Intermittent Fasting, Insomnia and Doctors

So I’ve been offline for a while. I’m fine now but I actually had a nervous breakdown last fall. There were many factors contributing to it, but the main one was that I stopped being able to sleep through the night. My husband deployed overseas, leaving me completely alone with 19-month-old twins in a neighborhood where break-ins, gang shootings and muggings were common. At first, I was falling into bed exhausted late at night, waking up when the kids cried in the middle of the night, and then getting up at the ass-crack of dawn when my darling children decided the day was to begin. Even when the kids slept through the night, I was still waking up 20, 30 times a night for what seemed to be no reason. I stopped exercising, as I didn’t have the energy.  I started having panic attacks, depression, fatigue. Blogging about how awesome life is was the last thing I wanted to do. I wanted to eat a donut.

But somehow I managed to keep to a Primal diet. In fact, during this time I went extreme and starting doing intermittent fasting. Except that it wasn’t really by choice. And it wasn’t ‘intermittent’ – it was every day. I didn’t have time to eat in the morning. Breakfast was usually at about 1 p.m. when the kids went down for their nap. And dinner was at 9 p.m. after they went to sleep for the night. I ate 2 meals a day at really wonky times. I thought that was okay – I wasn’t hungry in the mornings – and you shouldn’t eat when you’re not hungry, right? I lost my appetite, along with my energy. To compensate, I drank lots and lots of coffee. It was all I could do to care for the kids in between panic attacks. I didn’t even get dressed on most days.

For some stupid reason, I once again decided to try modern medicine. I went to the doctor, told him I wasn’t sleeping, said I was depressed, having panic attacks and feeling overwhelmed. I left the doctor’s office that day with the following:

  • Ambien
  • Restoril
  • Seroquel
  • Effexor
  • Valium
  • BuSpar

He didn’t ask me if I was eating regular meals. He didn’t ask me how much coffee I was drinking. He never once mentioned exercise. Or meditation. Or yoga. Or putting the damned kids in daycare for the day so that I could have a break. He just prescribed enough medication to potentially kill me, some that was habit-forming, one that can cause diabetes in insulin-sensitive individuals. That particular one (Seroquel) is normally prescribed to schizophrenics. I was told to “take it as needed, it will help you sleep.” I didn’t take it. I didn’t take ANY of it, except for the Valium. I’ll admit it, the “Mother’s Little Helpers” are aptly named. ;)

I knew that the answer to all my problems could be solved naturally. So, after my husband had been gone for about a month and a half, the calvary arrived – Mom and Dad. They drove down from Canada and took over. I went to a hot springs resort and started to put myself together again. The first thing I did was take some time to myself. I did yoga, went hiking, slept outside in a tent. I started eating breakfast. And then, once my energy levels started to rise, I started exercising again. Even if I didn’t feel like it, I got my heart rate up at least every other day. The improvements were noticeable almost immediately. I did research online and found out that many anxiety and sleep problems are linked to caffeine consumption. I limited my coffee to 2 cups a day, and made sure I had them before noon. I started eating complex carbs before bed to help raise my serotonin levels. Once I cut the coffee and added more carbs, the anxiety was gone. The panic attacks stopped. I added a few minutes a week in a tanning salon to help boost my Vitamin D levels. I started to sleep better immediately. And then, everything was better.

I’ve recently been approached by Mark Sisson‘s PR agent about featuring my story in a couple national magazines and she said that what interested her about my story was the fact that I had been to so many doctors over the years with absolutely no results. It wasn’t until I started eating and living Primally that I was able to lose weight, end my PCOS and depression. So why would I turn to modern western medicine again at the first sign of trouble?

I have no fucking idea.

I think that we are raised to trust doctors, just like (most of us) trust policemen and teachers. I was alone, in a weakened state, and turned to someone who is supposed to be there to help. Once again, I was given drugs that don’t solve the problem, they just mask the symptoms. It really makes me sad that so many people accept this as a solution. They would rather just pop a pill than get to the root of their problems.

When I think of the things I could have done with all the time I spent at the doctors – painted a picture, played guitar, gone for a hike, gotten a pedicure – it saddens me further.

So, I’m all better now and I did it by myself, with the help of a few people willing to watch my kids for a few hours. That’s something to be proud of. And unless I require surgery or ER services, I won’t be visiting my doctor any time soon.


Intermittent Fasting, Insomnia and Doctors — 18 Comments

  1. I am glad you are better. I have three little ones 6, 4, and 2. I am still breastfeeding the littlest wee one and I am surviving on little sleep. My husband works 100 hours a week or more, and living far from my family means that I do it alone most every day. Lack of sleep and caffeine are not a good combo. Doctors are supposed to be helpers but usually they’re no help at all. Thank goodness for good help (parents and trusted friends). I loved reading your story on Mark’s blog and can’t wait to read more about you in the future. Thanks for sharing your personal story.

    • Thank you so much! Hang in there, you’ll get some sleep soon. I used to really, really hate it when people said “sleep when the babies sleep.” Sure. Because I don’t have other things that need to be done. :)

  2. I worked as an admin for a psychiatrist for a few years. Only one, yes one time, did he send someone away without a prescription. He never once recommended medical tests prior to prescribing. The funny thing was is that he was a fun and nice person. I think he was just very very western medicine and saw his job as a living, not a calling. He sure did enjoy those free drug company sponsored lunches 3-4 times a week though…
    I am so glad to hear that you were able to find your own path!!

    • Thank you! That amazes me. I would like to ask, “WTH has happened to our doctors??” but I already know the answer. I didn’t know they were giving away free LUNCHES though!! I hope they’re filled with trans fat, LOL.

  3. Wow, thanks for sharing that. (I’m really glad that it’s going to be in The Paleo Rodeo that I’ll be posting shortly!)

    It seems that heavy caffeine consumption is pretty common in the paleo/primal world… and that too often, that’s a very bad thing.

    Also: Hooray for awesome Moms and Dads!

    • Thanks Diana! It feels good to be back in the game. It really amazed me how much cutting down on caffeine helped. I hope someone else reads this and tries it before turning to medication!

    • I’ve been thinking about your comment all afternoon – that heavy caffeine consumption is common in the Paleo/Primal world. I’m really curious as to why. I thought it was just me. Aren’t we supposed to have all this unbridled energy from our natural lifestyles and diets? I did have that energy for quite a while, but can’t seem to get through my mornings without my coffee these days. Perhaps I will look into this…I’m sure it would make a great entry for the Rodeo!!! :)

  4. My daughter (22) suffers from anxiety and panic attacks. I did, too, at her age. Tough time of life to be sure. I’d be interested in hearing any other techniques you used to help allay the anxiety. I’ve already passed on the caffeine information which she was not too thrilled to hear ;) I noticed you also said that you eat complex carbs in the evening (sounds like Potatoes Without Prozac?). What do you usually eat? So glad you have found a good solution and can enjoy your children again!

    • Thank you! Sorry to hear about your daughter. My mom also suffers from anxiety and I’m pretty sure I got it from her. I did get the idea to eat carbs before bed from “Potatoes, Not Prozac.” :) It was a great book. I never did try actually eating a potato, since I only eat those on very rare occasions and don’t usually enjoy them. I tried a half a sweet potato, but had crazy dreams so had to scale it back. I have been taking all the vitamins that she suggested in the book – zinc, Vitamin C, a B Complex and megadoses of niacin. I’m not sure if they’re doing anything, but they don’t seem to be hurting. I don’t eat complex carbs every night anymore – I only had to do that for a few weeks. If I notice that I’m waking up a lot at night, I’ll eat half an apple the next night before bed and then I usually sleep fine.
      To handle the anxiety, I have to exercise. I have to get my heart rate up at least every other day. If I do this, then I find the anxiety is gone. Time by myself also helps, a brisk walk in the sunshine, playing my guitar and yoga. I haven’t had a panic attack since I cut down on my coffee, though. I had never had one before last summer, so I think they were just my body telling me “enough is enough.”

  5. Really interesting! My daughter loves to run and says it makes her feel great, at least for a time. Definite serotonin deficiency. I suggested sweet potatoes to her as well as she eats mostly primal. I bought the Potatoes, Not Prozac book just to see what else it recommends. The common thread seems to be eliminate sugar, take certain vitamins, and follow a primal/ paleo diet (and reduce caffeine). It’s interesting that another common thread seems to be the vivid dreams resulting from a primal diet – maybe linked to the serotonin levels going up? Fascinating stuff! Thanks for writing about this!

  6. Thanks for the motivation I needed to get back on track to a lifestyle that works for me. PCOS, heinous periods (one lasted eight months…eight solid, miserable, suicidal months and three doctors and dangerous anemia before my second D&C helped the situation), depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, skin conditions, hair thinning to the point of daily tears…the list goes on. Back in the late 90s, Suzanne Somers’s books were what first turned me on to insulin resistance and weight gain and a way of eating that made me feel amazing. At 28, I lost about 50 pounds and felt happy and energetic. But the little slips here and there add up quickly and the craving for carbs returns with a vengeance, as you know. I gained it all back and then some, only to return to a healthy approach to diet and exercise (dancing all night beats the treadmill any day) at 32 that resulted in the loss of 60 pounds almost effortlessly. But the handful of this and the just one that caused an encore performance, and I now need to lose well over 100 pounds. Rather than have surgery as everyone around me with 50 pounds to lose seems to be doing, I know that Mark’s PB, along with everything else I have read along the way (which could fill a library), will heal me if I commit to it once and for all, and finding your blog tonight is the little push I needed. I’ll keep checking in…promise I’m not a stalker!

    • I had also lost weight before and gained some of it back and could never get down to my target weight, no matter how hard I tried. I’m so glad you found the Primal Blueprint. It’s been effortless this time. If you haven’t already, get the book and scour Mark’s Daily Apple. I’ve changed the entire way I live, the way I shop, even the way I deal with doctors – not just the way I eat. (Although that is 80% of it.) It’s taken me almost 2 years to get to the point I’m at now, but if I had never started, I wouldn’t be where I am now. It’s one day at a time, but you have to start. And just because you give into temptation occasionally, it doesn’t make you a failure or mean that you’re no longer living Primally. I mean, I had potato chips for with my lunch today! But I won’t have them tomorrow, or the day after. I’m so glad you found my blog. Please let me know how you’re doing and if you have any questions/problems.

      • I do have the book, and I love it-the information and his style. I think I stumbled upon Mark’s Daily Apple in the early fall and ordered the book after. Then I let a few months go by (funny how days turn into months so quickly), and the other night I found myself reviewing it and his site looking for some recipes to inspire me (I love to cook!). That’s how I found your story. Thanks so much for sharing it and for your support!

  7. Glad to see that you are feeling better. I’ve been there and done that and I know it’s not easy to make your way back… And I have severe ADHD! My brain never stops long enough for me to notice that things have gotten that far out of control. As a busy mom to another busy mom I have to say A !

    I look forward to reading more of your blog, and I’ll keep you in my prayers.

  8. I know this is probably the last thing you want to be thinking about, but still I have a question. To introduce it i have read a couple (well maybe just two) of articles saying that IF is not so great for women. In the sense that the male body reacts really lightly on less food or not eating often (IF) but that women’s body reacts by shutting down on reproduction and acting up a little more like a male body (more active, fewer periods, less fertile). I’m also pretty sure that one of the article mentioned how the pattern was that during IF it was harder to get some sleep. Then again the articles also mentioned that there weren’t very specific studies done for women. So I suppose my question is do you think IFing helped you in any way? Or do you think it might have been a part of your problem?

    • So, here’s the thing with me: I can’t get pregnant, my fallopian tubes are 100% blocked with scar tissue. So, I’m not concerned with the fertility aspect of IF. I could see how severe calorie restriction would lead to infertility over a longer period of time though, but not just one meal. Since I went Primal and switched to 2 big meals a day (plus a snack sometimes) and lost a bunch of weight, my periods have been so regular I can set my watch by them. I only got them 3-4 times a YEAR before that. I know that IF’ing helped me lose weight and made things more convenient for me. I don’t think of it as IF’ing, though. I eat when I’m hungry and I don’t eat if I’m not. I’m hungry everyday, so I never go more than 18 hours without eating. I still sleep great, once I changed the time of day that I took my Vitamin D, all my sleep issues went away.

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