Getting Healthy

ShaunaChicagoPPDLike many people who struggle with weight, I’ve lost weight and gained weight and lost it again. However, in the past years, particularly the last year, I think I’ve learned some things that could possibly help others.

So, I’ve lost 100 pounds over the past year and a half. I have 20-30 more to go before I’m where I want to be, but I’m generally pretty happy where I’m at. I feel healthier, I have less body pain, less exhaustion, less depression, my skin is clearer. I can attribute some of the positive health benefits to the weight loss, but I can attribute more of them to eating the foods that are right for my body, and avoiding the foods that are bad for me.

And let’s face it; eliminating foods from our diet is a pain. It’s difficult as hell to do in our culture. It took me 7 years to get rid of gluten, even though I knew it was causing many of my depression symptoms.

Think about that for a moment. I knew I was poisoning myself, but it took me 7 years to make the change. Food is a tough habit to break.

But I get ahead of myself. First, some background, then, what I did to get healthy.

I’ve always been the fat kid. Never could lose weight to save my life no matter how many diets my mom and I were on. At age 13, I was about 200 pounds. Granted, I was also 5’9, but in a school full of skinny girls where you and one other girl are the fat ones, let’s just say that doesn’t lead to the best self esteem. I learned to fear the scale, fear the numbers.

I would guess that in High School I was 230, 240 pounds, based on pictures. I felt like a blimp. My first year of college I miraculously lost weight; no idea how much, because I feared that scale, but my skin improved. In retrospect, I see that I was walking on campus a lot, plus I was eating a lot more salads because I had access to them through the food services. I lost more weight that summer working at Walmart unloading semi’s. I probably was down to 220, maybe 210, based on my memory of what pants were fitting me, but I still felt like a fatass. No guys my own age would date me or flirt with me. The guys I had a crush on never looked at me “like that” so I still really loathed myself.

Then I met some guys who were attracted to me; mostly they were guys who were way bigger than me. I married one of them, and he was a really sweet man, though ultimately he and I were better friends than spouses. He liked to caretake and cook for me. When it was my turn to cook, I ordered takeout. I swiftly began to gain weight. By my mid 20’s, I had to have weighed 340 or so pounds. Keeping in mind that I have the bone structure of an amazon, so I can carry rather a lot of weight and it’s not obvious that I’m quite that heavy, but even so, at that weight I felt huge, and miserable.

Eating on my own, I tended to live off of poptarts, cinnamon toast crunch, and cheese ravioli. I considered myself a “sort of” vegetarian. Also in my early 20’s, I went off of the antibiotics I’d been on for 6-7 years for my acne. After getting very sick from that, my immune system started to recover. Then I did an acne medication called Accutane. This had all sorts of side effects, and ultimately, did not cure my acne.

As I gained weight, I started to get severe symptoms of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS); it runs in the family, my mom has it too. Symptoms that I faced were my periods coming less and less frequently, plus facial hair.

Also in my early 20’s, I started to get migraines more and more frequently.

At some point in there, I quit drinking soda for the first time. I also started taking a class on stress management; I had no intention of reducing my stress, I just wanted the easy science credits. But our hippy-dippy teacher talked about food impacting us, and asked a pertinent question. “How do you feel, and what foods have you been eating? Can you track what foods you eat and what impact they have on you?”

A question no Gemini could resist 🙂

So, I began to track when my skin broke out, and when I got migraines; usually late Sunday night/Monday and Tuesday. So I backtracked; over the weekend, I would live off of Cinnamon Toast Crunch or some other sugary cereal. By late on Sunday, my skin felt gross and I was miserable.

I cut dairy out of my life for a while, and that was a revelation. This was late 2003 so I was 25 at the time. My skin cleared up a lot, my migraines reduced.

Shortly after that, though, I discovered a lump in my breast. Ultimately that ended up being benign, however, it got me to the doctor for the first time in years, and my doctor and I talked about the PCOS. She asked if I had a history of thyroid problems. I said, “What’s a thyroid?”

Soon I was on thyroid meds, as my thyroid (crucial for metabolism) doesn’t create the hormones it’s supposed to. My doctor also asked me to talk to her nutritionist so that I could begin to lose weight, as she said that would resolve the problems with the PCOS. She talked about how PCOS is tied to some kind of insulin resistance, and that losing weight should reduce the symptoms.

I couldn’t afford her recommendation to go to the nutritionist once a week at $50 a pop, but I went once and said, “If you teach me, I’ll learn.” I talked about what I ate. She nodded, and said, “You can’t eat any of that.” Based on my body type and where I carry fat (around the middle) and what I was eating, I needed to be eating low carb. She said I could eat as much meat and vegetables as I wanted, some fruit, and keep the carbs (breads) to under 45 grams a day.

Somewhere in the next month I had a total emotional meltdown around, “What can I eat?” At that time, I was still trying to be a vegetarian. I also was struggling with my husband who was cooking huge portion sizes and carb-laden foods. I think that if it hadn’t been for the PCOS symptoms clearing up within a month of losing weight, I might not have stuck with it.

Eventually, I just started making all my own meals. Given that I don’t cook, and at the time I had disposable income, I lived for the better part of a year off of Morningstar Chicken Nuggets, plus vegetables/salad. Between that and the thyroid meds, and not drinking soda, I lost about a hundred pounds.

My skin almost completely cleared up for a year, but then when I moved to Diana’s Grove, I started to break out in acne again. I lost another 30 or so pounds when I moved to Diana’s Grove mostly due to physical labor.

Here’s where things get interesting; at first I lost the weight through shifting my diet, but then at Diana’s Grove, I was eating all sorts of carbs all the time. I was limiting my dairy intake to sprinkles of cheese, yogurt, and things cooked in butter. As my skin got worse, I kept trying to cut things out of my diet, particularly dairy, to see if that was what was causing it. It never occurred to me to cut back on the gluten/bread.

When I moved away from Diana’s Grove to St. Louis, I weighed 190 pounds, the lightest I’d ever been as an adult. I still had curves, tummy and thigh flab, but I felt really good, except for the bad skin and the migraines. Well, and the depression; about a year before I moved to Diana’s Grove I had started having major depression symptoms. That eased off, but became this kind of persistent malaise over the next years.

Once in St. Louis, I was not as physically active. I slowly started to gain weight back. I started eating a lot of fast food and soda, in large part because my boyfriend at the time did. Somewhere in there I remember being so tired, exhausted, so much brain fog, and hating it about myself, hating my brain. I remember reading something online about how Celiac disease (intolerance to gluten and dairy) is often diagnosed through the depression symptoms. I started trying to reduce gluten from my diet for the first time, but I could never keep it up for more than a few days. My boyfriend was not very supportive of my desire to change my diet; for that matter, we were broke and living off of ramen, pbj, and spaghetti a lot of the time. Gluten, gluten, more gluten.

In 2008, I was back up to 230 pounds I’d guess. After the breakup with that boyfriend I was able to get back to some healthy eating, but I was still eating a lot of gluten because I was broke. But I was doing ok keeping stable, maybe even losing weight, until I moved in with my boyfriend in Chicago.

Now, I’m not going to blame my food choices on the men I’ve been with, but what I can say is that when your partner is not supportive of your eating choices, or even unintentionally sabotages you by bringing you treats when you ask them not to…it’s really hard to lose weight, to make a healthy change in your diet.

Over the last years, I’ve asked several men to just not bring that kind of food into the house; cookies, breads, things that I will go for if I’m carb craving. It’s hard to explain carb craving to someone who doesn’t experience it, but, if the food is there, *even if I don’t like it,* I’ll eventually go and eat it. I’ll eat past the point where I’m full just so that the food is gone. There is no “Having a little ice cream” for a treat, or “just a bite of cookie dough.” I’ll eat the whole thing. For me, the only solution is to not have it in the house.

Somewhere in there I started taking vitamin supplements, B and D. That began to ease some of the depression symptoms; over the course of 3 months or so, I’d say my depression was lightened by 25-30%. Apparently I was hugely B and D deficient.

During breakup #1 with that particular ex boyfriend, I was up to 280 pounds again. I swiftly lost weight and got back down to 240, and I had just gotten through 3 months of gluten-free when he and I got back together again. Once again, I no longer had a scale to weigh myself, because I still have that fear of the scale. More and more as he and I traveled, we’d live off of fast food on the road. And then, when we got home, too. I started eating a lot of gluten, and a lot of dairy too. I was back on soda.

When breakup #2 (final breakup) happened December of last year, I was about 310 pounds. I had been having terrible joint pain in my knees, plus a lot of back pain and foot pain; when I finished facilitating a ritual my feet would be in agony. I was also having pre-diabetic symptoms, particularly problems with insulin. Any time I ate anything, I’d get hungrier. (Insulin is what makes your stomach growl and tell you you’re hungry).

I think just from eliminating soda and fast food I lost 20 pounds that first month.

Over the next months, I eliminated aspartame. Ie, anything that said “sugar free.” I’d read that aspartame can screw up your metabolism and is worse than sugar. I also started taking cinnamon pills, as I’d heard that could reduce sugar cravings and it sure seemed to. I slowly reduced my dairy and gluten. I was living on food stamps, so I was trying to find ways to eat that I could handle (ie, I don’t really cook) but have it be affordable. For several months I lived off what I called jokingly the “Microwave Burrito Diet.” The packs of beef and bean burritoes were cheap, and they had gluten, but a lot less than other foods. Over the months, I kept losing weight, and kept reducing the quantity of how many burritoes I ate in a day/at a time. I eliminated all dairy. I got back on my thyroid meds.

This summer, I got rid of the burritoes, and eliminated all gluten from my diet. I slowly eliminated almost all processed foods. As I hit weight loss plateaus, I further limited my portion sizes of food.

So now I’m gluten/wheat free, dairy/casein free, aspartame free, MSG  free, High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) free…pretty much, processed anything free, with a few exceptions.

People ask me, “Uh, what do you eat?”

Here’s a run down on a usual day. I get up, take my thyroid meds (50 mcg, which is a lower dose than I was on in my 20’s). I cook 4 eggs in olive oil with salt and pepper. Usually I have a banana and an orange after the eggs; the sugar signals the brain that the meal is done. Plus, after decades of drinking soda, food just doesn’t taste right to me without a chaser of sweet. I don’t suppose I’ll ever get over that programming.

I eat an apple, sometimes carrots, for a snack. Sometimes I eat 2 more meals in the day, usually just one. Instead of eating a cheeseburger, I’ll eat what I jokingly call Burger Salad, which is a large portion of red meat, and then dark green spinach/lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and dressing. I want to find a less sugary dressing, though I at least get dressing with sugar vs. HFCS. If I eat another meal, it’s usually something like a few bites of tuna salad, or lunch meat. After I eat any meat or veggies, I’ll usually eat a small orange or other fruit.

Every once in a while I’ll have a day where I eat more food than that. Or, other days where I eat less than that. I try to drink a lot of water, but I don’t think I drink enough yet.

And, every day I weigh myself. I’ve gotten to be friends with the scale. I had to learn what food was doing to me. I had to become very intimately connected to my own body and weight. I had to learn how food worked for me. Here’s how my work with the scale paid off.

I learned that sometimes when I thought, “Oh, that food’s just the same as the other,” it wasn’t. What I eat is just as crucial as how much. Sometimes, eating less than a thousand calories a day, I was *gaining* weight, because the food was something like stew. Or there was food that I realized was easier to eat too large a portion size, like eating chili. Or, when I don’t eat salads every day, my weight loss will plateau and my digestive system will give me grief.

I learned that, when I screw up and eat something bad-for-me, like a sub sandwich, a single fast food outing will blow away 5 weeks of work. One sub sandwich and I can gain 3-5 pounds. Given that for the past months I’ve been averaging losing about a pound a week, which is what’s generally safe to do, one sub sandwich costs me a month of good eating.

Which isn’t to say that I won’t blow it again; every once in a while, I’m going to allow myself to eat something that I love, but that I can’t eat all the time.

When I tell folks about my health changes, people love to tell me what I “should” be doing, or what I’m doing wrong. They like to tell me that I should be eating in more moderation. “You can have carbs,” they say. “Just balance it in your life.” Obviously they have never experienced carb/sugar addiction or compulsive eating. It’s like telling an alcoholic, “One drink every now and again won’t kill you.” When I eat carby/sugary food, I am craving that kind of food for days, a week.

The only treat that I really allow myself is Bolthouse chai protein drinks; when I’m pheening for ice cream, I drink one of those. It’s sugary, but at least it’s got protein and vitamins.

People like to tell me that I’m starving myself. I try to explain that we each have different metabolisms. That my metabolism requires very little input. I require more food when I’m more physically active. But telling me I’m starving myself is like telling my former roommate that he’s overeating because he needs to eat 3500 calories a day just to maintain a weight of 100 pounds. We are all different.

It’s also what I eat that matters; I *have* starved myself on less than 1000 calories a day of bread/gluten products, *and still gained weight.*

What works for me is a combination of the Type O diet and the paleo diet. I can eat eggs, trail mix, green veggies, fruits. Red meats work best for me; I find that I am sated when I eat them. Pork also can work, chicken tends to leave me wanting.

I try to balance my ecological sustainability mindset with what I need to feel physically good, so I keep my red meat portion sizes down as far as I can.

My goals for the future are to move towards eating meat that comes from grass fed/no hormone/ethically treated animals, when I can afford that, and ensuring that the food I eat is organic/non GMO. I hope to join a CSA (community supported agriculture) and eventually be part of growing my own food. Right now, I eat what I have access to and what I can afford.

Also in the past years I’ve worked to eliminate plastic from m life, particularly around eating or drinking from plastic. All my water is tap water that I fill my reusable aluminum bottle with, so I’d like to get a really good filter for my tapwater. I don’t eat off of anything plastic unless there are no other options, and as I move forward, I plan to eliminate any plastic or styrofoam from touching any of the food or water I ingest.

So there you have it; my work to get healthy over several years. Right now I’ve lost all this weight primarily through shifting my diet, and the next phase is to work in physical exercise to build more muscle. I’m already strong like a bull, but I want to be a kickass amazon.

Not all of this will work for you. My friend in Chicago works the best on a Vegan diet, for instance. People need different amounts of calories. For some people, it’s the combination of foods.

I can say that eliminating aspartame, HCFS, and preservatives/processed food from your diet is always a good thing.

I’ll also note that going gluten free takes about 3 months to get detoxed from it where you can get the health benefits, so it’s kind of a big commitment. But, having done it, I can’t even imagine why it took me so many years to do it; once the gluten was out of my system, it was like I didn’t even want those foods any more, with few exceptions.

I’m happy to answer (respectful) questions. Best of luck to you in your own process of being as healthy as you can!

My body, and your body, is a living temple of love 🙂


2 thoughts on “Getting Healthy

  1. Pingback: Fat Activism, Food Activism, and Health | Pagan Activist

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