It's that time of year when I get really reflective around my strength training. I've been going through somewhat of a slump for the last few months; this has manifested as only performing one work set per training session, instead of my customary two or three. There's a whole bundle of reasons for this I could pin it to: poor sleep hygiene, Summer (I'm a winter creature), poor diet, boredom with my routine, etc. I've also noticed that, as a trend, the more emotional effort I expend on playing around with crafting/making/materials/whatever, the less energy I've had for physical training. It doesn't quite make sense, physically. I only really craft on the days that I'm not training, yet when looked at through an emotional lense it becomes a lot clearer what's happening. One need only look at my Web habits over the last year or so to notice the change in focus. Where once I spent all of my free time lapping up information around physiology and being inspired by the feats of performance from my Strength idols; those idols are now replaced with a pantheon of craftsfolk, makers, and hackers as I immerse myself in a world of people making stuff.
Up until this week, I've been concerned with this. I adore strength training, and it greatly upsets me when I cannot perform how I know I should be performing if not just for the emotional bankruptcy I'm undergoing. I also adore playing with materials (I hesitate to use the words 'crafting' or 'making' as I feel they're very loaded), and the joy that these things bring me is on par with that of calisthenics. In fact, on the surface, they're arguably occupying the same slot in my brain -- forcing me to operate on physical, mental, and emotional levels. The intersection of those parts of my being, when activated, very clearly brings me the most joy I receive in my life wherever it appears. I was concerned up until the other day, when I was re-reading some Marxist philosophy and was duly reminded how Labour is the life essence (Marx says species essence) of humankind, and that it takes Labour to perform any task; including recreational activities. I then began reflecting on how I was expending my time, what activities I was engaging in.
I personally have a finite amount of energy for things which can hold my attention or to which I can invest myself emotionally. This is not just on the micro, 'things I can do today' scale; but on the larger 'this is what my life comprises of at the moment' scale. Everything from Strength Training, to making stuff, to my romantic relationships, to which books I want to read, to which tv shows I'm watching currently seem to draw from the same well. Like any water cycle, the energy from this well eventually returns but like how we're running out of water globally, I feel that I'm drawing too much out of the well at a rate that means it's often dry when I need to invest some time into something -- like my training. One can only do so much, pay attention to so much. This is without getting into how this same well is being robbed by advertisers demanding attention everywhere I look (trying to stop myself from getting sidetracked into a rant).
Another key issue that I feel I've been having is that my diet isn't really working for me at the minute. It's a lot better than it's been historically -- my bean chili thing has done wonders for my fibre intake and my wallet, and my morning eggs are wonderful too. The issue is that they sit in context alongside the ill and weary part of my diet that drags me down. The evening. I'm always prepared for breakfast, and I'm pretty solid and making sure I'm sorted for lunch, but the evening meal has always been risky for me. The evening is a dangerous time for my gut, as it's a time where my willpower is at a low from the day's strains. It's a time when I'm tempted by takeaways (mostly I manage to resist) or the shortcut of just stuffing a pizza in the oven. It's the time when I'm tempted to snack. It's the time when, where once I had plans to spend the evening doing something, I spend my efforts consuming media. When I eat terrible food, my gut becomes inflamed and if I have training the next morning, I'm not operating with strength in that part of my being. Maybe I haven't slept well due to poor food and media consumption providing the wrong forms of stimulation. In short -- I feel that my evenings are the weak links in the chain between the instances of my Labour that hold together my life. It's where it all goes wrong.
And it's where I'm going to put things right.
For me, the solution is Fasting. This time, on two fronts. Two concurrent Fasts, dealing with two different facets of my poor consumption habits. First, the Dietary Fast. This will deal with the weak link of consuming poor nutrition at the end of the day. It'll take the form of an Intermittent Fast; wherein I consume my daily calories within a given time frame, and then fast the rest of the day. Usually this is achieved by 'skipping' a meal at the beginning of the day, and breaking the fast after a training session. Since I train early morning, I will be taking the opposite approach, and skipping the third meal of the day. If I give myself a fairly standard 8-hour eating window, this effectively means I am fasting from around 1400 to 0600 the next day.
The second Fast is a media one. At first, it's simply going to include all forms of video and web content in the evening. No TV and no Movies except on a night where I'm with my partner and it forms part of our bonding. This leaves me free to read or listen to podcasts whilst working on some crafty type project. This is the Fast I'm most excited about, if I'm being honest.
I'm out of time now and need to start my work day. I'll go into the details of each Fast in separate posts. For now, I'll briefly outline what I want to achieve from their execution. At the core, I wish to rebalance my well of emotional Labour by removing things that demand my attention, as well as tinker with my gut's health to improve the digestion of food and transfer of energy into my neuromuscular system. By removing the ability for certain forms of input at a recurring time period I've identified as 'at risk', I'm also disallowing the harmful habits I've formed from gaining further purchase on my destiny. Maybe in time my needs will change, and I will have left my poor habits so far in the dust that I'm no longer at risk for them -- but until then, Fasting is my way of cutting out the rot I feel has set into my daily existence.
Earlier this week I outlined my need to fast on two fronts. In summary, I feel that my evenings are the weak link in the chain of my life that bad habits tend to creep in on; it's when whatever plans I had in the morning become derailed in lieu of consuming poor nutrition and over-stimulating media, resulting in poor sleep. All of this has a knock-on effect all about my life, but it's mainly felt when I train. This post is about the first front of these fasts; the dietary one, in order to get a good handle on my nutrition.
I'm actually pretty accustomed to fasting these days. I started in 2014/15 during my MRes year engaging in two 24-h fasts on Wednesdays and Sundays to deal with the poor eating habits I'd developed during the Autumn and Winter months. This worked nicely, but the habit was fairly fragile and I couldn't maintain it after some disruption occurred. When I later adapted my training routine into a circuit, I was left with some free mornings and basically started using them to skip breakfast and enter an intermittent fasting routine on those days. Even now when I need to occasionally skip a meal unexpectedly, I can actually do so in relative comfort.
So my dietary fasting will be an intermittent one; since that's what I'm most accustomed to. However, there need to be a few changes to ensure that I adapt and eliminate the risky evenings.
Intermittent Fasting (IF) is generally achieved by deliberately skipping a meal, or consuming your day's calories only within a given window of time. Where I've read about it (mostly Nerd Fitness), people seem to generally skip breakfast, magically have a daily routine which includes the ability to train around late morning, and then break their fast. They'll then eat their last meal of the day around 1900ish.
The general wisdom seems to be that you train in a fasted state, and then your calorie window begins. People are usually fasted for around 18 hours, including the 8 hours sleep they get and the time in the morning. Since I train in the morning, this will need to change. I'm unable to schedule training for mid-to-late morning, and unwilling to move it into the risky zone of my evening -- that's the point! So I'm adjusting the fasting practice to suit me.
If I train from 0500 -- 0600(ish) and begin to consume my daily calories immediately after that, I will need to skip my evening meal in order to achieve the 'window' effect of eating and achieve a fasted state. Now, since I train before breakfast anyway I'm always mildly fasted but this will be a step up from that. I'm a little bit anxious, but I think since I've spent several years training before consuming any nutrition then this will just be the next level, and I'll adapt. If we put 8 hours on the clock from 0600 then my window ends at around 1400, and I need to space my meals around that. It's going to be a tad socially awkward, as I generally like to socialise with others over the midday meal. I'll also fill up very quickly and possibly struggle to eat my 'dinner' ahead of the window. But I'll experiment to see what works.
On the night before training, I'll therefore be fasting from 1400 to 0600, which is a fast of… 16 hours! Mission achieved, theoretically. From the nutritional angle, I'll be using this opportunity to jumpstart a practice I've wanted to start for a while: meal prepping, and eating more simple foods. I've always got a tonne of mixed views around Paleo and Keto (although of the two Paleo always appeals more than Keto) but I'd like to at least reduce my reliance on grains for my main meals.
Currently my two consistent meals are breakfast and lunch. Post training breakfast (which is the only time I HAVE breakfast) generally consists of between three and four fried eggs. Lunch, on the other hand, consists largely of a four-bean chilli that I've batch cooked in a slow cooker. Of these two, my lunch isn't generally that 'Paleo Friendly' but it's important to note that I've experimented with different forms of carbohydrates, and my body really only reacts negatively when there's large quantities of grains such as bread and pasta. I react slightly better to rice, but I get very bloated around my gut and start storing surplus body fat a bit more. This generally doesn't happen with beans for some reason, and I'm thankful for that.
The 'extra' meals I'll be prepping will largely consist of things I've wanted to add back into my diet for a long time: organ meat and veggies. I'll be producing some really simple dishes of fried vegetables and organ meats with a variety of spices in order to achieve this, and I'm really looking forward to it. I'm sure that, if nothing else, my body will really appreciate the extra green matter. I'll be throwing in some sweet potatoes here and there but largely, it's going to consist of veggies and some liver.
I'll be taking a few exceptions to the days, generally where I intersect with rituals and companionship. Health isn't just nutritional and training. Friday nights are 'Curry Night' with my partner, which contain rice and some sugars in the sauces, as well as naan breads. And Saturdays I tend to make sushi or an East Asian-inspired dish; again including plenty sugars and grains. I'm not going to force myself to deal with these until they actually present a problem, if they ever do. The point of this exercise is to eliminate unhealthy practices that I'm not happy with.
Anyway, I'll write about how it goes later. I might actually take some quantified measurements!
This is the third and final post describing my future plans for fasting on two fronts. The others are located here and here. The previous two posts focused on my need to fast, and the details of how I'm planning out my dietary fast. This post will outline my first cycle of re-evaluating my relationship with consuming media, through an 'entertainment fast'.
The motivation from this comes from a concept that I read about concerning an 'Information Fast'; wherein the person fasting stimulates their output and creativity by deliberately removing themselves from all forms of information input. The reasoning behind this being that in this age of fast information flow, it's easy to become overly focused on getting a piece "just right" in planning before moving to execution. In academia this looks to me like "Oh I'll just read a few more papers before getting started on my Lit Review chapter" and in my personal life like "Oh I'll just look up a few more carving/smithing/etc videos before getting started on that project."
For me, this methodology definitely holds true. By removing input and working only with whatever I currently have, I end up producing more things or just doing more things that bring my greater peace of mind. I mentioned in my earlier posts that my evenings were the nexus of fragility in my tasks, chores, routines, and goals. I'm tired by the end of the day and all I want to do is consume media. Usually this takes the form of TV shows and YouTube videos, and specifically I have an issue with consuming too much video media in my diet. Other forms of consumption bring a much deeper feeling of joy when I make time for them in my life, and I always seem to get more done in terms of chores when I limit video media.
My plan going forward then? I suppose I can outline things that I want to limit, and things that I want to increase.
On the surface, it appears that the solutions going forward are obvious -- Podcasts should take the place of video media as my immediate relaxation technique in the evening. I adore listening the Podcasts, I'm not sure exactly why. I like listening to people talk, I love the subjects that they deal with, I like how it gives my eyes a rest from a screen. Moreover, Podcasts also let me free my hands for doing stuff like Cleaning and Tidying, and also small handiwork things. Some handiwork things will require a degree of concentration meaning listening to Podcasts is not advised, but surely I can just carve out (heh) the space for them first and deal with the nuances later?
In terms of reading, I think that this will work wonders as well. Podcasts do a lot for me, but they're substantially less "moreish" than video media. Largely because currently there's very little prompting me to watch one more. With Netflix and Youtube there's autoloading and suggestions -- they're actively trying to keep us hooked. I use a 3rd party app to parse Podcasts so I have a set number of channels that I like, and I construct my own queues. When they're done, they're done. That means when the queue ends at a predetermined time of the evening, I should have finished my chores and be ready to read.
My partner is around on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings. Luckily, Fri - Sun are basically "off routine" in terms of how I live my life, since a lot of my chores and goals can be met prior to the evenings on weekends. This means that for four days a week, I'll be effectively creating a space for myself in my evenings where I only let certain things in, and no "Watch next" can derail me.
I'm excited for this -- I'll update people as and when it's appropriate. Probably after a week, then probably after a month.