For the past six months or so I’ve been increasingly annoyed at how every new attempt at getting a healthier lifestyle has failed. It’s not that I go on fad diets that possibly cannot work, or that I don’t know what foods are healthy or not, or how much I should eat, or know how to work out and at what intensity, and so on. But with two more or less chronic illnesses, plus everything they bring with them, you never know what will work or not. Some things make my endo worse, or my somewhat vague intolerances. Other things make my depression harder to control, either directly or because my motivation evaporates. Yet other things aren’t really compatible with my lifestyle.
My weight loss journey – not counting the times I’ve made a half-hearted attempt before – started with courses offered all over the country, where you meet once a week for eight weeks and discuss dieting, exercise, how the past week has gone and strategies for dealing with your specific issues. The problem is of course that the diet is quite rigid. Eat every 2-3 hours, have a certain percentage of protein, fats and carbs, as well as enough fruit, veggies and dairy. You log everything on the website and get a nutrition score based on that. Never mind that you have to do everything perfectly to get a top score, such as eating the entire dairy quota (a problem when you only tolerate dairy in certain products and in limited amounts), getting enough fruit (which is a problem when there’s only a few fruits you tolerate, and that’s only if you didn’t eat any of those in the past two or three days), and so on. Not very motivational when you’re a perfectionist. Plus, of course, there were other things that people kept going on and on about that weren’t really based on much facts – rather exaggerations, or outright contradictions.
Then there were the websites that worked around the same thing. Calorie restriction mostly every day, pre-defined macros and the same old recommendations for what to eat. Sparkpeople was one such website, until I realised that it made me really, really stressed. There was just so much that it kept reminding me to do that I had to delete my profile. I never looked back. These websites worked for quite a while, until I became tired of all the meticulous planning. I like planning, I really do, but I suck at implementing them into real life.
Around this time last year, a friend of mine started with MyFitnessPal, an app that I think is fantastic. It works a lot like the websites, though it’s very easy to adjust macros to accomodate a less carb-heavy diet, and it’s very motivational. I also have quite a few friends on there now. But it only lasted until the summer, and then things ran out into the sand. I keep coming back to it, because it’s great for tracking and for support from people I actually know, and I will most likely continue to use it in the future – but perhaps not with the standard approach.
Last year (can’t remember if it was before or after trying the app) I tried 5:2, the fast diet. I believe that was when I started blogging here. I certainly didn’t mind fasting, and I felt more energized than usual, but I found it hard to keep up. The fast days required too much planning, and it drained me to find food that was low enough in calories that didn’t drain my budget. Besides, it turned out to be really, really hard to find days when I actually could fast. Days with dance class or running were simply out of the question, same with days with evening meetings or conferences. It might have suited me personally, but not my lifestyle, and I need some more regularity to my meals (It has something to do with a specific hormone, though I cannot remember the details, and I figure my hormones are enough messed up as they are).
In the autumn last year I also tried low carb, which suited me very well. I tried it because a friend of a friend have an illness that’s similar to endo and had very good results. But alas, this was also one of those cases where it didn’t really fit neither my timetable nor my budget. Breakfast was easy, as I just had two eggs and a coffee and that was that, but the rest of the meals were a pain to plan. I know there are plenty of handy recipes out there on various websites, but it didn’t help. Again, it might have suited me personally, but not my lifestyle (how people with full time jobs and families can make it work is beyond me).
I also tried LowFODMAP, though not to lose weight, but found that it didn’t do too much good for my intolerances. It was okay, though, and I think I’ll try to use some of the recipes I found there.
So here we are. I am yet again trying a new thing. I’ve looked into Leangains, or 16:8 as another variant of the same principle is called, and while I previously discarded it, it looks like something that could actually work for me. Basically you have an eight-hour eating window every day, where you typically eat 2-3 meals (though you can eat as many as you like during those eight hours). For the remaining hours of the day, you fast. This sounds like a lot, but isn’t – I’m typically sleeping or at least in bed for around seven of those hours anyway. I figure my first meal will be lunch, which is at 11.30 a.m. I can then eat as often or seldom as I like until 7.30 p.m, when I’ll have my last meal. Women are recommended to have a longer eating window though, so particularly when I have dance class I’ll most likely extend this to 8.30 or 9.00 p.m. I’m aware this perhaps sounds like a difficult program when I’ve failed so many times, but fasting isn’t a problem for me, at least not in the mornings.
There are other aspects to it as well, such as that on days when you train, you eat mostly proteins and carbs, while on rest/low intensity days it’s more proteins and fats, plus guidelines for what to eat when so that you will feel relatively full until your first meal the next day.
What I like about it is that if you read the blog at leangains.com it’s based on research and science, not things that have been repeated over and over and over again until they’ve become accepted truths. That is of course an oversimplification, but still. I also like the no-bullshit approach to it all, and the fact that it doesn’t exclude any major food groups or nutrients. The major bonus to it (for me) is the flexibility, as it easily works around changes in the timetable or overall situation. I can do it easily when I’m travelling and can’t prepare my own food, and just as easily if my plans suddenly change. I’ve been struggling a lot with the rigidity of the other approaches I’ve tried, and I think that’s what’s tripped me. I can’t stand imposed rigidity in any aspect of life, so why would it be any different when it comes to dieting?
The other thing I will do from now on is mental training. I refuse to let myself talk me down again and again, and I refuse to be my own enemy. If I just allow myself the opportunity to succeed, who knows, I might just do exactly that. I won’t allow myself to literally worry myself sick or let my energy be drained from unimportant things. I have an app for that, actually, which I started using last week. Only time will tell if it works – currently I am registering as many nice things as I can find in it, and the actual program will begin in a week or two, I think. Apart from that, I will make a plan for what to do when things don’t go according to plan – what to do and what to think if I have a bad day or week and don’t follow my training or eating plans. I will make sure to know what to do when things don’t go well, but also when they do go well. As part of this I will also make sure to get help, information and support before things go really bad, so I can get back on track more easily.
Of course there are other things as well, such as reasonable training plans, not overdoing the exercise, keeping sane when life isn’t and such things, but that will be a post for another day, I think. Hopefully this is a new start and the beginnings of a better, healthier life.
Edited to add status update day 1
OK, so I wrote the above yesterday, just before I was about to begin my first fast on IF, and thought I’d add my thoughts now that the first fasting period is over. So far I really, really like it. The only times I’ve felt hungry was just as I arrived at work (because I tend to snack a bit at that time), which passed quickly, and the last hour before lunch, when I’m always hungry anyway. So, nothing really out of the ordinary.
What’s different: I’ve had a LOT of energy. More than usual, and certainly more than I would have expected, since I’m a little sick today (a cold or something like that) and haven’t slept well because of that. The fact that I even have energy is surprising. And I felt more energetic and efficient as the morning went on, instead of losing energy as I had expected. I have not felt sluggish in the least, neither physically nor mentally, and there’s been no mood swings. On the contrary I’ve been unusually happy today. I don’t feel stressed at all either, even if I have a lot to do today.
I’ve also concluded that it isn’t the breakfast in itself that’s made my mornings better since Christmas. I think it’s just sitting down and taking a moment to relax before heading off to work, waking up more slowly. I did exactly the same as usual today, except that I only had a cup of coffee, not any food. Didn’t feel any difference whatsoever.
I will need to do this for quite a bit longer to come to any conclusions, but I like what I see so far.