A CALL TO DOCTORS:
MERYLL'S STORY OF PCOS SUCCESS
A NOTE FROM DRS. RACHAEL AND RICHARD HELLER:
Meryll writes for all of us who have lived in a world filled with people who did not, would not, and perhaps could not, understand the pain we were experiencing. Her call to the medical community speaks for us all.
Like so many others on the Carbohydrate Addict's Programs, my story begins with great pain and heartache, but ends with great joy and self-satisfaction. I'm hopeful that sharing it can help others who have had the same feelings and experiences as I have had.
When I was 13 or so I started to put on weight. I had always been "chubby," but was never seriously overweight until I entered my teens. Because of my rapid weight gain -- I probably weighed about 130 lbs. when I began high school -- my mother took me to the doctor to see if I had a thyroid problem. I didn't, and like most of the doctors that I would see over the next 20 years, the doctor simply pronounced me "fat" and suggested that I follow the 1200 calorie diet he handed my mother. I found it very hard to stick with that diet, and my parents, especially my father, were highly critical of my lack of willpower. It did not matter how many straight-A report cards I brought home, how disciplined I was in studying, how determined to get into a good college. Because I was "fat" my father told me I would never be a success -- I would never find a job, no one would want to hire me, and I would most certainly never get married. After all, who could love someone who was fat? This went on through my high school years. Every time I ate anything at all, I got a hairy eyeball, a stare, a glare, or a downright mean comment. At the same time, my thin older sister was having what was considered a typical teenage rebellion. Yet my weight seemed to be the focus in our house. By the time I finished high school, I weighed about 170, and my eating was completely out of control.
Other aspects of my life were great -- I had a wonderful circle of very good friends, I was active in a youth group, I had strong ideals and values, and one of my relationships grew from friendship to become my first love. Although I had some success with traditional low-calorie diets along the way, I would always end up going off the diet, and gaining back the weight and more. I am a problem solver by nature, and I knew there was a problem, but I couldn't identify it, and if I couldn't identify it, I couldn't solve it.
A particularly low point came the summer of my high school graduation. I walked into my boyfriend's house to hear his mother say that my mother had called her and asked that he not share any fattening foods on the picnic we were going on that day. He made a light joke about it, and I laughed a little, but we were both embarrassed about the situation. It just reinforced my view of myself as a weak-willed person who had no control over what went into her mouth.
When I went off to college, things only got worse. My mother was no longer looking at every morsel that went into my mouth, and I took advantage of that freedom. Once I started, I couldn't stop. Pasta was my favorite food, and it seemed that I could eat bowl upon bowl, no matter how physically full or even physically sick I was. Having tried everything else, my last year of college I went to a hypnotist. Finally, I had success. I lost 40 pounds, going from 232 to 192 in eight months. I left the hypnotist believing that I didn't have any willpower, and that it was only because he hypnotized me that I was able to stick to my diet. Looking back, the diet I stuck to was clearly a low-carbohydrate diet -- a cheese sandwich for lunch, and chicken, salad and a low-carb veggie for dinner. I see now that the reason I found it so easy to stick to it was because it was low-carb.
After college, I went out into the working world, and for about 3 years, I stayed at that weight. My career was progressing, and my social life was great. I had good friends who described me as the "most together" person of our group. But there was another problem, and I knew I had to take care of it. All through high school and college my periods were very irregular. When I was a teen, my doctor said it was normal for someone my age, but when I turned 25, I became much more concerned about it. I went to the doctor, and he said that I had a hormone imbalance, and prescribed the birth control pill as a solution. It did correct my irregular periods, but in the year that I was on the pill, I gained over 60 pounds and my blood pressure shot up so that I had to take medication for it. Since that was not working, the doctor, without doing further tests, prescribed thyroid medication and prednisone -- a steroid which has weight gain as one of its side effects.
After trying to find out more information about what actually was wrong with me, I decided to go to an endocrinologist, who finally identified the syndrome I was suffering from -- PCO, or PolyCystic Ovarian Syndrome. PCO is a disorder of the endocrine system, and some of its symptoms include irregular periods, hirsutism (excessive body and facial hair), obesity, sudden weight gain, acne, male-pattern baldness, infertility and insulin resistance.
By the time I was 30, I weighed a whopping 266. Although I was thankful to my endocrinologist for finally diagnosing me, he was not very helpful in figuring out what to do about it. His solution was to find the proper balance of medications, and, of course, for me to lose weight. As to how -- eat less! He could see that I was an intelligent person, he said, and so I must realize that I must eat less to weigh less. What was wrong with me, he continued, that I could not do that? I asked for help, but I got none. I was told it was really simple, and up to me. In the end, that turned out to be true, but only after my biggest stumbling block was removed.
Visiting doctors like that one only made me doubt myself more. He saw that, yes, I am intelligent, I've accomplished a lot in my profession, I've got diverse hobbies, good friends, and even relationships with men, despite the extra weight. And I came to ask the question I would ask myself so many more times over the years. If I could stick to a diet back when I was seeing the hypnotist, why couldn't I stick to one now? Other than the hypnosis, what was the difference? I found out later exactly what the difference was, but the only conclusion I could come to was that I simply had no willpower, no strength of character. Somewhere deep inside myself I knew this wasn't true, but my endocrinologist had battered me about my weight so many times, that I came to believe I was just an inferior person.
There are many problems you can have that you can overcome or at the very least hide. If you are uneducated, you can get an education. If you are too short, you can wear heels. If you have an ugly mole on the tip of your nose, you can have it removed. But if you have no willpower, if you don't have enough strength to say no, I won't eat that, even though you know you will benefit from saying no, what is the solution? If I could have conjured up some willpower, I surely would have done it before I was 30 and morbidly obese.
I always find it unreasonable when someone says to an overweight person "But don't you want to be thin?" as if they are choosing to be overweight. The life of a seriously overweight person is not fun. Fat jokes and jeers abound, clothes shopping sends chills down your spine, people stare and treat you impolitely, it's hard to move, your size greatly limits your activities, and people make assumptions about you that simply are not true. I am not lazy. I do care about my appearance. I am not a "fat slob." I would give my eyeteeth to be normal. But the one thing I couldn't do was stick to the recommended diet. The medical establishment had made a shift to high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets, and the more I tried to stick with it, the worse things got.
About this time I met my husband. He's a wonderful, supportive guy, with a great sense of humor and intelligence far beyond my own. We fell in love within about two weeks of meeting, and became engaged three months after we met. We set our wedding date for six months later. I did not want to be a fat bride, so I did my best to go on the high-carb, low-fat diet that was recommended by my doctor. It was a disaster, as usual. And the years that followed were the same way. My new endocrinologist treated me a little nicer than my old one, but she didn't have any answers either. Over the next six years, my weight ballooned once again, until it reached 314 lbs. I had gone to the doctor, at the end of my rope over my lack of willpower, my climbing weight, and now -- depression had set in. I had grown to hate myself so much that I could no longer take the embarrassment of going out in public. I tried to stay home as much as possible. I worked just enough to say I worked, and the only real outing I made was to go to the grocery store and lay in the supplies. I ate all the time. It was the first thing I thought about when I woke up, and the last thing I thought about when I went to sleep. And mostly I ate pasta. As a result, I had terrible stomach distress. I mistakenly believed that it was due to lactose intolerance or to eating too much fiber.
My trip to this new, very understanding doctor really helped me. Although I could still see her occasional looks of disgust, she was compassionate and kind. She had no diet suggestions for me, but she did tell me that I must make weight loss my priority. Seeing the number 314 on the scale had already told me that. I had no idea that I weighed that much. That Christmas I dreaded going to visit my in-laws. I begged my husband to let me stay home. I didn't want him to stay home -- I wanted him to go without me. If he would just tell them I was sick, I'd be glad to be home alone for the holiday. This was the lowest point of my life.
It was then that I knew I had to search for an answer. I couldn't subject my husband to my crying jags any longer. None of my doctors were going to help me find a solution. I took to the Internet and searched for two things -- diet and PCO. What I found changed my life.
Every time I found a reference to diet, low-carbing was mentioned, along with CAD* (the Carbohydrate Addict's Diet*). Whenever I found a PCO reference, it mentioned low-carbing and CAD* as a possible treatment to lessen the symptoms of the PCO. My first reaction was that it was a fluke. After I joined the PCO listserve, I saw it was anything but a fluke. Women were having real success -- not only losing weight, but helping their PCO symptoms. A lot of women on "the list" were trying to become pregnant and were ovulating for the first time in their lives as a result of CAD or other low-carbo programs. Some became pregnant. Some have already had their babies. Still there was the temptation to dismiss the results as coincidence. If there was a connection between low-carbing and PCO, then why hadn't any of my doctors told me about it.
As skeptical as I was, I decided to buy the CAD book* and try it. I met a woman in the bookstore who saw me looking at the book and encouraged me. She had been on CAD* and had lost weight for the first time in her life. As I read the CAD book*, I started to cry. The Hellers were talking about me. I wished I'd found them ten years and about 100 pounds earlier. I wasn't sure it would work for me -- after all, I had no willpower. How would I stick to the diet? But I decided to give it a try. All those women on the PCO listserve could not be wrong. I set a date to start, April 1, 1997, and made sure that I had the proper foods in the house. I ate heartily those last two weeks of March, and I read the book several more times to prepare myself. Each time I read it, I understood the insulin connection more.
I thought back on my experience with the hypnotist, and I realized that I didn't get my willpower from the hypnotist. I was able to lose weight because I was following a low-carbohydrate regimen, one that would fit into the CAD* program. When I made that realization, I finally felt that the Hellers were right. I had gone through another period of time in my twenties where I ate no breakfast and a tiny lunch, and then a balanced dinner. I had maintained my weight, which at the time was a comfortable 180. I now understand why I had such success during those times in my life -- the only times I was able to stick to a diet.
Starting CAD* was an adventure. I had nothing to lose, and everything to gain. I was so down at that point, that it didn't seem to matter if it didn't work, because I had resigned myself to my miserable existence -- or to putting an end to my existence at all. Only my husband kept me around during those dark times. I couldn't bear to leave him alone. He is a wonderful, caring person, and I couldn't bear to hurt him.
I didn't dare hope that CAD* could work for me, but inside myself I had to believe it would. The first day I still had those horrible cravings. The second day they were gone. I was amazed that I could actually go 5-6 hours without eating and without caring that I wasn't eating. For the first time in many years I had hope. For the first time, I was sticking with a diet. I couldn't believe it. And, I was having a small dessert at dinner, or a portion of rice or a baked potato. I ate no breakfast so I could save my second CM for after dinner, just in case I needed it. I still had a fear of not being able to eat whatever I wanted. What if I was hungry? What if my freedom from cravings didn't last past the first week? What if I went back to my old ways?
It never happened. It never happened because the Hellers are right. It never happened because I do have willpower. I am not a weak person. I am now as strong in controlling my eating as I am in other areas of my life. Around the third week, after averaging my weight and seeing a loss of nine pounds, I began to realize that CAD* is a program for life. It is not so much a diet as it is a health regimen. We all know not to eat things that are poisonous. No Drano, no unidentified wild mushrooms. Carbohydrates are like poison to me. They robbed me of my energy, they made me feel sick to my stomach all of the time, they made it impossible to lose weight, and they made me emotionally weak. I will never again get into the vicious cycle I was in. My recently reclaimed willpower won't allow it.
My PCO symptoms have disappeared. Little hairs are sprouting on my hairline. Other unwanted hair has disappeared. My periods are regular, and I ovulate each month. My excitement for life has returned, I frequently leave the house without giving my weight a thought, and I am a much happier person.
It's been eight months since I've started CAD*. I've lost 41 pounds so far, and hope to lose another 79. I will do it slowly, but I will do it. I've not only gotten my willpower back, but coupled with the support of a wonderful husband and the online support of the CASupport listserve and the Hellers, I feel strongly that I will succeed.
To all the doctors out there, I'd like to tell you that you need to educate yourselves. No single eating program can work for everyone. Clearly the low-fat, high-carbohydrate regimen that is recommended by most doctors is not the answer for many of us, and is in fact very harmful to some of us. Listen to your patients, instead of preaching to them, and, more importantly, listen to their results.
Just a word about the Hellers -- not only have they written a great series of books, they continue to research the topic and pass information on to all of us so that we may benefit and succeed. They take time from their busy schedules to review and comment on food logs, to "chat" online with us and to offer suggestions for trouble spots. Some people turn out to be less than you expect them to, but the Hellers have turned out to be more. Thank you so much, for giving me back my life.
Meryll B., Philadelphia
*Please note: The Carbohydrate
Addict's LifeSpan Program contains more current and detailed information than our first book, The Carbohydrate Addicts Diet (CAD).
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