Crohn’s Fitness…Fasting!

Crohn’s Fitness Food…it’s how you know me on my blog, Instagram, Facebook, and podcast…but sometimes, I feel like it should be Crohn’s Fitness Fasting. It’s been almost two months since I switched back to an alternate day fasting (ADF) schedule and I wanted to share some of the positives that have happened since then and why I continue to love and promote the benefits of fasting for better health. 

If you’ve lost track of my fasting schedule, allow me to bring you up to speed!   

Last summer was the first time I gave ADF a try, after going back and forth between 16:8 intermittent fasting and a one meal a day (OMAD) schedule for the previous year. I was incredibly fatigued and on the brink of a Crohn’s flare up when I committed to ADF in August 2019. Switching to ADF gave me three times a week where I was fasting for 33-36 hours at a time and I noticed the benefits after just a few weeks; my energy levels increased, my flare-up symptoms disappeared, and I was able to tolerate a wider variety of foods in my diet.

I was operating quite well on my ADF schedule until November, but then we went on vacation and things got derailed. During the Thanksgiving holiday, my husband and I spent almost two weeks dining out and relaxing during a visit to Hawaii. I transitioned to OMAD during the vacation, but when we came back, the holiday season was in full swing and I never made it back to ADF. I let myself believe that as long as I was doing some kind of fasting, I was fine. So, my fasting fluctuated again from 16:8 to OMAD, with an occasional full-day fast, until this past June. Finally, I gave things an honest look and accepted the fact that I let myself settle in a weird rhythm that wasn’t a rhythm at all. My energy levels had dropped and, overall, I was feeling a bit blah (very technical, I know). While a 16:8 schedule might work for many, I’ve learned that my body really needs the additional time without food to heal and repair so that I can feel my best.

It’s hard to say how much of the funk I was feeling was a result of Coronavirus keeping us all at home since March and how much was a result of my lackadaisical approach to fasting. But, now that I’m still at home and back on ADF, I can tell you that I feel like I’ve shaken off a layer of dust and I’m ready to get up and break this routine (which brings me to right now – finally getting back to blogging and re-committed to my podcast…leave a comment or send an email if you want to share your IBD story!). 

Since June, I’ve been following ADF with a few modifications. Rather than following a clean fast (i.e. water and black coffee only), I’m doing what some would refer to as “dirty fasting.” A dirty fast simply means I’m drinking things like bone broth and kvass and putting small amounts of ghee into my coffee (bulletproof style). While I add the ghee to my coffee simply because I enjoy it, both bone broth* and kvass* support gut health and digestion, which are part of my overall goals and main reasons for fasting – managing Crohn’s and improving my health. I also focus on eating unprocessed foods, limiting sugar (except for when friends are in town!), and not making protein the focus of my diet. 

Don’t get me wrong, protein is essential for our bodies and I am definitely pro-protein; but, in stark contrast to my days following a carnivore diet, I’m working hard to make sure protein is not the main (or only) thing I eat. After finding out how much my kidney function has declined over the past few years, I’ve been making a real effort to limit my protein intake (I still get plenty, though). As a side note, I think it’s important to mention that protein intake did not damage my kidneys, my kidneys were already damaged (most likely due to IgA nephropathy, which is an autoimmune form of kidney disease). So, because the kidneys filter out the byproducts of protein being broken down during digestion, it seems logical to me that if I eat less protein, there is less byproduct to filter out and a lighter workload for my kidneys. I also believe that the break from digestion that fasting provides, also giving my kidneys, intestines, and other organs time to recover and a chance for my body to catch up on all its processes and house-cleaning things it does to keep me alive and well!

But, back to fasting… The biggest thing I’ve noticed over the past two months of ADF is that my energy levels have been gradually rising.  While I still don’t feel like doing high-intensity interval workouts, I also don’t feel like lying in bed all day. In addition to my improved energy, I also have no Crohn’s symptoms and, just a couple weeks ago, I received the best lab results I’ve had in years – which is actually the reason I’m writing this post today. 

I had appointments with both my primary care doctor and my gastroenterologist in mid July, so I had a variety of labs done to check for everything from calprotectin (detects inflammation in the intestines) and creatinine to hemoglobin and eGFR (estimated glomerular filtration rate – a measure of kidney function). Overall, my labs were great and, getting into the details, here’s what six weeks of going back on ADF and drinking bone broth and kvass did for me (exercise is still a part of the equation, but honestly, my workouts have mostly been rebounding and basic bodyweight movements…so, very light to moderate exercise is all I’ve been doing):

Crohn’s-related blood work: Normal!

No signs of inflammation on any of my tests, my hemoglobin and iron levels are normal, my Vitamin D levels are great, and I just passed the four-year mark of being medication free. 

Kidney-related blood work: Normal! 🎉🎉

This is probably the most exciting news for me because I’ve been dealing with Crohn’s for so long and keeping it under control with fasting and diet, that I feel confident in how I’m managing that. But, obsessing about (yes, that is what I do) and managing my kidney health is still new to me. I often find myself going back through old labs and re-analyzing all my previous blood work to see the trends in my eGFR results. For the past two years, my eGFR has been at 55 or below. 

For comparison, Kidney.org says that at my age (39), a normal person would have an eGFR of 107. Stage 1 of kidney disease is when kidney damage is present, but kidney function is normal with a GFR of 90 or above. Stage 2 indicates a mild loss of kidney function with a GFR between 89 and 60. Stage 3a is mild to moderate loss of function, GFR 59-45. Stage 3b is moderate to severe loss of function, GFR 44-30. Stage 4 is severe loss, GFR 29-15, and finally, Stage 5 is kidney failure with GFR below 15. 

So, when I got my lab results this time and saw that my eGFR jumped up to 61.7, I was (and still am) excited! This technically puts me in Stage 2 and at what is considered normal with regard to kidney disease (I’m in the green!). My eGFR has bounced around since 2011, which is also when it was highest (at least from what I have records of) at 84; my lowest eGFR is 42.3, which was just last summer in 2019. At my last appointment with my nephrologist, he explained that IgA nephropathy can cause a rapid loss of kidney function and severe damage in a short amount of time (less than five years), a slow and progressive loss of function with increased damage over a longer period of time (20+ years), or the progression of disease might stall and basically hang out in Stage 2 or 3 for the rest of my life. IgA nephropathy is a waiting game and right now, I feel like I’m doing everything I can to help slow or stop the progression – and that feels good. 

Who knows what the future holds. From autoimmune diseases to global pandemics, anything can happen. But, one thing I do know is that fasting gives me the power to take control of my health and helps me to feel and be the best version of myself that I can be. So bring on the bone broth, kvass, and coffee on my fasting days and everything else on my eating days!!

One final thought: Writing and sharing my experiences actually helps me to process and understand what’s going on as I continue to battle Crohn’s Disease and kidney disease. It makes me think critically about what and why I’m doing the things that I do to help improve my health. So if you’re battling IBD or another chronic disease, I highly recommend you consider keeping a journal of your own! You don’t have to share it with the world, but write down your thoughts, what you’re doing, and how you’re feeling – you might be surprised at how cathartic and motivating it can be. 

* These are links to the products I personally buy and use.

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