Category Archives: Background

Check out The Daily Scarlet!


I’ve launched a sister blog to this one called The Daily Scarlet!  I’ve decided I want to start having small, daily goals, and it seemed as if a blog dedicated just to that purpose would be a good idea, so that the less frequent but longer stuff that I post here doesn’t get buried.  This will continue to be the place where I write longer, more reflective posts, as well as recipes and low carb product reviews.

The Daily Scarlet will have many more posts on it than this one, but they will be much shorter.  The goal-focused posts will just be a sentence or two, and the progress-focused posts won’t be much longer.  My plan is to post my goal(s) for the next day around 6:30 P.M. mountain time, and then again once the next day to share if I accomplished my goal or not.  Therefore, there should be two short posts most days.  I would love to have readers join me there and post their own goals in the comments!

For more information on the why and how of the blog, check out these links:

I hope you will join me there!

Back from the doctor


As I wrote about on Monday, I finally quit delaying and made an appointment to see my doctor today about getting back on Metformin for my insulin resistance (IR).  I was first diagnosed back in 2001 when I was having trouble getting pregnant.  I was on Avandia for a little while, then taken off when I got pregnant.  When Maggie was about 9 months old, they put me on Metformin, and I stayed on that all through Gus’s pregnancy and for a couple years after.  Then we moved here, and I didn’t have a doctor, and I didn’t have time to find one, and I’ve been off for 2 years.  I suspect that’s part of the reason why the weight is being so much more stubborn this time.

Anyway, one of my big fears was that I would be subjected to the 3-hour glucose test again, which is absolutely miserable.  Because my body builds up so much extra insulin waiting for my body to respond, once it does respond, my blood sugar crashes to a ridiculously low level, which makes me feel very, very ill, and it takes a couple of hours to recover from it.

So when I went in today, I hoped that once I told her my history, she’d just write me the script.  She was very understanding as I told her everything, taking notes, and then she said, “Yes, we should definitely get you tested and get you back on Met.”  I immediately cringed and said, “Am I going to have to take the 3-hour glucose test?”  And she said, “Oh no, definitely not!”


She told me that she was never a fan of that test and that clinical recommendations have changed in recent years anyway.  So instead of the 3-hour test, all she needed to do was an A1C test, which gives a snapshot of what my blood sugar has been for the past 3 months.  The results will either show normal (unlikely), pre-diabetic (the same thing as IR) or diabetic.  I sure hope I have not managed to eat myself into the latter category.

She also gave me the names of some of her own favorite apps for diet and exercise tracking.  I really need to upgrade my 1st generation iPod touch so I can access the app store!

Overall, I was very pleased with the visit.  Not only do I feel like she’s totally on board with helping me move forward (that has not always been my experience), she didn’t make me feel judged at all.  In fact, she complimented me at one point, saying that I was obviously knowledgeable about what IR meant and how I needed to handle it.  And when I made a self-deprecating joke, she countered it by saying that good diet and exercise are a struggle for most people, implicitly telling me to go easier on myself.  Having an understanding doctor makes such a tremendous difference, because it’s just one less barrier to me seeking out the medical assistance that I need.

Here’s to better health!

Tweaking the plan


On some level, I’ve known for awhile what is most likely the cause of my frustratingly slow weight loss of late, and what I need to do about it.  But I’ve been avoiding it because it costs money, and that’s not something we’re flush with right now.  However, a wonderful friend (I’m so lucky to have so many of those, aren’t I?) encouraged me this morning to take the plunge, and even though Nate has been doing the same for the last couple of weeks, I realized as I talked to her today that I really have to do it.  And that step is:

Go to the doctor.

Background: I have PCOS, and it’s one of the reasons why I’ve gained so much weight over the years.  (It was diagnosed when I struggled with infertility while trying to get pregnant.)  Without denying my own responsibility for my weight gain (and I certainly have plenty), the insulin resistance (IR) that virtually always goes hand in hand with PCOS makes it easy to gain weight (by increasing cravings) and difficult to lose.  Because insulin is at the heart of the issue, low carb diets usually work best for PCOS patients, and they’ve always worked well for me.  But for some people, PCOS makes it very difficult to lose at all.

In the past, I’ve always lost just fine on low carb diets.  That’s why the past few weeks have been so puzzling for me.  However, being that I started at my highest weight ever, it’s a logical guess to make that my IR is also at its worst.  (One of the great – and most frustrating – ironies of IR is that it often leads to weight gain, and then when you gain weight, the IR gets worse, and then you gain more weight and so on.)  There are medications that help to reduce IR (the same ones that Type II diabetics take, actually, as they are related conditions – only my blood sugar doesn’t get out of control, my body just has to produce way too much insulin to keep it there, and I end up with extra insulin floating around my body, wreaking havoc), and I have taken some in the past, but I’ve been off them for a couple of years.

There’s no good reason for that other than when I first moved here, I had NO time for a doctor’s appointment (I was working 50+ hours per week and doing the single mom thing while Nate was still in Detroit) to get my prescription refilled.  And also, I was still coasting along on the euphoria of having moved there and had this bizarre optimism that everything in my life would somehow just sort itself out.

And then?  Once Nate was here and the euphoria had rubbed off?  Well, I just kind of forgot.  Or when I did think about it, I rationalized that I was doing OK, and I shouldn’t waste our money on an expensive doctor’s visit and prescription copays.  Or when I was feeling dark, I did my favorite thing and told myself that being fat was my own damn fault and that if I were just a better person, I could get healthy on my own.  It’s amazing the ways I find to sabotage myself.

Anyway, it’s all very stupid, and I know that, but there’s nothing I can do to change the past.  What I can change is NOW.  So after my friend’s urging, I picked up the phone and made myself an appointment with my doctor for Thursday morning.  I’m hoping she’ll just give me a new prescription without making me go through the miserable 3-hour glucose test which proves that I’m IR again.  That test makes me SO sick.  But if that’s what I have to do, I’ll do it.

And then my plan is to continue to low carb for a month or two and see what happens once the medication kick in.  If my weight loss becomes more normal, then I’ll have a good answer, and I’ll continue low carbing.  If it doesn’t? Well, then I’ll head back to the doctor to figure out what’s going on and what the next step should be.

But I feel better already simply knowing that I have a plan.  Without a plan, I tend to wallow.  This gives me something to focus on and gives me back a sense of hope that this is the time when I will finally successfully lose weight.  I haven’t given up yet, and that’s a bit of a victory in and of itself!

In general, I’m actually a happy person


I feel like I need to get a little something off my chest.  I worry that this blog makes me seem brooding and self-pitying and like a big time Debbie Downer.  I’m really not!  This blog focuses on only one aspect of my life, and yes, it’s a very negative and difficult aspect.  But my whole life is not like that.

Overall, I’m actually a pretty optimistic and positive person.  I wasn’t always, though.  In fact, I struggled with depression for several years.  But last September, I had what I like to call an epiphany.  I know that term often has religious connotations, but I don’t mean it that way – in fact, rather than finding a faith in God, what I found was more faith in my fellow humans.

Let me explain.

There have been a lot of genuinely difficult things in my life during the last decade.  Nate and I struggled with infertility not once, but twice.  Nate has had ongoing medical problems as a result of a disease he has called Von Hippel Lindau, and that’s necessitated multiple surgeries and cost him the vision in one eye.  Two years ago, we found out that Gus also has VHL, which was absolutely devastating, especially given that he’d already had a rough start in life, dealing with torticollis and scoliosis during his infancy.  Most recently, Nate and I have both been out of work for long stretches of time.  Even before that, I was a stay-at-home mom for several years, so money has been and continues to be very tight.

But things came to a head last September.  I was wallowing in our latest misery – our old house in Detroit was foreclosed on in spite of the fact that we had had numerous offers on the table to buy it in a short sale for more than a year, and all the things that held the process up until it was too late were completely out of our control – and I was a mess of tears and self pity.

A couple of days after we got the news, I was on Facebook, and the oddest thing changed my life.  You know all those silly “groups” on Facebook that don’t actually do anything but have funny or inspiring names that people “like” just because they like the thought?  Well, I just happened to stumble on one called, “Don’t dwell on who let you down, cherish those who hold you up!”

As cliche as that sentiment might sound, the truth of it really hit me in that moment.  For all the devastation we’ve experienced, we’ve never hit the bottom.  Why?  Because family and friends and even complete strangers have been there for us.  And I realized: they always will be.  In fact, the darker it gets, the brighter the stars shine to help us find our way.

I know it sounds crazy, but that was it.  In one fell swoop, the clouds lifted from my life, and I found the perspective and peacefulness that had eluded me for so long.  And I’m now closing in on 6 months of feeling this way.  I’ve stopped worrying that it’s just a mood that’s going to change and have accepted that I’m in a different place now.  In many ways, the storm is still raging (I’m still out of work and our COBRA subsidy runs out soon and we’re going to owe taxes…I’m pretty much scared silly), but it’s like I’m above it now.  I can see that it’s happening, but I can also see that the sky clears ahead, too.  Not because I’m prescient, but because it always does – eventually.

So I guess I just wanted to say: please don’t take this blog as the entirety of who I am.  For the most part, I embrace and love my life.  I’ve got a wonderful, loving, hilarious husband (shhhh, don’t tell him I said he’s hilarious), and my kids are absolutely amazing.  We all adore Denver and don’t ever want to leave.

And in fact, I don’t even worry too much about the money, because I feel like one day we’ll be above water again.  (I’d be lying if I said I never worry about it, but it’s not causing me to have panic attacks, so that’s a pretty major step forward.)  But this self image thing?  Well, it’s been a part of me since long before I had any idea what VHL or mortgages or COBRA were.  It’s hard to shake.

But I’m working on it.  And for once, I actually feel like I have a chance to be successful.  I’m more optimistic than I’ve ever been, and I think it’s because I’ve resolved the other big issues that had been weighing on me (no pun intended!).  So for the first time in my adult life, I can focus my energy on this.  On making me a better, healthier person – physically and emotionally.

I can do this.  I know I can.

Another piece of the puzzle: taking care of myself


I have a dear friend whom I email back and forth with a lot, and we have a tendency to talk about a lot of deep stuff.  (In fact, one email with her inspired the title of this blog.)  I’m so grateful to her for that, because writing really seems to help me process things.

Yesterday, another piece of the puzzle fell into place during a conversation with her.  She told me that when she saw me the other day, I’d looked really pretty, but she she knew I probably wouldn’t believe her.  And generally, she’d be right – she often tells me I looked pretty, and I dismiss it and tell her that she’s just being nice b/c she’s my friend, and that I don’t believe most people see me that way.

But as I read her email this time, I thought, “For once, I actually kind of feel like I did look pretty.”  For a moment, I wondered what the difference was, but the answer hit me pretty quickly: I’d taken the time to do my hair and make up that day.

Now on the one hand, I hate the fact that many women spend hours primping to feel attractive (or even just “passable”), whereas men can roll out of bed, take a 2 minute shower, and be convinced they’re hot stuff.  This is a bit of a generalization, of course, but the overall principle is true.  And I balk at that; it’s such a double standard.

Nonetheless, it is the culture I was raised in, and when I take some time to take care of myself, I find that I feel better about myself.  I stand a little taller, speak a little more confidently, smile a little more.

But the more I think about it, I realize that the key phrase here is “take care of myself.”  It’s not the makeup and the blow dryer, per se – it’s just that I’ve expended energy on something that says to me that I value myself, that it’s worth it to take the time to do something for me.

To fully understand that idea, I need to go back a couple of weeks to an earlier email to her, when I was talking about how I’d been feeling really frumpy lately because my eyebrows were overgrown and my nails were broken and ragged, and she had reassured me that no one even notices things like that.*  I said:

If I felt I otherwise looked good, I probably wouldn’t worry too much [about those things].  But given that my nails are at the ends of chubby fingers and my eyebrows should be working to draw attention away from my triple chin (as if that were possible), I guess I just feel more self-conscious about it.  Especially b/c they are things I COULD so easily control, but I just don’t.  I think on some level I’ve decided that nothing I do can make me look pretty, so why bother wasting the time on any of it?

Reflecting on those two ideas – that I feel better about myself when I make myself look nice, and that on some level, I almost intentionally don’t do it because I don’t value myself – I finally realized something: I need to start making getting ready a priority everyday.

Since I’ve been out of work (which has been over a year now), it’s been easy to fall into the very lazy pattern of showering and calling it a day.  I comb my hair when I get out and then don’t touch it again.  I skip makeup.  I don’t even put on any lotion, which is murder on my skin in this dry climate, especially b/c I love good hot showers during the winter.

Starting today, I’m making an effort to change that.  I intended to wake up and get straight in the shower, but that didn’t quite happen, as I woke up with intense stomach cramps that seemed to be the start of a stomach bug. Fortunately, those have passed, so in a few minutes, I’m going to go shower, put on a little makeup, and blow dry my hair.

After that, I’m going to run out and use a little bit of leftover birthday money to finally get my eyebrows done, and moving forward, I plan to maintain them with the tweezers.  And last night, I took my chipped clear nail polish off, and I’m going to make sure that I keep my nails trimmed and neat with a fresh coat of clear polish on.

All of these things together take less than 10 minutes per day (all my hair requires is about 60 seconds with the blow dryer once it’s mostly dry, I use fairly minimal makeup, and the clear polish dries almost instantly), which is time I’m committing to giving myself.  They’re little steps, and they seem so inconsequential, but I realize that doing these things is every bit as important as losing weight in helping me to start shutting off that negative inner voice that tells me that I’m worthless.

* I’d like to just note that not every conversation we have is all about me and my insecurities!  We send each other mega emails about all kinds of different things, and I swear to you that I don’t obsess about this nonstop. 🙂

The plan


I wrote earlier about how I got to the place where I decided to start this diet.  But I didn’t write about what exactly my plan is.

First things first: I do use the word “diet” intentionally.  I know online, a lot of people like to refer to it as a WOL (way of life) or WOE (way of eating).  I do believe that the words we choose are important in shaping our outlook, but I have a deliberate reason for calling it a diet, which I will elaborate on shortly.

So, what is this diet?  Well, from long experience, I know that low carb diets work well for me.  I have PCOS, and part of that is that I am insulin resistant.  In fact, the PCOS and its attendant insulin resistance are a big part of why I weigh what I do.  IR makes you crave carbs, which makes you gain weight, which makes the IR worse, which makes you crave carbs even worse, etc.  It’s a vicious cycle.

One of the only ways to break that cycle is with a low carb diet, and that’s probably why they work so well for me.  Nate and I have tried South Beach, Atkins, and a couple of others in the past.  We know the basic principles, so we’re not really following a particular plan this time.

Instead, we are starting out on a very low carb eating plan, consuming no more than 25g of carbohydrate per day.  (And most days, we stay under 20g.)  In a month or so, we’ll start slowly adding back some carbs – 5g/day every couple of weeks.  Eventually, I’d like to get to 50g-75g/day, as long as I keep losing weight at that level.  That way, I can have limited amounts of bread, rice, pasta, and fruit, which are all things I miss.

I will NOT be having any sweet treats, even if it’s a fun-sized candy bar or something like that.  I am addicted to sugar.  (And yes, I use the word literally.  I went cold turkey a couple of years ago, and it was amazing the difference it made.  I also did a lot of research on sugar addiction, and it is a very real addiction.)  This is not something I can allow myself any wiggle room on, b/c I know it is the first step in my downfall.  So sweet treats are fully off the table…for the next year.

And that’s the next point.  I realized that one of the major reasons I have failed so many times is b/c my goal seemed so completely unrealistic as to be overwhelming.  When you have more than 100 lbs to go, it’s disheartening to see that big number.

So I decided rather than focus on a number, I would instead focus on a time frame.  I have told myself that I WILL do this as strictly as possible for all of 2011.  That is the only commitment I am making.  One measly year.  And the older I get, the more I see how quickly those years fly by!  I can do that.  I survived two pregnancies, and those sure felt like a year!  I can handle eating strictly for a year.

Now does that mean I’m going to throw away all the progress I’ve made when 12:00 tolls next December 31st and go back to my old ways?  No.  I’d surely turn back into a pumpkin, which is the approximate shape of my belly right now.  Instead, that is when I will make NEW goals.

In fact, part of the reason I refuse to set a number goal right now is b/c I really don’t even know what weight I want to be at.  From this far away, I have no idea what the finish line looks like.  By the time a year is up, I’ll be better able to evaluate how I feel and where I want to go.  B/c the reality is that I have no delusions of ever being 135 lbs, the supposed ideal weight for my height.  I just want to be at a weight where I am comfortable in my own skin and able to be reasonably active without feeling like I want to die.  That could be 150 lbs.  It could be 160 lbs.  Who knows?  It could be 190 lbs.  The point is that I don’t know yet, and I don’t feel like making a guess.  By 2012, I hope to be able to choose a number that will get me to those goals, based on how I am feeling at that weight.

And this is why I choose the word “diet.”  Most people eschew it b/c it signals a temporary change, but that is EXACTLY what I want.  Because no, I will not be eating exactly like this for the rest of time.  And when I think in terms of “forever,” that is a surefire way to overwhelm me.  And that is a surefire way for me to shut down and give up.

Finally, I know that I won’t achieve my goal of overall health if I don’t exercise, and that is part of my plan.  But I’m taking that very slowly right now.  I’ve been inactive for so long and have gained so much weight that even very mild activity has me extremely out of breath.  Although I feel like I can tackle my eating all in one fell swoop, I can’t miraculously start doing hour-long exercise videos and lifting weights 4 times per week.  My body isn’t physically capable of it right now.  So my plan with exercise is to start very, very small: just 10 minutes per day, 4 days per week.  Every one to two weeks, I’ll up that a bit.

I’m on the road.  It’s a LONG road, and I’m not even sure where it ends.  But I’m going to break the journey up into small chunks, and eventually I will get there.


The first step


When I realized I had surpassed my all-time high weight sometime last fall, I knew I had to put the brakes on my eating and weight gain somehow.  But for reasons both pragmatic and petulant, I decided to wait until January to start.

The pragmatic: I know my history of failure.  I know how hard it is to be tempted at the holidays.  And I knew how hard the one other time I made it through the holidays on a diet was – when I had “permanently” given up sugar, although obviously that didn’t last – because I’d started the diet mid year and felt I never got to say “farewell” to my favorite holiday goodies.  So I thought if I was going to have a realistic shot at real, long-term success, I’d be better off waiting until mid-January.  Nate and I both have early January birthdays, so I figured we’d got out for a “last hurrah” dinner, enjoy a decadent dessert, and then buckle down.  In the meantime, I would have a leisurely good bye period to enjoy all of my favorite goodies, holiday and otherwise, a few more times.

The petulant: In addition to all the above, I was just plain scared.  Like I said, I’ve failed over and over and over and over and…you get the gist.  A part of me didn’t WANT to change, b/c I knew it would hurt and it would be hard.  Was losing weight really worth losing the emotional comfort of food?  The thought struck – and still does strike – terror in my heart.  Holidays aside, my sugar cravings had become so large and intense that the thought of changing my diet made me want to cry.  So I set a future date on it, hoping I could come to terms with it in the meantime, and also continue to gorge myself on whatever I wanted until that date.

If I’m honest, on some level, I honestly didn’t think I would ever start.  It’s so hard to conquer that inertia, not to mention how hard it is to give up that emotional safety blanket.  So the fact that when mid-January rolled around, I started at all is actually a victory of sorts.  We ended up starting about a week later than originally planned, but start we did.  And now I’m two weeks in, and feeling actually quite satisfied and good.  Even the longest journey is composed of many small steps, right?  But you have to take the first one to get there, and that’s what Day 1 of this diet was for me.

I’d originally planned to write in this post about what plan I’m following, but I’ve already spent more time on background than I’d intended.  In an effort not to write a novel, I’m going to stop here and come back later to write a second post about what, exactly, my weight loss plan is and how I chose this plan.