About 3 years ago, I inexplicably gained 30 pounds. It didn’t happen overnight — but it happened quickly enough (over the course of a year) for me to take notice and express concern.
Because I have stage 4 endometriosis, my gynecologist often ends up being the first doctor I talk to about anything. She’s the medical professional I have the longest relationship with, and the one I’m most likely to see at least a few times a year.
So, I went to her first with my weight gain issue. But after running some blood work, she didn’t seem especially worried.
“Everything looks mostly normal,” she said. “Your metabolism is probably just slowing down.”
I love my gynecologist, but that wasn’t enough of an answer for me. There had to be some explanation for what was going on.
I hadn’t changed anything about my lifestyle. I ate a pretty clean and healthy diet, and I had a dog that had me out moving at least 2 miles every day — nothing I was doing explained the weight I was putting on.
So, I set out to find a primary care physician (PCP) — something I hadn’t had in nearly a decade.
The first one I saw was dismissive. “Are you sure you’re not eating more sweets than you should be?” He said skeptically, eyebrow raised. I walked out of his office and asked my friends to please recommend doctors they loved.
The next PCP I saw came highly recommended. And as soon as I sat down with her, I understood why. She was kind, empathetic, and listened to all my concerns before ordering a series of tests and promising we’d get to the bottom of what was going on.
Except that when those tests came back, she also saw no reason to worry. “You’re getting older,” she said. “This is probably just a factor of that.”
I really think I should be given some kind of award for not committing an act of violence right then and there.
The thing was, it wasn’t just my weight that I noticed. I was also breaking out like I hadn’t in years. And not just on my face — my chest and back were suddenly covered in acne as well. And I was getting these whiskers under my chin, along with just not feeling like myself at all.
To me, it was clear something was going on hormonally. But doctors running my panels didn’t seem to see what I was feeling.
Years ago, I talked to a naturopath who told me that she felt some traditional medicine practitioners didn’t always look at hormones the same way naturopaths did.
She explained that while some doctors were just looking for individual numbers within a range of normal, naturopaths were looking for a certain balance. Without that balance, she explained, a woman could find herself experiencing symptoms very similar to the ones I had, even if her numbers appeared to be normal otherwise.
I was convinced that if someone would just look at the whole picture, they would see my hormone levels were clearly out of balance.
And, as it turns out, they were — my estrogen levels were on the low end and my testosterone levels on the high end, even though both were within the range of normal.
The problem was, the naturopath I’d seen for hormone issues so many years before was no longer living in my state. And I really struggled to find anyone who would listen to my concerns and help me formulate a plan of action the way she previously had.
Most everyone I saw seemed to just want to write my complaints off to age.
It makes sense, to an extent. While I was only in my mid-30s at the time, I’m a woman with a complex hormone-driven condition. I’ve had 5 major abdominal surgeries, each one hacking away at my ovaries.
Early menopause has always been something I’ve anticipated, and the doctors I saw seemed to see me as being on that death march as well. Since there’s a link between decreasing estrogen levels, menopause, and thyroid issues, I understood why my doctors seemed so convinced that that was what was going on.
I just wasn’t ready to simply shrug and accept this as to be expected. I wanted some sort of solution for relieving the symptoms I was experiencing — especially as I continued to gain weight I didn’t feel I’d earned.
That solution never came. But eventually, the weight gain stagnated. I still couldn’t seem to lose weight — I tried, I tried so hard — but at least I’d stopped gaining it.
It’s here that I should probably acknowledge a painful truth: I spent 10 years of my youth, from age 13 to 23, struggling with a pretty severe eating disorder. Part of my recovery has involved learning to love the body I’m in, whatever shape it is. I try really hard not to focus on my weight or on the numbers on the scale.
But when you’re inexplicably gaining weight, even though you feel like you’re otherwise doing everything “right,” it’s hard not to notice.
Still, I tried. Once the weight stopped increasing, I tried really hard to let go of my anxiety about it and to just accept my new shape. I stopped harassing doctors about the weight gain, I bought a new wardrobe to suit my bigger frame, and I even threw out my scale, determined to give up the obsessive weigh-ins I had started to gravitate back toward.
And then, a funny thing happened. After about 2 years of stagnation, I suddenly started to lose the weight last December.
Again, nothing about my life had changed. My eating habits and exercise levels were exactly the same. But over the last 5 months, I’ve lost about 20 of the 30 pounds I initially put on.
I should note that I went on the keto diet for the month of March — months after the weight loss had already begun. I wasn’t doing it for weight loss, but rather as an attempt to get some of my inflammation down and hopefully experience less painful periods (because of the endometriosis).
It worked. I had an amazingly easy period that month. But, keto proved too hard for me to stick to completely, and I’ve been mostly back to my regular eating habits ever since.
Yet I’ve continued to slowly drop the weight I once put on.
Around the same time the weight started to come off, some of my other symptoms began to ease as well. My skin cleared up, my mood lightened, and my body started to feel a bit more like my own again.
I haven’t had a hormone panel in over a year. I have no idea how my numbers today would compare to my numbers back when my symptoms first began. I should probably visit my doctor and check.
But at this point, I’d be willing to bet anything the balance is different. Even if everything is still in the range of normal, my gut tells me everything I’ve been experiencing over the last few years has been hormonal.
And for whatever reason, I think those hormones finally balanced themselves out and settled my body down.
I’d love to know why — to figure out how to maintain that balance moving forward. But for now, I’m simply enjoying feeling like myself again, in a body that once more seems to be following the rules. At least for the time being.
Leah Campbell is a writer and editor living in Anchorage, Alaska. She’s a single mother by choice after a serendipitous series of events led to the adoption of her daughter. Leah is also the author of the book “Single Infertile Female” and has written extensively on the topics of infertility, adoption, and parenting. You can connect with Leah via Facebook, her website, and Twitter.