Confessions from a former fat girl-me! By Dr. Amber Golshani
As many of you know, I have two wonderful children, age 8 and 3. Fourteen years ago, as a fat, tired, sick girl I was told I may not have the ability to conceive at all.
At age 22, I weighed 180 pounds (or more, I stopped weighing myself at that point). At 5’6”, that put me on the borderline of obesity according to Body Mass Index [Note-BMI is not perfect, only one of many tools for assessment of health].
At this time, I was not worried about conceiving, but the other problems I had with my hormones (not to mention being really uncomfortable in my big body), moods, and lack of energy plagued me.
- I had extremely painful and irregular periods, sometimes only four per year.
- I was always hungry, craved sweets and breads, chips, and baked goods.
- I was irritable and if I missed a meal, you had better watch out!
- My energy was oscillate from ‘not-so-bad’ to ‘pretty-darn-bad’.
- I had high cholesterol and triglycerides.
I was in college at this time. I ate whatever I wanted, including fried dough from the cafeteria, gigantic Chicken Gyros from college fast-food “Galley”, Taco Bell, and chickenless-chicken wings (that’s healthy, right??) at 2 am, not to mention copious amounts of beer and alcohol.
In addition, I was totally stressed out. I stayed up way too late, took a full course load, studied my butt off to maintain a 3.82 GPA in Chemisty, and worked part time as a waitress in a bar/restaurant. Part of my perks in working here was free dinner (fried chicken and french fries was a favorite) and of course, a post-shift drink.
I was eventually diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and told that the ‘cure’ was to go on birth control pills for the rest of my life; that I am at high risk for high blood pressure and diabetes; and if I ever wanted to get pregnant I would probably need fertility treatment, as most women with PCOS, are infertile.
Treating the cause? Or just covering up the symptoms?
Somehow, I know that my doctors answers weren’t really going to change anything. I knew that the drugs I would be on would just cover the symptoms and NOT do a thing to cure the underlying reason I was feeling so badly in the first place!
I thought of my symptoms of irregular periods, crankiness and fatigue as the smoke-detector of my body. I knew that they weren’t the problem, but something was causing my body to react this way.
If you woke and your smoke detector was going off, would you just put in ear plugs? Or would you go find the cause of the alarm and take care of that?
Most modern medicine is like putting in ear-plugs,
helping us ignore the alarms of a failing body.
I didn’t know what that underlying reason was, but with my budding interest in natural medicine, I took this opportunity to do some of my own research. I found out that for women with PCOS, even a weight loss of just 5% of my starting weight could result in improvement in hormone levels and restore my menses.
So, I started slowly. I committed to eating one salad a day. I stopped eating fast-food. I limited my sweet treats and alcohol. And I started exercising-walking, swimming and hiking in the Arizona mountains.
There was no magic pill. It was making a commitment to my health by eating right and exercising. I started to feel better and the weight began to come off. In less than 6 months, I lost about 30 pounds and my menses returned on a monthly basis! It was my own healing using “lifestyle medicine” that lead me to a career as a integrative doctor.
I made vast improvements in my health and lifestyle during that time, but still struggled with another 20 lbs over the last ten years. I was really focused on losing that weight and looking a certain way. And consequently, my weight would go up and down as I found a new diet to try every couple of months.
In the last 4-5 years, I’ve made the most significant strides in my health. I now focus on gaining health, not losing weight. I know that as long as I eat and live in a way that will increase my health, I will have no more (major) mood swings, no crazy weight gains or loses, normal laboratory blood tests, stable even energy and a normal (dare I say easy) menstrual cycle.
Oh, and I have two great kids conceived naturally. 🙂 I can’t imagine my life without them, and if I hadn’t thought for myself and made these changes, who knows if they would be here.
Now, I could have tried taking some natural supplements, a homeopathic remedy and other vitamins to try and fix all my symptoms. But I knew that unless I addressed the underlying issue (my terrible diet and resulting blood sugar imbalances) I would never be completely cured.
No matter how many herbs, vitamins, natural remedies
(or pharmaceutical drugs for that matter) you take,
you will never truly be well unless you address
the biggest obstacle to wellness-
eating the wrong type of foods for YOUR unique body.
Eating the crappy diet that caused my weight problems was more than just a cosmetic issue. It had negative health effects across my entire body-my cardiovascular system, my moods, my energy, and my hormones.
So, yes, I used to be fat, sick and tired. I didn’t get “here” (healthy, active, and happy) overnight. In fact it’s taken me almost 20 years to figure this out and I am still learning!
Here are three nuggets of wisdom I’ve learned along the way.
Three Lessons I learned going sick and fat, to healthy and fit
1) Focus on building health, not losing weight. This is a game-changer. My life isn’t spent obsessing about whether or not I can eat something based on if it fits my latest diet. Instead, I know the foods, the exercise and the lifestyle that help me feel and look the best. It took time to figure this (my unique eating and lifestyle plan) out, but now that I am here and I know what makes me healthy, my weight, energy and health is effortless to maintain.
2) Small steps. I didn’t start out this journey thinking that I was going to cure my PCOS and lose X number of pounds. I knew I wanted to feel better and live a healthier lifestyle. So I picked one or two easy steps that I knew I could handle. Find ONE thing you can do to start; do that consistently for 4-8 weeks, and when that gets easy, add one more little step in.
3) “Progress not perfection”. I spent years thinking I was ‘failing’ because I didn’t have six-pack abs and my thighs touched in the middle. Or because I ate chocolate after dinner when I wasn’t hungry! I thought that in order to be ‘healthy’ I had to be perfect and would beat myself up if I didn’t live up to the ideal of perfection I had created. I am here to tell you perfection is an illusion and only sets you up for disappointment. I now focus on progress, as in trying to get better and take (small) steps to improve my health every day. It is an on-going process. Perfection, to me, implies there is an ‘end’ to this game-when I reach a certain weight, “get abs” or stop eating chocolate. Truth is, if you want to live a vibrant, healthy life, maintaining health is on-going game. The only end is, well, the end!
I hope by sharing what I’ve learned, I’ll save you some of the struggle, effort, and maybe even shave a few years off your learning curve!
The way I see it is you have two choices now: 1) Run with this information. Start your own journey to better health, one step at a time. I did it this way too. I read a lot, I talked to a lot of different people, but I essentially did it on my own. 2) Get a coach and work with someone (ahem, like me) who can help guide you through the same steps I took to get healthy, improve energy and normalize your weight.