Thursday, May 30, 2013

On Stretch Marks, Weight and Metabolism

Whew.  How's that for a lofty title? 

Stretch marks, weight and metabolism.  It seems everyone, these days, has something to say on these three hot topics.  Being a seventeen-year-old student, I am certainly no expert.  Still, I find that my favorite blogs are those that provide information in conjunction with stories of personal experiences, and thus, it is my hope that what I have to say here might be of interest to someone.

I have already posted the story of how I initially changed my diet (which you can find here), but of course, there is much more to health than that.  While I have never been overweight, many of my habits have been less than healthy. 

Until a little over a year ago, my family's diet was a small step up from the infamous, standard American diet (often affectionately nicknamed SAD).  We cooked at home, but many ingredients were already highly processed:  canned soups, processed cheese, sugary condiments, shortening, etc.  Corn was a vegetable, and baking loads of sugary treats was my hobby.  I knew that my diet was unhealthy, but I didn't know what was healthy, and I felt like I didn't have any options.

In the realm of physical exercise, I was likewise clueless.  I had never been big on sports, so when recess went away, so did my physical activity.  I knew that I should do something, but here, too, I felt trapped.  I wasn't allowed to just hop on a bike or take a walk on my own, and my sister whined and moaned whenever we went together.

School occupied most of my time, so I resolved to improve my diet and fitness over the summer.  I worked a few more vegetables into my diet and watched workout videos on YouTube, but the real catalyst was my appointment with a naturopathic doctor.

When I look back, it's astonishing to see how much has changed in just one year.  Now, I am the one responsible for constructing a grocery list, and each week we fill our cart with fresh, whole foods.  I practice yoga or pilates for an hour almost every day.  My mom has lost around 15 pounds, though she still snacks on cookies and visits the gym less than once a week.  All in all, it seems that my health must have improved dramatically, along with my improved habits.

Well, sort of.

In some really important ways, my health has improved.  Many of the digestive troubles that prompted me to begin this journey, in the first place, have been resolved.  As far as fitness goes, I have more muscle now than I have ever had before.

Other problems persist--moodiness, low energy, trouble sleeping and skin problems among them.  These problems, I understand, are at least partly due to a small-intestinal bacterial overgrowth, which I am working with my naturopath to resolve.

However, there's something else that makes me think that there is more to the story:  a little over a month ago, I noticed that I have been gaining weight.  Enough weight, in fact, that brand new stretch marks, red and angry, blossomed up around my upper legs. 

I'm not going to lie.  At first, I freaked out a little bit.  I don't keep a scale in my house, so it was easy to think that my jeans were tighter because they had shrunk in the wash.  My first clue that I was gaining weight was rosy-red stretch marks.  I blamed the weight gain on a lack of enthusiasm in my workouts, and traded in my hour of yoga for pilates and cardio exercises.

Several weeks later, I had less energy and even more stretch marks.  It wasn't fair, I thought.  How could I gain weight on cauliflower while my family members lost weight on cookies?

And then, I was struck with a thought:  if I was eating the least and exercising the most that I ever had, then I shouldn't also weigh the most that I ever had.  Something just wasn't adding up.

I read a couple of books that got me thinking about metabolism--Nourished Metabolism, by Elizabeth Walling, and Diet Recovery 2, by Matt Stone--and then wrote down everything that I ate for one day.  Without having realized it, in my difficulty following the specific-carbohydrate diet, I had only consumed around 1100 calories--one half of my recommended daily intake--that day.  No wonder my body was so confused!

Because I wasn't eating enough calories, in a proper balance of carbs, protein and fat, my body responded as it would to a famine.  It began to conserve and store energy, which resulted in weight gain and poor mood, energy and immune functions.  By anyone's standards, 1100 calories is not enough for an active teenager.  Even so, many diets, while perhaps not quite as restrictive, cause the same metabolic damage.

According to Walling and Stone, healing a metabolism isn't as difficult as I had originally supposed, either.  All a person has to do is eat, exercise when she feels like it, rest and relax. 

As I am at the beginning of this journey, I haven't much advice to bestow.  At this point, I am just relieved to learn that the progression towards health is such a forgiving process.

This post is linked to Party Wave Wednesday 5/30/13 at Holistic Squid and Sunday School 6/2/13 at Butter Believer