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It’s Friday, everyone! And that means another Primal Blueprint Real Life Story from a Mark’s Daily Apple reader. If you have your own success story and would like to share it with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I’ll continue to publish these each Friday as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!
I know I sound crazy. Like, Hare Krishna, ran off and joined a cult, crazy. But this is all true, and I know it is, only because I experienced it firsthand. Am I a good example, or a horrible warning? Hopefully, if I play my cards right, I can be both.
My memories of childhood are hazy. Especially names, places, and dates. I spent a lot of time, just sort of “drifting” with the current. I remember images, and faces. And I remember being sick a lot. Not like “I HAVE THE SCARLET FEVER!” sick, but just a runny nose, and teary eyes. Since I grew up in California’s Central Valley, no biggie: seasonal allergies were legendary there. Hay fever was just assumed. The fact that it turned into sinus infections on a regular basis was just a given- right? As I got older, it would last year-round. Inevitably at the first cold snap, I would lose my voice. There was always a chalky pink bottle of amoxicillin in our fridge door, right below the milk.
I was also prone to ear infections, and vividly remember a procedure at around age 5 where they made me swallow “something that glowed” and then not being allowed to move so they could get a better idea about the bladder infections I couldn’t seem to kick.
I seemed to outgrow most of it: with the exception of the lethargy and the sinus stuff. Poor Mom knew something “wasn’t right” and dragged me to so many doctors: to have my thyroid tested, to check for allergies, and everything came up “fine”. The ENT guy finally just said, “This kid is sniffling constantly because she has teeny nasal passages, and gigantic adenoids. She might grow out of it, or she’ll need surgery as an adult.“ Great. By default, I became a chronic mouth-breather.
School was OK. I was quiet, usually characterized as a “dreamer” and by teachers who paid attention, an “underachiever.” Since I wasn’t a behavior problem, what would now probably be diagnosed as “ADD” was never noticed. I tested well, but in a noisy classroom, I had the attention span of a gnat, unless I could focus on one thing at a time. Two things I was great at: reading books or watching TV. If I was on my own playing with a friend, I was fine, but slumber parties were a disaster: all my high-pitched peers in a room together talking at once were absolutely overwhelming. I viewed these rites of passage with dread, as I knew I didn’t fit in, and my involuntary snoring was something humiliating I would be teased about later on. And I was always tired, so I’d be the first to fall asleep.
The first recollection I had of sneaking food would have been around the age of 10. Maybe it’s just that I was embarrassed to be caught at that age: I think it probably started earlier, but was written off as just being a kid. I was always hungry, and was getting “chubby”. My parents didn’t say anything about it: just implemented family walks after dinner, or I would ride my bike while Dad jogged. It just seemed to make me hungrier.
My first official diet was in the summer between 6th and 7th grade. I begged Mom to send me to Weight Watchers. Kids had been teasing me at school. I wasn’t 12 yet, so I needed a note from my doctor. I remember the scornful faces of the other kids in my group when they heard I only had 10 lbs to lose. They wanted to know just WHY was I there? They had been forced to attend these humiliating meetings, by their parents, by medical professionals. Back in the mid 80’s, there was usually only one kid at school who resembled Augustus Gloop, which was the limit of my experience until then. There they were, all gathered at Weight Watchers in an obese and resentful horde. They had 40, 50, 60 lbs to lose. To this day, I hope I wasn’t smug. I do remember thinking, in my 11-year-old ignorance, “If I ever get that heavy, I would just want to die.”
So Mom encouraged me to fill in my nutritional log. She joined with me for moral support. We went to the store together to shop for special diet food, and I learned to count – this was before points, I think they were called “exchanges” back then. I got more exchanges because as a kid, I was still growing. I checked off my boxes, and rejoiced because I could have peanut butter on my rice cakes for breakfast every morning. Which may be the most depressing food-related sentence ever written.
I lost 8 lbs that summer, writing everything down, checking off boxes, exercising faithfully. Between that and my graduation from thick glasses to contact lenses, I was evidently unrecognizable. When I went back to school, I was like Clark Kent, except my phone booth was a diet center, and instead of spandex and a cape, I had ankle-zip acid washed Guess? Jeans, Reebok hightops, and an Esprit book bag. Mom was excited not to have to shop in the “Big Girl” section, and we had gone all-out.
At my 12th birthday in November, I got a clown sundae from Farrell’s, and devoured it under the disapproving eyes of my father, who said, “You’re not going to eat that, are you?“ And of course, by the time Christmas rolled around, I ate a pizza pocket or three from the snack bar, and had gained all that weight back plus more. Mom was still packing a nutritious lunch: carrot sticks, celery, a sandwich on white diet bread with turkey breast and a slice of low-cal plastic cheese (mustard only!) along with a little bag of pretzels (lowfat!), sometimes a non-fat yogurt sweetened with aspartame and flavored with God-knows what, and a diet cream soda. I would say 50% of the time, into the trash it went. My peers could eat pizza pockets with no problem, and I desperately wanted to be like them. But metabolically, I just wasn’t. At 12, this was difficult to understand.
This is around the time I started having problems with cystic acne. I didn’t know what it was, just told dad that my ear was hurting me. I do remember the look on his face when he peered inside my ear and recoiled. The next thing I knew, there were needles and matches and alcohol and pressure and pain and blood and yelling. OH the yelling! Mostly from me.
After a few more incidents like this, my long-suffering mother took me back to the pediatrician. He peered into my ears with his trusty otoscope, and said, in his German accent: “I don’t like this. Usually, this is an indicator of outbreaks as a teen and young adult.” I sat sullenly through this, and as a gesture of pre-teen hostility, refused to let him draw his trademark duck on my arm with a ballpoint pen.
So I religiously swabbed my ears with alcohol, and tried to avoid chocolate. The acne continued, and worsened, and spread. And inevitably, every summer, and sometimes in-between, I was on a diet. Slim-Fast, Weight Watchers (multiple times), Low-fat on my own, you name it. Some of them worked for awhile, but I would inevitably take a break and get discouraged, and BOOM: twice as much to lose next time around. I remember lying in my bed, listening to my stomach rumble, and looking at the tiny pink hearts on my wallpaper in my bedroom, and just wishing. My weight became something I prayed about, a constant reminder that Something Was Wrong With Me.
As I got closer to college, and gained and lost, and gained it all back plus more, I got more discouraged. I needed to lose 40 lbs, then 50 – my parents got more concerned. Bribery: promises of money, of new clothes, of the choice to attend the private university I had fallen in love with on my visit there – they were all dangled before me. And oh, by God, I tried. When conventional methods failed, I tried to make myself throw up – and am now thankful for the fact that it didn’t work.
I was so embarrassed by my seeming lack of control over my body, of my appetite that strove to thwart me, of the fact that I constantly felt like I was starving, of my figure, which was an exaggerated hourglass that was impossible to shop for in the junior section. It was also impossible to walk to the bathroom in a TGI Friday’s without some dudebro at the bar trying to pick me up. Dad would walk me to the bathroom when we went out to eat. I was 16, and I looked like a 30 year old cocktail waitress.
This is also when the long-awaited facial breakouts started to happen. I ping-ponged back and forth from the allergist, to the endocrinologist, to the ear, nose, and throat doctor. I didn’t get any answers, but actually did lose some weight, due to the mass quantities of antibiotics I was taking, both orally and topically (I constantly had stomach acid). And then on my last checkup before college, I went to see the same gynecologist my mother went to: an old-school gentleman, who ordered my mother out of the room, asked if I was sexually active (NOPE) and gruffly handed me a prescription for birth control pills, with the instructions, “You’re a lovely girl: don’t ruin your life.” Then he added, as an afterthought, “These might help with your acne, too.”
I coasted through college. I was still drifting through life like a jellyfish, but now I was away from my family and still not technically an adult, so I had zero guidance or parameters. Luckily, I made some great friends, and learned how to fake it. I grew up: I got a little edgy. I threw parties, and went to more parties, and then everything just came to a screeching halt.
I just sort of abandoned any kind of responsibility in my life. To this day, I couldn’t tell you what happened. There wasn’t any sense of choice about it: I evidently had coasted for so long, I just traveled straight into a brick wall. I am guessing what I was dealing with was depression, although I didn’t know that at the time, and couldn’t explain it when my parents wanted answers – WHY?!! I couldn’t get enough sleep, and I stopped returning calls. I checked out.
Back to the endocrinologist. Back to a doctor, who was a friend of the family, who had been briefed beforehand. Also, a psychiatrist. My parents were frantic for any explanation. Alien abduction? Hormonal imbalance? I had only ever been marginally present in my own life anyway, and I look back at this entire time through a haze. There is no real answer. I couldn’t tell you if I blocked it out in the interest of self-preservation, but that is a guess. I was in a dark place, just drifting. I just remember the reaction of the endocrinologist the most, when he reassured me that I was normal and there was nothing wrong with me, and I burst into tears. He patted me on the shoulder sympathetically, and said, “I do not think the problem is you. I think the problem is something else.”