Growing up, I was the typical 80s child of typically 80s super-busy super-parents. To sum up the diet of my childhood, think sugar cereal, chocolate milk, Oreos and Kraft Dinner. Granola bars and Fruit Roll-ups. McDonalds and Domino's Pizza. Nifty frozen burgers that could be popped into the microwave. Sunday dinner was the exception: chicken or beef with corn, potatoes and peas. Those were the only 'vegetables' my family ate.
At the time, I thought it was great that I had really cool parents who let us have the junkiest junk food. Most of the other kids ate the same stuff. Kids who actually had fruit and vegetables in their lunches were rare and pitied.
The problem is that this isn't sustainable; and the habits are very hard to break.
As a teenager, I worked at a Dairy Queen. Not only did I eat copious amounts of ice cream and hot fudge, but I always had spending money for junk food at school. My morning ritual was Pop Tarts or junk cereal at home, then the cafeteria's hot chocolate chip cookies, right out of the oven. They were always grossly underbaked - just the way we all liked them. Lunch was usually french fries or pizza. The vending machines always beckoned. Dinner varied: sometimes it was remotely healthy; often, it was not.
I was an angry, unhappy, withdrawn teen; and food was my best friend. No amount would satisfy me for long, and even when I was uncomfortably full, I was still compelled to eat. Somehow, I avoided extreme weight gain. I was around 145 lbs throughout high school. Occasional dieting, gym class, walking, and being generally busy somehow kept excess weight off. The genes I had from my dad's side probably helped, too: he and his relatives are all thin. My mom and her side of the family are all heavy.
When I moved away from home to attend university, I discovered what it meant to have control over what's in the kitchen. I also discovered what it meant to be broke. Since I didn't have money to spend on junk food anyway, I made the decision to eat healthy and lose a few pounds. Thus began many years of low-fat, high-carb misery and an eating disorder. My depression never eased and I was perpetually vacillating between self-medicating with food, then self-medicating with starvation. I could never quite get the pendulum to stop swinging.
Complicating the food abuse issue was the fact that I was obviously a carb addict, and when you take away the fat to keep your weight down, you are hungry constantly. It was actually easier for me to starve than it was to try to "moderate". Even when you break down and add fat back in, the blood sugar swings are too high and too low. I spent years obsessed with food. I lived mainly on coffee, fat-free junk food, sugar and beer.
When I was about 23, I starting noticing heart palpitations. At first, they seemed random, but I began noticing a pattern. They tended to happen after eating - but not all the time. Sugar set them off. Pasta set them off. Cereal set them off. Eggs or salad, I could get away with. Hmmm. (Yes, I saw a doctor, and she saw nothing wrong with my heart.)
Anyway, fast forward to January of 2001. I decided to try depo-provera. I had two shots of it with no problems. But the problems started after it was wearing off. I gained a surprising amount of weight in only a few months. I had mood swings and unbearable PMS. Unpredictible constipation and cramping. The heart palpitations after eating got much worse, and happened more often. I had nasty mood swings. I had a pregnancy scare, simply because I started looking and feeling like it. I had a distended abdomen and swollen, blue-veined breasts. Within three months, I was miserable. I surfed depo-provera recovery sites, and I was amazed at how many women had problems like mine. One way many of them dealt with it was a low-carbohydrate diet. This made sense to me, since one of the possible side effects of depo is decreased glucose tolerance. I was skeptical about whether or not a diet change could help, but I was willing to try anything.
I found plenty of information on low-carbing, and the rest is history. At first, I just reduced and eliminated obvious high-carb, high-glycemic foods: sugar, potatoes, and flour products. I experimented with vegetables. After spending some time on the lowcarber.ca forum, I decided to go with the Protein Power plan. I borrowed the book from the library.
Within two months, I had experienced a complete turnaround in my health. Thanks to low-carbing:
I lost all of the 'depo' weight plus a pound or two
My PMS and other depo symptoms are gone
My acne - including cystic acne - has almost disappeared
My low-fat-induced food obsession is gone - I can now eat and be satisfied for hours, and when I DO get hungry, it's not that dizzy, stomach-growling, low-blood-sugar hungry - it's a very mild sensation. My life no longer revolves around the next meal. It's amazing how much time you spend thinking about food without realizing it - I never noticed until it stopped.
Heart palpitations are rare
I have plenty of energy all day, no more afternoon slumps
I sleep like a rock and feel better in the morning
My mild depression is under control - moods are much better
I'm no longer constantly cold the way I was on a low fat diet - no more blue fingernails, no more multiple layers of clothing. I'm comfortable in a T shirt most of the time.
My immune system is far more efficient. Colds used to knock me out for at least a week, and now, they only last a few days, and I still have plenty of energy.
I feel better than I did as a kid!
I've had a couple of a 'relapses'. After 'falling off the wagon' and going carb crazy, I had really bad cycles in which the PMS came back with a vengence, just like it was back in my crappy time after depo. The depo should have worn off by then. It turned out that I had an ovarian cyst. Six weeks later, a repeat ultrasound showed that that cyst disappeared, and now there was one on the *other* ovary. Cysts can be caused by excess insulin. I suppose it's a chicken-or-the-egg kind of situation - I don't know which caused which. I have to wonder whether or not I have PCOS, but I'd rather just stay low-carb and not find out!
Today, I'm still basically on Protein Power. I usually eat anywhere from 25-80 g of carbs per day. 50 is my norm. I go higher if I go out to eat, or lower if I'm just not too hungry.
I am participating in a study conducted by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York. It is sponsored by a grant from the Atkins foundation, and will follow participants through three years of low carbing. If you're interested in participating, click here.
In my adulthood, my weight has ranged from a high of 172 lbs to a low of 112. I'm currently maintaining a healthy 135 on my 5'7" frame. I am finally happy, free from the prison of food obsession, and I enjoy the best food the planet has to offer. I have learned to cook, and to respect my body by giving it what it needs, instead of fighting with myself over whether or not to give it garbage that can only harm it. This is definitely my WOE (way of eating) for life!