One pill makes you larger

And one pill makes you small

And the ones that Mother gives you

Don’t do anything at all.

Go ask Alice

When she’s 10 feet tall.

–Grace Slick, “White Rabbit”

Living with Insulin Resistance (Nine Months after Diagnosis)

Nine months ago, I was diagnosed with insulin resistance, a subset condition of Syndrome X, and a pre-diabetic condition in which a person's insulin levels are elevated and, ultimately, become ineffective. The result: increasingly, the body becomes immune to its own insulin. Eventually, the condition can result in Type 2 diabetes.

Fortunately, my condition was diagnosed before I developed diabetes.

My doctor placed me on a low carb diet, based on the Protein Power diet, which I have mostly been following since December 2006. I say "mostly," because I have had my bad days, though not that many. I just chalk it up to being human and move on; I am able to do this because this dietary change has turned out to be the right one for me, so I'm able to go back to eating normally without a lot of guilt and without the fear that I have "forever fallen off the food cart."

This is not a sales pitch (I have nothing to sell); I'm a firm believer in the concept that our bodies are unique and metabolize nutrients in unique ways.

Having said that, I suspect that insulin resistance and Syndrome X people are vastly under diagnosed, though, for the past year, the media have covered the condition fairly well, and the low carb diet as a medical tool (as opposed to just another weight loss diet) has become more mainstream.

Syndrome X people tend to be overweight or obese (well, that covers about one-third of the general U.S. population), but X people tend to carry much of their weight around the middle. In fact, women with a waist measurement more than 35 inches around and men, 40 inches are particularly at risk.

Other signs and symptoms of Syndrome X:

The starred areas denote my symptoms, most of which could have been explained away by other causes, but my difficulty losing weight and inability to keep it off have always stumped me. For most of my life, I have been on the diet merry-go-round: go on a diet, stick to it for a few months, lose some weight, fall off the diet in a big way, binge for the next two years or so, gain all of my weight back (and then some), go on a diet--well, you get the point.

Insulin resistant people tend to ride this wild merry-go-round, mostly because their doctors and diet programs put them on the wrong diet: a low fat, low protein, and high carb diet, which, in fact, exacerbates the problem and hoodwinks the body into thinking it's starving. The appestat cranks up, and like our need for sleep, the body sends out a powerful signal to eat, eat, and eat, even in the face of evidence that we don't need more food. Hunger is a difficult signal to ignore and has nothing to do with "will power."

Instead, insulin resistant people should be eating a low carb, higher fat, and high protein diet, something similar to the Protein Power diet, although one's doctor should be the person who decides what is best for his/her patient.

Nine months ago, I went on the strictest version of PP diet, but I eventually discovered (through trial and error) that if I occasionally eat 15 or even 20 grams of carb at one time, I'm okay, and seem to stay within my dietary guidelines. But if I pig out on carbs, my body tells me, "whoa": I get extremely groggy and somewhat depressed, and I just have to sleep it off and start a new day.

Last December, I was desperate and went to a diet clinic to discuss the possibility of a gastric bypass surgery, although I realized that I probably would not qualify (I was "only" 70 pounds overweight). I wanted to do something before my weight climbed to the point where it could kill me. Instead, I was put on just another diet (so I thought).

I had tried high protein diets before, but always fell off because I prefer carbs over protein and thought I should work within my preferences. Also, high protein diets are difficult to start; it took my body a good three months to adjust, and most people stop before that. My doctor and husband encouraged me to stick it out and give the new dietary change a chance to work.

Well, for me, the high protein/low carb diet works; I haven't lost weight fast. In fact, weight loss has been strictly secondary. I wanted a life diet that worked for the long haul and didn't leave me hungry all the time.

Do I miss some of my favorite foods? Of course, but I don't crave them like I once did because I allow myself an occasional treat. Also, I have discovered some "new" favorites that have replaced the old high carbs, such as sunflower seeds (in the shell) in place of buttered popcorn. The calorie count is about the same, but sunflower seeds don't kick in that insulin spike.

Some trial and error discoveries:

  • For a treat, eat an occasional favorite high carb and/or sugary food.
  • Never try to make up for a binge by depriving yourself later. That tactic almost never works (at least for me). The next day, begin eating as you normally do.
  • Don't starve. Always eat when you're hungry. Some days I'm hungrier than other days, and it does no good to ignore those bodily signals. When one truly listens to one's body, one will rarely go wrong.
  • Never compare your weight loss with someone else's; everyone loses at different speeds. I always cringe at those competitive weight loss TV programs because our bodies are programmed to deal with metabolism, food intake/outtake, and exercise differently.
  • Tough out those plateaus; they are inevitable, but eventually, the weight comes off. I tend to lose in a "stair step" fashion. I'll stay the same for a month or more, and then 5-7 pounds will slide right off.
  • Make good health your first priority, weight loss secondary.

My weight loss progress has been satisfying but not fast: about 40 pounds since December; I have about 30 pounds to go, but I'm taking it slow and easy. Although I'm still overweight, I feel comfortable in my own skin. I have no compelling reason to lose weight for a certain event or in a certain time frame--I'm in this for the rest of my life!

I'm trusting that if I treat my body well, I should trust that it will treat me well for years to come.

Best, Jennifer

My New Memoir

I may be interested in weight issues, but I'm also a writer who has just completed a memoir titled I, Driven: memoir of a teen's involuntary commitment.

When I was 18, I was committed, against my will, to a mental institution, The Cherokee Mental Health Institute in Cherokee, Iowa, pictured in this post (I snapped this photo in 2004).

The institution is still in business, but has added a new twist to its business: incarcerating sex offenders.

I'm in the process of shopping the memoir around to agents and editors. For those of you who are writers, you know how difficult it is these days to gain the attention of the powers who decide what gets published. So I have decided to try something a bit different:

I have set up a web page with an open letter to agents and publishers regarding my memoir. I'm also going to try the old fashioned way, but the other night, as I was checking out a domaining blog, I got this brainstorm: why not find a generic domain name and put my promotional information on it?

Amazingly, some great generics having to do with memoir were available and just ready for the plucking (for cheap), so I grabbed several variations. For now, you can see how I have used one of them (I'm still a bit slow with creating web pages):

This domain name was parked on Sedo for less than 24 hours and received three browser type-in hits, so I decided to pull it and DO something with it--that's my goal for all my parked pages; I just need to find the time without devoting my entire life to creating web pages.

But this one felt important (at least personally).

Don't be afraid to promote yourself and your artistic endeavors on your own blogs and web pages; it may be the only free advertising you will ever get.



Some Good Products for Syndrome X People

Unfortunately, for Syndrome X folks, sugar IS our enemy; there is no way around this fact of life. Also, it doesn't matter if the source of sugar is from a tablespoon of table sugar or from an orange; our bodies don't know the difference. If we eat too much sugar, our insulin levels go up, and we feel lousy and gain weight--rather rapidly, I'm afraid.

This is what I found most distressing about changing my diet and embracing low-carb; I love fruit, and I do miss it, even now. I also miss other sweet treats, such as ice cream and chocolate.

Well, some manufacturers seem to be sensitive to our need for sweets and the feel of orange juice, and I'm going to point out a few great products here:

1. Totally Light Morning Orange, by 4C. This is definitely NOT your mother's Tang. These to-go one-serving packets will turn any bottle or glass of water into a drink that looks like and tastes like real orange juice. Now you can fight back when your favorite restaurant does not sell non-carbonated and no-sugar drinks. This drink has no calories, no sugar, and no carbs and is totally portable. I'm in love!!!!

2. Endangered Species Chocolate. Dark chocolate is good for you, and the Endangered Species company offers some good options. These 3-ounce bars (15 squares) offer three servings (5 squares each): 6 carbs, about 10 fat, and approximately 150 calories each. You won't mistake it for a traditional chocolate candy bar, but it's pretty darn good. My favorite is the straight dark chocolate, though the cranberry chocolate runs a close second. Besides online, you can find these bars in the health food section of your grocery store (My local store sells the 2-3 serving bars for about $1.99).

3. Breyers Carb Smart ice cream bars. I couldn't get on the product website (For various reasons, I have disabled my Flash Media function--a lesson to companies to keep their websites simple), but I found this picture and nutrition facts. The company has also come out with some chocolate coated versions. Tastes pretty good, creamy and sweet. After calculating Sugar Alcohol, net carbs equal 3-5 carbs. Not low-fat or low-calorie, though: these bars range from 7-15 grams of fat and 100-180 calories.

One generic item I like: roasted sunflower seeds in the shell. I'd like to find a no-salt version, though I haven't looked real hard. I also like shelled roasted no-salt sunflower seeds; Giant sells a delicious version.

The odd thing about Syndrome X people: we can be less concerned about high fat items. Our major stumbling block seems to be carbohydrates. I continue to drop weight despite a higher fat and higher calorie diet, but not quickly. I have made a conscious decision to embrace a lifestyle diet that works and that I can stick with for the long haul.

For me, weight loss is secondary.

Best, Jennifer Semple Siegel

* * * * *

Living with Syndrome X

In yesterday's post, I referred to my doctor as putting me on a low-carb diet. In a way, that is a misnomer; he actually put me on a low-carb lifestyle, which means that I'll always have to eat extremely low carb--that is, if I want to continue feeling better and keeping my weight down long term. Eventually, I may be able to make modifications and, perhaps, add a few more carbs, but the days of whipping up a big bowl of mashed potatoes and eating it all by myself are over.

Since December, I have lost 35 of the 80 pounds I need to shed, about 5 pounds a month; in the old days, I would have viewed this slow weight loss as a failure, but now I simply celebrate any loss. Last month I maintained, which is better than gaining. This month, I discovered that I can be confronted, day after day, with huge buffets (three times a day) and still make good food choices. I actually lost weight during my working vacation! I didn't try to be "perfect," but I did avoid the noodles, starchy vegetables, and high carb desserts. I focused on protein, salads, nuts, sunflower seeds in the shell and shelled, low carb dark chocolate (which I brought with me--yes! it does exist!).

Here is what I have discovered about this life change:
  1. MOST IMPORTANT: I have ditched my "black and white" thinking. If I over-carb, I don't see it as an excuse to torpedo my entire lifestyle change. I occasionally eat a "forbidden" treat. The Protein Power people call these "Honey Tree Days." Occasional treats don't seem to have a major impact on my insulin levels. Paradox: I rarely take Honey Tree Days. About two months ago, I ate the filling out of a slice of pecan pie (left the crust, though)--I haven't really felt the need to indulge. I'm not sure why this is.
  2. I now eat to live, not live to eat. More on this later.
  3. My internal appestat monitor actually works now; this is totally new to me. In diets past, I was always hungry, especially at night--I just fought it through sheer will power, but, eventually, physiology wins. Long term, one can't fight one of the the body's most basic urges, even when it's out of whack.
  4. Which brings me to this realization: Syndrome X people are extremely strong-willed. Thin people who have never experienced chronic hunger (via dieting) will never know the effort it takes to go on a diet and sustain it for six months or even a year, while constantly fighting chronic hunger. So I'd like to dispel the myth that heavy people are weak willed because it simply isn't true.
  5. For the most part (still working on this), I don't allow myself to get overly hungry. I eat until I'm about 80% full; if, after 20 minutes, I'm still hungry, I eat some cheese or meat (which is essentially a "free" food). True hunger is your body's way of telling you that you need to feed it something more, albeit healthy.
  6. I don't skip meals; if I happen to get up late and eat breakfast at noon, the third meal may end up being a heftier snack, but I eat at regular intervals. I don't "tough it out" until next meal or snack. I eat when I need to eat.
  7. Some days, I'm hungrier than other days; I go with these hungry days and try not to fear them. Typically, I'll feel like eating less the next day. In the long run, hunger seems to even out.
  8. For a lifestyle change, weight loss should never be the primary goal (unless one needs to lose fast for some kind of medical reason). To lose weight for a boyfriend, wedding, or prom is bound to set someone up for long-term failure.
  9. This kind of lifestyle change requires a huge commitment, one that I didn't think I could do long term, that is, until about three months ago, when it all started making sense.
  10. I get to eat bacon and other fatty meats. And I do enjoy these foods, but here's the paradox: Syndrome X people tend NOT to overeat on protein. We may lack (due to high insulin levels) an adequate appestat control over carbs, but look around all-you-can-eat buffets. Most heavy people will pile on the carbs (I sure did!).
  11. Another paradox: despite the fattier diet, my cholesterol dropped 18 points, my bad cholesterol dropped, and my good numbers settled right into the perfect range.
  12. I no longer get hungry at night. Low fat and high carb diets = night hunger (at least for me). My evening snack = sunflower seeds in the shell and/or a carb smart ice cream bar (sugarless). I go to bed with a happy tummy.
  13. I no longer need to keep a food diary; in fact, doing so causes me to begin lapsing back into black and white thinking and then focusing on counting carbs, calories, proteins. By now, my body knows what I need. My body tells me when I have had too many carbs.
  14. I do weigh regularly, just to make sure that I'm not kidding myself.
  15. On a day-to-day basis, certain foods no longer exist for me. I don't think about them, and I ignore them as I walk past them. I don't "yearn" for what I can't have but I do wholeheartedly embrace what I can have. If someone tries pushing something on me that I don't want, I tell them that I need to keep my insulin levels down. Usually that works; everyone understands a medical diet.
  16. Eating out is fairly simple--no need to special order meat or fish. Just avoid the coatings, breads, potatoes, rice, desserts, etc. and go for salads and green vegetables. Buffets are the best because I can get exactly what I need, and most of them are set up in such a way that it's easy to avoid the sweets.
  17. Writing about this lifestyle change is somewhat difficult because in my day-to-day life, I don't think much about these issues anymore. I have had to dig back and actually analyze what makes this lifestyle change work so well for me when others have failed me so abysmally. And that is a good thing.

This brings me back to number 2: "I eat to live, not live to eat."

I never thought I would say and mean this, but it's now true.

Think back to grade school. You remember that skinny kid who would dash home for lunch, gulp down a few bites of sandwich and soup, and run back outside to play? Eating for him or her was simply a bother, something that Mom made him/her do. She always had more pressing things to do, like ride bikes, play baseball, go swimming. At Halloween or Easter, her mother ended up throwing away half her candy because she never finished it. I never understood that kid, but I envied her ability to focus on other activities and forget about eating. For me, eating was always a burden, a monkey on my back, and always on my mind or in the back of my mind.

About three months into this lifestyle change, I began to realize that I was becoming that annoying kid (albeit 40-some years later). Desires for other activities began to take the place of recreational eating. I taught four college literature courses. My writing production increased; I finished revising my memoir and started two new books. Now when I wake up in the morning, my first thought is, "What can I write or do today?" and not "What's for breakfast?"

This major change, my dear readers (however many you are), is my real success story. I'm now able to focus on other aspects of my life.

At this point, weight loss is secondary--I'm just along for the ride.


Next post, I'll discuss some products that I have found helpful. I'm not a spokesperson (paid or otherwise) for any of these products, just that I have found these to be helpful, especially in the first few rocky months.

Best to all,

Jennifer Semple Siegel
a.k.a e-fatlady


Disclaimer: This blog reflects my experience and may not be right for you. You may or may not be experiencing Syndrome X; only your doctor can diagnose this condition.

I'm Back!

For various reasons, I haven't posted here in a long time, mostly having to do with my continuing issues with weight.

But, last December (2006), I discovered that I have a medical condition called Syndrome-X that has, I suspect, sabotaged every diet and lifestyle change that I have tried to make, including my last effort. In the end, I was approaching non-dieting as another diet, simply because my own physiology had been working against me.

The link I have provided is not an endorsement of the book itself (because I haven't read it), but the blurb does seem to touch upon my own life experience; however, you might find some good information at the Syndrome X Association. If you have been on and off the diet merry-go-round (as I have), you might want to investigate the possibility that you might have this syndrome.

My doctor put me (kicking and screaming) on a low carb diet; I cried all the way home from the doctor's office, convinced that I would never embrace such lunacy, but I decided to give it a try because my next stop would be bypass surgery, and I didn't want to go that route. I'm not saying that bypass is necessarily a bad thing for everyone, but it didn't feel right for me. For one thing, I was 80 pounds overweight, well under the cut-off point.

I experienced a rocky first month: tiredness, crankiness, severe deprivation (both physically and psychologically), and depression.

I started posting on Protein Power, a web site dedicated to high protein, low carb dieting. I haven't posted there recently (sorry, guys), because my work schedule suddenly got crazy, but it's worth joining and reading what some of these generous folks have to say.

After that first tough month, everything started making sense, and it was as if a chronic fog had finally lifted. My energy levels went up; I became extremely productive in both work and my own writing, increased energy that continues to this day. Regular low fat, high carb diets always sapped my strength, thus ultimately failing. Non-dieting didn't seem to work because, again, I tended to use carbs, such as popcorn, for my healthy snack--I was actually feeding the beast that was making me chronically sick, although at a low level.

I continue to stand 100% by Linda Moran's How to Survive Your Diet (which, a year and a half ago, I hailed as a life-changing approach to non-dieting). It's a wonderful book, and I'm following her non-dieting suggestions, but with modifications for my personal situation. For example, I no longer use popcorn or other carb as my snack. Also, because of my condition, I can't eat anything I want, just like a diabetic can't eat sugar whenever he/she feels like it. Fortunately, my condition is completely tied to proper diet, so I don't have to worry about having to use testing strips. I definitely prefer having Syndrome X (which is a precursor to more serious diseases) to having diabetes; I now have a greater appreciation for what diabetics must do to keep themselves healthy and whole.

Next entry, I'll reveal how I'm dealing with Syndrome X. Just remember: whatever fits my situation may not fit yours.

This blog reflects my experience, and may not be appropriate for your situation.

Best, Jennifer