My Journey to Low Carb: Part 1: Did I have PCOS?

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.

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  1. I’ve lost 35 pounds over the last year (10 to go!), and have cured my chronic hives, high cholesterol, plantar’s fasciitis, GI “issues”, irregular periods, joint pain, depression, difficulty concentrating, insomnia and probably a whole host of other things if I took a minute to think about it. All by going low carb. I saw countless specialists about my chronic hives over the past 5 or 6 years, who all finally just shrugged their shoulders and told me they’d treat my symptoms but I’d just have to live with it. I’ve been off meds for a year now, and not a single outbreak. Food is the most important drug we put into our bodies. Carbs, and especially gluten, are evil. I’m lucky enough to have found a doctor who believes this too, who encourages me and is thrilled with my progress. Most doctors wouldn’t. Thank you Tara for sharing your story. Slowly but surely the word will get out — the fat in our diets is not the enemy! I routinely eat 75 to 85 percent of my calories from fat daily. I have to laugh when people say to me, “Well, that’s just a fad” and “You can’t eat like that regularly.” I have been and I will continue to, while they all shake their heads and whine about how they can’t lose weight when the answer is staring them in the face — me!

    • Thanks Ann! I’m glad you’ve had such great success. I’ll let you know how I really feel about carbs in the follow up to this article, I think you’ll be surprised when you hear my experience. I do agree wholeheartedly about the fat — increasing the amount of fat I eat in my diet has brought about more positive changes and has made a huge difference. Don’t worry about other people’s opinions. The best way to change them is to lead by example, IMHO, when your success is staring them in the face, they will have no other option but to reexamine their beliefs. 🙂

  2. Thanks Tara for sharing your story. It’s interesting that eating the SAD way can spawn so many different symptoms in different people. Although each of us have to find what works for us, ultimately it’s going to be minimally processed plants and animals. The Primal Blueprint put me on that path and I’ve experienced almost complete recovery from health issues. I’m sending these 2 posts to my daughter- she’s dealing with many of the same health issues you described. Your story is enlightening and inspiring.

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