Note: This is long, but kind of has to be as it covers a lot of ground – it’s about the past, the present, how the body works, and why I’ve been so quiet.
This Halloween, there will be no chocolate for me; no Halloween goodies. An “old friend” (and I use that term very loosely) has come back to haunt me (pun intended):
When I was 14 or 15, I was into fasting, at first for the spiritual aspect of it, and then later, because I wanted to be thin like all the other girls, especially the girls in Drama, the dancers. My parents didn’t know – they were preoccupied, going through a separation and divorce. It was altogether too easy to say I’d eaten at a friend’s house, earlier, or wasn’t hungry. Some of my fasts were “only” 3 or 4 days long, but a couple were 7 days, though I usually had to drink juice, tea, or broth to fly under the parental radar.
The first hint that this was not doing good things to my growing body was during a visit to the National Mall, and there, in the shadow of the Washington Monument, on a day of blazing heat, I passed out. It was the weirdest experience. I started feeling shaky & unwell, walked a few feet to my father, and as I started to tell him, my vision faded to black from the outside in to a pinpoint circle, and then I dropped like a rock. I came around almost immediately, lying in the grass, looking up at my parents’ concerned faces. They thought it was the heat, or dehydration. I didn’t tell them I hadn’t eaten in 3 days.
Over the next couple of years, I had trouble with spells of shakiness, dizziness, nausea, feeling disoriented & on the verge of passing out. I had trouble staying awake in some of my classes at school.
A glucose tolerance test (drink a bottle of coke syrup, have 8 blood draws, and nearly pass out in the doctor’s office) showed I had hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. It’s kind of like diabetes in reverse.
My body was on a roller coaster ride: when I ate sugar (even natural sugars, like those found in juice or fruit) or carb-heavy foods, my blood sugar level first rose steeply, then, over-reacting, it was over-producing insulin, and causing my blood sugar level to drop too far, too fast.
Without enough blood sugar, or glucose, the body can’t function – the glucose is needed for carrying oxygen in the blood, and for energy.
Fainting is the body’s defense mechanism. You hit the deck, and your head is (theoretically) level with the rest of your body, so that the available oxygen-laden blood can be sent to the brain & organs, which the body must protect at all costs.
The treatment is really very simple & entirely diet based: elimination of all sugar and simple carbohydrates from the diet, including natural sugars. No juice, fruit, or even potatoes, which are easily converted to glucose by the body. Keep the intake of protein high, and eat only complex carbs, that are digested slowly, and so converted to sugar very slowly. That avoids the sudden plunges in blood sugar levels caused by the body’s release of too much insulin.
Within a couple of years, eating a reasonable diet, and getting to a more reasonable weight, my body was able to normalize, and I wasn’t bothered by it anymore. The doctor told me to watch for the possibility of diabetes later in life, as it often occurs in those who have hypoglycemia.
I realized the hypoglycemia was back, 30 years later, a week or so ago.
I’ve been really struggling with my weight, with it being too low (something that still shocks me), for months now. It’s gotten as low as 116#, and has been hovering within a few pounds of there for months. If I’d only lost fat, it would be one thing, but I’ve lost a lot of muscle. My arms & legs have never been this thin in my entire adult life. My ribs and shoulder blades are starkly visible.
After a lifetime of struggling to keep my weight from being too high, this has been a difficult adjustment, both physically and mentally.
The doctor has been urging me to eat high calorie foods, like nuts and avocados, and I’m under orders to add olive oil to everything I eat (for the record, olive oil in oatmeal is really not that bad).
I’m really struggling to keep my weight from going even lower. Just feeling like eating is difficult. I’ve had so many migraines, with accompanying nausea, that I have very little appetite. It’s possible that some of my meds are contributing to the lack of an appetite. It’s also possible that my level of thyroid hormone is too high, so on Thursday, as I discussed this problem with my PCP, we decided to lower it. I hope that helps.
September was spent battling a severe sinus infection, which became bronchitis severe enough I had to get a chest x-ray. I’ve never coughed up so much green mucus in my life, for weeks. It took:
- Two antibiotics
- Two different inhalers,
- Three different meds for the candida that resulted from the antibiotics
- Gallons of hot tea
- Gallons of emergen-c
- A bottle of Andrographis (an herbal antibiotic)
- Half a bottle of Oil of Oregano capsules (both internally for the candida, as well as in hot hot tea I used to steam my lungs with, huddled under a towel)
- Way too much honey, mixed into hot lemon juice with water, or just honey with lemon juice, to cut the phlegm
and weeks in bed to defeat it. And I’m still coughing a bit, still wheezing some.
There was a time there when I really wasn’t sure I was strong enough to kick it; people die from pneumonia all the time, and my body has no reserves anymore. I was worried I was going to die before Rhiannon made it to 18, and was legally an adult. It was a strange feeling. I’m certainly not afraid of dying, but I don’t want to do it until she’s of age. The weakness caused by this illness, and this weight loss, was greater than anything I’ve experienced since my year with the PICC line, when I nearly died from medication reactions.
I wrote a post called “Still, Surreal, and Chocolate” in August, about standing in the store with Rhiannon, picking out chocolate, thinking that it was okay to eat some, to help me hang on to my weight. It’s definitely a high calorie food.
When the middle of September arrived, with it’s Halloween candy everywhere, Rhiannon thought it would be good to pick up a few bags of the snack size bars, and started leaving them out on a plate for me. She’s very concerned by my weight loss, and is trying her best to fatten me up just a little, get me into the “safe and healthy” zone.
But once I started eating the chocolate treats, as well as dried papaya spears, after all the honey & lemon juice I’d gone through, I wanted more, & then more.
At this decidedly too-low weight, my metabolism is not functioning the way it should (not that it ever functions properly). I soon realized that I was craving more sweet things about an hour after the previous sweet thing, and then those all too familiar feelings from my teenage years started up – the shaking hands, the sudden weakness (as if I’m not already weak enough), the lightheadedness.
I talked to my doctor about this on Thursday, and told her my suspicion that the hypoglycemia was back. She was unsurprised, and agreed. Thankfully, she won’t require I go through another glucose tolerance test. Hopefully, we’ve caught it early enough that I can get over it more quickly.
So there will be no Halloween candy for me this year. It’s back to the sugar-free, low-carb, low-glycemic, diet. Gluten-free. Dairy-free. Preservative- & additive-free.
Despite all those “-frees,” I’m still trying to find enough to eat to get my weight up just a bit. It’s time for things like coconut milk (high in medium-chain fatty acids, an essential nutrient), lots of nuts, brown rice pasta, oatmeal, avocados, vitamin & DHA enhanced soymilk, unsweetened granola, and lots of protein – boiled eggs being a staple at the moment. Popcorn has been sounding good a lot lately.
When all else fails, and I have not eaten enough calories for the day, we use my nightly Ambien to get me eating , as it gives me terrific munchies. If I get up after having taken it, Rhiannon shovels the food into me. I’ll eat anything in sight, and often have no memory of it.
So everyone who can, eat a sweet piece of Halloween candy for me, and send me chocolately goodness vibes.
Happy Halloween to all, and a Blessed Samhain.