The mistake many people make when it comes to “gym rats” and “muscle heads” is assuming that the only reason to work out is to look good. This may be true when you are 19, but when you are older and getting over Lyme disease, muscle mass, fitness, and body fat percentage aren’t a question of looks: they are a question, literally, of survival.
Managing weight gain is a real challenge during the holiday season, and an important one. Here are some of my thoughts on weight management and Lyme disease, and some strategies you can employ to stay trim and healthy through the holiday season, with a specific focus on Lyme disease. If you haven’t already, read the free chapter from my recent book on the topic of diet and Lyme disease.
First, let me start by saying that this is a very important topic. Lyme sufferers’ hormones are already very compromised, and obesity further throws off the balance. The consequences of deranged hormones are very real and perceptible. One of the most common consequences is lack of energy, immune dysfunction, depression, lowered sex hormone levels, insulin resistance, and more.
I’m working hard on a very long series of articles on diet and exercise. So, consider this post today, just a brief glimpse at one micro-topic in this subject area. Stay tuned for the series of posts, coming in Spring, 2016.
OK, back to the topic at hand. I’ll start with a very useful principle. When you are herxing, or feel bad, or fighting a cold or flu, it is often not possible or practical to watch what you eat. When chronically ill people are having a “bad day,” the body generally needs a much higher caloric count in order to heal and sustain daily energy. So, if you are still really in the thick of the fight, it’s best to just eat what your body needs and craves (with the exception of processed carbohydrates and sugars, or any other obviously unhealthy food).
This is why it is so important to control your diet when you feel good. While most of the population feels good a lot, you may only feel good some of the time. So you have a smaller window during which to really make a concerted effort to eat what keeps you healthy. I’m definitely not saying you should just throw caution to the wind on bad days and eat crap all day – on the contrary, bad days are often helped greatly by veggie smoothies or juicing and many other healthy eating habits. What I am saying is that weight gain and close watching of carbohydrate intake is much less realistic when the body is under stress. That’s the time when your body needs all the energy it can get. So, during your good days when you feel like you are on top of things, that’s the time to really focus on keeping your weight under control.
One very useful strategy for weight control is to do strength training (lifting weights) consistently. Many Lyme sufferers can’t tolerate a lot of cardio exercise due to adrenal fatigue and other consequences. And here’s the good news – while cardio is important, the benefits of strength training are typically much more useful for Lyme sufferers, plus, strength training doesn’t drain you in the same way that cardio typically can. Strength training causes a spike in many important hormones like human growth hormone (HGH), sex hormones, and other rejuvinating hormones. So, strength training can really make you feel better, pretty quickly, as these hormones directly cause regeneration and healing in your damaged tissues. However, the benefit of strength training which is relevant to our discussion today is that it revs up the metabolism and really helps shed the pounds, and prevents new pounds of fat from being added during over-eating. When I do a very hard strength training workout, even if I forego cardio, I can eat almost whatever I want for the next two days, without any weight gain. Note that I am an experienced weight lifter, so start slow and only under the supervision of your doctor. Note also that because Lyme disease is stressful to the body, and so is exercise, that your recovery window should be longer than that of a normal person. If a normal person works out every 3 days, you should probably double that and give your body 6 days to rest between workouts. Also be aware that Lyme-damaged joints should be treated with extra care at the gym. Don’t do exercises or movements that hurt you, period. Injury is never justified or helpful during recovery. I had to experiment for a long time to determine which exercises are helpful to me and which are harmful.
So, there’s your first strategy for the holiday season: strength training (and cardio if you can tolerate it). Remember that even Lyme Disease legends like Dr. Burrascano have said, and I quote: “You cannot recover from Lyme disease without exercise.” Dr. Burrascano, as I do, recommends strength training as being as, or usually more, important than cardio exercise.
Next, consider the wisdom of intermittent fasting. I’ve been fascinated by intermittent fasting for several months now and implemented it in my own life, and it is one of the most helpful things I’ve done in years. There have been several research articles about how fasting can regenerate the immune system and improve health, but most of us can’t fast for 3 days, let alone even one full day. That’s where intermittent fasting (IF for short) comes in. Instead of fasting for days, IF dictates that you simply try to eat breakfast as late as you can, and dinner as early as you can. I’ll be writing much more about this in depth later, but for now, know that this way of eating keeps you more satiated and helps you lose weight. The long stretches with no food also cause spikes in all your important hormones, rejuvinating and regenerating your tissues.
But for our purposes in the holiday season, IF also has other great benefits. Here’s an example. If you are trying to not overeat on Thanksgiving, let’s say, you may go home after your Thanksgiving dinner and feel guilty that you stuffed yourself. But here’s a life-changing insight which very much changed how I think about this. Instead of measuring how much you eat over the course of 24 hours, change your thinking to the course of 48 hours. Here’s my recent example. On Thanksgiving, I too overate. However, the next day, I fasted until noon (and actually I wasn’t very hungry anyway, due to the feast of the night before – this is one of the secrets of IF… ride out that full feeling and don’t eat again until you are perceptively HUNGRY, don’t simply eat breakfast because everyone else is). At noon I broke my mini-fast with some vegetables and veggie juice. Then I didn’t eat again until dinner. At dinner, I ate Thanksgiving leftovers, but I didn’t gorge. Then I went to the gym for 45 minutes of strength training. The next morning, I woke up and waited until 11am to eat breakfast. I didn’t gain any weight at all, despite stuffing myself on Thanksgiving night!
There’s actually a deeper wisdom ingrained in our DNA when it comes to IF. You aren’t just using the latest diet fad. IF is actually how humans, and animals, have survived for thousands of years. The occurrence of a very large feast or meal, followed by scarcity of food, is how our bodies were designed to function and how they did in fact function for long periods of time. By using IF in your daily life you are actually putting yourself much more in tune with the way your body is designed to function, and your body will thank you for it in the form of increased hormones, weight control, detoxification, and other benefits. There is a tremendous amount of information on IF available online and it is becoming more and more common and accepted among respected experts such as Dr. Joseph Mercola. I suggest Googling “intermittent fasting” and doing some reading.
So, now you have two tools in your tool box for the holidays: IF and strength training.
Let’s look at a few more options you can also employ:
- Pick and choose your indulgences. If you know you are about to sit down to a feast, don’t eat appetizers like salami or nuts; these are very high calorie appetizers. Instead, eat veggies for appetizers and then indulge on the main course.
- Take days in between feasting where you are more conscious about what you eat, work out harder, and fast longer.
- Work out in ways that it makes sense for you personally. If you hate the gym, get equipment for home. If you can’t focus at home, go to the gym. Personally, I prefer a little of both. I have equipment at home and I go to the gym.
- Really listen to your body. Don’t stick your hands in that bowl of holiday candies if you are already stuffed from dinner and pie. Don’t be compulsive.
- If you struggle with being underweight and this blog post isn’t useful to you, I apologize, that is a different struggle and one which I’ve never personally faced, and therefore I don’t have a good understanding for writing about it. For me, even when I was very sick, weight gain was always the problem I struggled with.
- Exercise self-control at the grocery store, and at home. It’s OK to feast when you are out celebrating, but DO NOT bring left-over treats home with you. Keep your eating at home on track and save your indulgences for being away from home. If you are the host, send all the treats home with guests or throw them away immediately after the dinner party.
- Don’t look at people at the gym and compare yourself to them. You are just going for incremental improvement in your own body. This is a very important consideration. Look at that picture of me at the top of this post. I’m not going to win any Mr. Universe competitions. But I want to be healthy based on what that means for MY BODY, not someone else’s body.
- Lastly, remember that there’s no free lunch. If you completely let yourself go in December, you’ll have to pay for it in January. Think of gratification as a long-term game, not a short term game. Sure, if you stuff your face now you’ll be just as satisfied as your friends and family. But if you exercise self-control, they might win in the short term but you’ll be feeling MUCH better about yourself come January. Think of the long game. Just like with money and long-term savings, real satisfaction and peace in life comes not from instant gratification, but from long-term planning and deferred gratification.
- Manage inflammation with supplements like Liposomal Curcumin and Boswelia. If you have excess inflammation in your body, you’ll feel tired, depressed, have no energy, and no motivation.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this small sample of a few strategies you can use to keep yourself healthy during the holiday season. I must admit that I’m very passionate about this topic. Having fought Lyme disease, I am so appreciative of my machine (my body) and I want it to be in tip-top shape for as long as possible. I have zero tolerance for excess body fat not because I am vain or insecure, but because I hate how I feel when I’m not strong and lean. It’s an internal feeling for me, not an external insecurity. I hope you too can see the potential for your body to be an incredible machine.
If you are too sick to really be worried about this topic, I would say this to you: Most of what I write about here applies to people who are sick. Of course, consult your doctor, but know that things like muscle mass, fasting, and other nutrition topics are very important for recovery. Excess body fat messes up your hormones big time whether you are healthy or sick.
There are many more topics we will be covering when it comes to this subject. In fact, as you get closer to recovery, this becomes more and more a focus. How do you get your body, hormones, strength, and diet back on track when the Lyme bacteria has been beat back? How do all the dots connect… how does nutrition provide energy for working out? How can you replenish you depleted stores of nutrients in order to heal and be strong enough to work out? How can you improve sleep so you can recover after workouts? See… it is all tied together. One thing supports another, and so on. We need to take a holistic approach to healing that is beyond Lyme disease in order to continue on the path to reaching our peak potential.
Stay tuned for more on these inter-related topics, and have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!