This is a post from My Health Journey, an ongoing series where I document my health progress. Follow along to see, month after month, how I implement my recovery protocol, handle stressful situations, eliminate food sensitivities, incrementally train my nervous system to handle more stress, and ultimately, how my method continues to allow me greater and greater freedom, happiness, and health!
October is in the books, and I had yet another month of health improvement despite pivoting with diet to pursue recomposing my body mass and continuing to reduce my reliance on medication. So let's examine how and what I did!
Pain Improvement & Dietary Change
As has become habitual in these updates, I had my best month yet with pain! Pain-free time rolled on for another complete month, bringing my streak up to 132 days! That's over 18 straight weeks! My health is so resilient that the streak rolls on, even with the changes I made in my diet.
Following the conclusion of another five-day water fast, I was down to 142 pounds, which was getting pretty low for my 5'9" height. I quickly regained 2.5 pounds after a day of eating, but I didn't want to flirt with continuing to cut my body fat and getting into the 130s. I began eating a maintenance amount of calories instead of a 25% daily deficit, as I have been for nearly a year to pursue cutting down my body fat. I started adding weight and what appeared to be muscle.
In addition to this weight, I started having a remarkable string of workout successes that began shortly after the fast. With all these factors, I decided to try an experiment with abandoning cutting down my body fat from 13.9% to start a mini-bulk-up process of eating to add some muscle mass and see if it kept the workout progress going. I think a good bulking-up target of calories is 110% of maintenance, so once my weight gain slowed on maintenance, I raised my daily consumption to that level.
As of this writing, I've increased my weight by nine more pounds to 153. I was going to stop bulking up when I reached 155 pounds, which should be two weeks from now, but I don't seem to be adding hardly any fat. I'm considering doing another DEXA scan to see how much lean mass and body fat I added to help me determine what to do next. As you can see in the nearby photo from near the end of the month, I have added some considerable bulk in my shoulders and upper body. I'll definitely start cutting back down in the near future to get my body fat in the 6-12% range, but not at such a low weight.
Interestingly, the added calories haven't increased my inflammation or pain. Throughout my fifteen years of disability and several years of recovery from interstitial cystitis, fibromyalgia, other autoimmune diseases, and chronic neuropathic pain, I had to eat surprisingly few calories to decrease my nerve and gut pain. I say surprisingly because I only ate two moderate meals per day when I was ballooning up to over 242 pounds and had to eat even less to calm things down. Even during a 2020 bulk-up, my pain increased significantly with the additional calories. This time, my pain improved with the extra calories! My monthly business trip didn't fatigue me as much as usual, and I had highly productive work days even when I flew.
The Joys of Painless Sitting
One thing I haven't mentioned here previously is that the only sign of what I've gone through from decades of autoimmune diseases and chronic pain is that I often sit on a soft wheelchair cushion. While vastly improved and no longer causing interstitial cystitis symptoms, the nerves throughout my pelvic floor and tailbone can still be easily set off. At times, any surface could feel like sitting on a brick, sometimes even if I had a cushion to sit on. Often, squats or deadlifts would aggravate the area too. However, that hasn't been happening nearly as much lately.
This month, I experienced some noticeable improvement. I'm not noticing any ill effects after weight training, and I spent three evenings out without my cushion and didn't have pain increases! Life without a cushion is one of the final frontiers for my health. It still is very chair-dependent for me how well I can handle sitting, but if my pain is low and I sit on a favorable surface, I can take it better now. I'll try cushionless life a few more times in November and see how it goes!
The Excellent Exercise Payoffs from Bulking Up
The results of adding weight have been impressive to me! I set lifting records on all eleven weighted exercises in every workout for the entire month! I don't remember that ever happening to me! I had been lifting in a considerable caloric deficit for the last eleven months, and my body flourished with the extra fuel. Since adding the extra calories in October, I felt awesome during my workouts, with my energy rising much of the time. I even felt like I still had some considerable stamina reserves at the end. My workout recoveries were generally better, too, with fewer residual aches the day after lifting.
Similarly, I went bouldering once and had my best session ever, which surprised me. Sometimes, adding weight can be an extra drag off the walls. I have a friend who has added twenty-five pounds of muscle this year, and he's struggling to progress with his bouldering skills due to the added bulk.
During my one trip, I did a personal record of eight upper intermediate difficulty walls. As pictured here, I had vastly improved control of my body. I felt significantly more stable than in the past, even when hanging parallel to the ground, crossing over to reach, and grasping at full extension. I'm developing a fuller repertoire of moves, which is satisfying! When I began climbing this level of difficulty walls, I could only do straight vertical climbs, which rely heavily on upper body strength from chin-ups and pull-ups. Now I'm dangling upside down and climbing against steep angles with ease. I didn't even notice the extra pull of gravity pictured in some of these shots. And look at the total control I held a pull-up motion at the end of one of the walls!
I was on my way to completing my first advanced difficulty black-colored wall but lost a bouldering and weightlifting callous that caused enough pain and bleeding that I had to abandon the attempt. When I got injured, I was 2/3rds of the way up and still had plenty in the tank with some challenging moves remaining, but they were all motions I have in my wheelhouse. I think I'll succeed next time! Despite the slight injury, I still managed to do six of my successful eight orange walls after. The pain was minor compared to what I used to deal with, and I started using my tools for pain management immediately. My friend wrapped my hand with waterproof tape, and I distracted from the wound to decrease the neural activation, did some deep breathing, and took a dose of CBD oil, which I always bring to the gym, along with CBD cream for areas such as my shoulders. (I always pre-treat my shoulders with CBD cream before bouldering since it is so intense for my shoulder nerves.)
Wonderfully, I had zero extra pain the hours and a couple of days after bouldering.
I love seeing all this continued progress and pulling off these challenging moves! These concrete results reinforce that I'm on the right track with my health and fitness. I look forward to what I'll be able to do when I'm even stronger and leaner!
I've been on medication to get to sleep consistently since 2008 to mask the pain in my shoulders, neck, and temples that would keep me awake. I stopped all sleep aids a few years back but found that when I began weightlifting, the extra stinging in those same areas made getting to sleep a problem, so I went back on medication. That choice allowed me to get to sleep and progress much more easily and comfortably with weightlifting.
Now that my pain is an excellent spot with weightlifting and I've been easily getting to sleep for several months, I'm finally looking to stop the medication. This month, I reduced it by half, chopping the tablet in two since I'm on the lowest possible dosage tablet. I had little to no detrimental effects! For the first two weeks, I slept almost an extra hour each day and woke up feeling a little unrested. With my continued pain-free time streak and weightlifting gains, I pressed on. The second two weeks of the month were a breeze. Because of this success, I'll reduce the dosage to a quarter of a tablet next month.
I'm going to bulk up for two more weeks. Then I'll switch to cutting down again as I move within two months of my sixth recovery anniversary on January 16th. I'm eager to see how that goes and what happens with my sleep!
I'll keep releasing content each week as I have for the past month, so keep an eye out for a continued batch of video releases and the likely premiere of my interview on Robert Sikes's podcast, Keto Savage. On that podcast, I discussed my recovery, my work, and ketosis's role in my recovery.
I hope you have a great month, and I look forward to seeing you in December!