I’m writing this post at 7 a.m. as I wait for my semi-annual fasted blood draws. A full panel screening that includes fasted glucose levels (for Type-2 diabetes) and a check for vitamin deficiencies is one of the easiest things you can do for your health. The vast majority of insurance policies cover it, and it takes just a few minutes to potentially spot some warning signs early. Just like everything to do with your health, the earlier a problem is caught, the easier, faster and more affordable it is to address. (Skin cancer really drills that in!)
Unfortunately, a lot of the time you have to be in charge of requesting this lab work. Your general physician might order them intermittently, but often this is only if they suspect a particular problem. That blood work might not include fasting glucose or deficiency checks, either. Thinking of your doctor(s) as part of your health team that you’re leading is critical for managing your health.
The Good, the Bad & the WTF
When I was a sophomore in college, I put on 100 pounds in just a few months. As a teen and young adult, I always naturally hovered around 150 pounds on a five-foot-seven frame. However, that was sheer youth and metabolism because it was clear I was pre-disposed to being fat. Not that I’m blaming back luck or genetics on that kind of ballooning—it was 99 percent me. I had no idea how many calories a person was supposed to consume in a day, exercising was never pushed as a priority or even necessity growing up, and I was clueless when it came to which foods were nutritious and why. I distinctly remember getting “salads” as a kid (though honestly vegetables were a rarity because I asked for and ate whatever I wanted!). Those salads were 75 percent iceberg lettuce and 25 percent cheddar cheese. I’d eat them “dry” because what I’d really do is pick out the lettuce and then basically eat a large portion of a cheese block. And to me that was “healthy eating.” It was also in addition to my usual choices, not in lieu of.
When I packed on those 100 pounds to obesity, my menstrual cycle stopped. Of course, I knew I had put on a lot of weight because I was going up one clothes size every month. However, in my experience, men will comment favorably on large breasts no matter what (and most fat women have big breasts!) and women are quick to compliment fat women. Maybe they think they’re doing a good deed, and it’s harmless to them—this other woman is no longer perceived as competition.
Still, when I saw the campus doctor about my lack of a cycle, she said, “That happens sometimes when women weigh as much as you do.” She then ordered a battery of blood tests—my first.
The tests revealed that I was surprisingly healthy, save for my fasted glucose test for diabetes. It was 111, which is considered “pre-diabetic.” (For reference, “healthy” is around 90 and Type-2 diabetic generally starts at 120). Around that same time, I committed myself to losing weight. I chose Atkins because you didn’t have to restrict food quantity, just type. I also promised myself I wouldn’t weigh myself for one year. Three weeks after starting Atkins, my cycle returned. One year later, I had lost the 100 pounds and my fasting glucose levels were 91.
It goes both ways—your weight, whether too much or too little, shows in blood tests. At the worst of my eating disorder (ED), I weight just over 100 pounds. My “bad cholesterol” levels skyrocketed, which was strange for me because I’d always had naturally low levels. However, it’s normal for anoretics. It’s kind of funny, how “bad cholesterol” is usually linked to being overweight/obese and eating fried, greasy, sugary junk food. The physician who got these results with me started drilling me. “You must be eating a lot of fast food!” and “Do you eat a lot of sugar?” I hadn’t had sugar in ten years, and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had fast food. Hell, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d really eaten anything. I was literally starving myself.
Reversing the Education Approach
Something everyone with eating disorders learns is that you end up educating your doctors. Unless they’re an ED specialist who has actually kept up with research, they are often clueless. I’ve had non-ED specialists spout very outdated and clichéd “reasons” why EDs occur. If only it were that simple! Connecting it with control issues, not having fulfilment in your life, childhood traumas and more might be part of the complex landscape for some with ED, but certainly not all. It can feel insulting and you can feel like you’re wasting your time sitting there in a paper gown trying to educate a person with an MD on medical issues, but that’s how it goes.
Now, I’m waiting to get blood drawn to see how my bad cholesterol levels look now. It’s been six months since my last draw, and it wasn’t very good then. I’ve packed on several pounds of sheer muscle since my last draw and am hoping that helps. At least my hair is no longer falling out. I’m hoping my fasting glucose levels don’t continue to creep up as they have been, even though my weight and sugar intake is “better” than many Americans. There’s only one way to know, even though it can be scary. Getting those results can dictate your quality of life.
However, they can also be seen as a tool. They’re a means to pursuing a better, healthier life. A longer life. And all it takes is a few moments and a very minor sore arm. Isn’t that worth it?