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Ashley: Compulsive Overeating, Obesity

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Ashley’s Long Struggle

ashley_long01-5544882I’m not sure what caused my compulsive overeating but I do know that as long as I can remember, I’ve always been preoccupied with food. I grew up in a family that was very image conscious and diet obsessed. My weight was always a focus of everyone’s attention. I was a normal sized child until age 8 when my grandma started picking me up from school and taking me for an afternoon snack at a fast food restaurant drive-thru. We would pick up a snack big enough to be a meal for an adult, even though I had already had lunch at school and would have dinner later with my family. I quickly became addicted to greasy food and sugary soda. At the same time, my mom was alarmed by my unexplained weight gain. I never told her about the extra food I was eating.

My first formal experience with dieting was around age 10, when my mom enrolled me in a nutrition/weight loss program at the local children’s hospital—one recommended by my pediatrician. It was a humiliating experience for me to be weighed in front of other children—I begged to quit. At age 11, I talked my parents into letting me go to NutriSystem after seeing “before” and “after” pictures of successful dieters on the back of a TV guide. The restrictiveness of the pre-packaged meals was too much for me to handle, so I quit.

ashley_long02-1383783I put on weight throughout adolescence, going from about 110 pounds at age 11 (at 4’11” tall) to about 161 pounds by age 16 (at 5’3″ tall). At age 16, I begged to go to a 7-week residential weight loss camp I’d seen advertised on the back of a teen magazine. I got down to about 145 pounds by the end of camp, but by the end of my freshman year of college, I had gone up to the low 180’s thanks to dorm life and cafeteria overeating.

At age 21 I lost about 35 pounds taking Fen-Phen—at first this drug was a Godsend because it took away any desire to eat. I had never known a lack of appetite before. Unfortunately, it also made me jittery and according to my friends changed my personality. I got down to about 145-150 pounds in about a year. As soon as I stopped taking it, my weight ballooned up to 205 pounds over the next 3 years.

Around April of 1999, I finally cracked open the SugarBusters book my mom had sent me. My dad, a doctor, was, and still is, an Atkins devotee. Thinking SugarBusters was a gentler route over Atkins, I dove wholeheartedly into the world of meat, cheese, and green and yellow veggies with occasional whole grains and fruits. I dropped about 40 pounds very quickly and then took off an additional 25 pounds by adding Weight Watchers to the mix for portion control. It took about 18 months to lose a total of 65 pounds—I was again around 142 pounds

ashley_long03-1252873I lost all of my “low-carb” resolve in early 2001 just before “reaching my goal” and soon was back on the emotionally torturous fight up the scale. By August 2002—having gained 70 pounds in 18 months—I was 215 pounds. My binge eating was getting progressively worse and I was eating three large fast food meals per day, plus snacks at home (I estimate about 4000 calories per day!). At that point, I sought help for my compulsive overeating in a 12-step program. With the help of a sponsor, I developed my first plan of eating. In February 2003 I started with eating 3 meals per day and eliminated French fries, soda and donuts. This helped me a lot, but I was still plagued by a powerful drive for sugar—chocolate and frozen yogurts were now my main demons. I finally let go of these in April of 2005. I have been able to work through a lot of food, dieting and body image issues with my 12-step program.

Ashley’s Change to Vegetarian Living

My first experience with vegetarian eating was around age 15 when I heard Dr. Michael Klaper speak at my high school in 1990 about the ethical issues surrounding eating—like not hurting animals. By age 19, while in college, my ethics fell by the wayside. My idea of a vegetarian diet was soda, chips and candy bars from the vending machines. I ate animal products from 1993 to 2003, until I read “Fast Food Nation” when again I became committed to ethical vegetarianism. I stopped buying new leather products. Since I had been growing progressively disgusted with meat, it was easy to give that up again. But the dairy was still too hard to stop.

cholesterolchartopti-6344975In April 2005, I stopped eating sugar and dairy. By summertime, I was shopping at the farmer’s market every Thursday for fresh organic fruits and veggies. I was also learning to cook and follow recipes. That summer and fall, I was eating about 75% vegan and 25% vegetarian. By October 2005, I was ready to take the final plunge. I thought I would miss the cheese and yogurt, but I was wrong! It felt so good to finally be eating and living within the parameters of my ethical values. What I gave up is nothing compared to what I’ve gained physically, emotionally and spiritually. Veganism has totally changed my relationship with food. In the space of a year I have gone from eating out two times a day to eating out once a week (or less). I formerly loathed cooking; however, I now take advantage of living close enough to work that I can drive home and prepare myself a healthy (and inexpensive!) lunch.

It is now May of 2006 and I’ve lost a total of 70 pounds slowly in the last 3 years (215 pounds to 145 pounds / size 20 to size 8) while making a gradual progression from carnivore to ovo-lacto vegetarian to vegan. I have also seen dramatic improvements in my blood chemistry. I have been plagued with high cholesterol since childhood—my cholesterol was already 220 mg/dl at age 11. At age 25 in 1999, my highest cholesterol ever recorded was 313 with triglycerides over 400! In November 2004 (as an ovo-lacto vegetarian), my total cholesterol was up to 275, my triglycerides were 175. I refused to go on the statin drugs that my primary care physician had readily prescribed without discussing any alternatives. My dad even told me statin drugs are so safe that “they should put them in the water supply.” I knew better. I thought, I’m only 30 years old… what kind of effect is that going to have on my body, taking drugs for another 50 years? After 6 months on a strict vegan diet my total cholesterol is 174, my triglycerides are 95. That’s a 100-point drop in total cholesterol!

ashley_long05-9439888I just started the McDougall Maximum Weight Loss Program (MWLP ) last week, cutting out all of the overly processed soy fake meats and tofu I used to love so much. Because I’ve gradually made changes in my diet over the last 3 years, taking the next step to the MWLP is sort of a small hill to climb. I’ve been slowly incorporating some of Dr. McDougall’s cooking techniques, like cooking in salsa and broth instead of olive & sesame oil. I’m working on going from a moderate fat soy-based vegan diet to a low fat vegan diet.

I was a veteran low-carb diet relapser and now I am an ethical vegan. I am so pleased I’ve been able to make all these great changes in my health with a vegan diet that fits in with my politics. I was brainwashed by the diet industry into thinking the only way I could lose weight, lower my cholesterol and avoid type 2 diabetes was by eating massive amounts of meat & dairy. It’s still hard to shake free of the protein propaganda. I hope to avoid my family legacy of heart disease, high blood pressure and type-2 diabetes. I try to remind myself that I’m not in a race to be skinny anymore. As I read stories on the McDougall website and discussion board, I am grateful that I have been able to make these changes in my early thirties.