Not So “Fast”

I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing that I’m a sucker for seeing what’s up in the world of wellness. What new foods and products and habits are people buying? Is it just a fad, or is there evidence to back it up?

That’s when we come to a seemingly overnight trend toward something called intermittent fasting. The name alone leaves lots of questions hanging, but we’ll get there.

Rather than necessarily changing how much you eat, intermittent fasting changes when you eat. You’re eating the same amount as if on a normal day, just in a different time frame. There are many ways to go about it, but the most common is to eat within an eight-hour window during the day.

A lot of the benefits you’ll find for IF is, of course, weight loss. You’re most likely not eating as many calories, especially at times of the day that you don’t need food, like right before bedtime. However, there is also research into overall health benefits, even extending lifespans by changing the way cells function. During the fasting phase, many cells die and stem cells turn on, which starts a regeneration process and gives rise to new, younger cells. This leads to a reduced risks of heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, inflammation, and cancer.

Yeah, a lot to swallow (pun intended). If there’s so many positives coming from IF, why aren’t we all doing it? Because for many people, it’s not sustainable or could even be harmful. Besides the fact there isn’t and shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all lifestyle that works perfectly for everyone, the principles behind IF can be detrimental to physical and mental wellness.

If you’re reading this, chances are you know my background and general mindset. I am in what I call constant recovery from anorexia on top of my other chronic conditions. This means I’m viewing the world surrounding food and eating from a much different perspective than most. I am always hyper-aware of what situations raise alarm bells in my head. It’s why I don’t own any fitness tracker, nor do I weigh myself on any regular basis; I know that doing so would turn into a major trigger to immediately rebound into restriction.

The word “fasting” raises immediate alarm. Basically, on a regular basis, you are paying attention not necessarily to a calorie count, but the clock. You’re controlling when you eat rather than intuitively eating when you’re hungry. Even if you’re not going to extreme means to fast and essentially go into a biological starvation mode, it’s the premise behind it that could lead to actually extreme habits.

And just because you’re controlling what times of day you eat doesn’t mean you’ll eat nutritious foods at reasonable portions with a healthy mindset during that period. By forcing yourself into a schedule your body and mind aren’t sustainable on, your chances for all-out binging when allowed to eat is quite high, causing both physical and mental problems. The strict divide between eating and not could exacerbate overeating and accompanying guilt, shame, and other problems that only become worse over time.

Along with binging, you’re most perceptible to the obsessive thoughts common in disordered eating. Our hunger cues came from evolutionary progress meant to keep us alive. There’s a reason we cannot stop thinking about food when we’re hungry. So if you’re defying your body’s hunger cues to hop on the IF bandwagon, your day can become centered on your eating window. Hunger changes the way we think and behave, changing the neurological pathways we need for decision-making and focus.

Beyond the potential for disordered eating, or at least serving as a crutch to mask an underlying issue, your body might not even healthily accept occasional fasting. Our cortisol, a stress hormone, levels raise when fasting. Scientists have studied cortisol and its effects when elevated, finding it can interfere with learning and memory, lower immune function and bone density, increase weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease, and mental illness. For women especially, this could even mean throwing off other hormones required for a healthy menstrual cycle.

Overall, I’d say if you’re at all considering IF, do your research. There are a lot of studies showing pros and cons either way, but even if that in mind, you have to do what’s best for your own body. Many people find IF extremely straight-forward and very helpful, while others could struggle to get used to this habit and face more harm than good.

Regardless of when you eat, your priority should simply be to eat nutritious foods that nourish you and make you feel good. Eat when you’re hungry, whether that’s in a select time frame or not. Support yourself however you know best.

What have you heard of intermittent fasting? What are your thoughts about it?

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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Virtual Assistance

“Those crazy millennials, always glued to their smart phones and computers! Always needing wifi! Not appreciating talking to people in actual conversations! Where did we go wrong?”

Ah, have to love the sound of older generations’ critiques of how young people are choosing to live and take care of themselves. As if we are completely inadequate when forming genuine relationships just because social media is a go-to platform to do so.

Recently, I’ve been hearing more about different websites and mobile apps that not only connect you to other people who can truly empathize with you, but there’s also now therapy services strictly online. You could choose to just chat with someone (still qualified) as if in a messenger-type app if that’s what you prefer.

The first question that comes to mind when considering these new options is, are they actually effective? Are they the same thing as going in-person to a psychologist’s office or visiting a support group?

With the proliferation of recognizing mental illness comes a new need to treat it. This has exposed the drastic gap between those who do seek treatment, and those who cannot. Over half of the developed world and going-on ninety percent of people with mental illness are not receiving the treatment they need. As the system currently stands, this isn’t necessarily something you can fix overnight when there aren’t enough professionals to account for that many people, let alone have those people under health insurance plans that allow them to visit and afford treatment.

That’s where mobile apps and websites come in. They have the potential to act as a digital bridge to alleviate the gap, providing at least similar services to people who would otherwise receive nothing whatsoever. Isn’t something better than nothing? Yes, I would say so.

But not all apps are made equal. If you search “depression” or “mental health” into the App Store search engine, you’re going to stumble upon a lot of apps that are either garbage, or just a big scam for money. Technology is moving much faster than science, so a majority of the apps you’ll see aren’t extensively studied in their effectiveness. Some could even be harmful. If people aren’t looking into what they’re downloading, then down the rabbit hole they’ll fall.

As a general suggestion, I would say to not rely on a free app for mental health treatment entirely. I would say the same thing for any form of treatment: if you can diversify your toolbox, you’ll be better prepared for whatever may arise.

The fact you could receive a form of relief in such a convenient, flexible medium demonstrates how far we’ve come in treating mental health at all. You can be connected to professionals, talk directly to them, or go solo by tracking your moods and practicing mindfulness.

Admittedly, I’ve used apps in the past to help me in therapy. When strictly focusing on my eating disorder, I was using the Rise Up + Recover app to input my food and whatever else at the time I was tracking to keep myself accountable. I’ve tried the trial run of meditation apps like Headspace to introduce myself to mindfulness in an accessible way. I recently downloaded Huddle just for kicks since it promotes itself as a safe space to form support groups with others and be extremely honest yet selectively private as you so choose.

There are also websites/apps like BetterHelp that are essentially therapy sessions you can conduct through text, audio, or video chat. You’re paying for actual healthcare services with actual counselors. Compared to the normal scenario, you’re saving money, except it’d be even better if insurance companies got on board with covering new unconventional platforms (and, let’s face it, general mental health care).

You have to evaluate yourself on if this would be beneficial or not. When it’s online and on smartphones, that brings about the negative side effects that come with addiction and overuse. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable dappling into something new, especially in an area that currently lacks research and evidence, and that’s okay, too.

I see this as the future, and we’re eventually all going in this direction. Heck, even for normal health services, never did I think I’d have an app allowing me to send messages to my doctor and read lab results right there. We’re at the forefront where there is still great ambiguity and unregulated progress.

There’s always going to be the pros and cons present, but the possibilities at this point are hopeful and exciting. As someone who rarely uses counseling services due to insurance coverage, lack of flexible treatment, and general lackluster results, this could be the start of something very helpful for many people.

What are your thoughts on online/mobile mental health apps? Are they more of a harm or a help?

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Accepting Defeat

As I was looking through my papers that I’ve accumulated over the past few years and skimming this year’s planner, I stumbled upon a list of goals I made this August looking ahead at this semester I just finished.

Oh, man. I was glad about simply surviving the semester and walking out on both feet. Then I saw all I had set for myself to do, things that I knew would benefit me and make me a generally happier, more productive person. This included keeping up and getting immersed in the activities I chose to involve myself in, socializing on a regular basis, and making steady progress on my senior thesis project.

Simply put, I didn’t do those things. Any of those things. I was lucky if I responded to friends’ text messages within twenty-four hours. I haven’t touched the Word document titled “Senior Thesis” since September. I didn’t end up doing much outside of schoolwork, so trying to get campus organizations and activities off the ground were pretty impossible while I was scraping myself off the ground.

Looking at that list, those motivational statements that I envisioned myself doing and being in the past months, and then realizing I did not live up to my own testaments, I feel defeated. Should I have done more? Did I spend my time wisely enough? What if I had done such-and-such differently…

Obviously at this point, the fall semester is behind me, and I cannot change what happened. It is what it is. I can only reflect on what these weeks have taught me, appreciate where I am now, and look forward to what lies ahead.

Because when writing that list of well-intentioned goals, I did not write down the obstacles I was about to encounter. I did not plan for my physical and mental health to completely fight against me and receive little means of relief.  I did not expect my living situation to take such a draining toll on me with, again, little means of relief. I did not plan to handle the heavy workload I did, especially coming right from figuring out the Canadian grading system last spring.

So basically when writing those goals, even after two previous years of college in the books, I was going in blind. Just because I had finished what I had didn’t necessarily translate into an exact replica of those experiences where yes, all I had to do was set time aside for goals I wanted to accomplish to improve myself and I would have probably accomplished them.

Even though I completely forewent my intentions and ended up facing a difficult semester with the only goal of survival in my mind, I won’t allow myself to think I failed. To regret my decisions and experiences in favor of the unattainable “could have.” Yes, it could have happened how I envisioned it, but it didn’t.

As much as I’d love to plan out my every moment to ensure I’m making the most of my time, I’m not in control of that. I can be as “well-prepared” as I deem possible, but even then, it might not be enough. Life has other intentions for us, and just because they differ drastically from our minds doesn’t mean we’re invalid, that we failed.

Funnily enough, pondering upon this thought, I was also going through my accordion folder I hadn’t touched in months, just to declutter anything I didn’t need. Hidden in a back pocket, I found all the materials I’ve collected over times in therapy and counseling.

One particular paper caught my attention. It was in my really dark depression before my first year of college. At that point, I can safely say I was having suicidal thoughts, and the only counselor available at the time was a general one offering five free sessions. Yeah, not necessarily the most helpful, but on my own that summer, I wrote a list of goals for myself, in that short period, for that school year, and further in the future.

What an odd feeling looking back on that paper and thinking of that time, walking in my younger self’s shoes of unadulterated hopelessness and numbness, and seeing the goals I wanted to accomplish then. Some goals included taking a trip that July, getting involved at college, and later on landing an internship, studying abroad, and graduating from college.

I can proudly say to my younger self that I actually accomplished those goals. And the goals I had just set for myself this semester I probably never would have dreamed of ever touching. My past goals were simply looking for any reason to look ahead to the future. My recent goals were making the most of how far I’ve come, continuing to learn and grow from a much healthier place.

Life is crazy. How drastically perspectives can change, how we can develop as individuals. I have a lot to feel accomplished about. I have a lot to look forward to. I’ll inevitable face (MANY) rough patches, but I’m still moving forward despite it all.

So remember, folks, if your well-thought out plans, even ones made according to some research-proven method of goal-setting, might not work out. And that’s okay. In fact, maybe you’ve accomplished much more than you realize.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie