(Hold on…this is going to be a long one!)
It was a weekend in late June, almost a year ago, that I was talking with my brother, Gabriel.
The occasion was my dad’s 70th birthday party in Pittsburgh. Gabe, a crossfit instructor, and I were talking about health-related issues, when I confided in him that I was struggling to lose weight. Despite following the Atkins diet diligently, I couldn’t seem to lose more than 10 pounds. I also shared my struggle with chronic fatigue. He quietly suggested I read a book called It Starts With Food. I took note and promptly changed the subject.
The weekend was great fun, filled with lots of partying and family and friends. In fact, Denise and her kids were in town for the festivities, and a good time was had by all. Super fun birthday party on Saturday night and winding down with the family on Sunday. All punctuated by inside jokes and hysterical laughter shared between me, Denise, and my sister, Melanie.
It was also the same weekend that my dad had a heart attack.
Turns out that shortly after my kids and I left, my dad started having chest pain and symptoms of what ended up being a heart attack. I didn’t know during our drive home to Ohio because nobody was able to call during the flurry of activity of getting him to the hospital and waiting for test results, but I was strangely weepy the whole drive home. Perhaps I was feeling that strange psychic connection that he and I have, the one that I think of him before the phone rings or he feels it before I call him. Or maybe I was just exhausted from a long weekend.
Needless to say, when something like this happens to a parent, it’s unsettling, to say the least. My experience was that it inspired a lot of soul searching. Fortunately, today my dad is OK and living large, just as he always has, with some changes, of course.
My life was about to change big time, too.
But first some background…
At the point that I spoke quietly with Gabriel, there was more going on than just a weight issue. My A1C was climbing to a pre-diabetic range, despite my dietary efforts, and my endocrinologist suggested that perhaps I might need to consider going on metformin. I resisted, but knew that at my next appointment I was probably going to have to give in. I was seriously overweight and just looked puffy. My feet and ankles swelled uncomfortably each day.
Frankly, I wondered if I might not be on the fast track to a heart attack myself.
I had been struggling with chronic fatigue for at least a decade. Fatigue informed most of my decisions and told me how I could live my life. It was mostly the only way my kids had known me to be.
Midway through that decade, things got worse. Shortly after I moved to back to Ohio, my already declining health took a turn for the worse and I ended up very ill with an ailment that doctors weren’t inclined to diagnose, with the exception of suggesting that it might have been in my head.
I was bedridden or mostly bedridden for several months. It was bad. When I woke up in the morning I could barely stand, but yet I had to wake my kids and get them out the door for school, as my then husband (now ex) left for work at 5am. I remember one morning after I got my then 13-year-old daughter out the door at 7am, I stood up and felt all the blood drain out of my arms and torso and felt a cool gel-like feeling spreading through my body, like I was going into shock. My then first-grade son would come home and climb into bed with me and cry. I prayed my kids wouldn’t wake up and find me dead one morning.
While I was quite ill, I wasn’t dead yet, and since mainstream doctors weren’t giving me any answers, I did my own research. I’d lie in bed with my laptop chasing answers on the Internet. Finally I found an alternative practitioner who diagnosed me with and treated me for adrenal insufficiency, which was in line with what my own personal research showed. What I wasn’t prepared for was the reason…due to gluten intolerance.
Gluten intolerance? What the hell? Who knew gluten intolerance could wreak so much havoc? I never had any stomach issues. But I did have a heavenly host of hormonal problems – adrenal insufficiency, hypothyroidism, and a couple of others – along with years of fatigue.
I thought about the diagnosis for two days, then realized that my only option was to go gluten free. Which I did. Religiously. Never turning back.
Over time my health improved. Gradually I got well. Little by little I was able to spend more time out of bed than in. And over a period of months and years my health improved to the point at which I could first get a part-time job, then eventually got a full-time job. Shortly thereafter also got a divorce.
So there I was, at my dad’s birthday party, six years after the onset of my major health crisis, having made so much progress with my health and wellness, yet still facing a life of fatigue. I was 45 and beginning to wonder if maybe I wasn’t going to have to live half a life for the rest of my days because of the fatigue.
I hid it well. Most people were unaware. My co-workers didn’t know, because I spent all of my energy getting through my workday.
But when I got home it wasn’t easy getting through the evenings, exhausted and needing to take care of everything that a single parent needs to do with two kids in the house.
I spent the weekends recuperating from my work week. I’d sleep late on Saturday, get up and fix breakfast for the kids, then go back to sleep for hours. Motherguilt was my constant companion, since I wasn’t able to spend waking hours with my kids or do things with them like I wanted to. It’s very painful hearing your kids say, “Mommy, please don’t go to sleep again,” but knowing there was no fighting it.
Yet when Gabe suggested reading “It Starts With Food” I was skeptical. Did you click on the link and see him? He’s a crossfit instructor, for cripe’s sake! What did he really know about my struggle? But I was in a bind, because I’d asked for his advice and what if he asked me if I read the book?
Little did I know how life changing it would be.
First, let me just say how well written the book is. It’s an easy, fun read, and I could tell that Dallas and Melissa are hilarious, and I want to be friends with them in my own special creepy way. You know, like when you know someone from the Internet? (Don’t even try to pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about!)
And, the book was based on solid science – science about hormones and other things that go bump in the night. Things that I had learned about in my Internet wanderings and research while I was ill.
It resonated with me.
Plus the aptly named Whole30 was only a 30-day commitment. After everything I’d been through, I could commit to just about anything for 30 days!
So, on July 23, 2012, I began my Whole30. No sugar or artificial sweeteners. No grains. No dairy. No legumes. No white potatoes. No booze. Only three meals a day, so make them good ones. And no stepping on the scale for the full 30 days. The idea being that this was about reclaiming your health, not weight loss per se. But I have to admit that I hoped that weight loss would be a happy side effect.
Me. Day 1 of my Whole30
Dallas and Melissa promised that if you followed the program religiously, at some point, magic would happen. And that’s what I was needing in my life. A little bit o’ magic.
So I jumped in. Day 1, pretty uneventful. In fact the first four days were. The only real problem I encountered was not eating enough and feeling really hungry between meals, which was easy to fix by eating more.
And then came Day 5.
Two words. Carb flu.
At the time my daughter was carpooling with me to her summer babysitting job near my workplace. I was driving to drop her off that morning and it hit me like a ton of bricks.
When I woke up that morning my large muscle groups were a little sore and achy, despite doing no exercise the day before. But that morning in the car I suddenly had a pounding headache, overwhelming nausea to the point that I thought I was going to have to pull the car over to vomit, and increasing pain in my muscles.
What the hell? Carb flu.
I dropped off my daughter and debated about whether to go to work. I decided to try. I took a pain reliever and tried to breathe through it. The nausea passed, as did the headache, and the muscle aches subsided with the pain reliever and I went on with my day, appreciating the distraction of work.
Then Day 6 happened.
On Day 6 I woke up with a clear head, feeling great, energy levels higher than I’d experienced in years. I felt downright euphoric! It was the magic that Dallas and Melissa had promised. It was really happening! And only six days in. I couldn’t believe that the five previous days of healthy eating could make such a dramatic change in my energy levels.
I was fearful, too, that this feeling and energy wasn’t going to last. But I forged ahead with the Whole30, sticking to it religiously. Good things kept happening. My clothes got looser and my great energy levels continued.
Day 14 of my Whole30 and already less puffy
By the end of my Whole30, I’d lost 19 pounds and countless inches. But I didn’t want to stop. I wanted to continue to heal my body from the years of illness I had endured. So my Whole30 became a Whole60.
After 60 days, I was looking noticeably different and people were asking me what I was doing. I became what I lovingly refer to as an annoying convert. Telling anyone who asked what I was doing about It Starts With Food.
Me after the Whole60
I went on to complete a Whole100 and was feeling wonderful and lost over 30 pounds.
Selfie in the elevator at work after completing my Whole100
And here’s more amazing news…my A1C is back down to perfectly normal levels and I haven’t had a blood sugar crash since I started the Whole30.
While I’m not still “officially” on the Whole30, I still eat pretty close to it, definitely keeping it paleo, with only occasional minor offroading. I’ve grown to love vegetables and look forward to piling them high on my plate!
The new me today.
While I continue to lose weight – over 50 pounds at this writing – the more important reason I’m sticking with it is that my restored energy levels remained and have been life changing.
I have energy again! I laugh and have fun and joke around in ways that I haven’t done in years. I used to be so achy in the mornings, to the point that I’d have to stretch my legs and feet before getting out of my car at work or risk my feet and legs giving out, and now I bound out of my car and through my day.
More importantly, I’m doing things with my kids again, able to go places and do things with them.
Now that spring has sprung, I’m outside exercising, riding my bike, walking, and I’ve even taken up running several times a week. And it feels so good!
I’ve even started dating, which I wouldn’t have had the mental or emotional energy for before, or frankly the time when I was sleeping my weekends away!
Even this blog probably wouldn’t have been possible without this amazing change in my life.
For all of this, I am so thankful. I went from living half an existence to launching an amazing, fully-lived life! My life is so different now than it was just 10 short months ago. It’s hard to believe, but at 46, I feel like my awesome life is just beginning!
And I can’t even begin to express my deep gratitude to Dallas and Melissa, my new friends (in that creepy Internet way), for writing this book and sharing this life-changing information. I feel that I will be forever indebted to you for giving me the tools to go from living half a life to regaining my health and my strength and my energy, allowing me to live a full and amazing life! Two parallel paths were mine to chose from, and I’m so thrilled to have been shown an option that allowed me to live a whole and exciting life! To Dallas and Melissa, I say a tearful “thank you!”
I’m so thrilled to feel alive again!