Common sense is not so common, they say. I think it's true. Why else would the majority of the developed world be overweight while we have access to any information we want just one click away?
I've struggled myself with a mismatch between knowing what I "should" be doing while doing the complete opposite. I started overeating in my teens as a way to cope with my uncomfortable feelings. Whenever I felt discomfort - anxiety, stress, low mood, whatever - I took to junk food to escape reality.
A few moments into my sugar rush and I would feel blissful, but the downside was horrible, and it only got worse as my binge eating escalated over the years. Acne, bloating, stomach issues, and insomnia were some of the physical side effects. Even worse was how the toxins affected me mentally and emotionally: if I'd been uncomfortable to start with, that was nothing compared with what was to come. My mood swings and depressions got so bad that I was (mis)diagnosed with bipolar disorder in my mid-twenties.
The turning point came when I discovered the ketogenic/"keto" diet: high in fat, low in carbs; it results in the metabolic state of ketosis. Ketosis has a range of health benefits, among them automatic weight loss by switching the body's fuel source from carbs to fat.
The result of my diet change seemed nothing but magical. The physical consequences of my junk food addiction disappeared in a matter of weeks: my skin cleared up, my extra kilos fell off, I started sleeping well. I no longer got blood sugar crashes, but instead felt an incredible energy. The most amazing change was probably that my mood leveled out so much that my doctor realized that I didn't have bipolar disorder, and I got off all of my medications. I felt like a free woman!
So did I live happily ever after in ketosis? Not quite… Because although I loved my new diet and how it was making me look and feel, I'd struggled with compulsive overeating for about a decade. It was a hardwired habit, and it didn't disappear just because I now had a better alternative. At the time, I was pursuing a stressful corporate career in London. When I got triggered - which was quite often - I grabbed the one self-soothing mechanism that I was familiar with: binge eating.
It was perhaps even more painful to act in this self-harming way now when I understood how food affected me, and I had an alternative. I felt like such a failure - which often just led me to reach for more junk food to comfort myself.
The turning point came unexpectedly. Through a friend, I'd come across the Wim Hof Method: part breathing, part cold exposure, and part mindset. I'd tried the breathing exercise, and it lifted my mood so much that I was eager to try more. I'm Swedish, and winter baths are part of my heritage, so I intuitively knew that there should be something good about cold exposure. But I had no idea how it would change my life!
I was living in a tiny apartment in London at this time, and I dragged big bags of ice home with to fill my bathtub. I started taking ice baths at home once a week.
Not long after I started taking the ice baths, something strange started to happen. I was in the same stressful corporate environment, exposed to the same triggers - but all of a sudden, I reacted differently. I no longer escaped to the cafeteria to buy half a kilo of chocolate cake. Instead, I didn't do much at all.
Looking back, it now makes sense how cold exposure helped me overcome my self-harming behavior. All of those years, I'd been fleeing my emotions. Whenever I felt pain, I covered it up with food. Now, I was welcoming the pain, and even though being submerged by freezing water was excruciating, I stuck with it. I was practicing endurance, which I could then use in any situation. And leaving the cold after a session was the best feeling: I'd made it!
So what about YOU: what's the one challenge that's holding you back from living your healthiest and happiest life? You might not identify with my binge eating story at all, but is there any other habit which is affecting your health, wellbeing, and productivity?
If you've got access to a °CRYO chamber in your city, I think you're lucky. Ice baths are good but can be inconvenient. Plus, a °CRYO session is only three minutes long.
Exposing yourself to -140°C probably sounds painful, right? But just think about the saying: pain is weakness leaving your body. And when you're standing in the °CRYO chamber, remember what challenge is holding you back in life - and what will be possible for you, when you'll overcome it.
Alexia Bjarkan is a coach on the keto diet and lifestyle at The Benefactory. As seen in Grazia, Marie Claire, and DHA’s Better Health; she offers guidance on optimal health and weight using a combination of the keto diet and biohacks such as cryotherapy.