How Trans Fats Almost Killed Me - Literally
“What? You want me to have a CAT Scan?!” Is all I could sputter after doing a double-take in my doctors office.
“Yes, that’s probably the best thing you can do at this point, and I wouldn’t feel good unless we know for sure what’s going on. Besides it’s probably nothing…” Said my doctor as he stood up from his stool and walked towards the door.
“I want you to go see a specialist at the hospital down in Kent, here’s all the details.” He handed me a pad of paper and sent me on my way.
Let’s back up a second. How did I get here? And why am I only 20 years old and being told to go get a CAT Scan?
It all started when I was working out at my University’s gym, I had begun to really pile on the weight to my squat routine. And I was very happy because I was powering through some intense sessions and having a great time doing it too. That is until… My head started hurting… And not just hurting, but, in the middle of a really heavy squat all of a sudden a sharp pain would spike across the top of my head and sear into my temples. Next, a compressing and severe pressure would take it’s place and then the world would begin to darken and get hazy really fast.
The pain and haziness wouldn’t stop for a good 10-15 minutes afterwards, and then I would just have a dull headache for sometimes hours afterwards.
I thought that it would eventually stop doing this, and that I could get back into my normal workout routine. But every time I would squat, there would come that skull crushing headache.
One of my workout partners saw how much pain I was in and suggested I go to a doctor.
That’s where the CAT Scan came in… and I thought that was the scary part…
The results of the CAT Scan is what you, and I, and everyone reading this should be scared about.
What caused the headaches?
Well according to my specialist after looking at the scan, he determined that the heavy weight combined with the way I was placing the squat bar across my back was causing extreme muscle cramping which in turn was causing extreme headaches. “WHEW!” I thought to myself, because I knew that could be easily fixed by altering my workout form.
But the bad news was when he showed me the pictures…
“You see this?” My doctor said as he pointed to the CAT Scan of my skull and moved his finger down to the base of my skull.
“That white area right there is an abnormal amount of plaque building up in your arteries, and we can even see it up here in the CAT Scan. That’s not a good sign. And in fact you have the arteries of someone 30 years older than you who does not watch what they eat.”
He went on to say that if I wasn’t careful, that this would most likely kill me, and do it pretty quickly at that.
Hearing those words scared the living daylights out of me. And honestly I didn’t really know what to do. All my specialist said was to get my cholesterol levels figured out by getting a blood test and then work from there.
I never did get my cholesterol checked, maybe because I was scared to see the results.
But no one gave me any real reason why this happened, and no doctor gave me any real actionable advice on how to fix it, they only wanted me to get more tests.
I thought, what the heck, I’ll take matters into my own hands and try and figure out why I have this crazy plaque build-up and see how I can fix it.
At the time I was attending a 4 year University program and had access to the library and the infinite resource of the internet, so I started scouring everything I could get my hands on. Prior to this I had very little experience with nutrition, and this was my big wake up call.
In the process of tracking down what might have caused the plaque build up I learned a lot about general nutrition as well, and this initial research process was the first step to how I got hooked on nutrition and fitness. (But that’s another story)
In the end it all became very obvious that the majority of the foods I was eating since I began college not only contained trans fats… but that they were basically drenched in trans fats. I was living in a fraternity house, and we had hired out a cook to make food for us. My University was in a small town, and not a lot of people were available for the job, so we took what we could get. And what we got was a cook who completely forgot that there was a stove, oven, and range, she only paid close attention to the deep fat fryers.
And that’s what we mainly got. Deep fat fried food.
Fries, chicken fingers, jo-jo’s, cheese sticks, and when people felt goofy, they’d even throw in apples, or snickers bars. Basically, you name it, and it was deep fat fried. And I checked the ingredients of the deep fat fryer grease, which came in big cardboard boxes with plastic lining with a nozzle that would pop out. Anyhow, the ingredients list was simply trans fats, and nothing more. Eww!
When our cook didn’t deep fat fry our food, then she usually chose something with a high concentration of margarine which is also code for trans fats. Our margarine would come in those huge yellow tubs and she would just slather it onto bread like it was going out of style. She would throw it on the grill and coat grilled cheese sandwiches with it. We went through the margarine fast.
And our menu didn’t change much, it was just recycled trans fat fried or trans fat slathered food.
Now… I’m not a picky eater, so I didn’t really complain, and in fact I kind of enjoyed some of those meals. But I didn’t realize they were slowly killing me.
You see, trans fats are actually designed by humans, and are not naturally occurring. They were created to use in food so that you can increase the shelf life of packaged foods. The reason why trans fats increase the shelf life is because they don’t really decompose like normal fats do. And that’s a problem.
Because trans fats don’t behave like normal fats, your body can’t really metabolize them very well, and they end up padding your arteries. And that is not fun, for you, or anyone. In fact it’s downright dangerous and scary.
As soon as I figured this out… well… I instantly stopped eating the same foods. And I was cooking lots of my own meals and skipping out on the normal fraternity food game.
In a way you could say that working out may have saved my life because if I hadn’t had those crazy headaches… then I may have never found out about my arteries being so clogged.
And I’m happy to report that I actually did finally get my cholesterol levels checked about a year ago, and they are in a wonderful range. All thanks to proper knowledge about nutrition, proper exercise, and having a little fun too.
Don’t misunderstand me, I still eat “bad” or “junk” food, I think there is a time and place for everything. I think in moderation most things are just great, and truthfully I think I might go a little insane without a few treats here and there. But at least I understand the balance now, and I’m able to use it to my advantage and have fun.
In fact I’m going out to my parents place for dinner tonight, and I’m eating some pizza!
Trans fat FREE pizza!