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  • Writer's pictureAssistant to Alisa Valdes

Alisa's Long Covid Diary: Trying a New Diet

As those of you who follow me on social media (and especially Twitter) probably know, I'm one of the tens of millions of Americans now suffering from Long Covid, a chronic illness one gets in the wake of contracting the Sars-Cov-2 virus. I got covid back in February 2020, and have not felt truly well for more than a few days at a time ever since.

Long Covid (the chronic form of disease caused by the Sars-Cov-2 virus) damages the lining of the blood vessels and according to the groundbreaking research of Dr. Amy Proal and others appears to be the result of chronic ongoing infection that the body is unable to clear. The virus seeds itself throughout the body in the bloodstream early in the infection, and depending upon where it settles and hides, people can have a wide variety of debilitating and disabling symptoms. But essentially the virus kills and damages the smallest blood vessels everywhere and anywhere in the body, leading to a host of secondary diseases and symptoms, including immunodeficiencies and cancers.

I have more problems from this disease than I want to list here. But one of them in particular is proving very problematic, and I am embarking today on a journey to try to manage it.

Long Covid damaged my mitochondria and left my body unable to process and burn fat or create energy the way it did prior to my infection. This has led to weight gain and pre-diabetes, which in turn have begun to cause all the problems that go along with being obese and having diabetes, including loss of kidney function, increased intracranial pressure (leading to cerebrospinal fluid leaks), and new artheriosclerosis that led to me having mini-strokes and a heart attack earlier this year.

Before I got covid, I was overweight, but not obese, at 5'6" and 175 lbs. Covid-induced autoimmunity damaged the cartilege in my spine, and I've shrunk to 5'5" and after an enormous loss of weight in the acute phase (I got down to 140) I regained the weight and then, without changing my lifestyle, gained additional weight. I am, today, 5/5"and 205 pounds, giving me a BMI of 34.1, which is resoundingly obese.

Before covid, I wore a size 14. Now I wear size 20.

This is all conspiring to shorten my life and to make what life I do have painful.

Because this disease has also left me unable to exercise vigorously as I used to do (I was a dance instructor, personal trainer and avid trail runner) due to something called Post Exertional Malaise that occurs when mitochondrial energy metabolism is disrupted, I have been finding it challenging to lose weight in the ways I used to. I have finally come to the conclusion that weight loss must come now almost exclusively from diet.

I am able to walk during times when the disease is not flaring (it flares and remits, over and over, like other autoimmune diseases or ME/CFS), but I cannot run without it triggering a major setback and flare. Resistence training of any kind likewise triggers flares, likely due to the decrease in capillaries seen in people with Long Covid (the disease kills capillaries).

For someone who spend decades as a fitness professional, this is all quite sobering and difficult to accept.

Today I began a major overhaul of my diet, going from a ketogenic approach (not helping with weight loss anymore) to a Very Low Energy Diet (VLED) instead. (I'm doing this under the supervision of my physician, and if you're going to make any drastic changes in lifestyle, you should too!) A VLED is one in which an obese person consumes only whole foods that are low in calories for their volume. Here is a list of the foods that are allowed on this diet.

A collection of photos of foods shows what it allowed on the VLED. They include the protein foods fish, beef, eggs, chicken, pork and plain yogurt and low starch vegetables including cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, leafy greens of many types, celery, onion, garlic, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and zucchini. Serving sizes are shown as meat being equal in size to the palm of your hand, fish equaling the entire hand to the fingertips, and a cup of vegetables equalling a fist, with the suggestion per meal being 2 cups vegetables and one serving protein.

Adhering to this diet, which doesn't even allow for fruit (too much sugar) is going to be a challenge, but one I am 100 percent committed to. I'm sharing it in my journal here as a way to both perhaps help others and also to hold myself accountable.

The meal I have to make the biggest mental shift around is breakfast. Today I had a head of baby bok choy sauteed in water (no more cooking with oil for me for a while) gluten-free tamari sauce and sriracha with half a yellow onion, two cloves of sliced garlic, and 4 ounces of firm tofu. I also had 4 cups of matcha green tea, plain. It was better than I expected, and VERY filling.

As I write this, I'm about to have a small snack before I take a relaxed 2 or 3 mile walk followed by meditation in the forest. The snack is half a cup of coconut yogurt with a teaspoon of olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper. I will also drink 32 ounces of water en route to the hiking trail.

Dinner will be 4 ounces of sirloin steak, sliced and cooked in the Korean bulgogi style and served along with carrots, red peppers, cucumbers and scallions in butter lettuce leaf wraps.

This diet will keep my calories between 900 and 1000 per day, which combined with gentle walking should result in me being able to lose 2 to 3 pounds per week. Given that my ideal weight range is between 114 and 149 pounds, I am aiming for 145 pounds. That's a weight loss of 60 pounds. At 2 pounds per week, I should get there in 30 weeks, or around July 31, 2024. I'll be taking photos and videos all the way along, as well as medical labs, but will not share them until the end.

I am counting on you guys to help hold me accountable, and look forward to you sharing what has worked for you. Please be advised: I block and ban people who defend obesity. Obesity is not healthy. It's a leading cause of death. It doesn't occur in nature. It's not a legitimate "diversity," but an unfortunate one. As an obese person, I expect to be treated with respect because I'm a human being, but I do not need or want to belong to a community that celebrates obesity for the same reason I don't want to be part of a crowd that would celebrate smoking or alcoholism.

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