My Big Fat American Liver Disease: My Diagnosis + Lifestyle Change
what the doctor ordered (and what he didn’t)
It’s always embarrassing when I admit I have Fatty Liver Disease. Just the name of it makes me sound like an obese alcoholic, and reading about it online doesn’t help — but that’s part of the reason I decided to start this blog series. When someone asks me, “Why don’t you drink?” or “Oh you’re a vegan, lol?” I still feel shame when I tell them why. Through sharing my experience I am practicing some good ol’ millennial self-love that says, “Hey it’s all good and you don’t need to be ashamed.” So a big thank you to those of you reading this who have been so supportive.
Now for those still wondering, “Oh you don’t drink and you’re a vegan whattt?” here’s what led me to the big lifestyle change.
The riskiest part about Fatty Liver Disease (FLD) is that most people don’t realize they have it until the liver sees some damage. This is because there aren’t any noticeable symptoms for having FLD. The symptom I experienced the most is exhaustion.
I was entering my senior year of college so naturally I thought, “Being incredibly tired all the time is part of the hustle,” even though I knew something wasn’t right. I brought it up to my doctor at my annual checkup where we did my blood-work. I highly recommend everyone get their blood work done every year. Most doctors will tell you it’s only necessary if you have a family history of diseases like diabetes, but in reality more children are being diagnosed with FLD due to sugary/high fat diets. The earlier one is able to detect it, the easier it will be to change lifestyles and reverse the disease.
Reading the blood results, my doctor noticed my liver enzymes were elevated. She recommended I get an ultrasound of my liver so they can diagnose with certainty, and sure enough I had FLD. For that first year I was simply told to lose weight and think about a diet change. I started experimenting with a low-carb diet which helped me lose fat, but I was miserable following it.
Feeling completely lost in how I should be caring for my body I decided to just do the best I could eating-wise paired with the occasional workout. I thought this nonchalant way of life would do well for me and the weight would slowly but surely come off, but that wasn’t the case. Fast forward to my next annual blood test and my liver enzymes were even worse and I was told to see a specialist.
After the disappointing results of my last blood test, the pressure felt high. Was I really eating that poorly? Compared to most people I thought I did a pretty good job, but if you’re like me and have a family history of diabetes and other metabolic ailments, you simply cannot expect to eat like the average American and be healthy (not that eating that way is healthy in the first place but people can do whatever they want with their bodies and I’m not here to shame anyone).
That’s when I decided to try a plant based diet.
To be clear: no doctor has recommended any specific diet to me. The truth about FLD is that you can do whatever lifestyle change that works for you as long as you lose fat. The only thing that matters in this whole plan, is that you lose fat because that is how you reverse FLD. Seems simple, but finding that change you’re able to be consistent with is a challenge. I knew low-carb was not going to work with me in the long run, mostly because I’m sensitive to dairy products and I was raised a vegetarian. Some people will love getting to eat lots of animal products and say goodbye to grains, but I definitely am not that person. Veganism has surprisingly been pretty easy for me, and I noticed positive changes right away (which I’ll get into in another post).
When I visited the Gastroenterology specialist, I was two weeks into eating plant based and felt the most positive I had in a long time about the direction of my health. After he asked me some questions about my diet and routine, he said he trusts I’ll be able to reverse my FLD if I keep it up. According to him, I need to lose about 30 pounds to be at a healthy BMI for my age and height, and also need to focus on aerobic exercise five times a week.
Something he said that I found interesting, which I actually don’t totally agree with, was, “Lifting does absolutely nothing to help with fatty liver.” Aerobic (running, swimming, cycling, etc) is great at losing the fat quickly if consistent, but lifting weights is probably the best way to keep the fat gone long term and will help one’s metabolism to boot. So basically I came to the conclusion that I would prioritize aerobic in my day-to-day routine, but incorporate weight lifting a few times a week as well. Here’s an article I found that explains the concept pretty well!
I feel very fortunate that I have such supportive friends who are helping me along the way by sending me articles, videos, and all the positivity. Keeping up with this change would be so much harder without you all!
I have six months before my next blood test, and I’m hoping I can lose at least 20 pounds before then. Another thing I’m not sure about is using weight to measure my fat loss success, especially if I’ll be weight lifting. I usually track inches lost by measuring with a tape measure rather than numbers on a scale, but please tell me what you think in the comments!
Also please subscribe to the newsletter to receive updates on posts.