Emmie Note: Today I'm so glad to have my friend Alyssa guest posting here. She is an amazing support to me and I relate to her so much. Enjoy!
Hi everybody, I’m Alyssa! I’ve been following Emmie’s blog for several years, but it was only this past June that I worked up the courage to say hello at a FitBloggin’ conference (she’s kind of a big deal, right?!). Sure enough, Emmie is as absolutely wonderful, kind and charismatic as she is on her blog, and I’m delighted to be here today. I blog with my sister about trying to lose weight without losing my sense of humor at the Double Chin Diary.
I’ve always struggled with my weight. I feel like I even came out of the womb sporting a double chin, which is probably a slight hyperbole on my half, but even as a child, my weight fluctuated wildly. It got bad when I hit puberty and suddenly my hips were quickly outgrowing the junior-sized jeans that I wanted so badly to wear. I knew that I’d always have problems with weight because when I looked around at both sides of my family, we were all big, large people; plump from Midwestern corn, tender beef and hearty casseroles that kept us warm in the chilly winters. Add a lack of exercise to that and you have the equation for what plagues most Americans these days; an unbalanced diet and no physical activity, a seemingly one-way ticket to obesity.
I was always the bigger girl in high school, but as most bigger girls do, I kept to myself. I had a great sense of humor and earned good grades but I went through high school wearing a cloak of insecurity, the less fun version of Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. I couldn’t wear spaghetti strap tank tops or a bikini on the class trip to Water World, and that sucked, but thankfully I had a relatively positive sense of self-esteem despite being unhappy with my size. The terminal dieting began, and although there was always some small semblance of success in the beginning, I’d give up a few weeks later, frustrated and hungry, gaining the weight back I’d lost in the past few weeks. I just assumed that I’d always be fat, and that was that.
The weight gain got worse in college. I can’t say some of it wasn’t my own fault. I had a new found freedom living on my own, with daily revelations like, “Wait. You mean I can eat Guacamole for BREAKFAST?” The weight piled on, and once again I was outsized of the jeans I wanted to wear, and this time, landed firmly in women’s plus. I finally sought the help of a dietitian at my university, and with her help and careful planning, I dropped 30 pounds. ThenI graduated, and went from an always-on-the-go lifestyle to my first full-time job. I sat on my butt for 9 hours a day, writing instruction manuals. Sitting on your butt means your butt will grow, and yet again, my weight crept up. I knew at this point that my weight was definitely an issue, but I was starting to wonder if something else was going on. I had irregular menstrual cycles, and as my closest friends noted, I really didn’t eat that much. I had really conquered stress eating with the help of the dietitian, and even on days when I wasn’t counting calories, I hovered around 1,500 calories – certainly not enough to merit a continual gain. I joined Weight Watchers at work, and every week, I gained weight.
The leader readjusted my points, trying for weeks to get me back in sync. I’d lose .2 of a pound, ¼ of a pound, and most weeks, gained. Finally, frustrated and sad, I quit Weight Watchers, had my thyroid re-tested, the results came back fine, and I just assumed it was all my fault, and that somehow, my body just wanted to stay fat forever. In this time I had been diligent about seeing a doctor to make sure everything was working. I had thyroid and diabetes tests which came back fine, but didn’t address the several worrying symptoms I had been complaining about for years. I was losing handfuls of hair, but they chalked it up to stress from the anxiety. I was shaky if I didn’t eat regularly, I was tired all the time, my menstrual cycles were all out of whack, and I could gain up to 10 pounds in bloat overnight. I was given prescriptions for anti-depressants and phentermine, which I didn’t fill. I sadly accepted that once again, maybe I was just meant to be fat.
Things got better once I started blogging. I started exercising regularly, and although I never really lost a sizable amount of weight, I’d see progress in 10, 15, 20 pounds here and there. I hiked, I kayaked, I went to bootcamps, I ran my first 5k. I decided if I had to be fat, I could at least be fit, and so I became one of those people that’s “fit fat”, in decent enough shape endurance wise, but with a mismatched body. I always gained the weight back though, and again, I chalked it up to just having to accept that fatness, like the color of my eyes, was something that would always be with me. I earned my Master’s degree and went on a bucket-list trip to Thailand. I had a horrible experience in Thailand while riding an elephant, (being told I was bigger than the elephant), and I came back from Thailand and joined an intense daily morning boot camp and nixed sugar. I refused to step on the scale in the six weeks I was in the program, knowing that I’d be discouraged by the constant fluctuations. Finally, the end of my six week boot camp had arrived and I stepped on the scale, expecting rainbows and unicorns to fall from the sky. Instead, I had gained 11 pounds. Now wait a minute. Muscle, you say? Ok, fine. Muscle can weigh more than fat. But 11 pounds? Something was wrong. I cried. A lot.
I went to the doctor, a new doctor this time.I demanded to be tested for Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), a common hormonal disorder that a staggering amount of women have. A dear friend of mine had it and after hearing my laundry list of afflictions, had decided I had it too. Some of the most common symptoms are weight gain that won’t “come off”, irregular menstrual cycles, cystic acne, body hair, carrying weight around your middle, anxiety, depression, hair loss and severe bloating. I had an ultra-sound performed, and as I lay on the table during a procedure that’s usually for happy occasions, I wondered what they would see. They saw what I suspected; my ovaries were studded with tiny, fluid-filled cysts. My reaction to this news was dual-sided in that not only was I relieved to FINALLY know what was going on, I was MAD, too. It’s likely that I’ve had this syndrome for a very long time, and not one of my several doctors ever thought to check me for it or even mention it to me. Had this been discovered sooner, my struggles with my weight and the myriad other problems that accompanied it may have been alleviated much sooner. However, I know living in the past won’t get me anywhere, so I was a happy girl when I was prescribed Metformin, a drug typically used for diabetes that would help my PCOS-related insulin resistance. I was also put on a low glycemic, low-carb diet and restricted to 1,000 calories per day; a medical decision I had some choice 4-letter words about. In addition, I had elevated liver enzymes, which we didn’t know too much about, but I was prescribed a 10-day liver cleanse and was told to expect to lose between 7-12 pounds. I knew that this time, I would go back to the doctor and see the scale moving in the direction it needed to go.
I suffered through the cleanse, ordered all of my diet books, and did all of my weight-loss and health related tasks with flying colors. The day I went back to the doctor I once again expected the scale to show rainbows and unicorns. Instead of unicorns, I had gained nine pounds. The disappointment I felt was crushing — and it was at that moment I KNEW something else was going on. I burst into tears in the exam room, feeling at that moment that my only option for weight loss would be surgery. I felt hopeless. Through my tears, I demanded my thyroid be re-checked. The numbers came back, and my thyroid was showing subclinical hypothyroidism, which means while I’m not full-blown hypo, I’m on the path.
I’m now on a low dose of thyroid medication in addition to Metformin, and continuing to exercise as often as I can get my butt off the coach. I’m following a low-carb diet, which for the most part is difficult, but it has its saving graces in that I can eat a little bit higher fat than most traditional “diets”. The month after I started the medications and new diet, I was down six pounds at my first official doctor’s weigh in. While I know I have a long and difficult journey ahead of me, for the first time in awhile I feel confident about knowing what I have to do. As Emmie knows as well, if you are genuinely putting in the work and you’re not seeing results, be your own advocate. Research everything and listen to your body. I knew the symptoms I had were not normal, and with persistence and drive, I finally got some answers to the questions I had asked over and over again.
I want to believe that every medical professional is considering allscenarios for any ailment you arrive with, not just the ones that are easily diagnosed or easy to prescribe drugs for. However, that’s sometimes not the case. If I had a dime for every time my weight concerns at the doctor were met with a nonchalant “exercise more”, I could have afforded to lipo off all that extra badonkadonk. Be your own advocate, and if you know something’s wrong, fight to get the treatment you deserve. Your health is worth it – and so are you.