My weight has weighed on me more than the physical nature of extra pounds on my skeletal frame. It’s weighed on my emotional well-being, my every waking thought, my fear, my shame, my need to diminish myself as not worthy. It’s affected my relationships, my sex life, my willingness to pursue my dreams. There have been moments when I was disgusted by my body, where I had full panic attacks in dressing rooms and cried uncontrollably, feeling imprisoned by a body I did not want. And yet I kept trying. I exercised, I dieted, I weighed myself daily and felt anger at this body that would not conform to the image I had in my mind of how I “should” look. I have spent almost 40 years on one diet after another.
The reasons for my self-loathing are as innumerable as the “diets” I have tried. We are all fully aware of the imagery of what is “ideal” and how ads scream from the glossy pages of women’s magazines – “you are wrong! you are not good enough! the reason your life sucks is that you are not thin!” We are bombarded with messaging and images that remind us daily how we are failing. At points I gave up, I just let myself go because it all seemed so futile. My top weight ever was about 205. That is a good 60 pounds more than I should weigh for optimal health. But it really didn’t seem to matter what I weighed because there was always someone (my mom, friends, boyfriends, my ex-husband, strangers, and even once my ex-boyfriend’s mom) who were more than willing to tell me that I needed to lose weight. This happened when I weighed 130 pounds and it happened when I weighed 160 pounds but after I got to 200 people just stopped. Honestly, as much as I couldn’t stand to look at myself at that weight, it was a relief to not have people tell me to lose weight. I suppose they thought I was as much of a lost cause as I felt.
As I have gotten older my concern has been not as much for my weight as for my health. Bodies age, they deteriorate, muscles atrophy without use. As you age, being overweight becomes more of a health risk. So I went on a pretty drastic diet about four years ago and I lost close to 50 pounds. It is the only diet I have ever been on that was successful. The diet was invented by my Dad. He’s been studying and experimenting on himself for decades now. He’s read every book you can imagine and tried every diet out there. The bottom line is that eating a low-calorie diet is the best way to lose weight. The problem? There are eleventy-million different people with “advice” on what low-calorie diet really means. And they are evangelicals, true believers whose religion has one belief system that cannot be challenged. Low-calorie can range from 1,800 to 500 calories per day. Trust me you are eating far more than 1,800 calories per day. If you track your food, you will find out that you are eating far more than you need and your diet is definitely not “balanced”. Losing weight is hard, gaining weight is easy. Not eating is easy, stopping eating is hard.
I noticed the scale was going in the wrong direction about a year ago and it was creeping ever so slightly up day by day. I had become a vegetarian, which I assumed would help me to decrease my weight but that is not what was happening. In fact, not only was I not losing weight, I was gaining weight and I didn’t feel good. I began having gastric distress. I felt uncomfortable and (sorry if this is gross) began seeing that my food was actually not digesting as I found whole pieces of food when I would go to the bathroom. After a year I decided to go see a gastroenterologist. I am very choosy about what doctor I see as I don’t want someone who is going to put me on medications so I did a lot of research and found a doctor who I felt was going to really listen to me. Dr. Varon spent over an hour on my first visit with him taking in my entire history starting with my birth. I brought him a test that I had taken through a service called UBiome (if you are having gastro issues, I highly recommend this service). He confirmed everything the test had provided – namely that I don’t have many good bacteria in my digestive tract. After an abdominal ultrasound, colonoscopy, endoscopy and blood tests, the results are clear. I have the following conditions (although I appear very healthy): fatty liver (non-alcoholic), low amounts of good bacteria, leaky gut, and gastroparesis (aka lazy stomach).
The most important thing of note in those findings is that gastroparesis is a condition where your stomach just doesn’t digest food normally. Which is a big problem because food just sits in my stomach either slowly draining or draining all at once. It’s as if I had gastric bypass. My stomach can only handle very small amounts of food and most significantly it cannot process FIBER or FAT well. Now, why is this significant? Because all of the things I have read about, every diet I have been on, in fact, emphasizes INCREASING your fiber intake. In fact, every other doctor I have seen has (without examination) told me to lose weight (even when I was 50 pounds thinner) and to increase my fiber. The exact opposite of what I should be doing. Everything that I eat (either because I think it’s good for me or I like it) is basically persona non grata now. Avocados, nuts, lettuce, brussel sprouts, green beans, legumes, beans, whole wheat anything, brown rice, etc., etc.) is off limits because my stomach cannot digest it properly. My meals need to be under 8 oz and 1 gram of fiber or less, plus low-fat. MIND BLOWN.
My reaction to this news was mixed. Relief that I am not crazy and that losing weight for me is VERY hard, and anger at every person who has told me that their “diet” is going to work for me and every doctor who told me to increase my fiber. Our insistence on focusing on how someone looks rather than understanding their health is creating obesity not combating it. Everything that you are told not to eat on a diet: white bread, white rice, potatoes, pasta…those are the only things I can digest. This life of dieting led to auto-immune issues and has made me sicker than I ever would have been had I just listened to my body and sought help earlier.
I’m writing this in hopes that if you are like me and have faced similar issues that you take the time to do some research on good doctors who have a track record of helping people get well. Look for functional doctors who will look at your lab work in detail and not just accept the “normal range” for test results. I highly recommend Dr. Bradley Kobsar as a functional doctor (he has patients all over the country and will work with you over the phone). Don’t be embarrassed to talk to them about gastrointestinal problems or other issues of that nature. Don’t let them shame you about your weight when there may be an underlying cause that needs to be addressed. This is not about fitting an image, it’s about making sure this body you are in is healthy and can sustain you for a long life.
If you really know and understand your own body, you can make better decisions. For me, I will be needing to change my entire lifestyle when it comes to food. I have to eat very small meals several times per day, increase my protein (no red meat) and monitor my fiber intake. My intake of calories on a daily basis will be much lower than I was normally eating. I don’t mind making these changes if it means I will feel better. The change in my eating habits has already made a big difference but I have a long way to go to truly heal.
Don’t believe the hype. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that one-size fits all. DO NOT randomly go on the new diet trend just because of overblown promises. Your health is too important. What do you have, if you don’t have your health? Work with a functional doctor, seek a medical doctor if necessary (but be choosy). Will you lose weight on the latest fad? Yes, you will. Will you also gain it back and then some if you don’t have someone to help you monitor what really works for your body? Yes, you will.
Most important – love yourself enough to find the answers. It may be much simpler for you than it was for me or it may be more complicated. Either way, I urge you to put your health first. Don’t wait 40 years to figure out what your body needs. You won’t regret it.