THE BODY EXPERIMENT
or Torturing One’s Self for Results
I found a way to cut your cholesterol numbers in half.
I did it in 40 days and so can you.
Read on, Macduff.
Here’s a reality check for ya; most of what we eat is shit. A spectacular number of us are in abysmal shape and are going to die sooner than we’d expect and likely the final years will be an agonizing death march merely to survive. But at least we’re having fun, right? To that end, I decided this past spring to use my body as an experiment in radical diet change that ended up reaping stunning results, which were duly corroborated by my doctor, who looked at my blood work numbers this past week and blubbered, “What happened? What did you do?”
I’ll share this pertinent information, if for nothing else, as a public service.
In other words, none of the kind of thing you usually get here.
Before I reveal my method and results, I need to clarify that I am among the millions that wage a battle with high cholesterol. Although I am not over-weight and do not smoke cigarettes, and eat healthier than the average American (which ain’t sayin’ much), I was told it is mostly hereditary – some kind of Mediterranean thing, thanks to my Martignetti side. It’s not scary dangerous, but when I was first diagnosed in my mid-to-late-thirties, I was well over the safe level (at some point in the 300’s, which sucks ass) and was told to go on Lipitor, which I flatly refused to do and accomplished enough with diet and exercise – something I did none of after high school – that helped keep me from a potential stroke. And while I have managed this naturally for lo these fifteen or so years, (staying in the 230’s, still sucks) I have never had the kind of numbers that would fool anyone into thinking I did not have an issue.
That would change after The Experiment.
The Subject: I am five-foot-five-inches tall and usually feel comfortable around 127 to 132 pounds. The reason I know this is because I was a diseased wrestler in high school and did unspeakable things to my body in the cause of making weight (hey, I did many and varied unspeakable things to my body in general in high school, but let’s leave that be). Just to give you an example of my weight journey, I wrestled in the 108-pound weight class in 1979-80 during my senior season, this is up from the 91-pound class my freshman year. I probably did not grow an inch since, but back then I knew for a fact (and one concerned doctor told me) that the thinnest this frame of mine can be and still function in society would be 107 and three-quarters pounds. The heaviest I have ever been is 153 sometime at the turn of the century when I was stress-eating during my building concerns about Y2K.
The Method: So, I’ve always been aware of my weight and, having gone a little nuts over the holidays, I was up around 141 around early February. But weight was never really a big thing for me. I eventually get to where I need to be because each Lenten season I do what I call “a fast”. I have written about this occasionally here and more in-depth in my book, Trailing Jesus (Gueem Books – 2002).
When I was a young Catholic growing up in the Bronx, New York, we were expected to give something up during Lent, which is kind of a Christian rip-off of Passover/Yom Kippur that commemorates the assassination and purported resurrection of one Jesus of Nazareth or more to the Catholic point, the Christ. I found this exercise rather challenging and began as a young man giving up some candy product or whatever, and although my faith inevitably waned, crashed and burned, I always challenged myself each spring to give up something and then something more, until there were times that I went way off the rails, but that is a column for another day.
The Regimen: This year I decided to be a Vegan for 40 days. My wife is a Vegan and we’re raising our daughter, Scarlet one, and well…I get a lot of shit around here for being the only carnivore and mainly get accused of being weak – since calling me amoral and uncaring toward nature is a losing battle. So, what the hey? I’ll do it. (Note: a Vegan eats and wears nothing that comes from an animal – I just did the eating part) This was coupled with eating one meal a day – the normal spring ritual – along with no booze, cigars or anything other than water to drink and a regimen of a daily 30 minute to 50 minute treadmill related activity – speed-walking, running, and incline-jogging. Usually I do every other day to recover, (hey I’m over a half-century, sue me) but this time went full bore. I also managed to get up to 50 push-ups and 50 sit-ups and 50 crunches along with it.
The Supplement: Sometime in the late 90s when I flatly refused to take drugs to curtail my Mediterranean-induced problem, I came across an old Chinese woman who counseled me to take a supplement called Red Yeast Rice (look it up, I’m running out of space), which was so good at reducing cholesterol the assholes who produce Lipitor and the other assholes who run the federal government teamed up to try and have it taken off the market, but were met with a granola-head revolution to my utter delight. It was Red Yeast Rice that kept me just under the red line for cholesterol troubles all these years.
However, I never took it twice a day – recommended. Don’t ask why. Maybe it was laziness. No, forget the other reasons. It was laziness. I also added something the last couple of years that helped too, one capsule of Fish Oil. But for the purposes of The Experiment, for 40 days I took two of the former and one of the latter (two 600 mg of Red Yeast Rice and one 1200 mg of Fish Oil).
Exercise drives up good cholesterol (HDL) which fights the bad (LDL). It is apparently okay to have a higher LDL number, if your HDL is soaring. The idea is the HDL cancels out the LDL and then some. This is not the scientific portion of this column. You want more info? Look it up.
Okay, so after 40 days of this torturous regimen, (I remind you I had my blood samples taken the week after Easter, the end of Lent, but due to my insane schedule and other factors, my annual physical was only this past week), here’s the deal, folks:
Total Cholesterol – 212 (borderline crappy, but nowhere near good)
HDL – 58 (ideal is close to 60, so not bad)
LDL 129 (this is considered the high-end of near or above optimal)
Triglycerides 123 (this is fat in the blood, and I’ve never had an issue with this – this is very normal)
**Also, last year my blood sugar levels were a tad high – apparently, this is tough for all of us since everything, and I mean everything, has insane historically high and way bad levels of sugar in it. If anything kills us before ISIS or wild-card cops or Ebola, it’s sugar.
2015 post-experiment results:
Total Cholesterol – 137 (considered desirable levels, but I have never been that low)
HDL – 56 (steady, so looks like exercise was not as effective as diet and supplements)
LDL – 69 (half of last year’s number and well within optimal)
Triglycerides – 61 (once again, halved from last year and so low it’s not even listed on sites dealing with this issue)
**Sugar levels were non-existent.
…my doctor, who looked at my blood work numbers this past week and blubbered, “What happened? What did you do?”
And so there you have it. It ain’t bragging if it’s true. And it’s far from bragging. Lord knows I have abandoned that diet and I’m back to destroying myself again. I ended up at 126 points (lost 15) and am already pushing 130. I only make this public as a specific reality check: You too can make a dramatic change to your health in 40 lousy days, not weeks or months. It’s not easy, but it is effective and it involves no drugs. Lipitor damages the liver and I need that to imbibe at Olympian levels, so there’s that.
Now excuse me while I have a beer and a cigar.