My Health Journey
I was becoming a naturopathic doctor, I was embarking on an incredible path, and I am so grateful for having chosen it…but it was a challenging four years; life didn’t slow down, or bend when I needed a break. The hours were long, the workload immense, and the daily worry over tests, assignments, presentations and practical exams took its toll. I had to let the other areas of my life take a major back seat in order to complete my degree; so in a way, I lost myself for a little while. Was the sacrifice worth it? Absolutely. I am in love with what I do. Helping others achieve their health goals is a fulfilling privilege. Those four years were tough, but they brought with them opportunity, community and capacity for self-growth.
Like most students of medicine, as the stress continued, my keen optimism shifted to hyper-vigilance, and finally gave way to exhaustion; I watched my waistline grow, my skin dull, and grey circles become a permanent feature. I became a person who struggled get out of bed in the morning. I became so physically deplete from stress but so tragically accustomed to it, it would take a full year after graduating to remember what healthy felt like.
During this time, I watched my other friends advance their careers, enjoy financial freedom, embark on marriage and parenthood while I sat in a classroom feeling my life wheels spinning and spinning; it was tough. I knew what I had signed on for was more than worth the sacrifice, but it didn’t make it any easier to experience. I spent four years learning all of the wonderfully healing ways to restore health; but ironically, while graduating a health expert, I slowly became the unhealthiest I had ever been.
You’re becoming a doctor. You’re going to have to learn what it’s like to feel broken.
No pain, no gain, right? When I finally graduated, all I wanted to do was enjoy a bit of freedom, enjoy a social life without feeling guilty; enjoy an easier schedule without so many obligations. More than anything, I wanted to feel like an adult, independent and successful…but instead of focusing inward and reestablishing my relationship with my health, I continued to focused externally, on my new job, supporting my patients and building my practice, spending time reconnecting with friends. All of my attention and energy went outward.
I was so used to sacrificing my energy, mood and physical health, it was easy to keep doing.
So, almost a year out, it still felt like my wheels were spinning. I still wasn’t cooking for myself enough or making exercise a priority. I was indulging too often and feeling badly about it. I was tired a lot. I felt unhappy with my appearance. Dissatisfaction was ever burning below the surface, and I felt like I was perpetually one step behind.
Does this reality sound familiar by the way? Because I see this every day in my practice.
You are not alone. I’m not alone. We are way too comfortable sacrificing our health for our jobs or school or for others, because we hope this will foster happiness. It’s not easy to reprioritize either; it took almost a full year after the demand of school lifted before I felt ready to shift my focus and attention inward.
Being ready is key.
Find a doctor. A doctor is a great asset; they hold you accountable. Mine was my friend and colleague, Dr. Alanna Rinas, ND. As classmates, Alanna and I spent those four years together, we have a special appreciation for each other’s journeys and were at a similar stage of readiness to make a lifestyle change. We talked at length about what our health goals were and how we wanted to begin addressing them, and we both agreed we would benefit from an intensive structured program to get us going. We agreed we wanted to focus on diet, energy and weight management; three areas of our health that had been neglected during our schooling.
When she told me she wanted to try the hCG diet, I paused before answering. I offer the hCG Program for patients interested in kick starting a lifestyle change. I’ve seen first hand how successful this program can be, and how good my patients feel afterward, but I also knew how regimented the program is. It requires planning, diligence and dedication to be successful. Was I ready to, and capable of, making that kind of commitment? Despite my trepidation, we set the date.
This is an important step for any lifestyle change. Set the date. Also known as setting your intention. Give yourself some time to prepare mentally and emotionally for a change; it will strengthen your belief in your ability to see the change through.
The Skinny On hCG.
If you are unfamiliar with the diet, my Supervised Metabolic Weight Loss Program is one of the weight management programs I offer in my practice. The first portion of the program involves daily injections of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), paired with a very strict diet. This part of the program is typically twenty-six days in length but can extend up to forty-six days for patients needing to lose more than 30 pounds. hCG is reported to help you lose ‘mobile fat’, the fat stored around the hips, thighs, belly and upper arms but leaves ‘structural fat’ the fat that protects organs, untouched. While maintaining a low-calorie diet with no fat intake, the body is forced to go after ‘mobile fat’ for energy. Although hCG is not currently recognized by Health Canada as a weight loss tool, it has been shown to help produce this result for many patients, reducing the feelings of hunger, weakness and irritability normally associated with a low calorie diet. You must see your doctor for weekly visits to monitor your progress to ensure you are staying healthy and feeling well.
My patients who have completed the program have lost an average of 0.5 – 1 pounds per day.
This program appealed to me for several reasons. It would require me to make my meals, something I love to do but hadn’t been making a priority. Although dining out is convenient, this is the expensive route, so this was an opportunity for me to stay home…rest my body and rest my wallet. I was also looking forward to a sugar, dairy and gluten cleanse. With these items in regular rotation in my diet, I wasn’t feeling as energized or clear headed as I had when I limited them; my digestion was irregular; I felt mentally, emotionally and physically sluggish. Most importantly, I was excited at the thought of a challenge, and excited for what this might mean for my self-confidence.
Day 1 – 2: Load Baby, Load
The first phase of any diet involves gorging on fats, right? Strangely, this diet insists upon it. Three days of high-calorie feasting in order to get the hCG, a fat-soluble molecule, circulating in your tissue so you don’t feel hungry starting your low-calorie part. As one does when faced with a fat load, I endeavoured to eat the fattiest meal I could think of; McDonald’s. I won a free monopoly cheeseburger with my meal that day that I would have to forgo cashing in later…the cruelty of this world.
Beginners Tip: start your fat load on a Friday so you can enjoy the weekend with family and friends. This will also give you time to meal plan and prepare for Monday.
Today was also our first weight in and measurements. I hadn’t stepped on a scale in years. I took a breath, told myself there was no room for embarrassment or discouragement and stepped on. With our numbers recorded, it felt real. We were ready.
On to the injections. I do injective therapy for a living, but let me tell you, injecting yourself is a different story! Ten minutes mustering up the courage to inject the tiny needle into my abdomen was met with a wave of relief as I realized thankfully, it didn’t hurt. Back to fat loading.
Day 3 – 4: Goodbye Snacks
Day one of low-calorie; you can’t eat any fat or sugar on this diet, which pretty much eliminates snacking of any kind. But by 9pm that night I realized I hadn’t been hungry once, despite eating a fraction of the calories I’d had the day before. I was pleasantly surprised. Day four was very similar, the hCG definitely seemed to be doing something.
Day 5: My First Test
Three days into my diet I was forced to endure the test of all tests, an evening of pizza, cheese plates and organic chocolate, as my clinic hosted our annual Beauty Night. Glaring down those who ate pizza in front of me, I stayed focused, drank my water and ate my two unsalted rice cakes.
If I’m being completely honest though, I didn’t actually crave the food. I wasn’t hungry believe it or not, I was just so used to rewarding myself with a tasty treat. Understanding the connection between food and how you reward yourself is a key to overcoming bad food habits.
Day 6: First Weigh-in
For some reason I was convinced the scale wouldn’t move. But I stepped on and there it was, 7.5 pounds my first week. Whoa. Alanna and I turned to each other buzzing with excitement; we’d lost roughly the same amount. This was more than enough motivation to stick it out another week.
Now that I was adamant about seeing it through, I discovered what would become my Friday night ritual; turn down all social events for meal prep; in bed by 9:30pm. I’m going to save so much money this month.
Day 7 – 9: My New Friend Fibre
I’m a doctor so I’m not embarrassed to talk bowel habits. I always advise my patients to expect minor constipation on this diet, but I’m normally a regular gal, so a few days of nothing this week sent me into panic mode.
This happened to be the week Alanna mentioned shirataki noodles to me, noodles with no calories, no sugar and no fat. The Wonder! Desperate for a meal without steamed chicken, I picked up a package and curated a ‘pasta’. A spicy marinara with organic beef, shitake mushrooms, tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic, onion and oodles of ‘noodles’…It was delicious.
Beginner’s tip: Shirataki noodles are derived from an insoluble fiber, eating these can help get things ‘back on track’ for some individuals. Perfect for creating the illusion of a large meal and keeping things moving. Thank you miracle noodles!
Day 10 – 13: Week-two Weigh-in
We followed the typical hCG weight loss trend I see with my patients; weigh in #2 produced fewer pounds lost but the scale is still going down. Alanna and I have lost approximately the same amount of weight and inches so far, 9 pounds, 8.5 inches.
We are feeling great.
I’ve also now started to notice a difference in my appearance. My energy and mental clarity is the best it’s been in a long time, no bloating despite slower digestion, my mood is cheery despite no fun foods.
I feel good; really, really good. I swear my teeth are whiter too.
Day 14 – 16: Ok I Cheated … Halloween Candy, Chocolate & Cheese
This was a delectable day I paid for dearly. I spent the afternoon carving pumpkins on the North Shore for Halloween with my dear friend and her kids. I hadn’t cheated once so far. I diligently brought my meals and had the best intentions of staying strong but the cheese and meat plate proved too scrumptious. Once I’d sampled the aged cheddar it was all over.
As I packed the third Reece’s peanut butter cup into my mouth, I vowed to get back on track the next day.
It is said that while on hCG, your blood is saturated with all of the mobilized fat, so any extra you eat just gets stored. By this point my body had down regulated the digestive enzymes and bile needed to properly break down fats and dairy so by the time I got home, I felt terrible. The nausea was agonizing and the two pounds I put on over night felt even worse. Lesson wholeheartedly learned. This diet is not meant for cheating!
Day 17 – 18: Back On Track & Keeping It Simple
Preparation is essential on this diet.
There’s nothing diet friendly you can grab on the go, the exception perhaps being a cold-pressed green juice, so the game changer for me was Spud.ca, Vancouver’s online organic grocery store. Ordering my groceries online saved me time, lineups and having to walk down the aisles of delicious tempting foods. Each week my box would arrive with exactly what I would need to prepare my meals for the week. Free delivery, fresh organic produce right to my door. Perfection.
Now, the original hCG program is very strict with what foods you can and can’t eat, but at this point I’d settled into a food routine, straying slightly from the original diet developed in the 60’s. Yes, I drank coconut milk in my coffee. I also used half a jar of sea salt in two weeks, but whose counting. Here is what my typical day would consist of:
100g egg whites with 1 tbsp salsa
1 medium Americano with 1 inch steamed coconut milk
1 medium apple
½ large organic chicken breast
1 cup cooked cauliflower or tomato or cucumber
2 unsalted brown rice-cakes
2 extra lean organic turkey sausages or 100g white fish or extra lean organic beef
Shitake mushrooms, onions, garlic, zucchini
Optional: shiratake noodles
1 medium apple or handful of strawberries with a pinch of cinnamon
You guessed it, water
Day 19: Holy PMS!
hCG is an androgenic hormone influencer, so it was no surprise that my menstrual cycle was different this month. Many patients notice a stall or even a weight gain right before, during or right after their cycle and I was no exception.
Beginner’s tip: some patients experience skin outbreaks and mild acne from hCG… this is normal and will resolve once you stop the injections!
My skin was actually improving though, and I noticed a bunch of new baby hairs around the crown on my head. Loving all of these benefits!
Week 3 weigh-in today as well; down another 2.6 pounds and 3 inches.
Day 20 – 23: I Can See The Finish Line
I’m ready for this to end. Meal prep is a lot of work, and I’m so sick of chicken and masala spice. But I’m really starting to notice the physical change in my body. This week I dared to try on an old pair of work pants that haven’t fit in years. They were too big. I can’t believe I haven’t stepped foot in a gym.
Day 24 – 26: No injection. Still Eating Chicken
I finished injections one day ago, and have been patiently waiting for the hCG to metabolize from my body so I can safely add back calories and fat. I’ve been dreaming about my first meal back. Virtuous Pie… I’ve stalked their website every day this week.
Day 28: Final Weigh-in & Final Thoughts
Despite stalling mid-program, when I see my final numbers I beam with pride. I haven’t dedicated this amount of time to self-improvement in years. I also haven’t felt this good in a long time; the gratitude I have for Alanna and for our dedication to our commitment brings a wave of emotion.
A month of making home-cooked meals a priority. A month of getting to bed early, of saving money, of remembering how much I love to cook. A month free of alcohol, free of social obligations, of getting up early; a month of no bloating or indigestion or irritability. A month of feeling energized and relaxed at the same time.
I’ve also managed to lose 15 pounds and 13.5 inches. I’ve gained momentum on a lifestyle change I’ve wanted to make happen for years.
The hCG diet is sometimes criticized as an unhealthy crash diet; another criticism is that many people gain the weight right back. It’s very important to understand that this program is not suitable for everyone, and never safe to do without careful screening and monitoring from an experienced doctor. Another thing to keep in mind, is that the low-calorie portion of this program is just 3 weeks, the real journey begins once you re-introduce calories, fat and grains, if your relationship with food, or any underlying emotional issues have not been addressed you might struggle with maintaining your new health habits. This is something I discuss with every weight loss patient. After experiencing the journey with many patients and now for myself, I believe in this program’s efficacy, and it’s ability to inspire motivation for lasting change - but you must be ready.
It’s been one month since my hCG program, I haven’t gained any weight back. I’m still cooking for myself, although now my meals include lots of healthy fats and small portions of complex carbohydrates. I’ve indulged over the weekends, but found a balance that is working for me, when it wasn’t for so long.
What are your health goals?
When it comes to adopting healthier lifestyle habits or pursuing weight loss, the help of an experienced professional is invaluable. My weight management programs range from simple dietary and lifestyle modifications to more involved protocols like the Supervised Metabolic Weight Loss Program. I provide monitoring, support and coaching to help you understand the reasons behind your weight issues, help you establish realistic goals, and create an appropriate timeline to set you up for success. An hCG program should always be medically supervised and it is not a suitable program for everyone. Together with your doctor, you will determine what program will work best for you.
By Dr. Alaina