Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. I am not an expert in the medical field. Please consult your doctor before making drastic changes to your diet.
I am a writer at heart. That’s why I put that first on my business cards; I love to write. I always have, ever since I was a little kid. I used to write silly books when I was in elementary school. In middle school and high school, I kept very emotional journals, and I used to fill them up to the brim until they were heavy and thick with ink and paper clippings.
For about four to five years, I went through what I call my writing drought. I’m young—I’m 26—so that’s a huge chunk of my life in which I really struggled to put pen to paper. I struggled even to write a single sentence, and it was really hard on me. I didn’t know it at the time, but a lot of that was a physical manifestation of what was happening in my body.
I’ll start by saying that a lot of my problems have to do with my female body, but these symptoms can happen to men, too. Most of my health journey has been focused on what goes in your body and how it affects you.
In June of 2010, I was having a lot of trouble with my reproductive cycles, so I started hormonal birth control. At that point it was just an easy fix. It acted like a band-aid, covering up all my symptoms and pushing them under the rug.
Over the next four years, a lot of things happened. First of all, I gained 60 pounds, which was so discouraging and a little traumatizing. I didn’t really change my diet or exercise routine at all. My metabolism just slid to a screeching halt. My hormones were completely messed up.
Second, I started having serious symptoms of illness, mainly sickness and fatigue—not sickness like a cold, but just body aches and pain. My fatigue was debilitating. When I started as an entrepreneur, I quit my job in an office and started working from home. For that first year, my fatigue was so intense that I would sleep from about 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Then, I would get my husband sent off to work, and I would go back to bed until 2 or 3 p.m. Even after those fifteen hours of sleep, I would still be tired.
I just slept all the time. I was also dealing with a lot of depression, partly from the hormones and partly because that’s just something I’ve always dealt with. The depression also contributed to that fatigue, too.
Life was dark. Literally. I kept the curtains closed and the lights off in the house because the light hurt, if that makes sense.
In the midst of all of that, I also had breast reduction surgery in 2013 because the hormones had caused my cup size to go from DD to H. This was another panic-inducing part of this entire process. I would wake up in the middle of the night with stabbing back pain. I couldn’t stand for long periods of time because the weight on my shoulders was so heavy. So, I went through surgery. I’d never even been in the hospital before, never had stitches before—this was all new and intense and scary. But it was worth it. I thought the surgery would fix everything, and it did fix my back pain, but the weight gain didn’t stop.
I went to the doctor several times and tried a few different brands of birth control pills. I’d read that it takes a few tries to find the right one. Obviously, none of them made a difference.
I finally got fed up. In November of 2014, I just quit mid-pack. I told my husband, “I’m done. We’re going to have to figure something else out.” So, that’s what I did.
When you quit hormonal birth control pills, your cycle is supposed to kick back on its own the next month, but mine didn’t. It took six months for anything to happen, and after that my cycles, which are supposed to be 28 days, ranged from 40 days to even 200 days of nothing.
It’s very scary when your body stops doing what it’s supposed to do. Something was really wrong.
I’d read that sometimes weight gain can cause irregularity like that, so I decided to start losing weight. For real this time. The only way I knew how to do that was to exercise a lot, so I started working out five days a week for an hour a day, and I also cut my calories way down to about 1,200 a day. I thought that would work, and mathematically, it’s supposed to. Calories in, calories out—that’s supposed to work.
At that point, I started to suspect that I had some sort of metabolic disorder. I did that routine for a year, and I lost about ten pounds. That was great, but that wasn’t the result that I should have been seeing.
Those ten pounds were very, very difficult to lose. At that point, I’d gone from 205 pounds to about 193, but I was still so unhappy. I knew that something needed to change.
So, after a year of torturing myself, I finally decided to visit my doctor, which I really should have done in the beginning, but I’m a very stubborn person. I don’t like going to the doctor and tend to avoid it at all costs. Even sitting in the waiting room before my appointment, I cried from fear and anxiety. I knew something would be wrong, and it felt easier to not know, to pretend everything was fine.
That day (February 9, 2016), I got my wake-up call. I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
Basically, PCOS is a hormonal and metabolic disorder. It also has a lot to do with the way that your body processes insulin. It manifests itself in cysts on your ovaries and other hormonal symptoms like hair loss, weight gain, and abnormal body hair.
It also causes infertility, which was the worst news of all. So, I was just devastated to hear my doctor say that because of the state of my body, which it was broken, it wasn’t working, I wouldn’t be able to start a family like I wanted to.
That just broke my heart, and I could not understand how it had gotten this far.
I wasn’t writing at all. I didn’t want to remember what was happening. When I used to journal, which I did daily for many years, a lot of it was expressing joy and celebrating life. I felt like I had nothing to celebrate. I also used journaling to work through my fears, but I couldn’t face these fears on paper.
After coming to terms with my diagnosis, I went to several support groups online. Over and over, I read success stories of women with PCOS losing weight and feeling better on a low-carb, low-sugar (ketogenic) diet.
That was a very hard pill for me to swallow. Not only have I always been a writer, but I’ve always been a baker. I love to bake, especially cupcakes, cookies, birthday cakes, everything. Sugar was my biggest social tool. In my freshman dorm in college, I made a huge batch of chocolate chip cookies, and everyone was my friend.
I did that all the time. I was known as the girl who always had something sugary to offer because that made people like me, that made them want to be with me, and that made me really happy. Friends would come over to our house, and they would immediately go to the freezer because they knew there would be ice cream waiting for them there.
So, sugar became my medicine. It was truly devastating to my body. Now, I understand the effects on my pancreas and everything that my body uses to process the sugar.
I was definitely addicted to sugar, and I don’t use the word addicted lightly—I really mean it. I had to have sugary cereal for breakfast. I would have an apple—maybe two—a day. I know fruit seems healthy, but it’s also very sugary. I had a bowl of ice cream every night—not kidding—and since I worked from home, I spent a lot of time alone in my house. I would just walk laps around the house telling myself, “Don’t eat the sugar. Don’t eat the sugar.” Sometimes, I would even cry because I wanted it so badly, and I was so frustrated that my body wanted it so much. I would get terrible withdrawal headaches if I didn’t have it. I needed it.
It’s so social. Sugar is the way we express our love. Look at all of our holidays: Valentine’s Day (chocolate hearts), Easter (candy eggs), Halloween (candy overload), Thanksgiving (pie), Christmas (more pie). Sugar is our way to celebrate life, and I’m not saying that’s bad. Sugar is a great way to celebrate. The problem comes when people “celebrate” every day, every hour, every morning, every night. Sugar in your morning coffee with a bagel (with sweet cream cheese spread), a soda with lunch, juice, starchy fruit, bread, another soda, afternoon candy bar, ice cream for dessert after dinner… Soon, you find yourself living up to this sad statistic: the average American consumes 20 teaspoons (about 2/5 cup) of sugar a day.
When everyone is eating sugar and you’re not, that’s such a hard situation. Sugar is so social. It’s is used as a reward (ever get a lollipop after a doctor’s appointment?), it’s used to celebrate things like Birthdays, it’s used to make people happy, and people don’t really remember other ways to do that.
Reading that cutting out sugar and carbs—which are basically sugar—was the way that I was going to get better was so hard for me to understand and process. But I looked at my life. I looked at the people around me, and I knew how much they would benefit if I could lose the weight and start processing all of these chemicals in my body correctly.
So, I did. I quit cold turkey, just overnight. I boxed up all the sugar and the carbs, and it’s sitting in a box in my closet because I don’t know what to do with it. It’s still there.
That was in February. It’s been a little over three months, and I’ve lost 30 pounds. It came so quickly. It was like my body finally understood what was going on and everything settled back into place. First of all, my mood is fantastic. I don’t feel sad; I feel so happy. No sugar crashes. After every meal, I would just doze off and fall asleep, but I don’t feel that anymore. My cycles are now every 28 days like clockwork. They just kicked back on. I’m ovulating regularly, which never happened before. I have more energy, I’m not bloated, and I don’t really feel a craving for the sugar any more. Since February, a bunch of our friends have had birthdays, and I’m still the one that makes their birthday cupcakes, but I didn’t want a single one. I just didn’t need it.
Once I knew the benefits of quitting the sugar, the sugar just wasn’t important. The temporary sweetness just pales in comparison to all of the benefits of leaving it behind.
From the past five years, I obviously have a lot of great memories. We went to Australia. We moved around. We’ve made a lot of neat friends, but when I look back, it feels like those memories are from someone else. I feel like a completely different person, and at the same time, I feel like myself for the first time since high school. A lot of that had to do with that sugary brain fog; when I look back, everything is kind of fuzzy. I remember being in the moment, maybe playing a game with our friends or something, and being there but not quite being there. I would either be completely curtained off with fatigue, or I would be anxious about when I was going to get my next sugar fix. I just wasn’t there.
The difference that I feel now is so astonishing that I just can’t believe how different it feels. I feel like I was watching a movie of my life, and now I feel like I’m actually here. I had no idea that sugar was doing that to me, but it was. It kept me behind a veil, and when the veil was lifted, everything was brighter and everything was prettier.
So, the thought of putting the veil back on over my eyes—as in going back to eating sugar and everything—it just doesn’t make sense. Even if the sugar feels good and tastes good, there are other things that taste good and feel good that I can experience that are so much better for me. It was like going from the regular unleaded fuel to super fancy stuff. Now I can’t go back.
I’ve started my journal again. I’ve started writing poetry again. I’m still in progress (many pounds still to go!), but I’m on my way, and the journey is so much better than I ever imagined.
The less sugar I eat, the sweeter life gets.
What This Means for You
I just want to encourage you to set higher standards for yourself. Respect yourself. My standards are so much higher now about what goes in my mouth, what goes in my body. Sometimes, I’ll be grocery shopping and actually have to say that to myself out loud as I walk past all the processed, sugary food: “No, my standards are higher.” It’s everywhere, especially sugar. It’s in everything.
I want to reiterate that, for me, what was controlling me was sugar, but you need to find what is controlling you and figure out how to control it instead. In my journey, it was sugar, but for you, it might be television, cigarettes, social media, whatever.
The first step is just to start. If I had just started four years ago, I can’t imagine where I would be. I’d probably be on my way, I might have a baby by now—there is so much that could have happened if I had just started when I had first thought about starting. You only have one life, and there is no reason to waste five years like I did suffering from a health issue that can be solved by simply controlling what you put into your body and what you allow your body to be affected by.
You can do this. It doesn’t cost a lot of money. It doesn’t take a lot of time. It just takes some dedication and willpower. Whatever you need to do to take care of yourself and take care of your body, do it today—do it right now and get started.
Nothing is stopping you by yourself. If you need support, find it—it’s there, and you just have to find it.
Once you learn how to respect yourself and respect your body, that comes out in everything you do. You become more confident, your writing becomes more confident, your words are more confident, and your words come easier. At least for me, I express myself so much easier when I’m not in that fog of being controlled by sugar (or whatever controls you).
You deserve it. You deserve to live a healthy and productive life. Whatever you’re using as a band-aid, just rip it off and start actually healing yourself.
Low Carb High Fat Food Revolution by Andreas Eenfeldt
Keto Clarity by Jimmy Moore
I Quit Sugar by Sarah Wilson
21-Day Sugar Detox by Diane Sanfilippo
Year of No Sugar by Eve Schaub
Sweet Poison: Why Sugar Makes Us Fat by David Gillespie
The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living by Stephen D. Phinney
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