Dr. Cathy’s SANE Success Story: Coming Alive at 65


Jonathan: Jonathan Bailor, back, with another SANE show and especially excited about today’s show because a dear friend and incredible SANE success story to share with you today, a woman who has been going SANE and has been a wonderful sounding board for me, personally, because she lives here in Seattle and she is such as wonderful individual, for probably three years now. So, very, very exciting, one of the earliest members of our community and one of the most shining examples of what SANity can do when a brilliant person lives it. Dr. Cathy Britell, welcome to the show.

Cathy: Hi Jonathan. Good to see you.

Jonathan: Well, Dr. Cathy, as you are known in the SANE circles, I know folks have seen your success story in the Calorie Myth Book, and in the Eat More, Lose More book, and also on the SANE solution website, but we haven’t actually heard it directly from you. So, can you take us back to the early days of Dr. Cathy and then bring us up to today?

Cathy: Sure, yes. Well, I was a little, cute, chubby kid, very thick glasses, not very athletic, very bookish, and into music. I was raised by parents who were children of the depression. Children of the depression never had enough to eat, and never wasted a thing, so at home it was always clean the plate and eat that last bit of mashed potatoes. And also, having enough food was a brilliant, wonderful thing for my parents, so my mother made these beautiful pies. Every day we have pie for dessert, which is Crisco, which is essentially all trans-fat, because then, she was told that Crisco was healthier than butter. And so, pies, cakes, potatoes, lots of wonderful things. And then breakfast cereals became available, and then sweetened breakfast cereals. Frosted flakes were the very, very best thing.

Our parents were doing the very best thing they knew how, to enjoy all the beautiful food that was available during the 50s and early 60s. It was just amazing, I have to love them for it, but I think that was the start of my obesity, plus a little genetic stuff. I had a grandmother who was obese and diabetic, and my mother said, “Well, in our family the women tend toward being chubby.” You know, this was from Minnesota.

I grew up, went to high school. My family moved to California, which was quite wonderful, and there I was much, much more active, and actually became less chubby. But all the way through college I was a bit overweight and always on a diet, always restricted myself, didn’t eat too much, only one helping, portion control. I did a lot of exercise, walking. I was bicycling a lot. I would bicycle from the middle of Los Angeles down to Santa Monica and all along the beach, and back up the hill back to Occidental College and Eagle Rock. Long, long days, long bicycle rides. And always kind of chubby.

And then, I went to medical school, though I was a music major in college.

Jonathan: Well, that makes sense. As most music majors in college, I went to medical school.

Cathy: It was so cool. I was dating all these guys who really wanted some way to support them, and I was playing in an all-girl Dixieland band in bars in L.A., and I was playing in a part of the NBC studio orchestra where we made ads. I was the clarinet player in Double Your Flavor, Double Your Fun, with Doublemint Gum, that kind of stuff. But realizing that it was really hard to make a living, even as a pretty good musician, so I went back and took some courses and got into medical school. I was very poor, I borrowed my way through medical school, you know, a little back house in East L.A. in the barrio, and learned Spanish in order to talk with my neighbors.

The wonderful thing about that neighborhood is that I inadvertently went SANE, because my neighbors all had gardens, and all had chickens, and every day I would find at my doorstep piles of leafy vegetables and tomatoes, and all kinds of wonderful things. Some of these vegetables I didn’t even know existed, but they were great. And eggs. I would have fresh eggs every day. So, that is what I lived on. In the meantime I was doing heavy yard work in order to make some money, because that was the only skill I had besides being a musician, and teaching music, so basically, I was eating a very, very good diet. And I thought it was just the hard work that was doing it.

So, I got through medical school, to make a very long story very short. As I learned more and studied more we were all taught that heart disease was on the rise, and so we were taught that a low-fat diet was very, very important. At the same time, I got a paycheck, got married, and started cooking “healthy” food. And, as happens with many women when they get married, weight starts creeping up, because you are cooking for someone, you are eating with someone, and you are oftentimes living with a person whose metabolism might be quite a bit different from yours.

My husband, who was also a physician, was a tall, 6 foot 2 inch, skinny guy. I was a 5 foot 7 inch girl who was kind of starting to gain some weight and get a little softer around the edges. Then I got pregnant and became much softer around the edges. The first pregnancy my baby was ten pounds, I had gestational diabetes, I had to have a C-section, and really was taught just to eat a low-fat diet, a limited amount of meat, and be sure to eat enough calories. Essentially, I ate lots of cereal, lots of grains, and gained a huge amount of weight during that first pregnancy. Second pregnancy, same thing, only worse. After the second pregnancy I had gone from a size 10 to a size 18. I was fairly fit because I was riding my bike, I had the kids on bike carriers, and running with the stroller. They didn’t have those nice jogging strollers in those days, so the kids were kind of bouncing along (laughs). They survived, they both got doctoral degrees.

Jonathan: (laughs) There was no brain damage that took place in the stroller.

Cathy: They are all great. But as time went on, trying to cook healthier and healthier, my weight was just creeping up. And then, when menopause came it got worse. It wasn’t very fast, I didn’t put on a huge amount of weight, but I dieted constantly. I deprived myself of all the good things. I never had a big steak, I’d have a little piece of steak, and have little tiny portions of food, and lots of whole grain pasta, whole grain bread, quinoa, all that stuff that was supposed to be good for me, industrial seed oils because we were told to cook with Canola oil, all those inflammatory industrial seed oils, again, following all the rules. I was so good at following the rules. And the weight just kept creeping up.

After menopause, I was pre-diabetic. I was cold and tired all of the time, but I was eating probably 800-1000 calories a day, only. And I kept that up for years. My doctor would say, “Oh, you must be hypothyroid, you can’t get your temperature above 96 degrees.” And she would check my thyroid, and it was fine. I was simply starving. So she said, “Here’s a good gym, and a great trainer. You must be eating more than you’re saying you’re eating.” All people who are overweight are lazy liars, right? I was eating 800 calories a day, man.

So, I went to the gym. I would do all my continuing education, i-Pod, on the elliptical machines, for an hour or two a day, seven days a week. I figured if one hour a day was good, two hours would even be better. At that point, I was up to 235 pounds and size 22. The weight just kept going up. I was surprisingly successful. Considering how I felt, I did pretty darn good, but it took all that long, reading everything I could read in the mainstream medical literature, just continuing to beat this dead horse. Until I listened to you on the nightly news one night. You were there with Dean Anderson, talking about your then new book which was The Smarter Science of Slim, and what you were saying made sense to me. I said to myself, “This kind of goes against what I have been taught as a physician, but I have nothing to lose, there is nothing dangerous about this, it is just eating and exercising, that’s not different, and I am so tired of this lifestyle.”

So, I started. Got the book, read it in two days, and I said, “Wow, let’s give this a try.” So I did, and it was amazing. In two weeks my clothes were all getting looser, I was having more energy, I was warm, I was smiling more, and I was more creative. Lots of things just so positive were happening to me and I was just truly amazed that it was doing something as simple as eating a delicious SANE diet, that even my husband absolutely loved. I used to have to cook two different menus every night, one for him and one for me. Now, to this day he says, “This is the best thing that ever happened to our cuisine,” because we have these delicious, gorgeous meals.

And eating is fun, eating is not about deprivation. Eating is about eating really good food until you are full. You don’t eat vanilla milkshakes, which I like, I really like, but there is so much good food that we eat when we eat SANE that you don’t miss all the junk that you used to love. Over about two-and-a-half years I think I lost about 40 pounds. I went from size 22 to size 14. I am not a thin fitness model by any means. I am still a 68-year-old woman who looks like a 68-year-old woman (laughs), but I feel a whole lot better, and I really thank you for getting this idea out there and changing my life.

Jonathan: Thank you so much, Dr. Cathy, and your story just typifies what wakes me up personally every day, which is, at one point in time during your story you were recounting what people were telling you, and let’s be clear here, what they were telling a board-certified physician, who actually became a physician in a time period when, especially becoming a physician as a woman was not all that common, and I can imagine, not all that easy, put herself through that experience financially, so clearly, the mental and disciplinary capabilities you have are not matched by many, raised many children, all of whom have advanced degrees and are just kicking butt in the world.

So clearly, this idea that there is some sort of character flaw or intelligence flaw, or willpower flaw, going on in you, is absurd. You were starving yourself, you were spending all this time on the treadmill, and people were just telling you that you needed to try harder, and that took you to a place that was so disappointing, was so dehumanizing, you were literally, and you said it, you were starving. How can you rock your mission and rock your life when you are cold and starving all day? And right now, you’re brilliant, you’re radiant, you’re healthy, and like you said, you are not a fitness model, but I don’t know if your goal is to become a fitness model, is it?

Cathy: I want to be a grandma, and play music, enjoy my friends. And the other thing that I am doing, which is really, really fun, I do a lot of music workshops, and my music students have watched my body transform, and they said, how did you do that? A lot of times when I am doing my Cancer Music Workshops, I will also have sessions on SANity, and it has been just a delight watching so many of my students become slim and healthy, and have big smiles, and actually become better musicians because they have more energy and they have more engagement. When you’re starving, you can’t make your brain work optimally.

Jonathan: I love that focus on performance and smiling, because it embodies what we talk about so often, which is that nutritional serenity, whereas the goal of being a fitness competitor is a fine goal, but that is just not the goal we are after here on a SANE lifestyle. But the goal is, like you said, “I eat, I enjoy it, I eat when I’m hungry, and I stop when I’m full. People around me notice how radiant I am. I don’t have to cook 15 different meals, it’s not complicated, and I’m able to focus on other stuff.” And, you are incredibly healthy and fit, for you, for who Cathy Britell is, for where she comes from, for who she is and where she is in her life. You are a 10 out of 10 when we look at it from that perspective.

Cathy: Yes, absolutely. The important thing, I think, particularly for women, is that we tend to put others’ needs ahead of our own, whether it is our husbands, where it is our children, we are the ones who are always going to be there for our children. I’m not saying that is bad, I think that is good, but it is so easy to take this slice of life called SANity, and have it for ourselves, and be so much healthier, so much happier, so much more productive, so much more creative. I love it. I absolutely love it.

Jonathan: I love that you are willing to share this with us, Cathy, and all the wonderful help you do around the country to help other people go SANE, it’s just fabulous. To close, if you could tell Dr. Cathy Britell, when she was on the 800-calorie, two-hour-per-day stair-stepping, cold, struggling, if you could go back in time, knowing what you know now, and living, experiencing the life that you have experienced not post SANity, what would you say to that Dr. Cathy?

Cathy: Number one, I would say, “You are amazing. You have an amazing amount of willpower, an amazing amount of intelligence, an amazing amount of ability, and you can have it all. You can really have it all, if you just get the right information, and here it is.”

Jonathan: Boom! I love that, I love that. That is fabulous. It is an information problem, and I couldn’t have put it any better myself, so I won’t try to. Dr. Cathy, where can folks learn more about you online?

Cathy: They can learn about me online at effectivehealthylifestyle.org. I have a website about my SANE journey and about ways that people can get on this bandwagon.

Jonathan: I love it. Dr. Cathy Britell, thank you so much for all that you have done, and all that you are, and I hope that your SANity continues, and I know it will. Thank you for sharing it with us today.

Cathy: Thank you, Jonathan, in so many ways.

Jonathan: Thank you, too. And viewers and listeners, thank you so much for joining us. And again, please be sure to check out Dr. Cathy Britell at cbritellmd.net.