Saturday, June 16, 2007

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.

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