From depression meds and diet pills to fasting and low-carb eating

Kate Notwell SS

Until I found keto in the summer of 2018, I had spent almost my whole life struggling with weight gain and loss. While I was relatively normal as a pre-teen, my weight troubles really started when I was 13 years old and spent a summer with my aunt, who also struggled with her weight. I gained nearly 40 pounds (18 kilos). We would eat things like “gourmet hot dogs”, which was just a fancy term for hot dogs and buns with a side of potato chips, and chocolate croissants from the local bakery.

Since age 13, I also struggled with irregular and painful periods. My doctor immediately put me on the birth control pill, without testing any of my hormones or other indicators of health. The pill was to help “straighten things out”. My cycle became regular, and being young I never thought to ask what the actual cause of the irregular periods was. I needed a fix and I got one.

I had a carb-loving family and we often had pasta and bread, so my weight struggles continued throughout high school. Some years I would gain, and some years I would lose. This meant I also had struggles with self-esteem, and at one point was diagnosed with depression. The depression led to eating more carb-filled comfort foods and this, combined with Zoloft, the depression medication I was prescribed, led to more weight gain. I eventually took myself off the medication because the excess weight made me even more depressed, not less.

When I was 20 years old, my aunt developed multiple myeloma, a type of cancer, and passed away. She was only 50 years old. I was devastated. I saw myself in her. She was quite obese when she died and I knew it was her lifestyle that contributed most to her death; she was quite an amazing educator, and had spent so much of her time dedicated to teaching others that she forgot how important it was to take care of herself. It was in that moment that I knew I had to do more to improve my own health.

After her death I quickly became addicted to ephedrine-based diet pills that I got from an underground health food store that are now illegal. Having failed at keeping the weight off with just diet and exercise alone I was desperate to be “thin and healthy” so I would risk my health by taking up to 14 pills a day that made me sweat and my heart race constantly, and pushed food right through me. I did become quite thin: over the course of 3 months my 5 foot 3 inch (160 cm) frame quickly weighed in at under 120 pounds (55 kilos). After my rapid heartbeat and bouts of dizziness sent me to emergency for an electrocardiogram (ECG) in fear I was having a heart attack, I knew I could no longer continue down that road. I stopped the pills and the weight came back with a vengeance.

Of course, it didn’t help that the relationship I was in had also become unhealthy. I would turn to food for comfort. The only way my partner and I seemed to bond was through trips to the convenience store together to indulge in candy and chips and sodas and anything else that would fill the void of not dealing with our issues. By the time I decided to end things with him, I was at my heaviest: 250 pounds (114 kilos).

Enter the next phase: trying to lose weight “the right way.” I began running, resistance training and eliminating white flour and sugar from my diet. I stuck to “healthy carbs” like whole-wheat pasta. The weight did come off, but it would never stay off. I continued with the weight rollercoaster that I thought would be part of my life forever. I also stopped taking the birth control pill after another heart-health scare sent me to the emergency room again with stabbing head and chest pain and left arm numbness. I had read of the heart attack and stroke dangers that the pill could cause, and did not want to become another statistic.

Finally, during this period in my late twenties, I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and insulin resistance. My struggle to lose weight began to make sense. ‘It wasn’t me’, I thought, ‘it was this disease’.

My doctor again prescribed the birth control pill, and although I was scared to take it again, I was desperate. It did, to some degree, help me control my weight. It also made me very moody and emotional, something I had never recognized before as being a side effect of the pill; I had always just thought I was “crazy”. Could anything else help? My doctor suggested Metformin, a drug used for diabetes. Another drug? I didn’t even like taking painkillers.

I knew there had to be another way and I was sure it related to the food I ate. Fuelled by finding a better solution, I began earning my Nutritional Practitioner designation, and found like-minded people who were searching for ways to heal without drugs. We all knew that there was a time and place for medications, but also felt we were over-medicated and that the answer wasn’t always a pill; the answer was often changes to diet and lifestyle.

And then I finally discovered Dr. Jason Fung, read his books on fasting, and learned about low-carb and ketogenic lifestyles.

Being a carb-lover, or more likely a carb-addict, I found sticking to the diet a struggle at first. I often fell off the wagon for weeks at a time. However, when I did stick to a combination of fasting and low-carb eating, the results spoke for themselves; the weight stayed off, my head was clear, my emotions and mood were stable, and I had more energy and drive.

Fast forward to today; I am a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and keto-lifestyle lover — and a freelance writer for Diet Doctor. I help write some of the news posts.

And I am human. There are days that I indulge, but those days are becoming fewer and farther between as I realize how good I feel on a low-carb diet, and how bad my body feels when I slip off. The very few days a year that I do find it worth it to eat more carbs — like at a friend’s wedding or at my yearly visit to my parents — I follow with a couple of fasting days and then get right back to keto. I am medication-free, have lost a total of 105 pounds (48 kilos) with 10 more pounds (4.5 kilos) to go. I have completely reversed my insulin resistance as of my last doctor’s visit! I am still working to reverse my PCOS, but I finally know what my own body is capable of: It is capable of healing.

I now use my knowledge and personal experience to help others take control of their health through lifestyle changes. I try to channel my aunt every chance I get in her desire to educate others and to change the life-course of those who don’t yet know that through the food we eat, and how we eat, our bodies can heal themselves.

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