Over the winter and this spring, I'd been having trouble with swelling and bloating. Bad trouble. Sometimes to the tune of 10 lbs of weight gain in a few days. A couple of times even more. (It's hard to say for sure since I have since learned that my scale at the time was not working properly.) But whatever the actual amount, my clothes wouldn't fit. My wedding ring dug into my skin. I was short of breath. Full of brain fog. Tired. Crabby. Panicky and stressed.
I was sick as a dog last December, too. Dizzy often. Tired. Crabby. Weak. A couple times, I nearly blacked out. Bloated. I even went into the doctor, who ran a bunch of metabolic tests, which all revealed... nothing.
After returning from a trip to visit a friend in mid-March, I felt all of this, and worse. I thought I had perhaps gotten glutened while traveling, although I had been with a friend who kindly makes all sorts of accomdations for my gluten allergy. Since I felt so awful, since this was happening all too frequently and I did not really know why, Mad Musician told me to start keeping a food journal. We thought perhaps there was some place I was getting gluten but didn't realize it.
So I started writing stuff down.
And the culprit was any food or meal that had more than about 20g of carbohydrate in it. And it didn't matter if it was "good carbs" or "bad carbs." Or whether it was gluten free or not. Rice pasta made me sick. Ice cream made me sick. Expensive gluten free bread made me sick. Juice made me sick. Corn tortillas made me sick. I would feel sluggish (and when I say sluggish, I don't mean "It's only 3pm, when is the work day going to end already?!" sluggish. I mean, "drugged with double doses of codeine, then woken at 2am and asked to operate heavy machinery" sluggish). I couldn't concentrate. It took physical effort to hold a thought in my head for the time it took me to walk the clean laundry from the basement up to the bedroom. I felt awful.
On March 28th, Maundy Thursday 2013, I stopped eating sweets. On Easter, I put back the glass of orange juice I had put on my tray at the Easter Breakfast at church. I stopped cold turkey. I suspected that for whatever reason, my body simply does not process sugar or large influxes of carbohydrate correctly. Knowing the long history of addictive behavior in my extended family (my maternal grandfather was an alcoholic), I knew that limiting sweets wasn't going to work. "I'll just have a half a piece of pie" is not in my DNA. I had to quit entirely. So I did.
The worst of the bloating stopped, but not all of it. And I did not lose any weight.
Yes, that's right. I cut out all sweets and lost no weight, other than the crazy bloating went away.
A month later, on April 25th, I started a slightly modified version (note 1) of Atkins Induction.
And I started to lose actual weight immediately. For the first time in my life. And I started to feel better, dramatically better.
I don't know exactly what weight I started at, because my scale was wonky. But making a guess based on about how far it was off, what I weighed then, and knowing what I weigh today, I figure I've lost about twenty pounds so far. My goal weight is 25 lbs higher than the weight I was when I got pregnant with my daughter. It is now 21 pounds away. (See note 2)
Lots of things happened that I did not expect.
I didn't expect to lose much weight at all. I looked at Atkin's methods because I needed to learn how to eat and live on very little carbohydrate, because it was clear that what government minders think is a "healthy" amount of carbohydrate (even the American Diabetes Association!) was making me sick. I didn't set a goal weight when I started; I only ended up picking one after several weeks so that I would know when I had reached a point where I could move off of induction and onto the next phase of Atkins.
I knew that most of the claims against Atkins are unfounded, from other reading and research I'd done in the past few years. I was no longer afraid of eggs or of Saturated! Fat! (dum, dum, duuuum) And I knew that the Atkins diet isn't NO carbs, but is LOW carbs, and that the bulk of those carbs you do eat come from healthy, yummy vegetables.
I did not expect to lose weight because nothing has ever worked for me for weight loss. Not dieting. Not watching calories. Not watching fat. Not dropping sweets. Not exercise. Not Lenten fasting. Not three years of going to Curves. Nothing. But I am losing weight.
I didn't expect that the entire nature of what "I'm hungry" means would change, once my body was "off of carbs." I no longer have that "OMGWTFBBQ I have to eat now or the world is going to end!!!1!1" feeling. Ever. When I'm hungry, which is rare, it's a "Oh, right, it's been a few hours, I should probably go eat a little something in a few minutes." I only rarely over-eat, and when I do, like this morning, it's because I've decided to pig out a little. And I can pig out a little, because the urge to do so is quite rare, which brings me to...
I didn't expect my urges to eat emotionally to change so dramatically. Too much carbohydrate in my system increases my anxiety and worry, messes up my stress tolerance, and make me feel tired more often, all the things that often trigger emotional eating. (see note 3)
I didn't expect to feel stronger, but I do. I can lift more. I can do more stairs.
I didn't expect it to be as easy to do as it has been. It hasn't been a piece of cake. (HA HA HA) And sitting there with a diet coke while your family eats ice cream kind of sucks, no way around it. But I feel so blasted good most of the time that I almost don't care. And every week, it gets easier. Every time I say "no" to something I shouldn't eat, I get stronger and it's a little easier to say "no" the next time. But it has been, in no way, as miserable as I might have expected if you'd asked me a year ago what being on Atkins might be like.
I didn't expect to be able to stick with it. But I have. It's been forty days, or nearly seven weeks, that I've been eating this way. I will never go back to eating the way I used to. I will eventually slowly add back high fiber fruits, nuts, and a few other foods, but never again will I eat regular desserts, nor will I ever again eat meals that are based off a carbohydrate. I will be eating essentially this way for life. And I'm ok with that, even if sometimes I still miss sweets.
In a day or two I can write up some tips, tricks, and games I played with myself to get started in the first week weeks.
Note 1: I made some small changes in the recommendations, for my sanity. To wit, I decided I was not going to count grams of carbohydrate specifically, but instead learn about foods in general, and get used to eating meals that were high in green veggies and protein and generally low in carbohydrate. I shoot for 5 grams of carbohydrate per meal, roughly, but don't haul out a calculator.
Note 2: having watched many other women embark on weight loss adventures, I have to say that most seem to me to have insanely unrealistic goals. To me, it's completely ridiculous that, say, a 47 year old woman who has had four children should shoot for the weight she was when she was 26 and first married. A certain amount of body fat is critical for hormonal balance, and this is doubly true as one approaches the menopause years. Also, you'll look older than you are if you go back to the weight you were 30 years go; a certain amount of body fat smooths wrinkles and softens features, which is beneficial if you're A Woman of A Certain Age! All of that to explain why I'm being conservative when setting a goal weight.
Note 3: I had to do some work on myself here. For the times that I _did_ feel the urge to emotionally eat, I needed to find substitutes to fill that need. But I think I'll write up a tips and tricks post to follow up this post where I'll include some of the things I did for this and as I was first working on turning down sweets.
Several weeks ago, I had a food reaction that lasted three days. For three days, I felt like I'd been hit with a brick. Or like someone had drugged me with Benedryl.
It was awful. I couldn't think. I could barely drag myself through each day. I couldn't put sentences together.
The night before my reaction started, I'd had my gluten-free pancakes for supper. Later that evening, MM and I had had a beer together. I'd had a Leinie's Classic Amber.
I haven't had either since. I'm too scared to! (The reaction I had was that bad.)
I decided to try giving up (most) carbohydrates to see if perhaps that was part of the problem. I figured that it may have been a gluten reaction to the beer, but I didn't have the aches and the skin reactions that I often get when I've been glutened. Since I have thought for a while that I need to give up (most) carbohydrates if only because of a family history of diabetes, I thought this was a good excuse to give it a try.
I did not go on a "diet." I did not count "carbs." I did not read any books. I didn't purge every carbohydrate from my life. I did not give up the occasional beer (although I have stuck to dark ales, ones that have had the ingredients roasted before brewing, just in case. No more pilsners or regular lagers for me.)
I stopped eating desserts, for the most part. But not completely.
It's been easier than I would have thought. The first three days were hard. I had extra snacky things on hand, cheese and nuts, to help. The way to do this is by snowballing the time period you're sugarless. First, "I'm going to go half a day." Then, "I did it for half a day, bet I can go a full day." Then, "I've got one full day under my belt, why mess up a good streak? Bet I can do two days." By the time you get past the third day, you're feeling so much better, it's easier to just keep on going.
I eat a big salad most days, one that is very protien heavy, with eggs or cottage cheese on it. I don't worry about supper; if it has rice, I eat rice, but try to just take a little less than I normally would.
I don't count calories. I don't count fat. At all. A few times I've checked a day's food with a food logging program online, and I have eaten levels of fats that would make government minders chase me down and send me to food reeducation camps.
I've made a concious effort to seek out enjoyable foods that aren't deserts. Cheese is my new "treat myself" food, for example.
After a week "off sugar," you'll find you're craving it a bit less. After two weeks off, you'll have something you used to eat all the time and you'll be surprised to discover that you can't taste it - all you can taste is the sugar. You'll eat it, you'll feel like (sorry) crap, and you'll decide that it's really not worth feeling like garbage for half a day afterwards.
Sometimes you'll decide that the dessert *is* worth it: a finely made cheesecake at a fancy bakery, an exquisite cupcake at a friend's baby shower, ice cream on Mother's Day. And you'll enjoy it all the more because you don't have such things frequently anymore.
Like some have described rediscovering flavors of food when quitting smoking, you'll discover just how naturally sweet all sorts of foods are. Whole milk, for example. There's a world of flavor out there, waiting to be discovered underneath the usual blanket of way-too-much-sugar we usually give things.
In the next few days, my raspberries will be coming into season. When I go grocery shopping tonight, I will be buying heavy cream for them. I'll be buying un-sweetened yogurt for them. I may even splurge and buy marscapone cheese for them. I will probably make one gluten-free tart or cobbler with them, but I'll halve the amount of sugar the recipe calls for. I'm looking forward to my raspberries. My mouth is watering just thinking of it.
Since I gave up (most) carbohydrate, I have, for the first time in my adult life, begun to lose weight and continued to do so past the first week of a dietary change. This despite my approach to fats as noted above. This despite my occasional beer or occasional rice consumption or occasional, carefully chose "dessert event."
It's not about fat. It's not even about calorie consumption. It's not about exercise (although that's definitely good for you anyway!) It's about the carbohydrates. What our grandmothers knew is true: Sugar and starches make you fat, not good, wholesome food.
I completely forgot about making a birthday cake for Sparkle Kitty until the morning before her birthday. Thankfully, I had already been planning to go grocery shopping that day, and was able to pick up what I needed for frosting and the cake. (I use Bob's Red Mill's vanilla gluten free cake mix for the few times per year I need to make a cake. I do very little baking overall, and the mix comes out quite nicely textured and isn't too terribly expensive.)
I baked it on her birthday, cooled it in the fridge, and then decorated it after supper, copying the image by eyeballing it off the cover of one of her Sonic comic books. My filler stars are huge, my "black" frosting is really brown, and my base layer of frosting is anything but smooth, but hey, Sparkle Kitty was absolutely thrilled with the result. Yay!
(I don't like writing "personal" posts on my blog, especially health-related ones -- really, who wants to read about someone's acne? -- but family and friends may be interested and it may help someone else. I'll avoid any really disgusting details. Promise.)
I've long thought that I may be hypoglycemic, and not able to process carbohydrates well. Sometimes it seemed white (sugar, refined wheat, etc) carbohydrates didn't bother me at all. Other times, I'd be quite sick, nauseous, weak, confused, and flushed from eating a high carb meal. And down. Depressed, obsessed over little annoyances. Indecisive. Sometimes, quite panicky and irrational. Sometimes whole grains seemed to trigger the same reaction. And there was the weight gain thing.People didn't believe me when I said that I could gain 8 pounds over a day or two. "It's just water," they'd say. If it was "just water," how come it always took weeks of careful eating to budge the weight, if I was able to even make a dent in it at all? (Only to be surprised by it again a few days or weeks later.) Eight pounds? in a weekend? That is some serious binge eating, something I have honestly never done. Sure, you can gain weight from eating pizza -- but one night's dinner at Pizza Hut causing an 8 pound weight gain? I don't think so.
Early last August, I got a rice cooker from my mom. I've wanted one for a long time; I like rice, and it's cheap. Having a rice cooker made it easy to do a trial run of a gluten-free diet.
I can't remember exactly how I came to think that wheat might be the culprit. Perhaps it was hearing that gluten intolerance can cause deep joint pain. At the time I was, several times per week, having nights where I was waking many times overnight due to hip pain. On a bad night, I couldn't tolerate more than 30 minutes in one position. Ibuprofen didn't help. Special pillows didn't help. I felt like a 90 year old lady. Getting out of bed in the morning was painful.
One day while grocery shopping back in August, the same week I got the rice cooker, on a whim, I bought a mix for gluten-free chocolate chip cookies. I baked them the next day (boy, the dough smelled bad!) and ate nearly all of them for my lunch. The cookies tasted much better than the dough smelled.
Nothing. No sugar reaction. No wooziness. No flushed face, like I'd taken a swig of whiskey.
I cooked rice the next day. Ate a humongous amount of it. Felt full, but not sick. No "carb reaction." None.
And no weirdo guerrilla weight gain, either.
After that, I was wheat-free until early October. Well, I was free of overt wheat; I found that a tiny amount caused no trouble, such as the cross-contamination in American oatmeal, or the amount used to thicken a soup.
My struggles with bouts of depression lessened significantly (although I remain a person prone to down days and blue moods. That is, however, quite a different animal than the black hole of depression.) After a few weeks, I realized I couldn't remember the last time hip pain had woken me up at night.
Several other minor symptoms disappeared, things I hadn't realized had been bothering me until they weren't anymore. Spatial and clutter sensitivity. Sensitivity to clothing being too tight, too loose or sitting wrong on my body. My cold tolerance improved. My mild adult acne cleared up.
I dropped nearly 10 pounds. It was great! I was eating less, because of feeling better emotionally, but I was actually hungry a lot less, too.
And then came a three-day retreat, with FAIL on the agenda. I got lazy. I ate lasagna. I ate cookies. I ate tortillas on the road during my trip there and my trip back. Over the three days, I gained back all the weight I'd lost. And started crying at the drop of a hat again.
Fast forward through three months of varying degrees of success staying off of wheat. Then came Christmas. I did pretty well at first, but as we got into the depths of the holiday season, I got lazier and lazier about watching what wheat I put in my mouth. I gradually started to feel nastier and nastier.
So now it's time to start all over again. It's an awful lot harder quitting the second time around, but each day of the last three days I've eaten less wheat than the day before. Today, it was one fortune cookie.
I'm really feeling good.
Who knows if I'm "diagnosable" with any sort of syndrome or allergy? Really, who cares? All I know is I feel normal when I'm off of wheat. I can handle life, to the extent that any of us can. I hurt a lot less. I feel healthier. Off wheat, I have at least a standing chance that when I eat well and healthfully I'll drop weight instead of being blindsided with oddball weight gains. But when I'm "on wheat," I feel 20 years older than I am and I don't like myself very much at all. And I cry alot more.
Pass the rice.
I'm starting to wonder if I'm gradually developing a sensitivity to wheat. I end up feeling so rotten anytime I have more than 3 or 4 servings a day.
Some days I feel like the effects are annoying enough that it's easier to be really hungry than to to eat a sandwich for lunch and have a "carb coma" all afternoon.
And yeah, I'm eating "good" bread - not white bread! I'm skipping the jelly (even homemade!) and using natural peanut butter. When we have pasta, it's whole-grain. Ditto for tortillas. We don't eat very much white carbohydrate around here at all.
Today I skipped breakfast (Bad girl!) and had my breakfast for lunch - a bowl of plain yogurt with Susan's Granola. I feel pretty good, physically and mentally, but I'm stark raving HUNGRY. Really, really hungry, but not depressed, sleepy or anxious.
Can't have your cake and eat it, too, I guess. Or in my case, can't have my cake, period. Christmas is going to be hard this year: sweets and the insanity that goes along with them, or no sweets and the lonely depravity of being a party-pooper, desperately clutching my cup of coffee to keep my hands away from the chocolate-covered peanut butter balls.
Bring on the sausage balls and cheese plate. Please?