If Brendan Reid could invent a time machine, he would go back to his overweight teenage self, sitting alone playing video games in his bedroom, and tell him about the low-carb, keto diet.
More precisely, he would give himself a copy of the book he has just finished writing, The Fat Ginger Nerd, which describes his lifelong struggle with his weight, and his transformation, losing 122 pounds (55 kilos), after ditching the carbs.
“Had I known at that age what I know now, my life could have been so completely different,” Brendan writes in his moving, eloquent book, which will be released at the end of February 2022.
But since time travel is not possible, Brendan hopes, instead, to inspire and help modern-day overweight kids who are bullied and isolated, like he was. Or help the adult versions of those individuals who still carry the pounds and the hurts of those years.
He understands how they are feeling. “It is almost like looking at myself in my earlier years.”
We first shared Brendan’s original success story in January 2017, about 15 months into his low-carb journey. Back then he had reached his goal weight of 180 pounds (82 kilos), after hitting a peak of 302 pounds (137 kilos) two years earlier.
He reached out to us again in early January 2022 to report that after five years he is still in successful maintenance, stable at about 190 pounds (86 kilos), doing well, and excited about the upcoming release of his book.
“The book documents my personal journey of self-discovery. It is a story about how one fat ginger nerd finally fulfilled the simplest of dreams — to just be ‘normal’ — after half a lifetime of wishing and wondering how to make that possible,” Brendan writes.
Here is an update on Brendan’s story, which has been condensed and edited.
What is your name, age and where do you live?
I am Brendan Reid, 43; I live in Dunedin, New Zealand.
What was your life like before keto?
I was fat for as long as I can remember, even at a very young age. I was bullied for my size in primary school. A teacher once wrote in my report card, “Brendan needs to do something about his weight problem.”
I was always introverted and soon found solace in hobbies and interests that were largely indoors and alone.’They can’t hurt you if they can’t see you,’ I had decided.
By the time I finished high school, at age 17, I weighed 265 pounds (120 kilos). I knew what sort of quality of life lay ahead of me, and I knew it didn’t look good, even if it seemed like there was nothing I could ever do about it.
Did you try other diets before keto?
I had been seeing doctors and dietitians about my weight throughout my teens. They always recommended the same standard advice: follow the food pyramid, eat less fat, eat less everything. And I tried my best, I really did. I didn’t want to be fat, so why wouldn’t I have tried my best?
They told me I was fat because I was eating too much, but whenever I stopped eating, I’d just get ravenously hungry. And so I was left wondering… why do I still get hungry when I’m already fat? It didn’t make sense to me then, and it would take another 25 years for it to finally make sense to me now.
Until then, it was seemingly all I could do to just keep trying to follow that standard advice as best I could, for what little good it did me. Animal fats are bad, grains are good, and so on.
How did you find the keto diet?
In January 2015 I hit my peak weight of 302 pounds (137 kilos) with a BMI of 45. I was suffering from chronic chest pain, breathing and mobility issues, but when I went through medical tests, aside from being really fat, apparently there wasn’t much wrong with me.
I knew I had to do something, so in desperation I started walking to and from work, which amounted to a couple of hours a day. Not an easy thing at that size, but it helped me lose about 11 pounds (5 kilos) in about six months.
I thought that maybe more exercise would help, so I got up my nerve and made an appointment at a gym for the first time ever in 2015. The prospect of even just setting foot inside a gym was so terrifying for me at that time, that I later wrote an entire article about it in my blog.
There, to my complete surprise, I was actually refused a gym membership and told to change my diet… again! But this time things were a bit different. I was instead referred to a website called the Real Meal Revolution, through which I was introduced to the work of Professor Tim Noakes and the Banting diet [which is the South African name for the keto diet].
I really struggled with the concept at first (“This reads like Atkins, wasn’t that discredited years ago?”), but through the site’s beginner Banting course, I slowly unlearned and then relearned all about dieting, weight gain and weight loss, and particularly about the importance of insulin and insulin resistance. Finally, I had an explanation for why it had been so hard for me to lose weight.
I started eating a low-carb, keto diet in October 2015 and the rest is history. I lost two pounds a week for eight months straight. I made it to my goal by the end of 2016 and have been maintaining it ever since.
How are you doing today?
Today as I write this [January 2022] I weigh 191 pounds (87 kilos). Yes, that means a slight increase on my original goal weight of 180 pounds (82 kilos), but that includes a change of scales at one point (accounting for 7 pounds, or 3 kilos), plus, like many, I am carrying a couple pounds extra during Covid.
My food choices during Covid have remained low carb, but while working from home, with such easy access to food right around the corner at all times, I’ve learned that it’s possible to have too much of even a good thing. As easy as it is to sometimes forget about calories entirely when eating low carb, lockdowns have reminded me that calories do still count.
But in the grand scheme of things, I have remained more or less weight stable since 2017.
So here I am, five years later, still low carbing, still happy, still healthy. These days, the hardest part of my journey is just remembering to get the meat out of the freezer every morning.
Tell us about your typical day of eating now?
I only eat twice a day now, at most. I haven’t had breakfast at all since 2018. My lunches are shrinking, my snacking has practically disappeared entirely. But as I get used to eating less in more recent years, I am reminded not to skimp on protein, which we know to be biologically essential for our health.
Nowadays I would describe my diet as being predominantly meat-based. I’m not an outright carnivore; there’s still lettuce with the bunless burgers, tomatoes and mushrooms with the mince, spinach with the salmon, and so on. But it’s the meat that generally forms the basis of each meal.
Overall, I’ve found that eating foods higher in protein and fat, and lower in carbohydrate has done wonders for reducing my appetite. Others might be able to get away with more carbs, but I know from experience that I’m just not one of them. Moderation of carbs is not an option for me, only abstention.
Have you found any Diet Doctor resources to be particularly helpful?
The main draw for me at first was always the video library: the conference presentations, the documentaries, the interviews, the podcasts.
Lately, I also find myself appreciating the written articles examining the science, complete with references, always good exercises in critical thinking.
What are your top three tips for people starting out?
- Keep it simple: Understand what low carb means to you in such a way that you can apply it to your lifestyle as easily as possible. For some, that means keeping a daily carb limit of, say, 20-30 grams of carbs per day. For me a key step was learning how to read food labels where applicable, and setting myself an upper limit of 5 grams of net carbs per 100 grams on the label.
- Forget the clock: Eat when you’re hungry, don’t eat when you’re not. Some days you might find yourself eating more than others, and that’s fine. Your body is learning with you. Learn to trust your body’s signals, and it will reward you over time.
- Track your progress: But don’t obsess over daily variations. Remember, it’s a marathon not a sprint. It took your whole life to get to where you are; allow yourself the time to get to where you want to be. Think progress over perfection.
Tell us more about your book
The book’s origins go back to a personal journal that I had begun keeping during my weight loss journey in early 2016. It was intended at that time as a simple outlet, a way of processing my own thoughts, to help me come to terms with what was happening to me as it was happening, and nothing more.
After my original success story was published on Diet Doctor in 2017, some friends and family suggested that I write a book. I didn’t think I had it in me at first, but with the journal habit already well established by then, I began to take the idea more seriously, and so the journal began to evolve from there.
By early 2021 the manuscript was essentially complete, and now in 2022, that manuscript is finally ready to see the official light of day.
The book could be described as being three-quarters personal story, one-quarter investigative research, all presented in the style of a memoir. It is aimed at anyone who is still stuck in the position I was in for 30 years myself, trying to do the right thing and wondering all the while why that right thing is just not working for them. Is it really their fault? What if it’s not?
The Fat Ginger Nerd is a tale of weight lost and of health gained, of beliefs shattered and of lessons learned, of a past finally escaped and of a future now made possible.
The book is set for release on Thursday, February 24, and you can buy the book in either paperback or e-book format here.
Any other milestones you want to share?
There have been plenty of achievements for me to celebrate these last few years, some of which I’ve written about in the book: my first long-haul flight overseas in late 2016, my three days hiking in Fiordland National Park during Easter 2017, and the surgery I underwent in 2018 to remove some excess skin that otherwise wasn’t going anywhere.
During 2019 and 2020 I gained certificates in health coaching and in nutrition through PreKure, and I’ve also had the privilege of attending, and even speaking at, a couple of conferences.
The little things all count, too. Like just being able to wear jeans, for example… without a belt! Like being able to properly tuck in a shirt for the first time following the surgery.
It wasn’t until Christmas of 2019 that I dared to go swimming, in public, in the daytime, without a shirt, for the first time in more than 20 years. I even find people smiling at me now for no real reason, and me smiling back.
I’m still an introvert, of course, and always will be. I still have my limits. But it’s no small thing for me that low carb has helped to improve the quality of my daily interactions with people – and by extension, my very quality of life itself – from a state in which it was merely being endured, to a point where it can now be enjoyed.
We can’t change our past, but we can change our future by altering our course in the present.
Thanks to Diet Doctor for all that you do in helping change lives like mine for the better!
Congratulations, Brendan, on your long-term success and the publication of your book. Your insights, research, and personal story will help spread the word about the effectiveness of low carb. You will inspire and motivate many people to try this way of eating.
Thanks so much for updating us on your progress.
~ Anne Mullens