Chapter Four – Physical Responses
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 event that activated that particular phase.
I have been overweight, in a significant way, at least five times in my life. Up to the age of ten 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 stress 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 in 1998. I had worked really hard and managed to get my weight down by 120lbs 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 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 and supposedly sugar free. 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. My husband 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. In the next chapterf there is more information on Candida, and a questionnaire that everyone who is overweight should complete.
What is Candida Albicans
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 including high sugar savoury foods such as pasta sauces.
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. It was not just a childhood event that had triggered Candida, but its fire had been fuelled several times since.
You will not be surprised to learn that one of the prime causes for this condition is the over use of antibiotics, and also some other medications 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.
The start of the anti-biotic affect on my health.
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!
Puberty and hormones
I was also entering puberty and hormonally, all kinds of havoc was going on in my body which were contributing to the physical turmoil that all of us go through at that age.
When I was going through puberty, we rarely ate industrially manufactured foods. Most meals were cooked from scratch.Today however, it is a different story with the prevalence of foods in the modern diet that are manufactured, containing additives, chemicals and high levels of sugar. These chemical enhancers to the food that many children and teenagers are eating, are contributing to the stress placed on the body and its operating systems, including the adrenal glands.
Even the chronic stress that I was experiencing (despite seemingly putting a good face on things) resulted in my adrenal glands producing cortisol consistently, rather than when needed in a flight or fight situation. This upset the balance between progesterone, and estrogen which led to the storage of fat.
Once you get into this imbalance between progesterone and estrogen, you may find that you experience the following symptoms throughout your reproductive years, unless it is diagnosed and treated. As you will see later in the post the hormonal changes during puberty combined with stress, is reinforced by yo-yo dieting in adulthood.
- Irregular periods
- Heavy periods
- Hair thinning, loss or loss of colour
- Fertility problems including higher risk of miscarriage
- Moderate to severe PMS symptoms such as mood swings and bloating.
- Breast health issues including swelling and tenderness
- Low testosterone in men
- Thyroid disease
- And a key factor in weight gain – damage to the metabolism resulting in consistent weight gain without necessarily overeating.
Finally my hormones began to settle down as we settled down for the last two years of my schooling and my first full time jobs. Photographs show me as chubby until I was about fourteen (never to see the light of day), 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.
This began another cycle of yo-yo dieting as 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! I walked to school a mile each way and the same over the weekend to my part-time job along the seafront. I was on my feet all day and would be out in the evenings with friends, and of course as boys came on the scene. I was on the go all the time.
We always ate well at the weekends when my father cooked and I certainly made up for the starvation during the week eating steamed suet steak and kidney puddings and apple pies and custard, but it was not sufficient to make up for the very low calorie and therefore nutritional value of food during the week.
I married at twenty years old and at twenty-one I was pregnant. I stopped smoking and ate well and put on the normal amount of weight and it was a reasonably happy time in my marriage. I miscarried at 24 weeks and there were complications that would have long term affects on both my physical health and stress levels. I was put on anti-biotics for the resulting infection and it was also the beginning of a difficult time in my marriage.
Between the ages of twenty one and twenty five, I gained and lost 30 to 50 lbs two or three times a year, until by the time my marriage broke up at 25 years old, I was four stone (56lbs) overweight, suffering from shingles and in a very bad place. I am sure that some of you reading this will know exactly what depths that takes you to. I am not going to go into details of my marriage or the three years of legal wrangling involved,as it is over forty years ago, but suffice to say the physical and mental scars stay with you for a lifetime.
Thankfully I managed to pull things together, and got a fantastic job at a boarding school where I was the caterer/housekeeper cooking from scratch for 140 three times a day. A year of good wholesome food, combined with an active working day, helped bring my weight down to healthier levels.
Unfortunately it was more difficult to cope with the chronic stress as my former husband made it impossible for me to remain safely at the school, and I had to move as a far as I possibly could within the UK. I started working as the assistant manager of a hotel in Wales and until my divorce came through on April 1st 1980, I existed on one meal a day and a packet of cigarettes, which did not do my health any good at all. In retrospect, and having worked with clients with eating disorders, I recognise that I was creating rituals about food, eating very little, and at one point existed on a handful of roasted parsnips each night for my one meal of the day. I was becoming anorexic, if not already fully fledged.
I met my second husband David when I was twenty seven and had been officially, and blessedly divorced for six months.. I was at my lowest weight ever, and thought I looked the bee’s knees. Unfortunately, I was also very unhealthy. I repeatedly suffered from chest infections 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.
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 more 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 150 lbs. (10.7st, 68 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?
Over the next few years I would swap between very restrictive calorie intake of around 800 calories a day for weeks on end, followed by binge eating. And one day at age forty -two years old I was 330lbs (150kilo, 24 stone)
What was worse is that I would not eat fresh food when I was restricting my calories. I relied on the magic diet shakes and bars providing my body with its daily dose of sugar.
When I was tracking all this at the age of forty three, 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 ten. When I had reached puberty underlying chronic stress had affected my adrenal glands, resulting in a hormonal imbalance leading to fat storage. And, what was also becoming clear was that after each extended crash diet, I would put on more weight than before and a pattern was emerging.
I now had several avenues of research to follow, and with the newly available Internet, I was able to find a certain amount of information about continuous restrictive dieting. I discovered that I had compounded the original weight problem by starving my body into protecting me. Every time I starved myself, my body, in its will to survive, stopped processing food and stored it instead.
How the body reacts to a cycle of restrictive calories and binge eating.
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.
Nutritional Deficiency Syndrome and the reproductive system
The other name of the hypothalamus is actually the word homeostasis, which means balance, which is very appropriate. It is located in the middle of the base of the brain and is connected to the pituitary lobes, which form the most important gland in the body and is often referred to as the Master Gland.
The hypothalamus regulates body temperature, blood sugar, water balance, fat metabolism, appetite, body weight, sensory input like taste and smell and sight, sleep, sexual behaviour, emotions, hormone productions, menstrual cycle regulation and the automatic nervous system that controls automatic functions such as breathing and the heart muscle.
The Pituitary gland
The pituitary gland has an anterior and posterior lobe. The anterior lobe regulates the activity of the thyroid, adrenals and the reproductive glands producing a number of hormones.
- Growth hormone stimulates the growth of bone and body tissues and plays a part in the metabolism of nutrients and minerals.
- Prolactin, which activates milk production in mothers who are breast-feeding.
- Thyrotropin which stimulates the thyroid to produce hormones.
- Corticotrophin which stimulates the adrenal glands to produce its hormones.
- Gonadotrophs are cells that secret the two hormones that stimulate hormone production in the ovaries and testes. These are called luteinising hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and whilst not essential to life are essential to reproduction.
The pituitary gland also secretes endorphins, which act as natural pain relief within the nervous system. It is also the gland that releases hormones that signal the ovaries and testes to make the sex hormones and controls the ovulation and menstrual cycle.
Amenorrhea (irregular or absence of periods)occurs when the normal secretion of Gonadotropin-releasing Hormone from the hypothalamus is interrupted.
Something that I suffered from most of my reproductive years between 14 and 54.
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’.
So I had now established that several factors that had contributed to my obesity. I say contributed, since I was still the one who had been putting food into my mouth, or not depending on where I was in my dieting cycle.
- Chronic stress leads to the hormone cortisol to be secreted leading to fat storage and to comfort eating, particularly in children and young adults who do not have other coping mechanisms.
- The overuse of antibiotics in childhood is decimating the healthy gut bacteria needed to process food effectively, and to maintain a healthy balance of Candida Albicans.
- Repeated yo-yo dieting, alternating between starvation and binging results in a calorific and nutritional deficiency. This forces the body into survival mode and whilst you could clearly keep starving to an extreme, leading to anorexia, most of us will start to eat normally after six to eight weeks and the body will put the weight back on, plus an extra stone every time.
- This cycle repeated two or three times a year can lead to an overall weight gain of three to four stone a year. You will find that the starvation phase gets shorter and the binging last longer. Until you might lose four or five pounds over six weeks but put back double that within a couple of weeks.
- The body does not like change, it likes to get its nutrients regularly and in a form that it understands and can process. If that does not take place certain functions within the body will cease.
- The body does not like to lose weight quickly, especially when it is given shakes and bars that have little relation to real food. It will work hard to refill the fat cells once real food in quantity is consumed, as storage ready for the next famine that it has been trained to expect every six to eight weeks.
- It is estimated that at least 70% of all people suffer from an overgrowth of Candida. And as our diet becomes increasingly industrially produced and sugar laden, this fungal infection will continue to have a part in the obesity epidemic.
Extract from an article The Largely Unknown Health Epidemic Affecting almost all Americans (and likely UK population as well).
Research from Rice University shows that 70 percent of all people have Candida, a systemic fungal infection, in their bodies. According to the molecular biologists at Rice University, Candida is common in humans and is often found in colonies in their intestines, mouths, or on their skin. When researchers delved deeper into how Candida albicans moved throughout the body, with findings published in the journal PLOS One, they noted that the “remarkable pathogen” Candida can cause infection in the body that is both superficial and systemic by penetrating epithelial barriers.
If you have a strong immune system, you could still unknowingly have a fungal/yeast infection. It most likely is low-grade and chronic.
A Harvard University fellow in infectious disease, Julia Koehler, found that Candida is the predominant fungal infection behind human disease. According to Koehler, Candida was responsible for 60 percent of the fungal infections acquired in hospitals, killing one in three people with a bloodstream infection. Comparing Candida’s shape-shifting ability to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Koehler considered the fungus particularly dangerous because of its ability to change forms. When immunity is low, Candida can take over, and a systemic infection can quickly become lethal.
Since Candida Albicans, is in my opinion, one of the major causes of our current obesity epidemic, the next two chapters will deal with it in more detail and provide the strategies needed to bring the overgrowth back under control. And the eating programme to limit its access to the food it thrives on; Sugar.
You can find the previous posts in this series in this directory: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/size-matters-the-sequel/
©sally cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2019
A little bit about me nutritionally.
I am a qualified nutritional therapist with over twenty years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines and posts here on Smorgasbord.
If you would like to browse by health books and fiction you can find them here: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/my-books-and-reviews-2018/
If you have any questions then please do not hesitate to ask in the comments.. or if you prefer send in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org