My own journey with weight and health has been one of struggle to triumph, with lots of periods of defeat and resignation in between. But reflecting back on it, I am amazed how much I have been able to transform my life by learning effective ways to create the healthy body I now enjoy today.
I really started gaining weight and would describe myself as overweight by age 8. Even at that young of an age, my affinity for sugary cereals, cookies, and cakes had taught me how good food could make me feel. Vegetables were arch enemy #1 (except corn, which I really liked). To get me to eat broccoli, cauliflower, or zucchini my mom knew to hand me the canister of Dayglo orange powdered cheese!
As I went through middle school, weight became more of a struggle for me. Despite being socially connected, inside I felt self-conscious and wanted to hide my body. By the time I was 17, I would do anything to lose weight.
So, I used my babysitting money to join a weight loss program where I would weigh-in twice a week and follow strict food guidelines. Because I was underage, the woman running the center did not allow me to calorie restrict as much as the program required for adults. Instead, I was to eat a very low-fat diet of about 1000 calories and take fiber weight loss supplements throughout the day. I did lose weight. For the first time since 1st grade, I got to experience what it felt like to navigate life at a ‘normal’ weight. Sadly, I still struggled with my relationship with food. Stopping at a gas station to buy Hostess Suzie-Qs or a Mars bar on my way home from weighing-in at the weight loss center certainly indicated just how much had not changed, and was a sure sign of how this endeavor was going to unravel.
Once I stopped strictly following the food guidelines and started eating more like I had before entering the program, my weight started creeping back up steadily. After 4 years of college (2 years loading up in the residence hall cafeteria!), my weight was once again a source of self-consciousness and discontent.
Throughout the next 23 years, I did what so many people who struggle with being overweight or obese do–I would find some “diet” plan to follow and lose weight (generally by restricting in an unsustainable way), feel better about my body, and then watch the weight come right back, often even more than what I had lost.
Besides denying the lack of success of the yo-yo dieting and ignoring any underlying relationship with food issues, I was also fooling myself that my health was not affected by any of this; let alone that my health could be contributing to it. In the back of my mind, the fact that both of my grandmothers had developed type II diabetes meant that I was destined to have it as well.
But I figured I would be about 65 years old when I needed to face that reality. Instead, when I was 32 I went to the doctor due to recurring yeast infections. She prescribed me fluconazole and was ready to wrap up the appointment when I asked if maybe this could be a sign that I might have high blood sugar (a friend had told me this was a symptom she experienced with her type II diabetes). Bingo! My in office finger prick blood glucose level was 318 mg/dl. So my doctor ordered blood tests, and the results revealed that my HbA1c was 13.1% (4.0-5.6% is considered normal; 5.7-6.4% is considered prediabetes; and 6.5% and above is type II diabetes). I was severely diabetic and catapulting myself down the path of risk factors for just about every other health problem I knew I did not want (i.e., cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, dementia/Alzheimer’s disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease).
Unfortunately, this did not serve as enough of a wake-up call for me to reconsider my lifestyle and anything I could do to change the course of my health. I too easily bought into the information spewed in medical circles and popular culture that diabetes is a progressive disease that cannot be reversed. When my doctor told me that the goal would be to lower my blood sugar and try to postpone the consequences (pretty sure she alluded to blindness, toe/foot amputation, kidney failure, etc) by prescribing medications, I thought that sounded like a good plan. She also had me speak to a diabetes nutrition educator about how I could help manage my blood sugar through how I ate. Soon after that initial diagnosis and education, I decided to do little to effect change via diet and exercise. Instead, I chose to bury my head, take whatever medications were prescribed, and hope that some type of ‘cure’ would be found before I lost my sight or toes. What I also did not know at that time is that the “diabetes education” I received was counter to what I actually needed to know and would only further assure that it would be a progressive disease for me until negative consequences and a likely premature death.
For much of the next 10 years or so, I continued eating whatever I wanted (generally involving the same sugary treats I had always enjoyed–like breakfast of PopTarts and diet soda, etc.). I was inconsistent about following up with a doctor (graduate school and no health insurance), and took medications as prescribed when I had them. At any given point I was up up to three diabetic medications, a statin as preventative measure, and an ace-inhibitor to protect my kidneys.
My weight continued to fluctuate during this time. And my diabetes continued full force.
Some medications I was prescribed seemed to lead to minimal weight loss (like the one that mocked the saliva of a gilla monster and required shots at mealtimes), while others packed on pounds rapidly (after starting one medication, I gained 9lbs in 3 weeks!). I had once again reached my highest weight of about 207, then lost some of it gradually by tweaking my food and exercising like crazy. By end of 2012, I again severely restricted my food intake, exercised obsessively, and lost enough weight to reach a range that seemed more ‘normal’ for me and then got down to about 135 lbs in 2013. Once I lost my focus on restricting and exercising so much, the weight started piling on again and by 2014 I was back at 155 lbs. And with the multitude of medications I was taking, my best HbA1c result to this point was 7.0%. Still too high to prevent running risks of multiple health complications due to high blood sugar.
I had had ENOUGH! I started reading about food and weight and blood sugar, and the pieces started to come together. I totally revamped how I ate and finally started addressing my underlying relationship with food. I lost the weight I wanted to lose to get to a healthy weight for me. And, I quickly started reducing and eliminating the medications I was taking. My blood sugars were dropping! I actually COULD control my diabetes with how I was eating!
By summer of 2016, my blood sugars were increasing and so was my weight. Once again, I had to take an honest look at what I was eating and what wasn’t working. This meant another change in my overall approach to eating. By the end of January, 2017 I had reestablished my healthy body weight and achieved an HbA1c of 5.3%! And I was not taking any prescription medications. That meant that if I had walked into a new doctor’s office with no reported history, my blood test results would not even indicate that I was prediabetic.
I had reversed my diabetes completely.
Since then I have incorporated other strategies to improve my health, insulin/blood sugar levels, and weight management. I am looking forward to my next blood test to see if I have successfully lowered my HbA1c yet again.
If you have read this far, I appreciate your interest. My journey has certainly had its twists and turns, and I certainly never knew that my current weight and health markers were possible for me. But I am here to tell you that if all of this is possible for me, I know that it is possible for you!
If my story sounds familiar to you, take advantage of my hard-earned wisdom and understanding to reach your personal goals. Get your free, no-risk Coaching Discovery Call with me and find out how you can reestablish your health and well-being!
Terri Lance, PhD