Tag Archives: metabolism

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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Kicking into ketosis

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Right … so … this ketogenic diet/lifestyle thing? It works, but it’s also complicated. It’s not the Magic Thin Pill. Woe and alackaday, it demands thought and effort and more thought and analysis and then some thinking. And every now and then, despite one’s best efforts, one hears the Siren Song of the Carbs, which goes: “Eat me … yumyumyum … ee-ee-eat meee … yumyumyum.”

xx

Sirens are hard to ignore – just ask Ulysses. Warned that the sound of their singing would cause him to jump overboard and drown himself in a vat of chocolate sauce, he instructed his minions to tie him to the mast of his ship so he could hear the sirens without being overwhelmed by an Undesirable Urge. (Nowadays we have pills for that.) He could do this because he wasn’t responsible for any actual rowing. So this is the first big difference between me and Ulysses: I don’t have minions. I  have to push my shopping cart unaided, so if I take it into my head to wander down the candy aisle or past the baked goods, not making an unattractive spectacle of myself is pretty much all up to me. (Sometimes Himself is along, but we live in a conservative community; I suspect the folk at Costco would look askance if he tied me to the shopping cart. Blame 50 Shades of Grey for their icky assumptions.) So anyway, to get back to my point, Ulysses chose bondage as his path to enlightenment. His minions blocked their ears so that they wouldn’t hear the sirens, while vigorous rowing gave them a helpful outlet for any other testosterone-fueled impulses. Ulysses, lacking both protective headgear and a distraction, went completely nuts. I can feel for him; while not greatly affected by the nubile deliciousness of naked girls – legless or otherwise – I would definitely have to roll my eyes heavenward if sung at by, say, a scoop or six of creamy vanilla ice cream topped with strawberries.

In other words, February has been a challenge. The thing about the ketogenic lifestyle is that when you’re in the groove, you really do feel good. You have more energy, deeper and more restful sleep, fewer aches and pains, improved mood, clearer mental processes, no cravings or attacks of the munchies. Chomp down on that brownie, however, and the desire for carbs will grab hold of you faster than you can say “Please sir, can I have some more” – and the process of getting back in the keto groove is a real bear: tiredness, brain fog, flu-like symptoms, physical weakness, headaches, depression. I have spent this whole miserable February learning and relearning that my body is not going to cut me any slack at all – but, if I grit my teeth through the change-over from carbs to fat as my source of energy, and if I don’t make stupid choices regarding brownies and their ilk, I do in fact feel pretty darn good. (I know I’ve mentioned this before. It’s important that you understand, dear reader, that deep down I can’t quite shake the belief that you’re actually a figment of my imagination, and so a lot of the time I’m writing these blatherings to myself. I need these reminders!)

I’ve been wandering the web for the past several months, reading up about ketosis, ketones and ketogenic eating, high fat, low fat, the sneakiness of carbs, and just how important is exercise. The volume of conflicting information and opinions, and the gazillion “experts” trying to scare you into buying their products and programs, threatened to overwhelm. I needed a guru, and eventually settled on Jimmy Moore – specifically his book Keto Clarity. I picked Moore because he’s connected with a huge and varied team of experts in his field, he writes from the perspective of personal experience, and he doesn’t push a one-size-fits-all approach. . Rather, he offers practical advice on how to figure out what will work for your unique body.Plus, he never once asked for my credit card information

As a person whose body has been damaged by years of poor nutrition, minimal movement, much stress and regular sugar overload, I know it will likely take me four or six weeks to shift fully into nutritional ketosis. Meanwhile I teeter between feeling fabulous and feeling ghastly, and those excess bloody pounds just won’t let go. My solution is to adopt as extreme an approach as I can, focusing primarily on ingestion – I’ll add exercise later, as I’m able. The one caveat is, I will not get tangled up in a whole lot of numbers. I know what I weigh, and I’ll hop on the scale at random intervals to see what that number is doing – but there will be no awkward fumbling about with tape measures, or keeping food diaries, or filling in charts. (Yep, that’s me – ever the rebel!)

So, now for some practical information. My immediate goal is to get into nutritional ketosis, in an effort to get my body to work more efficiently, generate more energy, and burn fat. I want to tell you what I’m doing to get there – starting, today, with the food.

  • It’s all about quality – and that doesn’t have to be expensive. If you choose this as a lifestyle you’re not going to spend money on junk food, and once your body adjusts you’ll find you eat less by choice – so get the good stuff. We’re fortunate to raise our own eggs and beef, and I have the strongest of veggie garden aspirations for this summer. I’ve also identified local sources of pasture-raised pork and chickens. You can do this too! You may not be able to raise your own, but invest in a freezer, find local small farmers, and buy directly from them! It’s important to avoid meat that’s full of hormones, antibiotics and other volume-pumping chemicals because much of that garbage is stored in the fat, and this is a high-fat diet – you want those fatty cuts of meat, and it’s better for you if they’re clean.
  • NO CALORIE COUNTING! This is all about choosing the right kinds of food, eating as much as you need to be satisfied, and eating only when hungry. I have found that as I adapt to eating this way, I just don’t get hungry that often. Typically I’ll eat breakfast by mid-morning, and my next meal between mid-afternoon and evening. I may snack around lunchtime and bedtime. but more and more I’m just not hungry more than twice a day.
  • I’m keeping those carbohydrates as low as I can – as close as possible to zero, and definitely below 20 grams per day, calculated as total carbs, not net carbs. This means no sugar and no starch.  (Yes, hello, fruit contains sugar! An apple a day keeps the ketones at bay!) You’ll find detailed food lists all over the web; here’s one and here’s another. Usually I just google “how many carbs in food-type-whatever”. Gotta love technology! Mostly I eat dark leafy greens – I’m learning to love the texture and flavor of veggies like kale, collard greens and chard. The dark green indicates a high content of certain essential nutrients, and their carb content is minimal.
  • There are conflicting, often complicated theories out there regarding how much protein you should eat. If you consume more protein than your body needs, it will convert to sugar, and your body will use it before burning fat. On the other hand, protein contains essential amino acids, so you absolutely must eat enough for your needs. I try to eat around 30 grams at a time, usually twice a day. That’s a four-egg omelet for breakfast with a sprinkling of cheese, or 3 oz meat, or … again, detailed lists are all over the internet. Just google “Protein content of whatever”. An important factor defining how much protein you need is your activity level. Mine is slug-like, so I’ll be monitoring my progress, and I may cut back on my daily protein intake until I’m able to start exercising intensely if that seems the way to go.

This one-hour lecture will tell you pretty much everything you need to know about the role of protein in your diet.

  • I am continually bumping up my fat intake and monitoring how it affects me. Yes, this is counter-intuitive and a bit scary, but everything I read from serious keto writers reiterates that you have to eat dietary fat to burn body fat. A typical lunchtime snack, if I happen to be hungry or planning a later dinner, will be celery sticks or slices of salami, loaded with cream cheese. My breakfast omelet often contains a whole avocado. I dollop sour cream and butter onto anything that will carry it; I choose fatty cuts of meat, munch down on bacon, and save bacon fat to use for cooking. I also cook with coconut oil, and I sprinkle olive oil or mayonnaise generously onto salads. One of the many benefits of fat is feeling fuller for longer; I don’t often drink milk because it contains sugar, but a full-cream latte will stave off hunger pangs much more effectively than a cookie.
  • I try to drink lots of water. Initial weight loss on this diet is largely water, and you have to keep replacing it if you don’t want to become exhausted. When I forget to drink, I get tired and spacey. Some people find that caffeine triggers sugar cravings but it doesn’t have that effect on me – but mostly I choose water because I find it hydrates me more effectively than other liquids, and that makes me feel good. (It helps that the water from our well is just about the best I’ve ever tasted anywhere!)

Friends, I’m feeling pretty excited about this! Yes, it’s been tough to get even to this point, and I’m looking forward to continued improvements in my moods and energy levels – and weight loss, of course! Most people apparently see their poundage drop immediately, but that’s not been my experience. I’m hanging in, however, and continuing to tweak the way I eat as I figure out what works for me.

In future posts I’ll cover various other issues, including the short-term and long-term effects of nutritional ketosis, how to ensure that you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs, and exercise. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – your personal experience, concerns, questions, and – I hope – words of encouragement. So chip in! (Just not chocolate chips, okay? Okay!)

Uuugghhhhh!

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I am halfway through at least half a dozen posts … and I just can’t finish them. I have zero energy, I’m not eating much but feel bloated and exhausted, and my weight has been stuck for several weeks. Ugh ugh ugh!

I stayed with the Daniel diet until Day 36. By that point my weight had gone down 25 lbs, then crawled back up 5 lbs for no discernible reason, and there it stuck for about 10 days. I just got sick of it! So I switched to Phase 2 – Eating Like A Thin Person – a few days early. And that’s been kinda going okay, in that I have little desire to eat much or often and few serious cravings. However, I am still inclined to stuff down more than I actually need if the food is particularly yummy and it’s a social occasion and I’m hungry. And regardless of how much I eat, I feel completely disgusting and entirely disinclined to get on a scale.

Today I realized that I’d been sitting on the couch for hours. I mean, HOURS. I would read for a while, then come to the end of a chapter and think to myself, “Okay, get up and do this, this and this,” and then sit and stare into space, and then drift back into another chapter.

People in old age homes do this. I am 56. It’s ridiculous!

So I googled “ways to increase metabolism”, and here is the list.

  • Green tea. Opinions vary regarding whether it’s best to take the tea or the supplements, but since I have the Green Tea Fat Burner supplements from Costco, I’m going to start with those. (They contain caffeine, which is also recommended in limited quantities, and I’m pleased it’s in the capsules since I rarely drink coffee or soda.) I think they made a difference in the past, but stopped taking all supplements (apart from thyroid tabs and a greatly reduced dose of Fluoxetine) when I started the Daniel diet.
  • Fish oil. Hate the fish-breath the Costco capsules give me … but hate staring into space more.
  • At least three veg and two fruit servings per day. I ate plenty of both while on the Daniel diet, but have cut way back recently, mainly because food preparation demands effort and I don’t have the energy. I am just going to have to battle through this one.
  • Protein. Apparently digesting protein burns up more calories than digesting carbs. Argh … cooking … sigh.
  • Spice it up. Capsicum and other spicy foods burn energy. Well, I guess if I’m cooking anyway… sigh some more.
  • Exercise – both aerobic and muscle-burning. I was doing the 5BX exercises until I had a sciatica flare-up … but lately I’ve barely moved. Poor Argos is feeling the lack of serious training time. So … okay. As of tomorrow, I will set my alarm to go off every hour on the hour, and when it does I will get up and move for 15 minutes. Maybe clean house, maybe work with Argos, maybe do yardwork, maybe lift weights.
  • Frequent snacking. UGH. I am not hungry! Except when I am, and then I want a LOT. Oh well … I’m just going to have to force down five (small) meals a day, because apparently that also keeps the metabolism chugging along better than fewer meals of whatever size.
  • Drink more water. And it should be iced, because warming it up burns calories. I’ve been pretty good about a daily 2-3 liters, but I’m going to push it up to 4 liters per day. I Am Woman – Hear Me Slosh!
  • Sleep. This has been the worst. A side effect of spending hours every day sitting on my butt staring into space / at a book / at my computer monitor has been that I don’t want to go to bed, and when I do I tend to read until way past midnight. And then I sleep late, and wake up exhausted. Woe and alackaday!

Yeah, I know this is an uninspired post on a boring topic – who wants to read about someone else’s flab woes, after all? But for some reason writing it here helps me, and since this is, after all, my blog, that will have to do.

I will post something more entertaining on Wednesday. In the meantime, here’s a picture of my beautiful boy. How could I not love walkies with such a companion?

Argos

Argos