If you want to get my book, Gluten-free Baking at Christmas, delivered before Christmas, time is running out to order! I will try to post your book as soon as possible after I receive your order, but of course remain at the mercy of Royal Mail.
Low-carb update: 5 months on
I am painfully aware how long it has been since my last post, but wanted to assure you that I have not gone anyway, I’ve simply been going through a rather eventful few months. But I suppose the main reason for my lack of updates is that I’ve been trying to work out how best to continue with this blog given the change in my eating patterns, that is now becoming a WOE (way of eating) more than any sort of temporary diet.
Let me give you some background: in addition to having coeliac disease, I was diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) in 2010. My periods had basically stopped, and after an ultrasound of my abdomen they were pretty confident that I had PCOS. I was essentially told I didn’t need to do anything apart from stay on the pill until I wanted to try for children, but because I wasn’t “fat, greasy or hairy” there really wasn’t any cause for concern. Okay then. The gist of the advice they gave me was to keep my weight down as much as I could (of course at this point I hadn’t yet been diagnosed with coeliac disease so that added another level of complication).
Fast forward 5 years and the weight had been creeping up and up, despite me trying everything I could to control it. I should point out, I still wasn’t overweight (by BMI standards anyway) but I was rather close to it and as someone who is reasonably short with a small frame I felt swamped by this extra body weight that I couldn’t shift. I took up strength training and gained quite a bit of muscle but lost very little fat. I tried intermittent fasting which worked somewhat, but once the temperature outside dropped I couldn’t continue – I was hungry, cold, headachey and it didn’t feel right to me. I was constantly on the lookout to include more veg in my food, less fat, be conscious of calories, eating as many gluten-free whole grains as I could… and yet my weight went up and up until I hit 66kg in March 2015. With my clothes on, I doubt many people really noticed, but it was enough for me to feel huge, bloated, flabby and not myself.
People with PCOS often have higher insulin levels and are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes (which runs in my family as well). This means that while weight loss is the best method to control symptoms, it is also virtually impossible to lose weight because the insulin makes your body hold on to fat.
Last year I came off the pill because I wanted to see what my body was doing before we started trying for children. I had a couple of periods like clockwork and then… nothing. I was frustrated and annoyed with my body and I felt like a failure. I couldn’t lose weight, I assumed I was probably going to have a really tough time conceiving and I was hungry ALL the time. I thought being hungry was a personal failing of mine – like I should just “stop” being such a little piggy.
I can’t remember exactly how I was introduced to the idea, but something somewhere convinced me to give the low-carb diet a try. I had this vague idea that carbs were fattening, but I also associated eating no carbs with constant hunger all the time. At this point, I felt like anything was worth a try, so I just did a bit of research and started one day. You can see my two week update here, to see exactly how I started eating this way.
It’s now been 5 months since I started eating low-carb/high-fat and aside from a couple of cheat days (these were intentional cheats for my 30th birthday, not impulsive binges) I have stuck to it completely. It’s been such an easy way of eating for me as well, for several reasons.
The hunger I feel now is totally different from the hunger I used to feel. Throughout my life, when I’ve been “hangry”, I’ve got into arguments with people and basically freaked out when my food was delayed significantly.
Now, my hunger is not only milder, but of a different nature. It tells me “Hey Sam, you should probably think about eating soon, but you can totally finish what you’re doing first”. Sometimes I’ll make it an extended time without eating and start feeling a bit nauseous. Then I’ll remember I didn’t have lunch. Carb-eating Sam used to clockwatch from about 11am thinking, “Is it lunchtime yet, is it lunchtime yet?”
The times I feel terrible hunger are now usually only after cheat days. However, making sure I eat enough fat is a huge part of this also, so if I eat a lean piece of meat with veggies for dinner, I can be terribly hungry by bedtime. The solution is to make sure there’s fat at every meal. Creamy sauces, extra butter or coconut oil in stews, a piece of cheese, generous amount of extra virgin olive oil, or simply cooking the meal in lard.
I don’t want to dwell too much on the weight loss especially as I support beauty at all sizes, and strongly believe that people should be whatever size they are comfortable with. Having said that, I was not comfortable with my body, and had problems finding clothes, especially trousers that fit properly. I also didn’t feel healthy in myself.
I’ve lost 8kg (17.5lbs) since March. I’ve lost more than 20cm around my waist, hips and thighs. I’ve dropped a dress size and my clothes are falling off me.
I do feel more like myself, and if we’re talking purely superficially I am pretty happy being at this weight. I’d like to lose a bit more, but I think our bodies tend to know what weight is best for us to be at so I’m going to wait and see at what point it stops.
My periods haven’t yet restarted but I am beginning to think they are on their way – I’ve been getting monthly cramps (but no actual period) and even ovulation pain (um, yay for pain?)! It was a bit of a long shot, hoping to “fix” PCOS with diet, but I still think it’s possible to get them going again. I’m tracking as many symptoms as I can on my Clue app, which I love.
It’s very difficult to attribute changes in mood or mental health to diet, especially when you are prone to periods of depression and anxiety anyway. I will say that the eating this way has stabilised my moods immensely. However, when I initially starting losing fat, it seemed like a lot of hormones were being released. My skin was awful – some days I had acne (which I have never had, even has a teen). This really messed with my head.
I have certainly suffered from a period of depression and anxiety this autumn, however in reflection I think my hormones were exacerbating the problem, rather than causing it. There has been a lot going on in my life, and I decided to go talk to a counsellor, which helped a great deal. Then one day I woke up, and the depression was gone. My brain just said, “right, enough of that, let’s go get some stuff done today”.
And I feel good now.
So what now for The Happy Coeliac?
I’ve been thinking about this for months now and still haven’t settled at a conclusion. I wanted to make sure I was committed to eating this way for life before I made any changes to this blog, but I’m still not sure exactly how I should progress.
I toyed with the idea of starting a new blog or changing my site name but these are things that would inevitably lose me readers and subscribers and set me back while I built up a new audience. So for now, I’m just going to carry on blogging here. I’ll be posting low-carb, high-fat and gluten-free recipes, ideas and tips. I’ll still talk about gluten-free issues in the news, or problems that coeliacs face. After all, I still can’t eat gluten. I’ll just be less keen to replace gluten with other grains or starches.
And then there is the fact that I’ve written a Christmas baking book that, while entirely gluten-free, is also packed with sugary, carby, recipes. I self-published and thus still have around 50 copies sitting at home (that I’d quite like to sell). I’ve been feeling increasingly conflicted about the fact that I have published 3 recipe books which go against my entire way of eating now (although, my BBQ book is reasonably low-carb) and I still haven’t come to a conclusion about in what capacity I will continue selling them.
But for now, no decisions need to be made. It’s nearly Christmas. I’ve finally written a blog post. I feel healthy and happy. It’s time to relax, spend time with family and friends, write in my journal, watch Netflix, read books, light candles, wrap presents, spread some Christmas cheer, and enjoy being alive.