Experiments in Wisdom, Well-Being, and Wealth Powered by the Lifestyle Lab from Poetry of Impact
By Gino Borges
For most of my life I suffered from horrendous allergies. In the spring and in the fall, my allergies were so extreme that I’d be a sneezing, inflamed mess. I’d hunker down with a stack of tissues and a trash can and try to ride out the agony.
I’m grateful things changed. (I share more details about how they did below, so if you suffer from allergies, make sure to stay tuned.)
In reflecting on my journey with severe allergies, I had a keen insight about energy. Not only my physical “oomph,” but also my mental clarity and the resources I have.
I’ve come to think more intentionally about what fuels my energy and what drains it, and to make connections that have helped me feel better now at 51 than I ever felt in my forties — or even thirties.
Here’s what I’ll be diving into in this article all about energy:
- how transcending my allergies catalyzed my well-being journey
- the way both problems and solutions can “stack up”
- food as fuel and why it matters what, when, and how we eat
- the simple question that led me to more restorative sleep
- wealth as a potential form of regenerative energy
Nothing to sneeze at
I was always exhausted as a kid. We lived on a ranch, and I was allergic to the dust, to the pollen, to the straw bales — to everything. I also suffered from severe asthma. I remember having an asthma attack and being placed in an ice bath and covered in cold water. I felt like I was breathing through a straw.
What allergies and asthma do is prevent you from taking in enough oxygen, so you get tired really fast.
What I came to learn much later in life is that allergies are a histamine response. And histamines also make you tired. So I was caught in this endless cycle of low energy.
I moved to Reno about 10 years ago. Up until this time, I would spend half the year feeling like I was only three-quarters of myself. I’d tried to treat my allergies. But everything was symptom-related. Medications you get off the shelf are histamine blockers. They’re not addressing the origin of the histamine response.
My body was continually overwhelmed by allergens, which it interpreted as an attack on the system. So it would send an inflammatory response and release histamines as a defense. The medications didn’t do a heck of a lot, and over time I just normalized my suffering.
But I was sharing my story with someone, and they said I should try out a homeopathic practitioner in town, High Sierra Allergy.
The approach at High Sierra, led by Melissa Monaghan, RN, APH, is that each allergen has a particular frequency. At the time, I didn’t know what the heck that meant. But I was so helpless, I was ready to try anything.
My first session was unlike anything I’d experienced previously in medicine. I walked in and there was this machine that kind of looked like it was out of the 80s. Melissa had me holding a copper rod and she was squeezing my fingers, and all of a sudden the machine started making all these beeping noises, and Melissa was writing down all these things. I didn’t know what to make of any of it.
What she was doing was testing for hundreds of different allergy markers. Then she went into her laboratory and prepared all these serums. She asked me to put two drops under my tongue each day.
It turns out these serums are the essence or frequency of the allergens. You’re ingesting tiny amounts of the allergens so your body has time to get to know them and realize they’re not a threat. Essentially I was voluntarily microdosing on the allergens that I came up sensitive to. This is a very long protocol. You’re told to be on it for three to five years. I said, “I will do anything that works!”
This protocol fundamentally changed my entire existence. Here I was, sluggish for about 40 years of my life. All of a sudden, spring started coming, and I was like, “Wow! I can function.” I didn’t feel like a snot zombie anymore. I was able to not only be outside, but even go for a hike or exercise outdoors without turning into a sneezing ball of inflammation.
As my allergic response receded, my energy returned. My body was no longer physically wiped out from its constant battle against pollen and dust.
And since I wasn’t so stuffed up, I could now breathe through my nose. If you read my previous experiment in well-being, wisdom, and wealth, you heard about my experiments with breath, and how mouth-breathing is one more factor that keeps the body exhausted.
Sure, I still get a little sneezy when the ragweed blooms. But the chapter of my life ruled by allergies was over. Something new — and exciting — had begun.
The power of stacking
Clearing up my allergies was a sea change moment. For the first time, I saw how my energy problem was the result of challenges stacked on top of one another.
My low energy originated with my body’s histamine response. Then it was compounded by…
-not getting enough oxygen because the allergies triggered my asthma
-not getting good sleep because my nose was always stuffed up
-mouth-breathing that was making it harder for my body to do normal repair work or fight off colds (leading to even more congestion and mouth breathing…)
I’d gone to High Sierra Allergy to escape an emergency situation. Now I began to look around and ask myself how I could take what I’d discovered and move toward optimizing my life.
This was the beginning of a new consciousness and awareness. Something structurally and fundamentally changed for me. I started wondering, “What else is out there?”
I kept going with the thread of energy. I knew that intense heat was another factor that always made me sluggish, whereas cold revived me. Back when I was a kid and my allergies flared, the only way I could get to sleep was a cold shower. And for all the years I suffered from chronic migraines, ice packs would dampen the intense pain and discomfort.
The new question that arose was, “If cold exposure can make me feel less terrible, can it also make me feel even better than baseline?”
I started swimming in rivers and lakes and noticed I had so much buoyancy afterwards. So much oomph. I felt a burst of physical energy and also mental clarity. I started to research: Why was I feeling so ridiculously good after cold exposure?
Turns out when you plunge your body into frigid water, all your cells basically panic. So in response, the body releases its feel-good chemicals. You get a big dopamine spike, and you’re flooded with endorphins.
Further research told me that the cold was also impacting my metabolic energy by sending my body into ketosis. So that my system was running on fat instead of sugar and I was tapping into a different kind of energy. From here a whole new world opened up.
Previously, my challenges had stacked on one another until they’d left me drained of energy.
Now, I was seeing how solutions could also stack. Allergy homeopathy, plus cold therapy, plus metabolic energy… I was really onto something now.
What’s fueling me
Eating used to exhaust me. This was a crazy relationship with food. For the first 45 years of my life, I always assumed getting tired after eating was just how it went. I would carve out time after a meal to do nothing or take a nap. I thought it was normal.
But my allergy epiphany had me calling into question what’s normal around energy.
Learning about ketosis — triggered by ice baths — helped me make the connection to different sources of energy. I used to think you eat, and then you have energy. But in a lot of cases we eat and have less energy.
My whole life I’d been steeped in the truth that carbs equal energy — from the food pyramid, to the french fries and white bread that sustained me through my academic career at Purdue. The idea that the body could get fuel from fat rather than carbohydrates was news to me.
I had plenty of personal experience to show me that eating could make me tired. But it wasn’t until I had some tangible data to look at that I began to make changes.
About a year ago, a friend of mine got a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). He wanted to see if his headaches were somehow related to his glucose levels. I thought it was a neat idea to be able to monitor my blood sugar levels in real time, so I ordered one as well. But I wasn’t motivated to do anything with this gadget, and it sat in my office for 9 months. Then, my brother got a CGM, and I decided it would be fun to run my glucose experiment alongside his.
It was eye-opening. After you have a big bowl of rice and you see your glucose spike on the monitor, and then 45 minutes later you’re exhausted and you need a nap, you can finally see the connection. And I could see the difference if I had a salad first and put ghee on the rice.
All of a sudden I had real-time data to show me what was happening to my energy. And I was able to trace it directly back to what I was eating and how I was eating, especially the sequence of foods.
After just two weeks of wearing the CGM, I had all the data I needed to make smarter food choices. I understood which foods and food sequences were giving me a glucose spike, and which were keeping my glucose curve closer to flat. It’s the huge spike that was causing my fatigue: a sugar high followed by a sugar crash as insulin came in to mop up the glucose mess. Keeping my curve flatter meant I had more sustained energy. I no longer felt like I needed a nap after every meal.
I’ve been minimizing carbohydrates and also reorganizing them in sequence when I do have them. The book I’ve found really influential and helpful around this is Glucose Revolution: The life-changing power of balancing your blood sugar by Jessie Inchauspé.
Using this protocol, all fiber comes first. Proteins and fats come next. And then any starches or sugars. This slows down the absorption of glucose so I stopped getting those huge spikes.
I also use intermittent fasting, so I’m running on long-term energy (fat) rather than short-term energy (glucose). There’s so much impact on the body when we live on short-term energy all the time. Lots of things break down.
What my mornings look like now is I do a 3 – 5 minute ice bath (32 degrees) first thing in the morning, then work out — all before having any calories. I usually eat my first meal around 10 am. And all those calories are in the form of fiber, protein, and fat.
I stop eating between 7 and 8 in the evening to start autophagy, the process of my body cleansing itself of free radicals. Since I keep my fast until around 10 am, my body’s getting a full ~14 to 15 hours of autophagy. This is also contributing to more energy as gunk gets cleared out of my system.
When I introduce food, I focus on having a lot of fiber first. I’ll have a salad or other vegetables, then proteins and fat, then any carbs last. It slows down the processing of glucose. The way Inchauspé describes it, the stomach is like a kitchen sink, and the intestinal tract is like a drain. When you have fiber first, it lines your intestines. By the time the carbs get down, everything is slowed to a halt. The food hits your bloodstream more slowly. When I was connected to the glucose monitor and doing A/B testing, I had a 20 – 30% lower spike doing this than having a naked carb, like having a plain bowl of rice or eating bread before dinner.
Of course, eating is often a social event. If I go out to eat with folks, I focus on the sequence. It’s easy to order a salad to start a meal, or even simply eat the veggies on the plate before anything else. If I am going to do fruit or carbs or starches, I dress them up with fat and protein to slow down the glucose absorption so there’s not a spike. These hacks can be silently integrated into my meals, and no one really notices.
By following these simple protocols I not only have more physical energy, but I also notice that my foggy brain is largely eliminated. Foggy brain was yet another symptom I’d normalized. Now I recognize it as a sign of my system not working for me. It’s simply a more subtle form of not having energy.
The more I saw how these solutions stacked, the more I wanted to put everything on the table. More possibilities kept opening up. Where else could I feel better?
My attention turned toward sleep, the grand-daddy of energy. Because you can be doing all these waking things, but if you’re not restoring at night, you can’t integrate them and get the good effects.
I began by questioning what I’d come to think of as normal. For example, “Is it normal to get up at 2 am?”
I started to experiment with everything I thought might be a factor to my poor sleep. I asked, “What’s keeping me up?” I was able to point to a number of factors.
Any unresolved dialogue or conflict will often surface at night. My somatic body really struggles to let go. So I need to clear that. I need to not check emails in the evening, otherwise I get drawn back into rumination.
I need a cold room, under 65 degrees. I need complete darkness — especially no blue light.
The other thing that kept me up was mouth-breathing. So I started using mouth tape.
I also realized I probably wasn’t getting enough oxygen at night. So I started using little nose expanders. I sometimes even wear one while I’m working because they increase oxygen by a third! This counters the “desk slump” we all tend to get that decreases oxygen flow due our chests being collapsed.
I discovered that my nervous system needs weight on my body. So I started using a 20 lbs weighted blanket. It has a swaddling effect that’s really calming. Before bed, I spend some time with my feet above my heart. This communicates to the body that it’s safe to relax.
Another thing that kept me up was nighttime urination. I’ve made a practice of stopping my liquid intake earlier in the day. And I’m currently experimenting with three supplements: coleus forskohlii, pygeum, and glycine powder.
From that one simple question — “Is this normal?” — I’ve launched a complete overhaul of my sleeping habits. I don’t have any grand, five-year plan. I simply ask questions, make observations, track my results, and iterate. (You can see why I call these my “experiments” in wisdom, well-being, and wealth.) With sleep, it’s definitely still a work in progress. But I’m really happy with the direction I’m moving in.
My dad always suffered from insomnia. And he never did any inquiry on it. I saw how much he suffered, and I’m saddened that he never got any relief, or even asked if there was a way he could feel better.
One of the things I really want to teach my own son is how to sleep well. I want my whole family to sleep well. Heck, I want everyone to sleep well. When people sleep well, almost everything is better during waking hours.
Wellness as legacy
My journey from emergency to optimization with energy was fueled by inquiry. I started by asking, “What’s my most pressing need? What can I not stand anymore?”
And then I began wondering, “What if someone gave me a menu for all the areas of my life? And I got to choose where I wanted to feel amazing. A ten out of ten instead of merely a six.”
Now I put everything on the table. Because I’ve seen the stacking effect. The biggest lifestyle optimization is continuing to ask, “Is this the best I can feel?”
As I asked this question more and more, I saw first-hand how things began compounding. I started seeing interconnections, and also experiencing exponential growth, spaciousness, and outcomes as a result of undoing the harmful stacks, and then building beneficial behaviors on top of one another.
My inquiry is based on trusting how I feel and paying attention to sensory input. Simply noticing the way my body responds gives me a continual feedback loop — providing living, phenomenological data.
Energy is a first principle to guide me. It’s sensory data that tells me right away whether a behavior is supporting me or not. It’s like having a different kind of CGM — a Continuous Gino Monitor.
The more I pay attention to how I feel, the more I can also predict how I’ll feel. When I want to do something or don’t want to do something, I take a moment to fast forward to the effect. For example, “I don’t want to go to yoga.” But how will I feel after class? That moment of awareness of the effect motivates me. Or, “I’ll eat this chocolate bar.” When I fast-forward to the headache that will come after, I can instead choose, “I’ll break off one square of chocolate and have that.”
By moving toward what feels regenerative, I’ve come to have more energy now than I did for the bulk of my adult life.
It’s not only my physical energy that’s increased. Another crucial form of energy I’ve discovered in my optimization journey is wealth, or monetary energy. It’s a resource that gives me the time and the bandwidth to ask these questions and conduct these experiments. And I can use it to create ripples outside of my own experience as well.
Even the journey itself is a resource. I’m sharing my lifestyle design and optimization to leave a legacy for my family and my community. So others can see the connections I’ve made and the wisdom I’ve gained and build on that for themselves. I’m also passing on the tools of inquiry and self-attunement to others. This is what folks are doing in the Lifestyle Lab — creating their own experiments in lifestyle design so they build more energy-wealth.
I believe one of the most significant forms of wealth is the habit of inquiry. It’s an invaluable resource to look at our own lives and ask, “Is this the best I can feel? Is this normal? Do I have to accept this? Can I feel better?”
The details of lifestyle design and optimization will be different for everyone. But the habit of inquiry is a wealth transfer that’s incredibly valuable. As I’m fond of saying, when we feel good, we do good.
My dad lived with insomnia his whole life. He didn’t have a habit of inquiry and how to experiment with self optimization. For me, inquiring how I was feeling was something on the periphery up until now. It was available, but it definitely wasn’t my first stop. Now as a parent, watching my son put essential oils on his feet when he feels restless because he’s listening to his body — well, I know I’m passing on something different than what was given to me.
Having this practice and sharing it widely — starting these conversations — to me, this is how we shift the energy of wealth in massive ways. Thanks for being part of the shift.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Lifestyle Lab and creating your own experiments in wisdom, well-being, and wealth, send us a message and someone at the Poetry of Impact team will be in touch.