Adventures in Functional Medicine; or, Yet More Reasons to Ignore the Scales
Posted Oct 01 2013 1:14am
You might remember a little while ago I went to visit a functional medicine expert and nutritionist in London , the very lovely Steve Grant – because I’d been feeling bloated, lethargic and generally a bit rubbish for a patch, and I couldn’t quite get to the bottom of it.
I also hadn’t had a period in a long time, not because of weight loss (or at least, not directly) but because of an adverse reaction to a contraceptive injection way back in 2009-ish. And that’s not to mention the residual damage my liver and kidneys were at risk of, given that I spent much of the period between 2007 and 2010 taking up to 22 prescription tablets a day. I’ve spent much of the last 18 months going back and forth to the doctors, and I’d had some tests, all of which came back with the same result – “your fertility looks normal, probably nothing to worry about, come back in about six months if it’s not fixed.”
Trouble is, this was kind of throwing a spanner in the works – not just my works, but those of the amazing Tom Dyer. He’s been training me for a while now, and it’s been an absolute revelation - but while I’ve been getting stronger and somewhat leaner, I’ve been struggling to make any big changes to my body when I’m zapped of energy and carrying what looks like triplets in bloat. Which is why he recommended I pay a visit to Steve.
I’m already a coeliac, so gluten has been out for a long time – but in following Steve’s instructions, there have been some pretty significant changes to my lifestyle. No dairy, for one – which, as a cheese enthusiast, I’ve found kinda difficult. Plus, no processed foods of any description, one cup of coffee a day and – probably worst of all – no technology after 8pm at night.
As a blogger and compulsive Twitter addict, you can understand why that last one was a bit of an issue.
However, generally I’m pretty good at doing what I’m told – and in the interests of finding out what on earth was up, I threw everything I had at it. And four weeks later, I found myself back in Steve’s office, for round two with the callipers.
If you’ve never encountered body fat testing with callipers, it’s laugh a minute. And I do, genuinely, mean that – because I’m ticklish as hell, which tends to make things a bit awkward. Especially when I’m getting pinched in all manner of places I’m reserving for my wedding night with Ryan Gosling.
Anyway – the callipers measure the amount of skin they can grab on to in each of these places in millimetres, allowing Steve to calculate how much fat and muscle I’m made up of. It’s essentially pinching an inch, but using science – and the results are as follows:
Lean mass (kg)
Now, I am rubbish with charts, so if you already get the gist, I’m sorry – but I’m going over it step by step. First off: if I were looking to lose p0unds on the scales here, I’d be severely disappointed. 0.8kg in a month ain’t that much, especially if you’re conditioned to watching The Biggest Loser and mentally preparing for ‘double digits’ on a weekly basis.
But – as I’ve said again and again and again - it’s not about the number on the scales. They tell you nothing. What’s much more telling is the fact that I’ve lost 2% body fat this month – and from some pretty interesting places. You’ll spot that my pecs, knees and calves stayed pretty much the same – which makes sense, because if I’m “lean” anywhere, I’d say it’s around there. But around my middle section, my quads and my hamstring (or rather, my butt) there are some pretty substantial differences.
After three years, I’m no longer losing weight, but changing shape.
And while we’re talking about weight – 74.5kg is 164lbs. I am a whole 10lbs heavier than I was when I moved to London, but two dress sizes smaller. Trust. I don’t even know what the correct answer is when people ask me how much weight I’ve lost now, because… Well, I’m gaining weight, and it’s awesome.
Anyway, back to the matter in hand: my shape is changing. And I’m up almost a kilo in lean mass, in theory – but I’m going to stress ‘in theory,’ and I’ll tell you for why.
Because, on the way to my appointment with Steve, I got my period. I am almost painfully aware that this is the very definition of TMI, but work with me here: that’s exciting. After months of having the excruciating hormone fluctuations, the headaches, the bad moods and skin but with no real sign of Mother Nature doing her thang… There it was. I’d been wondering why I’d gained three pounds earlier that week – and I’d found my answer.
And that is why the lean mass part is in theory: because during my time of the month, I retain water like a camel crossed with a cactus. With that in mind, that jump on the scales might – for the moment – have to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Now, Steve’s got some logic behind why my cycle seems to be back in the game. Hormonal problems tend to be the result of an imbalance of either estrogen or progesterone, and by levelling out gut and liver function, it’s easier for the body to detox (in the non-irritating sense of the word) and sort these out. The whole idea behind functional medicine is that it deals with the causes behind issues, rather than trying to fix the symptoms (have a look at the case study he did on reversing his own Mum’s diabetes for more on that!)
It’s also why I’ve seen those big drops in and around the areas I tend to store fat – my belly, thighs and butt. Combining Mr. Dyer’s squat torture techniques (I kid – he’s lovely) with a super-clean lifestyle means my body’s had the chance to have a bit of a clear out. My standard PMS symptoms definitely point towards a little too much estrogen, and that tends to be stored in fat – so it stands to reason that by losing fat in these areas, I’m clearing out estrogen and getting my body balanced back out.
What’s crazy is that I’ve spent years going back and forth from the doctors, being told to just wait for it to fix itself. In fact, my most recent trip in resulted in me having to go back for a second round of blood tests because they couldn’t believe my health was so far improved on a couple of years ago – but still, it didn’t get me very far. I wasn’t exactly making headway in working out a cause for my feeling-like-crap.
And yet once again, it’s turned out that lifestyle changes can make one hell of a difference to my health and wellbeing. It’s pretty amazing to me, this far in to my journey, that I’m still figuring things out – and more importantly, that there are still things I can change and build on to get healthier and enjoy every minute. I reckon empowerment – and in particular, the feeling that you can make decisions about your life that really make a difference – is the goal I never really knew I had, when I first stepped in to the gym, three years ago… And it turns out, I’ve still got plenty to learn.