My lifting/Metformin balance

After a year on 2,000 mg of Metformin, I realized that I could not lift on this dosage.  Aside from stomach upset, the main side effect I’ve noticed from Metformin is loss of appetite.  I wasn’t eating enough at all, I was averaging less than 1,000 calories a day.  On days that I had really eaten very little and happened to have the opportunity, I would sometimes binge on something sweet just to get my calories up.  I probably did this once every few weeks. 

The lack of appetite also gradually manifested in a sense of disgust over meat.  This is not me.  The very idea of chicken made me want to gag – I previously had been amazed at how it didn’t seem to be possible for me to get sick of eating chicken.  I was even starting to get grossed out over fish when I finally realized that something had to change.  I was eating too little in general, getting almost no protein, and getting so little magnesium that I’d get dizzy squatting down to pet my cat.  I’d essentially given up on lower body lifting because I constantly felt like I was going to black out.

I started cutting back to one pill in the morning and two in the evening.  I added in a single berberine pill in the morning and one in the evening based on some research I’d done and some advice from a nutritionist friend.  I’ve been doing this for several months now.  My appetite has increased enough that I don’t feel like I’m torturing myself to eat two meals a day.  I can eat meat again, even chicken.  I’m not quite up to where I should be in daily protein, but I’m getting better about it all the time.  I’m now starting to believe that the only thing Metformin does for me with regard to weight loss is to make me not want to eat.

I’m strong enough to lift again.  I can do a full Starting Strength workout without getting super dizzy at light weights.  I’ve got a long way to go to regain my former strength.  This now feels like something that will take time, rather than something that is impossible.  It feels wonderful to be making constant gains again, rather than helplessly watching the weights go down.

My year on 2,000 mg Metformin now feels like a waste of time.  I lost a *lot* of strength.  I lost about 3 pounds.  My work sometimes suffered when my stomach upset was really bad.  Some of my self-esteem dropped with my strength.  Here’s hoping for a better year.  I’m not going to let that happen again.

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On Thinning Hair

In the fall of 2010, I finally got fed up with my rapidly thinning hair.  I shaved my head.

I LOVED it!

The good:

  • Really, really short showers.
  • Drying time was basically none.
  • I liked how it looked.
  • Wigs are super fun 🙂
  • I got a lot of compliments.  Some ended with, “I wish I could do something like that!”
  • I saved money on haircuts and hair products.  (I used a trimmer.)
  • I didn’t have to go through the mental hoops required every time I decide to dye away my grey hair.

The bad:

  • It was a lot colder than I thought.  Fall was a bad time to do this, I didn’t have a chance to get used to the body temp change before the outside temp dropped.
  • When I dressed up, I felt less formal than I do when I have longer hair.  This also goes for short hair.  I recognize that this is completely my deal.
  • A surprising number of men thought it would be ok to inform me that a bald head is unfeminine.

Neither good nor bad:

  • Shaving and buzzing really dark hair on pale skin looks pretty much the same.  After the first couple of times, I stopped literally shaving it and just set the clippers on the shortest setting.  Shaving does feel really nice, but it seemed silly to go to that extra effort and razor blade cost for a millimeter of hair.
  • Tango lead hair color preference by number of dances from most to least:
    • Red
    • Blond
    • Purple
    • Black
    • Brown
  • People who met me with a wig on would not recognize me if I wore a different wig or no wig the next time I saw them.

I eventually grew my hair back out.  Starting fresh, I used sulfate free shampoos and silicone free conditioners.  I didn’t start with the shampoo and conditioner until my hair was 2-3 inches long and started to feel like it needed it.  After a year of no cutting, I could get my hair to stay in a ponytail after a year of growth.  Curious what the growth pattern would look like, I didn’t cut it for 3 years.  It basically grew out in layers, the bottom part would hang down the lowest.  My hair was still thin, so I trimmed up that back part to make the length look fuller.

I went on spirolactone after about two years of growing my hair out.  Around the same time, I started following Curly Girl methods fairly seriously.  I stopped brushing my hair and went to only finger combing it in the shower.  My hair felt fuller, but I wasn’t sure which was the cause until recently when I had to go off the spirolactone.  After being off of it for a couple of weeks, my hair started falling out in gobs.  The end result is that it didn’t look good anymore at that length.  It was stringy.  When the curls did clump together, the end result was 5-6 nice big curls, big empty spots between them.  You could see my scalp clearly between the clumps.

I started playing with pin curls and finger waves, 40’s style.  My hair responded perfectly to this treatment.  It looked good, the fluff made it look thicker, but I wasn’t happy having to spend that much time getting hair that looked nice.

I found a local curly stylist and asked him to make my hair look good.  I explained the hormonal thing and let him know that for now it was going to stay thin.  He cut my hair into a long bob, saying it was more traditional and less extreme than a shorter cut.  He let me know that if I didn’t like the length, he’d cut it shorter in a month for free during my bang trim appointment.

I dyed my hair for a conference.  I’m about 50% grey.  The grey hairs are clear, so my hair looks a LOT thinner when it’s undyed.  The dying made it look fuller, but suddenly it wouldn’t curl normally.  I was unable to make my hair look good without pin curls.  This was actually a perfect length for a really nice pin curl style, but again, I wasn’t happy with the time sink that went into making my hair look anything but patchy and stringy.  It was also now too short to put into a ponytail.  On the last day of the conference, I wore my purple wig and got lots of compliments.

I went back to the stylist.  I asked him to cut it shorter.  I told him that if it still looked too thin to me that I would shave it off, so to do whatever he thought might make it look good.  He gave me an asymmetrical cut.  It’s now a long pixie on one side and a very short bob on the other, angled in the back.  It looks fuller than it did before, and I like this style.  Because it’s asymmetrical, it doesn’t obviously look patchy.  I can go to the gym and it usually stays out of the way.  I like it for now, but I have so many bad feelings around my hair right now that I don’t really think I’ll stay with it long-term.

The happiest I’ve ever been with my hair was when it was less than an inch long, and when it was long, a little thin, and curly.  Long and a little thin is not going to happen anytime soon.  I’m not sure how I feel about needing to take a pill everyday so that I can have hair that I like – it’s a weird feeling.  

Honey on my Face

I keep coming across Crunchy Betty, and I keep ending up in a rabbit hole of interesting posts that she has there.  This time, what intrigued me was a post on washing your face with honey.

Now, I’m allergic/sensitive/whatever you want to call it to sulfates.  I figured this out on my own a while back.  Washing my hands with liquid soap dries them out horribly.  Standard shampoo makes my scalp flake and itch.  Toothpaste has, over time, caused my gums to recede in horror, so now my teeth have exposed roots that are hyper-sensitive.

Because of this sensitivity, I’m always looking for good alternatives to convenience products.  In this case: I want something to wash my face with at the gym that isn’t horribly messy.  I already remove my makeup using the oil cleanse method, but the oil tends to leak all over my bag and make a giant mess.  I have yet to find a good travel solution for this.  Every kind of bottle I’ve tried ends up leaking, particularly if I fly with it.

Ok, so this is a powerlifting blog.  What does washing my face with honey have to do with anything?  I really, REALLY, love to wash my face immediately after working out.  Because I had super oily skin when I was a teenager, I became somewhat addicted to having a completely clean and dry face.  If my face doesn’t feel clean, I have a strong urge to wash it.  A sweaty face is horrible for me, I feel unclean, itchy, and generally unhappy.  It just bugs me.  The pump soap at the gym is always just regular commercial soap.  I HATE washing my face with soap, unless it’s something I’ve vetted to not dry my face out.

So, much as I love oil cleansing, it’s impractical at the gym.  First off, I’d have to remember to bring a washcloth.  I’m really bad about remembering to bring stuff that’s not already in my gym bag.  Second, the shower floor tends to get slick if you happen to either overdo or spill any oil.  I’m not ok with making the shower floor of a commercial gym slick and potentially causing someone to slick.  Conditioner is enough of a problem in this area.  Third is the above mentioned oil leak issue.

A friend suggested using coconut oil.  This works well, but it’s not really all that different than oil cleanse when it comes to making the floor slick.

Ok, so enter honey.  I’m always up for trying a new product that’s already in my house.  After reading the article and watching the video, I gave it a try.

My first try did not go as smoothly as the video made it look.  The honey was sticky.  I was badly in need of exfoliation, so it felt like I was stripping my face off.  It didn’t feel like the honey was actually getting on my face, it seemed like it stuck to my hands and then just pulled off dead skin.  The rinse off left my face feeling fresh and clean, but I disliked how much pulling the stickiness caused on my skin.

My second try was after roller skating.  Both my face and the day were warm.  My face was sweaty.  This time the whole thing felt much more pleasant.  The honey went on smoothly, rinsed off nice and clean.

The third time was like the first in stickiness, but I didn’t notice large amounts of dead skin coming off.  The honey seemed to rub into my skin this time, albeit with a lot of work and pulling.  The rinse off was clean, but I was still not happy with how much skin pulling seemed to be involved.

The fourth time, I think I’ve got it nailed down.  I got into the gym shower and put conditioner in my hair, this kept it well away from my face.  I did not get my face wet, but it was damp with sweat.  I then rinsed off my hands and dried them with a towel.  I put the honey in my hands and rubbed them together to warm it up.  There was apparently still some hair on my hands despite the rinsing, this action caused it to ball up and I got rid of it.  I then rubbed the honey into my face.  Dampness seems to be the way to go, it went on smoothly with no pulling.  Because I was conditioning my hair, I was able to get it right up to the hairline and then rinse it off clean.  I was quite happy with how this worked out and will continue using honey to wash my face at the gym.

Starting Over

My appetite has finally stabilized.  I’ve discovered that the dizziness I was getting when standing up was a magnesium deficiency, so now I have a real reason to take ZMA.

And so, I’m starting over.  My lifts are way down, so I’m working my way back up.  I don’t need the most basic beginner routine, because I can gain my earned strength back faster this time.  If I can complete a set of 5, I’ll move up in weight for the next set.  This has been working really well, so I plan to continue until I plateau, then switch back over to the Texas Method.  I did extremely well on the Texas Method before, so moving to it again makes a lot of sense for getting my squat back up.  (I can only currently squat 125lbs for 5, down from 205.)  I’m also concentrating on depth and good form, my squats had been getting a touch shallow when I peaked last year.

Despite some muscle spasms in my back today, I feel good.  Having to let lifting go for a few months was depressing.  I missed that outlet and and the help it’s given me with managing stress.  Now I’m back to lifting 2-4 times a week and eating moderate carbs, I’m feeling good 🙂

PCOS and Weight Loss

I’ve talked a little about my weight in the post My Story, but I wanted to talk a little more in-depth here about what I’ve found to work and not work.

This is not meant to be a weight loss blog, but being overweight is one of the hallmarks of PCOS.  Many of us need to eat far fewer calories than a BMR calculator will tell us, and sometimes that can drop into the unhealthy range.  It’s difficult to get the nutrients your body needs if you’re eating less than 1,200 calories a day.  If you’re a smaller person looking to lose a bit of weight with PCOS, the real number of calories you need to lose weight by dietary intake along might dip below 1,200 calories a day.

Powerlifting and PCOS

That lower BMR means it’s harder to gain muscle without gaining fat very quickly.  I gain fat quickly eating around 1,500 calories a day, which is enough for me to gain muscle at a pace I’m happy with, but also enough to make me gain 15lbs of fat in a month.  I was not able to lose that fat while maintaining my newfound strength.

The difficult issue here is finding that balance of enough calories to gain muscle, but not gain massive amounts of fat.  I have been unable to do this on my own.  I tried everything I could find, and I gave it a solid try for 5 years.  I’ve been unhappy with my progress, and didn’t realize why until a friend of mine referred to women with PCOS as hardgainers.  Yes, yes we are.  That’s exactly the problem, here.

Hardgainer is a term used to refer to a person who has difficulty building muscle.  People called hardgainers are usually slim men that don’t eat enough calories to build muscle at the rate they’d like, or at all.  Before that conversation, I’d never heard the term applied to a female, much less myself.  I’m a hardgainer because if I eat enough calories to be as strong as some of my female lifter friends, I’d end up morbidly obese.  While it is a stereotype that powerlifters can be very obese, not all of the strong powerlifters are.  It’s not my goal to be strong at all costs, I’d also like to be reasonably healthy.  Note here the difficulty, all the articles and blog posts by women who have slimmed down and improved their bodies through heavy lifting talk about eating over 1,800 calories a day, often over 2,000 calories a day.  That spells disaster when my maintenance BMR hovers around 1,200.  Again, I COULD do that.  I just wouldn’t be happy with myself or very healthy if I did so.

Losing the Weight

I’ve done a LOT of research on weight loss.  Intermittent fasting, carb cycling, carb backloading, low-carb, keto, gluten free, I’ve even tried two of Lyle McDonald’s diets.  I get tiny, tiny amounts of fat loss for vast amounts of work and depriving myself.

I don’t have it all figured out yet.  What I finally did recognize is that I needed help, which is why I’ve gone on Metformin.  It’s been two months now, and I’ve finally dropped below 200lbs again.  Unfortunately I’ve become weak and I haven’t been able to eat enough.  I get dizzy when I squat, to the point that I can only do 2 or 3 heavy squats at 135lbs and then I have to sit down and pop a glucose tab.  I don’t know the cause of this, but will be talking to my doctor about it when I go in next month.  I can’t compete like this, I can barely work out like this.  Anyway, enough about current frustrations.

The best results I’ve had so far while unmedicated were with workout based carb cycling.  I’d keep my carbs in the 30-100g/day range on off days.  On workout days, I’d eat some carbs about an hour before my workout, usually some fruit or hot cereal (I hate cold cereal) in addition to a protein shake with creatine and beta alanine in it.  If it wasn’t after 3pm, I’d have some caffeine and possibly a Bronkaid.  About halfway through the workout, I’d start sipping my post workout shake – alternating every other sip with water, usually finishing it off after the workout.  I felt healthy and strong during the workout, and then would have a nice filling meal shortly after, but very few carbs after that meal.  I gained strength slowly and steadily on this plan, without gaining fat.  Most of this was newb gains, but it worked reasonably well for a couple of years.

Plain keto used to work for fat loss, but it was very slow and I couldn’t lift without getting sick.  My body simply couldn’t handle it, though it’s possible yours could.  Lyle McDonald’s Rapid Fat Loss worked, but my lifts again went down.  16 hour intermittent fasting is a lifestyle for me.  I tend to be nauseated in the mornings, so I only eat breakfast when I need to work out in the morning.  I tried alternate day fasting last winter with mixed results.  I didn’t lose any weight on it, but found it to have positive effects on my appetite, self control, and cravings.  I’d suggest a 16-24 hour fast to anyone that can’t seem to get their hunger and cravings under control, just be sure to drink lots of water.  (Not a juice fast, an actual fast.)  Do NOT try to lift while fasted for more than 16 hours.  For goodness sake, do it on a rest day.

Ultimate Diet 2.0 was a huge amount of effort for very little fat loss.  I believe this is related to the way my body handles sugar.  Cheat mode doesn’t make me gain weight, but I also don’t lose any on it.

Cardio

I hate most forms of cardio.  I love swimming, but don’t have the ability to do it on a regular basis right now.  Cardio can help you burn fat, no question.  Doing SOMETHING every day or almost every day will help get your calories down while still allowing you to eat within a healthy range.

The easiest answer is walking.  The hardest answer is HIIT.  I’ve done both, and both work, so does the in-between stuff like jogging and biking.

How about you?

Are there any other PCOS lifters out there?  What worked for you?  What didn’t work?  Any kind of heavy lifting experience will do, weightlifting is just as valid to this discussion as powerlifting is.

Dizzy Squats

My blood sugar and pressure drop when I squat.  It was so bad when I first went on Metformin that I’d get black edges to my vision when I squatted down to feed my cat.

Because of this, I pretty much cut squats out for the last couple of months.  I would sometimes try a pistol squat or two, sometimes a few front squats, but I always had this fear that I’d pass out and didn’t want a lot of weight on my back if I did.

I’ve finally decided that I’m done with this wussing out and am attempting to find ways to stay conscious while squatting.

My current standby, that I know works, is to pop glucose tabs between heavy sets.  I know this isn’t good for me, and I know it’s not really addressing the problem.  It is what I’m using to rescue me so that I can keep on going.

A paramedic suggested peanut butter pre workout, supposedly it stays with you better than sugar does.  I don’t have any, so I tried almond butter.  It helps, but not enough to keep me from needing the glucose tabs.

I know that salt raises your blood pressure, so I added some to my almond butter this morning.  I then added some to my electrolyte-fizzy-tab water.  The salt sank to the bottom, so it tasted fine at first and then horrible as I started to empty the cup.  I got the blackness edged vision after 2 squats at 135lbs, so clearly none of this was enough.  I popped a glucose tab, and was fine for my next 2 sets, then another tab got me through two more.  (They were all sets of 2 and 3 – I clearly need to do this more often.)

I had this problem before I went on Metformin, but it’s much worse now than it used to be. I refuse to stop squatting, I’m just concerned that I’m losing so much strength – I want to be able to keep competing and wasn’t all that strong compared to my weight before this happened.

Metformin Update

I’ve been on a full dose (2,000 mg) of Metformin a day for about a month now.  I haven’t been posting in the mean time because I’ve felt rather horrid.  This seems to be over now (fingers crossed).

For the first few weeks, I had constant nausea.  It was not normally enough to keep me from eating, but I ate a lot less than usual.

For the next week, I would feel fine … as long as I didn’t eat.  About an hour after eating I’d have to make a restroom rush.  This happened no matter what I ate, I experimented with fruit, veggies, a protein shake, and a regular meal.  I woke up late one night convinced I was going to vomit.  Took me a couple of hours before I was able to sleep again.

My appetite is still reduced.  I’m not sure if this is a carryover from the nausea, or a side effect of the medication.  Whatever it is, it has caused me to lose some weight, but this isn’t necessarily a good thing since I’m often eating less than 1,200 calories a day – which isn’t a good idea.  I have a seminar coming up shortly.  After that is over, I’m going to start counting calories properly again so that I can accurately determine if this medication is helping me to lose weight by some chemical means, or only by appetite control.

I seem to have moved past that phase now for the most part.  My stomach will still occasionally be upset an hour or so after my first meal, but I had that from the Synthroid before I went on Meformin.  I can get rid of this by getting more fiber.

I woke up Monday morning feeling better than I have in a long time.  I have energy, I have drive, I’m excited about life again!  I’m currently feeling much, much better than I was before I went on the Metformin, and the main change in my life has been this medication.  We’ll see how it continues, but if I stay where I am I’ll probably conclude that I’m happy with this medication from a psychological standpoint.

One thing I found out that I had trouble finding online: The extended release Metformin is a dose that is active for 12 hours, not 24 hours.  Part of the extreme sickness I was feeling earlier in the high dosage was because I tend to eat within an 8 hour window – I was overlapping too much and it was freaking out my system.  When I stopped taking it with meals and moved to taking it 12 hours apart, I felt considerably better.

Breakdown of the side effects I’ve experienced:

  • Nausea (weeks 1-3).  This has now passed.
  • Diarrhea (week 3).  This has gone back to normal Synthroid levels, which can be controlled with fiber (and less caffeine).
  • Loss of appetite (constant).  Again, I’m not sure if this is a holdover from eating less while I was nauseated, or if this is a genuine side effect.  Only time will tell.  I have more of an appetite on workout days.
  • Lightheadedness (on and off).  I’m experiencing this more than I was before, and I believe it’s diet related.  This is mostly noticeable when I stand up from a seated or squatting position – meaning I’ve had to cut WAY back on squats.  Even squatting down to feed my cat leaves me dizzy and needing to sit down.  I’ll post more later on how I dealt with this during workouts.