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The Journey


Courtney Cunningham

Well... I didn't lose 30 pounds by the time we left for Washing DC (April 9).  But I hit 34 pounds (I weighed 239 this morning) today and its been coming off pretty rapidly in the last couple weeks.  I have not been eating strict Keto.  Not even close to strict.  Which, for me, makes one thing obvious:  weight loss/gain is about hormones.  Specifically, if I keep my blood insulin and blood sugar low, I lose weight.  And, more importantly, I've been losing it from around my belly.  This loss of fat around the mid-section is crucial for health.  Belly fat and visceral fat (around the internal organs) are directly associated with all kinds of disease, the most deadly of which are diabetes and heart disease.

Here's what I've learned works for me:

1.  For the most part, I eat once a day and keep the eating window as short as possible.  This maximizes the length of time between meals.  The longer your "fasting" period, the longer you keep insulin levels low.  This is critical as insulin is the hormone that triggers burning glucose or stored fat.  If insulin is low, you're more likely to burn stored fat for fuel.  I usually don't eat until 5:00PM and I'm done by 8:00PM.  I don't eat within 3 hours of bed time if possible.

There are days that I eat a couple meals a day and don't worry too much about the eating window.  Usually once or twice a week I have a pretty big meal or a 10+ hour eating window.  I just do my best the rest of the week and don't worry about it otherwise.  I only have black chemex coffee with a splash of almond milk in the morning... you're in a natural state of mild ketosis in the morning from fasting through the night so making this fast last as long as possible is the easiest way to burn extra fat.  Also, the oils in coffee are highly beneficial if you have a contaminant free source for your beans.  Reusable metal filters are better than paper filters... paper absorbs all the good-for-you oils.

2.  I've increased the length of my fasts as much as I can tolerate.  Currently, I try to do at least one 40 - 48 hour fast each week.  I was trying to do two, but this has proved somewhat difficult so far.  It seems to be getting slightly easier... partly fueled by the fact that the weight is dropping pretty quickly.  2-4 lbs a week.  I usually make it 40-44+ hours and haven't actually made it to 48 hours yet.  My understanding is that the second day is the hardest... sometimes the third.  If you can get past that point, you can fast for very long periods of time and your energy levels sky rocket.  I'd really like to experience that so I know what it's like.  I think it would be highly motivating if I can make it through to day 3 or 4.

Again, fasting creates a state of ketosis, which means I'm burning fat.  If you're constantly eating, your blood sugar and insulin remain high.  High insulin levels tell your body to burn the glucose in your blood first rather than the fat you have stored.  So your insulin levels never get low enough to trigger the burning of stored body fat.  To make it worse, any unused glucose that remains in the blood after you eat gets stored as fat, compounding the problem... not only have you NOT burned any fat, you've actually added more.  It's all about regulating insulin.

3.  No sugar and no flour.  Let's be honest here... I'm not super strict about this.  I go plenty of days without sugar but will have flour or starchy veggies in a particular recipe or dish.  If we're eating at home, we'll make a giant salad or grilled veggies and some form of meat.  We have some dark chocolate with sea salt in the cupboard.  Since I don't love chocolate, this is the perfect solution to a sweet tooth... one or two squares is all I ever want.

4.  The key is that I eat plenty of fat.  Avocados, eggs, grass fed butter, some cheese (though I try not to go too crazy with cheese), walnuts and macadamia nuts (again, not too crazy here...), prosciutto, etc.  My protein intake is moderate (I'd guess 15-20% of my diet) and I eat mostly grass-fed beef and the ground pork sausage we had made from the pig we bought last fall.  I avoid all starchy veggies and most fruit.  It's strawberry season right now so I'm eating strawberries every week... berries are actually the one fruit you can have that has minimal impact on your blood sugar levels (which is the trigger for insulin).  So, in season, I just help myself and not worry about it.

When I'm having a craving for sweet or sometimes when I'm having a really hard time getting through a 48 hour fast, I'll eat a fat bomb.  These are a combo of grass fed butter, coconut oil, almond butter, unsweetened cocoa powder, and a little monk fruit sweetener for a touch of sweetness. 

If I'm at an event or having dinner at someone's house, I just eat what is served and not worry about it.  This has been the best part about fasting.  When I have a heavy day, an event, or big meal, I just fast the next day or increase the number of days I try to fast in the week to make up for it.  This has been all it takes to keep my weight in check.

5.  The weight comes off faster if I don't drink.  Alcohol is especially inflammatory for me.  It's something I've always known from the first time I got tipsy in high school... I would get a red skin rash from drinking.  It didn't hurt and it went away so I never thought much of it, other than it was an allergic reaction.  DUH... ALLERGIC REACTION.  It's inflammatory!  Which makes me get puffy and retain weight!

This doesn't mean I don't drink.  I work in the wine industry after all.  I just try to keep it to special events and dinner parties with others.  If I drink with a meal at home, I try to keep it to 2 glasses max, and its always with my husband.  I don't drink alone.  Ever.

When I'm fasting, all effects of food, drink, etc. are magnified.  So, given that I often know when big dinners are going to happen, I'll usually fast the day of and break the fast with this large meal.  Overall, this is a good strategy, but alcohol is especially potent in this situation.  I get hangovers quickly if I drink after a fast.  What normally wouldn't affect me, kicks my butt during the night and I wake up with a hangover.  I'm still learning to regulate this.  It's something I'm fully aware of, but never think I'm having too much to drink at the time.  It's usually less than I would drink in a normal situation so it doesn't occur to me to worry about it.  I need to experiment with not fasting prior to big events or not drinking so much.

6.  I drink a ton of water.  I usually have at least one quart with a tablespoon of sole water (sea salt water) and 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar.  This is like homemade gatorade... only 1,000 times better for you.  I do this especially on days that I'm fasting, because you lose a lot of salt when you fast so the sole water and vinegar replace electrolytes and settle my stomach.  Whenever I'm wanting to eat on a day that I've decided to fast, I tell myself I have to drink a quart of this concoction and, after I drink it, if I'm still struggling and want to eat then I just eat.  I haven't broken a fast yet with this technique.

That's another thing.  If I'm struggling, I just eat.  My body is clearly telling me to do so.  The rule about fasting is if I can go without, I do.  If I can't, I eat.  Truly... it's that simple.

7.  I get 30 minutes of unfiltered sunlight a day, within 2 hours of waking up if possible.  NO sunglasses, NO sunscreen.  Vitamin D is my friend.  I also spend about 20-30 minutes with my feet in the grass or on the earth... the exclusion zone water in your body gets recharged this way.  It's the easiest way in the world to have more energy.

8. I don't exercise other than walking with my dog every day... at a snail's pace, BTW.  He's 12 years old so we don't go very fast.  More on not exercising in a future post.  The bottom line is that long periods of exercise, especially intense workouts, are too stressful and release too much cortisol.  Cortisol is another hormone that causes weight gain.  Too much exercise is counter-productive to weight loss.

BTW, I have tons of energy.  I never take naps in the afternoon anymore... like I used to when I was eating too much sugar/flour.  It's freaking awesome that I don't have to carve out time in my day for napping.

THE BEST PART??   I'm 100% pain free.  For reals... I marvel at it and give thanks for this fact every single day. The only aches and pains I have are from sitting at my computer too much... my muscles get tight from prolonged sitting.  But the chronic inflammation is gone.  Even my knees don't hurt... only after several hours on my feet can I feel the arthritis in my knees.  Pain free was always the primary reason for incorporating these changes.  Now that I've accomplished this goal, I can concentrate on losing weight, which is literally making me giddy.  I FEEL GREAT.