The Battle of the Bulge, War on Weight, and Fight Against Fat.. (or what happened when I discovered I was gluten-intolerant)

Today’s blog is a bit of a personal ramble, but for any of you dealing with the need for weight loss, there might be some points of interest.

Except for a few months in one glorious year when I was 20, I have been overweight my entire life. Not just 5-10 pounds, but 40-100 pounds. Twice I made it to within 20 pounds of optimal, but it never lasted for more than a few months before the fat and the numbers on the scales started increasing.

As a kid, doctors would harp on my mom about what I ate and how I needed to be more active. The irony is that I was the 6th of 6 children and my mom knew that I wasn’t inactive. She couldn’t get me to stop eating, but she also couldn’t get me to sit still. I would wake up around 6 each morning and not go to sleep until 10 or 11 most nights. We lived on a farm so I did a lot of work during the day but when I wasn’t working I was often outside playing. For much of my childhood we didn’t even have a tv so that just wasn’t an option. I played baseball, basketball, and was part of the track team. I ran at home and did all sorts of exercise. I loved to read too, but that happened mostly at night (it was common for me to get busted for reading in bed with a flashlight), on rainy days, and on the bus. I remember having a friend stay over once and she was exhausted when she left because I drug her all around the timber in what was a typical day for me but obviously much more than she was used to. Even when I was sitting, my legs were bouncing up and down. My mom knew that I was actually closer to hyper-active, but the doctors wouldn’t believe it.

The doctors would tell me stories of people who have diabetes and had to have their legs removed and, “you don’t want that to happen to you, do you?” Scared the crap out of me and left me with nightmares, but it wasn’t an effective step in getting me to stop eating. You see, I was hungry all of the time. I’m not exaggerating; I mean that literally. I could be so full that my stomach would hurt and I would still be hungry. When I was a kid I ate all of the sugary foods that were at our house plus way more than enough healthier food. I didn’t have a strong preference for what I ate, I just needed to eat. As I learned about good nutrition, the sugar left my diet. When I was 20, I made a switch to nothing but whole foods packed with nutrients. I dropped a lot of weight and for the first time ever, was where I should be. And then the appetite came soaring back and in a short time, I was back to significantly overweight. I tried eating the amount of calories that should have been adequate to quench my hunger while slowly dropping pounds, I tried eating enough to sustain the weight I was at so at least I didn’t go up, I tried massive exercise to counter-act all that I ate, I tried all the diets out there. I ate very little for 6 days and feasted on the 7th, I was a vegan, I ate mostly meat, etc.I would deal with what should have been adequate for a while but ultimately I was so hungry that I couldn’t take it any longer and I would go back to trying to ease the hunger.I would eat an entire roasted chicken, a full bunch of broccoli, a half pound of raw cheese, a bag of raw nuts with dried fruit, and most of a loaf of sprouted grain bread. All of it is healthy in the right portion, but I couldn’t stick to the right portion.People never believed that I didn’t eat vast amounts of junk in private.It isn’t that I never had junk food, but it was rare.

I was in my early 30’s before I realized just how abnormal my appetite was. You would think that it would have come up before then, but I was an over-achiever and it was less scary for me to let people think I ate junk than it was for them to realize that I was ‘defective.’ I thought that other people had more will-power or that I was maybe somehow just ‘broken.’ Then one night my husband and I were talking and he said that his biggest problem with food involved eating out of boredom. I laughed. “By boredom you mean hunger, of course.” But he was insistent that he was really not hungry all of time. At his urging, I talked to a doctor who thought that the surest way to know was to take a suppressant. In her mind she thought that she was going to make me stop lying. In my mind, I was hoping that maybe this battle I had fought my entire life could be cast aside. At the end of the first week I was eating lunch and had the strangest sensation. At first I thought that I was getting the flu because it was coming on very quickly and I had no desire to finish what was on my plate. When no other symptoms appeared, it occurred to me that what felt so strange was that I was not hungry. I lost 50 pounds in 8 weeks and suddenly understood why people that don’t have problems with hunger think that overweight people are lazy, lack will-power, and any number of other things. The doctor was dumb-founded. The med had to be stopped because of the side-effects and the appetite returned very quickly, but the experience left me armed with the knowledge that my hunger was not normal. And so the hunt for a solution began. I don’t especially care for meds. There is a time and place for everything, but even if there had not been side-effects, I would not have wanted to take something for the rest of my life. The meds stopped my appetite by tricking my brain. Deception, even self-deception, isn’t how I want to live my life.

In the next few years I tried several supplements (none with ephedra or other stimulants…just vitamins, minerals, and enzymes) with limited success. They were helpful, but they were not the solution. There were still times when it didn’t make a difference.

Earlier this year, as part of a treatment for parasites that were gained via a restaurant meal, it was recommended that I stop eating gluten during the 3 months of treatment.Gluten includes wheat, barley, rye, and a few other things.Oats are typically processed in the same mills as wheat so they are also out.The reasoning was that even a touch of gluten sensitivity would cause inflammation and take resources from my immune system that could be put to better use.I had been tested for a gluten allergy and gluten intolerance with the same set of tests that found the parasites, and the results were borderline. So I stopped eating gluten.

About 5 weeks later I started noticing that unusual ‘symptom’ the meds had caused years earlier and I was pushing away from the table satisfied. The frequency became greater and in June I decided to try my hand at not counting calories. I gained 8 pounds in two weeks and went back to counting. Almost 2 weeks ago I decided to give it another shot. In that time, I have lost 7 pounds and 1.75 inches off of my waist. There are days/meals when I eat more than my calorie-counting mind thinks I should and days/meals where I eat less than my educated mind thinks I should, but that incessant hunger I knew for all those years is gone. I get hungry, I eat, and it goes away. I’m still just short of two weeks into freely eating and I don’t know what the next several months will hold. I may need to count calories to get to my desired body composition and I may not. But the relief and freedom that comes with being able to satisfy my body when I’m hungry? That is priceless.

‘But wait, you said that you tried every diet out there. If you followed the Atkin’s diet, there isn’t any bread in it. Why didn’t that diet have the same effect?’

I asked myself that same question and the answer is a real kick in the seat.I was drinking a tea that has a touch of barley in it and I used a seasoning that also had gluten in it.Minor amounts, but apparently enough.

I hear people talking about the battle of the bulge, the fight against fat, and the war involved with weight loss and I dislike those terms.Trust me, I fought every day for most of my life to be something other than fat, but even when I was “winning” according to the scales and the tape measures, I was still fighting and the war was never going to end.Put people in a non winnable war and eventually apathy will appear.A few born-warriors will rage on, but others will simply surrender to captivity and the tortures that result…they know it will mean an early death and a less than wonderful life, but they can’t seem to spark themselves back to caring, and at least they don’t have to fight a non winnable war.

Push me into fight, flight, or freeze and my instinct is to fight. So although I have been obese basically all of my life, it was never what it could have been. If I had not fought, it would have been very easy to have reached 500+ pounds instead of staying in the 200’s. So my warrior instinct saved me at least some. The problem with instinct is that it isn’t always logical. I fought the hunger, the fat, and the amount of food I ate. The problem is that the hunger wasn’t my enemy, the fat wasn’t/isn’t my enemy, and even how much I was eating wasn’t the enemy. There wasn’t an enemy at all because there is no battle, there is no fight, and there is no war when it comes to our bodies. All that is there is adaptation. Change the stimulus and you change the reaction. If there is any fight at all it is the fight to make the time to figure out what stimulus is causing the reaction that you don’t want. I’ve said that a million times to patients, seen it be successful repeatedly, and yet I failed to apply it to my own issue. I think that perhaps there was just so much emotion wrapped up in being a fat kid, a fat chic, and a fat doctor that it clouded my logic.

Gluten sensitivity is thought to cause inflammation that decreases the body’s ability to digest and absorb nutrients. I really was hungry – not for calories but for nutrients. Giving more nutrients didn’t make a difference because more couldn’t be delivered any better than what was already failing to be absorbed. I stopped feeding my body the thing causing the inflammation, and nutrients were finally able to get where they needed to go. Obviously some were getting through before that or I wouldn’t still be living, but not enough were getting through to keep me healthy. Not only did the constant hunger go away, but so did the eczema I used to have.

I apologize for the length of this blog but it took nearly 39 years to work through. If someone else out there is dealing with what I did and they don’t have to, it is worth a little rambling for them to know. I’ll keep you posted from time to time about how things are going, but given that there has been nothing but improvement for 6 months, there is every reason to believe it will continue.

Until next time, may your choices today create a healthier and more balanced you tomorrow!


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4 Responses to The Battle of the Bulge, War on Weight, and Fight Against Fat.. (or what happened when I discovered I was gluten-intolerant)

  1. We took off to spend time with family shortly after posting this and something interesting happened…

    Our home is gluten free, but traveling may take some getting used to. We took some of our own food but even with that, something with gluten made it into my body. They use seasoning with gluten in it and if they didn’t put it on the meat the first night (we just didn’t think about it until it was too late), it came from the residue on the grill from the times they did use it. The eczema showed up the next morning, the appetite within 24 hours, and both are just starting to go away. So for the few emails in my in-box asking if I’m sure that it is the gluten and not something else — yep, I’m sure. The first “test” of re-introduction I did knowingly. This one was accidental, but both had the same result.

  2. KVelez says:

    I’m so sorry to hear of your struggle and glad you have found a bit of a resolution to it. It’s been a month since your comment on this post. I hope things are progressing much better for you.
    Take Care.

  3. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment!

    Things are progressing well. My appetite is “normal” and while my weight has gone up and down a bit, the overall outcome is that I’m losing about 1/4 pound of fat/week now. I’ll be tweaking things so that the loss is faster, but it is still a total delight that I can eat and be satisfied.

    It is a challenge at times to eat gluten free, especially when it comes to visiting friends/family or dining out, but hopefully that improves with time…or at least that I’ll build better skills for making the occasions successful. The freedom gained by leaving it out of my diet is certainly not something I’ll be giving up any time soon!!

  4. Update: I was later diagnosed with celiac disease. Since diagnosis, I have remained gluten -free. As long as I don’t get accidental gluten, the symptoms I had are gone. However, a gluten-free diet all by itself didn’t take care of everything. I eventually tried the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, and in six weeks, it did more for me than six years of gluten-free did. I eventually successfully added in other food and enjoy a nice variety…no gluten, of course.

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