Have you been (virtually) attending the FREE Real Food Summit? Three videos a day from real food gurus… I’m learning a lot! Hop on board if you haven’t yet; I think it’s still going until Sunday. I discovered through the Real Food Summit email today that Dr. Cate Shanahan, author of Deep Nutrition and Food Rules, is soliciting stories from people who have gone low-carb and ended up with fatigue problems. (Well, I discovered that after I curiously followed the link to her “Low-Carb Poop-Out contest,” and I admit I was expecting something quite a bit weirder!) Everyone who leaves a story is entered to win autographed copies of her books!
I’ve been struggling with some pretty extreme fatigue lately after trying to make low-carb work for a while (part of the reason for my shameful posting frequency… which I do truly intend to improve), so I offered my two cents. It would be nice to win the books, but I would’ve left my note without any bribery at all, because I love that she’s doing this! You hear a lot of low-carb success stories in the online alternative health community, but it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who didn’t become a beautiful superhero on low-carb. I think real foods are probably a more universal answer, in an ideal combination that varies for each individual. But Dr. Cate does endorse a low-carb real foods diet in her books, so it’s nice that she’s open about the fact that some (many?) people do experience problems. Maybe she’ll figure out the answer so we can all experience Sisson-like levels of success!
For now, I’m pretty jazzed about RRARF (from Matt Stone of 180 Degree Health’s Diet Recovery ebook)… I summarize the general concept a bit, below, if you haven’t heard about it. It seems to be helping me more than anything has in a while. Have you ventured into the scary upside-down world that is 180 Degree Health, yet? In the past I always found Matt’s writing style very off-putting, because he really pulls no punches when insulting diets that he doesn’t agree with (which is all of them, actually), and diet is such a sensitive subject for so many people. But I guess that’s okay, because his target audience is people who’ve gotten completely fed up with whatever eating philosophy they’ve been following. I’ve gained a few pounds, but I’m okay with that for now because I feel a lot better. I’ll keep y’all posted on my progress.
Anyways, I figured I’d copy what I wrote on Dr. Shanahan’s site, since I originally got into this whole Real Food / WAPF / Paleo thing because of my health issues, but I haven’t really talked about them in depth on Farmpartment yet. She asked 5 questions and I’ve answered them below:
1) Sex, age, height, weight on starting low carb, current weight.
Female, 23 yo, 5ft 4in. My weight fluctuates a lot, but tends to stay within 125-135 lbs, with an upward trend in recent years. Currently at the high end, about 133.
2) When did you begin low-carb and why (for weight/other health issue) and did you do Atkins, South Beach, Paleo or other and when did you start having problems?
I started Primal-style low-carb about 2 years ago, for health reasons. I suspect most of my health problems are caused by long-term chronic stress. I was a high achiever all through school (my parents say I would cry over a B in elementary school). In college, I chose a very difficult type of engineering for my major. Didn’t have a social life or any extracurricular activities, averaged about 6 hours of sleep, and rarely exercised. I remember realizing that I felt guilty any time I relaxed or did something fun, because I “should be working.” On top of all the mental/emotional stress and exhaustion, I also started really dieting for the first time to get rid of the bulging tummy that has plagued me since I was a kid. I ate conventionally “healthy” – skim dairy, artificial sweeteners, high-fiber cereal, LOTS of coffee… And skipping meals very, very frequently. I’d occasionally binge guiltily on peanut butter – probably my body screaming for some fat/protein! Looking back, I can’t believe I ate so little for so long. I did lose weight (though I kept the dang belly), but that’s when my health started deteriorating. Obvious hormonal issues – my periods were sometimes heavy and lasted for weeks, and sometimes were absent for months. I had seasonal allergies for the first time in my life, got sick all the time, and had a chronic cough for about a year. I had three kidney stones in two years. After a very stressful study-abroad trip to Brazil I returned with eczema, IBS, awful GERD, unexplainable lethargy, and a new tendency towards anxiety, crying jags, and random emotional outbursts. I had always been healthy and very even tempered, but now I felt so sick and completely out of control and it terrified me. That’s when I started low-carb. I’ve never been one for calorie trackers, so I don’t know my exact carb count or anything, and I’m sure it was far from consistent. But I started using animal or coconut fat for all my cooking and went grain-free. Occasional cheats – bread basket or chips & salsa at a restaurant, corn tortilla, birthday cake, etc. I’ve never been a fan of beans or potatoes so I wasn’t even tempted by those. So my main carb source was small amounts of dairy (plain yogurt and cream in my coffee). I also started some traditional food practices like making bone broth, kombucha, and sauerkraut.
3) Please outline your problems the more you can share, the better. If you sought advice from a health professional what was the advise and did it help?
Low carb was great for a while – I felt better, and I loved how much my hunger was decreased – now when I skipped meals (frequently still), I didn’t even feel it. I only lost a couple pounds, but most was off my tummy, so I was happy. GERD, eczema, and energy levels also vastly improved at first. But about a year in, I started having reflux after small cheats, and soon even after good home-cooked Primal meals sometimes. My IBS symptoms never got a lot better, but at this point they started to worsen, eventually becoming pretty debilitating. My energy levels became less consistent, and the mysterious lethargy became more and more common, especially after meals. My eczema also returned with a vengeance, on my lips of all places – ow! I thought it was because I had relaxed a bit more on my LC eating, so I decided to go full-on strict Paleo (no more dairy, far less fruit, no more cheats!) until my wedding to lose some weight and hopefully feel a lot better for the big day. Unfortunately, I didn’t lose any weight, and experienced only modest improvements in my symptoms. Then I started trying a bunch of eliminations to see if I was allergic to anything, always with a low-carb framework. I tried avoiding eggs, dairy, nightshades, nuts… I had to stop eating at restaurants altogether because I always felt terrible when we ate out. Everything got worse – eczema, headaches, runny nose, IBS, nausea, acid reflux, anxiety, foggy brain, dizziness, and extreme fatigue and depression. Didn’t help that I started my first Real Job and quickly realized that I hated it (still do) – more stress, yay! At one point I just threw up my hands and ate “like a normal person” (i.e. McDonalds and pizza) for like 3 weeks until my (very concerned) husband made me stop. Then it was back to low carb, as clean as I could get, and trying desperately to get it to work for me again like it did the first time. I was miserable, sick, and never wanted to do anything. My husband started to gently suggest seeing a therapist for my depression.
About a month ago I was in the middle of doing Whole30 and getting really frustrated when I finally read that crazy heretic Matt Stone’s ebook (Diet Recovery), and it struck a chord. (For anyone who’s unfamiliar, his theory is that any kind of restricted eating lowers your thyroid function / metabolism, which can be confirmed by tracking your waking temperature – I discovered that mine is consistently in the mid 96′s. This causes all sorts of widespread mischief in your body, since your metabolism is kind of a big deal. This problem is exacerbated by any other stress you might be under. His “rehab” program for sluggish thyroids / metabolisms is called Rehabilitative Rest and Aggressive Re-Feeding (RRARF), and it’s just what it sounds like. You basically eat a ton of real food to create a “nutritional superabundance” and give your body all the tools it could possibly need, and you get as much sleep and rest as possible to encourage healing.) I figured I had nothing to lose, and if he was right, I’d end up with a much stronger digestive system, rather than a list of foods that I had to avoid, which was really the best-case scenario with my previous approach. I’ve been doing RRARF for about 2 weeks, focusing on carbs since that’s what I’ve been restricting – sprouted/fermented grains, dairy, soaked beans, potatoes… And eating as nutritionally dense as I can in general. And oh my gosh, I feel so much better! My energy levels are steadily rising, I’m not depressed anymore, I haven’t had acid reflux for a week, and my IBS is finally, FINALLY improving. We ate at a restaurant last night and I felt 100% fine afterwards, which is incredible. This morning I found myself humming and doing a little dance while I made breakfast (whaaat?)!
My theory now is that it was all about stress for me, and that any sort of restricted diet was too much for my body to handle so it just broke down. I was high-carb/ low-fat originally, so the first low-carb/ high-fat diet gave my body what it needed at that point. But now my body seems to need carbs. Hopefully, RRARF will work as advertised and I’ll continue to improve, and then I can just eat an unrestricted real food diet, and trust my body to know what it needs – as in, eat whatever sounds good, as long as it’s a real food, and stop when I’m full. That’s certainly an appealing thought. I have gained a few pounds, but at this point I do not care at ALL as long as I continue to feel better (which is… good I guess?). I’m of course concerned that I’ve always held so much weight in my middle, so I hope that I’ll creep towards a healthier fat distribution once I’ve held a healthier hormonal profile for a while, but we shall see. Maybe if I continue to feel well I can eventually try lowering my carbs again to slim down.
4) If you provide blood test results, please put them into context of by providing dates and information on what your diet was like and what your problems were at the time. Same for medications particularly blood glucose/blood pressure/thyroid/other hormone/anti-depressants/sleep aids. Please include any adjustments made, why, and what the effects of the adjustments were.
I honestly avoid doctors, and being so young I haven’t had a lot of blood-work done. My gyno ordered a basic panel for the first time at my last appointment (was doing dairy-free Paleo at the time, I believe), but they’re in the process of updating their online system and I can’t view the results anymore. Everything was normal though, I think my total cholesterol was high-ish. I don’t take any medications.
5) Highlights of your family history, ie obesity, auto-immune diseases, hormone problems particularly thyroid.
My dad’s brother has Type 1 diabetes but otherwise everyone on his side is fairly healthy – both grandparents are alive, minor complaints but no metabolic syndrome and doing great for a couple in their eighties. Dad has always been active and slim, and is currently healthy as a horse, aside from lower back pain and a bad knee. There’s some heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis on my mom’s side, and her mother died of Alzheimer’s, pretty early-onset. Mom’s got similar digestive and fatigue problems to mine, actually – her lifetime GERD has progressed to Barrett’s Esophagus, unfortunately, which is excellent motivation for me to get mine under control. I introduced her to Paleo when I started down that road, and she’s actually doing great with it! She’s lost a ton of weight and seems to have a lot more energy now. She does a combination of SCD and Paleo, and she’s encouraging my dad and brother towards that style of diet, so we’ll see how they do!