Dieting Through the Decades
Life is a trip, a journey, an adventure. Sure there are bumps in the road, and I don’t mean cocaine. One of my main problems in the second half of my life has been weight. In my 20s I was a size 8. Then later, a 10. The much dreaded double digits, but I wasn’t too concerned. Yet.
For me, when I quit smoking in my early 30s, after a dozen previous attempts, some lasting as long as a year or more, I started eating. As a smoker from an early age, my taste buds had been reduced to ash. I craved nicotine and food was a necessary evil.
Then my buds bloomed and suddenly I discovered sugar and fat and salt and pizza and burgers and chocolate and potato chips. In my 30s I gained 30 pounds. So for the first time in my life, I was a chunky size 14. But very happy to be done with cigarettes. I made a few weak attempts to lose weight, but I was so busy teaching every day, acquiring a graduate degree at night, taking care of my family, and writing that adding one more thing to my to-do list was next to impossible.
First half of my 40s, I was the fattest I’d ever been. Somehow I had gained 20 or 30 more pounds. I was a size 16-18 and wore a lot of Plus Sized outfits. Also, I’m petite, so I looked like a little butter ball. People even asked me if I was pregnant because the extra fat on my face plumped any wrinkles and I held the bulk of my extra fat in my middle.
After a friend showed me a photo of myself all dressed up and looking really huge, I joined Weight Watchers. This is me after losing a significant amount of weight. I went from size 18 to size 14. I’m not really slim and the love handles are evident. Most of my weight was still in my middle. I was somewhat okay with this weight.
After surgically induced menopause, I quickly shot up to a size 16 again. I started getting reports from my doctor that said I had pre-diabetes, high blood sugar, and metabolic syndrome. I took each one of these reports seriously, read all the books and tried all the diets. Sugar Busters, Atkins, Fat Flush, South Beach. They all worked as long as stuck to them. I never got below a size 14, though. And I couldn’t quit, or even limit, carbs for very long.
In my mid-50s, I developed Barrett’s Esophagus (a pre-cancer condition brought on by acid reflux) and had another surgery, this time to remove my gall bladder. My body, I was told, could no longer process fat and I’d have to maintain a low-fat diet for the rest of my life. So much for the low carb approach.
After reading Quantum Wellness, I became a vegetarian. Initially I lost weight, but not that much. The pre-cancer condition cleared up, which seemed like a miracle as I was told it was a “forever” condition and would never get better, only worse. I attributed this miracle to becoming vegetarian. I still get checked regularly for Barrett’s, but it has not come back.
I felt okay about having a cupcake now and then and dark chocolate became a “healthy” favorite. I love potato chips and mashed potatoes and french fries. Those are all vegetarian and I ate them. I balanced these splurge foods with soy products, pasta, brown rice, and multi-grain bread. I also ate pizza at least once a week. I love my wine. Also vodka martinis with blue cheese olives. Yet I also enjoy healthy fare like seafood and salad, things I did not like at all before becoming vegetarian.
In my late 50s, a friend successfully lost a lot of weight on a mini-meal plan and I followed it, vegetarian style. I lost 10 pounds and went to a size 12. Then, at age 59, I lost 10 more and went down to a size 10. But even so, my pre-diabetes was not getting better. My doctor suggested cutting carbs and alcohol. I was already cutting calories to the bone on the mini-meal plan. I wasn’t sure how to incorporate her suggestions and remain slim and vegetarian.
60s: The First Year
I turned 60 last month. That’s me on my birthday. I want my 60s to be a healthy happy decade. I want to travel and be able to walk for miles and sleep well at night. I want to look at pictures and not see a muffin middle, which quickly reappears if I stop my semi-starvation diet for even a week. I want, more than anything to stop the endless round of gaining and losing and gaining again.
From Thanksgiving 2014 until March 2015, I packed on ten pounds. Two pounds a month. When I returned from a winter vacation, my carb cravings were intense. Soon, I couldn’t zip my size 10 jeans. And I had another sugar test scheduled in May. I knew I had to form some eating habits that would hold me for life. I felt out of control but also determined to make some necessary changes, and this time for good.
I of course bought yet another book, this one about forming good habits. In Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin mentions another book, Why We Get Fat. She said the science was impeccable and she’d effortless lost weight and kept it off. So did her sister, a diabetic, and her father who had an issue with belly fat. This was just a side issue in her book about making and maintaining excellent habits. But it sparked my interest so I read the book in a day and was dismayed to find that my vegetarian diet was a real problem for my particular body. This book suggests the same thing my doctor did after the last sugar report: cut carbs. I’d already mostly forsaken sugar and that had not helped my glucose levels. Carbs were the clear culprit, at least for me.
The most brilliant analogy in Why We Get Fat is that not everyone who smokes gets lung cancer. And not everyone who eats carbs gets metabolic syndrome/glucose intolerance/insulin resistance/pre-diabetes. Those medical health terms all mean the same thing. And along with pre-diabetes comes a cascade of almost every serious disease you can think of, diseases that kill you, diseases that cut life short, diseases I’d been flirting with for decades.
When I quit smoking in my 30s, I saved myself from possible lung cancer. People with pre-diabetes are prone to various cancers, including cancer of the esophagus. I’d already done that. Got a reprieve. Didn’t want to go there again. Then with Type 2 diabetes, there’s a good chance of heart disease and dementia, especially Alzheimer’s. I have seen people I love, in their 60s, 70s and 80s suffer and die with these diseases. All of them were overweight. All of them had metabolic syndrome. Science has proven that these life-ending diseases are preventable, but only if you catch the culprit that creates every one of them: pre-diabetes.
A little over two weeks ago, I decided to go very low carb until I could zip my size 10 jeans again. That happened within a week. In 17 days I lost 7 pounds. My first goal was to drop the 10 pounds I gained since last Thanksgiving and I am well on my way. There’s also my glucose testing next month. I don’t want yet another bad sugar report. I noticed another benefit of giving up “bad” carbs: I no longer crave sugar OR carbs. I no longer lose control and binge on anything in my pantry that contains mostly carbs. For the first time in forever, I can have cookies, bread, rice, potatoes, crackers, muffins, donuts and every other bad-for-me foods in the house for my husband, who has been the same healthy size since we married.
He’s one of the lucky people who does not have the propensity to gain weight when eating carbs. I’m not so it is good-bye to bad carbs forever. I’m pretty sure this time I will stick to the diet, because if I don’t, the rest of my life, as I envision it, with good health and great energy, will be over. I strongly believe (it only took a couple of decades to sink in) that if I correct my body’s insulin resistance, the best is yet to come.