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In the mid-1990s, velvet-voiced Carla Young-Ellsman of Hawaii had a budding singing and recording career that ground to a sudden halt when her father fell ill. Having lost her mother at a young age, Carla gladly signed on to be his caretaker. Before long, she added her father-in-law’s care to her responsibilities, starting a long and dangerous detour in her own life and health. The heart-breaking loss of two close friends, as well as her two beloved border collies—all within a two-year period—left Carla emotionally numb and increasingly isolated and fearful of attachments.
Her self-destructive relationship with food added to her numbness … and her size, which grew from an 8 to a 14, to a tight “large,” at which point she stopped wearing “real clothes” and started wearing elastic pants and huge T-shirts to hide herself. She pretty much stopped leaving the house, turning down virtually all social invitations. “I basically shut down, emotionally and physically,” Carla says. “The rest of my family had all become diabetic. I was determined not to go down that road, but despite my constant low-fat dieting, I couldn’t lose the weight.”
Over the next several years, Carla was diagnosed with insulin resistance, fatty liver, and gallbladder problems. A stress test came back abnormal. These issues hampered her ability to care for her dad and father-in-law, not to mention eroded her self-image and her hopes of returning to her singing career. After several years, Carla started assisting a local holistic veterinarian to help make ends meet.
How Airway Constriction Threatened Carla’s Health
In mid-2017, Carla’s dentist noticed that her airways were constricted and that her tooth enamel was eroding due, in part, to teeth grinding. He convinced her to do a sleep study, where they found that her breathing was interrupted an incredible 19 times per hour!
Carla’s airway constriction threatened her overall health and even her heart. Indeed, she’d been having intermittent Charlie horse-type pains in her chest and even weakness on the left side of her body for years, which were found to be related to one of her heart valves. Carla’s dentist urged her to see one of Hawaii’s top speech pathologists, Carolinda “Trini” Murphy, about her airway issues. Murphy confirmed soft tissue abnormalities affecting Carla’s tongue mobility, and also a swallowing muscle dysfunction.
Most concerning, Carla’s Mallampati score—a rating of the size of a person’s airway capacity—was a IV, the maximum degree of constriction on the medical rating scale. This had resulted in darkness under her eyes (called “shiners” in Murphy’s line of work), serious exhaustion, and narcoleptic episodes where she’d unwittingly drift off to sleep many times per day. Carla soon underwent surgery to increase her tongue mobility and was next looking at more serious surgery to open her airways. Hoping to avoid it, she pursued Murphy’s state-of-the-art training and stretching program to open her tiny airways, and was also put on a CPAP device to ease her breathing at night. The CPAP lessened the literal “heartache” she often woke up with due to lack of oxygen.
Weight Issues & Food Cravings
Despite faithful compliance to all of her regimens, Carla’s weight, food cravings, and occasional heart twinges persisted. And as hard as she tried, she still couldn’t coordinate her swallowing muscles to drink normally, or enlarge her airway, even after doing Murphy’s advanced exercises and stretches—which had been successful for other patients. “After consulting with colleagues across the U.S., Carla’s case had me stumped,” says Murphy.
Finally, Carla’s naturopath recommended that she try a high-fat, low-carb diet. Carla had read about this type of diet in my book, The Truth About Beauty, several years prior, but her naturopath’s suggestion prompted her to revisit the basic principles. She began to see improvements in her weight and heart monitoring results by changing her diet and taking some supplements (recommended by her naturopath).
Feeling that she was on the right path, Carla contacted me this past summer to pursue an even lower-carb, higher-fat, leptin hormone-optimizing regimen (read more about leptin in Transforming Our View of Fat). Within a week, she began to see a big drop in her appetite and inflammation-related fluid retention, especially in her arms, face, neck, and waist. She decided, with Murphy’s blessing, to stop doing her oral exercises to see if dietary changes alone could improve her airways. After a couple of weeks, she wondered if it was her imagination when she checked her airway in the mirror, and it looked nearly double in size. She scheduled an appointment with Murphy to be sure.
“When I walked in, she commented that I looked incredible and asked what I was doing,” says Carla. “But when she took a look at my airway, she was speechless. She had me drink a small cup of water … I used to rack my brain and did tons of practicing to get my tongue, lips, and mouth muscles to swallow normally, but couldn’t. When I drank the water this time, I saw her eyes fill with tears and she simply said: ‘You’re done.’ I thought to myself: ‘This is either really bad or really good news.’ She told me that my Mallampati score was now a perfect ‘1’ because my airways fully opened. My lips were even closing all the way. She said that if I’d looked like this when I first came to see her, she wouldn’t have even taken me as a patient. Mind you, I’d started with one of the narrowest airways she’d ever seen. Now, she said, I no longer need surgery!”
Murphy’s note to me the same day confirmed this: “When Carla walked into my office yesterday, I first noticed her body shape had changed. And her face. Most notably, the ‘shiners’ under her eyes had disappeared. After months of working with her to no avail, I pretty much all but discharged her today. Her airway has completely opened and all signs and symptoms of soft tissue and muscle dysfunction are gone. I’ve never seen anything like this kind of recovery.”
A New Life to Sing About
“Only a few months ago, I’d resigned myself to a future of physical complications,” Carla says. “To suddenly envision life without all that is truly like a dream. I can breathe easily again. I don’t have any heart twinges anymore. I can sleep again. I have a waist again. My belly is almost flat and my ‘back flab’ is gone. I can see my collar bones, and my thighs aren’t struggling to pass each other when I walk. I don’t plan to weigh myself, but I never imagined I’d achieve my ‘goal’ size 8 jeans again (and I’m still losing), only this time the healthy way… with zero food obsessing, starving, or shame. My friends can’t believe how my appearance and shape have changed. When I look at that old photo from the early ’90s of me with my band, I remember how I ‘starved’ to look like that and still thought I was fat! Now, I’m not suffering or struggling at all, and I feel far better today, and even look better than I did decades ago!
“I had barely sung a note all these years because my joy was gone. And though I still take care of both my dads, I have much more stamina and get much more done. Most importantly, my optimism and hope have returned. I find myself singing and whistling all the time … I’m even hitting new notes lately… and thinking—even at 57—about possibly taking the stage again. Only now can I realize how caged, sad, and ashamed I had become. But no longer.”
Carla’s husband, Eric, was so impressed that he joined her for my educational retreat on the Tennessee River last fall, where they gave an impromptu concert for the rest of my clients. After learning about my regimen and returning to the “real world,” Eric’s stomach pains, blood pressure, and love-handle issues promptly resolved. His doctor commented that his skin color went ‘from grayish to pinkish, like he’s a different person.’
I asked Carla if it was hard for them to stick with my regimen, given their former sugar addictions—Eric’s colleagues, especially, marvelled at his unwavering “willpower” against the donuts and other junk he used to eat. “Other than eating on time, it’s not hard at all because there’s just no temptation anymore,” says Carla. “Our sense of taste and even smell have changed in a big way. We’ve actually never knowingly strayed or wanted to, and that’s a first. We see this as a life-long path for us. Our next mission is to get our dads doing this!”