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Day 6 – healthy, fit, strong, and in-shape: not the same thing

Posted in about, fitness with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 5, 2012 by healthordeath

I wrote on my day 1 post that I am a fitness nut, and I meant the nut part quite literally. Who else would willingly sign up to run the Tough Mudder 10 mile obstacle course – with water events – in late Fall? (proof coming)

Fitness became one of my passions around the time I entered the third decade of my life, when I saw – much as I do now – two roads: die slowly from poor health and weakness, or take control of my life and get better. I took to watching what I ate and started exercising, though at first I had no real idea what I was doing. I more of ate what everyone tells you is healthy food, I started running 2 miles a day, and I went to the gym and used every machine I saw. It worked, for the most part, and I lost around 60 pounds while building muscle. I wasn’t trim, though, because I was limited in my healthy eating by being stuck on a college campus. I was strong.

The problem came when my “progress” slowed. A lot of people get to their target weight and still end up unhappy in part, I think, because us scale junkies get addicted to seeing that number go down. I know I was, and in my case I went off the deep end. I progressively increased my exercise volume and decreased my food intake. When that didn’t work, I figured it must be what I’m eating (which was partly true) and started obsessing over food. I checked labels neurotically, I put stuff into and out of my cart more than once, and took forever to shop. I have taken an hour to buy peanut butter.

I hit a wall when I was trying to bike 30 miles every couple of days and lift weights daily and attend intense martial arts classes 2-3 times a week. I tried to fuel this with a couple of pieces of bread with peanut butter, a banana, and a homemade protein bar. I felt like death every night but, surprisingly, I also had trouble sleeping. I knew I needed to eat more, but I could not make myself do it. I did, however, lean out to single digit body fat. I was in-shape.

My solution to this was an accidental revelation. One night, out of a strong desire to not feel like death I cracked open the liquor drawer and poured myself a strong beverage. Within minutes, the strangest thing happened: I wanted to eat! With my inhibitions suppressed, I could slam down all the calories I needed, then sleep off the buzz. And this is how I fueled my fad workouts for a while. I did P90X; I did Insanity; I did them together (with weight-training too); I bought into kettlebells; I practiced yoga. I was fit.

Unsurprisingly, that lifestyle was unsustainable, and I have crashed hard. What gives me hope is that I no longer have the problem that caused me to start drinking regularly. As it turns out, when you cut out processed junk, eat when you are hungry, focus on nutrient dense foods, and learn not to fear fat, the body does a pretty good job of aligning how much you want to eat with how much you need to eat. I’m also over being a scale junky and a calorie counter (I am convinced that calories in/calories out is bunk, but more on that later). My only obstacle between me and health is my addiction.

Day 2 – I am not my condition, and neither are you

Posted in about, musings with tags , , , , , , , on February 1, 2012 by healthordeath

As I mentioned in my first post, I am an alcoholic, and while that term is what I am, it is not who I am. I see myself as a person with an illness, something that I need to fix. Traditionally, they say that alcoholism is for life – that you never really recover – and that you will fight it for the rest of your life.

I don’t accept that.

If I resign myself to that mantra, I may as well go drink myself to death right now because I will be accepting that I am going to fight myself every day.  I don’t want to live like that. I was thinking about this today and it seems more and more like people with conditions are routinely told that all they can do is cope and take medications.

Diabetic? No hope there, just take insulin. Never mind changing your diet, there is no way you are going to get better.

MS? None here. Take these pills as you slowly degenerate, since you can’t fix this one either.

Ulcerative Colitis? Just treat the symptoms with steroids. Don’t bother fixing the underlying problem.

Fibromyalgia? Celiac? How many other conditions are really “permanent”? While alcoholism is different from these conditions, I still have to think that if I can treat the underlying reason I drank that the term “recovered alcoholic” may someday be what I am. As for that underlying reason, thats a topic I’ll have to unpack.

Day 1 – a clear path to a shrouded destination

Posted in about, goals with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2012 by healthordeath

As the opening post of this blog, I want to explain who I am and why I have started a blog.

I am a male alcoholic in his mid-20s who has done substantial damage to my body from drinking. It has gone far enough that my liver function is impacted, and I may not recover. Aside from that, I am a fitness nut, videogame lover, and food enthusiast. My purpose in starting this blog is multifaceted. First and foremost, I want to log my recovery or decline – hence the title of the blog – by posting daily logs of what is happening to me and how I am coping. I hope that this will be cathartic and keep me honest about staying off the alcohol. Additionally, I would love to have someone else take something useful away from my musings. Finally, if a liver transplant becomes my only option, you must show that you can go at least 60 days sans alcohol to get on the transplant list.

In order to get healthy, I have outlined the following three component recovery plan:

PART 1: Nutrition. No one can get healthy if they eat a poor diet. As a scientist I am drawn to a diet based on evolutionary history, biology, and science. In light of this, I plan on following a real food, anti-inflammatory diet with the following adjustments.

Exclusions and Limitations:

  • No grains, whole or otherwise. Grains are filled with compounds that are minor toxins, called phytates, as well as compounds that bind to certain micronutrients and keep them from being absorbed, called lectins. Since I am basically injured and trying to recover, I need all the micros I can get. Grains also contain gluten, which has been shown to cause all kinds of gut issues. I have enough of that already.
  • Heavily reduced legume consumption. All legumes must also be cooked at a very high heat and preferably fermented. These foods also contain lectins that require heat and/or pressure to break down.
  • No sugar. Insulin is the hormone that regulates blood glucose and its deposition into fat tissue, muscles, and the liver. Eating sugar causes an insulin spike that will result in a high workload for the liver. I really don’t want that. This rule includes table sugar, raw sugar, syrups, molasses, honey, and agave nectar – which actually has more fructose than high fructose corn syrup.
  • Heavily reduced nut consumption. Nuts, while good sources of micronutrients, also contain phytates and lectins. This makes them less than optimal sources of nutrients. Additionally, most nuts contain high quantities of omega-6 polyunsaturated fats that oxidize at the heat that would be required to break down lectins. Oxidized fats cause damage, and are therefore out. I do include peanuts here rather than with legumes because peanuts are more nutritionally similar to nuts.
  • No unhealthy oils and fats. This includes safflower oil, canola oil, corn oil, vegetable oil, soybean oil, peanut oil, and any other seed oil. All of these oils are chock full of polyunsaturated fats and require incredibly high heat and pressure to extract, making these oils essentially oxidized and rancid on the shelves.

Inclusions:

  • All the vegetables I feel like eating. As a general guide, I will try to get as many colors in as I can, and I will include both raw and cooked preparations. Some nutrients are better absorbed from raw foods and others from cooked food, so mixing it up makes sense.
  • Plenty of protein. As the building blocks of just about everything in the body, getting plenty of protein is necessary for recovery. Since I also exercise, I will need protein to repair muscles. This means eating plenty of meat, since meat is the most easily digested source of protein. For the fat profiles of various meats I tend to favor animals in this order: Ruminants and Fish, Pork, Duck and Turkey, then Chicken.
  • Cholesterol. Cholesterol is not only the building block of all hormones, but is present in every cell membrane as a necessary regulator of cell permeability. This means eating plenty of eggs and organ meats. As a bonus, both of these foods are also rich in nutrients.
  • Post workout starchy vegetables and/or fruit. While I want to minimize insulin spikes, after large workouts it is vital to replenish the body’s glycogen stores. I plan to use sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin, and the like rather than insulin spiking sugar.
  • Modest dairy intake. I abstain from pasteurized milk, but I do well on a modest diet of fermented or raw dairy. Cheese, buttermilk, and kefir are my favorites.
  • Healthy fats. Since I will only be ingesting mild carbohydrates, I will necessarily have to get a lot of my calories from fats. My primary fats will be olive oil, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, avocados (and avocado oil), and some lard. I will also consume plenty of fish to help balance the omega 3.

Finally, even though I have gained significant weight and would like to get lean again, I will not be practicing any calorie restriction when I eat. My body is damaged and in need of repair, and the last thing I need to do is pseudo-starve it. I can always get in shape again after I get healthy.

PART 2: Fitness. Fitness is an integral part of health with a slew of benefits. People who are fit tend to heal better, get sick less often, be happier, and more. While exercise is taxing on the body – depleting glycogen, releasing the stress hormone cortisol, etc. – occasional stress spikes are actually beneficial. What I can do is exercise in a way to minimize the negative effects and maximize the positive effects. I will, therefore, do the following:

  • Lift heavy weights in the gym 2-4 times a week. I will focus on compound movements like deadlifts, squats, and cleans as well as things like the benchpress, weighted pull-ups, and weighted dips.
  • Light cardio twice a week. Long distance running is one of the more stressful ways to get cardio. Luckily, I enjoy martial arts and hiking. I may also bike to work if the weather permits.
  • Sprinting 1-2 times a week. Sprinting has been shown to improve cardiovascular strength just as well as long distance running/biking/etc., but takes less time and is less stressful over time.
  • Yoga and fun activities when I feel like it. I’m a fan of vinyasa yoga for strength and flexibility, and I’m always looking for fun ways to just start moving.
  • Sleep until I’m well rested. We do a ton when we sleep. It is involved in hormone regulation, mental health, and body repair (important for me). Countless studies have shown that sleep just plain does a body good.

PART 3: Belief. I’m not actually religious, but I completely understand the need for it. Everyone needs something to believe in or life will be empty and seem pointless. Some people believe in religion and get their purpose, while others find a cause and dedicate themselves. My belief and my faith will be in myself. I have to believe that I can get healthy and take control, or I will fail to thrive. I have had issues with this in the past, so I have vowed to do the following:

  • I will not count calories. It leads me to be neurotic about food.
  • I will not step on the scale. I have obsessed over this number before and have a hard time grasping the concept that lower is not always better.
  • I will commit more to my hobbies. Being active leads to a better mindset, while drinking and watching youtube videos until you pass out is depressing.
  • I will sleep until I am well rested. See above.

So that is the plan. From here on out I will post something every day for at least 60 days. Posts will obviously vary in size depending on what I am talking about and how much I have to say about it. I will not be posting sob stories looking for sympathy, and I’m not fishing for pity; I got myself here, and I want to log a detailed account of my journey either to health, or death. I may not always be a font of ideas on what to write, and will probably neglect something that someone finds interesting. So feel free to email me at fsman87@gmail.com with questions, suggestions, or stories. Just make sure that if you want to remain anonymous to let me know.