If you know me, you would know that I have never struggled with excess weight. Because I have always been thin, I have been told countless times that I have no idea what it’s like to be FAT or overweight. Therefore, people (including my friends and family) felt that I could not understand the issues that individuals who struggle with their weight had to deal with. Truthfully, up until my twenties this perception was probably pretty accurate. I did not fully understand those issues because I had not experienced them. The most I could be was sympathetic to the struggle until my late twenties to early thirties. For a period of about three years, perhaps longer, I was admittedly FAT……Skinny Fat (and yes, it’s a real thing!)
You might chuckle and say there is no such thing as skinny fat, but it is a legitimate health issue. Allow me to share a very personal story with you, that I have not previously shared. It is not easy to admit, as a doctor, that for a significant period in my life, I was in poor health. After all, doctors are supposed to be role models for good health, right? The stigma and the pressure are real!! No one wants to take advice from a broke financial advisor, or a dentist with bad teeth, so why would anyone want to take the advice of a doctor in bad health? I had always been in good health… never sick outside of the common cold; no hospitalizations or surgeries, and only one ER visit for one stitch (which was a pretty amazing feat for someone as accident prone as myself). When you are fortunate enough to generally experience good health, you can take it for granted and it becomes difficult to recognize that you are unhealthy (or at least it was for me). Besides, I was so busy taking care of people with critical illnesses that anything I might have been experiencing would have paled in comparison to their issues. So, I suffered in a persistent state of denial.
The sleep deprivation I experienced during residency makes it hard for me to pinpoint the start of my symptoms. The first major incident that I can pinpoint and attribute to poor health was a miscarriage that occurred during my last year of residency. At that time I didn’t think much of the incident, as my doctor had assured me that it was quite natural to experience a miscarriage, and there was no reason to think I wouldn’t be able to have a successful pregnancy in the future. However, in hindsight, I am able to see that he was wrong. For years following the miscarriage I began to experience intense fatigue, infertility, leg pains and cramps, achy joints and headaches. The fatigue was the worst. I thought that since I had spent the last four years in residency pretty much sleep –deprived, my body was catching up for lost time. I also started to experience midnight and early morning hunger cravings, dry and itchy skin, and later had 2 more miscarriages. Not exactly the perfect picture of good health…..but, I was still skinny! You could have never told me at that time that I was unhealthy because as far as I was concerned, I was leading a mostly healthy lifestyle. I wasn’t a smoker, didn’t drink alcohol, and followed a low-fat diet, not a lot of candies, junk food etc.
Well, in April 2012, it all clicked. I was attending my first obesity medicine lecture where the speaker was discussing sugar addiction and the consequences of a high sugar/carbohydrate intake. Particularly, I learned just how much sugar intake effect our health and what the symptoms were, including inflammation and hormonal imbalances. Many of the symptoms were issues I was experiencing. He explained that you didn’t have to be obese to be experiencing these issues. And there you have it; the concept of Skinny Fat was slapped right in my face. I had my first Ah-ha moment! I immediately started to decrease my carbohydrate intake. That meant decreasing starches and excess sugar, which wasn’t really easy, as my favorite food is French Fries and my second favorite is chocolate (Yikes!). Never the less I committed to the diet change and surprised myself by going weeks without French Fries and switching to dark chocolate etc. As the days passed, what seemed like a fog lifted from atop me. The fatigue improved. The leg pain, joint aches, and headaches all got better, and in December of that year we found out we were pregnant! Our low-carb icing on the low-carb cake!! It felt great to be in good health again. I am grateful to have experienced the misery of those years for it allows me to better understand the struggle of so many of my patients. So, although I may not entirely know what it’s like to be overweight, I do understand feeling unhealthy and how changing what you eat can make you feel amazing! This is exactly why I am passionate about guiding people on this journey. Good health is pure bliss and everyone deserves it, no matter what size you are!
Dr. Ayesha Peets Talbot | MD FAAP DABIM DABOM
Co-Founder, Medical Director