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.

Are artificial sweeteners evil?

Sweetener

Are artificial sweeteners evil?

It is a debate that has been going on for decades.

Oddly enough, the word ‘artificial’ creates hostility on its own. Many people associate ‘artificial’ with something bad. You know what is artificial? Flying on a plane and getting to the other side of the world in 16 hours or less. Driving a car. Eating cereal that came in a printed, pre-packaged box. Having a skin graft or a lung transplant. Taking medicine. Having a blog.

Are half of these things bad? No. But they don’t have the word ‘artificial’ in them, so they seem less likely to be misconstrued. Call it ‘artificial transport’ and then see what people say after a few years. Probably either hostility defending it, or a lot more people choosing to walk.

However, I digress. I must admit to being the neutral party when it comes to the actual subject matter. I believe artificial sweeteners are both good and bad.

Why?

The good:

They can help with weight loss and blood pressure reduction. Alternatively, though, so can reducing your sugar intake. I would call it a moot point, then, but do acknowledge the fact that they can indeed help dieters with poor impulse control when it comes to sweets. This may be a good thing for those with a risk of diabetes.

The aspartame -> brain tumour ‘link’ is likely a fallacy. There were simply not enough potential causes isolated to garner it a real concern.

Sucralose is proven safe to consume, even in ridiculous amounts. A packet of Splenda contains 12mg of sucralose. Scientists were having subjects safely consume up to 500mg per day (that’s 41.6 packets in a day!).

Men who drink diet soda instead of regular soda might have a reduced risk of heart disease. However, this seems to depend on other factors as well, so I wouldn’t call it the be-all end-all to your current soda habit.

The bad:

They might actually make you more hungry. Artificial sweeteners have no effect on ghrelin, the hormone that makes us hungry. Real sugars, however, can reduce it; making us less hungry. Marginally so, but still enough for a statistical difference.

They might cause you to eat more fat. They are also not very useful when it comes to people who aren’t dieting, as they will usually end up ‘eating back’ the ‘missing’ calories later in the day.

Artificial sweeteners mixed with alcohol cause you to get drunk more quickly than their sugar-sweetened counterparts. Why is this bad? Those who ‘go big or go home’, or are known to start a party with a rapid succession of alcohol consumption may be at higher risk of alcohol toxicity without even knowing it. In fact, this effect may be even worse when caffeine is addedsuch as in the case of mixing diet cola and alcohol.

There is also some evidence that those who regularly consume artificial sweeteners may not feel as satisfied when they consume real sugars, causing them to over-indulge. They may even lose interest in less-sweet foods that may be necessary for good health.

There are other things out there to discuss as well, such as how they purportedly increase incidences in cancer. However, I did not find any studies concrete enough about that for me to feel worthy of linking. There is still a lot of controversy about it, even in the scientific world, it seems. I suppose we’ll just have to wait to find out more.


So should you consume artificial sweeteners or not?

Well, that is completely up to you.

As noted by my introduction postI believe in moderation. I think they’re fine, but I prefer having them in foods where they’re already mixed in – I still use sugar in recipes. When I consume artificial sweeteners in ‘regular’ foods, my preferences are varied. I might put a packet of sucralose-based sweetener in my oatmeal every couple weeks, because stevia can taste like vomit to me (at least in oatmeal .. oddly enough, I am fine with using it in hot chocolate or smoothies). I use both sucralose and stevia-sweetened protein powders equally enough. When it comes to sodas, I prefer sugar alcohols. They seem to make me crave less sweet stuff afterwards, compared to acesulfame-potassium. That is just me, though. You could be completely different in your preferences, and I am a-okay with that.

Whatever you do, just make sure not to over-do it. That goes with both sugar and artificial sweeteners; as both have their upsides and downsides.