"Eat 100 calories less and exercise 100 calories more," my doctor said.
I looked at her in disbelief. Not only is this line of thinking about weight loss totally outdated, but she was dismissing the diet and exercise routine I'd literally just told her about—I was eating about 1,200 calories a day and exercising daily (a mix of running, weights, and yoga).
I'd come to my doctor with a laundry list of symptoms. One of the issues I was experiencing was rapid weight gain, but I also had breast tenderness, restless leg syndrome, heartburn, bloating, irregularity, insomnia, trouble focusing, and anxiety.
My doctor, however, just zeroed in on the weight. I left the appointment doubtful she could help me figure out what was wrong, and sure enough, when my bloodwork came back, I found out through the internet portal that my results were "normal." She didn't ask me to schedule a follow-up.
But I knew something was wrong, so I started doing a little sleuthing on my own.
I started with The Hormone Cure by Sara Gottfried, M.D. In the book, she explains why basic blood work might come back with normal results even if something is really wrong. She also includes a questionnaire: If you answer "yes" to three or more of the questions, you may have a hormone imbalance. I answered "yes" to more than 10 questions in multiple categories.
So I found a functional medicine doctor who specializes in hormones and made an appointment. I also took Viome, an at-home gut-testing kit.* I know how closely interrelated our hormones and gut are and hoped the test would help put more of the puzzle pieces in place.
When the kit came, I collected a tiny sample of my poo (which was far less disgusting than it sounds) and mailed it off. Then I filled out a detailed survey on the Viome app and waited.
My first appointment with the specialist happened before my Viome results came in. It was the most unusual and amazing doctor's appointment I've ever had—we spent an hour together going over my medical history in great detail. When she asked about my birth control, I explained my previous doctor had switched me to a progesterone-based pill a few months earlier and I hadn't gotten my period since. This was a huge red flag for her, and she advised I go off the pill and switch to barrier-method birth control until we figured out what was going on. We went over the bloodwork results from my previous doctor, and she spotted several areas of concern and ordered deeper, more detailed labs.
When the new bloodwork came back, it showed that my thyroid, cortisol, progesterone, and estrogen were all out of whack. I went off the pill and started some medicines and supplements to bring things back into balance. Within four days, the breast tenderness and restless leg syndrome were gone, and I was sleeping through the night for the first time in months. Within two weeks, I got my period.
Then my Viome results came back.
These included my overall gut and metabolic score, a list of foods to enjoy and foods to avoid, and a 20-page report on the bacteria in my gut. I didn't know what those meant exactly and ended up down an internet rabbit hole, googling a long list of unpronounceable, scary-sounding names.
After an hour of diving around on the internet, I emailed the test results to my new doctor. She said that the Viome test showed high levels of RNA, which concerned her, as it was an indication of infection or inflammation. So she had me come back in for a food sensitivities test.
It showed I was reacting to everything, even foods like spinach. But my doctor explained I probably wasn't actually allergic to spinach, it was just that my gut was so inflamed it was reacting to everything. She told me I probably had leaky gut syndrome, put me on an elimination diet (no grains, dairy, eggs, nightshades, or legumes), and prescribed a course of meds and supplements to help repair my gut.
Within a week, the bloating that made me look five months pregnant was gone.
So was the heartburn, irregularity, anxiety, and inability to focus—and the weight started to fall off too. It hasn't all been peaches and cream (definitely no cream), but I've experienced marked improvement, along with a few backslides.
It's been a slow process that tests my patience, but I'm so happy that I'm starting to feel like myself again. And ultimately, I learned how important it is to trust myself and how I feel in my own body, to advocate for my health, and find a doctor who sees me as a whole person—not just a single symptom.
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