Anyone who knows me will already know that I think about health a great deal. I’m not a doctor or any kind of fitness trainer, but I read a lot and I experiment with the best tool at my disposal: myself.
Growing up I was a very active kid. I played a sport every season that I was in school, soccer in the spring and fall and basketball in the winter, and I swam and road my bike every day in the summer and much preferred to be running around in the woods to just about anything inside. I ate the hearty and nutritious diet my mother kept at her table, with soda or junk food of any kind appearing only as a very rare treat. I was a skinny blonde bean pole right up through middle school.
In high school, those good habits began to derail. I spent more time out of the house and had more access to junk food and other outside food; I strongly remember a time where every few days my friends and I would blow what little money we had from our retail jobs on chicken kickers with fries and a lava cake at Chili’s. At school too, there were bagels with cream cheese and orange juice consumed at break every day and daily a la carte lunches of chicken burgers with a side of ice cream sandwich. I was also less active; the older you got, the less availability there was to play town leagues and playing for school where I wasn’t in the same social circles as the other sporty girls was difficult. I did it for a while though and didn’t regret it. I loved to play. The worst of it though was this: I thought nothing had changed. Mentally I still thought of myself as a beanpole and hadn’t yet grasped the confidence of how to handle this woman’s body that I suddenly had with it’s new chemistry and the growing independence around what I ate and what I did.
College. How I loved college and all of it’s lovely carbtastic cheesy food. You know what they say about the freshman 15? Well there’s that, and then there’s the other 45 they don’t warn you about. Left to my own devices, but with only bulk cafeteria food available, I began to eat poorly, taking bad high school habits to a new level. Worse, I completely dropped anything remotely active despite the fact that I still thought of myself as athletic. I didn’t want to commit to a sport that would consume my time, and never built a gym habit, running habit, or other activity. I went from a slim teenager to not so slim college girl and loved, or thought I loved, every minute of the eating. But I took a lot of pictures in college and the comparison between how I was when I started and how I finished was not one I liked. I don’t know whether I didn’t notice because I didn’t care (and let’s be real, I did care especially when I went to try on old clothes or go buy new ones and nothing looked right or felt right) or whether it’s just that everyone around me was in the same boat and proportionally nothing had changed.
Thankfully, college only lasts 4 years, and after that, I was responsible for my own food. I went back to eating more like how my mother raised me (hey, I liked to cook and it’s what I knew how to make!) with a few added snacks here and there, and over some years I dropped from a 14 to an 8 with little effort and lots of time. Healthy eating for the win. Walking places sometimes instead of driving, also awesome. Being too poor to go out to eat too often? Well, it had okay side effects.
This was progress, but it wasn’t enough for me. I’d caught the bug. I knew now what it felt like to be healthier than I had been and knew that something had gone terribly wrong. I understood in both a conscious and unconscious way that I had not felt good mentally, physically, or emotionally with myself. I had to take an active interest in my own health.
I started to make some more active choices about food. I started going to the gym or doing something active regularly. I wasn’t hardcore about it at all, skipping frequently, but even this effort maybe dropped me down to a 6/8. I felt better. I felt awake and more energized. I was more aware of my health.
I was more aware of my health. Uh-oh. With great knowledge comes great responsibility, and while I had taken some really big steps on some things, especially from where I started, I had begun to notice, or maybe it’s better to say acknowledge some other things that were going on. Lady things: skipped cycles (sometimes a few in a row), 40-50 day cycles, and abnormal results. A bad OBGYN diagnosed me with PCOS and HPV (neither of which were tested for and neither of which I have according to my current OBGYN). I went through a painful colposcopy as a pre-cervical cancer test…oh boy… and was on the books for another one. On top of all this, I was also adamantly against taking birth control to fix any of these issues, which every single doctor I visited tried to press on me as a quick fix prescription that I would have to take for the rest of my life. But here’s the thing, it was never a real fix, it was a cover up. I wanted to know what my body was trying to tell me, not just eliminate the symptoms.
However, something great came out of that mis-diagnosis. Among the literature given me (these things were never actually discussed with me by that doctor) about PCOS were 2 facts that changed everything: 1. PCOS patients are treated with metaformin. Metaformin is an insulin regulating drug given to diabetics. 2. PCOS patients are commonly overweight, even by a small amount, have trouble losing weight past a certain point, and gain weight extremely easily. Put these together and what do you get? Sugar. Sugar causes PCOS symptoms. Sugar causes weight gain. Sugar is the devil. The sweet sweet devil.
So instead of allowing my doctor to treat me with birth control or metaformin and send me on my way, I suggested trying an alternate method. I read a lot online. Some resources on reddit were particularly insightful. I brought my proposal to her, talked to her about trying to control my sugar intake and up my exercise to see if over time I could bring my symptoms under control. Her reaction was somewhat bizarre and obviously doubtful. Taking my suggestion as an opportunity, she brushed past it pretty fast – side stepped it as if it was unfamiliar territory, but she didn’t want to admit it, and suggested that some people have success with acupuncture. Maybe some people do, but that’s not what I’d come to see her about at all and she just wouldn’t discuss it. I had to talk for her. I had way more knowledge about the PCOS she’d diagnosed me with from a few afternoons of reading than she did in all of her years of diagnosing and treating it. I switched doctors pretty quickly after that.
With new knowledge in hand, I decided to give it a try. I began the keto diet (super low carb, medium protein, high fat) & exercise regimen, and let me tell you, it was a bitch. I was a complete monster the first few weeks as my body adjusted to burning fat rather than burning carbs (and oh my god did I want carbs. Toast! Cereal! Pasta! Potatoes! Walking by a bakery or cafe was torture.). I would just bottom out on energy and not be able to deal with the crash, plus the withdrawal symptoms from sugar and gluten (I only realized later when I learned what gluten was that this is pretty much a gluten free/low diet in practice if not in name). This was particularly hard because not only did I go cold turkey (this is what works for me), but I also began an extensive gym habit (Running/elliptical/abs workout once a week, 1 hour step class once a week, 1 hour full body weight class once a week, 1 hour yoga once a week, and 1 hour zumba once a week) very shortly before I began, which I maintained even in the first few weeks. Trail mix was my pre-workout bff.
This was perhaps overkill in retrospect and I felt really weak in the beginning, but did it ever work. From February to July I did this. Of course I cheated. Of course there were weeks that didn’t really happen. And I adjusted my diet to slowly include more carb low nutrient rich and protein rich foods, but with very mindful moderation. In the summer ice cream and froyo minus the cone (sob) was reintroduced as a huge indulgence, almost every day or every other day, but it apparently didn’t tip the scale far enough to harm my progress or reintroduce the intense carb cravings I’d had previously. When I was maxing out at about 30g of carbs a day before that icy indulgence, it’s little surprise.
By July I had dropped from 155 to 129, I was toned, and a solid size 4 no matter where I shopped. And I felt incredible. I felt strong, flexible, healthy, awake, and energetic. I felt like everything I did made me stronger. I felt like everything I ate made me better. Actually, I want to repeat that: I felt like everything I ate made me better. In a culture that only ever associates eating negatively, this is a pretty profound idea. And don’t get me wrong, I indulged! I allowed for laziness. I cheated a lot! And at the end of the day I did not look like a model, nor did I resemble a muscle bound woman, but I had never intended to. I had achieved my real goal – health. You know all of those lady problems I was having? What lady problems?
Bad habits though are easy to fall back into. Being overconfident in your achievement and the mentality that you’ve got it right, so you can live a little, can creep up on you. A year later, I was back around 150, none of my new sexy clothes fit, and I was back to 35-40 days. Oops. Yeah, I fell off the wagon. Somewhere between the end of summer and the holidays I left behind my discipline. I though I was still eating well, though nowhere near as strict, and I indulged a lot more often. This would probably have been okay if I’d kept up with even half of the physical activity I’d been maintaining, but I didn’t. I turned back into a couch potato.
Expecting something else? Yeah, me too. But you know what? This was a lesson and because of that, this time will be different. This time I have the knowledge that I can do it, that there’s nothing insurmountable and that these things are in my control. And when I’m ready, then it’s time to figure out maintenance, it’s time to figure out what the long term plan is and because of this last lesson, I already kind of do.
Now that I’m almost back to where I was, I’ve switched priorities so that part of my focus is on fitness. My new goal: maintain health, get fit, enjoy life.
That’s my story so far. One of my hopes with this blog is in creating a space for my own accountability, I will also help inspire some of you to seize control of your own health.