February 19, 2012

Making Lemonade ...

"If life gives you lemons, make lemonade." Dale Carnegie

Everything was going so great. I was sailing along, enjoying ancestral eating and looking forward to my physical since I've lost weight. Yes, there'd been moderate to high family-related stress for months involving my son and grandson but I handled it well--or so I thought. Well, okay, I'd noticed gradual increases in my blood glucose and blood pressure readings but they were still in the normal ranges, just creeping toward the upper regions of normal. I'd given some thought to how I might adjust my routines to encourage those readings to return to their previous levels. For the record, until last week at least half of my ongoing stress came from life/health issues my son was experiencing.

Then, as I was pulling into my doctor's parking lot for my physical, I got a call from the grand-kid's high school--he was being suspended for 3 days. It wasn't really a great surprise that I walked into the doctor's office and had the highest blood pressure I've ever had. It took almost 4 hours for my blood pressure to return to anything like my normal levels and my blood glucose readings were also unusually high that day and the next morning. I haven't had the follow-up tests yet but as far as I know I am in good overall health. Just very, very stressed. To be clear on the events, I was called to the school one day to take the boy home and had to return the next day for a disciplinary conference. 

SO--I decided it was time to give top priority to me and to nurture me. I actively avoided anything likely to increase my stress levels (other than the afore-mentioned grandson and son) so I didn't read my usual list of web sites or join conversations on Paleohacks. I also decided not to do any blogging here until I "felt like it." Let's just call it what it was--I POUTED. But you know, I happen to think pouting can be a healthy reaction to excessive stress. And my pout only lasted about 24 hours anyhow.

Despite being very upset and physically out of whack, I didn't suffer a migraine attack and the only specific symptom of the incident was that I needed extra sleep after returning home from the conference. I rarely nap but I took a very long one and still slept all night.

To complete the background info before addressing the ancestral eating topic of this post, I have mentioned before that I have done a lot of intermittent fasting (IF.) My practice for months was to eat one large meal per day so that I was well nourished but my GI tract had periods of rest. I find IF calming and it served me well in the early months of this stressful period. There were some days where I casually skipped my meal altogether because I was busy. I had recently started eating yogurt and fruit as a small second meal, which I enjoyed but which gave my system less resting time. Because of mounting stress, 2 weeks ago I had discontinued the second meal.

Anyhow, to the business of "making lemonade." The day after the conference I sat down at my PC and started reading about non-prescription strategies people use to deal with blood pressure/glucose issues. It is important to me to avoid the need for prescribed medications as long as I possibly can. As I did searches and read both blog posts and research abstracts, one subject kept coming up over and over--fasting. While a somewhat scary concept for many Americans, fasting is actually a natural remedy that's been used all over the world throughout history. And while it's not a cure for the common cold--that's a joke, okay?--there are studies that have confirmed that fasting can in fact have a positive impact on both blood pressure and glucose levels. It's also supposed to allow significant healing and repair of the GI tract and joints which are also issues for me.

Without boring you with too many details, I'll just say that 2 types of fasting were explained. One was long-term fasting, 5, 10, 21 or even 40 days of water-only or juice-only. I was quite intrigued but that didn't sound like something I wanted to try on my own. I watched some YouTube videos by professionals and individuals and if I were going to try a long water fast I'd want to check myself into a clinic where I could be monitored. Since I can't afford that I decided against a long water fast. AND I couldn't imagine leaving the kid and the pets for 3 weeks.

However, another type of fasting also is backed by research and is safe to try at home: alternate-day fasting (ADF.) Several variations of ADF are explained and recommended by various studies and sites. The gentlest version involves eating at least one meal per day and skipping 2 meals every other day. Another version rules out full-sized meals on the "fast" day but allows one small meal of 20-25% of your usual food intake. The classic version requires a no-calorie approach every other day with a "whatever you want" allowance on the feeding day.

People who've been eating the usual American diet find ADF a radical change. They tend to go with the 25% fasting days and their first 2 weeks of feeding days are pretty much junk food binges. Those who adapt well start eating more sensibly but many stick with the 25% fasting days or the "have dinner every day" approach. Many people reported successfully following ADF for months or years.

In my case, after 9 months of ancestral eating and intermittent fasting I am already well adapted to skipping meals. I decided to try ADF for 8 weeks and to go with no-calorie fasting days; I start the fasting day with black coffee and drink water as desired. On my feeding days, I just eat my usual ancestral foods. So far, I haven't needed extra-large portions or extra meals. If I've had a problem, it's that I'm not particularly hungry for food on my feeding days but I assume that will change as I continue to eat only every other day. I've made sure I eat a large fruit-salad-meat-veggies meal on each of my feeding days and I also put cream and honey into my coffee on those days.

And here we are. The important news--the lemonade if you will--is that I've had amazing results so far. Day 1 of ADF, my first fasting day, was the day I was still stressed and pouting while searching for options via PC. On my first feeding day I felt better and my blood pressure and glucose were better but not ideal. On day 3, my second fasting day, I felt FABULOUS--my mood was great and I was high-energy all day. Nearly all my blood pressure/glucose measurements were down to my lifelong norms and I felt the last of my stress leaching out as my body and GI tract rested from dealing with food. This morning, my 2nd feed day, my waking blood glucose was 70--yes, 70! And I had bp to match. I also noticed that my gums look MUCH happier.

I've now completed two 2-day cycles of fasting/feeding. Frankly, I wish I'd tried this a couple months ago. I spend my fasting days happily using my extra time (not taken up by meal prep and cleanup) to do errands, chores and craft projects. My fasting days are also my exercise days since I've eaten the day before--although I've already learned this may not be important. I've always performed well fasted and I've found I don't have any low energy days on ADF. I just have more time on fasting days.

Right now, my plan is to continue with 7 more weeks of ADF. In mid-April, I will either continue ADF for a longer period or switch to a long-term pattern of 2 fast days per week. I haven't yet mentioned weight loss, have I? Losing weight is not my primary goal but I'm happy to report I'm noticeably losing fat on ADF. 

The research studies reported that overweight/obese subjects had a start-up loss and then a slower continued loss throughout the study period. People of normal weight stabilized quickly and ate enough on their feeding days to maintain their weights--also, the normal-weight subjects were only on ADF for a short period.

Here's a link to a timely article on the subject of ADF.

Unlike Friday, I had a robust appetite today. I ate blueberries, grapefruit, banana, a leafy salad, beets and roast Cornish game hen. Yum! I was happily stuffed, but only for about 30 minutes and then I noticed a rapid clearing of my stomach. My 2-hour blood glucose was 112.

If you've tried or stayed on ADF, I'd love to hear from you.

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