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Naturally Managing Cushing’s Disease

Learn how a reality fitness trainer got a new start—and a new body—by changing her approach to nutrition.

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“The photo of me in the pink dress was taken a month after I started Kat’s program. You can see that the swelling from my Cushing’s is nearly gone. No more embarrassment to tell people I’m a trainer,” says Shianne Lombard.

In 2016, a widely publicized study showing weight regain and metabolic destruction in contestants of the popular reality show The Biggest Loser led to the promotion of several potentially misleading—and possibly dangerous—ideas about weight loss. Most notably, the idea that the body will always return to its “set point” weight after a diet and exercise program (as happened to those eight ill-fated contestants), making such efforts essentially futile. Promoters of this idea suggested gastric surgery, or even a long-term drug regimen, for weight loss.

As someone who has helped people achieve dramatic and permanent weight loss, I felt compelled to offer a counterpoint, which I shared with radio hosts across the country. Shianne Lombard, 40, a featured trainer on season three of The Biggest Loser, heard one of those interviews. Seeking answers to a physically devastating diagnosis of Cushing’s disease, the Maryland-based Lombard was intrigued by my story of how the hormone leptin played a large part in my own transformation.

The Leptin Connection

Cushing’s disease, which causes a constant fight-or-flight state of elevated cortisol, forces the body to store loads of fat to protect the organs. “People often gain 100 pounds. I was lucky to gain a little over 30, but as a trainer that can end your career,” says Lombard.

After adrenal gland removal surgery brought on instant menopause, sleep and mood issues, and even more weight gain, Lombard tried every diet and drug combination she could find. She even resorted to purging. “I knew there was more going on than a love of food,” she says, “and this leptin thing you figured out really sounded like a big missing piece, especially when I heard you talk about how it regulates appetite and reproductive and thyroid hormones, deepens sleep, and resolved your own issues with food, weight, and inflammation.”

Change Can Happen Fast

Lombard signed up to attend one of my 5-day retreats, and began an initial transition toward my dietary protocol at home (before the retreat), including increasing fat intake, reducing carbs, and taking supplements to ease the transition. “I went through a headache-y phase over the first few days,” she says. “But in a little over a week, my menstrual cycle resumed for the first time in over four years. My mood began to lift. With my doctor’s supervision, I began to wean off certain meds I’d started taking to combat those moods (e.g., Abilify, Paxil). By the time I arrived at the retreat, my belly had started to flatten.”

What Is Leptin? To learn about leptin, its effects on weight and other issues, and the science behind it, read “Beyond Paleo” by Kat James.

In Lombard’s own words:

“I was losing a ton of fluid, I was sleeping better, and I woke up with a clearer head each day during the retreat. I was surrounded by decadent food all week, and was actually eating far more than just a few weeks prior. But I was losing weight, rather than gaining. Amazingly, I never wanted a second serving of anything. It was surreal to be so satisfied on less food. By the time I got home, my mood, sleep, and eating patterns had improved. I started weaning off other prescriptions, including Ambien, Xanax, and Adderall, which I used to take just to get through the day. Within a little over a month, my lab results came back with all hormonal numbers going in the right direction. I lost 18 lbs. of fat and gained 4 lbs. of muscle. I am seeing with nutrition alone what I never saw happen before, no matter how much I worked out!

“Even if I never lost another pound, the emotional stability and peace with food are what I wouldn’t trade for anything. I still have to navigate challenges like eating out, making time to cook at home, and finding the right dosage of steroids, which I have to take for the rest of my life due to Cushing’s. But I never want to go back to how it was.”