What I Learned After Losing 44lbs

The first time I decided to lose weight, as explained in my post “Why Being a Holistic Nutritionist Isn’t for Me” , I went totally gung-ho and ate only as much as I worked out. Then I upped it a mere 1.5x, lost 40lbs in 3-4 months, and got down to a weight in which I need to be hospitalized for. I could chalk it up to being 16 and stupid, inexperienced, or genetically predisposed to an eating disorder, but I’m going to simply leave it as it was: something that went much, much too far.

There is positive determination, and there is negative determination. That was certainly negative.

However, this does not mean all weight-loss journeys are negative. The second time around certainly started as one, but that’s simply because mental illness was still there. Mental illness and then some.

Why did I gain weight again? I got depressed. Not only that, but I discovered I had an auto-immune thyroid. Sleeping a lot is generally semi-normal for me, but sleeping 17 hours a day to function is totally not normal. So I went to a doctor and found out my TSH (Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone, naturally occurring in the body) was elevated. They started me out on 50mcg of Synthroid and everything was supposed to be okay. It wasn’t. I didn’t feel any different whatsoever. Then I wanted something more ‘natural’ and started Erfa. Things changed, but in the absolute wrong direction. My TSH swung from 5.5 to 0.3 in a little over a year. I went from hypothyroidism to hyperthyroidism. Instead of sleeping a lot, I was anxious all the time and could not sleep whatsoever. Instead of being sluggish and depressed, I was constantly moving and could not stop thinking. It was just as bad as the other side of the spectrum, except instead of feeling lifeless, I was feeling ‘cracked out’.

Then my doctor and I made the decision to stop all my thyroid medication and oddly enough, it sorted itself out. (A word to the wise: I do NOT recommend you stop or tweak your medication all by yourself if you have something wrong with your thyroid, as it can have dangerous results). This phenomenon surprisingly happens in about 30 – 70% of patients, depending on the severity. My thyroid is still auto-immune, as the antibodies often still remain, needing to be periodically measured throughout the rest of my life.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, being the only thing I had to worry about — as I was twice suspected for hyperparathyroidism as well, which often requires surgery), during the entire fiasco, I managed to gain about 40lbs, and was too distracted to do anything about it until everything was sorted out. Not only was I getting blood tests every 2-3 months, but I was also working full-time, doing college, and had moved 500km shortly after I was diagnosed.

When I finally decided to do something about it, a year and a half after my original diagnosis, it was like taking my training wheels off.

Here are some things I learned during the process:

90% of the time, the only person stopping you from doing anything is yourself. That’s right. I have read a lot of forum posts and websites where people lament that because they have thyroid problems, the weight won’t come off, and it never will. Many of these posters end up simply giving up after such a conclusion. This saddens me. In fact, I believe it delayed my decision to lose weight. But then I decided to try anyway. At first I went about it completely wrong (not tracking my food at all, just going to the gym 3x a week without a specific plan in mind), but ended up losing 8lbs the first couple months anyway. This kick-started a whole lifestyle change and the realization that no, it wasn’t impossible, and I needn’t make excuses for myself based on either worse cases than mine, or people who wanted to make excuses for themselves (note: I’m not saying a medical condition is an excuse, but in most cases, it is controllable; I’ve been there. In others, it isn’t. That’s when you go to your doctor).

It doesn’t fix everything. A lot of people have a vision in their mind of themselves becoming skinny and suddenly popular. Or that fitting into anything they want will suddenly fix every problem they have. Sorry to be a bubble buster, but that’s not going to happen. I still have days where I am absolutely overwhelmed and burdened by the pressure of my homework, chores, errands, and living arrangements. I still have wide shoulders (always have, always will) and a larger bust (spoiler alert: weight loss will shrink your proportions, not completely change them), so I will probably never look good in most sleeveless or strapless things. I never have anyway. That’s life.

It’s not a test. You don’t need a 100% grade. When you start to diet, you look at the future with agony. Endless months  of eating less than you’re used to, exercising, being exhausted and slaving over your body, measuring, counting, etc. In reality, it really isn’t like that. Yes, some people may take things way too seriously and not even have cake for their best friend’s or spouse’s birthday (or even their own birthday), but that’s totally not necessary. Heck, I recently took an entire week off of dieting, just for the heck of it (and yes, there was cake !), and immediately went back on track. Was there any downsides to that? Maybe I delayed my ‘goal’ by a week (I don’t even have a concrete goal anymore; more on that later), but I didn’t gain any weight, go on a binging trainwreck, or anything of the sort. So yes, you can have a cheat day or even a break without negative consequences if you go about it properly (such as not treating it like an eating contest). I know the “it’s a lifestyle, not a diet” thing is completely overused, but it’s true. You’re not being graded on it, so “good enough” is absolutely fine in most cases (as long as you’re not prepping for cardiac surgery or anything), if you’re still getting progress.

Your goals will eventually become obsolete. When I began losing weight in July of 2014, I wanted it all gone, and quickly. I wanted to be down at least 40 of the 60lbs I wanted to lose by January; no ifs, ands, or buts. When that didn’t happen (I had lost 35 by January), I was surprisingly calm about it. Why? Because a part of me knew my goal was unrealistic, and I was happy that I had learned something about my expectations. The heavier you are, the easier it is for you to lose weight. I could lose 4-6lbs a month easily when I first started, sometimes up to 8. Now I am lucky to lose 3. The closer you get to your goal, the harder it will be. Sometimes, you realize that your original goals were a bit stupid in the first place. When I started, I was obsessed with being 120lbs for some reason (borderline unhealthy for my height, 5’7.5″). Now, I am quite content at just under 136lbs, and my goal is to gain muscle and shed fat. I don’t really care if I get to 120lbs now, because I might need to be heavier than that to have an athletic physique. I’m still losing weight just to see if I’m happy with it, but I expect to stop eventually. There are many women my height who lift weights and are 135-145lbs, so I might even have to gain weight once I’ve lost more fat. I know it’s been said time and time again but weight is just a number. It does not measure your health.

Another thing I’d like to add is that you’ll probably make mistakes, and you’ll probably regret them. When I first started losing weight, I parked my calories at 1200 and didn’t exercise at all. I wasn’t losing weight fast enough so I tried varying between 900-1250 calories to ‘trick’ my body. That stopped working too. Now I eat between 1300-1500 calories a day and exercise about 6 days a week (and not excessively either, between 10 and 45 minutes a day). It’s working slowly, but it’s definitely working. The difference is that it feels a lot easier, probably because I’m not sitting on my butt all day and starving. My biggest regret was that I actually didn’t eat enough in the beginning (that seems to be a trend with me, huh?) but this time, I corrected it. Starting slow is extremely hard for those with a really high motivational drive, but sometimes you need to listen to the advice everyone keeps trying to tell you. There are reasons for it (aka screwing up your hormones and metabolism, which is why I now believe in taking a week off every now and then — my next one will probably be in May).

All in all, weight loss is a marathon, not a 100 meter race. Some people want to lose it all in a juice fast, but that’s extreme and often potentially dangerous. So come prepared, try to approach it with a level head, and accept that there are things you didn’t anticipate that might just slow you down. That doesn’t mean you need to quit, that just means you need to rethink your approach. There might be people ahead of you in the marathon, there might be some behind, but none of that should effect you. You’re running your marathon for you, remember that.

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Why Being a Holistic Nutritionist Isn’t for Me

I first started getting into nutrition about a decade ago, when I was 14. I had been a competitive athlete since the age of 6, and decided that learning about nutrition might give me an edge. However, because I was a disinterested teenager, the thought stayed at the back of my mind until I was 16.

After a summer of a little bit too much World of Warcraft and Chinese food, I found myself floating from my in-season weight of about 120lbs up to 143lbs. I know that’s not that big of a deal for most people, especially when you’re my height (I’m now a little over 5’7″ tall), but it was for me. It was devastating. I was a size 10 who was used to wearing a size 4. Even my dad had told me I had begun to get a bit tubby.

So what did I do? I began to read pretty much every diet book ever. I started with the Atkins diet book, the GI Diet, the Abs Diet, etc (the latter 2 I still find to be acceptable books to this day, so it’s not all bad). I remember trying to eat cabbage soup for a week. The soy-flour muffins on Atkins tasted awful so I tried to doctor them up with cocoa powder and pecans, not knowing that was adding carbs or calories, because I didn’t know how to count those at the time.

But once I did figure out how to count calories, I went overboard. I started at 700, then moved up to 900. I spent a few weeks only eating back the calories I burned — so unless I went to the gym for 2 hours in the morning, I didn’t eat. Once skating started again, I realized I couldn’t function on 900 calories a day, so I upped it to 1350. However, because I was no longer ‘counting’ exercise, I didn’t know I was burning at least 700 calories a day in-season. As a result, I was only consuming 700 net calories a day for 8 months.

Soon my weight slipped .. 137lbs, 125, 119, 112. I stopped getting periods. My bones stuck out. Even got some pressure wounds from being in the bathtub because my spine would grind against the porcelain while I was bathing.

My saddest memory was writing a Christmas list in which I asked for a heated blanket, heated slippers, sweaters, and warm pyjamas. I didn’t even realize it until I got better, but I think that may have been my body crying for help. In fact, I cried all Christmas. Late November I was given a very dire prognosis. Nobody knew what to do until I could be hospitalized; but there were no openings for another month. They weren’t sure I’d live past another couple weeks. I didn’t think I’d done anything wrong. I just wanted to live.

112 was when I was diagnosed with an eating disorder. All in all I sunk to about 100lbs.

The wake-up call happened when knee slipped out of place during practice because I didn’t really have muscle to hold it in anymore. I spent a month and a half in a straight-legged brace, and had to quit figure skating.

Once my knee was healed, I was hospitalized for EDNOS (eating disorder non-otherwise specified … I had classic symptoms of anorexia, but was more obsessed with the counting calories than anything — even my weight). The hospital staff was very worried about me at first, but I managed to become healthy in a mere 2 months. I gained 20lbs in that time by eating a second dinner most nights. Whenever a patient left the hospital and their food tray was sent in, I decided to have it. I had completely given up my restricting, voluntarily. I had given up the will to fight against myself. I just wanted to heal.

Because I healed quickly and still knew a lot about food, people began to recommend I get a degree in nutrition. It took until I was 21 to decide I should (I had gotten over my eating disorder by the age of 17).

I was excited at first. After being an athlete for 10 years and surviving an eating disorder, I thought I could save the world.

Unfortunately, I believe that Nutritionism is the wrong route for that.

Don’t get me wrong, it is the right route for many people. And it can help many other people. However, in other ways, the industry that has been created by Nutritionism can be harmful.

I believe it is an honest mistake. They want to help people, they truly do. But I believe that by using unscientific methods such as iridology, recommending unneeded enemas, ‘food typing’, and using products for cleanses and detoxes that aren’t necessarily FDA approved — they may sometimes be doing more harm than good. Some of them, that is. Not everybody uses those methods or recommends such things. In fact, in the degree they strongly recommend you look up studies and learn how to read them properly. Ironically, though, they still provide many texts with the course that are anti-vaccine, anti-modern medicine, and even anti-FDA and anti-hospitals.

I’ve seen people (colleagues, I guess you could call them? People in the same course as me, either way) advertising on Facebook that cancer patients should use their juice cleanses instead of going through with chemotherapy. Things like that make me very, very sad. In fact, I often wish I would’ve opted for the route of a Dietitian instead, when I see things like that.

Some of you may be wondering what the difference between a Nutritionist and a Dietitian is.

Dietitians hold a bachelor’s degree, Nutritionists do not. It takes approximately 2 years to become a Dietitian, 1-2 to become a Nutritionist. That doesn’t mean Nutritionists may not hold other bachelor’s degrees if they decide to pursue other fields — it just means they don’t get one with the Nutritionist course.

Nutritionists take their courses at private, privately funded colleges made for Nutritionism only; Dietitians study at a University.

Nutritionists also study the spiritual and holistic side of things; from your sleep schedule, down to your chakras. Dietitians do not. However, Dietitians often formally study Agriculture during their course. They also go way more in-depth when it comes to medical stuff.

They both require a little bit of biochemistry, as well as anatomy. My anatomy textbook in my Nutritionist course was my favourite, as was my chemistry one. They were the only ‘serious’ textbooks I got, in my opinion. They had the facts and nothing but the facts, as well as a number of proper studies.

They are both board certified (at least in Canada); however, Nutritionists are more privately certified, while Dietitians are government certified, as far as I’m aware.

Becoming a Dietitian often has strict prerequisites, such as partaking an undergraduate program. Nutritionists can go into their course with nothing but a high-school diploma or GED.

The term ‘Nutritionist’ is so unregulated in places, you can’t even legally use the prefix ‘Registered’ in Alberta, because they reserve that right for Dietitians.

Dietitians can work alongside doctors and in hospitals. Nutritionists are not legally allowed to treat or diagnosed anyone (although that doesn’t mean they don’t bend their words to try — like how I mentioned above, trying to cure cancer with juice fasts or ‘Gerson therapy’ — which is $65k a year to down chopped raw liver and receive coffee enemas).

I believe a lot of people go into Nutrition with pure intentions, like I did.

However, after being provided with textbooks that said such horrifying things (there was even a holistic magazine provided with the course, used for study, that said you shouldn’t bring your kid to the hospital if they have a high fever, even at 104*F — the temperature doctors unanimously agree starts to become a danger to mortality). In fact, that book further recommends you should put your kid in a hot bath or wrap them in blankets to aggravate their fever. I told myself I would burn that book after I finished my course, I was so appalled.

Another was anti-vaccine. So vehemently so that it tried to say you were poisoning your child if you gave them one. And yet another said the same about GMOs (of which I will discuss the pros and cons of another day — but I believe that in general, they can be helpful … indeed, they did save the lives of 1 billion people in drought-ridden countries shortly after they were created, but more on that later. It is still a very controversial subject).

The more and more I ‘learned’ from the Nutritionist course, the more and more I studied and taught myself the opposite, because something just seemed ‘fishy’.

It has gotten to the point where I failed my final and I’m scared to re-try it because I just don’t know what to say anymore. Half of the time I fill out answers I feel like I’m making stuff up; like the section of the course where I was supposed to predict which chakra someone had damaged by what crisis they were having in their life. I had never re-read a book so much to get an answer. I honestly felt like I was pulling things out of my ass. I have nothing against that sort of thing. Indeed, I found the book generally enjoyable to read, and consider myself quite open-minded. (For those of you who don’t know, chakras are basically invisible spiritual channels in your body that can effect different body parts, often based on ‘chi’ or ‘qi’ — invisible ‘life force’ energy from traditional Asian medicine. There is no evidence they exist. They’re kind of a spiritual/religious thing. No hard feelings to those who do believe them — I just believe it’s difficult to do a test on something I can’t really quantify.).

But basing a test on it? Exhausting. I felt like I was getting my degree in being a psychic, not helping people eat better. It may be some people’s cup of tea, but it was not mine, at least not at the time.

Indeed, some Nutritionists go on to get higher educations. Some may study on their own time for hundreds of hours, like I do. Some may be very educated, even more-so than Dieticians in some cases. A degree doesn’t define you as a human, nor does it define the limits of what you can learn — it merely provides you a platform with which to study. There are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ folk of all degrees — doctors, lawyers, teachers, policemen. Some are more learned than others. Some got better marks. Some are more passionate. Some are more indifferent.

The point is, I believe I got started on the wrong foot. That doesn’t mean you did. That doesn’t mean I’m discrediting all of Nutritionism. I simply believe it needs vastly more updated texts and regulations before people should begin to take it more seriously. That doesn’t mean you or I are bad at our jobs. It just means that, evidence provided, I feel the Nutritionist degree is lacking. And if you have a passion for it, I believe you should further your education in other ways — rather than trapping yourself in the holistic dogma often associated with it.

Thanks for listening, and I hope this post didn’t anger anyone. I just wanted to be honest for a moment, as well as tell my story. Again, what works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. If you want to go gluten-free, go for it. If you want to believe in food combining, go for it. If you want to have a consultation by a Nutritionist, go for it. I’ve had one before (back before I knew what a Nutritionist was, let alone attempted to become one). Heck, I’m the one here downing the protein shakes, so why should you be listening to me? 😛

I believe it is absolutely wonderful that people have such a wide range in freedom of choices. It’s just when that wide range has corners that may or may not be trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes, that I feel I need to speak out about it. And that’s exactly why Nutritionism isn’t for me.