Intermittent Fasting

Food, Intermittent Fasting and Me

Food Rocks!

We need to eat to survive of course but I also like to eat for fun. I always have. From the eating competitions I used to have with friends and on blind dates even (don’t ask) to indulging in take away regularly, I just love eating. I love the variety of food available these days. Indian, Italian and Lebanese are some of my favourite cuisines. I love the ritual of cooking (I recently took a couple of cooking courses) or going out to a nice restaurant. I adore Buffets. All my Christmases come together when I’m at a buffet and I eat until sick almost. Is that bad? Gluttony is a sin of course but I’m a militant atheist luckily. Right now you’re probably imagining me as a bed ridden slob, dangerously overweight and a ticking, heart-diseased, diabetes ridden time bomb but I’m actually only a couple of stone overweight and probably not noticeably fat. Unless you look real close. Those who’ve seen me naked know best. I have height, a good metabolism and pure luck to thank for that possibly. However..

Why Diet?

I’ve recently become middle aged and have an assortment of mild middle aged related conditions such as back pain, joint stiffness, high blood pressure, etc.. Middle age is a time when shit starts to deteriorate and go wrong so you really have to keep an eye on things to keep yourself functional. It’s a time to get more regular general medical checkups, get that free eye test and dental checkup, get active, stop smoking, drinking etc.. Lowering weight is one thing that I think I and a lot of people would benefit from. It makes sense to think that joint and back pain could be reduced if there’s less weight acting upon your frame and there’s known benefits to high blood pressure from weight loss. Thus I entered the depressing world of dieting. But..

Enjoy Food, Just Eat Less Often

I wasn’t about to give up my life long love of food. Rather, I’d continue to eat well and eat pretty much whatever I like within reason. I do try to avoid eating food with little or no value of course but the odd take away or desert is fine. Instead what I’d do was just eat less often and be patient until the next feeding time. I’d heard of “Intermittent Fasting” before but never really looked at it properly. The word “fasting” put me off. And in truth, I only got a renewed interest in it kinda by accident recently when I forced myself to not eat for a day, just to see if I could. I like to test my resolve in these ways occasionally. I tried and failed a few times first until I got angry with myself then finally carried it through properly one day. It was a long day..

My Intermittent Fasting Experience

So the first day I fasted went like this. I skipped breakfast. I’ve done that before or had very late breakfasts, so no big deal there. I don’t normally bother with lunch either (I guess I’d probably been fasting intermittently already considering my no lunch and late breakfast habits) but by lunch time I was becoming a bit twitchy. I hadn’t eaten anything since dinner time the previous day at about 6pm. By mid afternoon I was becoming ravenous and very, very nearly gave in. Then something strange happened around 4/5pm, just before normal dinner time. I can only describe it as like “hitting a wall” then finding a second wind. Hunger seemed to disappear a bit and become more manageable. I felt as if some weird internal, metabolic, survival process had kicked in. I joked that my body and stomach had started to consume itself for vital sustenance. Having researched intermittent fasting a bit since, I realise that wasn’t a million miles from the truth. The body looks within itself and processes existing stores of fat, carbohydrates etc when starved of food. For the rest of the evening and even next day I didn’t feel terribly hungry. I ended up having breakfast around 11:30am. No bigger a breakfast than usual.

The Results

I carried on my intermittent fasting for the rest of that week. Having two no food days in total and that’s what I’m trying to stick to now. I think two is plenty. Especially when you consider that by two days I mean no eating from say dinner at 6pm one day until brekkie at about 11am 2 days later. That’s a total fasting time of 41 continuous hours and do that twice a week! So what benefits did I notice and how long before these benefits showed exactly? Well I was quite surprised to find that I lost the best part of 3kg after the first fast, ie- within days. At first I thought my scales were broken. But seemingly not. I’ve been doing it for a few weeks now and havn’t lost anywhere near the initial amount since. I think this is normal for any kind of serious diet, you lose a lot at first then it balances out. I’m still losing weight, just a lot slower. Here’s my weight spreadsheet below. You can see the start of the fasting process and big weight drop the first week in October:

It Gets Better

Once you get past that initial hunger wall, it gets a lot easier and you get used to the regular process of fasting then. Apart from the obvious benefit of losing weight, one other thing I’ve noticed is that, when I do finally eat, I don’t over eat or seem to eat as much as I normally would. It’s as if the stomach shrinks in some way. Also, I don’t seem to be in quite as much pain as usual. This could just be in my mind though. Speaking of the mind, there’s obvious psychological benefits too. I’m happier that I’m in control of my eating habits and losing weight. My blood pressure seems to be down too. See below (last reading today on the right):

Blood Pressure Readings

If anyone is interested in trying Intermittent Fasting, I found this website useful:

Healthline.com/nutrition/intermittent-fasting-guide

Next up…Facebook addiction!

Leon

The Self Employed Penny Drop Moment

Since I left college in 1995 I’ve worked in either full time, part time or contract work for other people or companies for a combined total period of less than 2 years. That’s about 5 or 6 different positions and companies. In the same time period I’ve been officially self employed in about 3 different positions, a Musician, a PC Technician and now a Web Designer since about 2003. Now, I’ve always seen those stats as a source of pride, I’m doing my own thing in life, figuring things out as I go, my own boss, time is my own, etc… and I would have also thought that others might be impressed by the initiative I’ve shown, the quick learning, the multidisciplinary skills one needs as a self employed web designer; design skills, people skills, project management skills, sales, etc, etc.. Aren’t the words “Good Initiative” on every damn job description there’s ever been!?

So recently I’ve considered trying to find a job, part time and remote ideally so my business isn’t affected too much and so I have a regular income for when self employment doesn’t cut it, like right now with the great weather we’re having! I’ve been sending CVs off, doing everything right (I think), customising the CV for the position, cutting out anything not relevant, adding enthusiastic cover letters, etc.. I’ve had career/CV guidance, I’ve got Degrees and other qualifications the last year or 2 and I feel my CV is fairly strong. But….nothing. I feel lucky to even get a reply.

Last night I attended #TechLifeBalance in Sligo, a kind of meet new Employer’s in the region type of event. The 4 CVs I brought were still in my back pocket when I left..

All IT companies or with IT roles on offer including: LiveTiles, Overstock, E3, SL Controls & Pramerica. A few days before the event I’d sent a CV off to LiveTiles for an IT Admin role through a¬† friend who recently started working for them and got a pretty quick, copy & paste no thanks. I was impressed with the speed actually! Last night a representative from the same company said something that made the penny drop for me….finally! Although, in the back of my head, I’d suspected as much for a while. She said that she’d been going through a lot of CVs lately for roles they had in their new office and the one issue she seen across a lot of them was that while they all showed great skills and qualifications, very few had the actual “industry experience” they needed. By industry experience I’m presuming she meant, considerable experience working for a large, corporate, multinational company and all that that entails. I don’t really have that with my 1.5 years work experience for other companies in the last 23 years! The night left me fairly deflated if I’m honest. The location was a trendy digital hub in Sligo, the attendees were all beautiful, young, talented people, the food was hip and free, buzz words and phrases abounded. It was all over my head a little. I think I’ve missed the boat..

So my conclusion..I guess I’ve thrown my oars out of the self employment boat. I’m in it for the long haul, so I better make it work!?

Discussion appreciated below.

Leon

From Suicidal to Happiness Engineer (Almost) in 3 Months.

Almost is the operative word. The blog title is metaphoric unfortunately due to a job application which was derailed (more about that later..) but herein lies a story of overcoming (work in progress) personal difficulties and loss of self after a massive change of life and finding some new contentment and direction. My 2017 year in review follows.

Spring

So, the beginning of 2017 found me with a wife, three gorgeous kids, a lovely home in Leitrim we owned outright, a nice car we owned outright, no loans or debts and a small but successful design business of my own that paid all bills. I had pretty much everything that most people work for and aim towards in life. At age 41. But in conversation with the imaginary person in my head who regularly asked me “How are you doing Leon?” I always hesitated before saying “I’m fine”. Why the hesitation?

Well, something just wasn’t quite right and hadn’t been quite right for a long time and I couldn’t really put my finger on it. We’d had the same problems a lot of people have in life; money shortage, health issues, the difficulties in raising three young kids, etc.. but it felt like something more than those. There was an uneasy feeling whenever I came home or was around my wife and kids for more than a few hours. I noticed my temper getting shorter, my patience with the kids growing thin very easily and my physical health suffering as I felt more and more stressed with each passing week and month. I had an office outside the house and I longed to be there whenever I wasn’t. Coming home was not something I looked forward to. That’s such a scary feeling. You know something is seriously wrong when you can’t face coming home to your wife and kids, particularly when you know they’d done nothing to make you feel that way and had only the deepest of love for you.

I’d been seriously depressed before a few times, many years previously as well as having a family history of depression and suicide and it felt a little like that again but with lots of anger added for good measure. What was wrong with me? Why wasn’t I happy with everything I had? Why wasn’t I delighted to come home to my wife and kids every day after a hard day in the office? Why did I long for Monday morning on a Friday evening? Unfortunately I was to find out the answers to these questions the hard way and in the process, destroy some of the people that cared most about me, alienate all of my friends, family and in-laws and ultimately let myself down in a way I never thought I would or even could. A normally honest, tidy and intelligent person, full of integrity would turn into a liar, a cheat and a selfish arsehole and make the biggest mess of his life, changing it irrevocably, all in the space of a month or two and all because of a lack of courage, maturity and decisiveness.

Summer

The summer started as any other. Peas were planted, the garden wrestled with on a regular basis and a First Communion party at the house with friends and family present. Two long months of school holidays were contemplated and dreaded. Plans made to go camping, possibly to France. The kids first trip abroad maybe. Behind this seemingly normal family life lay a few oddities, my unhappiness, my wife’s unhappiness, the fact that I’d never really got on with my in-laws, didn’t really have any friends or the fact that my wife and I hadn’t shared a bed for over a year and a half. An odd thing for a married couple but something that was just accepted as normal for some reason? Then it happened. For the first time in a long time another woman gave me some attention. It’s a dilemma faced by many men (and women) I’m sure and like thousands before me I didn’t have the mental strength, honesty and cop on to stop it, instead, flattered by the attention and even needing and wanting it perhaps, I made the worst mistake of my life and had an affair. I enjoyed the thrill while it lasted and even managed to convince myself that it would help my marriage when it was over and give it a new impetus in some way. But that’s not how things turned out of course..

My wife found out about the affair and from the moment she screamed at me that she knew (during a marriage counselling session), I felt my life was over. When I seen how much I’d hurt my wife, a kind, caring person who’d done nothing but love me for 15 years, I just wanted to die. For the next couple of months I lived out of my office, B&B’s and friend’s spare beds, contemplating where my life would go next. One day planning how I’d kill myself, to the point of actually looking for rope, guitar leads, medication or a big enough truck, the next, thinking about my three kids and how they would react to me dying and wondering if I could find some way to live happily and normally again. After a while my wife was gracious enough to tell me she forgave me and even understood why I’d done it and for a while we both entertained the daft notion that we could put it behind us, start again and be stronger together for the experience. We even tried it for a while when I moved back into the family home for a couple of weeks but something had died.

Autumn

One night during this period my wife and I had a massive argument with physical violence which resulted in me trying to hang myself. The next day my wife drove me straight to our family doctor and from there I was referred to a psychiatric hospital in Sligo where I stayed for a week. On leaving hospital I was provided with anti-depressant and anti-psychotic medication which I’m still on at the time of writing. I basically came out of hospital to a brand new but uncertain life. I managed to find an affordable apartment in Mohill, Leitim which for those who don’t know can seem like a pretty desolate, isolated place and it didn’t help that my first night was spent in darkness with no electricity. I was quite worried about being isolated with no car and being on my own too much but slowly and surely, mostly with the help of my partner, some counselling from both professionals and friends, a local bus service and lots of thinking I managed to get into some kind of routine. One pleasant surprise I had after a few weeks was realising that I didn’t feel too bad being on my own. I’d been on my own plenty of times in the past, sometimes for long periods and with no outlet I’d gone fairly mad a few times. But this time I had work to get back into, a partner that came over nearly every day and ferried me around anywhere I needed to go and on top of those I was very pleasantly surprised to find that there were a few little classes and things I could get involved in in Mohill. I signed up for a Social Singing group, private Singing Lessons, regular local Mental Health talks as well as a local Grow Mental Health group and lastly a Cookery course of all things! I also read a lot and lost a lot of weight eating less and eating healthier.

I’m not really sure where I got the motivation to get involved in any of these, maybe my medication has helped and I’m a little nervous about stopping it as I know I must soon, but with all of that I was kept busy and my mind wasn’t racked with guilt, sadness and depression over what I’d done, how much I’d lost and how much my life had changed. I now had space to think, be myself, indulge in hobbies, do many different things and get my shit together basically. One massive thing that still needed ironing out though was my three children. My ex-wife brought me to court to try limit my access to them as she was fearful of my mental condition. Something which annoyed me a lot at the time but I’ve now realised was probably sensible on her part although I would never have done anything to endanger my kids, no matter how low I was. We reached a compromise with the court and I’m glad to say I see my kids a lot now which is great and I have a great relationship with them. Probably a lot better than before actually. It’s hard to have a decent relationship with anyone when you’re fundamentally unhappy. I also have a much better relationship with my ex-wife despite what I put her through and that’s very important to me. We have to get on, if for no other reason than we are morally obliged to both raise our children the best we can and set good examples to them. But regardless of the kids, I think we need to get on for ourselves too. She’s also met someone else and is happy which is great for both of us. And our kids.

Winter

So along came winter and things were going well. I felt happier than I’d felt in years. I had a spring in my step. I got to thinking about my worse financial situation though and a possible career change to help fix it. I had a constant stream of jobs coming into my inbox every day and I sent CVs off to some of them never to hear anything back. Then one day I spotted a post on Facebook re an opening for a “Happiness Engineer” with a company I knew well, Automattic, the guys behind the awesome software I’ve used to build websites for most of the past ten years, WordPress. Now a position entitled “Happiness Engineer” is the kind of thing that would normally make someone a tad cynical like me puke but something about it caught my imagination. The irony and beauty of me possibly getting a job title like that after having the year I’d had or family history I had was something I just couldn’t pass up. It would have been a fairy tale ending to a difficult year to get the job. But a certain Automattic HR person hadn’t read my script.

I already knew that Automattic were regarded as a very progressive company to work for and there were many great benefits to working with them and when I read the job spec I got very excited about working for someone else for probably the first time in over 15 years. I sent in my initial application and was delighted to be invited to enter the interview process. I managed to get all the way through to the paid trial contract stage and even sent off the signed contract before some shit hit the fan! Automattic make a big song and dance about allowing employees the flexibility to work around their personal, social and family lives and all of their online literature seems to be very employee-centric. So you can imagine my surprise when out of the blue, with no prior mention they sent me a “Conflict of Interest” legal document and told me I’d have to completely fold my 15 year old freelance business if I was to take a position with them. I panicked a little and questioned their HR person as to why I’d have to do such a drastic thing and she explained it to me. I said I understood (which I did. I’m taking clients off their premium WordPress service technically! Not sure how I didn’t spot that initially..but more importantly, how they didn’t spot it either and allowed me through the various interview stages) and said I’d continue to do the trial and see if I liked it enough and see if the salary was enough to give up my business completely. A little later that same day I was then told they’d changed their mind about advancing me to the trial stage and would be cancelling my application with immediate effect. “Good luck with your future endeavours” etc… To my eternal shame, I replied to that email and basically begged for a second chance and that I had thought it over and came up with a plan to fold my business in favour of working for Automattic but the HR person was having none of it and stuck to her guns, completely ignoring my argument and basically writing me off for finding it hard to swallow the bitter pill of having to kill my baby, my business I’d built up from scratch over 15 years. My efforts in the interview process, my qualifications, my experience with WordPress and my obvious great desire to land the job were all ignored because I queried having to wind up my business. Hows that for employee-centric!?

What’s To Learn?

There’s nothing like learning from your mistakes, so they say. The bigger the mistake, the more you learn. If you’re not killed in the process.¬† It’s important I think to recognise your mistakes, acknowledge them, apologise for them if necessary/relevant but not let them define you or continue to affect you negatively. Everyone makes mistakes at some stage. Everyone needs to make them and, more importantly, learn from them. I’m not a bad person despite having done bad things, especially this year. I’ve done a lot of good things in my life too. Far more good than bad things actually. I’m also capable of loving other people outside myself as my kids and partner will testify to.

I know many people who know me (and some who don’t I’m sure) will read this and judge me as I’ve been judged since this summer but your judgement can do me no harm because I’ve already judged myself. Mercilessly so. Also, I have the wisdom of experience and self-awareness now. The kind you only get from making spectacular mistakes and from scraping the bottom of the barrel.

To my Ex-wife. You are a beautiful, kind, caring and funny person and a great mother who deserves to be loved, looked after and have every happiness in the universe. You were the best friend I’d ever had and you didn’t deserve to be treated the way I treated you, regardless of the fact that I didn’t love you anymore. I have no excuses. I wish I was man enough to have ended our relationship naturally rather than so very unnaturally. I am so very sorry for what I’ve put you through and hope you can forgive me some day. I also hope you realise in time that our 15 years together created three wonderful little people and made us both a lot wiser, happier and better people..

Leon

PS – If you are feeling low or suicidal, there’s plenty of help available. Try these:

Grow
Pieta House
Aware
Samaritans

Is it time we stopped respecting religious beliefs?

This blog post has been inspired by the murders yesterday in Paris by Muslim fundamentalists at the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in the name of religion and also by the response of Salman Rushdie who said this:

“Respect for religion has become a code phrase meaning ‚Äėfear of religion.‚Äô Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.”

I don’t know much about the Charlie Hebdo magazine. Seemingly a lot of their most religiously controversial stuff is a bit vulgar, smutty and just silly rather than smart satire that makes us think but no matter what they say or print, coming¬†in and murdering some of them, including a fellow Muslim policeman is just fundamentalism gone off the scale.

Salman’s quote above sums up how I’ve been feeling about religion in general for a few years now. Having been an atheist most of my life, skipping baptism, communion, confirmation etc, no easy feat in Ireland in the late 70’s/early 80’s, I’ve never really had time for any religion. To me it’s been plain to see for a long, long time that it has no place in a modern, secular and scientifically enlightened civilisation. But still it lingers like¬†a disease infecting, sickening and killing people. Religion is still all around us, from events like yesterdays in Paris, to imposing churches around every corner, to pressure from grandparents to christen our kids, to baptismal certificate requirements when starting school and religion being such a big part of the education system.

In this age of political correctness we are all told to respect other people’s beliefs and leave them to them. We all have immense fear of insulting¬†one religion or another. It’s become a taboo almost just to dare to question any aspect of any religion publicly. Should we continue to respect people’s beliefs or even the people who hold those beliefs no matter how ridiculous they are or what people do in the name of those religions such as murdering, abuse and torture? Is it time we stopped living in fear of religion and stopped respecting it?

The only thing that gives me hope is that most younger generations seem to be giving religion less if any place in their lives and when the current older generations are gone maybe we will be free from religion once and for all. I’m talking about Catholicism in Ireland mostly of course. Religions such as Muslim, Islam etc may not die away as quick unfortunately. Perhaps what we need to do is stop attaching such significance and importance to religion¬†by constantly talking about it, practicing it and making it part of our lives in some way.

Maybe Charlie Hebdo should have found something else more relevant to write/joke about than “a mediaeval form of unreason”, not because of the fear of retaliation but more to help bury religion to a distant memory?

I’m even fearful writing this damn post..

Fuck you religion…fuck you.

Charlie Hebdo
Illustration by Dave Brown for The Independent

Do I Have an Autism Spectrum Disorder!?

First off I need to say that I’m not writing this in the spirit of jumping on the Autism or Aspergers bandwagon, looking for sympathy, support or anything like that. I’m merely feeling a sense of curiosity, relief and the desire to tell the world that there might just be a long overdue “label” or explanation for all the weirdness that has been ME¬†for the last 39 years!

I’ve always felt a bit different to everyone else and found things others seem to find simple a real challenge. Things like making friends, social events, school, large crowds, maintaining eye contact etc.. I’ve also shown signs of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). My family and friends regularly joke about me constantly tidying and organising stuff! I also seem to have mysterious talents doing things I’ve never trained for or studied, like running an IT business for the last 9 years! I’ve often been called aloof, arrogant and cold too but I’m not really. For the whole of primary school for example, I stood on my own in the same spot at lunch time. Every day for the best part of 8 years. I would have done the same in secondary school but preferred to cycle home instead. The school was damn far away and I only got a few mins at home to actually have lunch but it was better than staying among people. All these things are allegedly symptomatic of Asperger’s Syndrome¬†or “Arse Burgers” syndrome as I like to call it. I’ve wondered over the years, although never in any great dept, if I might have some kind of mild mental deficiency. It would have explained a lot.

lalala

So I seen a link on Facebook a few months ago that got me wondering¬†even more! It was a link to a generally well respected online¬†Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) test, devised by¬†Simon Baron-Cohen. I took the test a few times then and again just last weekend too prompted by some autism awareness training that I had to do as part of working with local kids. Stuff mentioned in the training sounded uncomfortably¬†familiar to me. Anyway, having done the test a load of times now, answering as honestly as I possibly could, more honestly each time, I score around the 30 point mark give or take a point or 2 either way. A mark in that range is supposedly indicative of a “borderline autism spectrum disorder and possibly Asperger’s Syndrome.

It was initially a little shocking to think that maybe I might have a recognised mental “disorder” but I’ve since relaxed into a sense of relief that I might now know what has caused a lot of stress in my life and generally made my life difficult. After all, knowing the source of a problem is the first step to fixing or dealing with it in some way. People who score in my range are advised to go to a local GP and request a referral to a proper consultant who can diagnose officially. I may or may not do that. I havn’t decided. I am aware that self diagnosis, especially involving the internet is not 100% wise but I feel that if it’s an explanation that works for me, then fine. Also, who is anyone to say that being different in this way is a “disorder”? Maybe all the normal people without these so called disorders are they ones who have the real disorder!?

I reckon a lot of people in our modern society might score highly on the AQ test so I’m aware this could all be nonsense and I may be nothing more than a bit different or a bit shy and to be honest it’s something I feel I may have under control anyway considering I’ve found some kind of moderate success in life. I’m married, I have children, I run a business, I own my own home and car etc.. so I can’t say it’s been a real issue of late but there’s still days when I feel overwhelmed and feel like I just can’t function.

Maybe the best thing that can happen as a result of all this is that the people who know me best might think twice about me now and be less offended by my weirdness.

That is the reason for this blog post I guess.

Leon