Chapter four of my book Size Matters that I began writing 20 years ago and first published in 2001. The journey that I embarked on at 42 years old was very tough at times. I had to recognise my own behaviour and responsibility in achieving this hugely successful weight gain and I also had to relive certain painful times in my life. I did at least get some comfort from the fact that there were some external factors at play that could shoulder some of the blame.
My reason for writing this book was to spread the message about obesity and how you can change your health by adopting a different approach to eating. So I would be grateful if you would share.
Looking for physical significance in the pattern of weight loss and gain in my life has been a complicated process. The first step was to look at all the times when I was overweight and see if there was in fact a physical or emotional trigger for that particular phase.
I have been overweight, in a significant way, at least five times in my life. Up to the age of eleven I seemed to have been tall and well built, but not particularly heavy. As I mentioned earlier, photographs, taken after this time, show that I had gained a considerable amount of weight over a relatively short period. I was looking for a physical trigger for this change, apart from the upheaval caused by moving to another country and another school?
To answer this, I have to fast-forward to when I was forty five and living in Ireland. I had worked really hard and managed to get my weight down to about 210 lbs. (15 st, 95 kg), but from that point on I seemed to hit a brick wall. I was walking for a couple of hours a day, I ate sensibly on a low-fat, moderate carbohydrate regime, but I could not seem to shed any more weight. Despite this, I was experiencing some disturbing symptoms that worried me sufficiently that I had blood test done to see if that would uncover the source of my problem. I was feeling very tired and I had watery and itchy eyes, my ears constantly felt irritated and I was having mild dizzy spells. I had also developed an overwhelming urge for sweet food and bread. Having spent three years learning to control the urge for chocolate and sweets, it was frustrating and a little frightening to be in this position. At that time, a new range of biscuits and cakes came on the market which were low in fat. I had being eating these for several weeks and it was not unusual for me to eat a packet a day. My weight started to creep up again and I became increasingly concerned that all my hard work was going to be for nothing.
The blood test showed that I was not suffering from diabetes. However, I still needed to find some answers. David got on the Internet and searched for some of the symptoms that I was experiencing. We got back some very interesting information, some of which could have been relevant to the problem. However, it was the data that we obtained on something called Candida Albicans that set alarm bells ringing. Later in the book there is more information on Candida, and a questionnaire that everyone who is overweight should complete.
Candida is a fungal infection of the intestine. There is a delicate balance of bacteria in our gut and it works very much like a waste-disposal unit. However, certain conditions can activate changes in the balance between healthy flora and this opportunistic fungus, and this can result in Candida taking control of the intestine. Candida is a yeast that thrives on sugar. Among the many symptoms of this condition is an irrational craving for sweet foods and bread, which of course contains both yeast and sugar.
The list of symptoms attributable to Candida seemed endless, but when I completed the questionnaire, my score was so high that there was no doubt at all that I was indeed suffering from an overgrowth in its most chronic form. While it was an enormous relief to have identified what had been causing my problems, it was devastating to realise that Candida had been a part of my life since childhood and was likely to be one of the main reasons for my weight problems.
You will not be surprised to learn that one of the prime causes for this condition is the use of antibiotics, and also some other medication prescribed for conditions such as asthma. Once I realised this, I put together a chart showing the periods in my life when I had experienced weight gain. Bingo! In every instance the weight gain followed heavy doses of antibiotics prescribed for a variety of reasons. In one way this discovery was reassuring. Overweight people often look for a physical problem to blame for their condition, such as their glands, so it was a revelation to learn that there might indeed be a physical reason for my excessive weight gain.
Tracking back through my history, I saw that until I reached the age of ten, I did not have a weight problem. When we lived in Cape Town I suddenly developed chronic tonsillitis and was sick every few weeks, until I had my tonsils removed. Each bout of tonsillitis was treated with antibiotics and, within a few months, I had gained 30 or 40 lbs. (14 to 18 kg). The photographs taken of me leaving Cape Town, and on the ship coming home, have always been a source of embarrassment to me, including the one of me in a bright yellow dress and red shoes which made me look like a little barrage balloon!
The weight slowly dropped away from me over the next few years. Photographs show me as chubby until I was about sixteen, when there was a marked change. Remember that it was the 1960s and we had some pretty skinny role models then, such as Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton. The mini-skirt was the ultimate fashion item of the day and podgy thighs looked horrendous in them.
I started skipping meals and hiding the fact from my parents. They naturally assumed that the money they gave me for my school lunch was being spent on just that, and not on cigarettes! My weekend and holiday job was working in a seaside café, where lunch was provided. This was always fish or sausage and chips, and I must admit to sampling the whipped ice cream from time to time – like every day! But hey! Someone has to carry out the quality checks!
The food we had at home was always filling and my father was partial to steamed duffs, as he called them. Made with suet and filled with either steak and kidney or treacle. Because it was assumed that we had school lunches, my brother and I would just have a tea during the week, but at the weekend it would be my father’s specialities.
My next phase of serious weight problems followed my miscarriage at age twenty one. This occurred quite late in the pregnancy and was very badly handled. In those days there was no counselling of any kind, which certainly did not help my emotional state. Once again though, it was the large doses of antibiotics which played havoc with my system. In the six months following the miscarriage I was on a self-prescribed course of chocolate and alcohol which did not help my weight in any way.
Between the ages of twenty one and twenty five, I gained and lost 30 to 50 lbs. (14 to 23 kg) continuously. My day revolved around shopping, cooking and eating. Nutrition was never a consideration. However, when I did decide to lose a bit of weight I would embark on the only diet that I believed worked. That was the one where you put no food in your mouth at all. A couple of glasses of wine and the hunger pangs went away. Not a healthy time from both a physical or emotional perspective. By the time my marriage broke up, I weighed about 200 lbs. (14 st 4 lbs., 91 kg).
Money was very tight over the next few years and, thankfully, certain food and drink items were no longer necessary, or indeed affordable, as an anaesthetic. I worked and lived in Sussex and in Wales, and meals were provided with my job. Hard work, eating very little, and smoking to stave off the hunger pangs, contributed to a substantial weight loss over the next three years.
I met David when I was twenty seven. I was at my lowest weight ever and thought I looked the bee’s knees. Unfortunately, as I realise now, I was not terribly fit. I repeatedly suffered from chest infections and thrush (Candida), and was put on several courses of antibiotics. I always had the feeling that I was just about to come down with an illness: colds, coughs, and any infection that was about. I now realise that for the two years before I met David, I was anorexic. Eating little more than 750 calories per day – and using rituals and very strict rules about any food that I did consume.
We married in November 1980. My eating habits improved and my exercise level increased, because I began helping out on the sheep farm where we were living. After about six months we moved to Liverpool and I started work in the city centre. We were saving for a house and working hard. There were little treats, however, which began to take their toll. Sunday morning breakfast in bed, for instance. Two rounds of bacon, tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches and a family packet of those tasty chocolates with the less fattening centres – that was just my portion!
After about a year I developed an abscess under a tooth. This was not unusual for me, because I had suffered several in the past, but on this occasion it nearly cost me my life. Since we were fairly broke, I attended the Liverpool Dental Hospital and was treated by senior students that ‘needed the practice’, which is not to imply that they were in any way at fault. However, as is normal practice, I was prescribed antibiotics. Eventually, after several weeks of root-canal treatment and medication, the dental students were not able to save the tooth and so had to extract it. The infection was so bad that I was given an injection of penicillin. We flew to Ireland that weekend for my brother-in-law’s wedding and I became ill and was rushed into hospital in Cork. We now know that not only had the infection spread throughout my entire system but I had developed a blood clot after the tooth extraction that had spread to my lung. So it was blood thinner and more antibiotics!
After this episode, my weight ballooned to over 220 lbs. (15 st 10 lbs., 100 kg) and I didn’t manage to lose any weight until we were living in Texas in 1986. We lived in the United States for two amazing years. While there, I led a healthy, active life, with a diet which consisted of lots of fish, salads and vegetables, and I was not sick once. By the time we returned to England in 1987, I weighed about 180 lbs. (12 st 12 lbs., 82 kg), which was not hugely overweight, given my height. Encouraged by the fact that 40 lbs. (18 kg) had stayed off for about two years, I decided to lose another 30 lbs. (14 kg) and really get my life in gear.
A new diet of 600 calories per day was in fashion in 1987: a diet bar for breakfast and lunch and then vegetables in the evening. The promoters promised a weight loss of 30 lbs. (14 kg) per month and I achieved that very easily. I was hungry but triumphant at less than 155 lbs. (11 st, 70 kg). Unfortunately, within two months 40 lbs. (18 kg) had leapt back on to me from ‘nowhere’. My diet was good: three meals a day, no fried food, chocolate or alcohol. A normal, everyday eating program. So how did the weight gain occur?
When I was tracking all this at the age of forty five, I was simply writing down the sequence of events. Clearly, the use of antibiotics was a primary cause, but this was not the only factor. It was also obvious that I had been suffering from Candida from the age of eleven. What was also becoming clear was that after each crash diet I would put on more weight than before and another pattern was emerging.
By the time I had completed this particular jigsaw puzzle and done some more research on dieting, I discovered that in fact I had compounded the original weight problem by starving my body into protecting me. Every time I starved myself, my body, in its overwhelming desire to survive, stopped processing food and stored it instead.
When our body perceives there to be a food shortage, it will take matters into its own hands. It is now a medically proven fact that such a condition exists; you will find details of the research into this condition on the Internet and in professional fitness publications. It is often called ‘Starvation Response’, or ‘Famine Response Syndrome’. These terms do not however adequately describe the condition for me. The body appears to detect both calorie restrictions and nutritional deficiency. A person could be taking in 3,000 calories per day, but if the food is very high in fats and sugars and has little nutritional value, the body will consider this to be a form of starvation. I have therefore changed the name of this response by the body to ‘Nutritional Deficiency Syndrome’. This is a condition that goes back to our very origins. It is more prevalent in women, because we were always the child-bearers and had to be able to nourish the unborn child. The female body’s response to famine was to store fat on the hips and thighs. This is the source from which the foetus would have taken its nourishment. I had underestimated the power of my own body to protect me, despite myself. The expression ‘between a rock and a hard place’ springs to mind. I had been in a no-win situation for years.
So now I had acquired two important pieces of information. Not only did I have chronic Candida, but I was also suffering from ‘Nutritional Deficiency Syndrome’.
That, however, had been the easy bit. The physical sources of my problem were not too difficult to uncover, with some dedicated detective work. Next a rather more painful exercise: a close look at my emotional track record.
You can find the introduction and the first three chapters of my book here.
©sallygeorginacronin 2001 – 2015
If you would like to know about Candida and more about the sugars that severely damaged my health then you can find more information here.
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