Cold Thermogenesis Interrupted

At the start of this year, I stopped doing daily cold temperature exposure, which is something I have been practicing since 2008. No more cold showers and I could even be spotted walking around Seattle wearing a thin sweater. Never a coat though. The reason I abandoned cold exposure was I couldn’t figure out why my body felt so cold in the morning. I decided to reboot.

In an effort to increase my morning temperature, I also cut back on Intermittent Fasting. I increased my food intake and added more carbs to my diet. I was trying to put a fire under my metabolism. I was lean, healthy, but damn cold in the morning. The interesting thing was that adding more heat and more calories did nothing to make me feel warmer. My hands were still ice cold.

When the Cold Thermogenesis topic caught fire with Jack Kruse and Richard Nikoley, I decided to take a side seat and watch their results from afar. That was the plan. Then I read a paragraph on FreeTheAnimal that inspired me to try cold water exposure. From the post Putting it All Together: Moderate Carb Paleo, Resistance Training & Kettlebells, Intermittent Fasting and Cold Thermogenesis: (MAY 2021: link behind paywall)

… from my very first session almost a month ago, 26 minutes at 52 degrees, I have not experienced cold hands or feet a single time. Not once. In fact, I sometimes feel as though I’m radiating heat off the palms of my hands and soles of my feet. Weird.

I’m not sure how I missed that when the post went out, but I would happily jump into cold water to fix my cold hands. And with that piece of information, I began swimming in Puget Sound, which is just minutes from my place. The water temperature is between 49-50° F. I began logging my sessions in a shared spreadsheet.

Cold Exposure

Cold Water Safety

Photo of a sign I saw in Vancouver, Canada.

One Week Later

I’m going to divide the cold water exposure session into 3 acts.

  1. The initial plunge into cold water.
  2. Being in the cold water.
  3. Warming up once you get out of the cold water.

After the first session, the initial plunge was easy. Being in the cold water also got very easy, very quickly. I went from 2 minutes to 14 minutes in just a few days. It became enjoyable, peaceful and something I looked forward to. However, my problem was with warming up.

My toes got very numb and pale. They were taking about an hour to regain full feeling and during this time I was experiencing very mild pain. It has concerned me to the point that I am stopping any further cold water exposure until I understand what might be going on. As for my hands, they never warmed up. In fact, my hands are now colder than when I started. The fingers in my right hand feel sore and move slower than my left hand. (* The hand soreness went away after a 2-day break from the swims.)

Taking a Break

I thought I was being cautious by gradually increasing the time. My times and temperatures were far more conservative than those used by others doing Cold Thermogenesis, so I’m not sure what I should be doing next. Maybe cold water exposure won’t help my hands or maybe I need to give it more time? I do enjoy being in the water and I’d love to continue – even it is just for post-workout recovery. But for now, I’ll be suspending my Puget Sound swims until I know more.

If you have any wisdom to share, please drop me a comment.


Add yours

  1. Wow, Michael. Damn. But individual results are individual results and that’s the way it is.

    Who knows?

    Keep me posted on what you learn about yourself.

    This weekend we were at a campground that had an unheated pool, so it’s roughly 60ish and I did 2 days in a row, 30 minutes, lightly treading water. I noted that arms & legs are quickest to get cold, torso takes a lot longer, like past 20 minutes. Once I get out, arms, legs, hands and feet warm very quickly but the core, torso retains the cold for a good long while. I’ve come to enjoy that prolonged effect of feeling chilled, but not really cold. When I get out I usually feel perfectly fine walking around in just my trunks, letting myself drip dry.

  2. Michael, FYI, I suffer from cold feet/hands in the winter as well and am an ectomorph. I’ve yet to try the cold thermogenesis on any level but was thinking more about it after Richard Nikoleys recent reports.

    I do not doubt his positive results but am wondering very much if body type comes into play here. Richard is no doubt more of a mesomorph/endomorph in terms of body composition and perhaps has more of an ability to regulate his core temperature as a result. Ectomorphs like us seem stretched out and with more distance to travel our blood has a harder type reaching the periphery when under stress. Any thoughts?

  3. Maybe there is an ectomorph angle. The weird thing is I radiate massive amounts of heat from my upper back. I’m going to keep researching. I really want to take advantage of CT for post-workout recovery, but not at the risk of getting frostbite.

  4. Michael, I also have cold hands and feet and am an ectomorph. I have Reynaud’s and have been told NOT to put myself into situations where my extremities get very cold. Does that play into your situation? Frostbite and chillblains are not fun!

  5. I have chilblains too and they are indeed not fun. I’ve not always had them but figure they came on from my fingers and toes just getting cold too many times over the years (like really cold). I have absolutely no interest in all of this cold on purpose stuff … I have to be careful just to stay warm. I get my stressors from IF and exercise.

    Also, I think everybody is just very different in this regard. I know people who break a sweat doing the most trivial things while I virtually never sweat. Yet I’m lean and some I know who are ‘warm’ are not. Anyway, I guess my only advice is to be careful with this stuff.

  6. @Vicki and @Aaron – I’m glad I got your comments.

    Although I was aware of Reynauds (which I do not have), I had never heard of Chilblains before. That may be what I’m experiencing. And if that is the case then I shouldn’t be doing any cold exposure without protecting my hands and feet.

  7. The weird thing is I radiate massive amounts of heat from my upper back.

    Though I’m an ectomorph like you, when I sit in my Japanese-style tub (’cause I live in Japan) at about 72 degrees C for about 20 minutes after a workout, it’s my upper back that gets cold! I can always wiggle my fingers to warm up my hands.

    Somewhere on Free the Animal or elsewhere, I read Roy Kronise’s suggestion that it’s better to “move in cool water rather than sit in cold”. Do you swim in Puget Sound?

  8. oh, you wrote that you do swim in Puget Sound. Is it pretty vigorous swimming?

  9. @garymar – My movement started out static and then became more dynamic. I’m keeping my head above water, so my swimming isn’t vigorous.

    Come summer (it still hasn’t arrived in Seattle), I’m thinking that burying my hands/feet into hot sand immediately after the cold exposure might be a good strategy to restore heat quickly.

  10. Get into ketosis and then consume lots of monounsaturated fats ~ 3000 calories.

    I have found that when I’m in ketosis and I overfeed it rockets my body temperature.

  11. @Matthew – 3 of the 6 CT sessions were done in a ketosis state, but not overfed. Once the sand at Golden Gardens gets toasty warm, I’ll head back out and try it your way. I don’t know if the heat will get to my toes, but I’m willing to find out. Thanks.

  12. Experienced barefooters say it takes about five years to develop the hunter’s reflex, where your blood vessels don’t automatically constrict on sudden exposure to cold. I’ve been barefoot for three winters now (the first in Vancouver and the last two in Montreal), and I found that it’s gotten easier with each passing year, but I still have to take it easy.

    Interestingly, I find now that my hands hardly ever get cold in light gloves even in very cold winter weather. My hands and feet seem to mirror each other somehow.

    I’m fairly stocky, and haven’t had the problems you describe at the temperatures you describe (my feet get red and angry in prolonged cold water exposure), though as my extremities warm up I do sometimes get a burning feeling. I would assume that your body type would make you more vulnerable to cold hands and feet.

    BTW, you have to be in below freezing conditions to get frostbite, so as long as you stay below the snowline you should be safe. I’ve gotten it and it’s like getting a sunburn (first and low second degree frostbite). I don’t recommend it but it isn’t automatically as bad as people make out.

  13. I ran across an article in the New York Times that has an Army-developed method of re-training your body to respond differently in cold weather. Here’s the article:

    I have not tried it (yet).

  14. @Anemone – Thanks for sharing. I am relived to hear that I was not at risk of frostbite.

    @RTN – This is also interesting.

    “Three to six times a day, every other day, Raynaud’s sufferers undergo a treatment in which they first sit indoors with their hands submerged in warm water and then are put in a cold environment, exposed to the cold except for their hands, which are submerged in an ice chest filled with warm water.”

    Even though I don’t have Raynauds, I am already thinking about ways I could try this hack on myself. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Glenn Whitney

    Jun 2, 2012 — 8:22 am

    All very interesting and puzzling stuff. As you know, I’m a fellow ectomorph and I just hate being in cold water. I do it only once a month or so. Hate every second of it, but often it does seem to reduce inflammation by 10-20% and I feel (re)invigorate for a couple of hours.

    For amusement / inspiration have you checked out Lewis Gordon Pugh – he seems to have made a career out of cold swimming.


  16. @Glenn – I just found this story about Lewis.

    From the photos, I would guess he is more of an ectomorph. Impressive.

  17. Cold extremities can be linked to low thyroid. My partner is tall and has always felt cold in his hands, feet, nose. Cold exposure has improved this somewhat. But I also researched thyroid for both of us felt cold a lot of the time.. He warmed up immediately on using Armour and so did I – one of the first signs that this was working for us.
    Here is a link to good book by Dr Peatfield on Thyroid:

  18. Here is another article, saying Raynauds and circulation problems can be affected by low thyroid:

  19. Glenn Whitney

    Jun 3, 2012 — 10:18 am

    And Lewis Gordon Pugh’s lead medical advisor – Tim Noakes – has gone Paleo – so that’s really cool (no pun intended).

  20. @Pauline – I have read about the thyroid link. I doubt it is that, but I’ll keep an open mind and test it at some point. Thanks.

  21. When I read Dr Peatfield’s book, it rounded up so many suspects, food sensitivities being one of them, being cold a lot, tiredness in the morning, skin problems – that for myself I just knew thyroid has been part of my picture since my 20’s but really started to downturn in my 30s. Oh and I have always been very thin and could eat what I liked right up to my mid 40s and those suspects had been around since my early 20s and wished I had known sooner. Now what affects thyroid that’s another paradigm to explore. Everything is so inter-related.

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