Health Issues, Diets, and the Power of Saying No

Lesson 1

Those that know me, know that I’ve suffered with health problems for years. Some are rooted in congenital metabolic and hormonal disorders. Some were caused by serious illness when I was younger (which is one reason I take COVID-19 seriously), and some by freak circumstances during/after surgeries or other injuries. 

One of the side effects of these issues was weight gain. This is a really triggering thing in our current culture in SO many ways. ‘Fat’ is a dirty word, so much that we invent euphemisms to avoid saying it, and the weight loss industry is worth billions. Even the practice of medicine often falls to the “correlation=causation” fallacy, blaming many health issues directly on fat, and since the fat has to have a source, it gets blamed 100% on a person’s personal discipline and fortitude. In other words, if you have health problems, they are because you are fat, and if you are fat, it is because you are weak, if not outright bad. The fact that even doctors fall for and perpetuate this fallacious reasoning makes it especially pernicious, because 

  1. Patients often feel shame and guilt in areas where they should not, and shame and guilt are DESTRUCTIVE, not constructive, 
  2. Symptoms and issues are ignored or blamed on the fat, allowing health issues to go undiagnosed, sometimes fatally, and 
  3. More and more extreme weight loss methods are used to target ONLY the fat, which not only often cause problems on their own, but they ignore and fail to address the underlying problems which REALLY caused the excess weight gain in the first place.

So I have avoided the weight loss, and focused on trying to eat and work to help my body work better, not to lose weight. Even though it is absolutely impossible to avoid the stigma and resulting issues from excess weight in our culture. And my health issues weren’t really getting better.

So, a couple of months ago, my endocrinologist hired a new PA and sent him in to talk to me at my last appointment. This PA was perky, thin, and full of vim, vigor, and a confidence that he had all the answers for me. Which was incredibly aggravating, as it quickly became apparent that he hadn’t even looked at my chart and was unfamiliar with my diagnoses. The reason I have been seeing this doctor for a quarter century is because he does real tests and diagnostics and doesn’t just blame everything on the fat. But I knew that things had been going much more poorly for me for the last year, so I decided to listen. 

I need to add–because this is really important–that before I did so, I had to stand up to him and rattle off my diagnoses and the research I had done and things I had tried over the years. That perky PA calmed down and treated me completely differently. Because one part of the bias against people who are obese–even by doctors–is that we are stupid. Studies have shown that even fat people see fat people as stupid. Which is horrible and wrong and needs to stop, but in this case, once I had proven to this thin-privileged PA that I was NOT stupid, then he suddenly changed his tack. Really talked to me, gave me the research behind his suggestions and more directed solutions of supplements and other things to help. 

The changes he suggested were extreme. Not keto, but extremely low carb. No more sugar, of course, but also I could never have grains or starchy fruits or vegetables ever again. He didn’t use the words ‘ever again,’ but here’s the thing: this isn’t about losing weight. Because fat is the ultimate evil in our culture, you can’t use the word ‘diet’ without people defining that as a method to lose weight. Lose weight, lose weight, lose weight. But it’s NOT about losing weight. It’s about getting my blood glucose down and cleaning up my tortured liver and possible reducing some of my medications and possibly other physiological benefits. And those things won’t go away if I’m skinny, no matter how much pop medicine tells you that it is fat that causes those things. Yes, too much fat can aggravate those conditions. BUT IT DOESN’T CAUSE THEM. So I know that if this change works, I can never stop. Because those issues are how my body malfunctions, with or without the fat. And that is what the change is addressing. 

So, I decided to try it. And I tell you what, it’s HARD. No milk (too much sugar), no potatoes, or other starchy vegetables, no fruit but berries, no grains. Even artificial sweeteners are mostly taboo, because I have to severely decrease the insulin response, not just the sugar in my bloodstream. And because of damage sustained to my digestive system from some of the injuries mentioned earlier, I have to be really careful with cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, onions, cauliflower). 

But get this: after only six weeks, this was what was happening:

  • digestive irritability lower than it’s been in over a decade
  • A1c down by over a full point (and another full point since then)
  • liver enzymes down by more than half (they have been so high in the past that I have been tested for hepatitis multiple times)
  • Greatly reduced general pain
  • more energy
  • clearer thinking
  • better mood/fewer depressive cycles
  • other internal parts that have had issues for over a decade due to fatty liver disease dramatically improving in function

Am I losing weight? Some, yes. I’ve lost some before, all without these benefits. And when I was at this weight before (and lower weights), I never had these benefits. So ascribing the benefits to the weight loss is wrong. The weight loss is happening as one of the effects of the detox and circumventing my body’s screwed up insulin response. Not the other way around. Remember: the weight is not the problem. It is a symptom of the problem.

Another thing I’ve had to do: this isn’t just about low carb. I have to have really high nutrition. So while I’m avoiding lots of stuff, there are a number of foods (mostly nutrient-dense veggies and fruits) that I have to seek out and force into the diet. The biggest stumbling block to this is the idea that I need to find substitutes for the things I loved before. Keto breads, low-carb pizza crusts, low-glycemic desserts. But those don’t work well, no matter how much I want them to. The more I go with whole, less-processed foods, the better my body deals with all this. 

Lesson 2

It’s been over three months now, and while I have more go-to recipes and most of the severe sugar cravings I had while in the initial detox are better, it’s still hard. Food isn’t just physical sustenance, it’s an emotional and social need as well. And the more someone isn’t getting emotional and social needs met directly, the more they will try to fill that void with things not quite designed to fill those needs, including sex, gambling, drugs, alcohol, and food. It is definitely this way with me.

So sometimes I have days where I rant and cry. I want things back to the way they were. I want to be able to eat like other people seem to be able to eat without my body malfunctioning. I want to be able to spend less time and energy and attention on preparing food that isn’t something really important to me by itself. I hate this. But as much as I hate it, the benefits are indisputable. Eating ‘normally’ or even with moderate change never did me a lick of good. It wasn’t my fault, but that didn’t mean It was anyone else’s, either. 

It just is what it is. 

How many times do we yell and scream about circumstances in our life? Ask ourselves why we’re single, or why we had crappy parents, or why we never had kids, or why we don’t feel comfortable with standard sexuality or gender, or why we have a disease or disability. It’s not fair. IT’S NOT FAIR.

Oh, my friends. There is no fair. There is what is. There is what isn’t.

For me, what is, is that my body doesn’t process food like most human bodies do. This leads to an avalanche of side effects that are unpleasant to experience. The parts that are visible are socially displeasing as well. It’s not normal. But it has nothing to do with ‘fair,’ because there is no such thing. 

The more I rant and scream about it not being fair and demand that things be ‘fixed,’ the more unhappy I am.

On a similar note, the more that I try to change my diet into facsimiles of the old foods, the more I find myself in this horrible valley where it doesn’t taste as good as the old food (and I am constantly reminded of the disparity) but doesn’t boost my health like the new way of eating. So that’s not very effective, either.

What I’ve found to be far more effective is multifaceted. Including:

  1. I have to accept what is. The fact is, there are laws in the universe. Things happen, and they aren’t always pleasant, but the universe doesn’t give a crap. I can either learn to work with the laws of the universe, go with that flow, in which case I WILL have a better success rate (in part because my definition of success may change), or I can keep ranting and screaming and pushing against it, in which case I will have a lower success rate AND I’ll be upset about it. I can choose that if I want. But why would I want to?
  2. That does not mean I don’t have choice. I DO have choice. I could totally go gorge myself on Krispy Kremes right now. I could go back to the moderately healthy diet. I could do any of an array of things. But at this point, I also know the consequences of doing so. And while living longer isn’t a draw for me, and I’m not so focused on weight that this is a major factor, either, I DO like being able to do more and think more clearly and have less pain. Those are important to me. 
  3. This takes some time, but an important step is to stop staring at what is no longer possible and start seeing what is. It is really, really easy to see all the dishes and desserts and comfort foods that I can never have again. It’s really easy to focus on what others might be eating around me and lament how I can’t have the same things. But when you are in a room with a peephole into another room, and you keep your focus on staring through that peephole at the room of things you can’t have, you will be unhappy. If, instead, you pull back from the peephole and look around at the room you are actually in, you will find a CORNUCOPIA of wonderful things that you didn’t see before because you were so focused on what was in the other room. You don’t even need the substitutes (though they can be fine on occasion). You adapt and find the joy in what IS.

In case you haven’t been able to tell yet, this applies to WAY more in life than just dealing with health issues. 

  • I could cling to the fact that I can’t have children and be miserable, or I could see the possibilities and the good I can do in the role I have and move forward.
  • I could be upset that some of God’s commandments seem mean and meant to block me from pursuing paths that would ‘make me happy.’ But I have learned that no outside things can ‘make me happy.’ So I choose, instead, to trust God and be happy in paths that may be a little harder. It sometimes takes workarounds with my life circumstances, but it inevitably works out better than insisting that I know better than God and forging ahead on my more selfish path.

Happiness is not, nor ever has been, about getting what you want. Good boundaries work a lot better at helping us be happy than doing whatever we want without having to experience any negative outcomes. I know it seems counterintuitive, but we as human beings NEED some limits in our lives, for structure and concentration of power and meaning. And that means saying No sometimes, both to ourselves and others. It sometimes means sacrificing what we want for something more valuable. 

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