What the hell? Why not?: Intermittent Fasting

I looked at myself in the mirror a few weeks ago and only saw two abs peeking out of an otherwise flabby torso. Being that I’m from Los Angeles and therefore shallow, I launched into a panic. “Something’s gotta give,” I told myself.

Was the answer returning to the keto diet? Nah. As it turns out, I eat a lot of sandwiches and I just can’t sustain a diet that doesn’t allow me to eat an occasional cheese danish. Was the answer to reel in the beer intake? Well… No. There’s a lot of good reasons for that one, but no.

A couple of friends suggested intermittent fasting to me, and I thought it would be too hard given my varying late-night shifts, so initially I shrugged that one off. Also, I can be kind of a douchebag when I’m hungry, and I thought I’d just be starving and a dick (more than usual) all the time. Then more and more of the research I was doing pointed to its efficacy (I use the term “research” loosely here – I watch a lot of YouTube videos and read a lot of articles about health and fitness in my free time), so I opted to eat for an eight hour window each day and essentially just drink water (and maybe an alcoholic beverage or four) the remaining 16 hours.

When you fast for that long, your body produces similar amounts of ketones (the chemical produced by your liver that aid in metabolizing fatty acids) as it would if you were on the kind of semi-commital version of the keto diet I was on, and you can still eat pretty much whatever. When I wake up, I also have a cup of black coffee with unsalted butter and medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil, which kicks up the ketones another notch. Most of the videos I’ve seen with strict keto advocates have a segment where they mutter something like, “Yeah, I guess you could just skip breakfast and achieve similar levels of ketosis, BUT” and then they go on to support their high-fat, low-carb diets.

I hit a tipping point and I’ve been doing this for a little over two weeks now. The first few days were rough, but after day three or four I settled into a comfortable space. My calorie consumption has stayed largely the same, though I admit it’s harder to cram a lot of food into an eight hour window without feeling like a fatass.

I’m fairly physically active, so I was concerned I’d see a dip in my energy and/or willingness to exercise, but I haven’t had that experience. I was also concerned that I’d be constantly dwelling on my hunger, but that hasn’t happened either. Ultimately, this shit isn’t that hard AND I’ve seen awesome results. I’m back to six visible abs (granted I still have a small belly, but fuck you, I love beer), and all I had to do was change the schedule of my consumption. And since it’s such an easy solution, I can actually see this being sustainable long-term.

For the sake of mentioning it, I did see an article that said skipping breakfast was bad because you ended up eating more at lunch. BUT they said that you’re only likely to eat about 20% more at lunch, so if your lunch and usual breakfast are the same size, you’re still eating less calories in the day. So… Whatevs.

Will I eventually get bored of this or read about how this is killing me in fun new ways? Maybe. But for now it’s working, so I’m sticking with it.  

I Also Do Healthy Things: Stretching and Abs

Given how many of my posts are centered around times where I did unhealthy shit, I figured it was time to come clean, and let you all know that I often do healthy things to balance out all those choices. As a matter of fact, I’d go so far as to say that my lifestyle is largely healthy, but that’s just not as entertaining to read or write about. I’m gonna give it a shot, anyway. Maybe some of this will be useful to you other heathens who need a way to counteract all the bad you’re doing to your bodies.

Stretch

This is an important one. I’ve recently taken to stretching for about 15-20 minutes every day, and it’s paid off in terms of my ability to do my job well and continue with my exercise routines. Grab your yoga mat and throw Moving Art on Netflix, and you’re ready to reset your body.

Start with warm ups: exercises that get your body moving, warming up your muscles so that when you do start stretching, you don’t hurt yourself. I start at the top and work my way down: neck rotations, circular shoulder shrugs, arm rotations, toe touches, and leg raises (tuck into chest then kicking your own ass).

Then I run through about 20 different stretches I’ve learned over the past ten years from military training, way-too-thorough online research, and yoga practices. Again, I start at the neck, work down to the arms, then I skip straight to legs, and circle back to my back. When you’re spending hours lifting kegs and crates, stretching your lower back can make a huge difference, and has allowed me to pick up extra shifts when my coworkers peter out. At some point I’ll create a video running through this whole routine (and the other ones), so you can see the whole lineup. Until then, wing it to your heart’s content.

Exercise

I had a bartender say to me once, “You could basically use this job as your workout!” I think that was incredibly misguided. If I didn’t exercise in my off time, I wouldn’t be ready for game time (during service hours at the bar). I wouldn’t be strong enough to lift that last bag of glass-laden garbage into the dumpster at the end of the night. I’d pull muscles straining against kegs. I wouldn’t be able to confidently escort that drunk idiot out of the bar because I’d be too focused on my aching lower back. So, even when I’m sore from the night before, I push myself to get at least a little bit of exercise in aside from the dog walking and wrestling I do on the daily.

What I’ve found most helpful in terms of sticking to a workout schedule is short bursts of heavy activity. Basically, I need to cram a lot in to a short time window, as my schedule is hectic and I’m often tired. So I’ve come up with ab routines and upper body routines that I can do in 15-30 minutes if I’m pushing myself, and I do those 3-4 times a week most weeks.

Abs: I have a routine that I found a couple years ago that I find to be really effective (based largely on what I know about how the body works and how much pain my midsection is in during and after the routine). I’ve modified it to be a little more taxing than the original version, but I’d recommend adjusting the numbers to fit your level of fitness (don’t adjust them too low – push yourself into discomfort for the best results).

30 Crunches > 30 Straight Leg Lifts > 30 Cross-Body Sit-Ups (both sides) > 30 Bicycle Crunches > 1 Minute Side Plank (both sides) > 1 Minute Plank > 30 Super Man Crunches (lay on your stomach and contract your lower back to lift your trunk and legs off the ground).

I allow myself about 30 seconds of rest between each of those exercises. In the beginning (and for the rest of time), focus on your form. Do less repetitions, but do them perfectly, then work your way up in numbers. And of course, remember to breathe – inhale as you release, exhale as you flex. Your lungs take up space in your abdominal cavity, the less air you have in them when you contract your abs, the harder you can contract them.

There you have it. Entry one in the “I Do Healthy Things” category. More to come. Also, I’m considering doing a 30 day keto thing because why the fuck not? Plus 30 day challenges seem to be the most effective way to get me to actually do anything/write about it. Remember that meditation thing? That went well. I should maybe start doing that again, also…

Sitting and Breathing: Day 10

It was back to the sitting and breathing today for Body Sensation Meditation. For somebody who humble bragged (maybe just outright bragged) about their body awareness just two days ago, today was strong dose of reality. The point was to just sit cross-legged on the floor, back straight, and focus interchangeably on breathing and each bodily sensation that arose during the session.

Based on the sensations I felt today, I am pushing my body really hard lately. I was to focus on pleasurable and painful sensations alike, and today was largely filled with painful sensations. I felt the tension in my lower and mid-back from work and my litany of personal projects. I felt the tension around my knees and the muscles immediately around my knees, likely from the same activities. I felt the soreness in my shoulders from playing with the dog.

What I found most interesting is how my mind was able to so thoroughly and completely lose itself in thought today. On a day when I was supposed to be focusing on painful sensations, my brain kicked the imagination into overdrive, and I’d catch myself in very different times and places every time I’d return to my breath.

I gotta get to work soon. I wonder who will be there. I wonder what I’ll be doing today.

Then I’d imagine myself already at work, talking with my coworkers. Then I’d imagine getting off of work at 1:30am, and the long public transit route home, and how shitty it would undoubtedly be in zero degree (or under) weather. Then I’d feel how cold my toes were, which would bring me back into my body, and back to my breath.

Ow, my back is really hurting. Probably from all the bending over and weird angles I put myself in to finish the bar for my living room.

Then I’d wander into a hypothetical conversation with my mother about how I’m spending money frivolously, and should really be focusing on other things right now. “I spent as little as possible making this thing!” I’d argue. Then I’d play out the rest of that conversation, and I’d work myself up into a tizzy over a conversation that never happened. By the time I remembered I was supposed to be focusing on my breath, I was already pretty agitated. Then the pain came back.

I wonder to what extent I’m doing this with other pains I’m experiencing, both physically and emotionally. I wonder if my mind’s tendency to experience pain in the form of a drive to distract myself with something – anything – else is bleeding out into the rest of my life. I bet it is! I have no concrete evidence for that, yet, but I’ve got a hunch, so now I’ll be on the lookout for it.

Returning to the pain (burning, dull, aching, stiffness, soreness, tension), I was reminded of the time I modeled in the nude for a painting class. I chose what I thought would be fairly easy positions to hold for 20 minutes, and realized on the first attempt that it was harder than I anticipated. Even sitting cross-legged on the floor, on a pillow, can ware on you after a while. I started anticipating my alarm, largely because it symbolized the end to my pain, or at least the potential pursuit of another distraction (namely, writing this).

Funnily enough, when I finally surrendered to the ideal that there would be no alarm, and that the future was irrelevant to my current experience, the alarm went off. Luckily (after writing this) I have to start getting ready now, otherwise I’d be strongly inclined to do my ab workout before work, which I don’t think would do much in the way of easing my muscular tension. Maybe I can squeeze in a routine before work tomorrow, though…