I have chronic and sometimes severe stomach pain. I've gone through a few different dietary and other experiments, and I'm now looking at the FODMAPS diet. I have a good feeling about it, just from seeing its advocates talk. So many non-mainstream diets start with a rant about how we're being systematically poisoned by eating bad, impure, gross foods, and instead we should eat clean, good, healthy foods. The rhetoric is intriguingly similar regardless of whether the Bad food is meat: that heavy, charnel filth that rots in your bowels, or wheat: that dwarfed, genetically manipulated abomination that tears up your guts and contaminates your blood with alien proteins. Basically, they're trying to sell their diet (and their books) by hijacking universal human intuitions about purity and contamination. (Of course, every diet community also has writers who focus on health and enjoyment without wasting time trashing how other people eat).
The FODMAPS diet is based on avoiding fermentable sugars, which can be present in foods that don't have much sugar at all from a nutritional perspective. Advocates don't start by trying to make you scared of these lurking poisons. Nor do they blame an agribusiness conspiracy for convincing people that the restricted foods are healthy; they generally agree with mainstream perceptions and argue that there's a subset of people who react differently. They're also poorly positioned to pick up on any particular restriction fad, because the diet restricts some foods from almost every category and allows others. So you can eat blueberries but not blackberries; hard cheeses but not soft ones; and oats but not wheat. I've seen confusing lists like this before, but they're usually based on religio-philosophical systems of imaginary elemental correspondences. FODMAPS are real, objectively measurable things: fermentable sugars including oligosaccharides -- the things in beans that make you fart; disaccharides -- primarily lactose; Monosaccharides -- really just fructose; and polyols -- xylitol and so forth. So at least it has internal validity.
I set out to go on a ketogenic diet for a month. And I did. Go me! It was an interesting challenge and took me through a variety of entertaining mental and physical states. There were definitely some days of suck, but I was forewarned and had the support of a couple of highly knowledgable friends (who are also up-and-coming nutrition and psychology researchers).
I have determined that I'm not one of those people who magically has all their problems go away on ketosis. But it was worth a try! Anyway, ketosis was just step one in my plan -- the goal is fat-adaptation, which can happen at a substantially higher carb intake. It's what I was trying for last year when I was doing paleo, but just ended up in the Zone of Misery (not enough carbs to function effectively, but just enough to keep you from really switching to fat burning). There are supposedly a lot of health and performance benefits to a fat-centered metabolism, even for people who are already lean. Besides, it's nice to be flexible.
Anyway, I'm very proud of myself for pulling this off, while my health much more effectively than last time. I even managed not to lose any weight! (I might actually have gained weight -- we'll see what happens in a few days when my carb-related water weight comes back on.) I'm looking forward to what I'll learn next!
Well! I walked a Bay-to-Breakers equivalent distance, which ended up following the actual BtB route about halfway. I got out there late enough that it had basically dissolved into a drunken ramble through Golden Gate Park (plus a rave off in the grove, for people who had given up on "racing" entirely). I even ran partway back! It was a good experience.
Today I started my low-carb diet experiment. I expected to feel shaky and tense, the way I do when I go too long without eating. Instead I spent most of the day feeling foggy but also kind of giddy. I guess that the experience I always identified as "low blood sugar" was actually low blood sugar combined with hunger. Whereas now, my brain is sputtering due to lack of glucose but it's against a background of general cheerfulness due to being full of delicious fat.
I'm long recovered from my informative but unfortunate experiment with paleo eating, and I'm ready to try something new. Tomorrow I'm starting a low-carb ketogenic diet. I have a lot of reasons for doing this:
Partly it's just because I've been hearing about it for years and years and I'm really curious.
Partly it's because it's interesting that there's this whole other way my body can work, and I've never gotten to experience it.
Partly it's because I'm nervous about it, and now if I back down I'll just remember this as something I was too scared to try.
Partly it's because there's a nontrivial minority of people who seem to go into ketosis and suddenly have all their health problems vanish. I don't have any reason to think I'm one of those people, but I also don't have any reason not to check and see if I am.
The main benefit I expect to get is a more versatile metabolism. In my experiment with paleo I went lower on carbs, but I didn't drop enough or change my meal schedule enough to stop my body from being fundamentally reliant on them. What I'm planning now is an Atkins-style induction period, where you basically jump in the deep end and force your body to get along with close to zero carbohydrate. That puts you into ketosis, but it also increases the normal fat oxidation process that everyone uses when they metabolize fat. This has some benefits for blood sugar regulation, and gives you some added long-term flexibility with your macronitrient balance. I'm expecting to spend two weeks in induction at the longest, and after that I can go back up to a more varied diet and see what happens.
Everybody loses some water weight when they start a low-carb diet, but I'll be trying hard not to lose more weight than that. Most of my weight consists of actual body parts, which I like.
It's almost a year since I made my carefully-considered foolhardy vow to do Bay to Breakers in 2014. I made it hoping to encourage and inspire myself, and it succeeded at that -- I made a number of efforts to get back into running. The efforts themselves failed. I still can't run 2 miles without serious joint pain, let alone 7.
I left myself a way out at the time -- that if I can't run B2B, I can run a little bit and walk the rest, and I'm not required to do it as part of the official race. So, on May 17th I'm going to take a walk from one end of San Francisco to the other. It will be partly celebratory -- because I'm keeping my word, and because at least I can walk as much as I want -- and partly mournful. Not giving up yet, though.
One day I was walking home with a tote bag of groceries and cursed the foolish designers who made the straps just long enough for the bag to drag on the ground.
Another day I was on the bus with a tote bag of groceries and cursed the foolish designers who made the straps just too short for me to hold on to them while resting the bag on the floor.
At that moment I was enlightened.
For someone who believes that tarot cards are a source of random input to provoke thought, I seem to get a lot of uncannily incisive readings.
I enjoyed doing a reading with the Homestuck tarot! That's what I enjoy and value about stories anyway, their ability to connect me with an idea or experience or a piece of my own potential in a relatable, specific way. If I can't imagine doing something then it scares me, but if I can think of a story about someone doing it then it seems possible. It's enjoyable to see someone else doing this so well. And it's valuable to have help in taking the sprawling, multilayered Homestuck canon and tagging parts of it that I can use as inspiration (or warning) in different situations.
I finally started talking to a doctor about the fairly obvious exercise asthma problems I've had ever since I moved to the Bay Area. If this had happened back when I was running it would have been a much higher priority, but for the past few years it's taken a backseat to my joint problems. Still, I'm glad I'm looking into it. And I received a wonderful reward for my initiative: A peak flow meter! Now I can measure an entirely new phenomenon that I never even thought about before!
I love measuring things.
My life is a little boring. But I don't think it has to be. For several years things were a bit of a mess, but now they're looking up. There are so many possibilities! Earlier this month, on the plane back from Boston, I made a list of 214 things I could do in 2014. It wasn't even hard! Perhaps I will post some chunks of my list here.
(Don't worry, #122 is "decide which of these things I'm really going to try, and don't feel bad about the others.")
When I last posted about my diet, I was lamenting my misapplication of a reduced-carb paleo approach. I never made a really concerted effort to become fat- or keto-adapted, and as a result I ended up with a lot of hypoglycemic panics and a lot of muscle loss. The paleo community doesn’t talk much about this kind of thing, but I suspect I’m not the only one who’s gone through it. But on the other hand, the community does emphasize self-experimentation and customizing the diet to your needs, and it’s not like anyone was holding a
gun stone axe to my head and forcing me to stay with it.
My approach to recovery was to increase my daily calories by 10-20% and to make sure I didn’t let my blood sugar get low (I wasn’t measuring it, and so I may be misapplying the concept, but I can definitely tell the difference between normal hunger and panicky hunger with mood swings). This was physically very uncomfortable for about a week, but I got used to it. By mid-October, my weight was close to what it had been at the beginning of the year. Around that time I started doing some strength training and have been continuing to gradually put on weight since then. This has also been great because getting back into strength training was one of my goals when I started paleo, but I wasn’t able to do it because of joint problems. I dealt with this by working under a trainer who had me start with the mildest exercises possible, and rigorously sticking with his prescriptions no matter how embarrassed / impatient / affronted I was. It worked!
Anyway, it looks like we’ve closed this chapter. I’ve learned a lot from being on a paleo diet, and I was able to fairly conclusively rule out most of its more categorical recommendations. I’ve gained back the weight I lost, and may have even found a sustainable way to start gaining some strength.
I admit that it’s a little triggering to watch the numbers on the scale creeping up, even though I know how inane that is, especially when I’m working out and trying to put on weight. Part of me insists on doing naive extrapolation: If my weight went up 10% between September and November, then in two years I'll weight twice what I do now! But this is... unlikely.