 8+ hours at a desk job and commute) can cause fluids to settle in our extremities, so a brisk walk or run will get your blood pumping and help flush out the fluids. But there is a downside. Post run you can end up with temporary cankles and/or sausage fingers from gravity. As you become more fit and burn off some fat, these side effects will begin to abate.

    Besides heart-pumping aerobic activity, don't underestimate the importance of anaerobic exercise. You can help create a more defined calf by increasing your lean body mass. Lack of muscle in your lower legs can cause the appearance of cankles, but to the rescue comes one excellent, targeted exercise: Calf raises can be done anywhere and will give your lower legs a beautiful shape. Here's a short video, but you don't need a gym. You can do these on the edge your stairs, where the bannister can help with balance:

  • Stay hydrated. Many of us are unaware when we become dehydrated; by the time you feel thirst you are actually beyond needing hydration. Not surprisingly, when our bodies sense a lack of hydration, they hang onto fluids, which—you guessed it—can cause temporary bloating. So drink lots of water to restore balance. The common recommendation of 6-8 eight-ounce glasses is a good starting point. If you get daily vigorous exercise or it's especially hot out, you need more.

    Drink water until your urine is clear. In the beginning, as you consume more, you will make frequent trips to the bathroom (like every 15 minutes!) but the bladder adjusts, and you will soon find that on days when you don't consume what you've gotten used to, you will feel the lack. I make drinking water easy by carrying around an insulated Klean Kanteen bottle. There's something about drinking cold water from a stainless vessel that reminds me of my early years hiking with my dad, and how wonderful that sweet water tasted at the top of a mountain.

    Another thing to keep in mind is when we think we are hungry, we are often thirsty, so staying well hydrated can help us maintain a healthy body weight. 
  • Elevate your feet. Get your legs up over your heart to drain those fluids. You don't have to do inverted yoga poses; your cankles can benefit from simply sleeping with your feet propped up on a wedge and sitting at home with your legs on an ottoman that's a couple inches higher than the seat of your chair. Nothing, however, will stop gravity during the day, so you may be stuck with puffy ankles by 3PM. Though you might be tempted to throw your legs up on your desk, be prepared for significant looks from colleagues or your manager who witness you typing between your crotch with your ankles propped up on either side of the monitor.
  • Clean up your diet. A couple things in our diets can contribute to bloat, especially during warm weather:
    • Booze. Yes, red wine is good for you, but too much of any alcohol can cause abdominal and extremity bloating because alcohol is a diuretic, and diuretics can cause us to become dehydrated. As mentioned above, the body's reaction to dehydration is to retain fluids. As for what is "too much," some of us (me!) are more sensitive than others, where too much is a daily glass of wine. I now keep my wine drinking to a minimum, which saves more money for shoes and new plants for the garden, anyway.

      A good rule of thumb is to drink a full 8 ounces of water for each alcoholic beverage you consume. The tomato juice with your vodka doesn't count. :)

    • Salt. The government's guideline is for adults to consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day, which equates to around one teaspoon of table salt. Many of us get at least twice that, and excess salt causes water retention.

      I was surprised to learn that this area was my primary downfall, and when I cleaned up the sodium, cankles went away. I assumed I had been taking in very little salt because I add only a judicious sprinkling of sea salt here and there, but I never really thought about the sodium content in some of the prepared foods I was consuming—like 120 mg in my beloved keffir. Who puts salt in yogurt?? Another salty sneak is cheese: A typical 1/2-cup scoop of supposed diet-friendly lowfat cottage cheese had twice as much sodium at 360 mg as a 1-ounce serving of regular potato chips (not that anyone eats 1 ounce of potato chips—or am I just projecting?).

      Most breakfast bagels contain around 450 mg of sodium, and "heart-healthy" cereals between 225-350 mg, and that's if you restrain yourself to the recommended 2/3 cup serving. I'd guess that many of us pour more into our bowls than that.

      What surprised me most, and perhaps should not have, is that one ounce of fat-free cheddar cheese has more than twice the sodium (450 mg) than it's full-fat counterpart (175 mg). I guess they have to add flavor back somehow. Note that one ounce of fat-free cheese comprises a full third of the daily sodium allowance.

      Don't go crazy and cut all salt, though. We need some to maintain important electrolyte balance. The smartest thing is to avoid pre-packaged foods in favor of whole, natural foods and use just a little sea salt for flavoring, and when you cut back. cut back slowly. The taste buds do adjust.
  • Hormonal fluctuations. Nothing says, "I bloat you" like that time of the month. Some women gain a full 7-10 pounds of water weight each month, and others are hardly bothered at all. Try flushing it out with plenty of water and if that doesn't work, have a cup of dandelion tea—but not before a road trip!
If storing fat in your lower legs is genetic, short of liposuction, you'll just have to live with cankles. Embrace your everyday beauty and show off features you love, like your excellent collar bones or slim arms. Wear a killer necklace or a beautiful scarf and a brilliant smile and be glad you carry your fat below the waist, which has been medically proven to be more healthy.

16 comments:

  1. I am one of those I bloat you girls for sure. I get so bloated at that time of the month, and that time of the month is now a surprise as I never know when it's going to happen. I'm lucky though I don't swell in my legs or feet, not even when I was pregnant. I always felt to sorry for my friends who couldn't wear their shoes when they were pregnant.

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    1. So you get belly bloat? Once I stopped taking oral contraceptives, I never knew when TOM was going to occur because I didn't get cramps. I also never noticed much pre-TOM bloating, but on Day 1, I'd spend a lot of time peeing, so I guess I was retaining water somewhere besides my ankles, which didn't deflate much. I started tracking my temps (axillary) to monitor my thyroid and it also proved to be a pretty good indicator for TOM, like within 24 hours.

      I have not been pregnant, but there have been times when my feet looked like they were carrying twins.

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  2. Some great tips, thank you. I've found that constantly sipping on water and reducing my salt intake has made my ankles and other areas with bloating much leaner.
    x

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    1. Thanks, Victoria. The water/salt combo has also been working well for me. for the first time in the last couple years, I am really looking forward to crops and sandals! It gets too hot to be completely covered up.

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  3. Poor you, by the way those pictures cankles aren't funny but I am so sorry for laughing at those.

    I have the opposite of cankles, I have chicken legs-thin bony ones.

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    1. It's OK O, I laughed, too. I am certain the cankle bracelets web site is a joke. At least I hope so! Luckily I have never had it quite that bad.

      Mr. Petals has chicken calves, too. He's a runner/mountaineer. In my best shape, me strong like bull.

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  4. Hi Zuzu, ack, now I'm scared of the day when cankles may become a part of my life. However, I do feel a bit more prepared having read this. It's good to know that they are something that can be dealt with. It's awesome that you were able to narrow down the cause to salt!

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    1. Thankfully, yes! And don't think cankles are your fate. My mother never got them, so I also blame the excess weight I've been carrying the last 10 years. :P

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  5. * BooBooNinja slowly pulls her seasoning-stained fingers away from the family sized bag of potato chips *

    I'm fortunate that I don't have to deal with cankles, but the anti-bloating/water-retention tips are helpful. I'm taking away a lot from this post. Thanks. :)

    ps Is it crazy of me that I've taken to clicking on the "About me and FAQ" tab to find out if you've given any hints about when you might have your Blog Sale? It's gotta be a FAQ! Well... it is for me. :P

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    1. Ahhhhh. Yes, people have been asking, and I feel like such a bad person for having pre-announced it, as I had originally intended to hold it in March. I have so much product to get rid of, and right now it's all boxed by brand. I was completely unprepared for the tens of hours it would take to prepare. Cleaning, arranging, waiting for good light to photograph, resizing images, uploading, describing ... and then there's making sure 1) I have the supplies needed (toner, labels, mailing envelopes/boxes, bubble wrap) and 2) the time! My last blog sale completely consumed all waking hours of a full four days!

      It will be so worth it to have this stuff to go a happier home, but I have to be realistic and admit the sale will likely occur some time in June or July. Not only do I have two back-to-back deadlines pushed against long-overdue gardening (this morning, one of my neglected rhododendrons waddled over to the neighbor's yard to live), my company is moving in early June. Insanity. I have never been so busy in my life.

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  6. This is an excellent post, and very timely too :-) Thank you!!

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  7. What a timely post! Sometimes it is good to be reminded of the things we already know. LOL @ significant looks from colleagues & your manager if you opt to throw your legs up on your desk! What a mental image that was first thing this morning! Must admit I'm with BooBoo Ninja in quietly stalking to see if you've announced your blog sale or not. : )

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    1. Honestly, I feel like just having a giant piñata party! Could you imagine all those bottoms-up a-scurrying? ;)

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  8. Zuzu, Cankles have been the bane of my existence since I was in grade school, and I wasn't really fat then. Even though my weight has fluctuated most of my life, the cankles have been my constant companions, nasty things. Having short legs to begin with (I'm 5'1 on a good day) hasn't helped. Le sigh....there could be worse things to have as constant companions.

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    1. Isis, so true! Plus, for people who are short like us (my inseam is barely 30 inches), crops are not our friend because they make our legs look even shorter! Long, comfy linen pants with a wide bottom are excellent options, but sometimes even that just seems so ... covered!

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