In the spring of 2005 I weighed 388lbs.
It was one of those numbers that you never thought you’d actually see on a scale that YOU are standing on. That number was reserved for really obese people-like the ones you see on tv that have difficulty leaving their house because of their situation. I wasn’t that big. At least I didn’t think I was that big. But there I was. That number was my reality.
I didn’t understand what that number meant, how I got there, or why there was so much shame attached to it. I just knew it was a LOT, and I would never, ever admit it to anyone. Ever. The scale became my enemy, and that number became the only identity I fixated on. And, the only identity I attempted to fix.
Truth be told it’s been the Stephanie vs. the scale show for as long as I can remember.
I was an average-sized (whatever that means!) baby and toddler, but by kindergarten, I was already labeled as “the chubby girl”, and still hold onto vivid memories of being aware of my size compared to my classmates.
I don’t recall a single grade where I wasn’t one of the biggest (and often THE biggest) student in my class- including college.
Being overweight was who I was, and to be honest, aside from my career, it was all that I was. Being overweight got in the way of everything because it’s all that I ever thought about. It was difficult for me to form friendships, be in relationships, and, most important, understand how to love myself. Life revolved around my weight. It made me angry, sad, and embarrassed. It made me feel as though I wasn’t good enough. It made me settle for things. I couldn’t look any deeper into who I was as a person and how to get better at being ME because my mind was obsessed with the idea that fat=broken.
From 2005-2011 I decided to try something, anything, to lose the weight once and for all. I dieted, exercised, started running (I even completed a few triathlons!), went to weight loss meetings, downed weight-loss shakes, and although I never tried anything drastic or dangerous, I tried many, many things.
In that time I discovered a love of running. Although I was slow, when I ran, I didn’t feel fat. I felt strong.
I felt strong enough to complete multiple 5ks, a 10k, a 15k, and even two sprint distance triathlons!
I also began learning how to cook and experimenting with creating and cooking healthy, clean, and nutritious recipes and sharing them on my first blog, Faked Goods (a play on the words Baked Goods). Running, cooking, and sharing my story with the few blog followers I had gained were game changers. In fact, they were my life changers.
Through these newfound passions I was able to begin to gain strength and confidence that I never thought I had, AND I was able to lose around 80lbs. For the first time in a long time I was feeling good, and beginning to figure out that I was capable of so much more than I had ever imagined. I began to realize that I wasn’t limited by a number on a scale, and that the only person putting these limits on me was ME. I began to realize that I wasn’t just the chubby girl. And even if I was, it didn’t matter. Registering for races, committing to training, crossing finish lines, sharing recipes, and connecting with like-minded people was something so much bigger than the value, energy, and time I gave to the number 388.
In the spring of 2011 my life did a complete 180.
I went through a divorce, and my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 of an aggressive form of metastatic breast cancer. In 2012, she passed away, and my mindset took a hit. That first year of my grief journey was the most difficult year of my life. Nothing had prepared me for what it would be like to lose a parent at the young age of 32. Anything that had happened in the past- my divorce, weight loss struggles- it all paled in comparison to the emotional tornado I had just been unwillingly thrown into. I lost my motivation, I ate whatever I wanted, and crept back up to 340lbs.
Fortunately, I had some bright spots to support this unexpected life chapter. While my mom was facing cancer treatment, I met Brian, my now husband, and shortly after her passing, I decided to join Orangetheory Fitness.
Watching my mother suffer through cancer, and witnessing her taking her literal last breath was more debilitating and traumatic than I could have ever imagined. And although I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, being there for my mother’s last year of life helped me see that I needed to prioritize myself, my health, and my happiness.
It took a year for me to even begin to think about how to go about doing this. Fortunately, falling in love and gaining a strong push and support system through my new coach friends at Orangetheory (plus grief therapy, and lots of vent sessions with the best girlfriends I could ask for), I was able to begin to heal, rediscover my motivation, and get back into the groove I had lost.
I began to sign up for races again.
I began blogging again (specifically about my grief journey).
I began living again.
For the next 4 years I pretty much tossed around the same 50lbs. I continued to run, cook healthy meals, and attend classes at OTF, but something was always getting in the way of truly controlling my health and my weight. Now I know that weight is just a number, and should not define overall health, but those extra pounds I was carrying on my body day in and day out were getting in the way- literally and figuratively. Even though I was in a much better place in my head than the girl that fixated on and placed way too much value in “388”, I knew I needed to take control of my future. The excess weight was preventing me from feeling good- not only mentally, but physically. I wanted to run faster. I wanted to feel confident in my skin. I wanted to feel comfortable in clothes. I no longer wanted to fear the numbers I’d see on my annual bloodwork paperwork (or fear going to the doctor for that matter!). I didn’t want to be *this close* to being pre-diabetic anymore. And most of all, I didn’t want to go down the same tragic road as my mother.
When you lose a loved one to cancer, especially someone in your immediate family, you think about your own mortality and fate. Everyday is a battle to not take my mind down dark thoughts of “what if it happens to me too.” While I know that I cannot control every situation, I know that I CAN control my thoughts, my choices, and how I take care of my body in hopes to possibly play a significant part avoiding disease.
Two years ago Kristen, a dear friend of mine, started following a way of eating that I had heard a little bit about, but didn’t really understand what it really was. She would talk about the ketogenic, or “keto” way of life, being in ketosis, and foods and recipes that were “keto friendly”, but all that I ever got out of our conversations was how she was eating as much butter as she wanted, while still managing to lose weight.
I sat back and watched her lose 100+lbs in a year, and keep it off. I watched her get rid of aches and pains (she fought Plantar’s Fasciitis for years, like I did), and use this low carb, no sugar, moderate protein, high healthy fat way of eating to help manage her MS, which she was diagnosed with two years ago. Because the ketogenic way of eating is super anti-inflammatory, she was also able to heal her plantar’s fasciitis, and improve all of her bloodwork numbers immensely which has been one of the most significant benefits of this lifestyle. She continued to encourage me to try it- that if I already cook, and eat pretty clean, this wouldn’t be such a difficult transition. And how it’s not about eating mass amounts of bacon, and zipping through the drive thru for bunless double cheeseburgers on the regular. That it’s about eating clean, whole, nutrient dense foods- a moderate amount of good quality proteins, a higher amount of healthy fats like avocado, coconut oil, and real butter, low glycemic vegetables and fruits like spinach, asparagus, squash, and berries, natural sweeteners like stevia, low carb nuts like macadamias, and real dairy products, including cheese (my favorite). It sounded completely doable, and not far from what I was already doing, but for some reason I just wouldn’t take the leap and try it.
In 2016 I started a new career which completely changed the 8am-3:30pm teacher’s routine I had become accustomed to over the past 13 years. This new position had a steep learning curve and significant travel away from home. Along with that life change, Brian had also proposed! That same year of learning a new career also brought a fun (and stressful!) year of wedding planning. We had a beautiful, amazing, and wonderful wedding in the spring of 2017, and I was on cloud 9. But by the summer of that same year, I knew that I was on the path back to square 1. Between travel, and wedding planning, I was cooking less and running through drive-thrus more. I was stress eating, and using travel and wedding planning as an excuse to do so.
In August of 2017, a wellness coach I know was starting a group for clean eating and exercise accountability. She invited me to join and so I did. At the same time I decided to finally take Kristen’s advice and expand on the clean eating goals by giving the ketogenic way of eating a try too. For two weeks I’d go all in to see how I felt. If by the end of two weeks I wasn’t feeling good, or if this was too difficult to keep up with, I’d quit and add the carbs back in. But I promised myself two weeks. Two weeks to give it a chance and see what it was all about.
I didn’t decide to take this leap for anyone else but myself. I wasn’t doing it to gain approval from people that don’t know the real me. I wasn’t doing it to be skinny, or to look beautiful (because I already felt beautiful and still do). I wasn’t doing it because I thought I needed to change my body to be happy (because I was already deliriously happy and still am). I decided to make this commitment as an effort to regain control of my health, of my body, and my future. I watched others do it, and I felt hopeful that this might be something that I could do too.
I quickly realized two things- there is SO much to learn about fueling my body this way, AND there is a ton of support, and information in the form of blogs, social media groups, and of course, Kristen out there. There was definitely a learning curve (like knowing that I needed to up my salt intake because as my body began to flush out excess fat, it will also flush out necessary salts, AND that fat=fuel), and, of course, there was some carb/sugar withdrawal the first couple of days (showing itself as a headache mostly). But by the first few days into my two week experiment, the headache had subsided and I was feeling GREAT. Like really, really great. I felt GOOD. I felt energized. I was sleeping better, thinking better, and was less bloated. In two weeks, the scale had even moved, and my clothes were fitting better.
I decided to do two more strict weeks. Which turned into 2 strict months, then 4 months, then 6 months. Aside from days where I might have eaten too many carbs in the form of vegetables (I love a good salad!), I only went off plan once- with jalapeno jelly while on vacation in the mountains. I ate Lily’s chocolate bars while passing out Halloween candy. I whipped up low carb blackberry crisp and creamed spinach for Thanksgiving. I gifted ketogenic Christmas cookies to family and friends. And even enjoyed biscuits and gravy on Christmas morning. I was feeling TOO good to do anything else than what I was doing. So I continued. And it was awesome.
And now, here I am celebrating 1.5 years of following a low carb, no sugar, ketogenic way of life with no intent on going back!
I have lost a total of 80lbs since starting a year and a half ago, have gone from a size 24/26w jeans to a standard size 16, have lowered my average blood pressure readings significantly (they used to average 132/85, and now they average 110/70. I have also reduced my A1C from 5.8 to 3.2 (no more pre-pre diabetic!), have increased my good cholesterol by 40+ points, have lowered my triglycerides by 60+ points, and have lowered my total cholesterol by 80 points!
In addition to all of those things I have significantly cleared up my skin, gained confidence, energy, mental clarity, and so much more. Making the commitment to give the ketogenic way of life a try was the best decision I have ever made for myself! While I wish I hadn’t waited so long to jump in, I’m so glad I did!
And it’s not over yet! I’m excited to see what year 2 brings. I want to continue to drop the excess weight, and most of all, I want to continue to regain control of my fate.
If you are feeling stuck in a health or fitness rut, facing weight loss struggles, feeling like you don’t have the energy or ability to do all that you want to do, or if you just want to be a stronger, healthier version of yourself and excess weight is getting in the way of that, I want you to know that you are not alone and you CAN make changes that will benefit your life in the present and change your course for the future.
If you have heard about keto and have been on the fence about trying it out, or if reading this blog post has inspired you to take a chance and try it out for two weeks like I did, I encourage you to begin some research and think about how this way of eating might fit into your life. One place you might begin is by checking out Diane Sanfilippo’s new book Keto Quick Start: A Beginner’s Guide to a Whole-Foods Ketogenic Diet with More Than 100 Recipes! I picked up a copy for myself at Target this week and it’s SUCH a great guide!
As always, I am not a medical professional, and am nowhere near qualified to give nutritional advice, but I urge you to do some research and think about what two weeks of changing the way you fuel your body might do for you and your situation. YOU CAN DO THIS. If you want to know more about this way of life, follow @Orangespoken on Instagram.