Not Another How-To Article: PCOS Remission in the Making

How to articles abound in the blogosphere so I typically resist writing them. But every once in a while someone (or multiple someones in this case) will ask me how I do or did something and I think “hmm, maybe I ought to write that…”

By now my journey from PCOS hell to PCOS remission is well known. What I’ve never really done is chronicle how I did it. I think my reservation in doing so stemmed largely from the fact that how I did it isn’t necessarily the way someone else should do it nor might it be the right way for them to do it. The steps I took were based on my research, my living in my own body, and 4 years of self-experimentation. That said, reading other women’s accounts of how THEY did it was something I found helpful because it gave me both hope and a reference point, especially because my doctor insisted that it wasn’t possible.

I’m his one success story.

Step 1: Clean up your diet

I may or may not have mentioned before that in the early part of 2014 I weighed 200lbs. I’d already completed an elimination diet and found that gluten and dairy were not my friends. I actually fought this for months, eliminating both for a few weeks then succumbing to the siren song of pasta or a burrito or a sandwich, only to pay for it pretty instantly. A burrito was actually the thing that did me in, the thing that made me FINALLY just accept that I could not eat wheat.

So I went gluten-free. And I ate all the gluten-free things, most of which were not worth it and tasted awful.

And I ballooned.

Weighing in at 200lbs was my come to Jesus moment. I knew it was coming and I was unsurprised. What struck me though was the intense anger I had towards myself, the instant acceptance of responsibility, knowing and understanding that I was the one shoveling all the foods into my mouth. There was no “poor me”, no depression, no tears, and no wallowing. Just instantaneous pulling myself up by my bootstraps, acceptance of what was, and an unwavering commitment to fix it.

To be clear, my anger wasn’t self-hatred. For the first time in my life, I was angry because I knew I deserved better. I was angry because I’d hated myself to that point and it was clear that was getting me nowhere. No, this anger was because I LOVED (and still do, obv) myself.

From there I jumped into Paleo and in the last year or so switched to a more ketogenic diet. I’m finding that as long as I stick within these boundaries, I continue to move my way to where I want to be. I’ve lost 25% body fat and 60 lbs over the last 4 years and I’m working on losing another 5% body fat and improving my carbohydrate tolerance which is still quite low. But I know that those are things that improve with time.

Step 2: Remove/reduce endocrine disrupters

Hormones are generated in the endocrine glands. PCOS is a hormone disorder. So when I really got serious with reversing this, one of the first things that jumped out at me was all the chatter about endocrine disrupters in our lives. Don’t know about them? Google “endocrine disrupters” and be prepared to utter “WTF”.

I started by replacing household cleaners and personal hygiene products with safer options as I ran out. As much as I just wanted to throw everything away and start with a clean slate, safer products cost more. They cost more because they have to be processed differently and, with personal hygiene products, they have a MUCH shorter shelf life.

I have seriously questioned this move more than once due to the cost and some performance issues but I always come back to this: if you want your hormones to come back into balance, don’t introduce something into your system that’s going to block you from doing that.

Step 3: Supplementation

I do a lot of research. I’m constantly listening to summits and podcasts and reading emerging research. Supplementation was the next thing I jumped into. I’ve tried many, many different supplements (see my Resources page to see what I recommend). There have been many I tried that I didn’t find any benefit to me and a handful that I’ve tried that, with time, have definitely had the desired effect.

The key to this experimentation has been this: time. You HAVE to give anything you try at least 6 months before you write it off. The other thing to note is that your hormone balance is different than mine, so you have to be willing to experiment knowing that not everything is going to work.

Step 4: Move

For me, insulin resistance was a major issue. As a matter of fact, PCOS is CAUSED by insulin resistance. I’ve probably been insulin resistant since I hit puberty to varying degrees. This is why my attempt at veganism actually made me sicker – I just substituted grains for the animal protein. While diet is powerful, certain types of exercise can help change your body composition.

Body composition is far more important than body weight when it comes to insulin resistance. I’ve always preferred some form of strength training, mostly because I find cardio BORING. I did really cool things with strength training when I was 17 and that’s stayed with me. Knowing what works for you and what you like is important.

Here’s the thing: straight cardio isn’t your friend when it comes to insulin resistance. And there’s plenty of research on this. Hypertrophy did some really cool things for me. But it’s important to remember that you cannot out exercise a bad diet. No amount of strength training is going to help you change your body composition if you continue to feed the insulin resistance. This is a do not pass Go, do not collect $200 issue.

Step 5: Natural Deodorant

Okay, shouldn’t this be in the endocrine disrupters? Well, yes but…

Deodorant is typically the last thing people change and for good reason. None of us want to stink! I finally switched in October 2017 and yes, there was an adjustment period.

For starters, they aren’t antiperspirants. I now sweat and I’ve had to get used to that. But since I eat quite clean, all the gross standard American diet smells don’t come out of my pores so I don’t STINK. I smell like me. Stress can be a little aromatic but that’s nothing a quick trip to the ladies room for a pat down and reapplication can’t fix.

Yes, I sometimes carry deodorant around with me. Call it an anti-stink insurance policy.

Did you see the underlying theme through all this?

Time.

I didn’t get sick overnight. I didn’t get well overnight. Neither did nor will you.

The asterisk to all these steps is that I came to this from love and compassion. No amount of self-hatred or self-abuse could have done this for me. That’s why I haven’t kicked back and said: “I’m well, I can coast now.”

I’m working on improving my carb tolerance (I still get food coma if I eat potatoes or any simple carbohydrates) and losing another 5% body fat because I’d prefer to be on the lower end of the healthy range than at the top.

But make no mistake: this isn’t a walk in the park. It’s hard work. It’s often isolating. Sometimes it involves legitimate suffering.

Being pharmaceutical free, menstruating on a NORMAL schedule (menstruating AT ALL), being comfortable in my body and acne free – those things make the work worth it.

I promise.

 

 

Gourmet, Iraq & Souvlaki

Freshly PennedSeveral years ago I stopped watching food television. No more Julia Child and Jacques Pepin on PBS, no more Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives on Food Network. I also stopped reading food magazines. It helped that Gourmet had folded in 2009, so food magazines really weren’t all that good anyway.

I was trying, for the umpteenth time, to lose weight. Surrounding myself with all that virtual food just made me want to eat. So I gave it up.

This past weekend, I went home to my grandmother’s house for my aunt’s surprise birthday party. On her bookshelf, which I always have to peruse, was Ruth Reichl’s My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life. Equal parts cookbook and personal journal, it’s been on my wishlist since it was published.

Have you ever connected two completely disparate events, understanding that one had absolutely nothing to do with the other, but they happened in such short succession that you can’t think about one without the other?

I connect my brother leaving for his third tour in Iraq with the closing of Gourmet. He left and not two days later I found out about Gourmet on Twitter. I was fine until I read that tweet. And then I lost my marbles. I was positive (and am so grateful that I was wrong) that my brother wouldn’t be coming home and now something that had been part of my life for most of it was gone, something I’d shared for years with my grandmother. I opened up Ruth’s book and was there, in 2009, all over again, tears streaming down my face.

As I sat there reading, I was reminded of the fact that I used to love food: eating it, making it for people I love, and writing about it. But I long ago rejected the idea of being a food writer. I blogged food for a little bit, making other people’s recipes, but I didn’t love it. And let’s face it, we do not lack food bloggers. I wasn’t doing anything original and it bothered me that I was making these recipes and publishing them without permission from the authors.

Reading this book, I started thinking about how my relationship with food has changed. I no longer eat certain foods for health reasons, I no longer spend hours planning meals and cooking, I actually kind of don’t love being in the kitchen anymore. Food has become nutrition, not all of the other things that it can be: love, connection, fun, history, nostalgia.

I read the entire book in a few hours, marveling at Ruth’s writing style and drifting in and out of years worth of memories of cooking with my grandmother. As I closed the book upon finishing, I made a promise to myself that I will fall back in love with food.

Sometimes, something as simple as a book can give you back a part of yourself. Thank you, Ruth.

Sort of Souvlaki

Something that has happened in recent years is that I’ve stopped making recipes in the strictest sense. I do a little research, read a few recipes, then throw something together. Then my mother will ask for the recipe and I’ll tell her there isn’t one. It annoys her to no end. But, I AM my grandmother’s granddaughter, I do this stuff by feel.

I marinated cubed pork loin in lemon juice, fresh oregano, salt, fresh garlic cloves, and avocado oil for 24 hours. Don’t do that. 4 hours is better because the acid in the lemon chemically starts cooking the pork rendering it tough if you leave it too long. I then roasted it on a sheet pan at 425 degrees for 10 minutes.

Throw it on a salad and call it lunch.

The Change Up

Yes, that’s a type of pitch in baseball, but it is spring and Opening Day was just a few weeks ago.

It’s also what’s coming for this little blog here.

Over the past year or so, I’ve tried this and that, trying to figure out how I want to run things between the blog and my newsletter. I’ll probably continue to do so until I find something that fits just right, but this is what I’m going to try next and I think it’ll be a good thing:

I won’t be posting here any longer.

Yes, I know I haven’t been terribly consistent and that’s one of the reasons I don’t think blogging is the best use of my time and attention.

I am also acutely aware that if someone adds their email address to a subscription/newsletter list they expect more than just a copy of what’s being posted on some blog. I’d like to focus more of my time, attention, and creativity on creating content for my newsletter subscribers, including but not limited to in-depth book reviews and pieces discussing various topics such as false beliefs and how they affect our ability to adapt, individualized nutrition and how to make any way of eating work for you, and how a daily movement practice can preserve our independence as we get older.

If any of those ideas/concepts interest you (and there will be much more), you can subscribe here: http://eepurl.com/cDPhuf

You can also follow my more frequent adventures on Instagram or Facebook (I cross-post from Instagram to Facebook, so please don’t feel as though you need to follow me in both places – you don’t) here or here.

As always, I value your feedback. Have thoughts or suggestions? Drop me a comment below or feel free to email me directly.

Sunday Morning Appreciation

A couple years ago, I came across a man named Jesse Elder. He was a presenter in a symposium led by Ben Greenfield and while I cannot remember what drew me (Ben Greenfield is a well-known biohacker in the Paleo/Primal community, something that is just that side of too complicated for my tastes), what Mr. Elder had to say about fear led me to participate in two of his coaching programs. Long story short, one of the things that has stayed with me is the act of appreciation.

This concept wasn’t foreign to me. Years ago, while struggling to find a job, I learned about a book called 365 Thank Yous by John Kralik. The short synopsis is that he turned around the black hole that was his life through the simple act of expressing gratitude. I was so struck by it that I immediately started writing thank you notes to everyone. And while Mr. Kralik doesn’t go into it in the book, the act of gratitude and appreciation creates a distinct energetic shift that allows the good stuff to come to us.

Just like many people, I tend to forget how good I have it until it, whatever IT may be, is gone. I also know I can shift that tendency into active appreciation instead of using it as a knee jerk reaction to negative stimuli. So without further ado, here is MY Sunday Appreciation:

  1. I appreciate that there is birdsong, today, February 19th.
  2. I appreciate that it is nearly 50 degrees.
  3. I appreciate the quiet of the early morning.
  4. I appreciate that I can make decaf Bulletproof coffee.
  5. I appreciate that I live in a world where I have choices.
  6. I appreciate that there is a multitude of Paleo bloggers writing recipes so I don’t have to – here’s a great recipe for Simple Saag.
  7. I appreciate that I have not one but three jobs, two of which allow me to meet my and my child’s needs.
  8. I appreciate that my allopathic physician is just open-minded enough to hear what I have to say about certain supplements that are making a huge difference in my health.
  9. I appreciate that I’ve learned when to open my mouth and when to keep it shut.
  10. I appreciate you all.

Now I invite you to find your appreciation. Feel free to share in the comments. To paraphrase Mr. Elder, that which you appreciate appreciates. Have a lovely Sunday.

 

What Does Integrity Have To Do With Commitment?

For the past two months, I’ve been doing a deep dive into my personal habits and thought processes in an attempt to finally come home to myself. Some of that has involved listening to podcasts, reading books, and renewing my involvement in some coaching groups I’m part of. The rest has been forcing myself to really sit with the gunk that was being dredged up and writing about it.

One podcast that really kicked me in the shins was Elizabeth DiAlto’s interview with Nancy Levin back in August. There’s an entire section where they talk specifically about integrity and how NOT being your word is the primary source of suffering in our lives. I swear I heard the screech of the needle across the record. This felt both extremely accurate and incredibly painful simultaneously.

Because it’s true. I can’t SAY I’m doing X but then go do Y. I can’t say I’m trying to pay down my debt and then spend frivolously on high end food stuffs. I can’t say I’m trying to lose this last 10% body fat and then have an entire week of birthday nutritional debauchery (which I did).

When you say one thing then do another, it creates a loop of hiding and shame. It perpetuates the internal dialogue of “I’m not good enough.” It is definitely the definition of misery.

Something I’d seen years ago but was recently reintroduced to was the concept of having a list of 20 things that I eat. Sometimes, a list is the best way to keep yourself on track. When I sat down to write my list, I discovered how hard it was to come up with 20 things. When I’m committed, the list of things I eat is quite small, though it adjusts seasonally. Does that mean I’ve been absolutely perfect? Not in the least. What it means though, is that I’m conscious of my decisions. I know exactly why I’m choosing this over that. I make the best possible decision in each moment, regardless of perfection (because life isn’t perfect) and then move on. Mom’s Chicken Soup wasn’t available on the hot bar so I had to settle for the Chicken Chowder with Yuca and Corn? It was clean enough, so that’s what I went with and then moved on with my life.

Something else I was introduced to a couple years ago is Pearson’s Law. Essentially it says that anything you measure, grows. Want to get stronger? Track the amount of weight you use. Want to get faster? Track your times. Want to get healthier? Track the days where you (honestly and sincerely) did the best you could nutritionally. I have 3 habits I track: move, write, and meditate. That’s it. The days that I do all three are consistently excellent for me (and not surprisingly, my nutrition game is strong those days too – when I feel awesome, I eat awesome). I don’t specify the specifics because I don’t care HOW I do those things, just that I do them. The how doesn’t matter, especially when you’re getting started. What matters is how many days you can string along.

Commitment, though, is what keeps you going when life hands you a set of circumstances outside of your control. Because that’s what life does. This is where being your word (integrity) saves you from misery. My commitment to my health removes the appeal of caramel corn…

Your turn: What commitments are you really struggling with right now? What do you get out of not acting with integrity? Hint: there is always a payoff, whether positive or negative (e.g. by choosing to stay in an ill-suited marriage, I got to be angry). Comment below or shoot me an email: barbara@whathealthcoacheseat. I’d love to hear from you.

Bioindividuality, Mantras, & Messaging

I’ve been pretty immersed in the Women’s Strength Summit the past couple of days. I’ll drown myself in it’s awesomeness again tonight.

I really didn’t intend to write about it but in two days the consistent messages are so incredibly important:

  • What works for me won’t necessarily work for you (bioindividuality)
  • Messaging matters and those messages bombard us from a very early age

It both breaks my heart and makes me angry that there isn’t a single woman in my tribe that hasn’t been directly affected by messaging. But perhaps the most natural but insidious is our own mothers’ relationship with their bodies, food, and dieting.

My mother has been on a diet for as long as I can remember. She also devoured diet books and “health” magazines, which I also devoured because I often read more mature materials than I actually was. Her reasons for dieting run the gamut but they don’t include because it feels good. It breaks my heart.

“I just want to feel better” has been my mantra for the past two years. My diet (in the original definition of the word: way of eating) has evolved to support that mantra. Yes, I still experiment and devour the latest nutrition news but its from a place of curiosity and learning instead of self-loathing and body shaming. But the numbers on the scale no longer have any power over my happiness and self-worth. I also didn’t TRY to lose weight, it just happened, and continues to do so.

I hadn’t realized it until it was mentioned as a possible tactic for minimizing personal exposure to detrimental messaging, but at the same time I decided I just wanted to feel better I eliminated all magazines from my life, including Yoga Journal. It wasn’t something I consciously decided to do, but it certainly fell in line with my new mantra. I’m positive it is one of the things that has made getting to my version of healthy much simpler. I can better focus on what works for me, not whatever celebrity gracing the cover of whatever publication in the checkout lane. I won’t even read them in the doctor’s office.

Maybe my pop culture knowledge is lacking as a result but I can say with glee that pop culture has zero interest or priority for me. Perhaps that makes me weird but I’ll gladly wave that flag. I’m certainly healthier for it.

Simple Ingredient Meals

I didn’t do much cooking this week, relying heavily on simple, ingredient-based meals. When life gets busy, I tend to fall back on these types of meals, as much because it eliminates my thinking about what I’m going to eat as because time management.

Clockwise from the top left:

  1. Wellshire Smoked Chorizo with roasted potatoes, sauteed baby kale, and guacamole
  2. Kielbasa and Bubbies Sauerkraut (raw and fermented)
  3. Greens with crispy chicken thighs, artichoke hears, capers, and a lemon vinaigrette
  4. Venison on greens with Cindy’s Chipotle Ancho Vinaigrette

The basic structure is always the same: protein+fat+vegetables. Yes, I was a little bit heavy on processed meat this week, but because I’m not shooting for perfect AND I know it’s of high quality, I’m just fine with it.

Want to make sure you get the recipes plus news of upcoming events and all the new and good stuff going on (this week I featured a free, resource packed bundle that has something for everyone in it)? Subscribe to the newsletter so you don’t miss out!