[cw: dieting for nutrition, severe PMS] Last week I wondered what is the price of the short bout of aliveness I had in Bangkok – I thought it would be interesting to document some biometrics and experiences since I have gotten back.
Prior to the trip during sleep my average resting heart rate (RHR) was typically in the late 40s and my average heart rate variability would be in the 100s. According to medical research for RHR usually the lower is better, for HRV the higher is better, with caveats.
Both values worsened dramatically during the trip – I included the 3 days prior to the trip to give a snapshot of my baseline, the dates of the trip are highlighted in grey, values that are concerning when compared to my average are highlighted in yellow, and values that are dramatically different are highlighted in red:
As the above table demonstrated, my average RHR during sleep increased by 10-20 beats per minute (bpm), which is a huge difference. Typically, an increase of merely 3-5 bpm is already a cause for concern. I was also in my luteal phase, so it does contribute to a slightly higher bpm usually in the 3-5 bpm range.
My waking glucose was also all over the place. What surprised me was that my post-meal glucose seemed to have improved? I didn’t test every meal but most times I tested I was surprised. There were a few meals when my post-meal glucose was disturbing, but they occurred less frequently than I had expected, especially after what I had eaten.
I had no such dramatic upheavals during my last trip to europe in 2019, so it was slightly disturbing. I did however did experience something similar during my birthday week this year.
Upon returning I had gotten a mild migraine (would rate it 2/10 in context to my personal history of migraines) on the 3rd day. I had expected a lot worse after all the deviation I had gone through. It lasted slightly over 2 days, which I am also thankful for.
I also experienced the body aches I used to experience before I went on my low carb diet. It seems like my body was exhibiting an inflammed state.
My PMS symptoms have also gotten a lot worse. In fact for the past year while on a low carb diet I have not experienced the usual PMS symptoms I had for my entire menstruating life. My moods were less extreme, I had virtually no pain in my breasts and no cramps. My luteal phase occurred in the first half of the trip and I started getting painful breasts again. I don’t mind so much the pain, but I started getting wilder mood swings, including suicidal feelings.
stress & thresholds
I remain very fascinated with the fact that I should have had a migraine during the trip with all the stress I was going through, but somehow my body waited till I was back. I remember anecdotes of people only getting sick when they stopped to rest – maybe cortisol keeps us going until some threshold is breached?
I am not implying that I could have gone on undertaking that amount of stress and not fall sick until I stopped. I think it was a matter of time that my body would break down and I was severely testing its threshold. My theory is that the longer the body survives the stress, the more chronic damage is happening, the longer it would then take to recover if it is even possible. I have known of people’s bodies suffering irreversible damage – perhaps mine included. When mine broke down sometime in 2015, it took me years to recover from severe dry eyes. The thing we don’t realise is that dry eyes are not just about the eyes: by the time we experience chronic dry eyes there is already a severe chronic imbalance to our homeostasis. How long would it take to correct such an imbalance? The eye specialist declared mine incurable, but I did recover after years of rest.
The body is a somewhat magical neutral system. Its primary purpose is to keep us alive in the short term regardless of long term consequences. So it will pump whatever amount of hormones needed to prevent acute damage, but it is not infallible. The effects of hormones going wildly out of control will cascade, and our body will get overwhelmed at some point.
It took me roughly 8 days after my return to get back to somewhere near my original baseline. For a long while I thought the seemingly worsened metrics were going to be my new baseline. I thought my body would adjust to travelling a couple days into my trip like my previous trips – it would get stressed because of the actual flight travel and jet lag, but not the actual trip itself.
I had first gotten my oura ring in march 2019 and shortly after I went to Okinawa. Back then I was not on a diet nor was I really exercising very regularly. My biometrics during that trip were “great”. Low RHR, high HRV. My chronic health issues were worse though.
It seems like my body has gotten used to a very healthy way of life and it is now not very good at coping with the regular amount of unhealthy: carbs, oxidised vegetable oil, possibly pollution?
We could also argue that the food in both Europe (Italy, Vienna, Slovenia) and Okinawa were a lot less oxidised (deep fried / high heat) – I had not restricted carbs back then – than Bangkok. I would have to go to a destination with a different cooking culture whether it is my body or the food. Probably both.
Prior to the trip I was also restricting my calories (for health benefits), keep tracking of my macros, intermittently fasting for 14-16 hours with 2 meals and zero food in between – during the trip I placed no such restrictions on myself. The latest we’d eaten was 7pm, which isn’t that late in the grand scheme of things, but I usually finish eating by 5pm in my typical routine.
I also regrettably ran for 6 days straight before the trip, and during the trip I averaged about 15k steps, maxing at 22k steps. The weather was also very hot. So my body had zero recovery days.
All of the above are homeostatic stressors.
evaluation of biometrics
Despite the stress I seemed to have put on my body during the trip I felt like overall I had more energy. I am not sure if it is objectively true or the adrenaline. There is an argument that my pre-trip RHR was too low. It is normal for athletes to have low RHR due to exceptional cardio fitness but I wouldn’t call myself an athlete. Due to prolonged carb and calorie restriction my metabolism may have slowed too. Calorie restriction is known to increase longevity – a slower metabolism may not be a bad thing because if everything is less and slower, the chronic damage of ageing may slow down too. On the other extreme end, bodybuilders depend on insulin and growth hormone to build muscle. Yet both hormones are associated with increased cancer risk. So do I want to live longer but feel weaker, or be strong with a robust metabolism but have a potentially short life-span?
The same with glucose and ketones I guess. I think there is a sweet spot the body thrives on, and it is still debatable whether ketosis is beneficial long-term. But I think people who struggle with neurological issues (like me) has less of a choice. I definitely do not want to be dealing with suicidal feelings on a long-term basis. It is one thing to be philosophically against life, another thing to feel like dying all the time.
The current consensus is that in general higher HRV is always better, unless it spikes suddenly. But again, this is usually discussed in context with athletes who go through periods of high stress and high recovery. Low HRV however, is associated with increased mortality risk. Is there a sweet spot too?
I would monitor everything with some healthy skepticism since this is really an emerging field.
stability or aliveness?
So, is this price worth paying for feeling alive in Bangkok? I would say yes. I think it is a calculated tradeoff, and if given the choice again I would still do it. I have given up bits of my health in exchange for spiritedness and inspiration. I thoroughly enjoyed the experiences I had. But I knew this is going to be temporary, or at least I hope.
I think if I don’t return to my usual low carb minimal-vegetable-oil diet I may redevelop a tolerance to them, like before. I am just not sure at what cost. Is having severe PMS, frequent migraines, diabetes, heart disease and cancer worth the tolerance and enjoyment?
Is having “great” biometrics worth sacrificing the pleasures in life? There are potential costs to eating low carb too: there are people arguing that it affects thyroid function and serotonin production. But we get ketones in return, and they are magical for neurological health.
Do I want the stability of peace or the intensity of aliveness?
I guess it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. I am still learning to find my own sweet spot. Since I’ve returned I’ve stopped actively monitoring my calorie intake and have allowed myself more carbs than pre-trip (I used to avoid even onions lol). But I still generally eat a moderately low carb diet and have gone back to intermittent fasting with no snacking in between. I look forward to incorporating some strength training like I’ve been writing about since forever. The long-term goal is still to improve mitochondrial health and prevent muscle loss so I can have a healthy-enough metabolism. Despite my biometrics I do think my metabolism has improved overall, judging from the lack of the terrible food comas I used to have.
It would be interesting to see how my biometrics would change from this point on though, especially now that I can return to improving my fitness without the calorie restriction. I’m glad to have this deviation so I can be provoked, instead of just steeping myself in a stable routine unquestioningly.