Wow, so I’m starting to open up and get quite personal about my experiences in the "my journey" series. I was really hesitant to share these details about my life, however, the feedback I’m receiving tells me that this information is helpful and inspirational for many of you. And that’s what I want: to help and inspire. So I will continue.
I’m going to talk about my experience with my weight and my size in this story. Please note that I’ve never dealt with extreme amounts of weight gain or weight-loss, the most I’ve ever weighed is 20-25 pounds above my optimal/ideal weight for my body. I’ve also weighed 20 pounds LESS than my ideal weight.
So I discuss weight-loss here, but my focus has always been in terms of how my clothes fit, and how many clothes sizes I changed. At 5 foot 4 inches, even a 10-pound weight-loss can result in a change of a couple of dress sizes for me.
I share this story for those struggling with or are interested in losing excess weight, and are either wondering why their efforts may not be
Every body will respond differently, and as you will see with the two different weight-loss events in my life, even separate events of weight-loss can look different in the SAME PERSON.
When I was an adolescent I was skinny. I didn’t think I was skinny at the time, but that’s another story. I weighed 15-20 pounds less than when I reached my ideal body weight of 125 pounds in my 20s after gaining muscle and curves.
Turns out, I’m a pear. That means I carry any extra weight predominantly around my hips, thighs and buttocks. Storing weight here is actually the best place to store it: it’s the most metabolically neutral and least likely to contribute to metabolic disorders here. But it makes it hard to find a pair of jeans that fits both around the waist while giving enough room for those womanly hips!
Back to the story… when I started University, I gained the frosh 5-10. Shockingly, eating cafeteria food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I didn’t gain more than that. Perhaps it was those “magic vegetables” I begrudgingly had scooped on my plate every day. You know the kind: those boiled vegetables that all have different shapes and colours, but they all “magically” taste the same!
In second year, I joined the army reserves, and started gaining muscle, which gave me another 5 pounds, but this time, it was a good 5. I was at a size and weight that was comfortable and optimal for me, and maintained this for the next couple of years. My clothes were a dress size 6/7 at this point.
The summer before I started my Masters, I had a stressful summer. I worked as a medical assistant on an army base, and I was working alternating 12-hour night and day shifts. Near the end of the summer, I got sick with strep throat and lost my voice. I remember I had the worst time trying to recover, and never fully bounced back afterward. It was at that time that I started developing headaches and migraines.
I remember being just exhausted when I started my Masters. I couldn’t stay awake during class, which, as I mentioned in my part 1 story, was extremely embarrassing. When there’s only 10 or 15 people in a class, falling asleep is very obvious!
During the course of the year, as my fatigue got worse and worse, my weight crept up more and more. My clothes didn’t fit me anymore. In that year my dress size went from a 6/7 to a 9/10.
I then started to develop chronic sinus infections, the migraines were getting worse, and the fatigue was so crippling it was getting difficult to function. Just being awake was painful, but I had no choice but to force myself. And the weight kept creeping up. Within 2 years, I was in a size 13, and weighed 150 pounds.
I was miserable. Everything hurt. I always felt so sick. It was becoming difficult to bend over and tie my shoes. I needed a solution.
I came across a book written by Dr. Atkins. It talked about a diet that cut out carbohydrates to lose weight. He made it sound super easy. So I decided to give it a try.
I was miserable. The adjustment was just awful. I was irritable and hungry all the time. But of course, I wasn’t eating properly, either. I had a job at that point where I was on the road a lot driving ambulances. So I was living off of cheese and pepperoni sticks. I wasn’t cooking proper meals. Not ideal.
And I just wanted a vegetable! This version of Atkins suggested no vegetables at all, only a bit of avocado introduced later on, which, I absolutely savoured.
I didn’t really lose much weight. Maybe 5 pounds, which brought me to 145. But my clothes weren’t really fitting much differently. I tried this for 6 months. Why wasn’t it working?
I gave up and reintroduced bread. Oh my goodness, did my body react! My intestines let me know that there was a war going on inside of me. Of course, at this time, I didn’t really put two and two together and say “hey, maybe I shouldn’t eat this”. After a few days, the intestinal war calmed down, so I continued to eat bread. Of course I continued to feel horrible physically.
I joined weight watchers, and counted my points or calories or whatever it was that I was supposed to be doing. I was always hungry. Hungry sucks.
I continued to feel worse. On top of chronic sinus infections and weekly migraines and chronic fatigue, I was developing weird swellings on my fingers that were spreading, which made it impossible to type. By this point I had switched jobs and was working at a desk. When it hurts to type and all you do all day is type, it’s enough to make one mad.
Soon after is when someone suggested to me that I see a holistic nutritionist. I’d never heard of one, but I figured I’d give it a go. I needed an answer.
She told me to cut out dairy and wheat. I told her she was crazy. My diet revolved around dairy. I drank gallons of milk, ate tons of yogurt, and lots of cheese. So much cheese. I’d already cut out wheat during the Atkins diet, but I had NOT cut out dairy. Just the opposite: my consumption of cheese had increased 10-fold.
I begrudgingly followed her suggestion to cut out the dairy and the wheat. I went back to some of the Atkins principles I had learned, but very loosely. I allowed myself some non-wheat rye bread (they didn’t have gluten-free bread freely available in those days), but it was expensive so I only had it on occasion.
I focused on meat and vegetables as the primary aspect of my plate, but did have sprinklings of rye bread, occasional rice, and when we went out: potatoes. Potatoes are my downfall. I really do love them. If I couldn’t have anything with wheat or dairy when we went out, I was gonna have potatoes!! I also made sure to cut out added sugar. So no candy bars, etc.
The weight melted off me. I lost 25 pounds in about 3 months. I was back to a size 7. Just like that. And even better, I felt so so much better. No more sinus infections, no more migraines.
It was the dairy. The delicious, yummy dairy.
Since this experience eliminating dairy, I went back to school and attained a 4-year diploma to become a licensed Naturopathic Doctor. In my experience as a practitioner, I have found over and over again that dairy can be a culprit and contribute to inflammation for many.
Sometimes it can look like physical symptoms (anything from what I experienced with sinus infections and migraines, to skin rashes, psoriasis, or eczema, to digestive issues, joint pain, asthma and allergies, etc). Sometimes an issue with dairy can look like stubborn weight-gain. Sometimes it can look like not being able to keep weight on and struggling with being underweight. Sometimes it can be a combination of physical symptoms AND weight issues, as it was with me.
I often see similar issues with other types of foods as well. Common culprits are dairy, wheat and/or gluten (I’ll have to talk about that in another post), corn, soy, sugar. Sometimes it’s just one food, sometimes it’s more than one.
I want to emphasize this point about dairy because I see over and over again in communities like low-carb and keto groups that some people complain they're not losing weight and they don’t understand why.
I’ll talk about these types of dietary regimes again in the future, however, I want to point out that often these protocols include dairy. Like when I followed the Atkins diet myself.
Unfortunately, some people just don’t tolerate dairy. It could be a lactose intolerance, a sensitivity to dairy proteins themselves, or an anaphylactic allergy. For me, I soon discovered my issue was the latter.
After about 8 months of being dairy-free, I was exposed to a tiny bit of whey protein mixed in a recipe. Within minutes, my eyes and tongue started swelling. This is a sign of an allergy. This would explain a lot about why my body reacted so positively once I finally cut out the abundant quantities of dairy from my diet, and why I struggled so much when I was consuming so much dairy.
So take-home message number one:
If you’re trying to follow some dietary regime that has a strong track record for weight-loss and you’re just not seeing results, or you’re not feeling well or feeling better following that way of eating, consider that there’s a food you’re eating that’s not working for you.
So back to my story. After I got back to a comfortable size, my path changed and evolved with diet and lifestyle. First, I started getting involved in triathlons, half-marathons, and distance cycling. I gained about 5 pounds of muscle, especially in my legs, so my weight was stable at around 130 pounds.
Then I decided to go vegetarian. I was on a path of experimentation. I thought this would be a very healthy option for me. Much to my parent’s dismay, one year I had them over for thanksgiving dinner, and made a tofu turkey. That didn’t go over well at all. My mother was so sick after that meal. I’m so sorry, mom.
During the few years as a vegetarian, my weight remained stable, but I developed debilitating anxiety. I knew I had to supplement with vitamin B12, which I did. However, being pre-naturopathic school days, I didn’t realize just how many other nutrients needed to be supplemented, as well.
Looking back, I can see just how little omega-3 fatty acids I was taking in, which I’m sure didn’t help my mental state whatsoever. As well, I was likely lacking in certain amino acids, which are important building blocks to synthesizing various neurotransmitters for the brain.
After my first year at naturopathic college, I took a summer job as a bicycle courier. Biking 100 kilometres per day, I quickly found that my vegetarian diet just wasn’t cutting it to give me the fuel that I needed. I decided to reintroduce meat. My energy and recovery time quickly improved, and my anxiety all but completely resolved. Just. like. that.
Truly what we eat on a daily basis has a huge role to play in terms of how our body functions. This food will affect all biochemical reactions that happen in the body and will impact how we feel both physically and mentally.
So I went back to meat, fish, and vegetables and occasional smatterings of dark rye bread, wild rice, and whenever I would eat out, the lovely potato. I’m not much of a fruit person, and my sweet cravings usually tend towards dark chocolate, which I ate very liberally. However, dairy-free ice cream did make an appearance from time to time. I also had a weakness for hummus and rice crackers, which I indulged in during study marathons.
My weight remained relatively stable during these years as I studied at Naturopathic college. After I graduated, I moved across the country to British Columbia, where I started to practice as a Naturopathic Doctor, on a beautiful, tiny, isolated island. It was beautiful and stressful experience all at the same time.
I came across a bread machine while I was there. I discovered a delicious gluten-free bread recipe using highly refined gluten-free flour. This was the beginning of weight-gain adventure number two. I loved this bread. I ate A LOT of it.
Then I met a man who was trained as a professional cook. He made delicious food. A lot of food. Unfortunately, much of this food was fried in inflammatory vegetable oil, with lots of starches on the side.
This culinary journey with him was delicious, but it caused me to continue to add on the pounds. As I will mention over and over again, the combination of fats plus starches in the same meal is the worst culprit for stimulating overeating, for causing food cravings, and stimulating weight gain.
Think about it: you eat starches or sugars that stimulate insulin release. Insulin is a storage hormone not only to store the sugar in the
So I gained weight. I got up to a size 12. I was starting to feel uncomfortable, but I wasn’t feeling quite as bad as I had been years prior when I had reached my heaviest.
I moved to Northwest British Columbia, and I eventually left the relationship. When I started cooking again for myself regularly, I started to lose some weight. I was around a size 10 or 11 when I met my current partner.
He started eating like me, and he lost 25 pounds in 3 months - He went from 200 pounds to 175, and from a size 36 to 32 pants.
He cut out dairy and reduced how much wheat and sugar he was eating. He told me he had always struggled to achieve better weight-control, and he was amazed at how easily it fell off after making those changes.
I think a big part of that was the fact that he stopped eating large quantities of sweetened flavoured yogurt every day. Not only did he cut out the dairy, but there’s an astonishing amount of added sugar in sweetened yogurt. It’s no better than eating ice cream, really. He had no idea. He had thought his vanilla-flavoured greek yogurt was a very healthy thing he was doing for himself, which is why he ate so much of it.
After a while together living in Northwest British Columbia, his work contract came due and he had to move back to his home in Quebec. At the same time, my mother who was back east was diagnosed with terminal cancer. These were signs it was time to move back east. I’m so grateful I was able to spend some time closer to my mom before she passed away.
The last few weeks of her life were harrowing, and I spent them sleeping in a chair beside her hospital bed. I didn’t get much sleep, and I was sucking back sugary beverages to keep myself going. Not ideal at all.
Two weeks after her passing, I fell ill. I thought it was just a cold and it would pass. I thought wrong. You can read the details of what I experienced in my part 2 post. I’m quite certain the overwhelming stress was a huge trigger for what unfolded for me health-wise.
I was ill and full of inflammation. I started gaining weight again. Lots of it. The sicker I got, the bigger I got. At my biggest, I was about 155 pounds and a size 14. I was following the autoimmune protocol (AIP), which is a stricter from of the paleolithic diet, however, I have to admit I was consuming quite a lot of starches along with my hallowed coconut oil at the beginning, which likely contributed to the weight gain.
However, in the last few months before I switched diets, I had whittled my diet down to low-carbohydrate vegetables and meat and fish, and my weight was still unaffected, and my symptoms were continually worsening.
That’s when I switched to the carnivore diet as an experiment (again, if you wish to learn more about that, read my part 2 post). It took two days and my symptoms of fatigue, dizziness, nausea, joint pain, rashes, and more disappeared. It was shocking. However, my weight didn’t change, at least, not at first.
This is the thing at times - sometimes when we make a change to a different way of eating to help ourselves heal, we need to heal the inflammation first before we’ll see weight changes. For me, it took 4 months.
I had lost maybe a pound or two during those first 4 months, but I was continuing to improve in certain ways symptom-wise. Then all of a sudden, 4 months in, 15 pounds dropped off of me in a matter of weeks. It was shocking how quickly it all happened. I went from a size 14 to 12 to 11 to 10 in a matter of four weeks. Talk about a fluid wardrobe change!
I stayed stable at that size and weight for 2-3 months, then another 5 pounds and another dress size disappeared, seemingly, almost instantly.
Presently, I’m holding steady at around 135 pounds, and a size 8/9. I’m still dealing with some health issues, and still playing around with my diet to figure out how to manage those symptoms.
I’ve managed to reintroduce a few choice vegetables, and even the occasional potato. My goals with my diet are not to lose weight. If I lose another 5 pounds and get back to a size 7, that’s great. But I’m also happy to stay where I am.
What’s most important is that I maintain my muscle mass, and continue to improve my symptoms. As we age, we lose muscle naturally. But we can do things to preserve that mass, like eating enough protein and performing resistance moves with our muscles. I never want to be in a situation where any weight-loss results in muscle loss. This can negatively impact strength and ability to maintain physical independence as we age.
There are a couple of take-home messages from this story:
1. Inflammation can impair weight-loss efforts. It’s important to determine what could be causing inflammation for you.
2. Food sensitivities can be a contributing factor to inflammation. Top aggravating foods can include dairy, wheat and/or gluten, corn, soy. If you have these in your diet and you’re not seeing the weight-loss efforts you like, consider a test of cutting them out. ESPECIALLY if you’re following a low-carb/keto/LCHF protocol and just not seeing any benefits, try cutting dairy.
3. No matter what way of eating you choose, avoid the combination of high-starch with high-fat mixed together. This will stimulate more eating, cravings, and fat storage, and hinder weight-loss efforts.
4. Weight-loss may not happen right away, especially if you have other stuff going on like inflammation and immune reactivity. Your body may need to balance and resolve the other stuff first before you balance the weight.
5. Weight-management can look different for everyone. Just because you’re not experiencing the same thing as someone else in the same way or the same time frame, doesn’t mean you should give up. You may need to tweak things (for example, point 2 listed above), but you may just need time.
What do you think?
I hope that you’ve been able to find some help and inspirational information here to help you along your own journey. If you’re feeling confused and think you’d like some help figuring this all out for yourself, please feel free to contact me, at email@example.com.
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