For almost 40 years, I tried every diet that came along in search of the magic bullet that would make me thin, keep me thin, and satisfy my constant hunger. I restricted food, weighed my food, and counted calories. I attended meetings, weighed in, and kept food diaries. I popped diet pills, drank weight loss formulas, and ate protein bars to curb hunger. Over the years, I’d go for weeks at a time eating nothing but cottage cheese, or grapefruit, or rice cakes, or low-fat yogurt, or Special K cereal with skim milk, or Diet Coke and gummie bears (they’re low-fat, right??). In a final act of desperation, I signed onto a very expensive, hospital-based, medically supervised weight loss program, which required that I drink nothing but protein shakes (taking in under 800 calories a day) for six months. I did that twice. It “worked” - both times. I spent a lot of money – both times. I lost a lot of weight – both times. But consuming only protein shakes for the rest of my life was not a sustainable solution for me.
The diet gimmicks worked for a while – especially during my high school years (while in marching band) and college years (as a performer in live shows and parades at Walt Disney World for four summers). In my twenties and thirties, I fluctuated between 124 lbs. and 150 lbs. But as I reached my forties, things started to change. I couldn’t keep the weight off. And by the time I reached my late forties, I had gained 200 lbs. I reached my highest weight…at 5 feet 4 inches, I weighed 324 lbs. And I was afraid.
I continued to struggle with food and went through periods of “all or nothing”…starving myself (“nothing”), and when that wasn’t working, I would eat whatever (“all”), because it just didn’t seem to matter. I couldn’t lose the weight when I was starving. I couldn’t lose it when I was eating a low-fat diet and exercising like my physicians prescribed. I was beyond discouraged. I was exhausted from extremely stressful situations in my work environment and at home. And I was struggling to balance the challenges of being the primary caregiver for my mother (who had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes) for eight years prior to her death in 2010.
As I cared for my Mom during those years, I witnessed how type 2 diabetes ravaged her health and destroyed her once full and vibrant life, until complications from the disease took her life at age 74. My wonderful Mom taught me how to live. But her greatest gift to me was showing me that type 2 diabetes and the litany of complications that accompany it were not the way to die.
I knew that I had to do something, but had no idea what that “something” was. Eating a low-fat diet and exercising more – as my doctors prescribed – were doing nothing more than making me hungrier, sicker, and fatter. I was exhausted all the time. I felt like a complete failure.
Until November 5, 2009, when I had the great fortune of finding and coming under the medical care of Eric C. Westman, MD – Founder and Director of the Duke Lifestyle Medicine Clinic at Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC, and internationally known researcher and expert in the clinical use of very low sugar/very low starch nutrition to manage obesity and to prevent and reverse diseases – including type 2 diabetes.
Before meeting Dr. Westman, I had no idea that everything that I’d learned about diet, food, and nutrition was wrong. I had no idea that the “low-fat diet” that the “experts” had been telling me to eat was precisely what was making permanent weight loss virtually impossible for me. Most importantly, I had no idea that low-fat dieting was silently setting me up for the very same things (type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity) that ultimately caused my Mom’s death.
Thankfully, my Mom’s story won’t be mine, because in the three years since implementing Dr. Westman’s very low sugar/very low starch approach (from November 2009 to current, September 2012), I have lost 185 lbs. and kept it off. Thanks to Dr. Westman, I have learned to eat a well-formulated very low sugar/very low starch diet. I enjoy beautiful, fresh foods every day – eating right at or under 20 g Total Carbs a day, comprised of optimal protein (chicken, beef, poultry, pork, seafood), good fats (olive oil, coconut oil), full-fat dairy (butter, heavy whipping cream, cheeses), eggs (yolks and whites), very low sugar fruits (blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries), and non-starchy vegetables (lettuce, kale, spinach, onion, tomatoes, green beans, squash, zucchini, broccoli, bell peppers).
I am 51 years old, weigh 139 lbs., and have more energy than I did thirty years ago. My arteries are clear and my blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose, and A1C levels are all beautifully normal…all of which are hard to believe for those who don’t understand the science behind very low sugar/very low starch eating. But it is true.
I have the best health of my life and my healthiest years ahead…because of Eric Westman, MD, and others who know the science and understand that very low sugar/very low starch foods are the most powerful medicine we have. We can heal broken metabolisms and prevent and reverse a myriad of health conditions by simply eating beautiful, fresh very low sugar/very low starch foods that truly nourish us on all levels.
We can’t exercise our way out of a bad diet. But we really can heal ourselves with the right one. I am thankful for Dr. Westman and for his work with very low sugar/very low starch nutrition. To say that it changed my life is an understatement. It saved my life. And I’m thankful for finally finding a wonderful way of eating that is sustainable, healthy and right for me. I am no longer at war with food. No longer at war with the scales. No longer at war with myself.
I'll never forget the day I went to particular appointment to see my doctor (Eric C Westman, MD, MHS, (founder-director of the Duke Lifestyle Medicine Clinic, Durham, NC, and President-Elect of the American Society of Bariatric Physians (not surgeons :-). At that appointment, Dr Westman told me, "Lynne, you have to eat fat to lose fat"...I couldn't believe it! Had a hard time wrapping my head around that one...but it's true. From that point on, I made a conscious effort to include more of the good fats in my diet. And the pounds melted away.
What advice (if any) would you give to someone interested in trying a carbohydrate-restricted or paleo diet? Were there any obstacles that you overcame that could help future dieters?
My advice would be to immerse yourself in the real science out there that supports low-carb living. Read books by authors like Eric C Westman, MD (The New Atkins for a New You), Drs Steve Phinney and Jeff Volek (The Art & Science of Low-Carb Living, and The Art & Science of Low-Carb Performance), and of course, Gary Taubes (Good Calories, Bad Calories, and Why We Get Fat & What To Do About It).
Search the web and enjoy the myriad of low-carb websites and low-carb recipes...there is no reason in the world to be hungry or bored with food when you low-carb...check out some wonderful recipe sites and bloggers, like Linda's Low-Carb recipes, Jamie Van Eaton's Your Lighter Side blog, Chef George Stella's site and amazing success story at Stella Style. Real food is delicious!! And it's made a 185 lb weight loss sustainable and permanent for me.
Dr Westman says that low-carb living isn't a weight-loss diet...weight loss is a nice side benefit (true!!), but that the real magic is happening on the inside...with prevention and reversal of diseases and major improvements in a number of health markers, like cholesterol,triglycerides, and blood glucose levels,to name a few. I see insulin dependent/med dependent diabetics coming completely off of meds and insulin every day when they are under the care of Dr Westman...in essence, he is curing diabetes...totally reversing it...every single day. Miracles. I just wish more in the medical community knew and understood the real science behind low-carbing. (Ironically, Dr Westman teaches the only course in an American medical school (here at Duke University School of Medicine) that addresses the use of ketogenic diet to address obesity and to prevent and reverse disease. It is an elective for our medical students. one of these days...I hope Dr Westman and other physicians like him will get the respect deserved and that courses like this will be mainstream).
I help Dr Westman lead the Low-Carb Support Group here at Duke...as a patient, group member, and group coordinator...I know how important it has been to me to surround myself with others who "get" low-carb. We have a wonderful group here in Durham, NC, that meets with Dr Westman monthly...we'd love to have anyone coming to the area join us! Click here for more information.