Can Order Relieve a Disorder?
There are so many symptoms that humans experience when the body is making the wrong hormones at the wrong times (or sub-par hormones because the body doesn’t have what it needs to produce top-notch hormones) that creating the term “metabolic syndrome” was necessary to help the medical profession link seemingly dissimilar symptoms with a specific “disorder.” Any one of these symptoms could be the result of an acute imbalance, but when looked at as a whole it is almost like putting together a puzzle. When certain pieces are out of place, there is disorder and the picture is not able to be completed. You can make it easier for your body to restore order (find its own best version of metabolic harmony) by literally putting things in order.
The Timing of Meals
A good first start to allowing the body’s metabolic processes to re-order themselves is to provide ample food sources at regular periods throughout the day and allow enough time between them (without having to deal with breaking down food) for the body to perform its functions.
If there is too little time between meals, the body needs to stop its required “rest & digest” period in which it is using its resources (such as cholesterol and magnesium) in order to make the “feel good-everything’s fine” hormones such as serotonin, melatonin, and progesterone. It instead, uses those same raw materials in order to create other substances (such as more insulin and enzymes) in order to break down and utilize the food you just put in.
Too much time between meals and the body goes into panic mode. It may start using those same (finite) raw materials in order to create adrenaline or testosterone. Add to this an intense workout, and your body may think you are running to avoid a bear or to get away from danger. Or even that resources are scarce and it needs to slow your metabolism (to reserve the building blocks for necessary functions) as well as reduce fertility—because the body is more interested in staying alive than reproducing.
The Sweet Spot?
There may or may not be a scientific consensus on this, but the world’s healthy cultures (no matter what the cuisine) tend towards 3 meals a day with 3.5 to 4.5 hours between them and 12 hours between dinner and breakfast—making weekly/monthly exceptions for holidays and longer exceptions for specific periods of growth. That’s certainly what my elders who lived the longest, healthiest lives did.
Taking specific periods of growth into account
My pediatrician (and many others) recommend “4 meals a day” for children and teenagers. Another Brooklyn Pediatrician is known for requesting that once the baby/toddler is ready, you get your child on a meal schedule: breakfast, lunch, after school, and dinner. Perhaps it is also a suitable schedule for pregnant and breastfeeding women who not only need the nutrients, but also the proper hormonal balance. Post-menopausal women have other needs. 2 meals a day on most days could be enough. Maybe even just right. Maybe this is a good discussion for you to have with your doctor?
Holidays make you more resilient
The great thing is, when the body is functioning well and getting enough of its needs met enough of the time, small (let’s say…intermittent) periods of less (let’s just call that “fasting”) or more (“feasting”) give a wake up call to the body and, instead of sending it into panic or manic mode, send it into clean-up mode or super-hero mode. This might look like “just brunch and a light dinner” once a week and “letting yourself go wild” at weddings, birthdays, and family feasts. I’m not telling you what’s good for you, just giving you permission to think about when we eat and why.
“Fasting and Feasting”
Perhaps the reason why many religious communities have “fasting” and “feasting” periods and holidays is to help the congregation to limit themselves. What if the yearly “fasting” holidays were not about atonement but a roundabout way to prevent the men from eating the most nourishing foods when provisions were scarcest, leaving them for the childbearing women and children who were not required to fast, in essence preserving the robustness of their lineage.
Improving Your Results
If you are the “results-oriented” type and want to “improve your results,” making the time between meals longer is a heroic and not very effective way to go about it. Using the Circadian Rhythm (getting your own rhythm and schedule by following nature’s) to decide when you are going to get up and eat as your “base” and the rhythm of the “moon holidays” for your feasts and fasts is a pleasant way of getting in touch with the natural world without overdoing the “bio-hacking” strategies that could send an already-depleted person on a downward spiral.
I like to read a lot about the “Blue Zones”-places where people tend to live the longest, happiest, healthiest lives and it never ceases to amaze me how many experts will say, “In the Blue Zones, people do _______. You can do it even better by doing _______.” Do we really have the gall to say “we can do it better” when the fact they they are living that much longer has already proven that they are so much better at it than we are? One recent book I read mentioned the Blue Zone habit of 12 hours between dinner and breakfast and that (of course) the rest of us can improve upon that by leaving 14 hours. Sigh.
Metabolic Harmony Continuum
I think of the hypoglycemic/insulin resistant state that results from continuous production of insulin as the sluggish, depressed state of the Metabolic Harmony continuum, whereas the ketogenic/high metabolic rate that results from a continual “intermittent” fasting reminds me of a manic state that becomes degenerative very quickly.
Did you notice that the much addressed intermittent fasting studies that showed improvement in metabolic health were conducted on middle-aged pre-diabetic men and not healthy, premenopausal women? I did.
Signs you may want to tune-up your Metabolic Harmony:
- Itchy, welt-like bumps around the perimeter of the face that just ooze a little watery stuff if you play with them. (Unless you pick them open and they get bacteria inside which causes your immune system to then create pus and it becomes a “pimple”).
- Hard, red bumps over the area where Wolverine grows facial hair or on the chest and upper back.
- “-itis-type” rashes around your mouth (when compounded by a barrier dysfunction).
- Overall hyper-reactivity (when compounded by cellular communication problems).
- You are riding the Metabolic Rollercoaster: eating small meals and snacking too often and oscillating between energy and lethargy.
- Every afternoon you NEED a pick me up.
- Your sleep schedule is off/have a hard time making it through the night without peeing. (The ability to “hold pee” while you sleep is hormonal, not about how much the bladder can hold—remember that, parents of bedwetters).
What May Disrupt Metabolic Harmony?
Deficiency due to not getting enough of the basic building blocks
The body/metabolism cannot function on a diet that is deficient in what it needs to function on a daily basis. (Sounds simple…but that is usually the #1 culprit!)
Deficiency due to depletion
It is easy to use-up your stores of the “building blocks” needed to produce satisfactory hormones (cholesterol and minerals-particularly magnesium) by constantly making the sympathetic nervous system kick into action when the body needs to be resting and digesting. Some examples of metabolic disruptors:
Nursing your coffee for hours
- Anything consumed in between meals that may produce insulin or digestive enzymes, such as food, gum, or a beverage with sugar/cream (or pea protein, wheatgrass, chia seeds, honey, gelatin…) can disrupt Metabolic Harmony. Herbal tea, however, is perfectly acceptable and highly recommended.
- If you drink these types of beverages, have them either directly before or during meals and consume them within the time-frame of the meal.
- The body thinks you are in trouble, makes fight or flight hormones of testosterone and adrenaline.
- Creates a negative feedback loop between creating adrenaline (makes you feel excited/anxious about looking at what might show up next) and cortisol (soothes you so that you don’t feel so bad when you put it down) so that you keep going back—not quite knowing what you are looking for. This stress response could deplete your stores of the basic building blocks your body needs for basic metabolic processes.
Poor sleep hygiene
- If you consistently override your body’s need for sleep, the body needs to work harder just to keep up. Humans are resilient and are made in a way that handles stress pretty well, but it can only take so much before hibernation becomes a necessity.
Exposure to endocrine disruptors (petroleum products: plastics, pesticides, perfumes, polyester…)
- The body has a hard time metabolizing and eliminating these confusing pseudo-hormones
Not breathing well
- Your lungs are one of the body’s pathways for the elimination of metabolic wastes. (Perhaps another reason why some overzealous bio-hackers get accused of having foul-breath) Not emptying them completely could create stagnation in the thoracic cavity.
- In addition to weakening the thoracic lung, breathing through the mouth (which uses only the upper lung) and breathing IN for longer than you breathe OUT can activate sympathetic responses, leading to feelings of unease and the production of stress hormones
- Breathwork techniques can improve your metabolic function:
- Practice emptying your thoracic lung to improve elimination
- Practice 3-4-5 breathing to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Inhale for 3 counts, hold for 4 counts, and exhale for 5 counts.
Books and articles that made me think:
- The New Basics: A-to-Z Baby & Child Care for the Modern Parent by Michel Cohen M.D. (Local Pediatrics Practice: recommends getting kids on an eating schedule)
- Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman (Borrowed it from the Library: Has a quick mention of her doctor putting her baby on an eating schedule-fun book but not required reading.)
Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family by Ellyn Satter (Great resource if you don’t know where to start in feeding yourself or your family.)
- Food Pharmacy: A Guide to Gut Bacteria, Anti-Inflammatory Foods, and Eating for Health by Lina Aurell, Mia Clase (Not recommended reading, just an example of a place where someone says “the healthiest people on the planet do this….you could do it better by…”)
- How to Break Up with Your Phone – Catherine Price (Quick, Great reading–especially if you are trying to figure out your relationship with technology.)
- And I found this article after I wrote this piece: I think he’s making a similar point: https://www.marksdailyapple.com/hormesis-how-certain-kinds-of-stress-can-actually-be-good-for-you/
Writing by Emma Graves
Emma, a certified herbalist & highly skilled aesthetician who has been working in natural skin care since 1998, originally developed the Between You and the Moon product line to serve her clients in finding a method of natural, holistic skin care that provided tangible results. A 4+ generation holistic practitioner, her love of skin care and holistic methods was chronicled in her early blog “The Pimple Whisperer,” some of which is still available on this website.