People with chronic illness often find it hard to lose weight, whether it's due to medication or their ill health, but many wrongly believe that it's useless changing their diet because they cannot exercise. Most of my weight loss journey was without exercise, in fact I was mostly bedridden, but still consuming decent meals daily. At one point even three cooked meals daily! It's a slow process that requires commitment and consistency and I haven't only lost weight with diet changes, I am also no longer bedridden! The food we eat can make a huge difference. Here's my story:
Disclaimer: I am not a qualified nutritionist, and I am not recommending any specific diet for you. Please speak to your healthcare provider before making changes to your diet. I am simply sharing my experience to maybe offer hope to somebody who thought that without exercise they'd never be able to lose weight.
The Beginning Of My Weight Loss Journey
When I started my low carb, high fat, clean eating journey in 2015, just 3 months before my ME/CFS diagnosis, I weighed 79kg. I was wearing size 18/20 clothes and my health was rapidly deteriorating.
I picked up every bug that went around. I was exhausted and I had frequent headaches, shooting pains throughout my body and doctors couldn't figure out what was going on. All tests they did came back healthy. I decided that it was probably just because I was very unfit and not eating well enough, so I decided to get into shape and take better care of myself.
My History With Weight Management
Since my late teens I had been steadily gaining weight and never managed to lose weight in a consistent or sustainable manner. I'd maybe lose up to 5kg and then just give up or gain it back again. It wasn't really a priority because I didn't think it was doing any harm. Until 2015.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I LOVE my food, but I believe the high carb diet I was on for most of my life was making me constantly hungry and this was probably the underlying cause of my weight problems. I'd just keep eating because I was always hungry.
Why I Was Always Hungry
Something I've noticed over the last few years, since being on a low carb diet, is that when I eat higher carb meals, my "I'm hungry" signal doesn't switch off, no matter how much I eat. I now know that's probably to do with my Ghrelin and Leptin levels being out of control. They are the hunger hormones. I wasn't imagining it, it was a hormonal imbalance.
This is probably why I could pack in three plates of pasta in one sitting, but if we had meat and vegetables, then I'd not be able to eat so much.
I also knew that I was gluten intolerant, it caused horrible bloating which made people think I was pregnant - they'd actually offer me their seats on public transport! But as much as I was bloated, I wasn't in pain or discomfort, so I ignored it and continued eating the foods my body was rejecting. I might have done myself much harm in ignoring my symptoms. This is why I now often say it is important to listen to your body.
How I Lost 20kg With Virtually No Exercise
Once I had decided to take better care of myself, I started researching all sorts of diets and the properties of various foods so that I could build a diet to suit my personal needs.
I wanted to do a clean eating diet that was sustainable for life, it had to be anti-inflammatory and low carb, also taking into account symptoms I'd been experiencing and illnesses that run in my family. It was super fun doing the research and putting together my list of preferable foods!
I also took up dance lessons. These were high intensity street dance type of fitness classes. Offered by friends of mine who had just opened a dance school. I had never done anything like it before - I have no idea how to dance, but had always wanted to learn. It was so much fun!
I only managed 7 sessions spread over 8 weeks before I was struck down with the viral infection that triggered my current severe state of ME/CFS. But in those 7 sessions, my body changed shape quite a bit and I felt amazing (see the pictures below, notice the change in shape from left to right).
Looking back I think my body was already struggling and exercise would only make me worse, but at that point I had no idea and really thought I was doing the right thing by exercising my body.
No Exercise Since April 2015
After three months of clean eating doing only a couple of exercise sessions a week, I had lost 9kg. I went on holiday to Italy for Easter and within 2 days I was struck down with a viral infection that sent me to bed - and that is where I have remained since! (You can read more about that over here.)
As you can see, most of my weight loss was accomplished without exercise, I had only lost 9kg by the time I fell ill, but I have since lost a lot more without any exercise. Clean eating on a low carb, high fat diet is what got me out of the horrid hunger cycle and I finally felt satisfied with just one plate of food.
The diet I had planned for myself, I later found out was almost exactly what they call the Paleo way of eating. I had no idea at the time, but was glad to see that I wasn't the only one who thought this way of eating would be beneficial.
I had initially kept oats and rice as my chosen carbs, but would restrict myself to one portion of these starchy foods per day. I continued to steadily lose weight. I eventually went grain free, but was still consuming large amounts of raw fruit and vegetables daily and my health was just deteriorating. I had chronic pain, chronic fatigue, weakness, shaking, all sorts. This way of eating wasn't helping my body heal, but I was losing excess weight pretty easily which was great!
What Keto And OMAD Has Done For Me
I hit 59kg near the end of 2015 and my weight remained stable for over a year, but my ME/CFS just got worse until I was about 95% bedridden for months on end and popping 15 painkillers a day - they were only taking off the edge, I was still in constant pain all over.
Then in February 2017, while at my worst, I made the switch to keto. My aim was no longer losing weight, but to improve my ME/CFS symptoms as I had become completely bedridden by that point.
I dropped fruit, grains, pulses and dairy from my diet and went on a strict paleo-ketogenic diet, within a few months I experienced huge improvements in my health. I dropped my carb levels to below 20g a day and it was at this point, when my body finally fat-adapted, that I was no longer hungry, no longer bedridden and my chronic pain was almost completely gone. (You can read about that over here.) My body definitely functions more effectively using fat for fuel!
Visit Dr Myhill's YouTube channel where she explains why this way of eating is ideal for so many.
Along the keto journey, I discovered I also have histamine intolerance which causes itching and rashes when I consume too much histamine. Unfortunately histamine is on all our food, some more than others, and my body just couldn't handle it anymore, so on the first of September 2017 I decided to start fasting to try lower my histamine load. (You can read about that here)
This is when the weight started dropping again. I had started eating only one meal a day (OMAD). This time I only lost 4kg, during the first week of OMAD, and a month later was still stable at 55kg. I was able to comfortably wear size 10/12 clothes at this point.
OMAD might sound scary and even unhealthy, but when on a ketogenic diet, you are well satiated and without spiking insulin levels with sugar and carbs, your hunger is kept at bay too. Also, there is a lot of science to back the health benefits of fasting for at least 14 hours a day.
When I started this journey for health purposes back in 2015, I really didn't expect the results I have now. Nothing else I have ever tried has been so easily and deliciously sustainable.
My Activity Levels During This Time
In July 2017 I had set myself a challenge as part of a Fundraiser for ME/CFS research: I aimed to walk 1000 steps every day to raise £1000 for the Invest in ME charity. I was still spending most of my time in bed, but I could walk around the house a few times a day and going to the bathroom was no longer as detrimental as it had been previously.
I wore a Fitbit at all times and it calculated my steps and calories burned - this is how I adjusted my dietary goals so that I could keep my weight stable. The more active I was, the more I could eat. The less active I was, the less I needed to eat. I made it to 1000 steps most days, except when I was flaring. Considering that I was bedridden for most of the previous 2 years, I was super excited about this progress!
The Effects Of Diet Vs Exercise
The reason I'm sharing my story is to demonstrate the difference between diet and exercise.
I lost 9kg while eating clean and doing exercise a couple of times a week and my body shape changed dramatically. Exercise is for shaping, toning, strengthening the body.
If you only exercise, you will build muscle and bulk up, tone up, get stronger and firmer, but you can still carry a lot of fat on your body if your diet is not right.
Diet on the other hand is for managing nutrition and all kinds of other processes in the body, some of which directly influence fat storage or usage. So by being mindful of what you're eating and regulating these processes, you can quite effectively manage your weight, even if you don't do exercise. The difference is that you won't be toned and firm, your muscles won't bulk up to take the place of the fat under your skin, you will be slimmer, but soft and squishy.
Lessons Learned Along The Way
The thing that I learned through this process is that "abs are made in the kitchen" which simply means that you can exercise all day long, but if your diet is unhealthy, then that exercise won't keep the excess layers of fat off.
Of course there are other factors which influence weight too: medications, hormones, genetics, stress and physical tissue damage. So it's not easy for everybody.
I believe there's no one-size-fits-all diet. But it's definitely worth trying to change it up for a few months at a time to see how your body responds. Paleo didn't work for me, Keto did. Then when you find what works best for you, you can start tweaking it to get the results you want. Whether it's better health or weight loss.
I hope you find what works best for you!
Some Books I've Found Very Helpful
I'd Love To Hear From You!
- Have you ever tried the Paleo or Keto diets?
- What has been your most successful weight loss tool?
- Have you had any health benefits from changing your diet to low carb?
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