Tag Archives: discipline

The fast way to self-improvement

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Well, I did it again, and this time I won! I have 95% successfully completed my second water fast. I didn’t journal the first one but this time around I thought it would be interesting to track how my body responded.

As before, I jumped into this after several weeks of thinking about getting prepared to think seriously about doing it. Tuesday night I was dinking around on Facebook and I popped in to see what was happening on Aussa’s new group page, and she’d just posted her weekly challenge to set a goal and grab it by the … pearl necklace and make it behave.

Fat orangutan

Just like this. But with jeans. And my belly button is still an innie. (Source)

I was not in my happy place. It was nearly midnight, which meant I had once again failed to get to bed early enough to bounce out of bed, all full of get-up-and-go, before sunrise. (Here in the gloomy north the sun doesn’t rise until nearly 7.30 at this time of the year, but I’m pretty pathetic when it comes to sleep. I fight it like a bitch, but I need a lot of zzzzzs.) I’d been in full binge mode (aka compulsive pleasure-free eating) for nearly a week, and I felt squeezed by my XXXL jeans despite having undone both button and zipper,  and was also regretting the ice cream I’d engulfed earlier that evening in the hope that a sugar hit would keep me awake long enough to manage the half hour drive home from the vet. (It didn’t. I had to pull over for a snooze less than 10 miles from home.)

In other words, my life was once again out of control at its most fundamental level. So, of course, I sneered and hated myself and kept scrolling to read about the extraordinary successes racked up by my fellow Aussa bitches … and then my fingers took over my brain, and by the time they’d done dancing around on the keyboard I had scrolled back and announced my intention to do a full water fast, starting immediately. Then I logged off and went to bed, quickly, before I was compelled to eat something.

I started each day with two green tea capsules (for energy) and a splash of raw apple cider vinegar in water (for gut health). We’re blessed with delicious water – our well draws from an aquifer nearly 600 ft down below a thick layer of rock. During the day I drank tap water whenever I felt thirsty. I slept longer and more deeply than usual, and woke feeling refreshed. I didn’t do any extra exercise, and as the fast progressed I moved more slowly and rested more often, responding to the needs of my body.

Ask Google “What happens to my body when I fast?” if you want to invite a barrage of conflicting information, ranging from “Your muscles will shrivel up and you will diiiieeee!” to “You will directly experience Nirvana and your whole life will change forever!” The interweb is host to hordes of experts, both self-proclaimed and accredited, and it can get confusing, so choosing your guru is pretty much an act of faith. As with any faith, the smart way to go is to study what the guru says, check in with opposing views to maintain your balance, remember that if anything sounds too good to be true it probably (but not definitely) is, and over time evaluate what they say based on your personal experience.

My guru of choice is Dr. Jason Fung. He’s flavor of the month and also way too young and pretty – definite red flags – but on consideration, for now at any rate, I’m willing to hop on his wagon and see where it takes me.

Day 1 – Tuesday

I didn’t start to feel hungry until quite late in the day, and several hours before I felt hungry I was aware of other benefits – dramatically reduced inflammatory pain in my muscles and joints, no brain fog, and a happier, more relaxed mood. I was moderately active (by my low standards) and became tired shortly after dark.

According to Fung, during the first day of my fast my insulin levels dropped and my body accessed its glycogen stores to release glucose for energy. The human body keeps a 24-hour glycogen reserve mainly in the liver and skeletal muscles. That stored in the liver is available wherever energy is needed (and apparently most of it goes to the brain! For some reason I find that reassuring.) As I understand it, the glycogen stored in muscle tissue used by the muscles, not readily released to the rest of the body.

As the day progressed without any more carbs going in, my basal metabolic rate fell as my body sought to cut back on energy expenditure. Most of the pro-fasting literature I’ve read says your metabolic rate rises again after a few days of fasting, to above your normal level, but I didn’t get to experience that. Maybe next time, when I go for longer…

Day 2 – Wednesday

Woke early feeling clear-headed and energetic, but after I got up I quickly ran out of energy. No hunger pangs as such, but I was aware that my body wanted fuel. My head felt tight, as though it was thinking about having an ache, but in fact I didn’t experience any headache during this fast.

I spent the day being gentle with myself, resting often, but still writing and doing my regular chores. By the afternoon I was ravenous and stupid, and by evening I was still hungry, tired, irritable and floppy all over. I was also constantly thirsty, despite drinking lots of water.

101 dalmations

For some reason I cooked dinner for the male members of the household – my signature spaghetti bolognese. I don’t ever cook without tasting (I learned that the hard way – but that’s a story for another day) so I had maybe a teaspoonful of bolognese sauce and one strand of spaghetti … and then, after gritting my teeth and not eating with the men I couldn’t resist the redolence. I ate four, I mean five, okay SIX teaspoons of bolognese sauce. It was almost unbearably delicious. My stomach had pretty much given up on me by then and was hiding in a corner grumbling sadly to itself, so it was a little startled when that lot came walloping down my gullet. But the discomfort passed quickly and the relief was great!

Mind you, I was pissed at myself. I felt I’d let myself down, and was tempted to call myself a loser and just quit. But it was only meat, not carbs, and totaled well under 100 calories, so I decided to declare the fast unbroken and keep going. (Full disclosure: I ate a few teaspoons of bolognese sauce again the next night – I was just so hungry, and it was there. But that’s the only food I consumed for the 84 hours I fasted, so I feel … not good, but okay about it. Next time I’ll do better.)

To know what was happening with my body, I turned again to Dr. Fung. After 24 hours my body had depleted its store of glycogen, which activated other processes to generate energy.

  • My liver kicked into gluconeogenesis, creating glucose from amino acids.
  • In a parallel process (and I’m not going to pretend I understand yet how they are connected) it launched into autophagy, which essentially involves cannibalizing junk proteins, also to generate energy. If you want scholarly literature on the subject, Google has plenty; for those who want a greatly simplified explanation in layman’s terms, go here.
  • Meanwhile, the hunger pangs kept coming and going because of a hormone called ghrelin – and the interesting thing about that is that ghrelin will switch itself off after a couple hours if you ignore it, even if you don’t eat. Knowing that hunger won’t last makes it a lot easier to resist!

The most important of these processes, as far as I’m concerned, is autophagy. This is relatively easy to trigger – unlike ketosis, which takes longer and can be harder to sustain. All you have to do is not eat for 24-48 hours. Unfortunately I didn’t get the full benefit of it, because eating even a small amount of protein switches it off. I wish I’d known that … It might have made it possible to resist the bolognese…

Day 3 – Thursday

I’ve read about how, after fasting for a few days, your body kicks into higher energy mode. The theory is that its initial response to a lack of food is to reduce your rate of energy consumption (aka “starvation mode”), so your metabolism slows and you feel tired and sleepy. But if there’s still nothing on the menu after a couple days your body goes “Woah! Gotta fix this!” and you experience a surge in energy, as well as much greater clarity of thought – because you have to get out there and chase something down and kill it.”

I was kinda hoping to feel that way by Thursday, but … nope. I woke hungry and was tired and draggy all day. My brain was clear but I was so fumble-tongued I might as well have been catatonic, for all I could communicate. During the afternoon I went out into the garden with Peter Pan to discuss vegetable matters, and – being too floppy to pick up my feet properly – I tripped over a squash vine and went down like a dropped two-by-four. And once down … well, I lay there for a while on the cool dirt, thinking about how nice it would be simply to stay there. Getting vertical again took way more effort than seemed worthwhile!

Anyway, Dr. Fung says you go into ketosis after two to three days of fasting, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t happen for me this time. I’ve always struggled to achieve and maintain ketosis, even when eating super low-carb and high fat. I’m not diabetic but maybe I’m somewhat insulin-resistant; I need to learn more about it and figure out how to change.

Day 4 – Friday

I went into this fast not sure how long I’d stay with it, but determined to last longer than I did last time. About halfway in a friend called and invited me for tea, so I put her off until Friday afternoon and set my goal at noon Friday – giving me 84 hours of fasting, or 12 hours more than last time. And I made it! In fact, I think if I hadn’t had the tea date I could even have lasted longer. By Friday morning the hunger pangs were less and my head was clear and alert, although I was still physically quite weak.

This time, I broke my fast gradually. At noon I had a cup of hot, salty bone broth. About a half hour later I had a small fruit yogurt with heaped spoonful of crushed pecans, which kept me going an hour and a half. Then I had a cheddar and tomato sandwich – just one slice, not my usual two. Tea was more indulgent – I chowed down on crackers with whipped cream cheese and pepper jelly and found room for lemon cake, but after that I didn’t want dinner. In fact, I didn’t eat again until after noon on Saturday.

Since then I’ve been ramping up my food consumption, which is annoying – why this relentless compulsion to eat? Still … I do seem still to want smaller quantities, and I seem to be going longer between meals, and I don’t have quite the same desire for sugar … so I guess I’ve gained some ground.

I found, while fasting, that my mood improved greatly. Since going back onto sugar I’ve been more irritable and short-tempered. The burning, aching inflammatory pain in my joints and muscles stopped entirely and still hasn’t come back – although it will if I’m not careful. I slept very deeply while fasting, and when I started eating again I immediately fell back into my night owl habits, reinforced by insomnia. My jeans were looser, but they’re getting tight again.

Now what?

The main takeaway seems to be that very fat people are more likely to survive the initial weeks of the Zombie Apocalypse because, provided we have access to water, we’ll be able to hide away and live off our fat stores for a good long while – and when the hunger pangs don’t bite we’ll even have a jolly old time of it, because our brains will be sharp enough to joke, sing and tell stories.

UnexpectedParty

We’ll find a cozy hole and party like Hobbits. (Original illustration by David Wenzel)

But over the longer term the outlook for VFPs isn’t so good, unless our hiding place also includes some weights and an exercise bicycle.

I’m convinced that the reason I didn’t experience the energy surge I expected is that I’m starting off at a frighteningly low level of fitness. It’s unrealistic to think you can go from being someone who can just about maybe almost chase down one chicken in a very small pen without having a heart attack (and actually the last time I tried to do that I eventually had to call in reinforcements in the form of Peter Pan), to being capable of chasing down a wildebeest, merely by not eating.

This is going to take some thought. And planning. And work. And a whole lot less ice cream.

I’ll think about it … tomorrow.

Tomorrow is another day (2)

 

Let’s talk. Have you ever tried fasting? What kind of fast, and what was your goal? What was your main takeaway from the experience?

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The promise

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This evening I sat down to write an inspiring but wildly funny post about My Flab And New Strategies For Getting Rid Of It.

This was an important post, because it came at the end of a day of assiduous consumption of everything in the kitchen that didn’t up and run away. I’ve become quite good at the housewife thing just lately, so my kitchen is almost completely clear of things with legs. In other words, not a lot escaped my ravenous maw.

It made me feel miserable.

I pondered the words in my last post, about wanting to “honor” my friend’s memory, and be a better person as inspired by her, and I mocked myself. Words like fat frumpy failure of femininishness came to mind.

The post I wrote was all very funny, of course, ha ha ha, not at all miserable, and then I tried to access a site that I wanted to link to the post and my computer had a fit, and by the time it regained consciousness the entire post was gone. It was one of those rambling exercises in free association that is completely impossible to replicate.

There was only one thing to do, and I did it. I drove the four miles to our nearest convenience store and bought ice cream. In a few minutes, I will take my ice cream and my book and climb into bed and call this miserable day DONE.

But first … there’s something I need to do. I hope it doesn’t make you feel used.

I need to make a promise. The promise is being made to myself, no one else, but I feel a need to make it public. I will probably regret posting this tomorrow, but I hope I will have the courage to leave it up anyway.

My promise is this: from tomorrow, I will begin to introduce new discipline into the way I nurture my body. I will nourish it with food that helps it work well. I will take it for walks as often as I can – I hope daily. And I will put it to bed in time to let it have the rest it needs. Most importantly, I will learn to stop hating, despising and resenting it.

With companions like these, and a place like this to go walking, how can I not learn to love "exercise"?

With companions like these, and such a place right nearby to go walking, how can I not learn to love “exercise”?

I will do this in honor of my friend, who started running to fight cancer and stood her ground for 26 years; who rose before dawn every morning until weeks before she died because time was too precious to waste; and who regarded each day as a gift.

But just to be clear, I’m not doing this for her. I’m doing it for me. She’s my inspiration, but I am my own and sufficient reason.

And I’ll be checking in with you on my progress as I go along, in particular sharing lessons that you might find useful. I hope you’ll stick with me and share your own stories. A change this radical isn’t going to be easy, and it would be good to know I’m not making it alone.

Anybody out there with me?

The discipline of trust

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Two weeks ago I visited my friend for the last time.

Yesterday at the church her son gave me the woven shawl she would use when she rested on the couch in her living room. I used to love how soft it felt when I sat at the end of the couch with the shawl over my lap while I massaged her poor, swollen feet, back when her liver began to fail. Now she doesn’t need it any more, and I can wrap it around myself like a hug any time I want to.

I asked for something to remember her by. When he gave me this, my heart broke. Then I came home and wrapped it around me, and was comforted.

I asked for something to remember her by. When he gave me this, my heart broke. Then I came home and wrapped it around me, and was comforted.

We didn’t get to talk the last time I visited her. She was uncomfortable but she couldn’t speak above a whisper, just a few slurred words at a time, so I didn’t know what to do for her. I retreated to the big easy chair she kept in her bedroom and let the Hospice aide tend to her. The aide was kind and competent, but my friend wanted pain medication and the aide wouldn’t (couldn’t?) give it to her.

“You have to wait until 4.30,” she said, again and again, in response to my friend’s broken, insistent whispers. (It was then two o’clock.) The aide went away and called Hospice then came back and said it again. While she was out of the room I sat beside my friend, stroking her hand, bereft of words – because what are words for if not to advise, encourage or inform? I could do nothing but sit beside her and stare at the drawer of her bedside table, inside which she had 15 or 20 bottles of pills. She knew which ones she wanted but I did not, and even if I’d had the courage to give them to her I could not understand her.

In movies, drugs for dying patients are kept on the far side of the room, out of their reach. I have always thought that was wickedly cruel. If I were dying and in pain, I have thought, I would want to have my medications right next to me, and if I wished to take an extra one or two – and so speed the process – that should be my right.

My friend’s pills were right within her reach, but she was too weak to get them out of the drawer, too tired and confused to read the labels, and much too feeble to open the cap on the pill bottle. I did not know it was possible to be that weak.

I do not know how it is possible to be that strong. I understand now that even then, when her need was great, if she had been able to take an extra pill and so end her struggle she would not have done so. Years ago, long before I met her, she entrusted her life into God’s hands, and she left it there. Something I have learned about God is, when you hand Him your life, He doesn’t lift it out of reach. You can take it back any time you choose – and choosing not to can be an act of extraordinary discipline. My friend was the most disciplined person I have ever known.

At last she wearied of arguing with the aide. I could see she needed to sleep, and I had errands to run and nothing to offer her anyway. “I have to go,” I told her, “but I’ll pray for you first.” It was just a little prayer – there was nothing to ask for but rest, freedom from pain, and for her to go home, home, home – “Please,” I whispered, “Let her come home!”  And she sighed relief as the lines of tension in her face eased, and it seemed to me that she relaxed into her Father’s arms.

But it was a whole hard week before He finally took her home, and during that time she didn’t want visitors. It was painful to be shut out, reminded daily that I could do nothing for her. But thinking back now I’m grateful that memory is the last one I have of her. I’m thankful that in that little prayer I did after all have something, however fleeting, to give her.

We said goodbye to her yesterday, in a service she planned to the last detail just before Thanksgiving. The first hymn said pretty much everything important about who she was and how she lived, right up to her last breath.

More people came to the service than I expected. She was the kind of person one always pictured standing alone – not aloof or lonely, but serenely self-contained. I knew, of course, that she was active in volunteer work, and that she deeply loved her family and spent as much time as she could with them. But until a few weeks before she died, when I was with her it was always just the two of us, and during those times she was so completely present that it never occurred to me that anyone that calm could possess the time or energy to have so many other friendships that ran as deep. But my friend never wasted her energy or her time, and so she had precisely as much as she needed for what mattered to her.

It was beautiful but humbling, yesterday, to realize that she had also been completely present within the lives of many other people. As they spoke about her I learned things – ordinary facts about her and her history and thoughts she had shared in conversations with others – and I was amazed by the complex, rich beauty of her life and personality. I had thought I knew her well; I know she didn’t hold back in the conversations we shared – and yet there was so much more to know than I had ever imagined. In a way, she was like her shawl. I always thought it was purple, and it was only after I brought it home that I noticed all the other colors in the weave.

And now it is the day after her memorial, and she really and truly is gone from my life, and it is time to move on. Except…

Except I find myself still wanting to honor her. Knowing her and losing her has changed me, and I find myself wanting to live that change, to give it breath. A month ago, watching her quietly yield up the elements of her life, I thought she was showing me how to die, but I see now that she has taught me far more important things about how to live.

Day 10 – I quit

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What I want more than anything else right now is to achieve self-discipline. Quitting might seem an odd way to begin focusing on that goal, but a key aspect of self-discipline, as opposed to imposed discipline, is that it should be meaningful.

For me, daily blogging is not meaningful. It’s a dead bore – largely because I’m so darn fixated on thinking about something to write about that will justify hitting the publish button, that I don’t have time to think or do anything that’s actually worth writing about. Enough! Henceforth, I will aim to write a little every day, but to post only weekly, on Wednesdays.

Mainly, though, I want to begin establishing some other disciplines, or habits. And this is a challenge, because although being up and moving is easier and less painful, it’s still hard. My energy levels are still frustratingly low; I really thought they’d be better by now, but although my head is generally clearer and I have periods of reasonable energy, I get tired quickly. I guess that’s to be expected when you’re carrying around a whole extra person.

Anyway… I’ve made a list of stuff I need to do every day. Mostly it’s housework and a few outside chores. There’s some desk work, including writing and income generation, so that when I need to sit down I can do so without wasting time. And there are some activities I do just for joy’s sake, like training Argos.

Little by little, I am reconstructing my life, incorporating a richness than I’ve not been able to allow myself for … far too long.

With the Daniel diet I’m getting my body into shape. No of course I haven’t quit the diet – do you think I’m nuts? It’s no fun and I’m pretty sick of it, but I’ve survived the first 25%; just one month to go and I can adopt a less restrictive approach to eating. I’ll be controlling my diet for the rest of my life, of course, but it won’t always have to be this stringent.

Anyway … the body is coming right. Now I want to expand beyond my skin and pay a little more attention to my immediate environment.

At the back of my mind is the knowledge that I’m still neglecting the most important task, which is to focus on the spiritual … but I’m just not ready to do that right now. It’s too easy to start out praying and end up navel-gazing. So I’m just trusting in God to wait for me for a little longer.

That’s all for now, folks. Thanks for staying with me!

Your turn. Are you happy with the shape of your life right now? What techniques help you live to the full each day? Read the rest of this entry

There’s a hole in my bucket

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I’ve been pondering mortality quite a lot lately. The remorseless, inescapable advance of that final deadline.

I don’t mind dying so much. Sometimes I’ve even wish I could just get on and be done with it – turn my back on disappointment, loss, failure … get out of the way of those who might make better use of the space I take up. This whole business of being human … I just don’t seem to be very good at it.

But the thought of dying without having fully lived … now that bites. When I was a teenager I wrote a poem … I don’t remember how it went (it’s tucked away in a brown plastic file with all my other juvenile outpourings, I have no idea where) but I clearly remember how I felt when writing it. We were living in a little old house in a suburb outside Johannesburg, and my parents spent their days slaving away at rebuilding that house into their dream home, while also establishing their own business from home. They were busy and stressed, and they bickered constantly. And I looked at their lives, and shuddered at their boring middle-classness, and wrote something that began “I shall never fall to this / The final degradation”.

And … kyk hoe lyk sy nou.

So I’ve been sort of flailing about, in between moments of pondering, which themselves are interspersed with long periods of staring into space, in between tunneling through books like an express train, and somewhere in the course of all this I stumbled upon David Cain‘s blogs about bucket lists.

old wooden well

I have always LOVED making lists. You can spend hours sorting them and organizing them and updating them. Sometimes you even get to cross things off them, although usually, having been written and organized and color-coded, the list is then filed away and forgotten. BUT you get to feel really good about having made it. It feels almost as good as actually doing something.

Anyway, I decided to make a bucket list. For the past week, the only item actually on the bucket list was “Write a bucket list”. This morning I quit pondering and wrote down the rest of it. And frankly I’m perturbed.

It is so very short. And so largely mundane. What happened to the girl who wanted to go everywhere, know something about everything, have adventures, take on the world, and never get tied down? I could make the list longer, of course, just by adding a whole lot of cool stuff. But I while I was writing it, I was asking myself, “When I’m dying, will I care whether or not I achieved this? And do I actually believe I CAN achieve it?”

Well, it appears that I’ve morphed into someone who really and truly would rather get caught up on filing than walk the streets of Samarkand.

I need to know … is this what it means to “grow up”? Or to give up?