Tuesday, December 18, 2007


About 1990 I went to a gynecologist who turned out to be a misogynist. This is more common that anyone would hope. He told me I was overweight (not a surprise) and that I simply needed to push myself away from the table. Fat is simply a surplus of calories-in. Change the balance with calories-out and I would lose weight.

Half a dozen excursions through Weight Watchers had taught me differently. I had bought a book about research on fat and I gave it to this guy for the sake of his future patients. Now I wish I hadn’t, though I can probably recapture the information via the Internet. It was about the molecular nature of sugars, proteins, lipids (fats) and how they were processed through human bodies, both between cells and within cells. There was research about ion pumps to take molecules through cell walls and how the molecules were stored inside the cells. Quite a bit had to do with water management both within and without the cells. This was a whole ecology of substances, their interaction and balances. It was not at all like my understanding of fat, which mostly was based on observations of bacon or tallow: that fat was a sort of goo that got smeared on one’s body under the skin.

More recently the town handyman, faced with a big life-changing move when his sons left school, decided to lose his formidable pot-belly. A methodical sort, he made a list of all the foods he ate, looked up their calorie counts, and crossed the five highest in calories off his list. He would not eat them. He lost fifty pounds in very little time. Lucky he wore bib-overalls or his pants would have fallen off!

So when I was diagnosed with diabetes 2 (because my retinas hemorrhaged), I knew I HAD to lose weight. This time I had the Internet. I decided to go with a combination health-food and low-glycemic sort of principle. I stopped eating anything with white sugar, white flour, corn syrup, or processed ingredients -- even (or maybe especially) if it was supposed to be for diabetics. I didn’t put imitation sugar or cream in my coffee -- I simply drank it black. If things were bitter or sour or aromatic, I learned to like them that way. Turned out not to be hard. And I lost fifty pounds quickly.

What I’ve reflected on since is what it felt like to lose the weight this time: it was like working a poison out of my system. This time the weight came off according to gravity, which one might expect though it certainly didn’t do that when I lost weight when I was in college. In those days it came off my waist and belly. Now it came off my face, my bosom (which conveniently folded down out of the way), my arms and legs and my hands and feet. I was fascinated that my fingers got long and slender. I could wear my wedding ring, if I wanted to, but I haven't since being divorced in 1970. I still have a pot belly, though it’s also somewhat “folded.”

I had several of what doctors identified as “lipomas” which is to say, “fat lumps,” an opinion they were so sure of that they refused to do biopsies or x-rays. (I was sure it was cancer -- I’m always sure EVERYTHING is cancer and since weight-loss is a cancer symptom, it takes a certain amount of fatalism for me to be brave enough to lose weight.) One lipoma was right above my knee in the back of my right thigh. Doctors hated to even feel it because they thought a fat middle-aged woman must be wanting a cheap thrill by getting the doctor to feel her lumps. (At least that’s the impression I got.) Gradually, it left.

But what I noticed was that in a streak going towards my body was a kind of almost-pain which I interpreted as being a sort of inflammation or varicosity of the big vein that returns blood from the feet. My fantasy is that the fat was being “shipped out” up that vein, which irritated it. That got me thinking about what it means to convert stored cellular fat into something that can travel out of the cell and be used somehow. Would it be glucose? I had read about people who had stored molecules of fat-soluble substances in cells, then lost weight which released the captured substances back into the blood. Some were contaminating substances -- maybe pesticides or heavy metals -- and sometimes it was hallucinogens, like LSD which brought on ghosts. I’ve never taken recreational drugs, but working in the foundry exposed me to strange things.

I wasn’t hungry on my invented diet, partly because I felt free to eat peanuts. They didn’t make my blood sugar go up, for some reason. I took a bare minimum of drugs -- one metformin in the morning -- though my original doctor had prescribed a handful of strong stuff which scared the bejeezuz out of me when my blood sugar plunged. I discovered cheese made my blood sugar go up steeply -- also potatoes -- but sometimes I craved cheese. What was it that my body wanted? (I’ve always believed in that idea that bodies “know” what they want.) When I take fish oil capsules and vitamin D, the craving diminishes. Aha!

My head is one hat-size smaller. My face has a jaw and cheekbones, which read as “good-looking” in our culture. My thick-facial-hair/thinning-head-hair syndrome (Inherited from my father’s side: an aunt and a great-aunt ended up bald. Shirley Maclaine has it but she can afford excellent wigs.) is probably increased. This is NOT read as “good-looking” and raises suspicions of high male hormones, which turns out to be true. This syndrome, the research suggests, arises in part when the gestating mother is afraid and full of adrenaline. My own mother was alone in the city for the first time -- my dad was on the road -- and had little community for support. She kept a .45 in the nightstand. In short, I’m becoming movie-star material because my mom was scared in 1939. My ear wax came back. What the heck does THAT mean??

But what strikes me -- to use an electronic screen analogy -- is that it’s as though someone adjusted my “screen” so that it’s high brightness, high contrast, and faster computation. I’m thinking fast, willing to get out and do stuff, better able to multi-task, and not so inclined to depression or just lassitude. I had thought I was aging quickly and would not be able to maintain this house much longer. Now I don’t feel that way. (All I need is money!) Who knew that this could be achieved NOT through medicine, NOT through buying beauty aids, but simply by NOT eating some things. This is not an insight about diabetes so much as it is an insight about how we are poisoning ourselves with polluted, over-refined and “fortified” food. Some folks have been telling us this for a long time.

My fantasy is little floating bits of molecular lipids leaving cells on blood and lymph streams, then being burned or exhaled or excreted. Sometimes I think I can almost feel it. My arm skin is loose and crepey. My formerly rock-like thigh muscles are soft, manipulable. My neck went from being a double-chin to being pleated. None of this has been as bad as I expected. I’ve been losing weight for two years now with resting platforms in terms of weight-loss and then more loss. It seems very much tied into tissue-water management (I tend to be dehydrated). My best indicator that my glucose level is too high or low is that my retinas get thick with water and my eyesight blurs. The shallow curves of ebb and flow left in my reproductive cycle clearly participate.

This kind of self-examination is not always very comfortable but a writer should not draw back. Reality is what we want. One would think that doctors would feel even more so that way if they weren’t drugged fat by money and the pharm industry.


Too frank said...

Fascinating. I became overweight owing to depression and lost a lot of it by similar means to you -- it was blogging that restored some of my will to live and helped me to do it. I concur with your comments about poison. Scientists working in the obesity field refer to it as "food intoxication" - how we slowly poison our bodies over tens of years by putting too much stuff into it. Corn syrup, as you note, is a particular problem in the USA, as it is "snuck into" so many processed foods.
You mention about your hat size -- I have large feet and found it surprising but pleasant that my feet got thinner, making it easier to fit into shoes that previously had pinched by the end of the day.

I read a newspaper article about a British comedian/actor named Stephen Fry who recently lost a lot of weight for a part. He was being interviewed, and was asked whose diet he used. He replied "I wanted to lose weight. I stopped eating so much. End of story". Celebrity diet gurus should take note, the best way to lose weight is to do it the way you describe -- I find exercise boring but at the end of the day it is an equation of in vs out, and your and your friend's approach of identifying the highest calories in the intake is great -- it both works and means you don't have to make the celeb diet gurus any richer than they already are!

prairie mary said...

Elizabeth Taylor's diet is simply to order the same food as usual, then divide everything on the plate in half and throw away half. It works for her. When she does it.

I meant to say that there are a couple of drawbacks to losing weight. I have a small butt anyway, and now it's bony. I'm cold much more of the time than I used to be, esp. my feet.

But I have some elegant red pumps I haven't worn for many years and I think I could now. More than anything else, my viscera (one's hollow organs, I saw them described somewhere) have room at last -- as I lost weight it must have been coming from among them. The sensation was rather like having a very crowded bus inside and as the people leave, the remainder sighs and spreads out until everyone has a proper seat.

Prairie Mary

Maxine said...

That is a lovely way to put it!

communicatrix said...

So interesting. Most of my life I was thin or underweight, so my first experience with altered diet came with the onset of Crohn's disease--my effort to stay off the most toxic meds and put *on* much-needed poundage.

The diet excludes di- and polysaccharides, which means almost all processed, bad-for-you foods. (I still eat a diet high in fats, even animal, but all non-processed.)

As a completely unintended and unanticipated (but welcome!) side effect, my energy probably quadrupled on this diet. And once my weight normalized up, my appetite decreased. Bacon, but only *once* per week; full-fat (homemade) yogurt, but only once per day.

The whole experience gave me much insight into the way food works--or doesn't.

Of course, diet is often a YMMV thing.

I can, however, confirm that that crappy circulation thing is a side effect of low weight. Asslessness is another.

prairie mary said...

What's happened with the Crohn's? Evil stuff. Did the diet and so on help?

Our food and our moral standards both corrupted by corporations. It's just too much. Where to start rolling it back? Awareness, I guess. No wonder they want to control the Internet.

Prairie Mary

Kirsten said...

I had thought I was aging quickly and would not be able to maintain this house much longer. Now I don’t feel that way. (All I need is money!) Who knew that this could be achieved NOT through medicine, NOT through buying beauty aids, but simply by NOT eating some things.

Amen to that.

I had an impulse a couple of months ago to look into the whole "anti inflammation" notion. I didn't need to go any further than a few Internet articles. I doubled my daily dose of fish oil capsules, added CoQ 10 to my (modest) supplement regimen, cut back on refined carbs, and started using my juicer more faithfully.

Almost overnight, myriad little aches and pains disappeared. I thought they were the inevitable from hunching at a computer all day--but it was diet. Now my shoulders no longer hurt, my right wrist doesn't hurt, my neck doesn't hurt. My migraines are less frequent. The swelling and pain that had cropped up in the knuckles of my left hand has almost completely disappeared. It's amazing . . . I'd begun to resign myself to the notion of becoming more & more stiff & achey as I aged -- and here's this sudden reprieve. Talk about a revelation.

Another (random) response to your post -- thinner definitely means feeling chillier during winter. I tend to be thin, but I notice the difference from even a few pounds fluctuation up or down--and the nicest winter I ever had was when I was pregnant.

What seems to help me is to take kelp tablets -- presumably it boosts my iodine levels which in turn cranks up my thyroid a bit. But I'm experimenting blind with that so this is purely anecdotal, and messing with the thyroid can get tricky . . .

Less tricky is this thing my dad gave me for xmas a year ago. I call it my polar fleece sack. It's a kind of long sleeve zippered robe that is sewn together at the bottom except two ankle holes. It's a PIA when I need to use the toilet but you couldn't ask for a warmer wrap for hanging out this time of year . . . we just had a cold snap with highs during the day in the low teens, and I lived in that thing!

prairie mary said...

Hooray for nutrition! I like the idea of kelp. I was raised in Portland, OR, in the days when seafood was the cheapest thing around, but now I'm in Montana and rarely eat a fish.

My winter salvation is an electric mattress pad. The cats love it, too, and, of course, they themselves are nice and warm.

Prairie Mary

Anonymous said...

For thinning hair, excess facial hair in a female, I use Saw Palmetto. It helps visibly. Not 100% (maybe I should take more). Depends on your age too. I'm in my 50s and just past menopause.

prairie mary said...

Though herbal approaches are interesting, I would use them with caution. Thin hair, fuzzy chin, can be from polycystic ovaries which can be treated with with metformin, also used for diabetic disorders.

My own case is hereditary and probably from hormone levels. To treat hormone levels without careful measurements can create a mess.

Prairie Mary

Herdis said...

Hi Mary.
I am reading up on your old diet-blogs, and 1, enjoying them for your good sense and good sense of humor - I am either giggling or laughing my head off. My cholesterol count is way too high, so I am changing my diet and also trying to loose weight and exercise more.
I noticed, that you allow yourself peanuts. I have kept away from peanuts for years, because they contain male hormones, which have a bad influence on a skin condition I suffer from.
BUT - I have also read, that eating almonds should be a good thing for slimming down on that potbelly of ours - yeah I am appleshaped too - and maybe they are a good substitute for peanuts. AND maybe our facial hairs will not grow so much - on the other hand a nice moustache might camouflage the smoker's wrinkles around my upper lip :-).
I do enjoy your posts, though some of them are above my head.
Best regards and good luck with your diet and health.
Your friend and reader in Denmark

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

Dear Herdis,

I was already a "high androgen" female, so I decided to just go with it! Not lesbian, but more energetic and passionate than some women. What's wrong with that?

But I do prefer hazelnuts. It's an Oregon thing.

Prairie Mary