Three Wishes for a Second Chance Chance favors the prepared mind.--Louis Pasteur
In the game of life, it was the bottom of the ninth, and the three of us were about to strike out: out of hope, out of luck, and out of time. But we did not strike out. Instead, we turned our lives around and took back our health (together with our energy, sanity, and joy). In the pages to come, you will learn about the scientific discovery that literally gave us back our lives. You will learn, too, how you can break free from insulin's powerful potential for heart disease--and stay free.
First, come join us as we share our stories with you, for our discovery comes not only from mountains of scientific literature, books, and test tubes but from the difficult lessons that life has provided us as well.
So Perfect a Purpose:
Dr. Rachael Heller's Story
I believe that things happen for a reason or, at least, that with the right attitude something good can come out of even the worst of experiences. I never really stopped believing this, although, for many years, when the challenges were hard and I was very young, I could have argued the other side quite well.
I don't have the simple childhood memories that so many people have of friends and playing games, of parties and adventures, and of a whole wide world to discover and explore. I remember sadness and pain and a permeating truth that seemed to shape my every action and every thought.
In a child's world of wanting to belong, I lived with the unforgiving fact that I was different: I was fat. And every interaction--from my brother's unrelenting teasing to my classmates' ridicule to strangers' disapproving stares--told me in word and look that being fat was a very bad thing and, what was worse, that I was to blame.
My parents, though thin in their youth, fought a losing battle with their weight as they approached their late thirties. By the time that each had reached forty, there were clear signs of oncoming heart problems. My mother's blood pressure was out of control, and both my parents showed the telltale signs of diabetes. Within a few short years, my father's blood pressure was far above normal. My mother had suffered three heart attacks, and we lived with an oxygen tank in the closet. I slept lightly, listening for any signs of her distress. In the blink of an eye, within four short years, they were both gone--my father at fifty-two, my mother at fifty-five.
My older brother, fearful of becoming overweight and suffering the same ill health as my parents, chose what he considered an acceptable alternative, but within a short time he was as addicted to diet pills as he had been to junk foods and sweets. When he added other addictions to his repertoire, his immune system failed. He never saw his fortieth birthday, losing a long and terrible battle to a rare form of leukemia that preyed on his already-compromised body.
Before I was out of my twenties, both my parents and my older brother had died. I was young, alone, sick, fat, and desperately poor.
I was young and alone, and most of all, I was sick and fat as well. I had no money, no real friends, and no one to whom I could turn. I had just been witness to what could be likened to a terrible automobile accident, and although I wanted desperately to avoid the collision myself, nothing I did seemed to make any difference. I had dreams of being behind the wheel of an old car, and though I saw it heading for a crash, I could not make the brakes respond. I stomped my foot on the brake pedal, I tried desperately to turn the wheel, I even tried to open the door and jump out, but nothing I did had any effect. And I awoke in terror to find that my nightmare was simply a reflection of my waking reality.
Some people say that, although they had been chubby as kids, they never suffered any health-related problems until they hit middle age. Not me. At twelve years of age, I was hospitalized for stroke-level hypertension. My blood pressure was 220/120, and I was twice my normal weight. Though not yet in my teens, I had already become a "high-risk patient." My menstrual periods had stopped, and my belly, sides, back, shoulders, and arms were already scarred with deep-purple stretch marks.
As a teenager, when I should have been concerned with friends and dresses and parties, I was trying to cope with staying alive.
Long before I ever kissed a boy, I had become familiar with terms like hypertension, stroke, and coronary artery disease--warnings, said the doctors, of things to come. I had become knowledgeable about death and illness before I knew anything about life and love. At a time when I should have been concerned with friends and dresses and parties, I was trying to cope with staying alive.
Upon discharge from the hospital, I was given no medication and virtually no help. "Lose weight and bring down that blood pressure," cautioned one doctor, "or you'll never . . ." Embarrassed, he looked up into my young face, ruffled my hair, and walking down the hall, called back, "Take care now, hear?"
Knowing of no other alternatives, I did what I saw adults do then and what many still do today. I continued the same practices that had proved unsuccessful in the first place, promising myself that this time I would try harder.
I tried harder and harder and harder, but the results never improved. At fourteen they hospitalized me again, this time trying to determine the cause of headaches, foggy thinking, and an odd assortment of seemingly unrelated symptoms such as panic attacks and sweating. I was addicted to diet pills by this time and used the hospital stay as a chance to break the drugs' hold on me. Still, my doctors were intent on finding a cause for my neurological problems. Had they but checked my insulin and blood sugar levels after I ate high-carbohydrate foods, they would have uncovered the blood sugar swings that were causing these classic hypoglycemic responses. Instead, they did a multitude of brain scans and EEGs and were never able to find proof of the petit mal epilepsy they believed to be responsible for my symptoms.
Back at home, the torrent of teasing, ridicule, and humiliation that filled my every waking moment was unspeakable, and had I been able to do anything--anything--about it at all, I would have. And though doctors told my parents that I obviously didn't want to lose weight or I would have done so, they were terribly wrong.
To me, a typical adolescence would not have been a time of turmoil and distress. It was my fondest wish.
I know now that, like my parents and brother before me, I was the unfortunate victim of a physical imbalance that caused me to gain weight easily and to crave starches, snack foods, junk foods, and sweets with an intensity that I could hold off for only so long. My body ached for these high-carbohydrate foods, it screamed for them, and though at times I literally cried as I ate them, I could not stop my- self. Sometimes I would eat them until I was sick, then fall into a semistupor of sleep or walk around in a kind of drugged fog.
My weight climbed, and the state of my health plummeted. By seventeen I weighed more than three hundred pounds. My blood pressure remained dangerously high, and my heart was unable to handle the strain. By my midteens I had developed an irregular heartbeat and a murmur; a young heart that should have been healthy and strong was literally being torn apart from within. Now any exertion brought heart pain. It was not long before I was diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes. In high school I spent most of my senior year at home, though I'm not sure whether I really felt ill or just wanted to avoid my classmates' unrelenting abuse.
The irony of this horrendous state of affairs is that I had done everything in my power to lose weight and get healthy. At nine years of age, I had a weekly appointment with a weight-loss doctor. I was a veteran of diets and diet pills by the time I was eleven. A year later I knew the calorie count of every food in the supermarket. From diet pills to diet pops, from cellulose cookies to calorie counting, I had tried them all before I had even hit my teens. Nothing worked.
With each new weight-loss approach, the story was the same. I would boost my motivation, talk myself into action and commitment, and be successful for a few days or a few weeks. Then, sooner or later, the cravings would return, and I would find myself out of control. With each attempt I became more frustrated, angry with myself, fatter, and sicker. I was clearly in a lose-lose situation with regard to just about everything. I couldn't give up, and it made no sense to keep trying. But keep trying I did--every new book, new approach, new diet. I would try it, and though with each new attempt I felt my enthusiasm wane, I still gave it my best. In the long run, I always failed. Then I'd wait until I couldn't stand it any longer, and I would try something new.
Every new diet, book, product--I would try it. In the long run, I always failed. Then I'd wait until I couldn't stand it any longer, and I would try something new. In the end, the only thing I lost was my health.
On commercial weight-loss programs, I watched my weight go down--then up again. I repeated this frustrating and disheartening process six or eight times over. I tried Atkins (becoming very ill by following his entry program for too long), hypnosis, Metrecal, behavioral therapy--you name it, I tried it. I drank it, measured it, weighed it, and exchanged it. Whatever it took, I tried it. But nothing took the weight off and kept it off. I founded the Philadelphia chapters of Overeaters Anonymous. I even tried water fasts (once for forty-two days while I continued working and going to school). But it was the same old story we all know too well.
Excerpted from The Carbohydrate Addict's Healthy Heart Program by Richard & Rachael Heller/Frederic Vagnini. Copyright © 2000 by Richard & Rachael Heller/Frederic Vagnini. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.