Wednesday, May 23, 2007

on women and weight loss...

As those of you who read my blog know, I just got back from a womens-only stage race. The racing was great, and I've hashed it over and over for all to re-live. As I said, the positive energy was really special, and it made for an event that I'll remember always. However, there are a few things that happened that made me go hmmmmm and I decided to record them for all posterity.

Now, for the record, I work with mostly all men. I am not used to hanging out with large groups of women for long periods of time. I observed that hanging out with super-fit women made me very self consious about my weight! Now, I have a long history with weight, due to a very serious case of Hashimoto's hypothyroidism. I was always the skinny kid who could eat anything and never gain weight. Unfortunately for my social status, I was also not blessed in the bosom department...something that now I find completely fine, but when I was 16 was not so great. But, I could eat and eat and never gain a pound. I was very active, ran cross-country, track, spent lots of time exercising my dogs, etc, and weight was something I never thought about. The 'fat kid' in my mind was someone who didn't take care of themself.

This all changed when I was in graduate school. My husband (rather new at the time) had a very very serious medical condition which transformed my role from student to student/caretaker, which threw me for a serious loop! All of a sudden my time was entirely consumed by things I would never have imagined. My progress on my experiments slowed, and I became exhausted. Even after the issues subsided, all of a sudden I found myself exhausted all of the time. I would come home from work, and fall asleep on the couch, unable to do even the simplest things like run the dog, cook dinner, etc. It all seemed to take so much energy! And although I continued to eat the same, I gained about 20 pounds.

This continued for like the next 6 years! I graduated, got a great job at UCSB, moved across the country, started a new life, and still had these nagging issues with weight and energy. Even with unhealthy amounts of caffeinated beverages, I could not stay awake for a 4-5pm seminar, or even drive home some days! I thought I was just working too hard, trying to establish my research program and show dogs on the weekends. I thought i was pushing hard, and pushing hard is the lifestyle I like! Thankfully when I turned 30 I had some bloodwork done, and my doctor called me the day the results were in. This is how the conversation went:

Doc: How are you feeling?
Me: Fine, tired.
Doc: You need more blood tests
Me: What's wrong with me?
Doc: Don't know yet, go get more blood tests. Are you sure you can drive yourself to the hospital?
Me: Yes, I've been driving for years.
Doc: Ok, but be careful.

The new tests came back, and I was diagnosed with severe hypothyroidism. My TSH was so high, my doctor was actually afraid of me being non-functional! She prescribed thyroid hormone replacement right away, and I had to go in for ultrasound scans to rule out cancer (my mom had thyroid cancer). Thankfully no cancer, but I did have an irregular and enlarged thyroid. The next problem was that the t4 synthetic hormone replacement did nothing for me. So here I was with this diagnosed condition, was getting a synthetic hormone that made my TSH bloodwork look fine, and yet I still had no energy, and I was still not able to lose weight. This went on for a couple years.

Finally I had had enough. This was just not going to take control of my life. I already lost 6+ years on it and I was not going to let it happen again. So I decided to do an experiment. I am a scientist...and I determined that there must be SOME level of calories I could eat and actually lose weight. So I went kind of anorexic like on my self, and started basically not eating. I was eating 1000 calories a day. I did lose a couple of pounds...but hardly any! And i was careful! I also started exercising like mad during this time. So I was running an hour a day, eating almost nothing, exhausted, and not even losing weight! (at this point I was still about 30 pounds heavier than I wanted to be). I went to my endocrinologist who proclaimed my thyroid treatment just fine. I explained that I wasn't losing weight and I still had no energy, and he looked me in the eye and said:
"if you eat less you will lose weight". Arrrrggggh. I lost it, left his office sniffling back tears, and vowed to figure this thing out.

Endocrinologist number 2 was a different story. He had a much more progressive outlook on thyroid disease. He said that although my TSH bloodwork looked fine, clearly my body was not responding to the hormone I was being given. He gave me a different hormone combination, one that combined the two hormones, T3 and T4, and I immediately felt a difference. All of a sudden my brain felt like teh synapses were firing again! Wow! Out of the fog! Due to the energy, my hour long runs became a lot brisker, and the weight started to come off! I was still eating way too little, but i was losing weight, and that made it positive reinforcement. I started figuring out why people become anorexic...the positive reinforcement is really addictive.

It still took a LONG time to lose the weight. And although I never thought I was that body consious, I guess I am! I lost 30 pounds and gained a lot of muscle. I trained for a marathon, and I eventually started cycling, which changed my body even more. I was feeling pretty good about the whole process, and I even adjusted my eating habits so I can eat pretty normally these days. My thyroid, while not entirely stable, is at least manageable these days. I feel like I got my life back.

However, the weekend of being around women bike racers...well, that brought some weird feelings into the old head... All of a sudden I felt fat again! I felt all self-consious in the skin suit, and noticed that when hanging out, the conversation would often turn to 'how thin someone was' or 'how great someone's body was' or 'why can't I have muscles like that.' It was bizarre... I also found myself not wanting to eat the twizzlers I like so much, or too much 'bad' food. :-) I even found myself staring at the computer with a bit of trepidation when looking at the race photos, for fear I would 'look fat'! How crazy is that! A situation that causes a normally self-confident, independent, successful woman to feel so self-consious about something like weight! Weird...

Anyway...I am determined not to get weight consious. I know I need to weigh a certain amount to be healthy, and I am not going to lose that perspective in order to climb a hill a few seconds faster. Just remembering to not take 2 water bottles on a 9 mile hill climb race will do that! And I'm going to remember that I am who I am...and a couple of pounds is not going to change matter what people may say about me or my appearance.

I am bigger than that. (pun maybe intended)


Anonymous said...

incredible story...I admire you for your guts in experimenting and searching for the solution

i know what you mean and I have the same feelings about weight consciousness...

i gained a hunk of 9 lbs over the winter...i was freaking out! I've been lifting in the gym a lot so I went for a body fat test as part of my baseline measurement...i couldn't believe that 9 lbs was muscle on top of my current fat layers were added muscles...i look bulky...ewww!

Kimberly (aka. DrKim) said...

The same thing happened when I went to the gym over the winter, too! Ack!!! I bet you'll be strong on the bike though! I did lose a bit of my hill climbing ability, though...guess its all about a happy medium.

dr-nitro said...

No way could say that I understand how the different pressures that society places on women affect their self-percpection. I am, unfortunately, also not suprised when I hear that women athletes are often suffering from eating disorders and low self-perception. But your story does remind me of what I love about cycling. For me, it is less about the exercise, and more about the activity. To me, working out indoors makes no sense to me. I want the activity. Don't get me wrong, I love the fact that I'm fit. And I my time in grad school, I know what happens to my both physical and emotional state when I neglect my body.

I took up soccer in grad school to remedy the problems caused the lack of activity, since cycling in College Station just was not that appealing, and I was drawn in by the social/team aspect of soccer. That, and the need to satiate my desire to kick things that had developed during grad school.

Then I got back on the bike. Or at least I started doing it more seriously again. It was fun. I did it well, and that made me feel good about myself. That part was incredibly important when I got onto the bike 20 years ago.

My life could have gone in a completely different direction if I did not find the self-confidence I did when I started cycling. Not only for the ability to do it well, but also for the community of cyclists. Others who shared my interests, and who, to my surprise, respected me and my abilities. That is what I get from it.

Again, I can see how when women cyclists get together, that body conscious issues can come up. But get back to what gets you on the bike. The wind, the tactics, the rush of carving a perfect apex. Enjoy that, and those who in enjoy it with you, and hopefully can't help but thank your body for allowing you to do what you enjoy to do. And from reading your racing posts, it is clear that your body is serving you well.

Steve Weixel said...

I almost completely forgot that I wanted to get the name of your Endocrinologist! I know what you mean about the feedback cycle. I've been meaning to blog about it for a while, but when I lost a lot of weight it fed into itself and I became anemic and nearly anorexic.

Steve Weixel said...

Oh yeah, I want to add that I initially wanted to lose weight to improve my hill climbing, which it did for a while. I've since put most of the weight back on but can climb way better than I could when I was 30 pounds lighter!

Anonymous said...

yes kim, i lost some of the hill climbing ability - most definitely...bummed - a little different focus this year

something to look forward to for this year's winter training

Chris said...

Inspiring story.

But listen up Dr. Kim. I have looked at you pictures and can honestly say I never thought "fat" or even "a little fat". You look solid and in race form to me.

Kimberly (aka. DrKim) said...

dr-nitro: I completely agree--cycling has to be about cycling. It works for me because I picked up cycling last summer when I was already leaner from running. So cycling is not 'that sport I picked up to lose weight' like running is for me. So I can completely enjoy it because it is a stress reliever/exciting/beautiful sport, and gives me a lot of joy.

and Chris: Right, I can't complain about my body composition most standards I am at the 'lean' side of BMI, although leave it to a bike race full of super trim women to make me feel fat! :-) I'm happy with my fitness and my recent I don't feel the need to become leaner.

meh-wee-uhn said...

I don't own a scale and I like it like that.

Furthermore, there's nothing wrong with trying to eek out more performance out of your body, but there's a difference between saying now to sugar in your coffee and saying no to 87 donuts.

And, when have those days when I don't like what I see in the mirror, I try to remind myself about all the things I can do instead of focusing on what this part or that part looks like.

And, I try not to just look at parts (i.e. the junk in the trunk, the gut, the thunder thighs, the this, the that) and look at the whole thing.

And always remember: You're fabulous!

Kimberly (aka. DrKim) said...

:-) I can do that!

velogirl said...

oh, you and I could have some incredible conversations, doc. I too have hashimoto's but it progressed to thyca. lots of angst-filled entries on my blog from a decade of illness and frustration. luckily, life is pretty much back to normal now, but I also regret a lost decade.

ps -- I think doc nitro's comment is longer than your post. didn't he break rule #7?

Kimberly (aka. DrKim) said...

velogirl-we should chat sometime! I'll have to go back and look at your blog entries...
One cool thing about having the right treatment for me was the following: my immune system is so strong now that I never get sick. All of the allergies that plagued me since I was a child are GONE as well! It's quite amazing. Good luck to you!

Olaf Vanderhoot said...

bottom line, you're pretty gawdamn hot - and looks are only a part of the equation.

funny thing, when i saw you warming up on the trainer at Kern, i thought ~ "hmmm, looks a little on the thin side. she'll probably bulk up with some more muscle mass as she rides more. note to self on possible future recruitment: have to watch how she develops."

and on the bikding side, i've been dropped by guys who i thought looked slow more times than i can count.

and super fit looking folks don't always ride quick, either.

chatterbox said...

kim - thanks for the post! I've struggled with weight all my life. Though the only medical problem I have is fatty/heavy genetics, I can identify with all your body image thoughts and issues. Funny, I was envy-ing your figure in the TT pics - thinking how I'd like to be "thin like that".

And, I know what it's like to push myself to near-anorexic. In high school, I subsisted on 1,200 calories a day despite 2 hour basketball and track workouts. And, I only ever pushed my weight down to high 140s, low 150s (I'm 5'10"). Now, I'd be happy for mid-150s. But, I've been stuck in mid 160s/low 170s for years, despite various efforts to move it down. I guess I'll just have to generate more power! Sigh.

Kimberly (aka. DrKim) said...

Chatterbox: I think it is just a matter of genetics. I'm pretty happy with where I am now, and I love that I'm so much stronger from my cycling. I am 5'7" and am happy to sit around 130-132 these days. My body likes that weight, I'm able to eat normally , and don't feel weak on the bike. When I force it lower than that..I do feel weaker and have less oomph when I ride with the guys on their training rides. I am sorry I had to miss todays due to work--i heard Daniel Ramsey showed up...always fun to sprint with him (and get toasted).

Kimberly (aka. DrKim) said...

OV: Having only been riding for 10 months or so, I guess there's still time for a lot of change! Hopefully that means many years of having fun with the bike(s). And maybe I'll even keep getting faster for awhile...we can hope! And I am already starting to muscle-up, good or bad...the skinny jeans have gone by the wayside at this point!