Catabolism (a/k/a “Cannibalism”) & Inflammation

Woman pinching fat from her waistI am not an expert on this (but I play one on TV – ha!)

As those of you who have been keeping up on this blog know (all 4 of you ;-) ), I have been having a SERIOUS struggle with hormones, weight, and “all that jazz” that women over 50 talk about incessantly and those of you who are not in this bracket try to nod patiently and wait us out about . . .

A month or so ago, I went on a new “dramatic” plan. Why? Because I had had a nearly ten pound muscle loss (and also four pounds of fat gained) in the period of a few months (HERE is the blog post about that). After the body testing “wake up call,” I had my hormones tested, and though my cortisol marker was normal (more on that in a second), my DHEA was through the roof. Both are made by the adrenals.

My doctor took seven vials of blood in that test – my doc is nothing if not thorough. Thyroid hormones – for which I take meds – were normal FINALLY (for the first time in what seems like forever). Cortisol also registered as normal, but (as I have been reading a LOT about all this) that doesn’t mean it IS normal.

Cortisol is a sneaky thing, and can register as normal in the morning (I gave the blood, as instructed, between 8-9 a.m.), but then spike LATER (which it’s not supposed to do, so isn’t normally tested for), etc. My doctor is away for the bulk of January, and we need to address the strastospheric DHEA, but I also want to try to get him to “allow” me to do a saliva test for cortisol – which is taken throughout the day to make a graph. If he doesn’t “sanction” it (a/k/a cover it on insurance), then I’m going to order my own test kit and do it anyway.

That said, my DHEA being 900 instead of like 40 (where it’s supposed to be) would generally indicate a person that is over-the-top anabolic. My Crossfit coach teased that I could sell my blood as “juice” (steroids) since basically I was testing higher than your standard major league baseball player . . . (joke! joke!)

Just in case you don’t know, your body is “anabolic” all by itself (in other words, without taking steroids) at parts of the day, and “catabolic” at others. “Anabolic” at the very base level means building cells. “Catabolic” at the very base level means tearing down cells. You’d think that catabolism would be BAD – who wants their muscles torn down?? – but in actuality, if your body never goes into a catabolic state, you never tear out the “broken down” muscle to replace it with new. Cortisol is catabolic – DHEA is anabolic. Both are made by the adrenals, which sit on top of your kidneys.

Usually, you’re anabolic at night. Makes sense, right? That you’d be “building up” your muscle while you’re sleeping. And “catabolic” during the day – where your cells are opened up and flushing out the bad stuff that’s in there. What you have eaten, and what you have done, during the day dictates how well you’re able to regulate the building up and tearing down.

Many people think that they “build muscle” when they are working out. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. You tear down muscle when you exercise – you “hurt” it – and then it is built up stronger afterwards when you are anabolic. That’s why rest days and good sleep are so important – if you don’t rest, or have a good amount of sleep, you’ll never actually build up the muscle that you are breaking down by exercising.

bookThere is a great book with a stupid name called Kick Your Fat in the Nuts that I strongly recommend. I got this book on the Kindle a while back, and though I have (honestly) dozens and dozens of books on nutrition, the body, etc., it laid out everything in an easy-to-understand, fun fashion. (The author is a comedian who had a hormone crash.) I’d suggest you pick it up, especially if you can catch it when it’s offered for free on Kindle, which happens fairly often. If you’re more that sort of person, there’s an Audible version. That, or go to and pick up the book version – I’m sure it’s cheap there. HERE is a definition from their website about anabolism v. catabolism. You’ll see how easy it is to understand.

As I said, in August (ah, full disclosure here) I tested as having 29.9% body fat, which meant 53.6 pounds of fat and 125.8 pounds of lean body mass. In December, I tested as having 33% body fat, which meant that my fat weight had gone up to 57.9 pounds, and my lean body mass down to 116 pounds. What had happened in between those dates? Something had made my body become seriously catabolic.

pacRemember what “catabolic” means? My body testing technician gave me a sound-alike: “Canni-bolic.” Your body is “cannibalizing” itself, trying to get at nutrition that  it needs. Namely, your body is breaking down its own muscle – eating it like the old PacMan video games. Nom Nom Nom.

Why does it do this? Because something that you are doing in your life – whether it’s stress, bad food choices, too much hard exercise, not enough sleep, not enough rest, etc. – is causing your body not to be able to “access” what it needs in what you are giving it for fuel . . . so it gets what it needs where it can (e.g., your own muscles). This is also where “inflammation” comes in – Inflammation is your body surrounding things it perceives as toxic so that they don’t hurt it. The toxins “inflame” your body by setting off its “intruder alert” functions.

Worse – your body knows that it’s not getting what it needs to run itself, so while it’s trying to deal with the perceived toxins, it starts packing away fat, which is the only thing your body knows to do in a “starvation” scenario. Which is what it thinks it’s in. Regardless of how much of a glutton you are.

So while waiting on my doctor to tell me what to do, my trainer told me that somehow this had to do with inflammation and adrenal fatigue “even though” my cortisol tested as “normal.” So it was time for me to “get with the program” and decrease stress, eat super clean, up my rest days, and see what happened.

So my husband and I went on the Bulletproof Rapid Fat Loss Protocol for a week to “kick start” our bodies into burning fat for fuel instead of glucose. It makes sense that other “diets” (“juice” diets, “detox” diets, etc.) that are based on carbohydrates don’t do a thing to help your body actually burn fat – they give it glucose and fructose as an energy source instead. How would this help your body learn to go to fat for fuel . . .  ?

strausNow mind you, a week was all we could stand – man, eating about 1500-1600 calories of just butter/MCT oil (Bulletproof coffee, tea, and “butter soup” anyone?) is not easy.

After that week, we did one day of a carb re-feed, then went to the Bulletproof Intermittent Fasting protocol, which means Bulletproof Coffee in the morning, and then lunch and dinner within a six hour window, made up of basically a ton of veggies and some pastured protein. This means that your body is fasting for 18 hours – part of which is of course while you’re sleeping. (As an aside, if you’re a Bulletproof Coffee aficionado and aren’t doing the intermittent fasting – so you don’t care if you’re kicked into metabolizing in the morning – HERE are some recipes that look pretty sweet.)

Under the intermittent fasting protocol, you still have a carb re-feed day once a week, where (per Asprey’s book) your body goes into its cells for protein, and grabs toxins as well on its way out. HERE is the diet “infographic” of what foods are more Bulletproof, and which are more toward the “Kryptonite” range. HERE is a downloadable shopping guide.

zoneThe biggest thing I’ve noticed in eating according to the diet “infographic” is that my rosacea has really cleared up. Moreover, I’m not waking up with plugged up sinuses. Though I’m sleeping as well as I always do, I am having a Hell of a time getting up to work out at 7:00 a.m. like I was before (so, I’m not. I’m working out in the afternoon). I’m to keep my exercise very “non-cardio” (I’ve talked about this), and after going through some testing using the C.H.E.K. Institute Zone program, my trainer has put me on a de-stress/vitality build program using their exercises. You can check out the exercises: they include getting outside (one of my New Year’s Resolutions!) for walks and breathing (no iPod), using a ball instead of a chair at my desk, more breathing, etc.

So why am I writing?

Because I was re-tested yesterday.

And get this.

My body fat is down to 50 pounds. In a month. (That’s 7.9 pounds lost.) And my muscle is up to 121 pounds (that’s 5 pounds gained).


Yes, indeed.


Because I’ve stopped being catabolic. I have stopped “cannibalizing” my own muscles for fuel, and my inflammation has gone way down because I have cut just about everything toxic out of our eating. (Sigh.) My waist is down 2 inches in a month; my neck has even lost 1/4 of an inch.

The guy doing the test was as impressed as I was (laugh). He said that he thinks that during my August test, I probably wasn’t in adrenal fatigue, but I reached it in December, which is why my numbers went so far in the other direction. Now, he said, I seem to be backing off of it.

If you compare the numbers, August was 53.6 pounds of fat, December was 57.9, and yesterday was 50. August was 125.8 pounds of lean body mass, December was 116, and yesterday was 121.

I havenpound of fat‘t quite gained the muscle back that my body cannibalized, but my fat has dropped dramatically.


By eating clean and teaching my body to go use my body fat for fuel – plus staying with food/exercise that doesn’t throw my body into a catabolic state 24/7 – I’m equalizing. I’m building muscle when I’m supposed to be, and burning fat.

After the body fat test, the guy and I discussed this whole thing in detail. He said that “obviously” I had done “exactly what I had been told to do” and (more importantly) that it was working. Sure, having 29.3% body fat is still super high – even my doctor has weighed in (ha ha) on this. Given my bone structure, I should lose about 20 pounds of fat, which will put me in a good zone and, in fact, would put me at the “scale weight” I feel the most comfortable at, even though we know that “scale weight” isn’t as important as “body composition” weight.

Anyway – the test yesterday made me feel great. Look, I don’t like staying off “Kryptonite” foods, and neither does my husband. We love our fruit, wine, whisky, chicken (no chicken on this eating protocol, believe it or not! It’s Omega-6 fats which are inflammatory), etc. But when I talked to him about all this the other day, he said that he’s having similar results on the eating plan, and in fact is close to reaching his first goal – being under 200 pounds with his body fat down to some percentage . . . he wouldn’t tell me that part! He told me he’s gained about 10 pounds every decade since the ’70s – and after going on this eating protocol he’s almost “two decades down.”

Crossfit in 100 Words by Greg Glassman (founder of Crossfit)

So that’s my check-in. The interesting thing is that we’ve all gone on “diets” throughout our lives (right?) Some work better than others. But this time around, because of the August-December numbers, I’ve gotten serious. And with these new numbers a month later, I’m staying serious.

Oh . . . and by the way . . . I also passed my Crossfit Level 1 Trainer certification course. I can talk about that in a separate blog post if you like (let me know). It was hard, but wow was it worth it. I don’t plan to “be a trainer,” I just wanted to “understand” Crossfit better. And it was a FANTASTIC (and demoralizing/frustrating) experience. Leave me a comment if you want to know more ;-)

5 thoughts on “Catabolism (a/k/a “Cannibalism”) & Inflammation

  1. I came here from the GGW page – and WOW. I can’t even it get into words on how difficult/amazing this journey has been for you, as well as your husband. And I am now going to be a follower of this blog. =) And CONGRATS on your CF Level 1 cert. My hope is that by the end of 2015, I’ll have mine, as well as a plan to get my CrossFit Kids cert!

  2. Hey Kelsey! I can TOTALLY see you doing Crossfit Kids!!!! That’d be a natural!!! The certificate course was quite an experience, and made me WAY more deeply committed to Crossfit. You know you can get the Level 1 training Workbook off of beforehand, right? DEFINITELY do that – because they don’t go over all of it, and a lot is on the test! I read through it before a couple times then printed it out (it’s like 125 pages!) which helped when I did the actual course ‘cos I could highlight and make notes in it. You’ll rock it! “Mom Sandy”

  3. Great blog post! I was thinking of starting the Bulletproof RFLP and came to your website when doing research. And then started reading through your entries to see how it went. I also do Crossfit and I lost 60 pounds but then have gained it back over the last year. I am not as strick on my eating as I was but don’t do anything too crazy and do Crossfit usually about four days a week. I am wondering if my adrenals are out of wack and this article makes me think I should get them tested. Why kind of doctor did you work with to get them tested?

  4. Hey Michelle! Great to “see” ya here. It took me FOREVER (!!!) to get my doctor to agree to the lab tests. I now am using a service (you can see it at ) where you can use the service, ask a doctor to prescribe the labs for you (you have to have a prescription, that’s the kicker) and then you go to the lab that is on the website/app. It’s SO MUCH easier. Then again also of course depends on if you have insurance that will pay for the labs. ‘Cos if you can get YOUR doctor to agree, maybe it would be cheaper to go that route. I am now reading Dr Sara Gottfried’s book “21 Day Hormone Reset Diet” and I’m on like day 5. It’s a little crazy because the first part you give up is MEAT (not poultry/fish/shellfish, but you give up beef, pork, lamb, etc. – like 4 legged critters) and I eat a LOT of that. But she walks you through the 7 different hormones that can go haywire, and I think it’s really worth checking out her book, because a lot of what you address through it is food-related basically. (And “anyone” can do something for 21 days…right?) It also points out some of the “whys” behind some of the crazy things that happen to us as we age. And not only older folks get them! Like, some of the things that I have had go haywire I think actually are more related to estrogen (WHO KNEW that BELLY FAT makes ESTROGEN? Not ME!), also MAYBE to cortisol. She gives a bunch of thoughts on all that. I bet you could get the book cheaper at like – I got a copy for free from her website because I signed up way in advance of it coming out. Let me know how it goes!!!!

Comments are closed.