2019: The Year of Health

Where has the year gone? Spring feels like only yesterday, and yet it’s already October.

If you’ve read my previous blog post about the topic, or my Lorelei Moone newsletter from April/May you’ll already know I’ve faced a few challenges this year. Not that last year was any better, it was worse, actually, but that’s a story for another time.

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions or lifechanging plans. If I can just stay on track with my writing, without neglecting my family or letting the house turn into a pig stye, that’s usually good enough for me.

Nevertheless, now that even October is running away from me, I feel like taking stock of what I’ve achieved, personally, so far. I’m not talking about my productivity and my career. I’m talking about my health.

Nothing to give you a big kick up the arse like a brand spanking new health condition you didn’t have before. Especially if it’s one that you’ve been conditioned to think only happens around “middle age” or later, and you’re not quite there yet on paper. (I might enjoy “old lady” things like canning and baking, but I’m only 33, dammit!)

So, since my unexpected hypertension diagnosis in April, what have I been up to and how successful has it been? Let’s analyse…

It’s all about the lifestyle, baby.

I fear I may have become that sort of person. Even our family doctor has started to tell people that I like to read about “alternative medicine” nowadays. Perhaps he’s started to suspect I’m about to turn to homeopathy to cure all that ails me and stop paying him his consultation fee.

Am I turning my back on modern medicine? Absolutely not! Far from it, in fact. I don’t believe sugar pills and endless dilutions of water are the answer either. But I do think that my lifestyle these past few years could have been a lot healthier than it was.

I’m a stress eater, always have been. While some of that is definitely down to conditioning (Hi, mom! *waves*), I can’t exactly pretend that I’m not to blame as well. I know better than to reach for a packet of biscuits to get me through a stressful first draft. Doesn’t mean I can always resist the temptation, though.

Has my decade long usage of hormonal contraceptives made me gain weight  as well (either directly or indirectly)? Yeah, for sure. But I did eat a ton of sugar to make it happen. Nobody forcefed me. I did it all myself, and enjoyed every mouthful of it.

Phase 1: No Room for Denial.

So, the first catalyst was obviously the blood pressure thing. I couldn’t afford to ignore my problems any longer. I start taking daily medication to get the hypertension under control. And because I suspected hormone levels were to blame, I quit my hormonal contraceptive immediately. Dr. Google told me to expect that it would take about 6 months or so for my hormone levels to normalise and my body to get used to the new IUD. That would be about now.

While I can’t say that my periods have become any easier or less painful (which is what supposedly happens once your body gets used to the IUD), perhaps there is a little truth to it. Exactly a year ago I already tried to lose some weight. It was a complete failure, and not just because of lack of willpower. The pounds just didn’t want to budge at all no matter how hard I tried, and my hunger and cravings were off the charts.

That has changed now, thanks to:

Phase 2: The Mindset Shift.

I didn’t want to make things too hard on myself right from the start, so I completed this year’s annual Germany trip to visit my mom without worrying about diets and weight loss. I enjoyed all the culinary delights Germany had to offer, and ended up gaining about 1.5kg overall. Not great, but not a disaster, as it turns out.

The real work began once we returned home; I committed to make real changes to my life and myself. I picked a weekend when the hubby was out of town to kickstart my wellness journey. Having read about the benefits of fasting (and experimenting with various forms of intermittent fasting since 2013), I knew what I wanted to do: my first ever water fast.

For those of you who don’t know what that is; it really is as simple as it sounds. You consciously decide not to ingest anything other than water for a set period of time. I decided to try 3 days for my first attempt (72 hours). It was tough, I won’t lie. But not as tough as I thought it would be. And the health benefits are supposed to be amazing. Once your body uses up all the energy from your last meal, it’s supposed to enter into “autophagy“. That’s when the body starts to repair itself. It’s meant to do wonders for your immune system and even has the power to cure health issues like hypertension.

I managed to make it 85 hours, before having a small glass of diluted fruit juice. Not because I couldn’t carry on or was particularly hungry, but because the hubby was back and I really wanted to enjoy a nice meal together after spending three days apart.

While my 85 hour fast did not magically cure my hypertension (believe me, I got that checked out immediately, only to be disappointed), it did do me a lot of good. For one, I felt super focused. My concentration levels were better than ever; I didn’t feel the constant need to procrastinate that I normally do. My body felt lean. My skin had cleared up and tightened (bye bye, arm flab and double chin!) and the sugar cravings I have lived with for years were completely gone. And, bonus: I lost about 2kg. Just like that. In 3 days.

It was a great success and I used this triumph to motivate me to make a more permanent change.

After a week or so of eating normal – beit smaller and healthier portions, I began:

Phase 3: Not a Sprint, but a Marathon. 

Water fasting helped me break my dependency on all things sweet and carby. I already knew from personal experience as well as anecdotal evidence from friends that carbs lay at the root of all my weight gain issues. But going low carb wasn’t an option for me permanently. Been there, done that, and failed already. I simply can’t sustain it; it’s too hard for me.

So what I did instead was turn again to my old friend, intermittent fasting (specifically the method called Alternate Day Fasting; ADF). I knew it worked, because back in 2013 (after Dr. Michael Mosley’s BBC documentary on the topic came out, as well as the first edition of his book, The Fast Diet), I’d successfully done it. I fondly remembered how easy it was back then to restrict myself one day, only to be allowed any food I wanted the next. And my tendency to snack and go overboard with sweets and biscuits was mostly cured after just one month of sticking to an alternate day fasting schedule. Easy choice, right?

Armed with fresh enthusiasm and determination (and a big chip on my shoulder for having resisted food for a whole 85 hours already), I dove right in toward the end of July. From the 22nd of July until today, the 18th of October, I have stuck to largely this schedule: 500 calories on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and unrestricted eating the rest of the week. This variant of Alternate Day Fasting is called 4:3 (4 eating days, 3 fasting days every week). I may have exceeded the 500 calories once or twice during this time, but I’ve been about 95% consistent.

The results speak for themselves.

I’m at a weight I haven’t been at for years. I feel better and more energetic. I still get to eat sweet stuff 4 days a week and sometimes I even go overboard. And I’ve lost a total of about 7.5kg. I went from a 30.5 bmi (obese) to 27.6 (overweight).  While I’m not even halfway yet, I know I can keep this up forever if I have to. It’s much easier to say “not today” when faced with sinful food you know you’re not supposed to eat, rather than say “not ever”. To me, a life without cake is not worth living. (You can quote me on that!)

And the best part? This week I had my 6 month check-up with the doctor, since my hypertension diagnosis. And he’s cut my medication dosage in half. Success!

With a bit of luck and determination, who knows where I’ll be in another 6 months’ time? Eventually, I hope to be off my medication entirely, and at a normal weight for my height and bodytype. I want to be able to look in the mirror and see “me” again, and fit into all those old clothes I’ve had to hide away for years now. Phase 4: Don’t fall off the wagon again, woman! (AKA: Maintenance) is in my sights.

Eventually I’ll get there. I’ll update the blog when I do.

Recommended reading:

The Fast Diet by Dr. Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer

The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung

Of women’s health and choices

I said I would start blogging occasionally, so here I am. With a topic I’ve dealt with in my personal life for a while, but only really decided to tackle a few months ago. The catalyst? Being diagnosed with hypertension. If you’re on my Lorelei Moone mailing list, you’ll already know about this last part.

I’m 33 and I have high blood pressure. Sure, my weight isn’t what I want it to be, and I have too much of a sweet tooth, but I have always been relatively healthy. Or so I thought.

I’m also married and do not have (or want) children. Birth control has been something I’ve always had to think about. For more than half my life I’ve been using hormonal birth control methods. Save for the implant thingy, I had tried just about everything and found that every single one I had tried, was basically shit.

We all know about the potential side effects, right ladies? We know we might get cranky, we might get fatter, develop pimples we didn’t have before, etc. For me, a major side effect was that my libido became non-existent. It doesn’t matter what I did, I just wouldn’t want sex. Ever. I realise that this is a weird thing to admit when you write what I write.

All the methods I had tried threw my hormones off. But what’s the alternative, really?

Six or so years ago, I got really fed up with my birth control and went off it for a while. They gave me a “cap” to use instead. What a load of rubbish that is. Condoms sound great in theory, but once you’re used to what things are supposed to feel like naturally, it’s hard to go back to those. I know some people successfully monitor their fertility to prevent pregnancy, but I wouldn’t know where to begin and was never given the knowledge or tools to track any of that. And having had an unwanted pregnancy before, I would rather not risk going through that again.

Well, once the hypertension diagnosis came in, it came as a shock to me. I was so ashamed of myself. Sure, when you’re taking the pill, your GP will want to check your blood pressure perhaps twice a year or so. Heightened blood pressure is a known side effect, and yet I always thought it wouldn’t happen to me. Certainly not at this age.

But it did. And now I’m taking pills for it every day.

That same day I got my diagnosis, I made a decision. I couldn’t go on like this. I wouldn’t accept that I would be on medication for the rest of my life. I decided to quit my birth control immediately. As luck would have it, my period had just come on. I insisted that along with blood pressure pills, I would get a prescription for a non-hormonal IUD – something I had shied away from all these years, because I’d never heard a good thing about them. I was told that because I was on my period, this was the right time to get it inserted.

Spurred on by shame and desperation, I went for it.

Without going into too much detail, it was the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. Afterwards, I had to see the doctor again for aftercare instructions and nearly passed out in her waiting room.

Now, 4 months later, my periods are still brutal. At least one day every month the cramps are so bad I can hardly bring myself to leave the house. This was something I had never experienced before. If there’s one thing hormonal birth control is very good at, it’s lessening PMS and period cramps. If my period was coming at an inconvenient time, I could simply postpone or skip it. That, obviously, is no longer an option.

And yet, I’m glad I did it.

You may wonder why. I can share a few reasons with you right now.

  1. I am done for the next 10-12 years. No condoms, no caps, no pills to remember to take. As long as the string is still there, I’m protected.
  2. I’m taking control of my life and my health. If the hypertension was caused by the contraceptives I’ve been taking, perhaps I can reverse it. Even my consistent weight gain over the years, I’m hoping to undo now. Estrogen can make you ravenously hungry, so it’s harder to keep your diet in check. And so on.
  3. I feel like a real woman. And I don’t mean that in any mystical, floaty sort of way. I have my sexuality back. Like a frog, slowly being boiled in a pot of water, I hadn’t noticed all the parts of myself that had gone missing. All the things I hadn’t truly felt all these years.

Sure, it’s annoying to deal with painful periods. But pain can be managed. Hot water bottles and ibuprofen are my new best friends during those days.

And I’m pretty sure that if men were the ones getting pregnant, there’d be a whole lot of better methods of prevention out there. But what can we do? These are the cards we’ve been dealt as women.

So yeah, I’m glad I took the plunge. The only regret I have is that I didn’t do it sooner, before the hypertension issue had even come up. Would I have done it, though, if someone had encouraged me years ago? Probably not.

I knew it would hurt, though I did understimate it. For future reference, when a doctor casually asks you about your pain threshold before a procedure, fucking brace yourself!

But, childbirth hurts a lot more. And when you don’t want to become a mother in the first place, it’s going to be even worse.