Growing up, I didn't have the best eating habits. As a kid, I would get $5 each week for my allowance, and I would ride my bike to the store and buy as much candy as I could. I was sugar obsessed! When I got into junior high school, I would spend my lunch money on horrible food options from vending machines and the cafeteria. French fries and gravy, pizzas, beef jerky sticks, potato chips, you name it. I spent my teenage years overweight, but lost 23kg in college because I had to walk everywhere—and I mean everywhere. I didn't have a car and due to a slow bus schedule, I spent a lot of time on my feet walking to my job—50 minutes just one way.
After college, I moved across the country to live with my boyfriend (now husband) in 2006, and we moved in together. We would eat out for entertainment, and the weight started to pile on. By the time we got married in 2008, I'd re-gained 17kg.
Then, it seems like I was faced with tragedy after tragedy: My stepfather passed away that winter. I had a miscarriage in 2009. I turned to eating as a coping mechanism, and then I'd diet to try to lose the weight. Each time, I would have initial success, and then gain the weight back... plus some more.
After the births of my daughter in 2010 and my son in 2014, I just never lost the baby weight. Being the mom of two young kids left me strapped for time, especially while juggling a full-time desk job, so I wasn't making the best food choices. My meals almost always consisted of carb-laden convenience foods. If it was salty and carby, I was all over it.
I was eating fast food just to have a break in my day. I'd spring for chicken nugget value meals from McDonald's or chicken sandwiches and fries from Burger King. Dinner was a lot of pasta or frozen pizza.
In December of 2016, I was sitting in my car at a local park during my lunch hour listening to a podcast on how to lose weight. The thing is, while I was listening, I was also eating a Burger King chicken sandwich and an extra-large order of french fries with extra mayo.
I knew I couldn't go on this way, wanting to make a change, but never really sticking to it. I decided right then and there to seek the support of a certified psychotherapist for the emotional eating I was doing to cope with the stress and isolation of my job. In addition to helping me identify my triggers and how to deal with them in a healthier way, my counselor recommended trying an extremely low carb, but flexible, way of eating. She'd had personal success with it and, given my personality, she thought I might, too.
I looked into the ketogenic lifestyle, and the success stories I read made me decide to use it to reach my weight-loss goals once and for all.
The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-carb, moderate-protein way of eating. The diet limits your carb intake to 20 net carbs per day—which is extremely low. This means that you can't eat things like breads, crackers, rice, starchy vegetables, most fruit, or really any added sugar. Berries are the only fruit that you can fit into your day without going over the 20 net carb limit.
However, on the keto diet, you fill up on high-fat foods, so butter, cheese, heavy cream, nuts, and even bacon were good to go. You can also eat all varieties of proteins, lots of leafy greens, and veggies like cucumbers, peppers, onion, tomatoes, broccoli, and cauliflower.
I started by cutting out carb-rich foods, which included pizza, french fries, bread, pancakes, muffins, cookies, juice, milk, and even high-carb fruits like apples and bananas. I also started to incorporate intermittent fasting, which involves fasting for a portion of the day.
This is not outlined in the keto diet, but it does work well for keto dieters since a lot of people feel less hungry on a keto diet. A typical day for me would involve fasting until lunch, having a salad with protein and high-fat dressing for lunch, and a high-fat dinner such as chicken wings for dinner.
Also, I didn't stop eating out—I just learned how to make better choices while doing so. There wasn't a fast food joint or restaurant where I couldn't find something to eat that fit within my diet. I had my staple favorites like salads from Pita Pit, chicken burgers without the bun from Wendy's, and an awesome Greek salad from McDonald's. Having all of these options available was huge timesaver for me, and was critical to my success.
To get a hold of my portion control, I tracked my calories and macronutrients with MyFitnessPal, and used a scale when eating at home to know exactly how much I was eating. After one month of eating the 1,400 daily calories recommended by MyFitnessPal and staying within the keto macro guidelines, I had lost 7kg.
For the first eight months, I really struggled to add fitness into my routine. Changing my lifestyle was hard to do. I had never been able to exercise and stick to a diet both at the same time, so I focused on getting my food right first.
As the weight came off, I started to get more motivated to push myself with exercise. In August of 2017, I used the Couch to 5K app to train for a race. A group of girlfriends and I had decided to do the 5k Wanderlust Detroit race, so it was a great way to train. It's an app on your phone that you listen to as you run, and it tells you when to run or walk and for how long in order to reach the goal of running a 5K.
After four months of running and walking on my own, I decided I would hire a personal trainer. I thought appointments with a trainer would keep me accountable, and also push me to work harder than I would be able to on my own. My trainer has also helped me a lot with form. My sessions were and still are 45-minutes long, three times per week. We do a lot of high-intensity exercises like tire flips, rope work, rowing, mountain climbers, and burpees. We also work on weight lifting both with free weights and machines.
Twelve months after starting my journey, I had lost a total of 27kg.
STICKING WITH IT
Looking back at what kept me going, I realise that I was both mentally and emotionally ready for change. I stopped accepting behaviors that went against what I ultimately wanted—and I refused to settle for less than my best, and pushed through.
Losing 27kg has brought back an inner self-confidence that I had lost over the years. This new inner strength is now spreading to other areas of my life and I no longer fear change. Yes, I have changed physically and that's great. However, I think the internal changes are the most profound.
Since losing weight I've also started a platform, I Am Keto In Canada, to help support others who are trying to make those same changes.
JOANNA'S NUMBER-ONE TIP
Exercise patience! It took you a long time to get your body to a place where you were not happy with it. Do not expect overnight results, or you are setting yourself up to fail. Be patient, and know that you are taking the right steps to move toward your goal. Do that, and the rest will follow.
As told to Danielle Page. This article originally appeared on Women's Health US.