Lauren's weight loss and wellbeing journey
Lauren's story highlights the role exercise and nutrition played on her weight loss and wellbeing journey, assisting to manage a long term health diagnosis.
Time to read: 7 minutes
This story was originally published in MHPE magazine Volume 17, issue 2.
Discharge from the Airforce
After my discharge from the Royal Australian Air Force my world began to fall apart. Plagued by illness and injury, my marriage disintegrating, and adrift from any meaningful sense of purpose and social connection, my ability to hold it all together was badly hampered. I started to self-destruct in a variety of ways – I stopped exercising, ate for emotional comfort rather than fuel and nutrition, adopted risk taking and avoidant behaviours, and focussed on an overly negative outlook on life and my future.
By 45 I felt I was washed up, broken, on an irreversible downward descent, and had missed the boat on finding true happiness, health and professional success.
Then in 2016, I was diagnosed with the incurable, progressive adipose tissue disease lipoedema. The long-term prognosis was one of significant pain, increasing weight gain, immobility and disfigurement. Ironically this diagnosis was one of the best things to ever happen to me. It reminded me that there were genuine reasons behind my ill-health, not just my failure to get my act together. It forced me to make a choice – either I picked myself up and made my health and wellbeing a priority in order to fight the disease from the best possible position; or lie down and let my victimhood and grief determine my future. I chose the first option.
It wasn’t easy. I was 47 years old, obese and unfit. I started by visiting my GP and requesting a referral to an exercise physiologist using my DVA Health Card. I also commenced yoga, recumbent cycling, daily walking and therapy with a DVA-funded Psychologist. On my first day at the gym I was incredibly embarrassed – I felt very self-conscious about my weight and I wore loose, baggy clothing to try and hide it. I also felt very uncoordinated and out of place on the training machines in front of all the beautiful people. For a few weeks it all seemed quite surreal – like I was in someone else’s damaged body; a long way from the slim, fit, healthy body that had passed RAAF physical fitness tests with ease. But as I worked hard and saw results - I began to feel at home, and I realised that I belonged at the gym - as much as anyone else. It soon became a place I looked forward to going to.
I also undertook substantial research into human body fat and obesity. Lipoedema is a disease of the subcutaneous adipose tissue, the fat that sits beneath the skin. It is affected by oestrogen and does not respond to standard caloric restriction dieting. It is also made worse by non-lipoedemic regular (obesity) fat. I realised that I had to reduce as much regular fat as possible to give myself the best chance of fighting the disease.
Through my research I established that the key to improving my overall health and best managing my weight was excluding certain foods from my diet and increasing others, rather than focusing on limiting calories and restricting all foods.
I wanted to specifically target foods for EXCLUSION because they:
- were inflammatory
- spiked insulin levels (especially empty carbohydrates, fructose, lactose and glucose)
- were causing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a sign of intolerance to certain foods
- were highly processed, refined and full of chemicals
- provided little or no nutrition.
I also wanted to specifically target foods for INCLUSION because they:
- were anti-inflammatory
- assisted my gut health
- contained healthy natural fats, with a higher ratio of omega-3 to omega-6
- were primarily whole foods (as opposed to manufactured ‘frankenfoods’)
- contained a range of necessary micronutrients in a healthy, nutrient-dense manner (especially calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, selenium, zinc and biotin).
A way of eating
To achieve this I used my research to devise, not a diet, but a ‘way of eating’ (WOE), which incorporated elements of nutritional ketosis (also known as keto or low carb high fat), low FODMAP (to address my food intolerances) and intermittent fasting. Together these addressed my body’s individual needs. To ensure that I was not going to cause micronutrient deficiency or long-term damage, I did this in consultation with a dietitian (via my DVA Health Card) who helped me work out a healthy macro and micronutrient balance within the limitations of my chosen WOE.
I commenced by removing wheat products, dairy, sugars, sulphites, starchy vegetables and processed food from my diet whilst increasing high healthy fats and low net carbohydrate vegetables. I also incorporated medically recommended fasting principles on an occasional basis. The resulting change was dramatic. Not only did I start losing excess body fat easily, but my concentration improved, my headaches reduced, my leg pain eased, my IBS disappeared, I no longer had an afternoon exhaustion slump and need for a carb binge, my irritability and anger lessened, I had more stamina and strength at the gym, I felt happier overall, and best of all – my symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues dramatically improved. For the first time in decades I felt peace within my body, rather than the constant amped up fight-or-flight mode that previously overshadowed my life day and night.
Two years later, still happily sticking to my new lifestyle and WOE, I am a different person. My blood test results are perfect. At almost 50 years of age I have lost 50 kilograms of excess weight and emotional baggage. I am happy, calm, content, energetic, engaged with my children, professionally productive and living a life that I didn’t imagine was possible five years ago.
I exercise regularly, never count calories, do not hate myself anymore, and look forward to the future. I still face mental health challenges, but they are much easier to manage in a fit and healthy body. I feel like I am now going into my fifties with a sense of control, purpose, self-determination and agency. Some people still accuse me of ‘fad dieting’ because low carb and high (healthy) fat eating appears contrary to the traditional wisdom of low fat and low calorie eating, even though much modern ‘diet’ food is highly processed and refined.
I’m sticking with healthy whole foods that work for me and many others, and avoiding the inflammation and gut issues that I believe were making my mental and physical health worse. Thankfully there is a growing movement of enlightened thought in the medical community to support choices like mine, especially for those with depression, IBS and insulin resistance.
An example of the sorts of food I eat daily with pleasure:
Frittata/omelette containing eggs, canned red salmon, kale, broccoli, red capsicum, cauliflower, mushrooms, zucchini, almond meal, chia, psyllium, flax meal, turmeric, black pepper, salt, parsley and sesame seeds. Fried in a mixture of coconut and olive oils.
Salad of baby spinach and rocket mix, shredded BBQ chicken meat with skin on, macadamias, brazil nuts, preservative-free shredded coconut, blueberries or raspberries, chia, salt and pepper, and a dressing of olive oil, apple cider vinegar and fresh lemon or lime juice.
Curry based on coconut cream (without rice), or pasta sauce based on tomato (on zucchini spirals), or shallow fried lamb/pork/chicken/salmon/shellfish/steak with non-starchy vegetables. All my meals, whether curries, sauces or shallow fried meats, contain high amounts of dark leafy green vegetables.
Chocolate berry pudding containing Lindt 90% dark chocolate melted in the microwave with coconut cream (in a soup cup), mixed with thawed frozen raspberries, almond meal, chia, psyllium, flax meal and stevia to taste.
I rarely feel the need to eat snacks as my meals are nutrient dense and the high healthy fats satisfy me. If I do eat snacks, I choose macadamias, almonds, Brazil nuts, coconut chips, berries, and coconut yoghurt.
Water (tap or sparkling), freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice (mixed with water), apple cider vinegar (mixed with water), herbal tea, champagne, wine, berries blended with coconut milk or water. I don’t like coffee, but I could drink this too if I did.
I am proof that you are never too old and it is never too late to change your life for the better.
A range of services are available to the ex-serving communities and their families to stay healthy.
Good nutrition is essential for an individual's health at all ages. We all know that eating better and smarter plays a key role in reducing the risk of developing chronic health conditions. So, please enjoy preparing and eating these delicious dishes.
Military service is physically demanding, so when you leave the ADF you may have a physical injury. A range of veteran-specific services and support are available from DVA to help you get on with a healthy and active civilian life.