The picture above is of me when I weighed 200 lbs. It’s been almost 20 years, so I don’t think about it much anymore. It’s as if somebody else’s was living my life back then. These days, the only time I talk about it is when I start a new client who comes to me for weight loss. I specialize in working with people who have medical issues, so I don’t usually get clients who come to me strictly for weight loss. In January, though, when everybody was thinking about losing weight, I took on one of these clients, and was telling her my history when she said, “Wow, what an interesting story!” Her amazement made me wonder why I had never written about it. I’m sure other clients had said that before, but apparently I wasn’t ready until now.
I started gaining weight when I was 19, about a year after quitting a methamphetamine habit. (that’s another story I might get around to writing some day) By the time I was 30, I was borderline hypertensive and borderline diabetic. I had a bone spur that pinched nerves to my right arm and compressed discs in my lower back. The doctors gave me a list of other diagnoses as well, including chronic fatigue, IBS, severe depression, adrenal fatigue, hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, hormonal imbalance, etc. They convinced me that all these problems were due to my weight, but offered little help in that area.
In the 1980’s, I had tried counting calories and low fat diets, only to steadily gain more weight. I started to believe that I would probably be fat the rest of my life, and couldn’t picture myself as ever being thin again. If it wasn’t for all the health problems, I would have given up then.
To complicate things, the doctors put me on several medications – antidepressants, muscle relaxers, pain medications, anti-inflamatories, etc. – that interfered with my metabolism as well. By the mid 1990’s I was only eating one meal a day and still gaining. One doctor recommended the Fen-phen diet in spite of my history with amphetamines, and another wanted to try shock therapy, which, fortunately, I had the good sense to reject. In disgust, I turned to alternative medicine.
One day, a naturopath recommended a low carb diet like the Atkins diet, so I tried it. After 15 years of struggling, the pounds finally came off, but not the health problems. I was still fatigued, still hypoglycemic, still borderline hypertensive, my periods completely stopped, and I gained some new problems. Because of stomach aches and nausea, I lost my appetite and had to force myself to eat. Now, I was unable to stop the weight from coming off, and family started accusing me of being anorexic. Yes, cutting the carbs caused me to lose 70 lbs in six months, but the high protein, high fat intake had caused my body to become too acidic.
(It was hard to find a picture of how skinny I was during this time. I didn’t take many pictures and usually wore loose fitting clothes to hide it.)
There were several things that I didn’t understand about low carb or ketogenic diets. By depriving myself of carbs, my body turned to its fat stores and then muscle tissue for fuel and produced ketones. This is usually a normal function of metabolism that happens on a small scale throughout the day in a normal diet, but with low carb diets, it creates a condition called acidosis, high acidic levels in the blood stream. This too is considered safe for short periods of time and when the levels are only mildly high, but anything more than that wreaks havoc on the organs. Acidosis leaches minerals from the bones and muscles that then have to be flushed through the kidneys. Since the body doesn’t store protein (it either uses it as fuel or sometimes converts it to glucose), the unused protein creates an excess of protein waste by-products that strain the kidneys and liver. The large consumption of fats strains the liver and gall bladder.
My kidneys, liver, and gall bladder were all affected, but I was able to avoid surgery through alternative treatments. These treatments were not fun. Ask anyone who’s passed 20 or 30 gall stones through a gall bladder cleanse.
Another problem with ketosis (condition of high levels of ketones) is muscle atrophy (muscle loss). It’s normal for everyone who loses weight to lose a little muscle mass, because the body is lighter and the load it has to carry is less. But, sometimes when it’s fat stores are getting low, the metabolism turns to muscles that aren’t used as often for fuel, usually stabilizing muscles used for balance or supporting organs. Many of my organs prolapsed (dropped) after the sudden loss of muscle and surrounding fat that was holding them in place. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to avoid surgery for my bladder.
Also with the muscle atrophy, came more back pain. This was the part that frustrated me the most. I thought for sure that when I lost the weight, my back would get better. Not so. It actually got worse. I was told that the only way to fix the numbness in my right hand was neck surgery. Instead, I went to a chiropractor, who explained to me that he could align my spine for me, but unless I stretched and exercised the muscles supporting it, those weak, tight, and knotted muscles would only pull it out of alignment again.
I had never been interested in lifting weights or working out at a gym. I always preferred playing sports like volley ball or soccer, but with back pain, those sports were out of the question. Then one day, I ran into an old friend from high school, who happened to own a personal training facility. She mentioned, very tactfully, that I looked thin, so I told her my story, and that’s when she admitted that she thought I looked too thin. I agreed. She said she could show me some rehabilitative exercises for my back. This piqued my interest in weight training.
I was a sign painter at the time, and she needed some signs, so I worked out a deal with her. At first the deal was for personal training for my husband, but she said no. It had to be for both me and my husband. Reluctantly, I agreed.
That was a turning point in life for me. It took a few years to rebuild my muscle, because I still wasn’t eating enough carbs to lower my acidity levels and stop the degeneration of muscle tissue. But through research, trial, and error, I learned that I could eat complex carbs and whole grain foods without gaining weight. My new way of eating became a part of my lifestyle. Eventually, I gained about 20 lbs of muscle back, and have been that weight ever since. My weight will only fluctuate between 140 and 145 lbs, but my diet has not stayed static. I’m constantly trying new recipes and different foods, so I don’t get bored. Over the years, my diet and tastes have continued to evolve, and gotten healthier. No more depriving myself, I’ve come to really enjoy the way I eat now. I plan to share more about that in future posts on this blog.
This is a picture of me today. I’ll be 49 this year. I was 29 in that first photo, and 36 in the second. The second picture was taken a year or two after I first started working out.
With diet, exercise, and natural therapies, I have overcome almost all of my health problems. I have all the feeling back in my right hand without surgery, and have come to the conclusion that there are many people out there suffering pain needlessly, because the effectiveness of rehabilitative exercise is so underestimated.
Ultimately, that dear friend of mine convinced me (after much prodding) to work for her as a personal trainer at her gym. Like weight training, it wasn’t something I could see myself doing at first and was reluctant. I don’t have that high energetic, drill sergeant personality that you would imagine a personal trainer would need. I don’t like to push people into doing things they don’t want to do. But because of my firm belief in the benefits of exercise, my personal experience, and my desire to help others see they do have choices and don’t have to suffer, I found my niche, and absolutely love what I do.