Testimonial From Sue Hemmings

Sue is a specialised nursing sister from Sydney, Australia.

Since about the fourth grade, I have been overweight. There is not one member of my original family that has not at some time had a weight problem, but I eclipsed them all. By adolescence, I was very fat, and my mother was desperately worried. She tried any way she could think of to change the situation. She yelled at me, she insulted me, she called me names like “the backside of a barn”, and she attempted to hide food from me, but I just kept eating. Of course, nobody knew anything about carbohydrate addiction in the 1960’s, but I can see now that this is what I was suffering with. If anybody wants to see a true depiction of a child addicted to carbohydrates, just watch the movie “Monster’s Ball” and you will see what I mean.

I remember that at the age of 13, I weighed 11 stone. I knew that this was really bad, but in my childish way, I rationalised that it would be much worse to be 13 stone at 11 years of age. Of course, I did not try this argument on anyone else. It was about this time that my mother decided to take me to a very popular slimming group in my local area. I accompanied my mother to the nearest meeting and found myself in a small hall with about 30 overweight ladies. After we were weighed in, the founder of the group spoke to the group for a short while. I suppose some other discussions took place, but the thing I vividly remember was that they brought out a wooden baby’s playpen and put a chair inside. Then, each person who had gained weight that week in turn had to sit on that chair wearing a baby’s bib and holding a large spoon and had to sing a song to the tune of ‘Click go the Shears’. I can still recall every word. It went like this – “I’m in the pigpen, I’m in disgrace, and I’m so ashamed I can hardly show my face, I’m fat and ugly but next week I will try, to keep away from all the foods that make me weigh so high.” This was supposed to be funny and people were laughing hysterically, but all I could feel was fear and shame.

Being a stubborn child, my mother never succeeded in getting me to go back, which gave her further ammunition to use in blaming the problem on my greed and laziness. I certainly did not like her saying it, but deep down I actually believed her. Well, what else could it be? It is sometimes hard for people to understand this mental blockage, and I have only just learned to understand it myself. I came to believe that the problem was within me, that it was due to a psychological flaw. My self-esteem plummeted. I was ashamed of my weakness and I did not want to talk about it or even think about it. I knew it was my fault. I also knew that I was the only one who could fix it, but I believed that I was lazy and weak. So the situation was hopeless. I totally accepted this ideology reinforced by the media.

During the years ahead, things went from bad to worse. I tried a range of fad diets, and during a period in my twenties I attempted to live on stimulants such as coffee and cigarettes, but I would put the weight back on, plus some. I hated the way I looked and was truly ashamed of myself. My primary defence mechanism was denial, and I avoided cameras, scales and mirrors. This was not successful. People would take photographs when I was not aware of it.

I recall having an operation in 1997 and agreed to be weighed on the proviso that they did not at any time tell me my weight. The morning after surgery, I laid in my hospital bed feeling like a beached whale, as I was completely unable to shift in the bed having been cut right across my middle, when in came the doctor who had promised not to reveal my weight, accompanied by the surgeon who had performed the operation. The doctor said to my horror “You weigh 300 lbs! That’s more than twice as much as I do!”

I remember asking myself as each decade approached, “Would I still be fat at 20, 30 and 40 years of age?” I always was, and I assumed that I always would be. I persisted with the belief that I had a psychological problem.

I was employed as a psychiatric nurse. I eventually completed an Honours degree in Psychology; however, I still could not change the beliefs embedded into me as a child. My friends speculated on the cause. One friend even suggested that I may have been a victim of child sexual abuse and repressed it. No matter how I twisted my head and squinted, I could not see any truth in that theory.

By my forties, I was really addicted to sweet food and would eat bags of lollies, packets of biscuits, cakes, ice creams and sugary drinks. Bread and potatoes were also everyday foods, and I was forever hungry. I was diagnosed with sleep apnoea and had to sleep with a CPAP machine. I felt completely trapped inside my body, a body that could do less and less as time went on. Trousers were out of the question, I could not even tie my shoelaces. So I would only wear skirts and court shoes. “Normal” clothing was almost impossible to find. Bras had to be bought through a mail order company. If I dropped something on the floor, I would be really cranky with myself, as I knew I would have trouble picking it up. So that meant my floor would often be littered with things until the cleaner arrived to gather it all up. In my work as a community mental health nurse, the Department of Housing commonly places our clients on the top floor, presumably because they do not have a physical disability. I worked with a team of mostly men, who could race up the stairs two at a time. They would be at the top before I had inched my way to the first landing. I must say they never complained, at least not to me.

Finally, in 2002 things started to crash. I think it started in April, but I do not recall the exact month, but one by one I was diagnosed with high blood pressure, carpal tunnel syndrome and high cholesterol. I was placed on medication to bring my blood pressure down, which was moderately successful.

In September, I was wandering through the local shopping mall when I noticed a red, green and yellow book outside a health food shop. It was titled Can’t Lose Weight? Unlock the Secrets that KEEP you Fat. It was written by Dr Sandra Cabot. I picked it up and read the checklist on the back cover and realised I could answer “yes” to five of them. I started reading and thought that many sections of it pertained to me, especially the case study that was printed in the early part of the book. I decided to buy it. Amazingly, I took it home and read it from cover to cover, unlike 90% of the books that I buy, which end up on the shelf unread.

Two weeks later, on a Sunday afternoon, I started to feel unwell at work. I felt faint and every time I took a step there seemed to be a gap in my perception of it. I was worried that it had something to do with the blood pressure tablets, so I sought permission from the nurse in charge to take an hour’s sick leave to catch the local medical centre before it closed. The doctor listened to my story and immediately decided to check my glucose level (BGL) on his glucometer. It read 9.1 and my heart sank. He said that I would have to have a glucose tolerance test (GTT) to confirm it, but I knew what that would show. He told me that he himself was a diabetic and assured me that if the test proved positive there were things that could be done to help assist this condition.

All I could think was the worst. I asked myself, “Why the diagnosis of diabetes impacted me so strongly when so many other diagnoses had not?” I had seen enough in my more than a quarter of a century in the health industry, to know that diabetic patients died earlier than they otherwise might have and had a poorer quality of life. Diabetes is a progressive disease; still, this was true of some of the other conditions I already had? I had this vision in my mind of a diabetic man at the nursing home where my mother lived. He was confined to a wheelchair, both legs amputated, blind, and as pale as a ghost. I remembered the day when somebody had bought in a dog, and the man’ s wife had asked the owner to bring the dog right over to her husband so that he could pat it. I could not get this pathetic scene out of my head.

My only hope was that perhaps what I had read in Dr Cabot’s book was going to provide the answer for me. The next morning I rang and made an appointment to see a naturopath at the nearest Dr Sandra Cabot Clinic. My glucose tolerance test (GTT) was already booked for the following week. In the meantime, I tried starving myself, but my BGL just got higher, which of course made me even more scared. I later learned through experience that the weird feelings that I had felt at work that day, were actually those associated with a lower BGL than what your body is used to. My ‘normal’ level was higher than the 9.1, confirmed by my fasting level prior to my GTT and levels done every few days by my local pharmacist.

Meanwhile, my doctor had sent me to an optometrist, a podiatrist, and the local diabetes dietician. The dietician advised me to have six high carbohydrate snacks a day. When I told her that I had read that this was exactly what I should be avoiding, I was told that such theories were “out there” and “unproven”.

I told my local doctor what I had planned and he shook his head and clicked his tongue. I was so intimidated by the pessimism, the pressure, and my own sheer terror, that I actually rang to cancel the appointment with the naturopath on the morning of the scheduled booking. They had worn me down to the extent that I felt I should give the mainstream method a go and then if that did not work, I would try the “unproven” program. Fortunately, when I rang to cancel, the receptionist answered with a very calm, sane tone and listened to my garbled excuses and quietly asked: “Why don’t you come up and see Margaret and then see what you think?” As an argument, this was impossible to refute, so I agreed that I would be there at the appointed time.

After seeing Margaret, I knew that I had made the right decision. She explained that my liver was not working properly and that the raised liver enzymes that had shown up on a recent blood test were the tip of the iceberg. My other blood results showed that my insulin levels were very high, but Margaret informed me that the insulin was not working to reduce my BGLs. In fact, I needed to follow a very specific way of eating that would actually reduce the levels of insulin. I also needed a good liver tonic and was advised to take another supplement called Glicemic Balance. This was October 16th, 2002 and I went home to follow this eating plan.

Of course, I made a few mistakes in the beginning until I learned the carbohydrate value of various foods. I mistakenly assumed that anything green was OK, and I had to learn that this was not quite true. For the first few days, I could not stop going to the toilet, as my body rid itself of the enormous amount of extra fluid that I had been carrying around. Within a couple of weeks, my BGL was around 8 or 9, and I started to feel a little better.

My GP decided to weigh me on November 10th, after 3 weeks on Dr Cabot’s Syndrome X eating plan. As usual, I made him promise not to tell me what I weighed, but I could tell by the way he was making me get on and off the scales slowly several times, that I weighed more than the 300 lbs that the scales weighed up to and he was trying to estimate how much over I was. I later found that he had written in my file “more than 300 lbs”. After this experience, I did not allow myself to be weighed again for another 3 months!

By January 2003, I had weaned myself off the blood pressure medication and my blood pressure was normal. My BGL was around 6 or 7 most of the time. When I was weighed again on February 24th, I weighed in at 302 lbs. A remarkable thing about all of this was that people still had not noticed. I was so hugely overweight and tried to hide it as much as possible under the most concealing clothes that I could find, but it did amaze me. In fact, it was not really until late May, when I had dropped another 20 lbs that people truly started to notice. From that point on, it seemed that I could not shut them up. Everyone was encouraging, but I would have to say that my work colleagues stood out, along with several of my patients, in that they marvelled at the transformation and my wallet was bulging with free gym passes.

By early September 2003, I had lost another 20 lbs, so I now weighed in at 253 lbs. I flew down to Tasmania for a holiday, where I had lived for a few years until 1995. My friends down there were stunned by the change in me, and not just in my appearance or level of activity. By this time my BGL was generally within the normal range. My cholesterol levels were improving and my carpal tunnel syndrome had completely disappeared. I began to realise that the latter had really been the peripheral effects of the diabetes. The best thing of all, however, was that I did not have to take my CPAP machine on my holiday, as I had been able to sleep normally without it for some weeks. I have not used it since.

By February of 2004, I weighed in at 222 lbs. I was now easily able to buy clothing from regular shops, even my bras. My hair seemed to grow faster than I could ever remember, and was long and healthy. My skin dramatically improved, I had stopped feeling the heat. I use to be immobilised by anything over about 23 degrees, and had to sit outside whenever I visited friends in the warmer weather. At home, I would have fans going non-stop. Now it could be 39 degrees and my energy levels were quite unaffected. My podiatrist was so impressed by how much my feet had improved, and I had started wearing sandals for the first time in ages. I could even buy normal-sized jewelery and bought my first ladies’ watch for over 20 years. Now, when I caught my reflection in a shop window, I was not the scary person but a relatively ordinary-looking woman.

There were so many high points throughout this journey; however, it is a journey that is by no means over. One relates to my bathtub. When I purchased my house six years ago, one of my biggest misgivings was the size of the bathtub, which seemed a bit skimpy to me. At the point where I had lost 99 lbs, I suddenly realised that my bathtub had seemed quite spacious lately. Another high point occurred recently when I was running upstairs after a meeting at work. I heard one of my male colleagues behind me exclaim “Gees, you wouldn’t have seen that a year ago!” But probably the most satisfying moment came via a visit to that head-shaking, tongue-clicking GP. He was so impressed by the enormous changes undergone by myself, that he asked me to bring in my copy of the Syndrome X book and the details of the supplements I was taking. I returned a couple of days later with empty containers of the supplements, as well as the book. He explained that this might be helpful for other patients and that he might even try it himself. As he photocopied the cover of the book and I told him where it was available, I struggled to maintain a demeanour that could not be interpreted as smug. I knew I really had a great deal to thank him for.

The greatest revelation to come from all of this pertains to the psychological problem I had believed in most of my life. I have learned that the only psychological problem that I had, was believing that I had a psychological problem. What I had was a carbohydrate addiction, and when I took the recommended steps to reverse it, my appetite dramatically diminished. In fact, I rarely craved high carb foods, especially the sort that I used to hoe into.

In the last year or so, I have had three friends die, way too young. These were people who had significant things to do with their lives – children to raise, important jobs, people to care for and so much more. Two of these people spent long periods in hospital, but no amount of treatment by top specialists saved their lives. I cannot help but wonder why my eyes were drawn to a book in a shopping mall that provided the answers to a lifetime of problems, while they could not find any answers despite supreme efforts by themselves and those around them.

I can only be grateful to Dr Sandra Cabot and her team, for their dedicated and invaluable work that has helped so many people to turn their lives around. I especially want to thank naturopath Margaret Jasinska who must have been born with the gift of patience. She has given me so much of her time and answered all of my questions, even if she has had to get back to me with material she has especially researched. Hopefully, one day other health professionals will learn that there is nothing “out there” about this program and will stop condemning people to the poor quality of life, which could have been mine for the rest of my days.

Sue Hemmings