As you all know one of the reasons I decided to close Flourish is that I recently had a baby. Our 9 month old son is full of baby giggles, smiles, cute little baby chub and a couple of teeth now too! But, not too long ago I could not have imagined he would ever be here in my arms. Before I got pregnant with Thieren, we had been trying to have another baby for almost 5 years. My husband and I were starting to have the difficult conversations about what to do if it just never happened for us. I was beginning to give up hope. But right around that time, in the summer of 2014: two friends, both within a one week’s time, recommended I see Dr. Uthman Cavallo. So, in a last attempt to try something new, I looked him up on the internet, called his office, and made my first appointment.
Right away when I arrived at my appointment, I could sense the difference between his practice and other traditional dr. offices. We met in his office that first appointment, rather than an exam room. He went over the extensive blood work reports that he had required me to get beforehand. And he asked me to tell him about my history: my fertility history, my medical history, my weight history, my stress and lifestyle history, etc. Tears welled up in my eyes as I told him about the struggles I had experienced with my weight since having my first son in 2006 and then even more so since opening my store in 2008. I said, “I know I have a weight problem”. At this point he stopped me and he said, “You do not have a weight ‘problem’…. When I look at your blood work and weight charts over the years, I can see someone trying so hard to be healthy and lose weight. So no you do not have a weight problem. You have a medical condition called PCOS, and you just don’t know how to keep it in control and eat in a way to keep it in check. But that’s what I am here for and I will teach you how to manage your PCOS and it should help you feel better, lose weight, and hopefully allow you to conceive”. When he looked at me and earnestly told me that I didn’t have a weight problem: I broke down in tears. Every day, especially working in fashion, I felt so much embarrassment and sadness at my weight and size. I felt hopeful for the first time in a long time, and I felt like someone saw the real me. He saw the proof of how hard I had tried to lose the weight. He saw my struggle. And he might just have the answer to help both my weight and my fertility.
From there, I had to learn what PCOS was. Essentially, PCOS (Poly-cystic Ovary Syndrome) is an endocrine disorder that creates an imbalance in your hormones. One in ten women have PCOS and it is the leading cause for infertility in the U.S. Many traditional doctors will diagnose a women with PCOS after she presents the common symptoms such as irregular periods, and then treat her by putting her on the pill so that her cycles become regular. However, the pill does not treat the real root of the problem and obviously is counter productive for anyone who wants to get pregnant. Dr. Cavallo treats the whole you and specializes in getting to the root of PCOS. By taking a class at his office and meeting with their dietician and specialists, I began to understand my PCOS. A woman with PCOS is insulin resistant. This means that by no fault of her own, her body does not respond to the insulin she is producing: when she eats sugar or carbohydrates (which are overly prevalent in the American diet), her blood sugar stays elevated much longer than an average person. She’s producing insulin, but it’s not bringing down her glucose levels like it would in a healthy person. Prolonged exposure to high sugar in the body produces cysts on the ovaries (and elsewhere in the body too!). These cysts on the ovaries interrupt the normal production of hormones, causing extra androgens (including the male hormone testosterone) to be released. With elevated male hormones, and imbalanced female hormones, the following PCOS symptoms can occur: irregular periods, lack of ovulation, weight gain, depression, acne, hirsutism, tubular breasts, and of course sadly infertility.
When a woman with PCOS regularly consumes sugar, the imbalance can progress and worsen over time, which will lead to more and more weight gain as well as ongoing infertility. It’s important to note that when I say consume sugar, I’m not saying eating truck loads of cotton candy and milk shakes. Sugar is everywhere and often in items we may think of as healthy: fruit, whole wheat bread, potatoes, rice, cereal, skim milk, etc. Much of what women consume while trying to eat “healthy” is actually loaded with carbs. For a woman with PCOS, counting calories will almost certainly still be unsuccessful, if she is continuing to eat carbs because it is not treating her insulin resistance. So I learned that all my years of trying to count calories, or points, or portion control were understandably unsuccessful: because while I did that I was still eating things like subway sandwiches, lots of fruit, whole wheat toast, baked potatoes, etc. The main way to combat PCOS is by eating a low carb diet AND consuming enough healthy fats (coconut oil, avocado, butter, whipping cream, etc).
PCOS Awareness Infographic (PRNewsFoto/PCOS Challenge, Inc.)
It took me months of learning from Dr. Cavallo’s practice before I finally decided to go cold turkey and limit my carbs to no more than 45-60 per day. Even my daily green smoothie which I thought was so healthy was loaded with carbs once I did the math. My morning smoothie alone had 25-30 carbs in it, just because it was loaded with juice, fruits and spinach. January of 2015 is when I finally committed to eating this way. Even that February when I went on a buying trip to Las Vegas, I stayed true to my new diet. While my mom, who was traveling with me, ate a piece of bread at dinner or drank a french martini: I was eating filet mignon, mashed cauliflower, squash soup, asparagus, salads, etc. Actually, I felt like I was eating like a queen that trip, ordering a steak almost every night!
As I began to eat according to their plan, which balances out how many grams of carbs, protein, and fat you eat, I began to notice some awesome and almost immediate changes. First the weight began to fall off, my periods came back, daily sugar crashes and cravings were gone, and pain throughout my body disappeared. But the best result of all came on March 6th…. That night after my husband had gone to sleep I was still awake and noticed what I thought felt like mild period cramping, even though I wasn’t on my period. I decide to take a pregnancy test (you know just in case). I can’t tell you how many sticks I had used and thrown away in disappointment….but this time when I looked down I saw TWO LINES. Yes, I was pregnant! I did not sleep a wink that night. My mind was racing and my heart was overspilling with joy. Nine months later, I gave birth to our sweet and healthy Thieren. During my pregnancy, I only gained 10 pounds, compared to 60 with my older son. And after I delivered, in the couple weeks that followed, my weight kept dropping and ended up 15 pounds BELOW where I was when I got pregnant and almost 25 pounds below where I was in January of that year! So, while pregnant, I managed to lose 25 pounds by the end of the year!
Dr. Cavallo holding Thieren. I am so thankful to him and his staff!
After having Thieren, and going through the hard time while I decided what to do with Flourish and navigating major life changes, I fell off the wagon with the diet for a little while here in 2016. However, I got back to it this summer and am maintaining my weight loss and headed towards more. However, weight loss is no longer my main goal: my focus is on being healthy and eating in a way that reduces my PCOS symptoms. I feel great, and after I finish breastfeeding in a couple months we will be trying for number 3! I finally have come to peace with my weight and body. No matter what the scale says, I KNOW inside that every day I work hard to eat healthy, and I know that I am finally taking care of myself. Plus, this body gave birth to my two amazing sons. What could be more awesome than that?!
I share all this to help women who might also be struggling with PCOS. Maybe you’ve been diagnosed and you don’t know any information on how to manage your symptoms. Maybe this will give you hope that you can fight the symptoms, lose weight, and even get pregnant. Or, maybe you’re experiencing some of these symptoms or infertility and this is the first time you’ve heard about the disorder, but you relate to this. Hopefully this will give you a starting point and some encouragement. Feel free to reach out to me if you want to know more information about my doctor, the diet I followed, meal plans, etc.
Dr. Uthman Cavallo: http://www.caringforthewholeyou.com/
*I am in no way a doctor, dietician, or expert. I am simply sharing my own experience. Please consult your dr. before making any major changes to your diet.