Defeating allergies: Everything is inflammation

Stop the inflammation, and you cure the allergy. That’s it. That’s what I learned.

If you read my last post, you’ll have read how I’m “allergic to everything”. Or I was. I think I might be cured now. So I want to share what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, and how it has helped me.

WE’RE THINKING ABOUT ALLERGY WRONG

I think that the medicines that doctors give us for allergies just hide our problems by covering up / curing the symptoms. They don’t actually cure the underlying disease.

It’s like fixing a sunburned face by covering it up with makeup. Sure, you might not look red, but you’re still red underneath. And by covering the burn up and not allowing it to cool down and heal, you’re actually making the problem worse!

You’ll look better for a little while, and you might fool some people if the makeup is really good, but damage is still happening, underneath the makeup.

A lot of the drugs our doctors give us for inflammatory illnesses are the same. They don’t solve the root cause – inflammation. So while you might feel better for a time, they’re only ever going to be a stop-gap measure. Plus, some of the side effects they come with might just make things worse. Plus, all the while you’re not dealing with the underlying issue, that issue could be getting worse.

If you have a toothache you might feel better by taking some painkillers, but unless you visit a dentist and get that tooth drilled and sorted, that yucky tooth is going to keep on rotting away and getting worse. You have to fix the problem.

ISSUES OF INFLAMMATION

The more we learn, the more we realise that a huge number of modern illnesses are actually symptoms of inflammation.

Some of these are the problems I was suffering from: hayfever, asthma, eczema, allergic itchy eyes, and high blood sugar. Obesity / overweight is also inflammation- related, and there’s a lot of evidence that epilepsy and such disorders as arthritis, autism and multiple schlerosis are too.

We can ease the symptoms with a stack of different drugs that are available – and don’t get me wrong, some of these drugs are very, very good – but unless we fix the inflammation, these issues will never get resolved.

So you need to fix your inflammation if you’re going to get better. I wanted to get better.

YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT – AND DON’T EAT

I realised that I was insulting my body in a whole stack of ways. I’m sure you’ve read online, like I did, about all these “superfoods” I was supposed to be eating and all these amazing diets I was supposed to be following.

I couldn’t afford the superfoods, and I was bad at diets. They weren’t going to work. Plus, I suck at taking supplements – I keep forgetting to take them every morning.

Thankfully, what really works is not eating at all. That’s right: fasting. Water fasting gives your body time to clean house and clear your system out, dumping all the rubbish you’ve collected over the years. It sends inflammation running in the other direction!

I also quit anything that might be irritating my skin and eyes. I quit all shampoos and conditioners and hair products, only using a bit of coconut oil for styling, and now my hair is great.

I’ll talk about what I did for my eyes and skin in separate posts. But once again, the answers were simple and cheap. I’m actually saving money getting well! 🙂

Diet-wise, I’m on a modified keto diet, and I’ll talk all about that and how much better I feel as well. The diet I follow is affordable and easy, with no expensive supplements or “superfoods” – and I don’t bother with choosing expensive organic foods, although I do prefer fresh and local when possible.

Th solution to inflammation is to stop insulting your body. Don’t hurt it with things that cause it pain. Nurture your body with food it appreciates and care it needs.

Then let yourself bloom again.

 

Allergic to everything? My allergy journey…

My doctor had a medicine for everything and none of them worked!

THE BEGINNING…

I’m an allergic person. I was diagnosed with eczema younger than I can remember, and some of my earliest memories involved my mother slathering my skin down with hydrocortisone and calamine lotion.

I used to cry when we went to the beach because my skin hurt so much in the salt water. It wasn’t good. Together with mild asthma, I was in bad shape from the beginning. The doctor prescribed a ventolin puffer and syrup to add to my list before I was out of junior primary.

When I became a teen, my skin improved, but I added dry eyes and hayfever, as well as a severe allergy to dogs to my list of issues. I hated all this. More prescriptions followed – eye drops for my eyes, a nasal spray to use during exams in spring so I could “cope”. Special shampoo that wouldn’t irritate my scalp. Antihistamines to add to the nasal spray for the hayfever.

As a result of brain injury from an illness, I was also diagnosed epileptic in my early twenties. More medicines. I’d be on them for life, I was told.

I was also told there was no cure for any of this. It was just “the luck of the draw.”

BLOOD SUGAR RISING

Fast forward to late last year (December 2019). My regular yearly checkup showed up rising blood sugar. My doctor – a new doctor who I really don’t much like – didn’t seem much worried by this. She said I’ll probably develop pre-diabetes soon, to be followed by diabetes. It can be managed well, she said. I’ll just have to “watch my sugars”.

In the meanwhile, she’d also prescribed me three courses of prednisone for non-stop allergic issues, more antihistamine eye drops, some eye ointment, and she’d doubled my antihistamines plus slinging me on a new antihistamine “to try”. Oh, and three types of hydrocortisone in different strengths for my skin, plus a different ventolin puffer, another puffer I can’t remember the name of and a different nasal spray. Then there were the iron tablets because my iron was low and my regular anticonvulsant for my epilepsy.

I left, depressed, and bought all the medicines she’d prescribed. That night I went home and cried in bed, my partner hugging me. I was miserable.

As usual, nothing got much better. I was feeling terrible, exhausted and sick every day, and getting real close to calling life quits.

THE DEFINITION OF INSANITY

Someone once said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I think it might have been Einstein.

Yet that was exactly what I was doing – the same thing over and over – and expecting I’d get cured of my sickness.

Sure, every so often I’d try a different drug in a different strength. But it was the same thing. I was expecting to find a cure in the doctor’s office, while it was painfully obvious that no cure could be found there.

Perhaps what really drilled this home for me was the fact that my new doctor I disliked so much was talking to me about diabetes – and she was morbidly obese and almost certainly diabetic herself. If she couldn’t avoid diabetes for herself, it was unlikely she’d be able to help me avoid the same fate.

SIX MONTHS ON…

So here I am, six months on (May 2020).

I found a different path. After months of research, I changed what I was doing. It didn’t work. It had never worked.

Here’s what’s happening in my life now:

  • WEIGHT LOSS: I’ve lost ten kilograms in weight so far (21 pounds) and am no longer obese. It’s likely my blood sugar has normalized – when I get it tested I’ll post my results, but I’m feeling better and my energy levels are through the roof.
  • ASTHMA CURED: I don’t have asthma any more and don’t need a puffer any longer.
  • ECZEMA BEING CURED (STILL “IN PROGRESS:): My eczema is significantly improving, and my scalp is nowhere as itchy and sore. My hair is improving in texture and moisture as well.
  • EYE PROBLEMS SOLVED: My itchy, sore, dry eyes are improved so much I may be able to wear contact lenses again soon. My eye glands (meibomian glands) are functioning normally again., possibly for the first time in 30 years.
  • HAYFEVER CURED: I’m completely off antihistamine medication – eye drops, antihistamine tablets, nose spray.
  • EPILEPSY IMPROVED, POSSIBLY CURED: Best of all, I’ve reduced my anticonvulsant (epilepsy) medication by half, with no ill effects. It may be cured, but I’m taking things slowly reducing my medication on this one!

I’ll talk about how I’m doing all this in upcoming posts. And I’ll be clear: I am NOT a doctor and have no medical training.

However, I’ll also point out that no doctor could help me. I’ve been to dozens of doctors through my life. All they offered was more drugs that didn’t work. Their offerings masked disease rather than cured it.

It was clear to me that the only person who could help me was not going to be a doctor.

So read on, and I’ll share what I’m doing and how it’s going. You might want to give it a try too, especially if you’ve been down the path I’ve been on.

I’ve thrown out almost my medications I was on. Only low strength hydrocortisone and my epilepsy meds remain still to toss, and I’m getting there.

Sometimes you need a new path in your life. I sure did!

Fasting is a high-level sport

Have you ever pursued a sport to a high level? I have. I was a long-distance runner for a while in my youth, then a competitive rower, and far more recently I did bodybuilding and weightlifting.

Sportspeople suffer all the time. It’s part of the deal. Any weightlifter or bodybuilder can tell you how much it hurts to get up a set of stairs after a good, hard leg day! It can be agony (ever wondered why weightlifters don’t like houses with stairs?) Yet in some weird way, you look forward to the pain, and even enjoy it, because you know that it is a part of achieving your goal.

Likewise, runners and rowers and all kinds of competitive sportspeople go through pain too in pursuit of their goals. Even a good long walk can leave you aching the next day. We know this is good for us, we enjoy it, it’s part of the whole package, we accept that, and we feel great as a result. Discomfort is part of the deal, but the rewards are overwhelming.

Fasting is similar. It can be a challenge and at times it can be uncomfortable. The most difficult part is the work that goes on between your ears – getting your brain on right, planning how you’ll deal with challenges, seeing the road ahead of you and knowing you have the resolve to get the job done.

START SMALL

Just like a long race, or a heavy set of squats, I believe fasting is easier when you work up to it. I started with part-day fasts – skipping breakfast, then delaying lunch more and more until I could skip it altogether. Then I missed one day of food, then two, and so on. If we started our new running hobby by attempting a marathon, we’d probably fail. By starting with smaller goals, we achieve success and that encourages us to strive for more and achieve larger goals if we choose to.

TAKE THE CHALLENGE

Yet, just like a marathon or lifting weights, this is not a competition against anyone else except yourself. Fasting is about self-mastery, not competition against someone else’s body or weight or age or ability. Your goal should always be to find your own personal best, not to topple or discredit someone else’s achievement.

So think of yourself as an athlete, in the fast lane. Fasting is a powerful tool – perhaps the most powerful health tool we have available. It would be a shame to refuse it, simply because we’re afraid to try.

Do you need to be religious to fast?

No, although a lot of religious people do fast.

I’m not religious, nor do I come from a religious family. I attended Sunday school when I was a child, then went on to sing in a Cathedral choir for a number of years. My children attend a Catholic school.

So while I say I’m “not religious” on the one hand, I’d say that I’m also quite comfortable and familiar with religion. A lot of people around the world are probably quite similar to me – in that grey area that lists ourselves as “not religious”, yet skirting the sides of the religious community in so many ways.

Fasting is something we see across the world in a lot of the major religions. It’s part of Lent for the Christian world, Buddhists are known to fast regularly, and Jewish people have their days of fasting and feasting. Its been said that fasting is the one thing that most of the major world religions agree on!

However, just because a practice is common in certain religions doesn’t mean you have to be religious to benefit from that practice. If it works, use it! If you want to reconnect with your religious roots, fine, but don’t feel like you have to.

As for me, I didn’t think at first that my fasting had anything to do with my religion, or lack of it. But as I delve more into fasting, and become more proficient at it, I find my mind becoming calmer, and I become happier and more content. I can’t say that I’m feeling the need to go back to church just yet, but I am feeling more at peace with myself. Perhaps you might call it more spiritual (but without the hippie overtones!).

Do what works for you. But don’t think that fasting has to be anything other than a dietary practice for health benefits. What you choose to make of it is entirely up to you. There are no rules. Just be happy, learn more about yourself, and enjoy the journey.

Enjoy the journey…

This is how much weight I lost in THREE weeks of intermittent fasting…

I’ve lost 7.8 kilograms, which is 17.2 pounds!

Has it been hard? Not so much. Because the fasts are intermittent, there are plenty of days where I eat normally, and can eat pretty much whatever I like.

THE LOWDOWN

Started fasting: 20 April
Today's date: 8 May
Weight lost: 7.8 kgs / 17.2 pounds
BMI: Was 33.2 currently 30.8
Days fasted during this period: 11 days

HOW WERE THE FASTS STRUCTURED?

My fasts during this period were all between 1-4 days. While fasting, I drank LOTS of water with a little lemon juice added for flavour, but ate no food. I also drank a sugar-free electrolyte drink when I felt I needed to.

When not fasting, I ate normally, but tended to avoid carbs because that’s just how I eat. I’m not much of an exerciser, and didn’t leave the house much, but did get some walking in and lifted a few weights but not much else.

HAS THIS BEEN A POSITIVE EXPERIENCE?

Absolutely. I’m right at the start of my journey, and looking forward to more fasting to come. When I fast I feel healthier, clearer-minded and just “more myself” (I can’t explain it any better than that).

More to the point, fasting feels natural. Once you get over the big mental hurdle of believing we need to eat 3 meals a day every day, you’ve opened the door to a wider, healthier world.

I’m looking forward to continuing my journey.

Shorter fasts are HARDER than longer fasts. Here’s why.

Let’s be honest: Fasting can be HARD. Especially the shorter fasts.

HUH? Did I just say the shorter fasts are more difficult?

Shorter fasts – and fasts where you get to eat, say, 500 calories on alternate days – are much, much harder than longer fasts where you eat nothing at all for a few days.

Let me explain why, because this absolutely makes sense when you think about it.

WE’RE HUNTER-GATHERERS. WE’RE BUILT FOR FASTING

Our bodies are adapted beautifully for fasting. We evolved as hunter-gatherers, our main source of calories was animal foods through hunting, and we’d often goes days or sometimes weeks without much to eat.

Also, our food was seasonal. As anyone who has ever grown a fruit tree would know, nature often provides food in gluts. You either have no peaches or enough peaches for the entire neighbourhood! You either had enough wild buffalo meat to stuff yourself and your tribe, or the buffalo were nowhere in sight. That’s how nature works.

Before modern farming (10,000 year old farming techniques are “modern” to our hunter-gatherer bodies, remember!), our bodies were beautifully adapted to all this by putting on fat when we ate to the point of stuffing ourselves, then living off our fat in lean times in between successful hunting.

Women were – and are – able to store fat even more efficiently than men, because we needed to be able to carry children, give birth and feed them. It all makes sense.

Except now we don’t fast any more, because food is so ridiculously plentiful now that obesity is more common than underweight in the world.

I’m not saying this is bad or good, but it’s the way things are now. If we want to lose weight, it makes sense to return to old patterns of eating and to tap into the eat-fast cycles that our bodies are well adapted to.

WHY ARE SHORTER FASTS MORE DIFFICULT?

Shorter fasts are more difficult because they’re not true fasts. Our bodies keep expecting food, our insulin and ghrelin levels never truly level out, and our bodies never fully move into a fasted state. They’re kept in a limbo – not quite fasted, not quite fed – with the result that hunger is more difficult to manage and the benefits of true fasting never emerge.

WHAT ABOUT ALTERNATE DAY FASTS – WITH 500 CALORIES?

Several “alternate day fasting” programs allow up to 500 calories of food on the “fasting” days, as evidence seems to suggest that those 500 calories do not interfere with weight loss.

Maybe, but I speak from experience that when I tried one of these programs, on the 500 calorie days all I could think about was food. I was hungry all the time. I spent the whole day fantasising about what I might eat, and obsessing about those 500 calories. It wasn’t pleasant.

Eventually – a couple of weeks into the program – I slid off it. With no weight loss to speak of.

Now there seems to be evidence coming out that suggests that people on these programs end up much hungrier than if they ate zero calories on their fasting days. I’d agree with that. I think you’re better off fasting properly, and eating nothing on fast days. It’s much easier.

HOW HARD ARE LONGER FASTS?

Not as hard as you’d think. I’ve found on 3-4 day fasts that the hardest day is day 1, about mid-afternoon. My body hasn’t yet realised I’m fasting, and I’m starting to get hungry because I’ve missed lunch.

At this point, I drink a fair amount of water – at least a litre (four cups) – over an hour or so, and sometimes more. It gives me something to do, and fills me up. It also seems to trick my body into thinking I’ve eaten.

In the end, the only way to figure out what you find hard is to try different lengths of fasts, and see what works for you.

Motivation: What’s yours?

Weight loss is a great motivator. Let’s face it: everyone wants to wear nice clothes and look good in a swimsuit. We all want to look lean and healthy. Nobody wants to look overweight and unwell.

However, while weight loss can be a great motivation, it helps to see the bigger picture of why weight loss can be a great idea.

Truth is – and we all know it – being overweight is unhealthy. While that might not be a huge problem when you’re younger, years of being overweight stacks up on your body balance sheet, doing years of damage over time. While it might not affect you too much in your twenties and thirties, by the time you hit your thirties, forties and fifties, you’re staring down the barrel of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and more.

That’s not fun at all.

There’s now strong evidence to suggest that, while most people won’t develop Type 2 diabetes until they hit mid life, the cause of that diabetes has been their lifestyle for the last decades of poor habits and overweight / obesity. Your body has needed more and more insulin to deal with the sugar hits being thrown at it from our high carbohydrate, high sugar processed diet, until diabetes is the inevitable result.

Likewise, heart disease and cancer are also the result of insult after insult to our bodies – feeding ourselves poor quality food and generally ignoring what our bodies need while giving ourselves lots of what we don’t need.

Wanting to look better is a great motivator, but wanting to be better in all respects – well, that’s a terrific motivator.

Think about some reasons why you might want to lose weight permanently and write them down. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Look better in all clothing – and in no clothing! 🙂
  • Lower risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Who doesn’t want that!
  • Able to move better, with less pain and discomfort. I found when I switched to a keto / carnivore diet I stopped feeling achey and sore in the mornings.
  • Able to keep up with younger family members and children as they rush about. If you have young children you’ll know exactly what I mean!
  • Able to achieve fitness goals, and travel goals. If you have plans to travel, you’ll want to be fit and well. Fitness goals can often involve adventure travel (hiking, paragliding, diving, swimming.)
  • Learn to enjoy food again. By putting food in its rightful place as a part rather than the centre of your life, you’ll learn to enjoy tastes and textures more fully.
  • Be able to afford great quality food and drink. Fasting and reducing quantity enables you to afford quality instead.
  • Be able to buy – and wear – the nicest clothing. Fashionable clothing is often only made for leaner bodies. That’s not fair, but its the way things are. Losing weight means you’ll be able to shop in a wider variety of clothing stores and enjoy a wider variety of clothing.

What else can you think of?

FASTED: Why does fasting make sense?

If you’ve ever gone on a diet – and I have! – you’ll know that the minute you stop the diet, the weight comes back.

I think I can say I tried everything in diets. I’ve done Weight Watchers (twice!), Jenny Craig (expensive!), Joel Fuhrman’s Eat To Live (very expensive!) and dozens more. I lost weight on all of them, to varying extents, only to regain the weight the moment I stopped. They were all paths to failure.

Continuous calorie restriction, which is what all diets are based on, slows your metabolism right down. I’m probably not telling you anything new here. That’s why diets don’t work.

We all knew what would happen to the contestants on The Biggest Loser. We all know why there are no reunion shows five years on!

FASTING IS DIFFERENT

Fasting is different. Because it is on again, off again, your metabolism doesn’t slow down significantly. So the weight stays off.

Your body never “thinks” it is starving and never slows down your metabolism to compensate, because just when it starts to “think” that – hey presto! – you stop fasting. Only to start again a few days later.

In this way, you keep your metabolism on its toes the whole time, never knowing what to expect, and never slowing down.

HOW LONG SHOULD I FAST?

You can fast as much or as little as you like. It’s really common for people to fast 16/8. This means they’re fasting for 16 hours of every 24 hour period, with an 8 hour eating “window” every day.

This seems to be the most common and convenient way for people to fast, and you can do this if you like.

16/8 it is a great way to start, when training yourself for longer fasts which are more useful and effective. But longer fasts are definitely a better way to go.

You see, evidence seems to suggest that ideal fasting length is at least 48 hours (two days), and possibly longer.

This is because it takes at least 12 hours for a lot of people to fully enter ketosis, the point at which they have switched over to burning fat for fuel instead of sugar.

It takes about 18 hours for autophagy to kick in, and 24 hours for inflammation to drop and for cardiac and brain function to improve.

Furthermore, it is at about 48 hours into a fast that stem cell stimulation really kicks in, and your body undergoes all the healing and repair it needs in a huge way.

Watch this video by Dr Berg for more information on fasting.

FIT, FED AND FASTED

Fit, Fed and Fasted teaches you how to work up from fasting just a couple of hours a day through to managing regular longer fasts, unlocking all the benefits they have to offer.

IS FASTING DIFFICULT?

Yes, in the same way that riding a bike is difficult if you’ve never done it before.

That’s why you learn, a step at a time. Learning step by step makes fasting accessible for just about everyone.

FED: What diet makes sense?

We think of civilisations such as the Incans and the Romans as ancient. But humans have only been living in cities and cultivating crops for a tiny fraction of our existence.

For the vast majority of time anatomically modern humans have been on the face of the earth, we were hunter-gatherers, living a nomadic lifestyle and eating what nature provided for us.

When we look at humans who still live this way today, their diets have several things in common.

  1. Their diets all include animal protein
  2. Their diets are seasonal, eating what they can find when it is available
  3. The majority of their calories come from animals, not plants
  4. Food can be scarce at some times, and at other times is in incredible abundance. Humans eat what and when we can, taking advantage of every opportunity for calories
  5. Nothing is wasted.

This is very different to modern Western eating patterns, in which

  1. We often include no animal protein, or animal products at all
  2. We often largely ignore the seasons, with almost all foods available almost all year around. Seasonality and locality are virtually irrelevant
  3. The majority of our calories come from plant products, plant oils and processed plant foods
  4. Food is incredibly abundant all the time. It is difficult to avoid food and food availability
  5. Vast amounts of food are wasted.

THE EXPERTS SEEM CONFUSED!

Medical practitioners talk about a “high quality diet” but what this means seems to vary according to eat “expert”. Some experts seem to push a plant-only diet (which historical humans have never eaten!), while others seem to advocate no change from modern, disease-causing dietary habits at all.

Little of it seems to make a lot of sense!

RETURN TO EVIDENCE, HISTORY AND COMMON-SENSE

This is why I think it makes sense to throw out modern trends and fashionable diets, and instead look at ancient evidence, backed up by millennia of historical human eating patterns.

If we look at the evidence of history, a healthy eating pattern clearly:

  1. Includes a majority of calories from unprocessed animal sources, ideally local. This includes whole animal products such as offal, high fat cuts, skin and bone products (marrow). Choose cheaper and fattier, rather than lean and expensive, cuts of meat.
  2. Include seasonal greens, fruits, nuts and herbs. Grow a garden if you can. Eat edible peels / skins and stalks.
  3. Avoid all processed plant oils. Instead cook with hard animal fats, locally sourced if possible.
  4. Make fasting a part of your lifestyle, mimicking feast / famine cycles of natural living.
  5. Waste nothing. Compost leftovers or, if possible, keep chickens to dispose of food that cannot be consumed. Then eat old / spent chickens once their laying cycle is ended.

Over coming posts, I’ll talk more about great meal options that are healthy and affordable, and ways to eat well even when you’re unavoidably eating out with friends at junkfood chains.

FIT: What exercise makes sense?

The takeaway: Do what makes you happy.

The first marathon runner, according to legend, was a soldier named Pheidippides. He ran from the Battle of Marathon to Athens to report the victory, a distance of 26 miles and 385 yards, then promptly dropped dead after giving his message.

That might be inspiring to some people, and it sure is a great story, but it doesn’t make me want to go out and do a marathon!

Humans are built to sprint, run, jump, walk, and carry significant amounts of weight. Like all animals, we’re built for movement.

Even very elderly people in good shape are able to do all of these activities. Fauja Singh is a centenarian (currently 109) who has competed in numerous marathons, as well as shorter distance events. And, as any parent will know, from the moment a baby first starts to crawl, there’s no stopping them!

WHAT EXERCISE IS GOOD FOR YOU?

Medical evidence is clear: exercise is healthy for us. The evidence also seems to suggest that pretty much all exercise is good for us, as long as we don’t overdo it.

If it hurts, stop. If you feel pain of any sort, stop. If you have an injury, stop. If you get hit by someone or something, stop. And, of course, get advice from your doctor before starting any exercise routine, especially if you are older or have any health complaints.

DAILY EXERCISE

Walking is a great exercise. If your workplace is close enough, try walking to and from each day, or get out at lunchtime and walk during the break.

Lifting weights is also terrific. It doesn’t cost much to buy a set of weights for home use. I have various sets of weights that I use five times a week, and I’ll run through my daily routine in another, upcoming post.

Buying a set of weights is a lot cheaper than a gym membership. You can start with just one set, and build up from there as you develop strength and a range of weightlifting activities you enjoy and are comfortable with.

My “starter” set is 7 kgs (15 pounds) dumbbells. I use them for everything from overhead presses and biceps curls through to weighted lunges and weighted squats.

As you become stronger, you can buy heavier sets of weights one set at a time, while keeping your first set for exercises that are more challenging or require greater numbers of repetitions – I still use my original 2 kgs (4.5 pound) dumbbells for side raises and front raises.

The main thing with any exercise plan is to develop a routine, so you know what you are doing and when. It will soon become a habit that you will enjoy and gain a lot of reward from.