Archive for health

Day 7 – food as more than fuel part 2

Posted in food with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2012 by healthordeath

I asserted earlier one reason to care about food beyond just being something to abate hunger and keep moving is that we are built out of what we eat. This is pretty obvious, but I feel it is often forgotten when people gravitate towards convenience foods – I know I didn’t think about it back in the day. Today I want to talk about something else that food can be beyond something to keep you going: food as therapy.

Not This

While I’m sure that this conjured up images of downing tubs of ice cream while watching bad romance movies or perhaps the force feeding of nasty canned chicken noodle soup to feverish kids, that isn’t quite what I mean. I mean that since diet can directly affect how we feel, perhaps we should be looking at diet when diagnosing the source of our day-to-day problems. Maybe the solution to your mid afternoon crashing is to eat more for lunch or to eat more nutrient dense foods – snacking on those 100 calorie faux-foods doesn’t help anyone. Maybe you feel bloated every night because dinner is one of those aforementioned nasty canned soups and the salt content is causing water retention.

It’s not a far stretch from things that happen everyday. Diabetics do best eating low carbohydrate diets, and people with high blood pressure are told to manage sodium intake. Gout sufferers are guided away from organ meats and, more recently, sugary drinks. People with bad cholesterol can take any number of measures to improve their HDL/LDL levels, though it usually doesn’t involve limiting dietary cholesterol.

Is it really a stretch to imagine that this also applies to small, daily ailments as well , then? If you resign yourself to a breakfast wrap to go, boxed mac and cheese, or a sandwich in a can, you may never know.

This makes me die a little inside. The one on the right is a canned BBQ CHICKEN SANDWICH. These are marketed on the website as healthy.

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 5 – the little things

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on February 4, 2012 by healthordeath

Another mostly check-in post. Next one, though, is gonna be a big one on how I got here and the crazy, stupid things I did.

For now, I want to go ahead and list some of the small stuff that should have set off alarms that something was going wrong.

  1. I lost my cold tolerance. I have always had an incredible tolerance to the cold. As a kid, I could walk around in the snow with shorts and a T-shirt. When I started feeling the cold like a normal person, I convinced myself that it was fat loss… five pounds isn’t that dramatic.
  2. My veins became more visible (probably contributed to #1), which I blamed on the exercise.
  3. My blood pressure dropped. Again I blamed exercise.
  4. While not bloodshot, my eyes became more sensitive to irritation.
  5. My ability to fight infection got worse.
  6. I had to exercise in the morning or I put on stomach fat. I think this is probably because I had full liver glycogen and breakfast was always carb heavy (a bad idea anyway).
  7. In line with #6, when I did put on fat it was always in the stomach – this is called visceral fat and is deposited by the liver when you have excess glycogen.
  8. Cuts and bruises took longer to heal.
  9. My nails became more brittle.
  10. My normal booze snobbery disappeared. I moved progressively from top shelf to middle shelf to bottom shelf, and I started doing less cocktails at home and more plain old drinks.

So if you are an habitual or heavy drinker and start to notice these things, take some advice and cut back (or even just take a break).

Day 4 – food as more than fuel

Posted in food with tags , , , , , , on February 3, 2012 by healthordeath

Mostly a check-in post here. This is a topic I will likely be revisiting several times.

The physical withdrawal symptoms are setting in. The scariest was during my workout when my legs decided to start shaking mid-set of a clean and press. Unfortunately, this is likely just the first of many such incidences, and I expect it to get worse before it gets better. Luckily for me, the great thing about a big workout is the post-workout meal. Tonight, it was two of my favorite foods: bacon-wrapped shrimp and sweet potato (with a cocoa cinnamon sauce). It got me thinking about food.

Far too often these days I see people who don’t care about food. While I certainly don’t expect everyone to be a foodie or amateur chef, we are, quite literally, what we shovel down our gullets. With the relatively recent rise in a large number of diseases (obesity, diabetes, celiac, autoimmune, etc.), I can’t help but wonder if this is correlated at all with the availability of convenience foods. When I say convenience foods, I am not just talking about the obvious donuts-from-a-gas-station or fast food items that everyone agrees are bad for you, I am also talking about the lean cuisines, canned soups, deli meats, super market breads, and any “healthy” substitution food.


A couple decades ago this stuff didn’t exist. Families had to cook their meals, and sitting down to dinner meant eating food that someone took time and care to prepare. This is, as I said above, a topic I’ll delve into more later, but for now I encourage everyone to take a step back from their prepackaged whatever and cook something real.

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.


  • 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 with questions, suggestions, or stories. Just make sure that if you want to remain anonymous to let me know.