At 18, two things changed. I started eating out more, and I started taking the birth control pill. I might never fully understand the biochemical changes that occurred (or why) in my body after that point, but I slowly began gaining weight. By the age of 21, I was already at 112 pounds. I didn’t feel like I ate a lot, but I could tell something was different because I seemed unable to shed those extra pounds. My first experience with a low carb diet occurred in 2004. I did Atkins’ induction for 2 weeks and lost about 6 pounds. I was stoked, but also still very tempted by starchy foods.
At that point in time, I really did not understand why a restricted carbohydrate diet allowed weight loss, and I couldn’t conceive giving up fries and bread, so I went back to my old eating habits. I promptly gained the lost pounds back, and in 2005, I weighed between 114-116 pounds. After that, I experienced a lot of changes in my personal life and I totally lost myself in carb-rich comfort foods. It was also a matter of money. My income was below poverty level, working in north Florida with animals as a kennel technician; packets of noodles/noodle soups were just so quick, convenient and affordable for me back then. My job was physically very demanding. I had to deal with rambunctious dogs of all sizes as I walked and groomed them, and I also did a lot of cleaning/scrubbing/mopping. I wasn’t losing an ounce, no matter how little I ate.
By 2008, I believe I was already in the mid 140’s. After that, it’s all a blur to me. I remember weighing myself on the dog scale at work, at the beginning of 2009. I was shocked to see that I was now about 155 pounds. I continued to eat pasta until I found myself at 180 pounds, later that same year (2009). I believe the summer of 2009 is when I came across a video called “Adiposity 101, Why we get fat”, by Gary Taubes. As I watched him build his argument I felt so betrayed by life and every well-meaning person that had ever tried to help me, yet only made me feel worse about myself in the process (telling me I had to eat less and exercise more). It was all there, black on white… Women become insulin resistant with age, poverty and obesity form the marriage from hell, and last but not least, carbohydrates and fructose in particular wreck havoc on our bodies. I felt more enlightened, but still nowhere near motivated enough to change the only way of eating I’d known all my life.
During a brief period when I felt ready to change my life, I dropped from 180 to 170 pounds, by reducing the amount of food I ate, and not eating in the evening (November 2009). I remained at 170 pounds until Fall 2010. My “before” picture was taken at the end of August 2010 (170lbs). In October 2010, I met someone who made me feel joy for the first time in many years. I suppose I consider this the only “cheating” element of my “diet”, because I doubt I would’ve found the initial required motivation to lose weight otherwise. Wanting to be with this person gave me all the motivation I needed to finally put Gary Taubes’ knowledge to work. My new friend did not like me fat, and made no secret of it, and I turn took no offense to his preference, because I didn’t like myself fat either. I missed my “old” body that I felt so comfortable in.
By December 16, 2010, I had dropped to about 152 pounds. In March 2011, I was at 145 pounds. May 2011, 130 pounds. I spent the rest of 2011 going from 130 pounds to about 117-120 pounds (December 2011 was the first time I saw 117). Although ideally I would like to reach 100 pounds again, I have remained at 120 until the present day (September 2012). All this weight loss was achieved without doing any exercise whatsoever. I quit my physically demanding jobs in March 2010, and went back to school to get an undergraduate degree in Biology. I am at a point now where I do sometimes indulge in fries and bread products, but the weight gain is instantaneous. They are "gateway foods" for me so I end up falling off the low carb wagon for weeks sometimes if I allow myself to go there once. It is the reason why I’ve spent the last year oscillating between 117 and 123 pounds. I can’t blame anyone but myself for not being at 100 pounds already. By cutting the grains out of my diet, I realized that I am in fact allergic to them. I don’t get a rash or IBS, but their digestion is certainly not pleasant to me. They bloat me, and I generally feel “nasty”/heavy for lack of a better word as soon as they hit my stomach.
As part of a school project analyzing blood glucose curves, I discovered that mine is abnormal, and even though I am now much healthier by blood work results (lipid profile) than I was at 21 (almost 31 now), this insulin resistance is my biggest hardship right now. It requires a lot of will-power to see results, and I’m not exactly good in that department; this should be motivating to many out there who are certainly a lot more determined than me. If I can do it, a lot more people out there should be able to as well (as long as they can afford a healthy diet – sad but true). Perhaps it is time for me to start exercising if that indeed improves insulin sensitivity. Perhaps that is the next part of my journey towards better health.
As I started to lose weight, there was a shift in my motivation. I started losing weight for/because of someone else, but after I reached 150 pounds, the weight loss became about myself, and about being good to myself. I feel like I owe my life and health to Gary Taubes, and I am forever grateful that he took the time to expose all that data and research about obesity that most everyone else in the scientific community is hiding under the rug or simply refusing the acknowledge. The second influential person that was part of my weight loss was Wayne Dyer. He said one thing that always resonated in my mind… Something along the lines: “When you truly love yourself and you ‘are’ health, you are unable to make decisions that will cause harm to yourself”. These decisions can range from drinking a regular soda drink, to smoking a cigarette, or eating bread in my case. I now understand (thanks to Adiposity 101) that no matter how “whole-grain”, organic and clean grains are, there is no way around the metabolic reaction they cause upon ingestion. Same goes for any other high-starch containing vegetable or sugar filled drinks. They cause me harm, therefore I must avoid them in order to feel good. When I go to the grocery store and see delicious bread and processed frozen/breaded foods, I hear that statement about “being health” loud and clear in my head, and I feel absolutely no temptation to buy said foods anymore. I generally succumb to temptation when I go out to eat, that is what gets me. :(
Understanding the science behind why we get fat was the biggest obstacle to me. It is so simple and yet its meaning eluded me back in 2004 when I tried Atkins for the first time. The second biggest challenge was to give up my favorite foods, bread and fries, but also sticking to the diet when nobody else in the household was following it. Family members and friends can be huge saboteurs of weight loss success if they subscribe to “eat less, exercise more” dogma.
What advice (if any) would you give to someone interested in trying a carbohydrate-restricted or paleo diet? Were there any obstacles that you overcame that could help future dieters?
I feel sorry for people who try to tell themselves that it’s ok to be “big and beautiful”. As a person who has lived both sides (skinny/obese), I remember feeling so miserable during my “fat years”, that there is no way I will ever “buy” the big and happy concept. My advice is, don’t feed yourself ideas that will only serve to keep you in an unhealthy state. You deserve to be slim/normal and be able to engage in any activity you wish, and you certainly have the ability to get there. There is no magic pill or magic weight loss solution. Weight loss is possible but you must make the required dietary sacrifices if you are like me, and insulin sensitivity is not your best friend anymore. This doesn't mean you will starve yourself, but merely make different dietary choices than what you are used to. Do your best to really understand the science behind what makes us fat. That is the part that helped me the most to stick to this way of eating, because I realized there was no good alternative. It was “low carb for health”, or “die early and be miserable meanwhile”. Stop believing that portion control and exercise will solve all problems. I’m the proof that goes against that. Lost 60 pounds without lifting a finger, and I never starved myself intentionally (I had a couple upsetting moments in my life where I did not eat much for a few days, but other than that, I always ate when I got hungry, even if it was late at night). Giving up addicting foods is much like giving up any other habit forming activity like smoking or drinking (of which I did neither, but I still experienced addiction to other things in life). You don’t tell yourself “I’m NEVER eating bread again”. That sort of thinking will make anyone freak out, and immediately go out to buy the whitest, fluffiest bread one can find! Getting rid of an addiction is a process that you engage in every single day you wake up, as you tell yourself, “I will do my best to avoid bread today”. The next day, you allow the person (inside of you) who went without bread for the previous day to ponder on that choice again. With this “one day at a time” approach, it is certainly possible to rid yourself of addictions you never imagined your life without.
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