"The best way to escape from a problem is to solve it."
— Alan Saporta
For this column, I'd like to share with you an important story from a terrific lady who's learned to
make low carb a way of life for more reasons than one. If you've been a sufferer of chronic pain, (or
know someone who is) I think you'll benefit from her tale.
By Mary Winters-Meyer
Like heart disease and diabetes, chronic pain seems to be on the rise. I was first diagnosed with a chronic pain condition (fibromyalgia) over 6 years ago, and at that time, no one I knew had even heard of it. Now, when I mention it, either the person I'm talking to has it, or knows a friend or relative who has it. I'm concerned that this is yet another side effect of the low-fat, high-carbohydrate society we live in. I'm also concerned that doctors are diagnosing fibromyalgia for some patients who don't actually have it, but who are suffering chronic pain because of their "healthy" diet. Because of that, I'd like to share my story.
About 6 years ago, I started having health problems, with attacks of sharp pain that I couldn't explain. These culminated several months later, when I had a severe attack and ended up in the emergency room. This led to diagnosis of gallstones, and surgery to remove my gallbladder. (I've heard that gallstones are also becoming more common- they are usually composed of cholesterol, which again makes you wonder.) In my case, the surgery was just the beginning. My recovery was slow, and I had a number of dietary problems as well as constant pain. (I should mention that my surgeon put me on a very strict low-fat diet after the operation, since I no longer had a gallbladder to regulate bile, and supposedly high fat foods would exacerbate that.)
Over the next few months, I followed the diet rigorously. I continued to have digestive troubles and pain, however, and I gained over 40 pounds on that strict low-fat diet. I had a whole host of tests performed - colon, thyroid, diabetes, etc. etc. etc. to try and find out why I was still having problems. All of the tests came back "normal", except that my triglycerides were elevated. Mentally, I was in a very sorry state. How could everything be "normal" when I was in constant pain? While I never contemplated suicide, there were some nights when the pain was so bad that I wondered how I would live through another 50-60 years of it. (I was 29 at the time.)
Then one day, while browsing the web, I found an article describing fibromyalgia. This is a condition that it is characterized by constant whole body pain. (One patient explained it as feeling like you had been run over by a truck while simultaneously suffering from the flu, except that the feeling continues 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.) It is theorized that this condition is caused by a disorder in the brain, where the brain misinterprets the signals it gets from the body as pain. I was a textbook case! Suddenly, many events became clear - the "growing pains" I had experienced as a child, the extreme sensitivity to pain that I've had all my life, the difficulties I've had following high-impact exercise programs, the way a light caress that I wasn't expecting would sometimes feel as if someone had just placed a hot poker against my skin.
I brought the information to my doctor, who agreed with me, and we began searching for a treatment. The medications I was given helped tremendously - a sleep medication and muscle relaxant to help me get into deep "Delta-level" sleep so my body could heal itself more effectively, and an antidepressant at low dosages for the pain. However, I was still 60 pounds overweight, and still finding it difficult to function, as even with the medication, there was continued pain and low energy. While I was grateful that I was no longer incapacitated by the pain, I was disappointed that the medications weren't 100% effective, and depressed because with the lessoning of the pain, I became more aware of my fat, and thought that I would have to live with it because I could no longer exercise as rigorously as I had before.
Then one day I found a web page that talked about a low-carbohydrate diet. I read everything I could find about it on the web (not much in those days.) I went out and bought Atkins New Diet Revolution, Protein Power, and The Zone. After reading all of them, I decided that it wouldn't hurt to try low-carb for a week. That first week I lost 12 pounds - I was amazed! I called my doctor, who had heard that low-carb sometimes helped those with chronic pain, and allowed me to continue with it. Over the next few months, I lost a total of 35 pounds and found myself with renewed energy. I also realized that my pain had disappeared! While I found that I couldn't completely go without medication, I was able to cut the dosage of my pain medication in half.
Then of course, I made the obvious mistake. I adore sweets, and especially chocolate. The one piece of fudge I treated myself to as a congratulation became two pieces, and I'm sure you know the results from there. I never went back to eating breads, pasta and potatoes, but sweets were another story. I knew that my pain was worse the day after indulging in lots of sugar, but the addiction was strong. I gained back the lost weight, plus a few more pounds. I started missing work, taking sick days because I hurt too much to get out of bed. Finally, I got a concerned note from my boss, and I realized that I had come full circle. My pain had come back, my energy levels were almost non-existent, and I was beginning to once-again wonder if I could live with the constant day-to-day grind of living. That note made me realize it was time to get serious, to once again stop abusing myself with sugar.
I've been low-carb again for a few weeks, but until I came across your website, I had forgotten about the induction phase, which I started 3 days ago. I entered ketosis this morning, and I've already started seeing that needle on the scale dip downward. (And yes, I'm now re-reading Protein Power and Atkins to re-familiarize myself with the basics.) Already, my energy levels have increased, and once again my pain has been reduced. Although I don't know if I'll ever get to the point of entirely quitting my medications, being completely pain-free with their help is more than enough!
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