Trial and error is a fundamental method of solving problems. I especially appreciate a person’s determination and commitment to the process when the terrain becomes treacherous. That’s why I respect Stephanie, our editor and my partner at Kaplifestyle. She’s about to use herself as a scientific experiment and share the results with us. Can’t wait, Steph.
Willpower is a useful thing, but occasionally I need to jumpstart it a bit.
Some of you may remember that I was doing the 5×5 exercises. I did it steadily for several months, but pushed too hard, too fast and injured my shoulder. I took a bit of a break before starting back up again. Getting back into the habit was certainly more difficult than it was to drop it.
I’m sure you can guess what happens next. This time, the injury was to my knee. This one was actually unrelated to the weight lifting, but if you’ve read my story, you know that I have joint issues. I’ve had reconstructive knee surgery on both knees, and it’s one of the few surgeries I’ve had that has held up. When I start to feel instability in that area, I back off.
This left me in a bit of a difficult situation, however. I felt extremely frustrated by the lack of activity, so I called up Gabe (on Christmas Day, no less). I explained my situation, and, after a bit of background, he (as usual) asked the right question.
“Can you swim?”
It seems so obvious. Swimming, in fact, was the physical therapy I did after my surgeries. Nevertheless, I hadn’t considered it before that simple inquiry. For at least the short term, I’m replacing my lifting workouts with lap swims. Gabe followed up by sending me links to some indoor pool complexes; I knew I wasn’t going to get away with pleading cold weather. So now I get out every other day and go for a swim, even when it’s 25 degrees and sleeting outside.
I’ve certainly noticed an increase in my endurance. It had been so long since I had swum laps, my endurance was shot, and I had forgotten how to breathe. I’m up to nearly twice as many laps as I could manage when I started. It also helped my confidence – gyms have never been my thing, and I was lifting weights at home. Since I can’t swim at the house, I had to get over my self-conscious feelings.
That being said, I have to be honest. I want to be able to see physical changes from my workouts, and I’m not really seeing many of those. I’m not unhappy with my workouts; I find myself really enjoying them. But there was still a level of general dissatisfaction.
I don’t need to place a call for this question; I already know the answer. What I’m getting out of my body is heavily reliant on what I’m putting into my body. I’m not looking for a diet; I already eat very little in the way of refined sugars and processed foods. What I do need is to be more mindful of what I eat – I suspect there are plenty of hidden areas where I need to improve.
Now we return to the open of this post. Food journals are immeasurably valuable; there’s no question about that. Unfortunately, I find it difficult to commit to them. Since this is a mental block, not a physical one, I knew that I could come up with a solution. You’ve read about the virtues of trial and error here. If I commit to self-experimentation, I’m much more likely to stick to tracking data. It’s for science, after all. I just needed to come up with a good experiment to try.
In this case, I took my cue from commenters on here. Many people have asked about intermittent fasting, and I’m going to give it a try for the next 30 days to see if it works for me. There are plenty of variations on what is a fairly generic term – an intermittent fast just means periods of eating followed by periods of non-eating. Some people do 2 days out of every 7 in which they fast (nearly) completely, some do every other day. I’m planning, for this experiment, to simply eat only during a 6 hour window – 5pm-11pm – and avoid consuming anything other than water for the other 18 hours of the day.
What am I hoping for out of this? Well, some reduction in body fat percentage would be nice. There is research demonstrating some increase in growth hormone (sadly, this won’t make me taller) and metabolism. Numerous animal studies have demonstrated that caloric reduction can significantly extend lifespan, reduce the incidences of diabetes and cancer, and increase cardiovascular health. Calorie restriction is, realistically, the only way to get those health benefits and lose weight. However, food is a social activity for me, and I’m not willing to cut out all the enjoyable benefits of it. Proponents of intermittent fasting claim similar benefits to overall calorie reduction. From scientificaamerican.com:
In a 2003 mouse study overseen by Mark Mattson, head of the National Institute on Aging’s neuroscience laboratory, mice that fasted regularly were healthier by some measures than mice subjected to continuous calorie restriction; they had lower levels of insulin and glucose in their blood, for example, which signified increased sensitivity to insulin and a reduced risk of diabetes… In follow-up rodent studies, his group found that intermittent fasting protects against stroke damage, suppresses motor deficits in a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease and slows cognitive decline in mice genetically engineered to mimic the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
These benefits make sense. From a historical perspective, humans did not evolve eating 3 meals a day with regular snacks. Food was often sporadic, and like predators we see today, involved periods of gorging along with periods of no food at all. Obviously, one of humanity’s best traits is the ability to adapt to changing circumstances, and I don’t feel the need to go full caveman, but there is some logic behind the potential health benefits.
And that body fat percentage? The literature holds up well there too, at least so far.
Intermittent energy restriction may result in greater improvements in insulin sensitivity and weight control than daily energy restriction (DER)… Both IECR groups had greater reductions in body fat compared with the DER group…In the short term, IECR is superior to DER with respect to improved insulin sensitivity and body fat reduction. Longer-term studies into the safety and effectiveness of IECR diets are warranted.
Now, that’s not to say I’m not aware of potential risks. The scientific literature appears to be overwhelmingly positive about the benefits of IF – for men. The jury remains out on its effect on women. Some females do very well on it; others experience a host of hormonal regulation problems. A study in rats indicated that their brain was most changed. Female rats fed on an IF schedule became hyper alert and developed better memories at the cost of no longer ovulating and sleeping much less.
Personally, I see this as a worthwhile experiment. It will force me to pay attention to what I’m eating instead of carelessly consuming. Perhaps there will be some health benefits. It’s something I can commit to for 30 days – I already rarely eat breakfast, and lunch is a tossup most days. By sharing it with all of you, I have some measure of accountability, too. Through measuring my energy (based on my exercise regimen) and my body composition, I’ll have some actual data points to file away. And perhaps it will lead to some interesting stories for Kaplifestyle.