Tag: PCOS

A New Story

Last April I did a post called Elements of a Story in Our Lives.   It was based upon my reading of a memoir by Donald Miller called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. In the book, Miller tells of his experiences writing a script based on his life.  Unfortunately his fellow screenwriters constantly remind him that his story is not interesting. This points him on a journey of self-discovery, answering (or at least presenting) the questions: What makes a great life?  What makes an interesting story? How can we keep from living a mundane life?  How can we tell a different story?

In my original post I mused on the new story I might tell?  It was, after all, only two months into my fitness quest.  Would losing weight change my story? I said:

“Just like the girl in the story or the prodigal son from scripture, we can come to ourselves and think upon our ways; thereby, creating a new story, a better story, or certainly a more dynamic story.  Even if it is not a redemptive change, knowing that change is possible is so wonderful.  For example, if I am able to lose weight that would change my story- it may or may not make it substantially better but the chances are it will make it a longer story.”

Well, I’m here to tell you today I am living a better story.  This evening we had book club, and I started gabbing about all I’ve learned and experienced in the last two months.  There’s plenty to tell about insulin resistance, PCOS, low GI diet, doctors, trainers, medicine etc; yet, even more impactful than the practical knowledge/relationships is with the official PCOS diagnosis, my life story makes sense.  I have so many answers for things which, I either questioned or accepted as part of who I am.  For example, I now understand why I struggle with mild anxiety, worry and stress.  It’s not because I am high-strung or difficult.  It’s because my insulin levels make my hormones go out of whack and then my ability to handle stress/anxiety is affected.  It’s a new way of understanding my story.

I finally have answers for that little 9-year-old girl who gained 50 lbs in one year and wondered what she was doing wrong especially when her parents told her she ‘weighed as much as some grown men’. I have answers for the high school girl who compensated for outward flaws by developing inner-strength, a wide-range of talents and interests, and deep relationship with God that I have never lost.   I have answers for the college girl who substituted affection from boys with a passion for education, and who learned to be a great friend. The type of friend I then sought out, and thankfully, in precious moments, found.  I have answers for the missionary who couldn’t keep up with the physical demands of the work and yet never gave up- coming home each day exhausted, feet pounding, body throbbing in pain, all the while her mind obsessing over every investigator. I have answers for the workaholic career girl who made perfection a quest and lacked the confidence to seek true happiness.  All of it makes more sense now.  All of it has more profundity.  All of it is my new story!

I wish I could be a fly on the wall on those difficult days.  I wonder what I ate? It was probably a lot of carbs- especially on my mission.  In Indiana they have a dish called ‘chicken and noodles over mashed potatoes‘.  It is a depression era dish that allowed one chicken to feed like 20 people.  It was the first thing I ate in Indiana (along with corn!).  When I think of what a meal like that must have done to my insulin levels and consequently everything else in my body, I wonder how I made it through? My poor companions!

Do you see how making it through my mission is now a different story?  It has a new, more vibrant power, than it ever had before?  I am not only living a new story now but my whole life is being told in a new way.  It’s the most exciting experience I can imagine!

I know there are many people who wish they could reinvent themselves at 30. I literally am getting that chance each day.  I am losing weight (over 10 lbs lost in the month of February alone), I’m radically changing the way I eat, and I am making changes at work, to name a few things.

Such a list of changes, however complete, does not describe what’s really happening.  I feel healthy and happy in a way I have NEVER felt.  I am telling a new story- made rich by the constantly developing stories of my past.  I am not the weak person I secretly suspected. I’m certainly strong enough to single-handedly fight for these answers and this PCOS diagnosis.

I have always loved memoirs which chronicle the tales of dramatic people, living great lives, and now I may just be one of those people?  I know I keep saying it, but I am telling a new story and that takes guts!  I know I still have a long way to go; however,  I have lived long enough to know when I’m on the right path. It’s like one of my favorite quote says,

“If at some point in your life you are not where you want to be it has no bearing on the future. You can always reinvent yourself” (Anonymous).

I did it!  I am successfully reinventing myself!  I am sure some of you are burdened with great weights- much heavier than mine.  If you can take anything from my story know that even if it takes you 22 years to figure it out- keep fighting.  Keep trying.  There are answers!  Having problems does not mean we are weak, it simply means we have a journey to take.  I’m so glad I started down mine.  I can’t wait for the rest of the story…

PCOS Venting

I'm working on making this a reality. Come a long way. Its a transition!

This post is a bit of a vent so please bear with me. I am writing exhausted from a long week full of interesting, new experiences.   It has been intense with work, activities, a date (yes a date on Tuesday- just a first date but was fun), and trying to manage my health. Every day I learn more about insulin resistance and PCOS, but I still have a long way to go.  The hardest part is knowing how to manage my new insulin requirements.  My body is having a tough time adjusting to the low GI diet/metformin because my insulin levels can be low causing sudden fatigue, body aches and light headiness.

I have been very strict with my diet and the affects seem to be so different day to day.  It would be one thing if I could figure out ‘oh this food makes me fatigued’ or ‘this food helps me feel better’ but there doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason?  It’s a serious problem because when I say sudden fatigue, I mean sudden fatigue.

Yesterday I ate 2 pieces of whole grain, whole wheat toast with a little bit of butter.  Then I rushed out the door.  (I hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before which I’m sure didn’t help but still it was weird).  So, as I was driving to Syracuse I got about 20 minutes and I became very tired- my eyes burning, my head feeling fuzzy.  It was all I could to pull off the exit and into a parking lot.  I knew I needed to eat something and unfortunately had nothing in the car.  Across the street was a McDonalds and I figured it would have to do.  I debated about what to order and finally went with a Diet Coke for the caffeine and an order of chicken nuggets (not the best but I figured mostly protein and fat, no big carb loaded bun).  The strangest thing was almost immediately I felt better.  My mind felt alert, my eyes stopped hurting and I was able to feel good all day.  Isn’t that peculiar? The other question is why did the toast cause the reaction?  I had a good low carb, whole wheat bread and no sugar  or jam on the toast?

Maybe some of you, online world, have ideas or have experienced similar experiences.   These episodes are  not regular and don’t seem to fit any pattern either in the source or solution?  Honestly nothing seems to make me feel better aside from sleeping and who has time to sleep for 2-3 hours in the afternoon?  I have gotten a myriad of suggestions including  peanut butter, protein bars, shakes, candy, juice,  agave syrup, and other foods to reverse the low insulin (I’m pretty sure the attacks are hypoglycemic- meaning caused from insulin rates that are too low).  I also can’t figure out what particularly triggers it and why sometimes it does/does not happen? It’s so strange.

I’ve called my endocrinologist (who is the best) and left a message (they are closed Friday’s).  I am meeting with him next Thursday, and you can bet I will have a lot of questions.

It has been a struggle and I must say I have not done great this week exercise-wise (only 3 times this week).  I have been so exhausted it is hard to move.  Its an adjustment but don’t worry I’m not off my game for long.  I am meeting with my trainer Wednesday (trainer Wednesday, doctor Thursday- busy week!).

One of the hardest things is my new feelings that food is an enemy.  When you don’t know if a food will send you into an episode or cause other problems it is hard to enjoy it.  I have not learned to anticipate, like or crave my new food requirements. I’m really trying but nothing tastes as good as it used to. Excuse my language but it kind of sucks.  I used to love cooking but it seems like everything I know how to make is not allowed for various reasons. In addition, the whole wheat/low carb varieties of food just aren’t as good or satisfying, and I’ve never been a huge ‘hunk of meat’ person.  I am starting to uncover new recipes, cookbooks and websites that look promising but right now nothing I can eat looks good.

I try to remind myself that ‘its just food’, which helps but it’s still hard.  Its tough to go to FHE and see people eating cake, hard to go to dinner and not eat the free bread, its hard when a food I think is OK seems to cause an episode.  I also don’t want to be one of those annoying dieters that everyone has to tip-toe around.  I want them to feel comfortable eating whatever they want to eat.   I’m keeping a journal of everything I eat, and the symptoms I experience, but I just miss things.  It feels like I miss everything.

Anyway, please excuse a little complaining on my part.  Changes are difficult, but I know I have to be successful.  This is it.  This is the moment where I grit down and change my life.  This is where all the challenges I’ve had since I was a little fat 8 year old girl make sense and fall into place.  I’m getting answers but along the way adding more questions…It’s a journey!

Lately I’ve been reading the experiences of other PCOS patients and it is comforting to see how their experiences mirror mine.  It is also nice to see them persevering through the tough times, making amazing progress, and eventually achieving full health.  It gives a girl hope!  Its also nice to know the diagnosis and treatment are not easy for anyone. Every PCOS patient struggles with regulating insulin levels, changing their diets and controlling symptoms.  Reading the blogs does make me happy I’m not trying to have a baby because the women that are experience even more struggles with their PCOS.  I feel bad for these women and their struggles. With both PCOS and endometriosis I may not be able to ever have a baby, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it!

There are also PCOS patients who suffer much more then me- some practically losing their hair and others experiencing large painful skin conditions. I guess that’s part of the reason I wanted to write this post- I’ve been benefiting so much from reading the blogs of other patients and feeding off of their stories.  Hopefully someone will feed off of mine.  I thought I had experienced all the hardships of this fitness quest but the last few weeks have been tough- on one hand thrilling and mind-opening, but on the other difficult, confusing and both mentally and physically trying.

Thank you for letting me vent a little bit and for the support.  I’ll get through this and be a better person at the end. I can already see it happening. Take care and have a great President’s Day weekend.

Low GI Diet

Recently my endocrinologist recommended I begin a diet based on the glycemic index. This approach to food is kind of like a ‘low carb’ diet but not exactly.  It is less focused on protein and more on regulating insulin.  This is particularly important with PCOS patients because they are ‘insulin resistant’ (different then diabetes).  In the PCOS Workbook (my new favorite book) by Angela Grassi and Stephanie Mattei explains the condition:

“If you have been diagnosed with PCOS, chances are you have insulin resistance.  This occurs when your cell doors do not respond appropriately to the normal amounts of insulin produced by your body.  In other words, your insulin ‘key’ does not fit well into the ‘lock’ on your cell walls.  When this happens, extra insulin is produced to increase the chance of getting more glucose into your cells.  The result: your body has too much insulin. Since insulin is a growth hormone, too much promotes weight gain mostly in your belly. “(Grassi, and Mattei, 19-20).

Here's a diagram that explains what is going on in my cells! I find this very exciting!

This is just one of the amazing things I am learning about my body as I research my condition.  Its amazing how one little malfunction in my body can have such overarching effects in my weight, appearance, future fertility, energy levels, depression, anxiety and more.  Even the way I handle stress can be effected by the insulin resistance.  Its actually a vicious cycle because my insulin levels affects my hormones (particularly one called cortisol) which lead to greater stress and exhaustion levels, but that very stress makes the cortisol levels go up and everything else along with it…It also does not help that it is at the stressful times that we tend to eat poorly (although I am not an emotional eater I definitely used to eat fast food when stressed-more out of time then anything else).  Higher levels of cortisol particularly effects a person’s ability to handle ‘alarm reaction’ and ‘exhaustion’ (meaning the onsets and endings of stress are the hardest- totally me.  I hate surprises and change. Also, I almost always get sick after a really stressful situation. Even in high school I used to get sick after every play).

I could go on and on… As I mentioned earlier I have been learning to eat in a new way.  As the PCOS Workbook describes:

…different foods affect your insulin levels differently.  Simple and refined carbohydrates cause rapid rises in insulin whereas other ‘slow’ carbohydrate-containing foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and milk) gradually increase insulin keeping blood sugar levels more stable. (Grassi and Mattei, 31)”

To gauge the effectiveness of a food on my insulin levels I follow the glycemic index.  This list gives the carbohydrate totals for certain foods ranging from 1-100.  In general it is best to eat from foods 51 or lower. The PCOS Workbook says “To avoid surges in insulin levels, limit your carbohydrate intake to one to three servings per meal (15-45) grams of total carbohydrates and one to two per snack (15-30 grams of total carbohydrates.  Although still important protein and fat do not contain carbohydrates and affect insulin to lesser extent…” (Grassi and Mattei,31)

the gylcemic index

Later on in the chapter they discuss fats and meats going into great detail about OMEGA 3 fish oils, OMEGA 6, what the best proteins are and what is truly a ‘whole grain’.  It is a fabulous resource but I won’t bore you with much more recitation.

While I am excited to be learning so much, adjusting to the new diet has  been harder then I thought.  I figured I was doing pretty good after a year of eating right but I’ve been surprised at how difficult it is.  One of the things the PCOS  Workbook says is that strong cravings are to be expected:

“A fast insulin release followed by low blood sugar may also explain why many women have a strong desire for sweets and intense cravings.  When your blood sugar drops, your blood glucose is low and your brain tells your body it needs more glucose now! To raise blood sugar levels your body tells you to eat. After eating, glucose enters your blood stream quickly giving you a rapid rise in blood sugar, which makes you feel better.  The more refined food you eat, the greater increase in insulin and the more refined foods you crave.  Simply the more sugar you eat, the more you want. (Grassi and Mattei, 21)

This makes so much sense to me because throughout my entire I life I get ravenously hungry quickly and have strong cravings for sweet/simple carbs.  I have also been prone to feeling light-headed, fainting and nausea if I do not eat and drink enough.  Since I’ve been this way my whole life I just thought it was the way I am- didn’t know I could change it.  Even driving home from Syracuse today it had been several hours since I ate, and I could barely keep my eyes on the road I was so tired.

As I said making these changes has been tough.  Even with the medicine helping (well at first it made me sick but now I’ve adjusted) I still have strong cravings and long for the old foods.  It is a difficult adjustment both mentally and physically.  It is with this in mind that I turn to you.  If you could send me your recipes that fit into 51 or lower on the glycemic index (see above).  Please particularly avoid white sugar, flour, potato and other high starch/sugar foods.  It would greatly help me out. The recipes can be entres, breakfast food, side dishes, salads, anything. Especially if you have something that is a little bit sweet that’d be great! (fruit is allowed and some sweeteners in moderation like agave syrup.) I also crave pasta but find whole wheat pasta lacking.  If you have any way to make it taste less heavy and gritty I’d love to try it!

Thank you so much in advance.  If I get some good ones I will give another prize- maybe a good cookbook or a meal if you live close.  I hope you weren’t too bored by all that I’ve shared.  It is so life changing I couldn’t help but share.  Also, thanks for listening to me moan and groan on occasions as I make this change.

PCOS vol II

So here’s an update on my condition.  Its actually quite exciting. On Thursday I finally went to a different endocrinologist named Dr. Falahati.  Due to my injury I had early in the month I had  to reschedule the appointment twice.  This gave me lots of time to think and pray about the visit in hopes I would gain knowledge in regards to my PCOS and its treatment.

My hopes were fully realized in an awesome doctor experience- quite the contrast to the crazy doctor.  Dr. Falahati listened to my life-story and symptoms.  As I said in my last PCOS post it was amazing how many of the symptoms I am experiencing.  Without getting too personal it was as if there was a PCOS checklist and I could check off every item. He then explained his over 10 year experience with PCOS patients and their treatment.  I guess it can vary from a woman with a full beard to marathon runners who find out they have PCOS when trying to have children.  Thankfully I am somewhere in-between.

The interesting thing (and I will try to explain this adequately) is he said the problem with PCOS patient’s isn’t actually the cysts- the cysts are a symptom of, not the cause, of the condition.  He also said when women do have cysts they are microscopic and can’t be seen in an ultra sound and cause little to no pain.

Dr.  Falahati said the main problem with PCOS patients is they are insulin resistant.  This is different then being high in insulin.  I asked him why my blood sugar levels are never high and he said the insulin resistance does cause elevated insulin but it does not always cause high blood sugar levels.  Who knew right?  He also said my body doesn’t absorb sugars the way it is supposed to, digesting food quickly- particularly high sugar, high fat foods.  The muscles in particular in PCOS patients are terrible in absorbing and burning off sugars.  This is why I experience so much pain and fatigue while exercising- even after doing it regularly for months and months.  (I thought it was just because my body was resisting getting in shape- little did I know my muscles were actually resisting!)

In order to conquer the insulin resistance he quadrupled my metformin prescription, lowered my spironolactone, and has changed my exercise routine.  He recommends doing 2/3rds cardio and 1/3 weights.  I have already spoken with my trainer and she agrees- she was actually as excited as me. I love her!  Once the insulin is more regulated I may be able to move to 50/50 weights/cardio.

The doctor also wants me to focus even more on eating foods low on the glycemic index.  That means ultra strict on white flours, pastas, white rice, sugar, etc.  I was already working on this, but I am definitely kicking it up another notch.

The doctor took a ton of blood work and we will meet again in 3 months to discuss the results and how my new diet/exercise/medicine is going.  Another thing Dr. Falahati said is usually PCOS starts at puberty and makes it tough to lose weight from that point on.  I felt so validated by this statement.  I always knew there was something wrong with my body but to have a doctor say it meant a lot to me.  I got in the car and cried.  All those days of frustration for 20 years and I’m finally getting answers.

I have almost no memories of being skinny.  Everything is heavy.  I have a feeling that with Dr.  Falahati’s treatments and my continued hard work perhaps I will create new memories- a new me?  Its almost hard to believe.  Almost too overwhelming.  Makes me want to cry.  The old me was great, and I will always love her but to think of new potential is exciting!  The doctor also said that to have lost any weight with these conditions is commendable.  This made me feel much better about the 35-40 lbs I lost last year.

Its hard to explain why this makes me so emotional but it feels like I’m giving a big hug to my 10 year old self- over weight, confused, different with no answers but to be spunky and creative.  Now I have answers!  There will be much more to come and I will keep the updates flying.  The only thing I regret is taking over 20 years to figure this out but oh well!  Better late then never!

PCOS

Yesterday I had an amazing experience at the doctor’s office.  It was eye-opening.

Before I go into it some back story-

When I was 8 or 9 I gained a lot of weight within one year.  I will put up the difference between my 3rd grade and my 4th grade photo later (I have to get them out of storage).  It is a shocking difference. From that point on I was over 200 lbs my entire life.  This despite the fact I was active in swim team and other activities and went through a barrage of diets. I also dealt with other odd symptoms such as irregular periods, acne and facial hair (sorry if that’s an over-share)

When I was 17 I developed a great pain in my abdomen.  It was so bad I had to leave school and get a home tutor. After months of waiting finally the doctors thought I had PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) and decided to do an endoscopic laparoscopy.   I remember being nervous about the operation because despite the PCOS diagnosis they were not sure  what they would find and what was causing such pain.   So I went in to be operated on (3rd time in my life) and I woke up in a fog to see the doctor staring down at me.  My first words were

“What did you do to me?” (Really quite terrifying to go into a surgery where you have no idea what they will take out!)

With a smile the doctor said “You’re appendix was looking a little weird, and we took it out.  We also took out some endometriosis.”

After that I was not told much else about my condition and since we moved the next month to California there wasn’t much follow up with the doctor.

My assumption then and for the many years since, was that the diagnosis of PCOS was inaccurate, and I had endometriosis instead.  Its my own fault for not digging into this diagnosis more, but I figured if the endometriosis was flaring up again I’d feel the same kind of pain I felt at 17.  As I have never felt extreme pain, I assumed there wasn’t a problem.

In my recent attempts to loose weight I have taken the attitude of exploring all my options.  There is no doubt that I have all of the symptoms of PCOS, so I felt I should pursue it. A few of the big symptoms are a difficulty to loose weight, facial hair, acne, and irregular periods.  As I was talking to the doctor the thought occurred to me:

“Is it possible I could have PCOS and endometriosis?”  I had always thought the two conditions were mutually exclusive- if I had one, I couldn’t have the other? Stupid Me!

“It is not only possible but highly probable.” said the Doctor.

I couldn’t believe it.  All these years I wondered if I had PCOS but thought I had endometriosis instead! Unbelievable.  I never once in 12 years considered the idea of having both conditions– this despite having the symptoms for both.  I also assumed that if I wasn’t in great pain then the endometirosis was under control.  After all, shouldn’t a cyst be painful?  Well, in my reading evidently in this condition they are not normally painful.

It makes me crazy to think of all those years of dieting and working when my own body was pushing these efforts away.  Now the doctor has me on several meds designed for PCOS (I’m like an old man taking 5 pills a day!),  and I will see a new endocrinologist on January 10th.  (After my last experience I’m a bit hesitant, but I’m not going to let one bad apple spoil the bushel). I am very hopeful these medicines and my meeting with the doctor will be an important piece in my ‘healthy body makeover’ puzzle.  I know it will still be hard work and extremely difficult but perhaps I will not have to fight my body as much.  Perhaps the hard work will pay off a little more.  It feels excruciatingly slow right now.

Anyway, it was an ‘ah ha’ moment and one I can’t believe I haven’t thought of sooner. However, why did I have to come up with it?  Isn’t that what the doctors are for? To ask those kinds of questions?

At least I’m moving forward and will hopefully have even greater weight loss as a result (and better general health as well).

Another woman’s story with PCOS is on this interesting blog. At least I’m not trying to get pregnant (which can be difficult with PCOS).  To learn more about PCOS go to the Mayo Clinics website.

1 in 10 women in America have PCOS. Perhaps this is part of the reason why we have an obesity epidemic among women? (Don’t freak out- I said PART).  I know I have been working my butt off and the results have been faintly trickling in.  I just knew there was something wrong and this time I am unearthing every possibility and asking every question. I urge all of you to do the same.