It can happen to anyone: burnout.
Long hours conducting a repetitive task increases the risk. Not enjoying the work also increases the risk (though it could be more to do with drudgery than burnout). Not controlling your environment on any level is sure to increase stress and the likelihood of burnout.
Burnout is not about working a lot of hours. Rather, it involves stresses on the nervous system similar to PTSD. While a soldier in the field can suffer massive stresses to his nervous system, the same can happen to anyone who feels trapped in a dangerous (even perceived) situation.
Elon Musk is a perfect example of a person who can handle significant stress without feeling burnout or worse, Musk loves his work and believes he is making a difference that will outlive him. He handles stress differently as a result.
However, when stress built in areas he could not control he showed classical signs of burnout. Shareholders demanded profits and more production or they would sell the stock, adding stress to an already full plate for Musk.
Normally Musk is a pretty happy guy living his dream. But when market conditions outside his control pressured him hard he started to crack as everyone does when they struggle with a situation they are in. Tweets and other outbursts were counter-productive. Smoking weed on a podcast didn’t help either. (We may have assumed he smoked weed, but doing so publicly in his position put his business at risk.)
Musk survived in large part because he retained a massive amount of control. He made changes to Tesla and worked relentlessly until a resolution presented itself.
Not everyone is as lucky as Musk. Stuck in a job you hate will sap the life out of you. If the job has high demands and stress it will start you down a path that doesn’t end pretty.
Symptoms of Burnout
Burnout is only one step on a road to hell. Left unchecked it can cause serious damage to your health.
If you experience burnout and take no remedial actions you can start to exhibit symptoms of something much worse.
The first step toward a nervous breakdown is burnout. Fatigue lowers your mental defenses. When the situation continues to pound, feelings of desperation can set in. Helplessness is a large factor of burnout.
When you really love what you are doing fatigue and stress are handled in a manageable way as long as you have some control over the situation. (You can take a break when needed.)
Exhaustion is natural when you work hard at a task. A short break, a nap, a good night’s sleep, are all rejuvenating. When time off doesn’t reinvigorate you something is wrong.
Business owners can experience burnout from long hours coupled with the demands of running a business. Even if you love the work you can feel trapped inside the demands you don’t care to handle inside your business. It is this trapped feeling that stresses the nervous system without a release.
In a world where financial independence is possible at a young age for many and dreams of early retirement coat the internet it is easy to think burnout should be a thing of the past.
But burnout can affect you in retirement, too! You might feel trapped living the dream of a significant other. A goal of world travel can turn into drudgery when travel doesn’t give you what you hoped. Eventually you can feel trapped and then the nervous system feels the accumulating stress.
It can even affect pleasant pass times. Golf might have been a great joy every weekend and holiday when you had a traditional job. You might have longed for vacation time so you could enjoy the links.
Then you reach your financial goals and retired. Now you spend all day knocking the ball around the greens and it is no longer an escape. Golf was what you did to get away from a situation (work) you didn’t want to do at the same level as golf. Now golf drags on day after day after day after . . .
Any task can stress the system. Work is a common stressor. Unemployment is too!
Burnout, since it is a close cousin to PTSD, doesn’t require an unpleasant task to experience it. A soldier gets trapped in a situation and his nervous system begins to struggle. The same can happen sitting alone in a room. If you don’t believe it, ask a prisoner locked in solitary confinement for an extended period how much stress he feels and see if it doesn’t sound a lot like burnout, a nervous breakdown or PTSD. He is feeling burnout from being locked in a small room without any control over his environment.
Burnout symptoms can make the situation worse. Depression and anxiety increase. Irritability can cause outbursts. Sleeplessness hastens the descent. Violence, as you struggle to gain some control of your environment, directed inward or outward, is likely to get an unwanted societal response. Rarely does situation improve without professional help.
There is also a tendency to self medicate. Drugs/alcohol might seem like a solution while struggling with burnout. Unfortunately, it only makes it worse.
A common work tendency when burnout surfaces is procrastination. You want to avoid the stressor at all costs and all costs it could be.
Left unchecked, burnout can leave lasting wounds even after the stress is released. Damage to those around you may never heal. You may never heal as burnout can progress to a nervous breakdown which can take years to recover from. Post traumatic stress is common at this point. Your nervous system eventually starts to rewire as a coping mechanism. And when the rewiring is no longer needed the nervous system is permanently damaged.
Recovering from Burnout
A soldier in the trenches easily can feel trapped with bullets flying and bombs exploding. There is very limited control over the situation which is why so many military personnel suffer from PTSD.
Thankfully most people reading this will ever experience such a situation. We might get trapped in a job we hate or find ourselves in an uncomfortable situation. In most cases the walls, feelings of being trapped, are more self-imposed than real.
Recovering from burnout requires removal from the stressor. A vacation (extended, if necessary) frequently does the trick.
Burnout finds roots in helplessness which means it is loss of control over the situation you find yourself in causing the problems. The first step to recovery, therefore, requires you to gain some semblance on control over the outcome.
Business owners can find business overwhelming. Reduced hours, fewer client or more staffing can bring life back into balance. Just knowing, acknowledging, you have these controls over the situation can alleviate symptoms of burnout.
A job is worse than owning your own business. In business you can adjust the size of the company and still put bread on the table. A job is an all-or-none financial situation. If you lose your job you take a serious income hit. This lack of control could be a leading reason people hate their jobs so much. It’s not that they hate the work or the people they are working with, but that their life can be turned inside out at the snap of the fingers and you may never see it coming.
The FIRE (financial independence, retire early) movement focuses on this very issue. The goal is to get out of the traditional work environment as soon as possible.
However, it isn’t about hedonism. The happiest people in the FIRE community continue doing meaningful activities. Some write blogs, others take up side hustles, others start a business. It wasn’t work that was the problem, it was “meaningful” work and control over your destiny that was the issue.
Burnout has serious long-term consequences if left unchecked. You can change your job, pay down debt (another area where it is easy to feel loss of control), design the life you enjoy most. Refusing to acknowledge you can change your situation can cost you your health, family, happiness or worse.
Regain control. A side hustle can be started while working in a traditional employment environment. Traditional work can also be rewarding. Many enjoy the traditional framework. If you are one of these people and feel the stress, you want to be more, not less, involved. Your involvement is a level of control that helps you engage while lowering stress and the risks of burnout.
And if you are retired and feeling burnout you need to take a long, hard look. It is likely you are living some else’s dream of retirement. Don’t emulate a blogger just because it looks like they have a cool lifestyle. (It is for them, probably not for you.) Travel if you want; don’t is you don’t want.
Live your life on your terms. It is hard to experience burnout, regardless the workload, in these situations.
Diet and exercise play a large role in avoiding burnout. Take time to exercise and make good food a priority.
Once anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts start it is time for professional intervention. Seeking help is not a weakness; it is a strength.
Dealing with Burnout
I had a different post planned for this week. However, I was feeling the pressure from tax returns on extension and blog traffic.
A tax return in my office was causing me no end of grief. Every time I made progress another problem arose. I was feeling the loss of control bad. Six interconnected tax returns were occupying my life for months and I couldn’t break through. I spent long hours at the office doing avoidance work. Procrastination was killing my productivity.
Add to that the normal summer traffic slowdown on this blog and burnout started running wild. Why bother writing if nobody is going to read it, I surmised. Except people are reading it and interacting. It was a pity party doing me no good.
Finally I decided I had enough. I came in on weekends and evenings to find a way to break the problem. I was taking control!
This post is slightly delayed because I just couldn’t get the energy to write Sunday night. The good news is I made massive progress on the problem tax return Saturday. Yes, another wall showed up, but this time I have a head of steam. I’m taking control. I should finish Monday. (Whew!)
No matter how dire the situation you have some level of control. And since loss of control is the first step to burnout and worse afflictions, control is where you need to focus.
The soldier in the field can focus on what he can control. Elon Musk took control like a boss and broke through the problems and ended many of his burnout symptoms. Musk never eased up a step on his workload. He loves what he does and made sure it stayed that way.
You can also take control. There is always some aspect of your work or business situation you can manipulate to your advantage. (Don’t think of this as bad manipulation. Manipulation of a situation for the good of all is more than acceptable.)
In the end you might choose early retirement or a different job or a side hustle. I’m here to tell you, it’s okay.
Keeping yourself locked in mental solitary confinement is not good for you, your family, friends or community. If you need professional help, seek it. Or, you might find you just need to acknowledge what you can control and then use that to move forward.
Nothing is worse than the helplessness of burnout; the feeling of quitting and running away. You can do better than that.
More Wealth Building Resources
Credit Cards can be a powerful money management tool when used correctly. Use this link to find a listing of the best credit card offers. You can expand your search to maximize cash and travel rewards.
Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?
Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.
Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.
QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.
A cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.
Who is the most dangerous blogger on the internet today? This is a serious question. Think about it for a while.
What characteristics would cause a blogger to become dangerous? To start, the blogger would need an audience to be dangerous. A blog with a modest, but fast growing, audience would have an increasing influence in our society.
Another characteristic might entail new ideas masked as truth. Imagine a blogger telling a story with a broad concept that intentionally excludes many of the facts. A grain of knowledge is a powerful tool to expand learning or it can be a recipe for disaster on a colossal scale.
Have you thought of a few bloggers who might be dangerous? Can you narrow it down to one?
I’ll tell you who I think is the most dangerous blogger on the internet right now. You’re reading him.
That needs some explanation.
Things have been pretty darn good around these parts lately. The Wealthy Accountant received nominations in two categories for the Plutus Awards and traffic is climbing for a variety of reasons, including the nominations.
Traffic is over 80,000 in the last month with October looking to break into six figures. Blog revenues are climbing, too. Certain advertisers have turned me into a project. They want some real estate on this blog. Don’t expect more ads, however. I’ve included enough ad space to break up the page and flesh out the design. I love revenue, but user experience is more important than ads by a mile.
TWA is experiencing more traffic referrals. Other bloggers find my work acceptable periodically so they include a mention on their blog or in social media. It gives me the warm and fuzzy feeling so I always re-tweet and share mentions when I see them.
Interviews are more common now, too. People seem to think I have something important to say because my traffic is climbing. It’s a self-fulfilling feedback loop I have no qualms with. Traffic strokes my fragile ego. There is a satisfying feeling connected to acknowledgement.
Every blog appeals to a certain demographic. TWA has an inordinate number of tax professionals (and government officials) reading on a regular basis. That is why I needed to write this post.
Periodically, traffic spikes to 100 visitors here at the same time. It makes me nervous. This is still small traffic compared to most popular blogs, but it exposes a risk. What if these people actually believe what I wrote? Worse, what the heck did I write a year and a half ago? The risk prolific writers face is not remembering what they published the day before yesterday. It could be age, but it’s not! The sheer volume requires readers to refresh my memory when they ask about my previous work. Feels funny when I get schooled by my previous efforts.
Now we get to the part that makes me dangerous. What I write here is wrong 100% of the time! Sorry.
I better qualify the last statement before I’m hauled away.
When I write on TWA I avoid dry and stale tax explanations. My goal is to write high concept while knowing the details will require working out later.
Take a simple example. If I say donations to a qualified charity are deductible and move on I only told part of the story. On the surface I am right. Pull back the sheets and issues start to crop up.
Charitable donations are deductible if you itemize. Okay, that is still a lie. If your income is high, your itemized deductions might be limited so the deduction is partial.
I’m still a liar! If you retired and have a side gig with no profit and used a Roth IRA to fund your living expenses, you can’t deduct the charitable contribution even if you itemize because you can only deduct 50% of your AGI for cash charitable contributions. The balance is carried over for up to five years where it is lost afterwards.
And I’m still a sniveling liar! What if the alternative minimum tax interferes?
After all the qualifying of my first statement—charitable contributions are deductible—I am still pumping BS. Sitting here writing I can’t think of anything else that might affect my original statement. It doesn’t mean there aren’t any more out there.
As soon as I open my yap on a tax issue I’m a bigger liar than any fisherman who wet a line. And I know it every time I tap the keyboard.
In the tax profession we constantly say “facts and circumstances”. There is no way I can possibly cover every eventuality. I either write dry, staid tax articles where I cover a very, very narrow topic or I write something normal human beings want to read. I choose the later.
Helping the largest number of people requires I write something they want to read.
The Greatest Danger
Tax professionals hound me incessantly. They inform me how wrong I am. I get it.
When fleshing out a concept I intentionally choose what to include. You read that right. I intentionally get it wrong! If I didn’t, I would be bogged down in 30,000 word posts attempting to cover every possible option. Nobody would read it, including your favorite accountant.
Over the next six months I will publish some very complex tax concepts. The first one and a half years of this blog was tame. Now we will start pealing back the tax code in a serious way. Dropping 50 grand into a retirement account is a child’s game from now on. Now we will hyper-charge the wealth building and tax planning process.
And everything I say will be wrong . . . for you. In each post where I expose a massive tax concept I will be thinking of how it applies to a client or a small number of clients. Your facts and circumstances will be different and so the rules for you will be different.
Another example: A recent consulting session led a client to contact his attorney to set up a NIMCRUT on my advice. He cc’d me in on the email. I wrote back a few questions and upon reply came to the conclusion he would be better served with a donor-advised fund. This is a simpler and cheaper solution to accomplish his needs. Once again, it all hinged on facts and circumstances. And we didn’t even debate all the other pitfalls of charitable donations discussed above!
When I throw out ideas it is a starting point. Complex tax strategies completely fleshed out for every possibility is a book, not a blog post.
Tax professionals should know better, yet sometimes don’t. Shame on you. When I provide a concept you need to dig further. Sometimes I include links when I find web pages that add value to the argument.
You, kind readers, are my greatest concern. Some of you are very versed in the nuances of the tax code; others, not so much. Okay, I am not lying when I publish here, but I may as well be if I can’t communicate an adequate message. The concepts I outline work. Your facts and circumstances determine the value the concept has for you. Also remember, you can change the facts and circumstances sometimes to your benefit.
I understand the difficulty in finding qualified tax professionals to help you with this stuff. That is why I encourage tax pros to share their contact information in the forum. Readers, check the forum often. Post questions so accountants can help you and even offer their services.
It’s time for me to get back to work on the aforementioned concepts. The decisions are hard. Your favorite accountant is far from perfect. If you think I said something wrong, do NOT hesitate to leave a comment or contact me. I find real errors periodically and fix them as soon as they are discovered.
The tax code is too large and complex for my work to always be perfect. Tax professionals need to test me constantly for this to benefit the largest number of people, including you, my friendly tax pros.
Finally, everything you read here should be taken like a Margarita. With a grain of salt.
There seems to be an inordinate amount of interest in my writing notes. Periodically I will includes my working notes that spur the writing of a post for your entertainment. Sometimes these notes have been around a while before I write the post. The final product can sometimes be radically different than intended. Writing works that way at times. My working notes are unedited; I will not correct errors in working notes to preserve the process as it was originally produced. Enjoy.
Things have been going pretty good around here. Traffic is up and TWA has been nominated for a Plutus Award in two categories.
My head should be swelling, but instead I am nervous. When I watch the live traffic on Google Analytic I am nervous when 50 or 100 people are consuming my work all at the same time. WHAT IF THEY ACTUALLY BELIEVE WHAT I WROTE?!?!
Blogging tax advice is dangerous and I know it. I make intentional errors for the sake of fleshing out a concept; I incl ideas few will benefit from but have to incl it. Posts need to stay reasonable in length. 20,000 words of taxspeak is sure to snuff out a few lives of readers. Three, maybe four, tax pros might stick around for the punch line, but I’m not holding my breath.
Tax charitable deductions as an example: to a qualified charity they are deductible. Right? No! First you must itemize, not make too much and phase out, have income because only 50% of cash donations count and AMT might be an issue. One simple remark is technically correct, yet fundamentally wrong and I know it when I write. Facts and circumstances change the answer.
So I tell readers donations to a qualified charities are deductible and hope for the best.
It’s the risk a blogger takes daily.
Considering the risks this blogger takes with the public it is a wonder he hasn’t been committed.
Growing up on a dairy farm in northeast Wisconsin in the 1970s had its advantages. Computers were the stuff of Star Trek reruns and staying in the house was a form of punishment.
The kids in my family loved summer. We would run and bike down the road and through fresh mown fields of alfalfa. The only neighbor within striking distance was a rental property. To our great fortune the couple who moved in also had kids reasonably close to our age. They were soon sworn in members of our cult.
In the summer we would play cops and robbers on our bikes. Len was a big dude and always wanted to play the cop. The advantage we had is we were wiry kids born of solid German stock. Our lean bodies could bike faster than Len could ever hope to keep up with. The robbers won every time.
During winter we would build massive snow forts. A few winters in the mid to late 1970s included record snowfall for our little corner of the world. The snow plow would pile snow to the highline wires.
Grandma would scold us kids as we built forts in the massive banks. Finally a truce was called where we were allowed to dig our snow mansions into the side of the snow banks on the side away from the road. Those were the best of times.
Then the 1970s came to an end. Len and his brother Joel and their sister Dawn were gone. (If you guys read this please contact me. I really would like to know whatever happened to you guys. I pray you had a good life.) The first signs of financial strain were showing on the farm. I was halfway through high school.
Then the dream was over.
Fitness was never an issue in my younger days. High levels of activity kept me fit and trim. The food we ate was clean and pure, most of it raised on our own farm.
Adulthood brought with it a more sedentary life. The family farm was gone and within four years I was living the good life of retirement wondering what the heck to do with myself.
Mrs. Accountant, a new business and kiddos soon filled the wonder. I decided sitting in a chair and reading all day was fun, but hard on the body. I was still is super-great shape consuming my youthful legacy.
By the time the candles on the birthday cake reached into the 40s the legacy was gone. I was out of shape and had extra pounds.
Something had to be done. Guzzling soda no longer was fun. It upset my stomach and seemed to grow there too. No more free rides.
I took action when the scale tipped 220 pounds (100 kilograms). The weight didn’t sit nice either.
Fed up with my physical condition I started running. To my surprise I couldn’t make it a quarter mile (.4 kilometers) before stopping with my hands on knees out of breath.
The closest crossroad to my home was a quarter mile away. I insisted I make the distance. Much of it was walked, but I did make it back home. My lungs burned.
What happened to me? It was never like this?
I was shocked into action. Every day I ran. First to the corner, then a bit further. Soon my strength increased and endurance improved.
Before long I was pushing a mile (1.6 kilometers), then two, then five and even more. The weight peeled off. I even ran a half marathon and finished in a respectable time.
Weight was no longer an issue as long as I was addicted to running. Over 50 pounds (23 kilograms) was gone and I have no idea where I placed it. The wiry kid was back.
There is a difference between farm boys and runners. I lost the weight, but my muscle mass was nil outside my legs.
Once I dropped below 170 pounds (77 kilograms) I no longer looked health. I was too thin. I was hungry all the time and the unrelenting running schedule was felt in my joints and lower back. Time to go back to the drawing board.
Heavy running will peel off excess weight. It was a schedule I couldn’t keep up forever. As pleasant as a runner’s high was I needed to tweak my gameplan.
Running made me hungry all the time. I ate whatever and whenever I wanted. And I ate a lot. As much as I ate as a growing boy running all day on the farm. A half dozen eggs was a good start for a meal.
The eating had to happen with all the calories I was burning. However, no amount of strength training would add muscle since I burned every bit of food I stuffed down my throat.
I thought I could have it all! I started to workout at the gym to build muscle mass. I would cap a workout with a 10 mile run. For some reason I couldn’t build muscle. Go figure.
A trainer at the gym finally convinced me I had to ease up on the running if I wanted to build muscle. Two years later I was bench pressing 265 (120 kilograms) and squatting 370 (168 kilograms). On good days I could push even more.
I ate lean and had muscle and could run like the wind. It also took a lot of time. Then this blog came along.
You can do anything, but you can’t do everything. I think I heard that somewhere. Writing is something I love as much as the running. More time was required to write and service all the new clients. You know the story. Most of you here have lived or are living a similar timeline. Spoooooky.
The something that gave was the running. Hernia surgery didn’t end the running—I ran five miles four days out of surgery much to the doctor’s chagrin. But my muscle mass was about at a peak for my age and body type unless I wanted to go professional or extreme. My policy is exercise in moderation. (Notice I slipped the pun in?)
I kept running for a while until I joined a gym between my office and home. Three days a week I lifted, reaching the numbers listed above. I also ran three days a week with one day off.
Eventually I focused on the weight training to further enhance my appearance. Running ebbed until I wasn’t running much at all.
The weight started creeping up. Hunger was still ravenous like it was when running so the diet didn’t change when the exertion did.
If you are still with me it is because you struggled at least once in your life with body weight and/or muscle build. Western lifestyles are not conducive to a healthy body. Life is good so we MUST make an effort to retain or rebuild our health.
Weight lifting made me feel as good as running and I was starting to look pretty darn good. Mrs. Accountant couldn’t keep her hands off me. Not that I was complaining.
I kept reducing the running part of my exercise schedule because I noticed the less I ran the more muscle I built. But the pounds started adding on before long.
A year later I was at 214 pounds (97 kilograms) again, slightly less than I was as flab-boy several years back.
The good news is that a lot of the weight was muscle. But let’s be honest, there was plenty of fat on the scene too.
Some of the weight I took off eventually was added back as muscle; the rest was lard. My legs and arm were chiseled; my midsection was another story.
Men tend to put excess weight on in the stomach area first and women on the tail. Exercise can reduce this excess, but it takes a lot of work and diet MUST be a part of the process or you will never succeed unless you are lucky enough to have a body that will allow you to run 20 miles (32 kilometers) a day. And even then . . .
I needed new goals I could use the remainder of my life. Here is how I broke down my physical goals:
- Running: I want to have endurance without training to marathon levels. If I can run 5 miles (8 kilometers) comfortably on a long day and 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) on a normal day I would consider that appropriate. My goal is to run 2-3 times per week.
- Strength: Bench press: 215 pounds (98 kilograms); squats: 265 pounds (120 kilograms); bicep curls: 35 pounds (16 kilograms) per arm, et cetera.
- Weight: Ideal weight goal would be somewhere in the 180s (84 kilograms). Not too heavy and not too light. Plenty of heft for muscle and endurance, but not too much to look flabby.
Some of these physical goals would still be a stretch while I adjusted to my new diet and exercise schedule. It was okay. I didn’t have to bench the peak amount every day. If things felt good I can always lift more or run further as long as it is a periodic, rather than normal, part of my training.
The real goal was to get rid of the gut. Soda, junk food and alcohol were partly to blame. The rest of the blame lies with eating too much all the time.
The physical goals required few adjustments. I started running again at least two times a week. It didn’t take long to feel comfortable pushing two miles or so on a typical run. I also interspersed hiking and biking into the mix without reducing the run frequency.
You Are What You Eat
Activity wasn’t my problem, eating was. My craving for junk food was my great undoing. Soda is the worst. At home we don’t keep soda, but at the office we provide free beverages to clients and employees, including soda. Sometimes I can’t resist. (I’d make a joke here, but this is too serious an issue. Our lives depend on it.)
I worked hard to clean up my diet. I stopped drinking alcohol. In my younger days I drank a lot. Then I spent decades drinking almost no alcohol. It was purely a choice. Then I started drinking a bit more. Beer is not something I ever crave, but a shot or three of whisky is good. (Whisky has up to 300 calories per shot!) For the record I will still drink in social settings so don’t worry about offending me if you offer a beer. If I don’t want it I’ll say so; if I haven’t overindulged lately I’ll probably say yes.
Soda is a boogeyman in the room. I cut soda out for several weeks and now drink maybe a can or two per week. (I’m human and far from perfect.)
Snacks are the interesting part. My craving for chips, crackers and other assorted snacks is all but gone. I still eat the stuff in social setting, but at home I rarely touch the stuff and when I do it is a small portion as it doesn’t sit with me.
My goals and diet were defined. I started eating cleaner. For some reason the scale kept reading 214 pounds (97 kilograms)! What gives?
First, as I started this new phase of my life I kept eating pretty much as I always have. Even without soda, alcohol and junk food I wasn’t shedding tonnage. It was disappointing. If I lost a pound or two, hunger returned and so did the weight. I was stuck in neutral. If I were most people I could have been satisfied. I had great muscle mass with a gut. One out of two isn’t bad. Right? Wrong!
The real problem I knew existed in the back of my mind had to be addressed. I am 53 years old. Not 16, not 45; 53. Okay. Age makes a difference!
My metabolism was slowing down with age and I needed to adjust for it and/or do something to speed it back up. That is when my research discovered fasting.
I practiced fasting in the past. Never seriously, but more as a thought experiment. This is where my story has to end and the real facts get exposed so you can improve your life.
I’ll share my experiences so you have an example to guide you, but we have to talk facts. This gets serious now.
Lies, Lies and More Lies: The Intermittent Fasting Story
Is there anyone left in the room who hasn’t heard the most important meal of the day is breakfast? And it’s the biggest lie ever used to assault the health of the American people and is spreading to the rest of the world.
Two hundred years ago and prior eating breakfast was considered a form of gluttony. According to Heather Arndt Anderson is her book Breakfast: A History, nothing was consumed with the exception of coffee or tea prior to lunch.
So where did this crazy idea you had to eat first thing after jumping out of bed start? My research reveals the quote came from a 1917 article written by Lenna Cooper and published in Good Health magazine.
The breakfast cereal companies saw a grand marketing opportunity and the rest is history. You were brainwashed by a lie disguised as common knowledge. People even argue kids suffer greatly in their ability to learn if they skip breakfast. We’ll expose that lie in a bit.
First we want to go back and review what Cooper really said. She said breakfast is the most important meal of the day because it is the first. This meal should be simple, easy to digest, enjoyed with the family and not over 500 calories. Processed cereal and sugar filled products were not what Cooper recommended. I can only imagine what the marketers will do to twist my words to their advantage. Just the thought makes me nauseous.
Breakfast is important, even the most important meal of the day. You enjoy this meal around noon and it must be healthy! What makes for an ideal breakfast? Steel-cut oatmeal, fruit and nuts. Your body will thank you if you break your fast with these foods.
I fell for the ‘ol eat right away in the morning gag too. And it was near impossible to lose weight! My breakfast was healthy. Oatmeal was common, but eggs were more common. And the calorie count was low.
It also fired up the system. My pancreas released insulin to help process any sugars in the food. It doesn’t take much to get the system turned back on.
Processing food takes energy normally segregated for the brain’s use. Some people report greater mental acuity when fasting and this might be the reason why. A belly full of food diverts resources from the brain to the gut.
Once the system is turned on it wants to keep going and requires periodic refilling of the tank. The three square meals a day is another big lie.
One source I found claims Europeans started the three meals a day mantra when they arrived in the New World. It seems the Native Americans ate whenever they felt like it. The morning, noon and early evening regular meal schedule was seen by the Europeans as a sign of their sophistication whereas the Native American eating style was seen as uncivilized.
This is all well and good, but what does it have to do with better health, weight loss or intermittent fasting?
The Beginner’s Fast
I was trying everything to lose weight and it wasn’t working. Running was sure to make a difference, but if I slowed my pace in the future weight was sure to start sticking to my abs. And I am well aware of the calendar. Eventually time will slow my metabolism more and my body will be unable to deliver consistent massive runs.
My research took me to intermittent fasting. YouTube videos were a massive help, but I had to be careful. Some videos are better than others. After over 100 videos and articles I felt my level of competence was high enough to put the plan into action.
There are several types of intermittent fasting. The method I chose is sometimes called 18:6. Under this type of fasting I eat during a six hour window each day and fast the remaining 18 hours.
Other types of intermittent fasting include eating normal one day and no more than 600 calories the next. You continue alternating on and off days. Another style included fasting for an entire day one or two days a week.
I picked the 6 hours feeding window type because it didn’t require a special diet nor long-term fasts which could affect my workout performance.
The nice thing about the 18:6 fast is that you can start small. Begin by missing breakfast. Over time the feeding window should shrink until you are eating during a small timeframe each day.
I chose a feeding window in the evening. My normal eating pattern favors more evening consumption of food. Breakfast was easy to miss as I am rarely hungry early in the morning. Unless I am totally disengaged I can avoid food easier during the daytime than early evening.
My feeding window shrunk to 4-5 hours quickly without much bother. Some days I got hungry and if it was too much I ate something light. If a client wanted to have lunch, I had lunch. This wasn’t a hard and fast rule. It was a guideline I could bend when circumstances dictated as long as I didn’t find an excuse on a regular basis. I didn’t. I stayed true to the program.
The results? Well, I dropped twelve pounds (5.4 kilograms) so far. Another twelve and I will have reached the top end of my acceptable weight band.
Muscle mass is good. I don’t think I lost any muscle, but below I will share how I lost some strength when heavy lifting.
I felt better as I dropped the pounds. Running started to feel better. The lower weight made it easier to run and put less stress on the joints.
There are additional benefits to eating during a small evening window. I agree with people reporting their mental concentration improved. I no longer need to brown bag a lunch for the office either.
The best part is my body started to adjust so I rarely felt hungry during the day. Workouts and running were better before I ate. That’s right! I am heavy lifting and running after twenty hours without food! And my workouts are better now than ever.
Since I put no diet restrictions on my fasting I was worried I might binge. I found the opposite to be true. I drink less soda without cravings. Most junk food turns my stomach. My calorie intake is probably a bit lower, but I make no effort to restrict calories. Calorie restriction generally leads to muscle loss and I made muscle a priority.
The six hour feeding window (that term sounds funny to this farm boy) ended up shrinking to 4-5 hours most days. Some days I ate during a seven our window; sometimes in only a 2-3 hour window. Things were going well.
Then I did something stupid.
In the past I tried a few full-day fasts. They worked, but I found them hard to do. Twenty four hours is a long time to go without food. Now that I trained my body to go longer periods of time between eating I felt I was ready to give long-term fasting another chance.
The advantage of fasting is to train the body to burn fat. By eating all the time our body never gets a rest. It is always digesting and burning sugar (glycol). As soon as glycol runs low in the liver our body sends hungry signals to get another sugar fix.
Your body wants sugar all the time because sugar is addicting and people living in the Western world are sugar addicts. You can’t avoid the stuff.
Fasting solves the problem. After about twelve hours the liver runs out of glycol. The body then turns to glycol in the muscles (not to be confused with muscle loss) and fat. Intermittent fasting trains the body to burn fat for part of the day. That was the main reason I couldn’t lose weight when I was eating all day. Fat was never burned. I ate clean, but if I wanted to preserve muscle mass I couldn’t restrict many calories. A restricted calorie diet will cause your body to burn muscle.
My body had adjusted to 18-20 hours without food daily. It was time to try a long-term fast. I wanted to go all-in. The goal was to fast for 4-5 days. My reasoning was that after about two days the body starts killing off white blood cells and grows fresh new ones better able to fight disease. There is evidence long-term fasting can lead to longer life and even prevent cancer.
I am uncertain of the claims, but I still wanted to experience a long-term fast. Not just a day, mind you. Something I could be proud of.
Boy, did the proverbial manure hit the fan fast (notice yet another pun).
Fasting is all between the ears. You can easily live without food for a day. The average adult can live somewhere around 60 days without food. Unless you have medical issues, long-term fasting can be beneficial!
So the day was set. I was going to start on a Thursday and go until at least Sunday night without eating.
Wednesday night I ate my last food as I normally do and Thursday morning I woke up so darn hungry I could have eaten the back side out of a skunk.
What was up with that? It wasn’t even twelve hours since I had food last and I was already psyched out. If I wasn’t starting a multi-day fast I would not have eaten for another 10-12 hours anyway.
Just the thought worked on me. I wasn’t going to eat for days.
Thursday night I went to bed hungry and dreamt food. Oh, for crying out loud, Accountant! Man up!
Friday I thought of food all day. It drove me crazy. Friday is a normal gym day so I did a light workout. Long-term fasting requires rigorous exercise be reduced. Light exercise only.
By Friday night I was so mentally twisted I broke down after 48 hours and a few minutes without food. I enjoyed three eggs, if you must know.
I felt terrible for failing.
The worst part is my strength collapsed. At the gym the amount I could press was down seriously. Even running was down. Long-term fasting sapped my endurance and strength.
And I know it was all between the temples. I allowed the whole process to twist my thinking. It has been a while since mental weakness was so pronounced in me. It was a wakeup call.
All the grandstanding I read about where the first day is the hardest, then it gets easier was bull. Day two was a major slog. Mentally I was unprepared for the 4-day fast.
Back to Intermittent Fasting
I don’t give up easy. The next day I went back into my regular intermittent fasting schedule. Everything seemed fine because my brain knew I would eat that evening.
Tim Ferris said he doesn’t lose muscle when he fasts for several days. My research indicates most fasting doesn’t lead to muscle loss, whereas, calorie restriction does. Intermittent fasting can actually help increase muscle growth because you don’t necessarily eat fewer calories, but your body learns to burn fat on demand!
Intermittent fasting has helped me lose some weight while increasing my endurance. My strength is returning to normal from the long-term fast. My workouts now are actually shorter (about 20 minutes) as I started high intensity interval training (HIIT). I spend a lot of time outdoors during the summer so I get plenty of exercise outside the gym. Winter in NE Wisconsin is more of a challenge and the workouts might expand back toward an hour three times per week. Running may decline as weather restricts outdoor activities and I hate treadmills. Regardless, I think I will stick to 2-3 days of running even if it means running indoors. My runs are now only 20-30 minutes anyway so they are easy to fit in.
I don’t give up easy! That long-term fast has me mesmerized. More research is in order. With a 48 hour fast now part of my experience I plan on trying again and making it at least 72 hours with a goal of 96 hours.
Long-term, multi-day fasts should only be tried a few times per year. Intermittent fasting is something you can do daily.
When friends come over or you are at a social gathering there is no reason to enjoy a cold beer, snacks or a small meal even if it doesn’t fit your normal intermittent fasting schedule.
Remember to drink plenty of water while fasting so your body can flush out all the garbage. Tea and coffee are okay. Some people allow creamer or a small amount of sweetener in their tea or coffee. I disagree. Sugar, cream or any substitutes causes an insulin response in the body. At that point the fast is over. The goal is to avoid an insulin response for as long as possible so your body starts burning fat. Remember, insulin builds fat!
Share your experiences with fasting in the comments section. I’ll update periodically. The next long-term fast certainly deserves a mention.
Disclaimer: Whenever talking about health, diet and exercise I must remind you to use common sense. Consult with your doctor or medical professional before engaging any of the activities in this post. Also, don’t try to perform at my level. I’m in pretty good shape. You need to build to lift and run at the levels I do. Some readers are younger or in better shape than I am and will lift more and run longer than I currently do. Please keep safety in mind. I want to see you happy and healthy.
[Writing is a funny business. The process of creating a story takes time and evolves over time. In looking over my notes, here is a paragraph I wrote as part of my original outline. I must have thought it was a good idea at the time.
The best part is not having to eat all the time. Like Kim Jong-un I don’t have to eat or the thing you do after digesting the eaten food. My first game of golf I managed a hole in one on all 18 holes, just like Kim. I never sweat when I workout either. Is it any wonder I don’t own a small third world nation of my own?
Aren’t you glad I took a different approach in what I did publish? Me, too.]
In the winter of 1995 Mrs. Accountant and I were a young married couple anxiously awaiting our first child due in late February. Winter in NE Wisconsin has a tendency to get bitter. The winter in question was no different. The holidays were still fresh in our mind on January 7th. My business was a remodeled basement; the following year would be my first with a store front.
The air felt colder than normal and Mrs. Accountant was feeling the effects. The stress of pregnancy coupled with the weather had her bed-ridden. Early on the 7th she got up and wandered to the couch. Then the world turned upside down. Her water broke seven weeks early. Dumb as I was I still knew this was really bad.
I rushed Mrs. Accountant to the hospital. The doctor decided the longer the baby stayed in mom the better. For two days my wife suffered. The doctor finally relented and had Mrs. Accountant transferred to a hospital with facilities for such a premature baby.
It was an intense delivery. I was not allowed in the delivery room. Our first baby entered the world seven weeks early and spent 19 days in intensive care. If I had not worked out of my home at the time I would have never stayed in business. Working from home allowed me all day with my wife and newborn daughter.
The medical problems were only beginning.
Five years later Mrs. Accountant and I decided we wanted one more child. Two seemed like a good number and we had it in our heads if we only had one child she would be spoiled. (We spoiled her anyway, with love.)
The doctors were taking no chances this round. The ultra sounds were all normal; all tests were normal. It did not matter to Mrs. Accountant and me the gender of our child so we waited for our baby to enter the world to know.
Shortly before the due date the doctor decided a C-section was the safest course. This time I was allowed in the delivery room. The operation went smooth. As the baby slid from mom’s belly one doctor said, “Congratulations, sir. You have a son.” Another doctor said, “Look again doctor. You have a girl, sir.” All I remember was muttering, “It’s both.” The room was silent the remainder of the procedure.
I died that day. Everything you read about me or from me is from a man who did not exist before that day in the delivery room.
Numb, I went to the office and told Bev what happened. Bev, now retired, was with me forever. I told her I was not coming back. It was over. Nothing in life mattered anymore. It was the closest I ever came to quitting what I love doing so much.
The medical problems of a cisgender* child are legend. The mental problems were also hard to handle. My youngest daughter’s birth certificate reads: gender: “unknown”. The birth certificate was later reissued. Normally a Social Security number is issued at birth. We had to wait until we knew the gender for my child.
The hardest part is talking with people. You know the first question asked of new parents: boy or girl? I could not stand it. I was crushed. How do you say “both?
Under stress and distracted, Mrs. Accountant and I had serious decisions to make. Our baby was going to die within a few months if we did not act quickly. The gonads didn’t drop and were pre-cancerous purplish masses that had to be removed: surgery one. My child’s genital were malformed and neither truly male nor female. The urinary tract exited a penile structure and internally. Infection was imminent if the issue were not remedied: surgery two.
The doctors did a DNA test. It was discovered my baby was conceived male, but the Y chromosome became isolated after a few cell divisions. My child’s body was 15% XY (male) and 85% X (androgynous). The second X was missing. In the absence of a sex chromosome the human body tends toward the androgynous, or more feminine. In our minds our baby was a girl. It was also easier for the doctors to construct a female than a male. We had two daughters.
A Social Security number was issued and the birth certificate updated.
I was racked with guilt. It was my fault. Something about me caused this failure. Of course this is not true, but back then I felt that way. Deep down, I still do.
Two children; two children with serious medical problems. As I wrote Chapter 2 and 3 above I broke down. After all these years the emotions run deep and cause immense pain.
Support groups are hard to find. The closest thing to cisgender (I’m not even sure I’m using the terms correctly) is transgender and they are not the same. A transgender has a choice in surgery, my daughter had none; it was either create genitals or die. How would you like that choice as a parent? And if you guess wrong . . .
The therapy for mom and dad did not last long. I discovered quickly most people with children like ours were fucked up in the head. They kept it a deep, dark, dirty family secret, as if the child was somehow an abomination. Mrs. Accountant and I took the opposite approach. It isn’t a secret; it is what our daughter is and if you can’t handle, go fuck yourself.
Our attitude allowed our daughter to grow up normal. There was a sigh of relief when she took to girlish things. I started joking I had 1 ½ daughters. Some people were offended. They can re-read the last sentence of the last paragraph. We laugh and joke about it. It isn’t a secret and she is not abnormal; she IS normal. A normal girl. (I also joke I have 34 kids of which two have survived . . . so far. The rest had an accident in the pond. I am waiting for the police to show up and dredge the pond for bones. I have sick sense of humor. I have to; it is a survival technique.)
Medical Bills, Money, and Work
More than ever I had to be a parent. Work was secondary. As a business owner with employees I was allowed ample time from the office until my head was set straight. Money, which was not an issue since early adulthood, returned. We lived in the hospital. Surgeries were handled at Children’s Hospital a two hour drive away. Mrs. Accountant always stayed; I sometimes went home and to the office. The truth is I had to get away. It hurt too much.
Insurance covered many of the medical bills, but not all. It was a burden. Ample savings and investments allowed us to survive unscathed. Thank God for frugality at a young age! I shudder at the thought of having to leave my wife and daughters to go to work each day during such an extended crisis.
Once the first few years passed the medical bills declined. Then puberty showed up, or, well, was induced. You see, without gonads or naturally occurring estrogen, my little angel would stop growing around age 10 and would go straight to old age, brittle bones, and death. The medical problems have re-escalated.
This kid of mine has gone through several more surgeries. She had three this year, but we look good for a while now. Gall bladder removal, kidney stones, and migraines are all part of the course. She has an allergic reaction to estrogen so it is difficult finding a balance. She stand 4 foot 8 and will never grow another inch. She is all girl, for sure. A very petite girl.
What about the Oldest Daughter?
My oldest daughter felt left out and jealous at times. She had a point. As she got older she adjusted and understood. The medical issues she had were less life threatening at the time, but have grown as issues as she has grown older. She suffers from Scleroderma and Raynaud’s. I hyperlinked the terms allowing the professionals to explain the details of each disease. In short, Scleroderma calcifies the skin until there is no feeling and Raynaud’s causes limited blood to fingers and toes. Cold turns her fingers and toes black. She lives in Wisconsin, but 80 degrees F can be considered cold at times for her. She could lose digits and her love is art. Life is all too often a cruel bitch.
Mrs. Accountant and I care deeply for our children. We have been hit with a one-two punch and remained standing, as resolute as ever. The prescription medications and doctor bills are one of the largest of our household expenses.
Managing the Minefield of Major Medical Bills
Medical has unloaded well over $1 million from my net worth. There was never any real choice. I will never walk away from my kids! I can live with poverty. I chose my children and Mrs. Accountant over financial wealth if that is the only choice I have. Fortune has granted me both. I am luckier than words can say.
And still, my medical problems are small compared to many. I fight back tears when I see a client with medical issues well beyond anything I have had to deal with. My children are alive! Not everybody is allowed such a gift.
Medical issues affect how we plan financially. Making too much money can leave you with less. Medical bills topped $1 million the first year of my youngest daughter’s life. Picking the right insurance becomes the most important financial decision each year. Social Services help cover many medical bills when the children are very young and when they strike out on their own because they earn so little.
There are other related costs most families don’t face. Doctor visits frequently are a full day drive away. A 15 minute doctor visit can easily top $500 and is not always covered by insurance. The prescriptions are unreal for my girls. The youngest takes pill like a 90 year old. She has no choice. When certain medications are stopped she goes straight to menopause, old age, brittle bones, and death. There is good news! I am in awesome health and take no medications and rarely require doctor visits.
The answers are not simple, nor do they fit in a neat package. My goal here is to show you how lucky you are if you don’t have medical problems. My goal is show you are not alone if you do. My children are a gift I would never give up. I can live with a challenge. Keeps life interesting.
More than ever, if you have medical risks you need to adopt frugal and responsible financial habits. If your income is low, consider Social Services for help. Many costs can be covered. Also consider your income. Sometimes earning another $10,000 will cost you more in insurance and medical costs than the additional income. By living a reasonable lifestyle you can protect yourself and your family.
I know I dumped a lot on you, kind readers. I can only teach what I know. This post was in the queue for months and it had to be written. We talk money around here and nothing affects financial wealth more than health. Even in countries with socialized medicine (just about everybody, except the U.S.), health problems still affect finances and quality of life. Medical issues take you away from your job or business, the engine of earned income. Investing early creates a buffer protecting you and your loved ones from such serious body blows. It also allows you the chance to step away from work so you can be with your family.
And to my friends suffering the same issues or worse: Never give up. Money is nothing, only a tool. Life is everything. Live every moment of every day. They will not last forever. Love. Love with every fiber of your being.
I am not a religious man so I will close with a verse from the Bible:
Now these three things remain: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.
* Cisgender, sometimes referred to as cis, is a person whose gender was assigned to them at birth.
Note September 20, 2017: When I wrote this post I had been introduced to a new word about my daughter’s condition: cisgender. At first I thought this was the new “politically correct” way to speak about intersex children. It isn’t. I was using the term wrong as a comment below mentions. There are so many terms bandied around today to deal with gender and sexuality it is confusing even to a dad with a daughter born intersex. So, to clarify, the article above is correct as long as you replace cisgender with intersex. No matter what name society uses to identify my daughter’s condition, I still love her to death. She is my sweetheart along with her sister and mom.