The whole debacle started more than 5 years ago with a conversation at the school bus stop with a friend. It went something along the lines of…
Friend: I was reading something in the paper the other day about a really interesting sounding diet.
Me: really, do tell.
Friend: it was about the New Evolution Diet, it’s supposed to be really good for you.
Me: oooo, I’ll have a look at that when I get home.
(Well we don’t really talk like that! I don’t think anyway!)
Needless to say my friend glossed over it and probably never gave it a moment’s thought after our conversation. I, on the other hand, went home, googled it, bought the book, read the book, and was totally sold on it. This was going to be life changing! Well, it was that alright (only the story didn’t end so well!!) I was going low carb, it was the best way to live your life, like a hunter gatherer (well, without too much hunting, more of the gathering, from shops though, so you know, not dissimilar to a hunter gatherer really!) I was giddy with excitement. The first two weeks were torture without carbs. I can vividly remember going in and out of our kitchen, opening the cupboard doors, expecting something tasty to miraculously appear (even though I’d thrown all the tasty stuff out in preparation for this stage!) and disappointingly shutting them again! Then after a couple of weeks something marvellous began to happen, I felt great. I had loads of energy. It was a miracle! So I became that person, you know, the one that starts to tell everybody how great low carb is and what they should be eating. You shouldn’t eat carbs you know, they make you fat. Why are you eating those carbs? Eat more fat and protein! Blah blah blah! (If I knew then what I know now and all that!) I don’t even know where it came from, my desire to do the diet. I’ve never been particularly over weight but I have had a few health problems growing up. My periods had never been regular; I could go two or three months without one. I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome because I often had stomach pains that couldn’t be explained, and I was told I had polycystic ovary syndrome. I was given tablets from my gp for the irritable bowel syndrome (to this day I have no idea what they were) and was told that I may or may not have trouble getting pregnant. I have since had 2 children so no need to worry about that! Well my stomach pains cleared up on the low carb diet and I no longer needed to dash to the toilet (sorry if that’s too much information!) I felt better than ever. How could this be wrong? My boyfriend warned me on several occasions that he didn’t feel it was right but I knew better! I knew he was wrong (they always are, right?!!) So if I stopped the story there it would seem like a happy, ever after tale. I changed my diet, I felt better, end of! Fast forward two and a half years and I still thought things were pretty great. To top it off I discovered circuit training. I loved it! I felt strong and empowered, never mind that every time I left the place I had a weird throbbing headache; I could do the monkey bars! Twice! The last time I ever went to circuit training, just before my 40th birthday, I remember attempting some kind of test to be able to do a certain class. The test was after the circuit training session so I was already knackered (with hindsight this was absolutely ridiculous). You had to do a certain amount of push ups or squats or sprints? I forget the combination. Anyway I was on the last one, the sprints, and we were being timed. My competitive spirit is, how shall we put it, erm, fierce!! I remember having nothing left to give but pushed myself to the end and literally fell down on the finish line. I felt sick and was shaking like a leaf but the others were laughing so I laughed too, it was funny right? The trainers said they’d never seen anyone throw themselves across the line like that! I passed the test but unbeknownst to me at the time I would never return. When I got home my boyfriend said I looked ill. I couldn’t sleep all night. I had no idea what was wrong. I had terrible anxiety.
The next day I was sitting at the table, flicking through facebook, when a post popped up in my timeline that said something monumental… ‘How to burn fat and why you shouldn’t’. I was so entrenched in the low carb diet mentality that it hadn’t even crossed my mind that my diet could be the problem. I read the article, which shockingly made a whole lot of sense. Could I really have devoted 3 years to such a bad idea though? After about an hour I discounted the new article because it just couldn’t be right. Low carb was definitely best, I’d read so much about it and spent so much time telling everyone how great it was. I just wasn’t ready to give it up. I’d devoted so much of my time to it. I cooked everything from scratch, including home made pizza for the kids (made with god knows what!! Egg whites and flax seed, or some such nonsense because flour was the seed of the devil!!) and weird cake, that looking back wasn't really cake at all!! The poor kids! By the end of the day though, it was slowly dawning on me that I had made a monumentally crap decision when it came to our eating for the last 3 years. I was in bits. When I really thought about it, I actually hadn’t felt brilliant for some time. My sleep had gradually been getting worse, I had been feeling tired, and I had totally lost interest in my PhD. This might sound the norm for people studying a 4 year PhD but I had truly loved doing my undergraduate degree. The only thing I wanted to do after it was a PhD, and I loved that I was studying forests. People who know me, know that I love forests, and plants, and soil!! I couldn’t understand why over a period of several months I became less and less interested in my work. If low carb really was that bad for you then that could explain all the health issues I was having.
I clicked on all the information available to me from the article I read and that led me to one Mr Matt Stone of 180 Degrees Health. Now Matt has a number of books published that you can read (more about that later) but I decided to get Diet Recovery 2. I read it a number of times and thought it made perfect sense. Matt has some solid information in his books (although they are written in a light hearted, often flippant, fashion, with a ton of swearing in them – which I actually love!) such as eating plenty of food (a lot of carbs) and on a regular basis. He also suggests that sometimes eating fast food (which contains a lot of salt and sugar) can initially be helpful to a metabolism that’s been beaten to the ground by dieting. The key word there is ‘initially’ but his advice is to mostly eat good, solid, home cooked meals. Me, I took the initially bit and ran with it! With my body all over the place and no particular hunger cues in place, I was on a mission to fire up my metabolism, by eating a ton of crap!! I should point out that at no point did Matt ever suggest this was a good approach, but that is what I took from the book at that point in time (I blame the 3 year carb deficit for my lack of good thinking!!) So it was onward to the next problem, my weight! It started increasing, fast! I had read to expect this though (for many reasons connected to metabolism – which I’ll get to in a separate article or this one may never end!) so I gritted my teeth and continued. I went from a size 8, to a 10, to a 12, to a 14, to a 16, and finally to an 18 in a period of 6 months (from March to September) and I had terrible water retention. My boyfriend had no clue what was going on and would not entertain the idea of needing to eat more, especially carbs, to fire up your metabolism. All he saw was the terrifying vision of his girlfriend putting on weight. I became quite depressed. My energy got less and less, instead of better. Again I had no clue what was going on. I tried exercising to get the weight off. That made me ill! I continued to eat around 2500 calories a day (I’ll get to calories in another article, before you all fall over at the huge amount that I eat!!!) but nothing worked. By Christmas of that year I was on my knees, literally. I had no energy to do anything and I had a constant weird cough. I think my boyfriend was convinced I was dying and kept telling me to go to the drs! I refused because I don’t think they’re particularly great at diagnosing anything (more on that later and in future articles!) The only positive was that I was no longer gaining any weight. I was left at a size 18, bigger than I’d ever been in my life. My boyfriend hated it and no longer came anywhere near me. I was desolate, but the hits just kept on coming. My anxiety came back tenfold and I could not understand why. I tried all the things that were recommended to calm an anxiety problem, more salt, more sugar, breathing exercises, but nothing worked. It seemed to be connected to when I ate but to no particular foods. I could eat a ham sandwich and be fine, or I could eat a ham sandwich and be racked with anxiety. Was I causing this myself? I thought I was going mad! I needed help (probably in more ways than one!) so I decided to pay for a Skype call with Matt Stone (the 180 Degree Health dude!). So we talked and he gave me some advice about getting more sugar (jam or honey on toast, that kind of thing) down me in the morning to get my metabolism going (I know, sugar, I hear you gasp! – more on that in another article too!) I implemented his plan of more sugar in the morning… and was promptly sick! My anxiety was still raging! It was god awful! So I skyped him asking him what I should do, we tried a number of things but nothing worked. Finally he told me to ‘Pray to Allah’. Matt, if you’re reading this, I owe you a good slap around the chops for that one!
Finally, in desperation, I asked him if there was anybody he could recommend in the UK (Matt is in the USA – I know! That explains it!) that I could go and see. The doctors here were no use whatsoever. I had blood tests run but they didn’t really show up much apart from something connected to my liver that was slightly raised, so apart from referring me for a liver scan they offered me their go to solution – anti-depressants! I politely declined. I had told him about my diet and I knew the anxiety was connected to that but as soon as the doctor heard the word anxiety, that was all he focussed on. I left feeling no further forward. There was no way I was taking anti-depressants to plaster over the problem. When I returned home Matt had messaged me back suggesting that I went to see Billy Craig in the UK. I ummed and ahhed about spending more money but in the end felt like I had no choice. I messaged Billy and fixed a date to go and see him. I remember it clearly, my sister came with me, and we missed the turning on to the A50 and ended up nearly in Whitchurch (Billy lives in Derby!). Good job we set off in good time! We made it just on time and pulled up to park in the road outside his house. As we sat there for a moment a guy came out of a back gate, wearing a tracksuit, and we giggled and said maybe that’s him (in an ironic way) but yes, you probably know where I’m going with this, it was indeed Billy! How funny that I expected him to look a certain way. Why would it matter what someone looked like if they could help you? Weird! I blame it on my terrible state of health! Billy certainly did manage to help me. He was a wealth of knowledge and spent lots of time with me. My poor sister was directed to the local marina, which is, incidentally, very nice, but only small and she got to spend over 2 hours there whilst waiting for me! He gave solid advice about eating frequent small meals, with a balance of carbs, fats and proteins to stop blood sugar levels spiralling all over the place. Smaller, frequent meals are less likely to stress an ailing body. At first I was scared of adding too many carbs as I had begun to think they were causing the problem, so I started just adding one or two new potatoes to each meal, and I would eat every 2-3 hours. My boyfriend was horrified by this new state of affairs. Why on earth must I eat so often? Surely that’s not normal? On one occasion he came into the kitchen, asked if I was eating again, and told me I was going to be the size of a house! He did later come in and apologise but it was the start (or continuation, since the weight gain) of a downward spiral in our relationship. He didn’t understand any of it. Worst of all, Billy had recommended no exercise! (again due to bad health and low metabolism – more on that in a different article!) My boyfriend was horrified! How could that be right? I had no energy or inclination to exercise anyway. It was a struggle walking down the road. I finally had to take time out from my PhD because I was in such a bad place. I couldn’t concentrate and my anxiety was still coming and going, although it was starting to get better. It would hit me in the morning when I woke up, and gradually ease throughout the day as I ate. Then the next morning I would do it all again! I remember sitting on the couch reading a book (as I constantly did to try and take me away from everything) thinking what if this is it? What if it never really, truly goes away? I soldiered on regardless!
The last nail in our relationship coffin came around teatime one day, when I hadn’t been feeling so good (more so than usual! I had a flu type bug or something!) My boyfriend was mad that there were dishes all around the kitchen and the place was a mess. Well, sometimes it was all I could do to get out of bed for the day, so that was it, I’d had enough (we’d had many discussions/arguments over the past few months, which mainly ended with me in tears) and I suggested it would be better if me and the kids just left. We carried on living together though, whilst I found somewhere for me and the kids to live and whilst I finished my PhD.
Following Billy’s advice, my anxiety had started to subside and by August I resumed my PhD. I started to feel a bit better and started to get a bit of energy back. I had slowly added more and more potatoes to each meal so I got plenty of carbs. My boyfriend (or now ex-boyfriend) still wondered why I ate so many meals and did no exercise, and it just didn’t seem to matter that I was finally feeling better. I guess the mainstream idea that you must be thin to be healthy prevails and he just could not accept me as a much bigger person. I no longer took it to heart and stopped getting upset, as we were kind of separated anyway. I kept on keeping on!
I had started to read lots of other interesting ideas about health and metabolism, one of my favourite authors being Dr. Ray Peat. I couldn’t read many of his articles at that time as I would get to a section that referred to an inflamed or diseased state, start to panic that that was me, and get stressed! So I stepped away from health stuff for a while and focussed on my PhD. After all, the health issues and time out from it had caused me serious setbacks time wise and I only had 5 months to get it finished. I still had 2 full chapters to write and the introduction and conclusion to do!
During this time I went back to see Billy a couple of times. I wanted my water retention to go away, so I went to get a hair mineral test done and to check my resting metabolic rate. My resting metabolic rate was 1760 (the amount of calories my body burns per day at rest), which is not too bad. When the results of my mineral tests came back, my potassium was very low (which maybe explains why I love potatoes!!) and some of the ratios were out of whack. I’m pretty sure I had literally run out of some minerals whilst eating crap to try and raise my metabolism, and maybe that was what caused the horrendous anxiety. Billy laughs at me (quite openly, how rude!!) about my obsessive eating of potatoes. I’m sure he still thinks I’m scared of other foods but I can honestly say now that I’m not. I was bloody scared of setting the rip roaring anxiety into motion, I can tell you that much! Now I know if I get an anxiety reaction (which I still do from time to time) I can calm it down within a few hours by reinstating the potatoes! So fast forward to the end of the year (2014) and my thesis was finished. God knows how! All I can say is that my supervisors were wonderful. My viva came and went in Feb of this year. I was dreading it and was so nervous I didn’t think I would be able to get my own name correct! I was so lucky to get a lovely man from Croatia, who thought my thesis was great and didn’t give me a hard time at all. You may now call me Dr! Kidding, of course! At the end of March the kids and I moved into our new home. What a breath of fresh air that was. A new start, away from all the negativity that had gone on in the old house. My ex and I are still friends. I see no point in holding grudges about things that went on. Remember, this is only my side of the story, he will have his side for sure. My anxiety has completely gone but my weight gain has not. Do I care? Not really. Dealing with all the health issues and other traumas in the past couple of years and coming out the other side has given me a whole new perspective on life. I sure would like the water retention to jog on though! I suspect it will go when ready though. I’m learning a whole new meaning of the word patience! I still aim to eat around 2600 calories per day. My skin is getting less dry, my hair is the shiniest it’s ever been, I have periods regular as clockwork, and my sleep is better than ever. I am happy, and that, my friends, is worth its weight in gold :-)
So, we get to the morals of this story (if you’re still awake!)… Don’t do silly diets! (God knows, there are enough of them out there!)… but if you don’t believe me and you really must do silly diets then be careful what you advise other people to do. I had to backtrack and apologise to the many people that I had convinced low carb was a great idea! If you wish to get some help with any health problems then obviously Billy is my go to person. He has a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/billycraig.co.uk?fref=ts ) that you can check out and a website (http://www.billycraig.co.uk/). Check him out, communicate with him and find out if he’s the right person to help you.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed my ramblings! Remember they are just that, my ramblings, and I in no way endorse the idea that people should eat a ton of potatoes just because they helped me!! Think carefully for yourself about the things you embark on and listen to your body, it's always giving you feedback, even if you can’t initially hear it!
If you have any comments or stories to share I’d love to hear them, pop them in the comments below. If you want to hear about any particular parts of my story in more detail then just let me know and I’ll try to work it into an article. Take care, and remember this is just me ‘thinking out loud’. x