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From Fibromyalgia to a 5K - How a Change in Diet Cured Her Pain

Apr 06, 2022

One day during our weekly Office Hours with Zivli members, I asked Carol to share her win for the week. She ended up sharing her success story and it is AMAZING! She gave me permission to share her story, and sent several emails with text and pictures, detailing her journey.

I've organized her story into this blog post for readers. The words below are Carol's. We hope they encourage and inspire you on your own journey to better health. 

 

Before

This photo of me was taken 3 months before I started a Keto/low-carb high fat, high protein diet. I was 60-years old and putting on weight again. I consider myself a Professional Yo-Yo Dieter as I would gain over the holidays and diet to lose it before the summer.

After having children and following menopause, I noticed this became harder to achieve. I couldn't believe that I was still getting acne at my age, and worse yet, I started losing my hair. I developed a slew of health problems during the decade of my 50's, which I accepted as "getting old".

My Fibromyalgia pain was getting harder to control and I was getting fatigued over simple tasks like cooking and cleaning. I also developed anxiety, sweating and hot, tingling foot pain about 15”-20” after eating. I was slowly losing interest in hobbies that I had once loved. I started to feel overwhelmed by how much longer it was taking me to complete tasks and it was affecting my mental well-being. This “aging thing” perplexed me as I was eating well (a mostly vegetarian diet) and I wasn’t obese, a smoker, or really much of a drinker.

I am an excellent cook, and we rarely ate out except on birthdays or traveling on vacation. With four growing children, it gets too expensive to eat out frequently, and we were fine with that. We felt our home cooked meals were far healthier and tastier than any fast food. We had no trouble following the Food Pyramid since its revision from the 4 Food Groups. My family loved fresh fruits and vegetables. We ate lots of rice, potatoes, pasta, beans, bread and lentils at every meal. I could cook many ethnic foods from around the world since we had lived all over the US and Europe. I was also an excellent baker and I learned to grind fresh wheat berries to make delicious pancakes, muffins and breads of all kinds. I loved to cook, and we ate far less meat than the Average American.

We used to laugh about “Meatless Mondays” and we called our Mondays “Meated Mondays” since I cooked meat roughly about once a week. I usually put about a pound or two of lean meat into a large stew or curry filled with vegetables to bulk out the dish. I would pick out the meat from my bowl and put it back into the pot and just eat the vegetables as I felt that the kids needed the extra protein for their growing bodies. I also cut out a lot of dairy products from my diet and did not drink milk for decades. We did not eat any kind of animal fats and only polyunsaturated oils as we were told these were better for our health.

When I was pregnant with my fourth child at 41, I was diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes. I think my OGTT score was 139, if I recall correctly. The doctor that ran the test informed me that I had a 75% chance of having Type 2 Diabetes in the next 20 years. He told me not to worry about it at the time, but to be aware that down the road, this was a high probability in my future. I didn't take this warning too seriously and looked no further into it. I thought I ate healthy meals and very little junk food, and I knew I could probably get my weight back to normal after I gave birth.

Life got very busy raising four children, and the decades flew by. Looking back, I believe that Gestational Diabetes was the start of my downward spiral twenty years later. I had developed other health issues that included sleep apnea, menstrual problems (endometriosis, fibroids, dysmenorrhea), hormonal migraines, and gallbladder pain (gallstones) - all pointing that I was metabolically unhealthy. I had no idea what “carbs” were and that eating high amounts daily and frequently was causing my insulin to rise continually.

When I was 48 years old, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia by my Rheumatologist when I developed inexplicable, chronic pain and swelling in my muscles and joints, especially noticeable in my hands and feet. My hip joints hurt if I stood too long, and my spine, neck and the base of my skull had a constant burning, aching sensation. My muscles would quickly be stiff from exercise or any prolonged activity and I developed the typical flu-like symptoms that kept me bedridden, sometimes for days.

My older daughter, who is very empathetic, would try to give me a massage when she saw me hunched over the sink while washing dishes. She would unknowingly touch tender points along my back and it would make me wince. She would exclaim, “Mom, I barely touched you!” but it felt like she pushed hard on a very tender bruise.

I had hormonal Migraine headaches at least 10 days every month and had suffered with a variety of “female issues” for decades. With a young family to raise, I had to learn to live my life around the pain as best I could. I didn't want to let my health problems cheat them out of having a normal life.

Thus began my journey with a series of doctors prescribing migraine and pain-reducing meds, SSRI/SNRIs, BP meds, and various NSAIDs and OTC meds to control the pain and swelling. At the time it was believed that Fibromyalgia pain was a mental condition and could be alleviated by taking an antidepressant in combination with an SSRI. A few of the meds helped, but after long-term use, I developed uncontrollable tics, so I had to switch to different medications. Many of the medications made me drowsy and I simply could not be in that state with children. When the tics kept occurring on different meds, I became frustrated and only took OTC meds. I eventually learned to “plan my life around the pain”.

Four years ago, I began having heart palpitations and had undergone extensive heart tests including a Holter Monitor, scans, MRI, and Tilt Table. My heart was fine, thankfully. Interestingly, a benign spot was found on my liver. My liver was inflamed from my diet, but I didn't know it at the time. My belly was always bloated and I was uncomfortable in pants that didn’t have a wide elastic waistband or ties. I remembered how my Mom frequently complained about her bloated belly when she got older, so I accepted this as my genetics and basically my “lot in life”. I had never heard of NAFLD (Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease), but I started to wonder why I was so fat through the middle even though my arms and legs were thin. I just thought I had the average “Mom Bod” and I disliked the way I looked.

This photo was taken on October 3, 2020, three months before starting Keto. Unfortunately, I gained more weight when the holidays hit.

Swollen hands were the norm if I did anything like yard work, or peel too many apples. Compare it to the photo of my hand today. My hands no longer swell since going keto, and I have done hours upon hours of laborious yard work without any issues. I found this astounding, and a wonderful gift my body was giving me for eating properly.



The Beginning

After total menopause at age 54, my body was slowing down and each year it seemed another "new symptom" would appear to usher me toward another milestone of Seniorhood. When my weight started going up again, I became alarmed that it was no longer easy to lose it like I could before.

By sheer chance I happened to hear a podcast about the Keto/Carnivore diet, and I decided to try it. And why not? Through the decades, I've tried just about every other diet out there, so why not give this a go? Carnivore seemed too radical, so I settled for Keto. I only intended to do this for a month or until I lost about 10 lbs. There seemed to be plenty of success stories out there, so I jumped in with both feet and completely changed my diet from plant-based low-fat to a high protein/fat based one. 

After 3 days on the Keto/LCHF/Protein diet, I woke up and noticed I wasn't stiff or in pain. I seriously wondered if I had died in my sleep! I couldn't believe the Fibromyalgia pain was gone! At first, I was skeptical, and was sure it was a fluke and would be back by the end of the day. It didn't return, but I was sure it would be back the next morning. It didn't come back, and I wasn't sure what was going on. The only thing I had changed was my diet, and I decided to continue with it to see if this was the case.

Two weeks later, the FM was still gone. I didn't tell anyone because I feared it would return just to mock me. I was afraid to hope, afraid my body was playing a cruel joke on me. But at the same time, the brain fog and fatigue were starting to disappear. I also stopped sweating and having anxiety attacks after eating, which was a welcome change.  As the weeks went by and my weight dropped, I had so much energy, I started doing hours of yard work every day.

My family members began to notice how suddenly active I had become and asked “What happened to Mom?!?”. That’s when I finally shared that the FM was gone and the only explanation I could give was the changes I made in food choices. I was now completely intrigued by this diet and what it was doing to my body. I decided to stick with this diet for as long as it would keep the FM at bay. 

Another surprising result in my dietary changes was the elimination of body odor. I have struggled with B.O. since puberty and no matter how often I showered, it was always present. I hated the risk of using chemical deodorants and antiperspirants, but I didn’t want to be socially ostracized. Even those would give out and I would have to apply them multiple times a day. “Meat Eaters stink!” was a catch-phrase I’ve heard through the years and believed.

It was perplexing to discover that the opposite was true. It wasn’t the meat causing the odor, but the bacteria living off my sugar-laden sweat. I know this because the odor returns whenever I eat too many carbs or have a sugary dessert for a holiday splurge. How I wished I knew this decades ago! It’s amazing to me that I no longer need to use deodorants and I consider this another incredible gift my body was giving me.

During the hours I spent doing yard work, I started listening to podcasts to learn more about the science backing the Keto/LCHF/Protein diet. Eventually, I found Dr. Morgan Nolte’s YouTube channel. I felt that her experience and knowledge in Geriatric care and Nutrition was going to be very helpful for me to stay healthy as I age. I discovered from her how important increased protein consumption is for Seniors. There was much I didn’t know about my aging body that I could take care of now to circumvent future problems.

I finally decided to make a commitment to put my health first and do whatever it takes to keep me going in the right direction. Her diet/lifestyle courses through Zivli helped me stay on track, and I enjoy being part of her online support group.

My body and health have gone through an amazing transformation that I had never expected. In the first photo below, taken on 3 ApriI 2021, I had already lost about 15 pounds easily on Keto/LCHF/HP. I have been doing Keto since January 31, 2021. I never thought to take a photo on the day I started the diet because initially I never intended to stay on Keto for long. I only wanted to lose about 10 pounds quickly so I could get back into my favorite pants! 😆 

Plus I had heard that Keto was a terrible diet and would basically kill me if I stayed on it for more than a couple of months, so I only thought of it as a short-term crash diet. I started out around 136 pounds, and I was surprised how much weight I had lost by the time I decided to snap this first photo at 120.5lbs.

My belly had previously been over 35 inches, and it hung over my jeans with that classic, jiggly "muffin top". My arms and legs have always been thin, but my waist was bloated and puffy. I was so embarrassed of this as it made my stretch marks unsightly. Worse yet, my belly to height ratio (Waist=35", Height=65", Ratio=0.54, Extremely Overweight) meant I was seriously unhealthy as I would later learn. The online Navy BMI Calculator (https://www.calculator.net/body-fat-calculator.html) showed I had a BMI of 35.6% and classified me as “Obese”. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy.

By the time I took the first photo, my belly had shrunk considerably while on keto. I also couldn't believe that I wasn't constantly starving or hungry like I had been on previous diets. Still, I couldn't believe I was losing weight from eating fat and protein as I once believed these were “bad foods high in artery clogging calories”. I now eat a large variety of protein, from seafood to red meat. I also cook with natural fats and have completely eliminated vegetable oils.

I am very careful with the type of carbs I ingest, staying within a 20g Total Carbs range. I do not eat grains, sugar, white pasta, white flour, or white rice anymore. I rarely eat past 7pm, and fast for at least 14-16 hours per day. It did take awhile to eat larger but less frequent meals since I had been eating “6 small meals a day plus healthy snacks” for decades. Now I find it easy to eat two high protein meals that are very satisfying, and fill in with fat and carbs that I enjoy.

When I decided I was doing "keto for life", I decided to snap these photos of my weight loss journey (and you better BELIEVE I HID THEM on my phone!🤣). 

I have attached my weight I had recorded in my Samsung Health app so you could see where I started and how much I had lost when I took this photo.

Around the summer of 2020, my hair had started falling out and continued to do so for months. I had sent the first photo to my friend because I was unsettled about becoming bald. The first picture was taken on March 8, 2021 (just over a month on keto). 

I took the second photo (11 March 2022) a year later. The extra protein in my diet has definitely made my hair softer and it looks much healthier! I do not color my hair. I am curious to see how a high protein diet will keep my hair from graying and I'm hoping it will also continue to grow thicker.

I know since going Keto, my dandruff has completely disappeared. It used to fall like snowflakes in a snow globe! My hair no longer gets greasy at the end of the day, too. I no longer need to wash my hair every day, which is saving me a lot of money on shampoo! This is another gift from my body that I never expected.

Middle

The middle photo was taken on September 10, 2021. I had lost 25lbs and my weight was around 110 lbs. I think my waist measurement at that time was 30”. I have attached a photo from the Carb Manager App as proof of my weight. By this time in my weight loss journey, I have been walking every day since I started walking on February 15, 2021.

The first day I began walking, I could barely get around the mile-long block in 23 minutes without getting out of breath. But I was determined to keep at it. I eventually discovered a walking app and installed it on my phone so I could keep track of my daily steps and improve my walking pace times. After 10 months of daily walking, I not only increased the distance, but was able to trim my walk time down to 15 minute miles! 

I either walk 3-5 miles on a local nature trail, or play tennis every day, depending on the weather.  I love being outdoors daily, in the fresh air and sunshine, and getting to observe some incredible nature during my walks around the pond (baby beavers, a blue heron devouring a bullfrog, water turtles, fish, birds, etc). 

 

Now!

The last photo is where I am today in March, 2022. I weigh 105lbs and running helped to reduce my waist and hips by another inch. I was so proud that the same Navy BMI Calculator showed my BMI dropped to 19.6% and I was no longer “Obese” and now classified under the “Athletes” category!

I started running regularly after December 4th when I entered my first 5K. I had entered the annual YMCA Reindeer Run. I intended to walk it, but got caught up in the excitement of the moment, and ended up running down the hills and walking up the hills! 😄

I was totally surprised when I placed 4th in my age group (60-64) at 38:11.8! Now I was hooked and I wanted to try another 5K, only this time, I would train for it. My goal was to place in the Top 3 in my age group. I never considered myself a "runner" by any stretch of the imagination. But my body was completely fat-adapted, full of energy, and ready for the challenge. I had nine weeks to get into shape for the upcoming race on February 12th.

This is me getting my First Place award for the 60-69 age group! I was amazed at how well I did at my age. I ran this race during my 16-hr fasting window and cut nearly 6 minutes from my previous race time. I had so much energy after the race and I felt great! I was so proud of myself not only for winning, but for being able to transform my health so that I could even participate in such an event!

I am gaining back the life I had lost over a decade ago. I never dreamed it was possible to feel such energy and be healthy again. Now I can't stop dreaming about all of the possibilities of a Fibro-free life!

I just wanted you to see where I've been and so that you could have confidence in the claims I am making. I have NEVER felt better in life! I am 61, but I feel half my age! Currently, my waist here is 27 inches, my hips are 34". My weight goes between 105-107 lbs on any given day. ​​Had I known my body was going to make all of the wonderful changes since going low carb, I would definitely have documented everything from the beginning, but I am thankful that I was able to share what I had. I never dreamed that changing my diet to LCHF/HP could so drastically change my life. It’s been an incredible year! And I hope to keep this up for the rest of my life!

 

List of Health Improvements from Low-Carb, High Fat & Protein + Walking

Here are the things that my body has gifted to me that I never had expected: 

  • No more dandruff
  • No more greasy hair
  • Softer, thicker looking, shiny hair 
  • Eyebrows and eyelashes growing back
  • Itchy, runny ear wax stopped
  • Bloodshot eyes are gone
  • Puffy face is gone
  • Bad breath gone
  • Bloody gums stopped
  • Sore and sensitive teeth pain have stopped
  • No more canker sores
  • No more acne
  • No more body odor 
  • Dark moles on skin are fading, many large ones have shrunk
  • Eye floaters drastically reduced
  • Eyesight has improved
  • Migraines drastically reduced in frequency and pain level
  • Waist size shrank from over 35" to 27"
  • Sleep quality has greatly improved
  • Stretch marks and skin quality have greatly improved (no crepey skin)
  • Fibromyalgia is in remission
  • Fingernails are thicker (I used to have very thin nails that break easily)
  • Skin no longer cracks open near my thumbnail (very painful)
  • Anxiety completely gone (caused by food)
  • Hot, prickly foot pain gone
  • Brain fog and fatigue are gone
  • No longer bedridden from too much activity
  • Back aches and flu-like symptoms gone
  • No more swelling of hands and feet
  • Blood Pressure is normal and no longer need BP meds
  • Fasting Glucose dropped to 68 mg/dL
  • HOMA-IR = 1.3
  • C-Peptide = 1.17ng/mL
  • A1C = 5.2
  • Have stamina I never had before, can walk for miles and stand for hours
  • Positive outlook on life
  • I enjoy my hobbies again!
  • I have aged backwards
  • I am the same size I was in high school (5' 5", 105 pounds), only much healthier!

 

What's Next for Carol?

The next goal I have set is to gain more muscle through weight training. So now I KNOW to take Before and After photos so you can see me build up my biceps! 😁 Also, I was able to trim my waist without doing a single sit-up or ab crunch! It was achieved through a LCHF/High Protein diet, and daily walking. I was also able to maintain my muscle mass even though I had lost 30lbs. Body Recomposition was another wonderful benefit of a LCHF/HP diet.

In the next few weeks I will be hitting 1200 miles of walking and earn the Sahara Desert Badge! Then my final goal will be earning the 3950 miles to the Center of the Earth badge. Currently, I’m having my bike repaired so I can start biking on the beautiful trails we have in the local area, and I want to start swimming laps again like I did in my 20's. Who knows? Maybe a Senior Triathlon is in my future! I would never have DARED to dream these things 10 years ago! I used to accept that having aches, pains, feeling sick and tired was my “new normal” and part of aging. Now I know it most definitely is NOT! 

 

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