Monday, May 9, 2016

Metabolic Rehab part 2 - the Metabolic Banker

***Disclaimer - I am not a medical professional, nor do I claim to give any medical advice.  This blog entry is to discuss my personal understanding of how dieting impacts our metabolic process, and how my body has responded over the past 4 years to my fueling and exercise regime.  Please consult a medical professional before making any changes to your fueling and exercise program.***

Note - this is part 2 of a blog series.  If you have missed Part 1, I used my own personal way-back machine to evaluate how I got to the point where the desire to ride became overwhelmed by my body's demands to rest.  

Before I got an understanding of why I was continuing to deal with anxiety attacks and gastric distress in regards to my fitness routines, I started to blame myself and my surroundings.  It had to be because of mental stress, I'd say.  I'm getting too busy at work, I'm getting too upset about the groups I was riding in, I'm getting too emotional.  I was continuing to blame myself, that I wasn't doing the things I knew I should do.  I was making excuses instead of just training.  It was my fault.

After speaking to Wally from Vive Shake, I got a totally different image of what I was facing.  With this imagery I can understand where I am now, and what I have to deal with as I work on healing my broken metabolism.  Imagine for a minute that your body is a bank, and you are given a credit limit each day.  The currency in this bank is calories, and the bank has a minimum payment that it expects each day (your Base Metabolic Rate).  It expects you to pay that each day, as it uses it to keep the bank working.  The electric bill, the tellers, keeping the grass taken care of.  You know, the usual.  Beyond that, any additional work you wish to have done at the bank needs to be paid for as well.  When you are paying more in than you need, the bank will gladly store it in a fund for "overdraft protection".  

After decades of over payment, the bank is bursting at the seams;  It's gone through several expansions, and the vault is definitely overfull.  You decide that you need to take care of it, and use your available savings.  You start giving the bank less funds than it needs for it's daily work.  You start writing checks for additional work, above and beyond the minimum.  This continues every day for weeks.  For a while, the banker was okay with it;  you've got plenty of spare funds available, and you've been a good credit risk.   He's sure this is only a temporary measure.  He starts sending you reminder letters.

After a while, the banker starts to get a little nervous.  He starts to talk to your financial adviser about how to handle the situation.  The account that has been holding onto your savings is shrinking.  After numerous payments have not reached the minimum,  the banker decides he needs  to cut back.  He starts by cutting back on the electrical bill, maybe lays a teller or two off.  You continue to send less money to the bank, thinking that you've got plenty in the saving's account to handle the need.  You increase the checks for additional funds.  Now you are spending well above the minimum every day.  The banker is losing confidence; the letters are now getting rather sternly worded, with a few thinly veiled threats put in for good measure.

Time goes on, and you continue to spend significantly more than you pay;  The banker has lost all confidence in you.  He's decided that you are a bad risk, and has lowered your credit limit; he's sending as much money to the reserves for your bad risk account as possible.  He isn't going to do anything that isn't required of him in order to make sure that the bank can keep operating for as long as possible.  He's now sent you to collections, demanding that you take immediate action.  He's not willing to discuss payment arrangements, either.  

At some point you realize  things aren't right, and you start trying to do better on payments.  In fact, you are paying back above the original requested amount that the banker asked for.  The banker is still in panic mode, and putting a large portion of the money you send into savings.  He's not turning back on the lights, nor hiring additional tellers.  He doesn't care that the savings account still has plenty of reserves, or that you have been great on payments.  He only knows that you have been a credit risk, and that the chances of you not paying the bills again in the near future are high.  He continues to keep saving.  

When faced with this scenario, most of us can understand the banker to a point, but the metaphor breaks down once you start going back into savings.  Most of us would think that your body (aka the banker) would respond to having enough calories immediately once the imbalance is corrected.  The reality is that your body is fearfully and wonderfully made, and it was designed for one purpose - to survive.  We are given an amazingly complex brain by God, but the body is still an organism that will adapt to situations.  If given a famine situation, the body was designed to adapt and make sure you could live until food was available.  Once food is available, your body is going to want to protect itself against future famine.  It doesn't care that we live in the modern world, where starvation is less common, and that you are getting "3 squares a day".  It only knows that it didn't have enough to survive and was relying on your fat stores for an extended period of time.  That famine could return, and it needs to be ready.

This is where the modern "weight loss" industry keeps us embedded.  They come up with some gimmick that traumatizes our bodies, and then once it adapts and we "fail", they come up with another one.  Diet drinks, Diet foods, Diet pills - they all force our bodies into an unhealthy status, disrupting the relationship between our Brains and our Bodies.  It's a merry-go-round intended for us to stay on in order to keep milking us for our money.  We are brainwashed into thinking it's the only way to get a "healthy looking body".  

What we need to do is "pay back the banker", and win back his trust.  This isn't done by extreme measures.  Just like any relationship, it takes time to cultivate and effort to do right.   Identifying that the relationship is broken was a huge step for me.  I knew my relationship with food was broken this winter.  I was becoming desperate to find a better answer.  

What I didn't realize is that the relationship that I needed to repair was the one between my body, my brain, and my soul.  My soul wanted to see my body optimized and able to do the physical activities that I enjoy.  My brain kept telling me that I was just doing it wrong.  I needed to be more analytical;  it couldn't understand why we weren't just doing what we agreed on was best for everyone.  If they body would just keep to the program that it knew worked, they'd get back to where the soul wanted to be and beyond.

My body, on the other hand, was getting battered.  It had been being demanded to both do it's primary function (survive) and become physically strong;  all of which while being given a less than optimal food supply.  It had been asked to work out daily, or multiple times a day, while not getting the nutrition it believed it needed to repair muscles and keep all of my vital systems working normally.   It doesn't matter that my brain thought it knew what it was doing, my body was panicking;  it was begging for the brain to recognize the situation and do something different.   Instead, the brain just kept blaming the body and soul for the reduction in performance.

This realization is what Wally helped me to recognize this past weekend.  The next step was to understand what I needed to do to start the healing process.  Part 3 of this series will discuss the healing protocol, and how I'm going to get my body, mind, and soul back in harmony.

Metabolic Rehab part 1 - recognizing there is a problem.

Last week the NY Times dropped a pretty big bombshell.  After a six year study, a new report showed that the contestants of the Biggest Loser had significant struggles keeping the weight off.  That wasn't really the bombshell for anyone that has struggled with numbers on the scale, though.  The bombshell was that these contestants experienced a dramatic drop in BMR (base metabolic rate) along with major hormonal imbalances that caused keeping the weight off to be near impossible.  The drop in average calories their bodies were using was more than most dietitians say is safe for dieters to be attempting (up to around 600 calories per day drop).  They also experienced exteme shifts in the hormones that control hunger, making "staying in moderation" that much harder.  Most of the contestants, in a vain attempt to stay in their "healthy lifestyle", went to additional extremes to not head back down the path towards obesity.  This article, and most of the other ones I've seen from "celeberties" like Dr. Oz, left off at the pit of despair for anyone with weight and body image issues.  Without directly saying it, they stated that we were stuck with a battle for our lives;  Our bodies are reacting to weight loss by shutting down.  They left little to no room for hope.

Sadly, this experience mirrors my journey a little too closely. During the next several blog posts, I'm going to go through my personal experiences with weight loss, then do my best to describe what I believe has happened to my body, and lastly look forward to what I intend to do in order to rehab myself back to a healthy lifestyle.  The short answer is that there IS hope, but what there isn't is any quick fixes.  People like Wally Bishop from Vive Shake have proven that there is a path out, and that you can experience freedom from these chains.  The journey isn't easy, especially if you've already fallen prey to the "weight loss" industry, but it's real and it works.

At the end of Rob's Big Losers in 2012, I was in better shape than I had been my entire adult life, and I felt empowered to take a hold of my fitness and nutrition and be different.  Throughout 2012 I continued to gain strength on the bike.  From conquering Paris Mountain in January I went on to climb Ceaser's Head, Green River Cove, and Skyuka Mountain.  It felt amazing to have no limits!  At that point I made the decision to participate in the 2013 Assault on Mt Mitchell.  I didn't have any excuse to not try, even though I had only been riding for a year at that point.

before and after RBL 2012

On top of Skyuka!

Looking back on the past 4 years, it was the holiday season of 2012 that was the first "warning sign" for me.  I took a week off the bike during Thanksgiving, and my weight ballooned up.  I gained 15-20 lbs in the course of that week, topping off at 228.  With my sights on Mitchell, and my energy levels still high, I redoubled my training efforts and immediately saw that weight drop back off.  Throughout the winter I kept hammering hard and topped off my training with a late April scouting trip to the top of Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi River.  I felt amazing, but exhausted.  The next month I completed the Assault at a time a 8:38.

I blamed the 50 minute difference in moving time versus total time on my lack of execution on my fueling plan, and not stopping.  While this is true, this was likely my second "warning" that something was wrong.  Throughout the rest of 2013 I felt nearly unstoppable.  I was fast, strong, and able to conquer anything that I put my mind up against.  I was climbing like a billy goat, and enjoying life.

As 2014 started, a really good friend of mine started to train for AOMM.  Meanwhile, I had decided to give a try to a new ride starting that year, the Beech Mountain Metric.  Almost every weekend we were up in the mountains around Flat Rock, NC.  With the Assault on the Carolinas in April as a warm up, we both had our sights on big goals in 2014.  With about 3 weeks left to go before AOTC, we went on a scouting trip on the course.  We started near Table Rock, SC and completed all of the featured climbs of the Assault.  It was an amazing day, but it took it's toll on me.  By the time we got back I felt completely drained.  This was the first time where I really felt like something was wrong.

After that ride, I never quite recovered.  I took much of April off, and didn't have the Assault on the Carolinas that I had originally planned on.  I started doubting if I'd complete the Beech Mountain Metric, and ended up canceling my trip up to ride in the event.  I said it was purely about the costs of travel, but the reality was that I didn't feel like I had trained properly to be prepared for it, and my energy levels were low.

ATOC 2013 - photo credit Hank Birdsong

In late May I finally got some mojo back, and started to train in earnest for the 2014 Ride to Remember.  I doubled down on my efforts, starting to do 2-a-day training sessions (lunch and after work) to get myself back together.   I completed an 80-mile solo ride to complete a Strava time challenge.  While I felt like I was "getting back", I was also getting more tired.  By the time I completed the Ride to Remember, I was exhausted.   That didn't stop me from going out training while on vacation in Charleston, though.

It wasn't until October that I really started to feel the effects, though.  I had been given a free entry into the Hincapie Gran Fondo that year, and I really wanted to attempt the Gran (80 mile) route.  I had decided against it in 2012, knowing that I didn't have the training to complete the grueling challenge.  I completed the ride, minus Green River Cove, but it really did a number to me both physically and psychologically.  When I got to Howard Gap, I was broken.  If a SAG vehicle had come by, I am sure I would have climbed in.  I attempted to walk the climb, but after 15 minutes I hadn't managed to get a quarter mile.  I finally decided to "paper boy" my way up the climb (zig-zagging across the road).  It was a bad decision to attempt the course, and I knew it.

I ended up taking much of November and December off.  Between non-ideal weather days and lack of energy, I just didn't have the mental power to force myself onto the bike.  My 40th birthday came and went without a lot of fanfare, but I did manage to gift myself an extra 15 lbs of weight, along with a bunch of guilt.  By January I had decided I had to get back on the bike and get the weight off.  I started to ride again, as well as working on dieting and strength training.  By May I was back down to 215, but I was experiencing a lot of anguish trying to keep on my training schedule.  I'd wake up early on a Saturday morning to go train, and I'd have panic attacks and stomach issues.  Going out for rides during lunch (which I had previously done regularly without any reservation) became a chore.  Keeping to my training plan was a burden.  I attributed it to other personal issues, but the reality is that my body was begging me to pay attention to the stress I was putting on it.  Instead I kept to the mantra of "mind over matter", and kept pushing.

AOTC 2015 - photo credit Hank Birdsong

I completed the 2015 Ride to Remember with the "front group", but was completely taxed by the end.  I didn't end up doing any rides afterwards, and started to struggle to find the energy to go on rides.   The thing that had been my fitness vehicle and gives me great joy was now giving me extreme stress.  Compounding this was the fact that I was gaining weight fast, even when I was attempting to keep to a reasonable meal strategy.  I started blaming it on my relationship with food;  I believed the problem was my ability to do things.

By January I was up to a hefty 237, and I was desperate to find a new solution.  I had attempted to begin a new training plan on Zwift (bicycle training simulator) early in November.  My lack of energy along with my father-in-law getting gravely ill ment that it only lasted about 2 weeks.  Over the holidays my apparent IT Band issues got worse, culminating in discovering that I actually had a torn meniscus (knee cartilage) and I need to start a new round of rehab and find my "new normal".  I had not been riding consistently;  I had been working on rucking (brisk walking with a weighted pack) as a way to get some exercise into my life.  I was to a level of depression about not understanding what had happened to my body.  

By February my knee was feeling better, and I found riding helped it more than hurt it, so I started training again.  What I found was a continuation of the fact that I could "force" myself to ride in my old training regime for a week or two, but then the extreme fatigue would set in and I'd feel worse for several days afterward.  I was slowly losing weight, but I didn't feel energized.  Just day to day activities became a struggle.  

I decided well before the bad weather showed up that this year I'd rather do the short route for the Assault on the Carolinas.  I had attempted Caeaser's Head shortly beforehand and I was exhausted and in pain by the time I reached the top.  I hadn't completed a metric century since the end of RTR last year, and I wasn't ready to risk my knee.  I had a blast on the shorter route (I'd actually highly recommend it, honestly), it was another signal about what my body was telling me.  

At this point it takes me 2 or 3 days to start feeling motivated to ride again after a major effort.  Even events that I am over the moon excited about I can get terrified over the night before or day of.  The "I really regret that workout yesterday... said no one ever"?  Yeah, I guess I'm starting to be no one.  After bigger rides I regret it for not having the energy to spend time with the kids and be active.  At this point sometimes my wife has to give me a nudge to find the energy to go out.  This report was a shocking "wake up call" on what my body had been telling me.

Next - what my body was trying to tell me that I was doing (overdraft protection).