When I was in second grade, my parents got divorced and my brother and I ended up living with my dad. Unfortunately, while our health was always a priority for my dad, we didn't always have the means to eat the most nutritious, home-cooked foods. (We often lived in small places, sometimes without a kitchen.) That's when fast food and processed foods became part of the norm.
My unhealthy relationship with food really took off during that time. Even though I was a skinny kid growing up, by the time I reached high school, I was considerably overweight and didn't know where or how to start gaining back my health.
Over the years, I tried everything from the South Beach Diet, Atkins, and Weight Watchers to B12 shots with diet pills, the infamous 21 Day Fix, SlimFast, and juicing. The list goes on. Each time I tried one fad or another, I felt like this was it. Each time, I was sure that this time was going to be the time that I finally made a change.
One of those times was my wedding. I thought for sure that the occasion would be the perfect way to get back into shape. Unfortunately, thanks to all the bridal showers, parties, and tastings, I ended up gaining weight instead of losing it. By the time I walked down the aisle, I was a size 26 and weighed over 300 pounds. (Related: Why I Decided Not to Lose Weight for My Wedding)
From that point on, I felt completely hopeless. The fact that I wasn't able to lose weight for what I thought was the most important day of my life made me feel like maybe it just wasn't going to happen.
My true wake-up call came just three years ago, when the son of a friend was diagnosed with a terminal disease. It was devastating to watch him regress because of his illness, eventually becoming bedridden and then passing away.
Watching him and his family go through that pain made me think: Here I was, lucky to have a body that was healthy and capable despite everything I'd done to it. I didn't want to keep living like that anymore. (Related: Watching Her Son Almost Get Hit By a Car Inspired This Woman to Lose 140 Pounds)
So I signed up for my first 5K in his memory—something I now run every year as a reminder of where I've been. In addition to running, I started looking for healthy eating ideas and came across keto, a very low-carb, high-fat diet. I'd never heard of it before. I'd already given everything else under the sun a shot, so I decided it might be worth trying. (Related: Everything You Need to Know About the Keto Diet)
In January 2015, I started on my keto journey.
At first, I thought it would be easy. It definitely wasn't. For the first two weeks, I felt tired and hungry all the time. But as I started teaching myself about food, I realized that I wasn't actually hungry; I was detoxing and craving sugar. ICYDK, sugar is addictive, so your body literally goes through withdrawal when you cut it out. But I found that as long as I stayed on top of my electrolytes and stayed hydrated, the feeling of hunger would pass. (Check out: The Results One Woman Had After Following the Keto Diet)
In just four or five weeks, I started seeing results. I had already lost 21 pounds. That—combined with a newfound mental clarity from cutting sugar out of my diet—really helped motivate me to continue eating well. I'd spent my whole life obsessing about food and, for the first time, I felt my appetite decrease. This allowed me to think about other things that were important to me and to get out of the hungry haze I'd been living in. (Related: The Keto Diet Transformed Jen Widerstrom's Body In Just 17 Days)
I started keeping my diet simple, yet consistent—something I maintain to this day. In the mornings I usually have a cup of coffee with half-and-half and a natural sweetener and scrambled eggs with avocado on the side. For lunch, I'll have a bunless sandwich wrapped in lettuce with chicken or turkey along with a salad with dressing (that isn't loaded with sugar). Dinner usually involves a moderate serving of protein (think fish, chicken, or steak), with a side salad as well. One of my goals is to include green cruciferous vegetables in every meal. I'll snack sometimes if I'm feeling particularly hungry, but TBH, most days that's more than enough food to keep me satisfied, and it doesn't leave me thinking about food. (Also see: How to Safely and Effectively Come Off the Keto Diet)
You might be thinking: What about exercise? I'm not the kind of person who goes to the gym, but I knew that being active would help with weight loss. So I started doing small things to add activity into my day, like parking my car far away so I had to walk farther to get to the store. My weekend activities changed too: Instead of sitting on the couch and watching TV, my husband, daughter, and I go for long walks and hikes. (Related: Why Exercise Is the Least Important Part of Weight Loss)
To date, I've lost 120 pounds, bringing my weight to 168. It goes without saying that keto has been a wonderful decision for me and is a very important part of my story—so much so that I wrote a bookabout it. [Ed note: Many experts believe the ketogenic diet is best followed for a limited amount of time—i.e., for a little as two weeks or up to 90 days—or suggest carb-cycling as an option when not following a low-carb keto diet. Consult your doctor before starting any new diet to ensure there are no contraindications.]
That being said, when it comes to extreme weight loss, it's important to find what works best for you. Once you find that, you have to really invest in it—that's where sustainable success really lies. Most people who've struggled with their weight know that it comes with body-image and self-esteem issues. You have to focus on addressing those issues before you can truly make being healthy a lifestyle and not just a passing phase.
At the end of the day, if my story inspires even one person to treat their body well, then I'd consider that a job well done. The biggest and scariest decision is the decision to try, but what do you have to lose? Take that leap and start treating your body the way it deserves to be treated. You won't regret it.
This article originally appeared on Shape.com.
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