“A year from now, you’ll wish you’d started today.” That’s the often espoused rejoinder when anyone says, “Oh, I wish I had started my diet a year ago.” It’s annoying to hear but it’s fair. For the first time in a long time I can thankfully say, “I’m so glad I’m not where I was a year ago.” Everyone with a weight loss blog has their long weight loss story. I am a writer by profession, and brevity is not my strong suit. Full disclosure is. So my story will be longer; it will have the requisite plot twists and turns including but not limited to: evil corporations , dramatic injuries, and possibly climax when I throw a poison dart at a cunning biologist, but I miss and he ends up exploding the world.
My story, I hope, will have a happily-ever-after sort of ending, complete with all the requisite triumphs and cliches that make life worth living.
We start at the very beginning, a very good place to start
I was diagnosed with diabetes when I was 25. My fasting blood glucose was 450 mg/dl the day I was admitted to the hospital. Most people are in a coma by 250-300 mg/dl. My doctors estimated I’d had it since I was 22, and knowing everything I now do about the disease, I can look back and see so many of the lesser-known warning signs. I was exhausted and grouchy all the time. I literally didn’t have the energy to be happy. I’d put on a ton of weight. No matter how hard I tried, intense cravings always took over, and I could never last more than a day on any diet.
Right before I turned 22, my doctor put me on a medication to treat my insomnia – a debilitating problem I’d been dealing with since having surgery on a torn rotator cuff two years earlier. The drug he put me on – Seroquel – is used in large doses to treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Smaller doses can be used in people who do not suffer from either disease. Why would a doctor prescribe such a serious medication – in any dose – for people who don’t have the illness it’s meant to treat? For a prominent side effect: Seroquel makes you powerfully sleepy. My doctor told me he chose this medication because he wanted to find something I could take long-term and that wasn’t addictive. He mentioned offhandedly that it could mess with my metabolism, so I’d want to hit the gym more. I was height/weight proportionate then, so I don’t think it occurred to him just how quickly my metabolism would go downhill.
He also told me I had to get my blood sugar tested before starting Seroquel, because the medication could alter it. I knew nothing about diabetes – I was an exhausted college student who hadn’t slept more than two hours a night in weeks. That does things to you. Nurses pulled some blood and I never thought about it again – and I didn’t make the connection that wonky blood sugar means diabetes. No one ever said the word “diabetes” to me. I soon lost my health insurance and began seeing random doctors once or twice a year to get refills. None of them ever mentioned blood sugar or diabetes, or noted anything about my growing weight. The average Seroquel user gains 40 lbs on the drug. I gained a hell of a lot more. And I won’t B.S. anyone and say I tried to fight it. I was shocked at what was happening to my body, but I was so relieved to find sleep that I just took more medicine, ate more crap, and slept more. I passed out randomly for the first time six months after starting Seroquel; waking several hours later in my living room with a gash on my leg. This happened three more times in the next two years.
Seroquel raises a person’s chances of becoming diabetic by 389 percent. That’s not a typo. 389 percent. More Vietnam veterans have lost limbs due to diabetes that has been attributed to Seroquel than lost limbs during the entire Vietnam war. There is a pile of evidence indicating that Big Pharma’s AstraZeneca has long known of the increased diabetes risk – which is caused by the multiple ways in which Seroquel severely alters your metabolism and entire endocrine system. Why this medication is still on the market is beyond me. But what I really cannot fathom is how Celebrex warrants a Black Box warning by the FDA but Seroquel does not.
It’s impossible to say if I got fat and then got diabetes or if I got diabetes and then got fat. Most likely they happened concomitantly. What I feel reasonably confident in saying is that my metabolism was significantly screwed over by Seroquel, and it led to one, which led to the other. There are diabetics on both sides of my family, including my father. However the absolute youngest anyone’s been diagnosed with diabetes was 51 years old. There I was, the day after Christmas, laying in the E.R. with an IV in my arm hooked up to a full bag of insulin. I was 25.
Why do I tell this part of my story? I normally don’t. Less than a dozen people know about it, and generally it’s only after they’ve told me something really personal so I feel I can share. I know how it sounds: “it’s not my fault I got enormous and sick; I got sick and then enormous.” For me it is not about blame, it’s about discussing the process that got me here. There are thousands of lawsuits going on right now over Seroquel – I can’t even read the stories, the way it has ruined people’s lives is so heartbreaking. But I won’t ever file a suit of my own or join the class action. I’m genuinely not angry: I just want to be done with this, move on with my life, and be happy.
Still, the other reason I’m talking about this isn’t just because it’s part of my story, but also because while there’s a huge stigma put on the obese, there’s an out-of-this-world stigma put on people so obese that they became diabetic before the age of 40. I suppose I feel the need to defend myself. But really, when I don’t talk about this part, I inevitably have to be careful with my phrasing and have to ensure that I make the right omissions when I talk with people about weight loss. I’d rather not do that anymore.
Little Debbie at fault
I actually found out I was diabetic because I fell down the stairs in the middle of the night – I was trying to get some Little Debbie’s Cosmic Brownies from the kitchen :-). That’s one of the hundreds of problems with diabetes – try as you might, I challenge anyone to have the willpower not to give in to a sugar craving when your glucose has just plunged 75 points. It’s not an issue of mere want, your body thinks it NEEDS it. Nothing was getting between me and those brownies, including taking 3 seconds to put on my glasses or turn on a light before I headed down the steep and narrow staircase.
For two years I followed a low carb eating plan (not perfectly, but decently), and while I felt better energy-wise, I didn’t lose more than about 10 lbs total, because I followed the old Atkins rule that calories don’t count. Everything changed for me late last February when I saw this article on CNN.
It’s a meta-analysis by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health of people who’ve successfully lost weight on one of four diet plans: high carb, high fat, low-fat and high protein. The conclusion? All that mattered was calories. Fat/carbs/protein didn’t factor in. I knew the article was different because it was the headline on nearly every news website I looked at for the next few hours, and the next week both of my doctors told me about it. Once I knew what to really focus on (and thus I couldn’t make excuses to myself that maybe I was on the wrong diet and give up), everything finally fell into place. I kept watching my carbs, but I knew I had to start counting my calories as well, or things were never going to improve. I signed up on a calorie tracking website, and committed myself fully to living to 100.
And here we are
I’ve lost six sizes since March 1st. The “before” photo below is the most flattering picture of me from a year ago. I don’t have the guts to put up the worst picture from that same night, even though it’s likely the most accurate, and would show how much things have changed in a year. I’m wearing one of those “masks all your sins” dresses – along with some industrial strength shapewear, that, if I remember correctly, was strapped together with about a hundred layers of Lycra and prayer. But there’s no shapewear for the face. At the time, I genuinely convinced myself that the better photos were how I really looked. I didn’t start changing things for another few months, but it is gratifying to place these two pictures side-by-side and realize how very different everything is from a year ago.
Most importantly, it looks like my diabetes is going into remission. I am off ALL medication, and my blood sugar is normally at non-diabetic levels through diet alone. That said, if I were to drink an orange soda (the gold standard for blood sugar tolerance), I would probably still spike up to low diabetic levels – for the time being. Eating healthy and eating well – and making some sort of peace with food – is a lifetime process. I think one of the best ways to set yourself up for problems is to lose weight and assume you’ve got it all figured out. So to stay real and stay humble, I will note that I still have a long way to go in terms of weight loss – and the rest of my life, really. And I’m planning on a minimum of 72 more years of it.