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An objective look at my general health

March 08, 2019

PUT UP OR SHUT UP (and I can never shut up, just ask my family)

Scanning through the books on my iPad I counted 18 books on general health, ranging from the effects of diet, sleep, and exercise on general health to more specialised books on genetics, epigenetics, and telomeres. Not to mention numerous books on behavioural science.

As a dentist, in my study I have several books on nutrition and dentistry; books on the damaging effects of gum disease on general health.

As a swim coach, numerous books on swimming, weight training, heart rate training, yoga, pilates, core strength, and flexibility.

I have been involved in sport all my life; representing the UK at the world student games, I was Irish and Ulster Senior Captain in Waterpolo for many years, retiring from the sport at the age of 36 when I was still playing at the top level.

Throughout my life, my weight has always been a problem, during my playing career, mid season I could have racked up 30+ hours of hard training a week. I could eat what I liked without too much weight gain. Off-season I would put weight on but once training kicked in I would easily drop two-to-three stone in as many weeks.

I remember a conversation with my wife’s uncle Jim Boggan, a legendary GAA coach. He told me that my greatest challenge would be to control my weight once I stopped playing, and that has turned out to be true.

As with many other people, family duties take their toll on training. I have always continued my love of water by coaching and swimming with Larne Swimming Club. At times I have trained really hard hitting 14-20 hours a week in the pool, losing weight I regularly weight train and cycle a fair bit, but that has tailed off and maintaining that as I approach 55 is getting harder.

A recent heart ECG and echocardiogram have shown my heart to be strong, my resting pulse rate is 55 BPM and in heart rate training I can lift my heart rate to 165-170 BPM. At the moment I am not training hard but will still do at least three 2 hour swim sessions of 5000-7000m. Despite this, my weight puts me in the higher ranges of the obese register.

Carrying this amount of weight carries a series of interlinked health risks, that increase my chances of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia, high blood pressure, stroke. I also know I have a degree of sleep apnea, which itself causes a loop of increased risk of dementia, depression, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

So why is it armed with the detailed knowledge I possess, I cannot control my weight?

In answering this question I would put it firmly in my dependence or addiction to refined carbs and sugar in my diet. This has been a lifelong problem, possibly rooted in feeding habits developed as a baby when in the post-war period a bouncing baby was seen as a healthy thing.

In the past six months, due to various circumstances, my training has been at an all-time low. I have made efforts to adjust my diet to cope with this, partially successful, my weight has crept up.

The easiest thing was to reign in alcohol. I would describe myself as an average drinker but still taking more than the recommended government units. Since Christmas, I have cut back and most weeks I am below the 14 units per week limit and was surprised at how easy it was to cut back, I thought/feared reducing alcohol would be more of a struggle.

On my diet I have made some adjustments, I love coffee but have cut 2-3 cappuccinos a day down to 2-3 per week. I have generally switched to 2 cups of black coffee a day all before 12.00am to reduce calories and aid sleep. Cutting back on my beloved cappuccino was much harder than alcohol, but even harder is to cut back on refined carbs in the form of white bread, pasta, sneaky bags of crisps and chocolate.

In my sporting life I have always been very disciplined, as soon as I decide a training regime I am good at sticking it no matter the pain and suffering and so I am going to try and bring the same discipline, and pain and suffering to my diet. So I will try and reboot my metabolism and love of sugar in a short sharp shock.

Without taking blood I would put a fair bet that I am pre-diabetic, a condition where I am showing signs of insulin insensitivity. This means my body is overproducing insulin and the food I eat is shunted into fat stores leaving me hungry.

To reset this I will start tomorrow with a four day fast, this will quickly drain my system of all blood glucose and stored glycogen (within 14 hours), this then forces the body into two systems of energy release; fat cells are broken down into fatty acids and ketone bodies. These are used for energy and autophaging, where damaged and ageing cells are broken down to be recycled.

This 4-day fast will neatly take me into Lent and so I will follow the fast with 40 days of calorie limited intake, Mon – Thurs I will limit myself to 2 meals per day 12 hours apart and a maximum of 800 calories. The weekend I will relax things a bit, still 2 meals 12 hours apart but about 1800 calories.

This regime of limited calories and intermittent fasting has been shown to provide a whole host of benefits, reversing the signs of diabetes, reducing the chances of cancer and dementia.

The diet will be based on limited protein and foods high in fibre, complex carbs, and micronutrients. It’s designed to boost my gut biome that is shown to boost mental health, regulate weight and the immune system.

It is very difficult to estimate my ideal weight but I feel I need to lose between 30 and 40kg so come Easter I will weigh myself then (but not before) compare my waist size and get a full set of blood tests to allow me to assess my diabetes status and look for blood markers that identify cancer risk.

By the time this is posted I hopefully will have successfully completed the four day fast and will be on the easier intermittent fasting phase. I will follow this article with a series on; the awful effects of sugar and processed foods; the great benefits of a more Mediterranean style diet; how intermittent fasting can protect against dementia; how good quality sleep is vital for a healthy life; our dependence on good gut bacteria; as well as the benefits of exercise of which swimming is king.

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