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!
Fall is upon us, and I achieved a significant health milestone! Not only did I finish up my seventeenth five-day water fast on September 1st and was delighted with the results it led to during the rest of the month, but I surpassed the 100-day mark with my pain-free time streak! In this installment, we'll look at my streak, fasting results, the incredible effect fasting had on my workouts, and making a significant shift in my sleep.
100 Days of Wonder
Let's start with the best part. On September 29th, I reached 100 straight days that had time without pain and ended the month on day 101! I went without CBD oil on seventeen days, and thirteen of those days came in the latter half of the month. During the vast majority of this streak, I was fortunate if I could go five days a month without help from CBD. At this point, I think only injury or illness can endanger my health. Had I not caught a vicious case of food poisoning in May when I was already on a roll, I suspect I'd have had such a streak even sooner.
Even though I have had over three straight months of these kinds of days, this milestone still has me in awe. I never would've believed it possible back on January 16, 2017, when I was in constant excruciating pain and committed to my new method for addressing my health, that I'd see a single day where I had even a moment away from my neuropathic pain and interstitial cystitis. The fires covered everywhere on my body except for my upper chest and caused me such pain that I wouldn't even turn my head. Chewing my food stung so much in my gut that I had to distract myself from eating to get a meal down. I didn't dare to let myself consider the possibility of becoming pain-free in any way. It seemed like pure fantasy to think I could get rid of something that only spread and intensified since 1985 from IC to irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, burning mouth syndrome, and trigeminal and occipital neuralgias.
Yet the relief happened for very rational reasons, and I love every minute!
The first four years of my recovery took a tremendous amount of effort, and the first eight months had many junctures where it looked hopeless. My health had to be my top priority every day. However, as I continued to figure out my system for recovery, it became less difficult to keep at since I established routines and my symptoms slowly ticked downward. For nearly 18 months, it's felt effortless to me.
I still invest about two hours of every day in my health through weight lifting, jogging, staying mobile, and making sure to pace my work carefully not to overstress myself, but I've tied this maintenance to all of my most important values, so I love the effort I put into my health! I've trained my mind to recognize gains I make in life the moment they occur, whether it's yet another client success, a better way to communicate my system for recovery in the book I'm writing, or seeing my body composition or exercise capacity increase. It's a value-focused and value-driven mindset that's automatic after years of practice. It keeps me wanting to see even more improvements, which furthers the near ecstatic level of happiness I find myself feeling regularly.
It's hard to convey how awesome it feels to know that all of this happened because of my choices and the identifications and integrations I made in health. I earned every micron of improvement, and I know it. It gives me the steadfast confidence that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to.
I've mastered addressing the foundational nutritional and physical dysfunctions I had through neuroscience, lifestyle, mindset, and Functional Medicine applications. The completion of the circuit is that I understand my body's signals, have the experience of knowing how to handle pain, and identified all my triggers so that nothing is toppling the habits I've built. My health is so resilient now that work, weightlifting, travel, and even triggers such as sugar and alcohol are no longer causing lasting problems. I have healed to a tremendous degree! And seeing this system continually help my clients gives me the greatest joy I've ever felt.
Now I have my sights set on the next step: a completely pain-free day. I am very close to this as well. Six times, I've gotten within a couple of hours of being without pain for a whole day. I'm hoping to get there before my sixth recovery anniversary in January!
Now, I'll focus on the water fast I did since it was integral to how great I was feeling and why I needed so little CBD.
I had so little overall pain before this seventeenth five-day water fast that I was the most reluctant I've been to do one. I began them back in 2019 after I'd learned about the stem cell generation that comes from them and thought that they'd be worth trying considering I still had nerve pain all the time between the intensity of four to six. They steadily helped with my pain and body composition, so they eventually became a monthly staple for me. Last year, when I started to get days with pain-free time regularly, I pushed them back to quarterly, and now, for a full fourteen months.
This fast went the best one ever has for me! I attribute that to being on a ketogenic diet this time and because I had new help keeping my electrolytes up from Keto Chow. For more about that, see last month's update, which ended with me having one day left to fast.
To cap off the process, I wanted more data to track the effects extended fasting could have on the body. So, in mid-August, I got a DEXA scan to chart my body composition progress, and I scheduled another near the end of my fast. That gave me a great baseline to see how much an extended water fast would change my body fat and lean mass.
In those couple of weeks, I lost 1.5% body fat and 3.1 pounds of lean mass. I also was down 6.4 pounds total since the previous DEXA. In addition, my bone density decreased by .1, which was perhaps to be expected based on this study of rats.
While the bone density decrease is interesting, I'll focus on the lean mass loss. Lean mass can be muscle, loose skin, or ligaments and structures holding fat tissue in place. Despite those multiple possible sources of loss, I know the fast cost me some good weight along with the body fat, as I'll detail in my exercise recap below. I suspect that I lost more lean mass now than I did when I first began fasting and had more body fat to draw from as fuel during the fast, which would explain why some fatigue has crept into my last few extended fasts. My body fat is now only 13.9%. Unfortunately, I do not have data from when I began fasting to see any trends with myself, but my body was not nearly as defined as it is now.
My experience is only a single data point for the effects of fasting on body composition, so I don't think what happened to me this time is definitive by any means--context is critically important. I hope that extended fasting is thoroughly studied in a clinical setting in the future to get to the bottom of this and other questions. Nevertheless, this lean mass and bone density loss is an important consideration to keep in mind for anyone who has trouble putting on muscle or has weak bones.
Coming out of the fast, there was no question about the healing power of it! My pain was the lowest it had been during a fast. On top of that, I have always had a surge of lower leg neuropathic pain at each of my first refeeding meals, but it didn't happen this time! And the second day of refeeding was tremendous. I was bursting with strength. There's a 2000% human growth hormone release in men at the end of the fast, and I certainly felt it, which is a perfect segue into the next section of this health update.
I felt like I had to lift on that second refeed day. When I did, I had a great first workout back. I was almost just as strong on the four exercises I did as I was before the fast. So why do I say I lost some lean muscle mass? The next two workouts showed more noticeable repetition decreases in the 2-3 range on every other exercise, so there was a definite step back in strength across the board.
More importantly, the healing effects of the fast emerged most obviously in workout recovery. I had almost zero inflammatory pain after any workout in all of September! This recovery state was the level I had barely reached just before I had food poisoning and had never returned to since.
Every workout, whether lifting or running after mid-May, had become a bit of a slog that I had to dig deep to get through. I routinely noticed my heart rate was too high after workouts, a key giveaway that I was in a state of overtraining. My sleep was also poor, and the day after a workout would feature a lot of inflammation and typical soreness.
This month was the best I've ever recovered from workouts! And on top of that, during the last eight days of the month, I set new personal records on all eleven exercises, so my strength is at an all-time high! I suspect I've regained whatever lean mass I lost with the fast. It's interesting that getting rid of my inflammation opened up this new threshold of lifting gains. I haven't had a sustained surge of lifting success since before food poisoning. Now I'm very close to reaching one of my long-time goals: successfully bench pressing a set of eight repetitions of my body weight. I think I'll get there in October!
My energy level was superb all month as well. Before the fast, I was commonly so tired after lifting in the evenings that I wouldn't be capable of another work session after dinner like I was a few months back. I was happy that I still had the reserves to get back to work nearly every night!
As for my other favorite exercise, bouldering, I had one trip to do so during the month and did six tough orange walls. You can see one of them here. I used to struggle mightily with walls that featured plane changes, but on the fifth try, I got it! I also made it 2/3rds through a black wall, which would be the hardest one yet that I've completed. Maybe I'll get one next month!
I think the lower body fat, weight loss, and generally low inflammation made the bouldering progress possible.
One last workout change is that I'm back to not needing ice baths as often to cool my nerves after a shoulder-intensive lifting session. After food poisoning, I was back to needing an ice bath with most workouts to cool down the nerve pain I'd get from lifting. Now, I only need one every third workout when I do chin-ups and pull-ups. This is another welcome development since the ice could sometimes bring back some bladder urgency for me that could last for a few hours, yet it was a net gain for me because it could stop many hours or perhaps multiple days of nerve inflammation. It was a win that I found ice baths could enable me to lift weights with less pain and better recovery, with only temporary bladder side effects, but it's a bigger win not to need to get the temporary symptoms and still recover well!
Say Goodnight to Sleep Meds
For 14 years, I've had trouble falling asleep due to pain concerns on my head, and a mild sedative could help turn down the nerves for them to take pressure from a pillow. I've had periods during my recovery where I managed to fully get off any medication to help with sleep, but each time, either an illness or weight lifting proved to raise my pain enough that I concluded it wasn't yet the best time to be without the help. The poor sleep would lead to worse recovery and impaired function each day, and I'd slowly deteriorate.
I briefly mentioned needing to improve my sleep a couple of months ago but didn't have a chance to tackle it with such a busy August.
One of my core recovery principles now that I'm out of the crisis stage is never to add a possibly inflammatory behavior change when my overall pain, stress load, fatigue level, or emotional state is overtasked. I simply had too much work to do, and my pain-free streak was in such danger from the pain from running and gaming that it likely would've ended the streak had I put my desire to change my sleep habits above how I was feeling. A health change must be rational for one's context to lead to lasting improvement. Sometimes the path to health progress requires retreating to safe behaviors or even simply more time on the proper behaviors to allow enough healing to occur to try a more challenging health approach. I had great success in the past with sticking with extended fasting and calisthenics longer than I wanted to before my body was ready to attempt weightlifting.
On the 28th, since I was feeling wonderfully, I deemed it reasonable to finally titrate down the medication I've been taking to help me get to sleep. I halved the dose by chopping the tablet in two and will eventually go to an every-other-day dosing schedule before completely stopping. Rather than have a rigid dosing schedule, I'll make the next decrease when I've had several days of good sleep. I have been prone to many withdrawal effects when stopping the 15 medications I was on back in January of 2017, so I find an ultra-slow pace often works best for me. I'll report on how it goes next month! The first few nights of a half dose went fine.
With how great I'm consistently feeling, I am contemplating reducing these updates to every other month or perhaps even quarterly since they are more of the same progress each time. I've shown some of why my approach to addressing and managing one's conditions is so potent for recovery from chronic health problems. And I think my effort would be better spent creating content about how you, dear reader, can improve your health within the scope of your chronic conditions. For now, look for another update next month!
Also on the horizon are a new podcast appearance by me, which I'll record in the first week of October and announce shortly! And finally, I put the finishing touches on videos I recorded earlier this year. So keep an eye out soon for multiple new videos!
I hope you have a month of health progress!