My Healing Journey
From Adrenal Burnout and Insulin Resistance
When I was growing up, I was a very poor eater. For breakfast every morning I would have a bowl full of sugar mixed in hot milk with a few oats — my version of oatmeal. A typical lunch was a tuna sandwich on white Wonder Bread. Then, at around 3:00 PM, I’d eat cotton candy, Pixi-Stix, Sweet Tarts, a box of sugar cookies, and several Popsicles. I also drank a quart of milk every day. I didn’t eat birthday cake or ice cream because they were not sweet enough for me! Much to my mother’s dismay, by dinner I was pretty filled up with junk and ate very little. A green vegetable never passed my lips.
You’d think I would have been overweight from eating so much junk food, but, actually, that didn’t happen until later. In fact, at first I was painfully underweight—so underweight that at the beach I wore a T-shirt over my bathing suit to hide my ribs. And I’d push out my stomach when I was lying down just to try to get it to be flat and not look caved in. I was so thin that the doctors told my parents to fatten me up by making me drink milkshakes. What a horrible fate for a sugarholic!
Indeed, being underweight was a real health problem. I was constantly sick with bronchitis and asthma. I had terrible menstrual periods with lots of cramps. I also had severe cystic acne requiring cortisone injections as well as radiation therapy. I was diagnosed with Stein-Leventhal Syndrome. I developed intestinal problems that the doctors called “irritable bowel syndrome.” I was in abdominal pain all day long; I had to be constantly near a bathroom.
I was truly a metabolic mess. Luckily, I was born after the discovery of antibiotics. I had to take lots of them to treat my chronic lung infections. If it weren’t for antibiotics, I believe I would have died young of an infectious disease due to my eating habits and sugar addiction.
I was seeing several different doctors for all my problems. Except for my dermatologist, none of them asked me about my diet. They said all of my problems were genetic. My dermatologist’s only comment about my diet was that sugar and chocolate were not causing my acne or making it worse. I was so relieved to hear this because I didn’t want anyone to take away my comfort foods. I was a sugar addict; I didn’t want to be told I couldn’t eat sugar.
I was also happy that I was thin. If I was going to be unhealthy, I thought that it was better to be thin and unhealthy than fat and unhealthy. Little did I know how wrong I was!
When I was seventeen, I felt like I would not live past the age of twenty-five. I had already badly compromised my metabolism and was on the slippery slope to degenerative disease. I felt terrible and knew I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life feeling this way. This was when I finally decided to take charge of my health.
Now I’m not going to tell you that I somehow knew my doctors were wrong when they said my various diseases and problems were genetic and not acquired. Truthfully, I had no idea. I never thought I would cure myself. I just hoped that maybe if I ate better I would feel better.
I started my journey by reading books about nutrition. Early on, I read Adelle Davis, the dietitian who coined the famous phrase, “you are what you eat,” and thinking, “If that’s true, then I’m nothing but a bag of cotton candy. No wonder I’m so sick.”
So, the first thing I did was switch from drinking two bottles of Coke each day to drinking two bottles of 7-Up. My thinking was that since 7-Up was a clear liquid it must be better for me than Coke, a murky dark liquid. (Remember, I was only 17!) I also substituted a half a jar of honey a day for all the candy and other sugary junk I had been eating — I thought honey was good for me since it was natural. I also stopped drinking milk because I had become lactose intolerant. By avoiding milk, I had reduced my sugar intake somewhat. And, I stopped my caffeine intake by switching from Coke to 7-Up. But I was still ingesting a lot of sugar.
I continued digging into understanding how food could affect my health. I started taking nutrition classes in college. I had my first green vegetable and started eating pastas and cereals instead of cookies and candy because I was learning how important it was to eat non-starchy vegetables and complex carbohydrates. I started eating Grape Nuts cereal with a milk substitute for breakfast; falafel sandwiches filled with lettuce, tomatoes and hummus, and a frozen yogurt shake for lunch. I often ate pasta with butter and tomato sauce for dinner along with a salad full of all types of green vegetables. For the most part, I was able to stop my daily honey consumption.
I began to feel better. However, I was still eating too much sugar in the form of complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates were definitely an improvement from the simple sugars I had been gorging on, but I figured out that I needed to lower my carbohydrate intake and increase my protein and healthy fat intake. Despite being far from perfect, my new eating habits were a step in the right direction. For the first time, I could see that, by improving my habits, I was improving my health.
I had never “counted calories” before. After all, I was the one who was told I needed to eat more calories on a daily basis to try to gain weight. So, I was stunned when, after I improved my eating habits, my weight shot up thirty pounds in three months!
I had to keep a daily calorie count for the nutrition class I was taking and discovered I was eating 1,000 to 1,500 fewer calories per day on my new eating plan than I had when I was on my “sugar diet.” So, I was eating fewer calories and healthier foods, but I still got fat! In as little as three months, my thighs rubbed together and I went from wearing a size 6 to barely fitting into a size 14. I remember thinking, “Thanks a lot, Adele Davis!”
Until that point, I thought I had been born with the best possible metabolism —I could eat anything I wanted and not gain a pound! Back then I still thought that metabolism was only about how efficiently I burned calories. Then my world was turned upside down. Here I was finally making the effort to improve my eating habits, and yet I gained fat weight. I became very distressed and confused. To make matters worse, my family started telling me to eat fewer calories because I was fat!
You can guess how close I came to going back to my old ways. But, I didn’t. Miraculously, somehow, I sensed that my body was trying to heal and that my health was improving. From studying nutrition, I knew, intellectually, that eating a mix of higher quality foods was better for me than consuming tons of refined sugary foods and beverages.
Instinctively, I knew if I had any chance of regaining my health, I needed to stick to my new way of eating — even if it meant being overweight. That was a trade-off I was willing to make if I had to.
Still, I just couldn’t figure out why in the world I was gaining weight when I was eating fewer calories. I was fearful that if I further reduced my calorie intake, I’d end up gaining another thirty pounds. That’s when I turned my attention to exercise.
Back then I still believed that weight control was all about “calories in/calories out.” So, I started running a few miles most days. Or, I’d swim laps. I took gym classes like volleyball, tennis, and track. But, I didn’t lose any weight. By over-exercising, I accomplished exactly the opposite of what I was trying to do. I learned the hard way that, just like eating the wrong foods, too much exercise also created an imbalance between the using side and the building side of my metabolism. This further imbalance hindered my healing process.
Having seen first-hand the fallacy of the calories in/calories out myth, I stopped over-exercising. And, I didn’t allow myself to resort to “dieting” by eating still fewer calories or eliminating food groups. Instead, I focused on improving the types and the mix of the foods I ate from each food group. This new understanding is what turned everything around for me.
In time, I had the body composition I wanted. I no longer had asthma, chronic bronchitis, Stein-Leventhal syndrome, acne, or irritable bowel syndrome. By improving my nutrition and lifestyle habits, I healed my metabolism and was completely cured of my “genetic” diseases.
The other lesson I learned on this journey was patience. My transition from having a severely compromised metabolism to being healthy again took years. Seven years. I came to understand that when it comes to healing a compromised metabolism, there are no quick fixes or short cuts. But I also learned, that my healing process was protracted because it was a pathfinding, “trial and error” process. The mistakes I made really set me back.
I want you to know that you don’t have to go through what I went through. From the experience of healing my own metabolism, from nine years of medical training, and now 30 years of helping thousands of patients on their journey back to health, I can save you years of delay and frustration, and, likely, further metabolic decline. That’s what this website is all about. If you are ready to embark on your own healing journey, I will help you. I am here for you.