LOST: 40 LBS
MY STORY: I can’t stand to live like this one day longer.” I turned to face my new doctor, my new endocrinologist, and took a deep breath.
“I hurt twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I can’t sleep. I can’t think. Somehow I figure if I am half the size, I will hurt half as much. Please tell me what to do to lose weight.”
I knew this was not a simple request, since three of my necessary medications had weight gain as a primary side effect. Also, I had rather severe chronic illness, and even if I were to lose weight, something I had never been able to maintain in my adult life, it would not make my other diseases go away.
I looked up at her, eyes pleading for help.
“Go on Atkins Induction for a long as you can stand it,” she said.
“Okay. I will.” I knew nothing about Atkins, or even what Atkins Induction was, but she had thrown me a line, and I was going to grab it and hang on for dear life.
Even though in the 1980s I had been on multiple weight-loss plans, and probably lost (and gained) hundreds and hundreds of pounds, I was not really familiar with Atkins. Strange, since I had been a family physician for well over twenty years, before switching specialties to Palliative Care. But I was ignorant of the details and I had to learn them. I knew that this time it was serious – I really could not stand to live as I had. I was in and out of hospital, I couldn’t walk without a walker, cane or other mobility device, I was taking pain pills far too often for my tastes, I wasn’t sleeping well, I couldn’t work or think, and I had seriously thought about ending it all just to be rid of all the physical and mental anguish. But not until I tried one more time.
I left the doctor’s office full of hope, immediately went out and bought Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution, (which I have since christened “The Bible”), along with half a dozen other Atkins and diet related books and started to read. I picked March 19, 2008, the day after my 64th birthday, as my start day and I had a few weeks before that to familiarize myself with whatever Atkins Induction meant. I read books and went online and for the next few weeks immersed myself in low-carb theories and the Atkins way. I knew that the only way for me to succeed would be to become 100% compulsive about this; if I were really going to accomplish significant weight loss, I needed to get serious and do it with every fiber of my being.
After a lot of study, I decided that on March 19th, I would start Dr. Atkins’ Induction phase, but that I would do the Induction phase for a minimum of six months. I knew I was fighting an uphill battle; one of my medications is fairly high dose steroids, which I need to take to stay alive. The cortisone causes weight gain, along with other side effects. Extreme measures were needed for an extreme situation.
March 19th came. I had devised a special form, which over the months I’ve refined. This form had spaces for me to write down every single thing I was to eat that day, adding up the carbohydrates so that the total would be less than 20 grams. I knew the worst thing for me would be to find myself at home alone, at 7 pm, starving, no food in the fridge, and having already eaten 19 carbs that day. That would just not happen to me. I carefully planned each meal of each day for one full week. At the same time, I made my shopping list, so that I would always have what I needed. I also made a freezer list, so that I always knew what and how much was in my freezer. I started cooking recipes from my Dr. Atkins books, of which I now had more than just a few. I would make six or eight servings, eat one and freeze the rest, so that the next week, when I was making my weekly plan, I would have meals to use if I were particularly busy that day or didn’t feel like cooking.
I devised a second form, as well. Each week, I weighed myself and checked my blood pressure (which had been getting higher and higher as of late, even though I took five different blood pressure medications). If my medications changed, I noted that as well. I also kept a running list of pounds lost/gained per week and the total overall since I’ve started. March 19, 2008: Weight: 213.4, BP: 167/92. Started Atkins Induction.
I groaned. Neither was good.
The first month was hell.
“I hate this whole thing!” I screamed over the phone to my sister. “I can’t stand it – I have to look up every thing that goes into my mouth and then I promptly forget the carbs and have to look it up again. I hate this! I can’t stand this.”
My sister made some supportive murmurs, which my screaming didn’t really allow me to hear well.
I stomped angrily around the house for that first month. But I never went off the program. Not once. Not ever.
I tried to find a company who provided low-carb meals, because initially, I really didn’t feel I could manage this on my own. A friend found such a company for me. I called the people, they came over, and even provided me with a meal or two. However, after about two weeks, I realized I could do it better and tastier than anyone else, and certainly cheaper, so I just got more low-carb recipe books and away I went.
At about the same time I was starting Atkins Induction, I had seen another medical doctor, who referred me to a kinesiologist who worked at a local pool. I have rather marked arthritis, have had one knee replacement and a foot repair and needed many more surgeries. I had recently fractured my pelvis and lower back and limped into Scott’s office apprehensively. After I had changed into my bathing suit, I sat down on the white plastic chair beside the water and was slowly lowered into the pool. I was unable to get into the pool on my own. I was barely able to move, even in the water. When we were done, I plopped into the chair that had been lowered into the water, and was hoisted back up to solid ground. For some reason, this procedure embarrassed me very much, to be hauled up and down like this. I saw Scott several times a week for two months. Then we switched over to once a week, and now I see him once every two weeks. When we first started, I could not even do thirty seconds of aerobic activity. I could not stand without holding onto something. And I certainly could not get into or out of the pool by myself. These days, I go to the pool three times a week. Each time, I do over one hour of exercises and at least thirty minutes of aerobics. I run up and down the ladder, barely glancing at the chair that awaits others to lower them gently into the water. I have not missed one session since I started. There have been days when I have not wanted to go, but I find not going is simply not an option. I just go. And I always feel better, even when I hurt a little.
I share my life with the most wonderful animal companion, a six-year-old wolf/husky cross named Reenie. When I was so sick earlier this year, I had to hire someone to walk with her. She would look over her shoulder at me as she headed out the door, wanting to go for her walk, yet also wanting me to be with her. I wanted to go too, but still needed a walker even to get around inside my home. That was then.
Now, I walk with Reenie every day, seven days a week, from thirty to sixty or more minutes at a time. We walk in the woods, we walk in the mountains, we walk on the beach. Yes, I still need my sticks when I go out with her, but so what? I am fit, and my sticks keep me from falling and prevent me from getting more fractures. And Reenie is the happiest dog I know. I love our walks together, and would never miss a day. I remember the days several months ago, when I first started walking with her. I was still having marked pain, but those brown eyes would look up at me, so I would grab my sticks and head to the woods with her. I usually came home with tears of agony streaming down my cheeks, but I never regretted going. Now, almost always, when I return, there is a big grin on my face.
That first month, I tried to order Atkins products online, but initially couldn’t do that because I live in Canada and could not find sources. I found this frustrating. I needed all the help I could get. Since then, I have found out many places to get Atkins products, and I do.
My sister, who lives in the US, had given me boxes of Atkins bars, which I initially stored away.
“15 grams! One bar is 15 grams? I can’t eat that many carbs!” My good friend Wes was over for dinner.
“No, you are all wrong. Look here, on the front. It says 2 grams. That’s how many carbs there are in the bar.”
“No Wes, look.” I pointed to the back, where it said “carbohydrates – 15.”
Wes smiled. “Here’s the phone number to Atkins – call them up and ask them.”
The next morning I did. The person on the other end of the telephone explained to me that the number on the front of the box was the carbohydrate number I should use, and she explained how it was calculated. I have now added breakfast bars to my program, especially on those days when I go to the pool at 6:30 am. A breakfast bar and an Atkins shake is the perfect start for those days.
I laugh now when I think of that first month – it was difficult, but I never varied from my plan. Each week-end, I would sit down, initially for two to three hours, and make my weekly food plan. I wrote down everything. I measured everything. I never, not once, went off that plan. I knew if I made one exception, the second, and third would follow quickly. For the first two months, I didn’t even want to go out to friends’ homes or to a restaurant. I gradually became familiar with low-carb life, and my impatience and frustration with it slowly dissolved.
“Oh Wes, I don’t know, I just miss fruit so much. Every night Reenie and I used to share frozen green grapes. I miss that cold fresh taste, and don’t know if I can stand it, not eating fruit for a while. But I want to stay on Induction.”
Wes, in his wisdom, suggested I get some sugar-free Jell-o and add whipping cream to it, for a low-carb dessert that might satisfy my needs. I ran out to the store, bought sugar-free Jell-o, prepared it, and that was it – that did the trick for me perfectly. I was elated. Until – until I discovered it was made with aspartame.
“But Wes,” I whined over the telephone, “Dr. Atkins said not to eat aspartame. And that Jell-o was perfect – it gave me exactly that cold wet fruit taste I so missed. NOW what do I do?”
“Look Ruth, if eating a little aspartame two or three times a week is going to enable you to stay on Induction, then just do it. It’s not the end of the world.”
Wise words, those were. I always have diet Jell-o made up in the fridge. But sometimes over a week goes by that I don’t have any. I eat less and less of it now, but I know that for those times when I need that cold fruity taste, there is something there that I can have. I have since discovered sugar-free ice cream (made with Splenda, no less), 3 grams for ¼ cup, and that has been a wonderful discovery for me as well. Luckily for me, I never was one who much liked desserts anyway, and so although these make nice occasional treats, they really are occasional.
I am now in my fifth month of Induction. My doctor, who of course really didn’t believe me initially when I said I would do Induction for at least six months, is now one of my greatest supporters. I see her in another six weeks, the end of the six months, and together we will decide if I should stay on Induction or not. I suspect I might stay on it for another two months or so.
To date, I have lost well over forty pounds, averaging about ten pounds a month. I know that each month, at some point, I will show a weight gain. I shrug my shoulders when this happens; it will go down next week, I tell myself, and it does. Every time. I have discontinued two of my five blood pressure pills and my blood pressure is normal for the first time in decades. My cholesterol and triglycerides are better than normal. I have not, to my knowledge, eaten over 20 grams of carbohydrates in one day for over four months. And I love it! I truly love this lifestyle. I don’t consider it a “diet” – I just consider it the way I am living my life.
I now go out to restaurants, eat at friends, have dinner parties, and love turning people on to the low-carb way. My rules are: if I do not know how many carbs are in a food, I just don’t eat it; when I go to a friend’s for dinner, I ask about the menu and if I have to take some foods for myself, I do; at restaurants, I ask a lot of questions, particularly about sauces, and usually leave them untouched “at the side”; I can be perfectly flexible, changing what I eat as long as the carb count is consistent. It’s not hard.
These days, it no longer takes me three hours to prepare my weekly meal plan; I have actually managed to retain some numbers in my head. Overall, my thinking is much clearer. However, I still do my weekly meal plan, just as compulsively as ever, and I suspect I will continue this for life. I am much more flexible about eating out, although no less careful. Initially, I had not wanted to “deprive” myself of things. I wanted to be able to eat everything. Then I had an epiphany. “Look,” I told myself, “you used to be able to high jump, remember? You can’t high jump any more. But that’s not the end of the world, is it? So now, you just don’t eat noodles any more. Or bread. It’s still not the end of the world, right?”
“Oh yeah,” I answered, reminding myself of all the good things I am gaining, like fitness and feeling better and new clothes that fit well. And especially the surprised look on the faces of folks who haven’t seen me in four months, including my family! We had a family reunion last month, and it gave me so much pleasure to show up in my new, well-fitting clothes, almost forty pounds lighter than the last time they saw me. Now that was truly better than eating noodles, something that used to be one of my favorite foods.
I have some very good friends who own a Chinese restaurant. I used to eat there two or three times a week, and usually ate noodles at least five times a week. When I first started Induction, I didn’t show up for a while. They were worried, because they knew I had also been ill. Then I realized that life, if anything, is eminently adaptable. I merely made them a list of what I could and couldn’t eat, gave them carb counts of relevant foods, and asked them to cook for me. I now have the most delicious low-carb Chinese meals on a regular basis. Some of my other friends now go to that restaurant and say: “Bring me what you bring for Ruth, please.” The cooks even made me barbecued pork with Splenda, so that I could have my own special supply. I have since ordered many low-carb products to take over there to aid them in their preparations for my meals. I do love my Chinese food and these days, I certainly enjoy it often.
I don’t know how much more weight I have to lose. I have not been at a normal weight since I have been a teenager. I think I may need to lose another thirty or forty pounds, but I will figure it out when I get there. For now, I will just continue the way I am going; as long as I can maintain about ten pounds weight loss a month, I am happy. And I certainly have never been healthier.
HOW ATKINS HELPED ME GET THERE:
I needed a plan I could stick by and that’s what Atkins gave me.