I have always been a sugar addict. I can remember being very young and hoarding Hallowe’en candy, eating it alone in my room. I often spent Saturday afternoons alone with a book and a candy bar that I would nibble on for hours, just to make it last.
As I got older, my sugar addiction morphed into something different . I found myself taking comfort in sugary, starchy foods when I was lonely. I made friends that enabled me, often indulging right along with me. We didn’t binge and purge; that would have been a waste of good food. We didn’t actually see any problem with it at all. Our young bodies seemed capable of handling anything we did to them: cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, sleepless bender weekends or all-night studying sessions, we ate and did what we wanted to, with no regard to long-term consequences. We were teenagers. We were invincible.
Because there were seemingly no consequences to this type of behavior – I wasn’t even overweight at the time – it was easy to justify. When I reached my early twenties, the addiction morphed again.
This time, it had become my way of life. It was all I knew. And my youthful immunity evaporated.
Horrible things started happening to me. I started getting fat. I developed allergies. My periods became even more irregular than they had already been. My face was covered in painful cystic acne. A condition I had been suffering from called Hidradenitis Suppurativa went from Stage I to Stage III. I was severely depressed; after a five-minute consultation the doctor put me on antidepressants. My hair started falling out. It was brittle and dry and it broke off if I so much as looked at it weird. I was having panic attacks and severe anxiety that lasted all day, every day. My skin was dry and itchy, covered in eczema and was starting to thin out. It looked like it felt: old.
Every part of my body ached. I developed knee problems, tendonitis in my elbows, fatigue and shortness of breath. I always had some sort of infection; whether it was a urinary tract infection, a yeast infection or strep throat, I was constantly sick. My weight ballooned up to 230 pounds; at my height, that made me a size 22. I was a big, unhappy girl with the face and body of both a teenager and an 80-year old woman.
The doctors I went to tried to treat each symptom individually. They monitored my calorie intake, but that didn’t work. Even on a 1600-calorie a day diet, never cheating, I actually gained one pound over a 3-month period. The doctor told me I must have been doing something wrong because they had “never seen this happen before. Never. Ever.”
During this time, I was continually exercising. The workouts were long and hard but I didn’t lose any weight. Not a single pound. The exercise helped my mood, but everything else got steadily worse.
I saw fifteen doctors from four different countries. Some were specialists. Some weren’t. All any of them did was prescribe different medications for each individual symptom. I took them all. I didn’t take them for long; my hopes were repeatedly crushed as the side effects of each medication started to make me feel worse. I can’t remember a single pharmaceutical that helped in any way, except maybe the birth control pill. I started to need more drugs to help with the side effects of the ones I was already on.
This was happening to me in 1998. Perhaps you remember 1998; the Internet existed but it wasn’t yet the resource it is now. I was stuck researching things in libraries and relying on the medical community for answers. Back then, friends actually talked to each other in person about problems they were having, mostly commiserating because – let’s face it – none of us knew what to do. I didn’t have the drive to try fad diets; I still thought the answer could be found in the latest pill.
Luckily for me (and unluckily for her) my best friend was diagnosed with this new-fangled ailment called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). She called me up to tell me the news and inform me that she was now on a cocktail of drugs that were supposed to cure it. She told me a little bit about the different symptoms and I listened intently. Could it be? Did I have PCOS?
I went to the doctor. After looking it up in a book, he said, “Yes, you have PCOS but there’s no treatment.” I went somewhere else. That doctor said I didn’t have PCOS. I went to yet another clinic. They said, “you don’t have classic symptoms. So you may have it or you may not. Either way, we think the best way to get rid of it is to lose weight.”
Lose weight?! That’s what I had been desperately and unsuccessfully trying to do for years. How exactly do I lose this extra weight, Doc, since one of the symptoms of PCOS is weight gain? I’ll try anything you say. Anything.
Unfortunately, none of the doctors I went to had a single suggestion, other than going on a low-fat diet and exercising like a maniac. I began to suspect that the medical community didn’t know what caused PCOS and didn’t know how to fix me. I would have to do it on my own.
I spent endless hours and company resources trolling the Internet at work. After weeks of research, I knew more about PCOS than most doctors, and I knew in my heart that I had it. The problem was, no one knew what caused it or how to get rid of it. They had all had the same misinformation fed to them by their doctors and it was just perpetuating itself web-wide.
I didn’t give up. I eventually found a comment thread on someone’s LiveJournal (the original blog) that mentioned they had been able to lose weight by following a low-carb diet.
Carbs? I knew what carbs were. They made up 99% of my diet. Could it be that simple? I knew that the medication most commonly prescribed for PCOS was Metformin, which was originally a diabetes drug. I knew carbs were sugar and that diabetes was caused by sugar. I connected the dots. Maybe removing all sources of sugar from my diet was the key to getting rid of my problems. I had nothing to lose.
I started my low-carb journey that same day.
In the next installment, My Journey to Low Carb Part 2: Committing and Recommitting to Low Carb Eating find out what happened when I immediately cut all the carbohydrates out of my diet.