Thursday, 15 August 2013

A letter to my teenage self

Tonight I opened a couple of very old diaries, and found myself reading the words of my 10, 12 and 14 year old self. And there, mixed within the naivete and childhood chatter of what I'd done that day, who my friends were and what we'd had for dinner, were a couple of themes which have stayed with me throughout my life, namely food and love. So this is my letter back to me.

My darling girl,

This is me, reaching back over the years to share my thoughts and feelings after reading your diaries. 

I love that at age ten you were so excited to win a colouring contest, and still remember the t-shirt you won. Seeing the way your writing changed as you grew older, the flourishes you started to use when signing your name, the snippets of French as you started doing that at school. The joy and the wonder was beautiful to read.

But I was so sad to see your words at age 12, that said how much you wanted a boyfriend, but couldn't get one because you were fat. To see the weight charts creep into your diary, particularly when you really weren't fat at all. 

Then the obsession over that one boy when you were 14. The way your day was made better or worse by whether you saw him on the bus, and whether he (joy! bliss!) sat next to you.

The ups and downs with friends, learning how to navigate the waters of relationships across both sexes.

My heart ached to realise how early it started... the looking to outside to validate the inside. I was honestly shocked and more than a little saddened to read your words and feel your pain, even if it was couched in as positive a way as your little heart could make it.

If I could talk to you now I'd ask you to spend less time worrying whether that boy liked you, and consider whether you liked yourself. To ignore the little voice that said "you're fat" and choose instead to cherish and nurture your growing body. To learn to marvel and appreciate the way that doors were opening in your life, and see the bright and shiny future ahead of you.

And here I am, thirty years on, and still struggling with these very same issues. So this is really a letter to me, here and now as well.

My heart is aching a little tonight, and my mind is still turning over my childhood words. I know I've blanked out much of my childhood, so reading my own words was more than a trip down memory lane, it was the reopening of doors I had slammed shut a long time ago.

But the first step in moving forward is acceptance of where you are, and where you've come from. So for my childhood self I ask you to remember this...

You are beautiful. Your heart is a magical and special treasure which will bring joy and love into so many people's lives. You are enough. 

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

When food is love

Anyone who's keeping me company in this blog will have quickly picked up that I've not exactly had an easy time of sticking to my weight loss plans. I have wonderful intentions which last about three days, and then I go off the rails. So much of my eating is emotionally based - whether I've had a good day, a bad day, or something in-between, my first go-to is food. Somehow dealing with the underlying issues had just seemed like a good candidate for the "too hard basket".

But I finally realised that perhaps I needed to spend more time figuring out what's going on in my head than focusing on my waistline. It finally dawned on me (I can be a bit slow!!!) that until I learn to understand what's happening in my mind, I'll never get a handle on my eating.

Enter Geneen Roth. She's an author who has written extensively on the reasons behind emotional and compulsive eating, and I've even bought a couple of her books over the years. Not that I read them mind you! They went on the bookshelf, and into that limbo land of "I must get around to reading that one of these days". And somehow that didn't happen.

But a few weeks ago I picked up "When food is love" and started to read. And it felt like I'd been hit by a truck. Everything she wrote made sense. It all resonated with my experiences. It was as if Geneen had written the book just for me. 

She talked about using food to push down emotions. About the fact that many of us feel despair on a deep inner level, which we mask with compulsive eating. About how food can be our lover, best friend and confidant, because it's always there, never talks back, never hurts us and never disappoints us. But when we turn to food for reasons other than true physical hunger, one bite is never enough. 

It's rare that something really moves me to action, but this book has. It's not a magic button to make everything better, but I've finally realised that I need to lose weight in my mind before I can lose it in my body. I will admit I'm terrified to deal with some things I'd prefer to avoid, but this is an essential step to freedom.

If you've come to a similar conclusion in your life, I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

The Happy Hypothyroid

OK, so maybe I'm not so happy, but I'm definitely Hypothyroid. For those of you scratching your head, that basically means that my thyroid gland isn't working properly and explains a lot of the things which have left me such a depressed and sluggish mess in recent times.

If you're like I was until two weeks ago, I'd vaguely heard of my thyroid, but could no more easily locate it on my body than I could find Timbuktu on a map. I also had no idea what it did. Turns out it's a critical part of the body's metabolism, and it can either be underperforming (hypo-) or overperforming (hyper-). Either way, it's not good, and something that needs to be addressed.

I found out about it by accident - I was constantly tired, overweight, kept forgetting basic words (like "kettle" when I was making a cup of tea), feeling depressed and anxious (to the point I'd been put on anti-depressants) and my body temperature was running lower than usual. I went to my doctor to ask for a panel of blood-work after I'd read "Fat Chance" (see my earlier post) as I thought I might have been glucose or leptin intolerant. Turns out my doctor is a smartie, and threw in a thyroid test for good measure.

What I didn't realise was that she'd checked my thyroid levels last year when I first started seeing her, and called me to say that my TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) had jumped from a slightly above average 2.2, to an unacceptable 5.7. Apparently it should be in the 1-2 range. Troubles with your thyroid can be triggered by stress and a sedentary lifestyle apparently, so three foot surgeries and six months in a wheelchair might have done it! Either way, I have more blood tests in my future to determine exactly which bit of the thyroid system isn't happy, and I've already started on hormone replacement meds. It makes me sound like my mum after menopause!!!

Signs of hypothyroidism include (and here I am shamelessly copying from the Mayo website, which has way more helpful information):
  • Fatigue
  • Increased sensitivity to cold
  • Constipation
  • Dry skin
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Puffy face
  • Hoarseness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Elevated blood cholesterol level
  • Muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness
  • Pain, stiffness or swelling in your joints
  • Heavier than normal or irregular menstrual periods
  • Thinning hair
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Depression
  • Impaired memory

So basically, my life for the past year. It also explains the carb cravings, which I'm still having. They slowly start you on the medication and then ramp it up over time, so at the moment I still feel like crap, but fingers crossed it will improve in future.

If any of these sound like you, there's an easy indicative test you can do to see whether you might have a problem. The Barnes basal temperature test can be a first step - your body temperature should be between 97.8 and 98.2. If you're lower (like me, I'm usually in the low 96's) you're possibly hypo, and if it's higher you may be hyper. The definitive test is a blood panel, and definitely to talk with your doctor.

So moving forward at least I know what's going on. I'm slightly bummed that this is the case, but at least now I know what's happening to my body I can take steps to get better. I've unfortunately fallen off the no-sugar bandwagon, but everything I've read says that a gluten/sugar/processed food free diet is essential to managing hypothyroidism properly, so I'm trying to pysch myself up for it again. Urghh.

These past 18 months have been properly crap, but hopefully now I have a diagnosis I can really start on the road to recovery! If you have experience with thyroid issues, I'd love to hear from you in the comments! 

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Sugar Detox - Coping with cravings

Well, after my cheesecake-chucking experience on Monday, I decided to get serious about my health and cut out sugar. Am not sure yet whether it's going to be a "no sugar, ever" or "ok, maybe a little every so often if I can have it without bingeing"... I think time's going to tell.

But the first step is to get though the detox. I know from past experience that this isn't a fun thing to do - I expected headaches, crankiness and generally to be a moody bitch. Which is why I'm slightly shocked that I am on Day 3 and haven't bitten anyone's head off yet!

I have been craving the sweet white poison though - that little voice in my head was trying to convince me to buy some donuts and icecream, and that I could start again tomorrow. That's the voice which has derailed me more times than I can remember, and thankfully today I chose to ignore it. I needed to go to the store so bought a BBQ chicken, some salad, and some 'no sugar added' yoghurts. I'm going to try and avoid artificial sweeteners, but they're in the fridge as a backup in case I totally crack.

The other thing I bought was a pack of apples. I had one this afternoon and they were amazing - sweet and delicious. As Robert Lustig says about fructose in my favourite book ever - Fat Chance - "when nature gives you the poison (ie. fructose) she also gives you the antidote (ie. fibre)" and it's true. I've never been that much of a fruit person, but I think these ones might be winning me over.

I'm drinking plenty of water, and also decided to just eat as much non-carb food as I want this week while I'm going through sugar withdrawal. I'm going to make it as easy as possible for myself to stay with this, without feeling deprived. So right now I have the most delicious-smelling pork belly cooking for my dinner! Can't wait...

It's one day at a time - keep shining!

Monday, 6 May 2013


Tonight I threw out cheesecake. Perfectly good cheesecake. Sweet delicious cheesecake with a crunchy base and smooth creamy texture. And I threw it out. Well, I ate about a quarter of it first, but let me explain...

For months now I've been trying to lose weight by cutting out wheat, and reducing my dairy. And I've been struggling. The lure of wheat and sugar, especially when you add some delicious fat was just too much, and after three or four days of being "good" I'd end up going on a binge, and buying then eating every Cornetto in the shop. Not really designed to make a girl feel great about herself, and each binge came with a "now sweetie, WHY did you do that?" personal chat afterwards, never with any particularly good reason.

 But after reading an insanely good book "Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease" by Robert Lustig, I feel like I might finally be understanding what's going on. I can honestly say this book has been a life-changer. 

In a nutshell, the way Dr Lustig explains it is this. Every time you eat carbohydrate-based food, your body releases insulin so that it can convert it into either glucose (which can be processed by pretty much any part of your body) or in the case of sugar, split into glucose and fructose (which can only be processed by your liver).

Once enough insulin is in your system, it's supposed to trigger leptin, which is the signal to your brain that you're full and that it's time to stop eating. Except in many obese people, your body is leptin-resistant, so your brain doesn't get the signal and it thinks you're still hungry. So no matter how strong your willpower is, if your brain thinks you're starving it will either slow down your metabolism to conserve energy (he calls this "sloth") or force you to eat more ("gluttony").

Talk about a light bulb going off! So there's a very big chance it's not just me being a lazy arse, there is a reason that no matter how successful I am in the rest of my life, my biochemistry is screwed up and the years of yo-yo dieting have just contributed to it. 

So today I went and had tests done for my insulin levels and leptin resistance. The prep for the Glucose Tolerance Test is three days of high carb food. At first I thought this was a great excuse to have all the "naughty" food I wanted, and I went to town at the supermarket. Bread, pasta, cakes, fruit juice, soda - you name it, I bought it. And for the first day it was great! By the second day I was feeling quite sluggish and headachy, and by the third day I was forcing myself to eat. Quite a strange feeling for me! For some reason my body was just rebelling - maybe it was because I knew what this was doing to me now.

Anyway, after three hours at the doctor's I finished up, went and had some breakfast, and ended up back in the supermarket. The little voice in my head said "ok, so you know you should start eating low carb today, but as you've already had a huge pile of glucose already why not have some yummy sweets today and start tomorrow". Yes, that little voice has been my downfall on many an occasion, and today was no different.

So I bought a cheesecake. And cream. And I came home and tried to eat it. While watching "Supersize vs Superskinny". Yes, I see the irony. But the interesting thing was that I couldn't finish it. I put it back in the fridge, and all day I've been surprised that I didn't want any more. So just now I threw it out. Put it in the garbage and took it out to the bin. And I am so proud of myself!

The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, and today I took that step. 

Friday, 12 April 2013

Learning to walk

Learning to walk. It's something almost all of us have done, managed to make the transition from a baby crawling on the ground to a toddler pulling themselves up on furniture, and finally making those first tentative steps all on our own. We fell over numerous times, but kept getting back up, and eventually got the hang of it.

I really wish I had that persistence now. Since my first blog entry when I was so excited about going Paleo, I have since come crashing back down. Not only am I not sticking to the plan, I'm eating absolute crap. Pizza and home delivery have been my staples for the past week, and I'm kicking myself. 

Long story short (it's definitely one for another entry), I'm recovering from a very bad foot injury, which meant I needed to move back in with my parents for a large portion of the past 18 months. Just over a week ago I moved back into my own home but am still finding it hard to get around and shop, so I'm taking the lazy way out and ordering food in. I can feel a fair touch of depression kicking around in my heart as well, and food is my 'go to' drug for self soothing. Aaargh! Why does it have to be this way? No deep answers tonight, just wanted to express how I'm feeling on this bloody long journey.

Today I started reading "The Happiness Project". Will see what it's like, and hopefully I can get some tips on how to come up from this funk. In the meantime, I had some time in the sun this morning to boost my Vitamin  D, and am pysching myself up to do my tax prep tomorrow. I've been putting it off for so long, and I'm really hoping that getting that off my plate will do wonders for my state of mind!

I'm typing this with a cat stretched across my tummy - I'm blessed to have two wonderful moggies who give unconditional love. They definitely are good medicine, and remind me it's time to go get some sleep...

Monday, 11 March 2013

It all starts here

I'm asking myself the question - "why on earth would I want to start writing a blog?" The answer is simple - I have finally decided to make some major changes in my life, and am optimistic they're going to help me become happier and healthier. My hope is that I'll be able to share my journey with others, and along the way share some of the things which have helped me achieve my goals, and maybe they'll help you too.

 So where am I now? I'm a 40 year old woman, well travelled, have had a successful career and on the face of it doing pretty well. Except that I've battled with my weight all of my life (am morbidly obese), and single. I'm also recovering from a Lis Franc foot injury (very bad break of the mid-foot, requiring three surgeries), which has severely restricted my life for the past 18 months. And on top of that I was laid-off from my job about eight months after my injury. So all in all, not a great place to be.

But the good thing about not loving where you are, is that it can be a powerful motivator to get out of it. A friend shared a great song with me - "If you're going through hell, just keep going" and I decided to take that advice. I'm making some changes in my life to focus on three things: health, career and relationships. I know I'm not the only one who has issues in these areas, so who knows, maybe we can learn something together!

So it's starts with my weight and overall health. I topped out at 290lbs last week, which was personally horrifying to see on the scales. I've always struggled with my weight - in my early 20's I was a full-time gym bunny in order to be 150lbs (am 5'8") but emotional eating, travel and life in the UK and US helped me balloon up from there. I lost 80lbs doing the Lighterlife VLCD (protein shakes and bars only, about 700cals a day) and promptly put 100lbs back on. I had a gastric band inserted, only to find I didn't lose any weight and really struggled with it, so two years later I had it removed. I've tried Weight Watchers, the Atkins Diet, and pretty much every other diet you can think of.

A few months back a friend suggested I read "Wheat Belly" by Dr William Davis, and cut out wheat to help reduce the pain in my foot. I found it worked well, but after my last surgery I was in a bit of a funk, and ate whatever I wanted. But that little voice my head kept saying "you know what you're doing now isn't working, you need to change it" and I decided to go the whole hog and cut out wheat, grains, sugar and dairy by adopting the Paleo way of eating. It sounds quite drastic, but in reality it's just going back to "real" food, and hasn't been that hard at all. It's been a week so far and initial indications are good... am 7lbs down so far. I have a LONG way to go, but I'm happy with that start.

OK, that's good for now. Only time will tell on results, but over time I'll share pics and updates as I go. I've seen lots of success stories for people who've lost 20 or 30lbs, but no-one like me who has 100+lbs to go. I hope to inspire other folk who have a lot of excess weight to lose, and if Paleo works for me, maybe it will work for you too...

I believe we're all put on this earth to shine... so I've lit my match!