Thursday, January 13, 2011


I nearly titled this post as 'Diary of An Orthorexic', but that would be starting off on a negative footing, when the most important point I want to make is the importance of positivity!

As I pointed out in my How To Get Started post, I have spent a lot of time investigating psychology and the mind-body connection as it pertains to body composition and fat storage. The work of Jon Gabriel started me along this path; I read his book in late 2009 and cynically disregarded it as a flowery tome that boils down to encouraging fat people to eat less and move more. I was wrong. At the time of reading the book I was in a very happy place - I was at my lowest weight, I was feeling very confident in my body, and essentially felt that I was already at the end-point of the journey, which I achieved without having to 'teach my body that it was safe to be thin'. The rebound of 2010 obviously caused me a lot of psychological pain, and I remain unsure of whether it was purely the fault of chemical interference (DepTran) or whether I was bound to suffer fat regain, like 95% of dieters. What I am sure of is that every time I would work hard on cutting back carbs, calories, and sometimes all food (since it's very in vogue to fast in the paleosphere, this looked like health-wise activity), sooner or later I would find myself regaining the little weight I'd managed to lose, and then some.

I tried all the old tricks, and some new tricks as espoused by Stone & Jaminet - eating 'safe starches', cycling high & low carb days, fasting before exercise, fasting dinner to dinner most days, etc. Nothing made me feel bad, I felt pretty healthy (although I think my gut doesn't like sweet potatoes, since the oh-so delicious sweet potato mash would always give me mild stomach ache), but the fat wouldn't shift. I'm not about to get on a scale, but I'm pretty sure I now weigh at least as much as I did at the end of my pre-diet chocolate binge at the end of 2008! It didn't matter how much I knew about physiology - my results defied the science. I flip-flopped from desperate to disdainful, caring too much to not caring at all, all washed down with buckets of guilt and shame. Good times. However, I consider my 2010: Bests & Worsts post to be the finish line of that particular chapter of my life.

I returned to Jon's book a couple of weeks ago, now ready to consider the possibility that there were psychological reasons preventing me from losing the regained weight. From all the information my body was giving me, my metabolism was in great shape, my digestion was great, and my moods were pretty good (although I wasn't feeling very positive - nothing new there).  I even had a very positive reproductive message (look away now, boys with issues reading about girl business); I took my usual break from the Pill (Yasmin) after being on it for 3 months, to check how my PCO issues were going, and - for the first time in years - I had a period that was not due to a pill cycle! I'm not ready to claim my PCO is over until I have another non-pill period, so I'll let you know in three or so weeks....

I've always been interested in the power of a positive outlook, although I tended to look at the outcomes of cynicism and negativity rather than the 'healing power' of positive thinking. My reading over the past two years has exposed me again and again to the importance of minimising cortisol, and the way blood sugar fluctuations can impact moods. I understood that what was going on in my body could powerfully impact my mind, but somehow I missed the possibility that the reverse could also be true - that the way I thought (given that thought triggers chemical reactions in body, something science knows to be true) could have game-changing influence over what went on in my body.

Jon focuses upon the ways our bodies and minds cope with modern stressors. He argues that we evolve with three main stressors - predators, famine, and temperature extremes. To be safe from predators, we needed to be fit and lean in order to get away or fight them off. From famine and temperature extremes, we needed to store a layer of fat that could be consumed when food became scarce. Our bodies took cues from those stressors to signal the need to gain and maintain fatness, or to achieve leanness. Life in the modern first world is all but immune to those three stressors, but is chock-full of other stressors such as money troubles, social pressure, etc. These modern stressors are not understood completely by what Jon calls the 'animal brain' - it only understands the three main stressors of earlier eras. Thus, the mind tries to interpret modern stressors in the way it did earlier stressors - as signals to gain fat, or lose fat.

Since I'm not one to believe what I read straight off the bat (else reading the new book by Gary Taubes would leave me carbophobic and blaming my freckles on the sandwiches Mum made me as a child... of so this review would have me believe), I went and did my research, enjoying the work of the lovely Emily Deans, MD (I'm committed to reading her entire backlog of blogposts, so it's slow-going!), among many others. I encourage you all to do the same - living in this cynical and negative world, it has been very helpful to be reminded of the importance of reflecting on the successes as well as the failures, the crucial need to let go and forgive past mistakes and crimes, and to appreciate what we have rather than focus on what we want (I would add 'and need' except I doubt many of us are truly lacking in that department). It seems really basic and obvious, but I know that I don't praise myself enough - it's culturally frowned-upon to really succeed, since Australian media sources and other influential people are quick to point out flaws or mock the slightest sign of pride or pleasure in one's success. I know the power of praise, and I always apply the ' at least 5 yays to 1 nay' formula in the classroom - but not to myself!

Whilst positive thinking is the main umbrella covering everything I'm working on and researching at the moment, I will list my particular 'therapy' approach here, in case anyone is feeling like they might be circling the orthorexia/negativity bowl:

The first move I made was probably the biggest - I decided that I would eat junk food if I felt like it. I first wanted to find out whether it would have any immediate physiological effects, but no - a dose of vegetable oil from KFC chicken and potato chips left me a little queasy, but I noticed nothing after a hit of gluten and sugar in cookie form. I had a couple of bad days of cravings and feeling crap about myself, but this coincided with my first 'natural' period in two years, so I hesitate to claim that the food was the culprit. The main psychological point behind this move is to avoid my 'animal brain' feeling as though it is being deprived of anything, in case that triggers a 'famine' response of fat accumulation. I'm not finding myself truly craving junk, and enjoy the things I eat without considering it 'cheating' or worrying about weight gain. I enjoyed the novelty value of fried fish & chips from the amazing place down the road, I reminded myself what milk chocolate and white chocolate taste like, etc. The message for my brain to hold on to is that this food is available if I want it, but it only tastes good for a few seconds, and it doesn't really nourish me so it's not worth pursuing. Being able to reach this place of acceptance after building such a focus on how unhealthy those foods are is quite an achievement, since not so long ago I burst into tears in a restaurant after being told my lamb dish involved breadcrumbs, and I'd already eaten some!

Beyond the junk food hurdle, I am not worrying about carbs or calories. I regret ever counting calories, since I know so thoroughly now that caloric restriction will not give me long-term health. If that's a new concept for you, Matt Stone's guest post at Belly Fat Loser is one of his less-bastardy pieces, and nails many of the flaws in the diet industry's arguments. However, rather than dwelling on the past, I am eating what I want, when I'm hungry, and stopping when I have had enough. I haven't perfected this yet since my satiety is all over the place and I never seem to feel full when I'm eating fruit. The key here is probably that I'm actually rarely hungry, but I feel like eating, so I eat. I'm on holidays and the weather is terrible - tropical humidity and rain, in Victoria! I'm also taking care of the kitten, so I'm inside most of the time, with nothing to do except sit and watch movies and read and become bored ;) But I'm not worrying about it, because it's worse to worry (stress) about things than just live.

Beyond not counting carbs or calories, I have the aim of not really worrying about food at all. As Jon says in his meditation CD, "it's just there.. and it's just not that exciting anymore". I'm not sure how successful I'll be in this area, given that I'm a foodie and like being creative in the kitchen, but we'll see how I go! I try not to think about what my next meal will be, I'm not intending to actively fast, and so on.

Not all of my 'therapy' revolves around food though - I am also taking advantage of my down-time at home by stopping to think about everything I have, and appreciating things rather than being critical. Sometimes this is laughable - my kitten broke my skin by accident whilst we were playing, so I had to stop myself from feeling hurt and instead think about all the fun we were having despite the incident! Cynical me pipes up occasionally to point out the hippy-dippy-ness of this, but then I laugh at that little voice, and it all ends up positive. I hope I can keep it up!

Every night I listen to Jon's meditation/visualisation recording as I go to sleep, and I'm interested in trying to incorporate more visualisation into my day. His ideas have been reinforced from many other sources, but for ease of reference I'll stick with his work since it's readily available online, his book is quite affordable, and he lives in Australia! ;)

The one area I'm not currently succeeding in is the physical activity component, but I'm not going to force myself to get active if I don't feel like it. I've done bits of belly dancing and some push-ups & sit-ups when I've felt fidgety - and feeling fidgety itself is a wonderful sign of health! I was always someone who could melt into the sofa and watch TV for hours, but now I need something to keep my hands busy (my jewellery-making has continued to thrive!) and I change position quite often. I'm keen to get back to my belly dancing classes, but the teacher tends to be quite negative and we often have one or more students feeling down at some point in the class. The last class before Christmas break, this was me, since I felt unfairly picked on, so there's a bit of a dark cloud there to break through before I will actively want to return. Hopefully I will feel better about it all by next Monday! In the meantime I have DVDs I can play if I feel the urge - but with this hot weather, jumping around in the stuffy TV room is the last thing I want to do!

So that's where I'm at. I'm feeling quite happy, light and playful, I'm letting go of things that have bothered me in the past, I'm developing a healthier attitude to food and my body, and am hoping that his will have positive returns in not only restoring my state of mind but also getting my body's fat stores burning. I will still design healthy meals and share them here, and continue sharing my journey with you. I am experiencing many internal rewards already, which fuels my efforts as intrinsic motivation.

And my extrinsic motivation? I have a colleague who is incredibly fat and incredibly negative. No matter the topic, she'll find fault and voice her criticisms loudly and proudly. She lives on doughnuts and other carby nasties. Just recently, she was diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer. She hasn't changed much, is still very negative, but sometimes she looks on the lighter side of things. I don't want to be seen as negative, especially if those vibes result in obesity and cancer formation! On the other hand, the colleague who is lovely and loved by everyone, who is pretty care-free and laid-back, is also very thin. She also lives on doughnuts and other carby nasties, but doesn't sweat it. I know that she might suffer from her food choices down the track, but what is more damaging - conventional 'nutrition', or attitude? I can't be sure, so I'll be covering both bases as much as I can - but I won't be letting the former control the latter.


Pål Jåbekk said...

Good to hear you are feeling better. Good luck on the rest of your journey. The health effects of saying the occasional “f... it” (with a smile)is greatly underestimated.

Anonymous said...

i smiled like a million times reading this post, most notably when you said you got your period w/o help(but post fast food?).
i can actually feel your enthusiasm and hopefulness in the post, happiness is contagious!! i think you're finding what will work for you, forever which is the aim of any 'dieter' or foodie out there.

kudos to you!

Xan said...

Sounds like you are implementing your own personal acceptance therapy! The old adage "stress less" is probably my favourite and along the lines of where I would be practicing if I could be bothered doing my MPsych.

I have recently implemented something similar in terms of eating habits but keeping the calorie count. I eat whatever I want as long as it adds up to how many calories I want to spend but if I am still hungry at the end of the day I will eat as this is only to enforce a reduction of portion sizes (a psych thing). I discovered that I am also not that hungry but eat out of boredom/enjoyment (actually I already knew that ;)). Because I can eat what I want (just less of it) I don't feel deprived and I no longer give a rats about food in you mentioned, it's there if I want it. I find keeping busy, focusing on where I want to be and remembering that life is what happens while planning your future, are all important in making me take stock in life and enjoy the moment.

I heard a really good quote the other day: "There is no dress rehearsal in life; you only get one chance and this is it so make the most of it." Sounds like you might be :)

seven said...

Hi Jezwyn, I also have PCO and was wondering about your comment:'I'm not ready to claim my PCO is over until I have another non-pill period'. Is it possible to beat PCO? I haven't come across any information on this, I'd love to hear your opinion!

Jezwyn said...

Thanks guys! Don't you just love the fact that within minutes of my publishing this post an 'anonymous' person jumps on to declare that I MUST have a thyroid problem and I shouldn't believe anyone who "tells me" it's not physiological? Sure, just like anorexia nervosa sufferers just have an over-active metabolism...

Malpaz - the arrival of the period & the consumption of junk were too closely timed to be related. My body would not have had enough time to build up a substantial enough amount of endometrial lining, etc.

Xan - I have actually always practiced self-confidence and acceptance techniques such as mantras, surrounding both the physical aspects of myself and my little personality quirks ;) What I am doing now is more about letting go of some on-going negativity I hold against one of my co-workers who gave me a hard time in 2009, since I still feel like I must have done something to deserve that treatment. It's hard to forgive and forget without some sort of convincing answer, even though I did a bit of psych at Uni too and know that her behaviour was probably more to do with her own issues regarding the person I replaced than anything I did. Blah blah, relax and forgive, blah blah... ;)

It'll be interesting to see whether it's enough to convince your brain that there is not famine by allowing yourself access to all foods, but not much of them. I was operating on the opposite system (and still am, really) - that I can only have healthy foods, but as much of them as I like. But perhaps my fat gain isn't to do with a 'famine' trigger. Time will tell.

You hit me in the heart with that quote - it's one I have on my wall! Problem is, the interpretation is open: the message some can take away from life "not being a dress rehearsal" is that the choices you make now are be-all and end-all, so health mistakes will determine your future health and when the curtain closes. The other message is that you could be wasting your life worrying about the future when you should just relax and live for the show of today. I'm trying to find the happy medium.

Hey Seven! PCO, for some people, is a symptom of something else that's going on (i.e. PCOS and other hormonal disruptions). For others, it's a disorder in and of itself. Since I wasn't born with PCO, I had normal periods growing up, and then somewhere along the lines PCO kicked in. I'm not sure exactly when since I've been on a BCP for a number of years, and only discovered the problem when I went off it for 5 months and didn't have a period in that time. I consider my PCO to be a symptom of something else that is going on in my body - for instance, it could be that cutting back on calories meant energy was taken from my reproductive system, rather than all systems running normally and fulfilling the energy deficit by metabolising fat from my fat stores. Were you born with PCO or has your ovulation cycle been disrupted by PCO after successful puberty? Do you have PCOS?

kimboosan said...

Oh my maude, I could have written this post, only I didn't, YOU DID. *boggles*

Especially the part about not understanding, previously, how if the body can affect the mind, the mind can affect the body too. But it DOES. It's been really hard to tear myself away from the crutches of jaded cynicism and negativity, but I'm really working on it and I think it's starting to make a huge difference. Well, 2010 was a "year" for me too, so it was either sink or swim. One aspect I never noticed before was how I surrounded myself with (similarly) negative people; now I'm pretty ruthless, in that if a person is constantly negative I simply won't have much to do with her. Life is too short, anyway! :D

I have to admit, one aspect I love about primal living is NOT counting anything; I'm averse to food tracking for a whole host of emotional reasons (stemming mostly from my mother's eating disorders), and while I understand some people need to do that, I find even trying to just builds up a swell of self-directed negativity and fatalism.

Also, I'm so glad you are continuing this blog and moving forward with this mindset. I love reading your blog and wanted it to continue, but did not want to whine about it. LOL!

Gonçalo said...


My name is Gonçalo and I'm from Portugal.

I really like your blog so that's why I thought about asking you a question.

I have struggled with strong chronic anxiety and some depression for a long time. I'm 23.

I would like to ask you if you have any suggestion about what I can do to to try to understand if these syntoms have roots in nutritional deficiencies, infections, inflammation, etc. I have
some history of trauma but maybe some of this is aggravating the problem?

Are there some probable causes? Any tests I shoud do? cost-effective Solutions?

Thanks so much

Warmest wishes


Janet said...

Eating primal/paleo can do your head in as it is a pretty strict way of eating in a world of carbs. I need to exercise mindful eating as well as I often take being primal/paleo as a free ride in eating as much as I want without thinking.

Given that, I think having a healthy attitude towards food and eating comes first. Only after you have this in control can you conquer a more strict diet.

seven said...

Hi again, I'm unsure if I was born with PCO - through puberty, I never had cycles that were 'to the day' but they always seemed to occur every 4-6 weeks. Like you, I had been on a BCP (although on and off) for a few years and only discovered the PCO after coming off it recently and not getting a period for 4 months or so.

I'm also unsure if I have PCOS. I've read that to diagnose it you must have 2 out of the following symptoms: amenorrhoea, PCO on an ultrasound, and hyperandrogenism. I have the first two and despite my overall testosterone levels being within normal range, my free testosterone was slightly elevated (so I guess this might be considered hyperandrogenism?). I have none of the other trademarks of PCOS (touching wood now). I suppose I'm confused about the symptoms required for a diagnosis because surely if you have PCO (and not PCOS) you're still going to have the first two symptoms?

A doctor I saw said that PCO CAUSES insulin resistance whereas another said PCO is CAUSED BY an initial state of insulin resistant. Whatever the case, because PCO tends to be related to insulin sensitivity somehow, I'm considering the possibility that my PCO has come about due to an extreme bout of stress for the past 6months (excessive levels of cortisol leading to insulin resistance perhaps?).

As much as I want to know about PCO, I've discovered that the more I read, the more I spiral into stress about the issue. This seems to be a familiar pattern with those of us who have an 'all or nothing' approach to gaining knowledge especially when it comes to knowledge about our bodies. So, like you, I've also decided to chill out a bit, put a little more faith in my body and reconnect with my natural impulses...

Jezwyn said...

No worries Kim! :)

Janet - I always had a good attitude toward food. I always enjoyed fresh fruit & veg, loved meat, and treated junk food as occasional indulgences, but never really thought about it. Going low-carb, then primal, then carnivore, and eventually paleo - that's what screwed up my attitude towards food and, most of all, my body. Exercising 'mindful eating' immediately makes you over-think eating. Just eat real food, and your body will stop you when you've had enough. Counting anything will fuck you up. Sure learnt that the hard way.

Eating as much as you want without thinking is natural. If you're hungry, you'll eat. What you're letting paleo excuse is eating for the SAKE of eating - eating food because you're bored or stressed but not criticising the behaviour because it's healthy food. Too much food isn't healthy; too much water will kill you! "

"Conquering a strict diet" is the wrong mindset - the phrase itself screams out neurosis and artifice. There's nothing natural about pushing yourself to do something your body doesn't want you to do. There may need to be a mind-shift to find yourself actually craving healthy foods, but if you're forcing yourself to be strict and dieting, you usually find yourself craving junk. There's a hint that something's wrong.

I'm not really saying that YOU are wrong - we're just products of this weight-focused culture. So few of us eat naturally - the media and societal-pressures consistently reinforce the idea that we're WRONG - the wrong size, eating the wrong food, thinking the wrong thoughts. Just existing like animals is derided.

The primal/paleo movement is all about getting back to our natural lifestyles as evolution dictated, and yet we end up going further away from nature and into dark places of restriction and self-disgust when we make "mistakes", or covering our psychological issues with food in the guise that it's fine because it's paleo! Sites like PaleoHacks have certainly enhanced that perfectionist/neurotic attitude. Hopefully as the hype passes, that attitude will recede and those of us who believe in evolutionary nutrition and medicine will find the groove of natural eating behaviours along with a relaxed lifestyle. :)

Jezwyn said...

Hi Seven!

Wow, the similarity in our experiences furthers my interest in whether BCPs have something to do with PCO - since my pill tells my body I'm pregnant, no wonder my bits get confused and don't work properly. Being 'pregnant' for years at a time can't be a good thing... Ironic that the way to preserve fertility with PCO is to keep taking the BCP!

To have PCOS you have to have altered hormonal levels. Raised testosterone could be an indicator, but if you have PCOS it sounds like it's pretty mild.

You're absolutely right about those first two symptoms. If you have PCO, you're all but guaranteed to have amenorrhoea. If you are not ovulating successfully, your body is unlikely to be cued to build up endometrial lining, and without lining, there's nothing to shed. The ultrasound confirms PCO. The sydrome, by definition, needs to have multiple symptoms. PCO = amenorrhoea, so that's one symptom. The next is hormonal dysfunction. Without hormonal involvement, there is no S to the PCOS.

Medical experts have seen that insulin resistance is associated with PCO, but there hasn't been any evidence that it's a causal relationship, in either direction. Your two doctors are falling into that typical trap of assuming that correlation equals causation. Bloody annoying. My GP gave me the 'eat low carb and exercise more' handout after my diagnosis - not exactly helpful given my lifestyle!

I would support your cortisol-PCO relationship hypothesis. Unfortunately I can't read my situation so clearly since I've been on and off the pill, but it could be true that my PCO began when I started dieting (which always equals heightened cortisol levels), and has gone away in the past month since I've been a lot more relaxed, with the school year finishing and all. I'm sure that experts studying the condition will explore those avenues, so hopefully an explanation will come soon. If it really does affect 1 in 3 women, the chronic stress of today's world would make sense as a causal factor.

At the same time, I think industrial foods play a part as well, and rather than insulin resistance being a cause or result of PCO, they are both results of chronic inflammation caused by refined carbs and toxic environment. Going low-carb usually means individuals cut way back on refined, industrial foods, so inflammation decrease could be just as much a cure as improved insulin sensitivity.

Definitely try to chill and forget about it as much as possible. If it is linked to stress, then worrying about it won't help :) Hopefully your other stresses are on their way out, and it'll be an interesting result if you find your amenorrhoea cured! Please report back! :)

Jezwyn said...

Hi Gonçalo!

I'm not a medical expert - I can only speak from my experience. I have read that depression can be related to sugar intake, and can also be relieved by exercise. In terms of anxiety and other psychological issues, there have been some interesting studies on coconut oil's potential to assist with these issues. Taking control of blood sugar can help with many neural issues as well. Monitoring your blood glucose might be a good self-experiment for you to do.

I'm sure you're already seeking professional help to assist with your trauma issues. You might like to try meditation or visualisation. I am using a visualisation that is helping me forgive and forget an incident in 2009 with a work colleague, and it is going very well.

Do you avoid known inflammatory agents like wheat and refined sugar? Do you sleep well? How's your vitamin D?

Feel free to email me at if you want to chat about stuff :)