Losing 120 pounds with keto and the right mindset


Before and after

Name: Suzanne Ryan
Age: 33
Height: 5’11”
Pre-keto weight: 289 lbs (131 kg)
Current weight: 170 lbs (77 kg)

Suzanne Ryan – author of the best-selling book Simply Keto and known to thousands of people online as Keto Karma – is a happy, healthy, energetic, optimistic young woman.

However, this wasn’t always the case.

For years, she struggled with obesity and the anxiety, depression, and hopelessness that accompanied it.

“I was actually pretty thin up until middle school,” Suzanne remembers. “But after my parents divorced and my brother and I ended up living with my father, I was dealing with a lot of emotional issues, and food became a source of comfort.”

Moreover, the food that was available to her had little nutritional value. As a busy man with limited financial resources, Suzanne’s father often took the family to McDonald’s, pizza, and other fast food places.

“I also drank soda all the time. It was our main beverage. We didn’t even really drink water,” she recalls.

“My dad and brother ate all the same stuff I did and stayed thin, but by about fifth or sixth grade, I began to really put on weight,” says Suzanne. “It was really tough, because not only was I taller than all of my classmates, but I was heavier as well. I didn’t look like any of them or like I fit in, which is all you really want at that age. When you’re that much bigger than everyone else, you just stick out. I was constantly picked on because of my size.”

Knowing that she was struggling, Suzanne’s father tried to cheer her up with treats. “He’d say, ‘Oh, you had a really rough day. Let’s go get some ice cream. You’ll feel better.’”

Although sweets helped numb the pain temporarily, Suzanne soon developed a problem with food addiction and became involved in a cycle of emotional overeating, weight gain, dieting, brief weight loss, and regaining to a higher weight than she’d started at.

“I went on my first diet in middle school. I actually think it was Atkins, and I only lasted a couple of days. I remember going out to breakfast with my dad, and I knew I couldn’t have pancakes, but that was the only thing I wanted, so I ordered them. And after I ate them, I thought, my day is already shot, so I’ll just eat what I want,” she recalls.

Over the years, Suzanne tried many other diets to lose weight.

“You name it, I tried it,” she says. “Juicing, vegetarianism, Weight Watchers, South Beach, and others I can’t even remember right now.”

She also briefly took the supplement Hydroxycut and even the prescription medication fen-phen during high school, which made her feel sick, light-headed, and dizzy.

“Every time I learned about something new for weight loss, I thought, this is it. This is going to be what works. But of course, nothing ever did. I couldn’t stick with any of them for more than a few weeks, so I’d only lose a few pounds. It was always just a quick fix and never a lifestyle change.”


Meeting the love of her life

In 2010, Suzanne married Mick, the love of her life. But what should have been one of the happiest days of her life didn’t turn out that way.

“After I got engaged, I remember thinking, this is going to be the moment where I’m going to finally lose the weight. But my self-esteem and self-worth were at an all-time low, and I just didn’t believe I had the ability to do it.”

In fact, instead of losing weight, she actually gained in the weeks leading up to her wedding.

“I was probably at my heaviest weight ever, definitely over 300 pounds (136 kg). And I really didn’t even enjoy my wedding because I was so uncomfortable and struggling with all these emotions. I was wearing a white, strapless size 26 dress, and I just didn’t feel good about myself. And at that point I thought, this is just my life. If I couldn’t do it for my wedding, I’m never going to lose weight. So I just kind of gave up at that point,” remembers Suzanne, sadly.

Three years later, she gave birth to her daughter, Olivia. Once Olivia became an active toddler, Suzanne found that taking care of her was increasingly difficult.

“I just didn’t have the energy to keep up with her,” Suzanne says. “My back and neck hurt, my joints were cracking, I was sleeping nine hours a day but had no energy, and I was just miserable. And I was only 30 years old.”

Envisioning a future of continued weight gain, pain, and worsening health problems, she briefly considered weight-loss surgery.

“I had a friend who had lost a lot of weight after having gastric bypass, so I asked her about it. But I just thought it wasn’t right for me, because in my own case there was such an emotional component to eating. I figured even if I had the surgery, I’d probably go back to eating the same way eventually, and I’d end up in the same spot. I needed to work on the emotional issues and figure out why I wasn’t making the investment in myself.”

Discovering the keto diet

Shortly thereafter, she was on the Reddit forums and noticed a keto thread featuring “before” and “after” photos of a woman who’d successfully lost a lot of weight. She appreciated that the person had a body similar to her own and that nothing was being marketed other than the diet itself.

“The person seemed really happy, and I wanted to learn more. So I started researching keto as much as I possibly could before trying it, and it sounded great. I thought that this is going to be the last diet that I try. And if this doesn’t work, maybe I will get the surgery, because I’m really at the end of my rope. I just can’t live this way anymore,” Suzanne remembers.

Although she started keto fully intending to stick to it, her initial attempt lasted only lasted a day because her carb cravings were so intense. “I still had such strong emotional ties to those processed, heavily-addictive high-carb foods, the kinds of foods I was raised on,” she says.

But she found the motivation she needed when during this same time period, a good friend’s young son who had been diagnosed with a genetic disease tragically passed away.

“Something just clicked at that point,” Suzanne remembers. “I realized the emotional component behind lifestyle change and how important it is to make yourself and your health a priority. I really started seeing the importance of investing in your mindset. You can have the perfect plan, but without the right mindset, it’s not going to do you any good. And I just thought that I am not going to take my life for granted one more day.”

“I mean, here’s this little boy, and all he wants to do is live, run, and play, and he doesn’t have the chance. And here I am, and I have this perfectly healthy body aside from what I’ve done to it. No more. I will not waste another day.”

Suzanne immediately signed up to participate in a 5K run, even though she hadn’t done much running in her life and weighed 289 pounds (131 kg) at the time.

“But I made the commitment to myself to do this, and I did it,” Suzanne says. “And I continue to do the same run every year in his honor and to raise money for Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital towards genetic research. Running it also helps remind me of my ‘why’: the moment I realized how important it was to make health a priority and not take my life for granted.”

And on January 13, 2015, she restarted eating keto, lost a total of 120 pounds (54.5 kg), and has never looked back.

“I really feel like keto gave me a second chance at life,” she says. “I’m so satisfied and much more energetic, clearheaded, and happy. Before, I was always so focused on food, thinking about what I was going to have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. To not be thinking about food all the time just frees up so much time for me. I always say that I felt I was sitting on the sidelines of life, not being able to do things that most people did because of my size. All that changed once I found my motivation to stick to keto.”

Sharing her keto journey on YouTube

Ten weeks into her keto lifestyle, Suzanne began a YouTube channel to share her keto weight loss and health journey. Every week for a solid year, she posted a video to document her transformation, provide helpful advice, and share her challenges and successes with a steadily growing audience.

Although she became more active after losing weight, she didn’t work out or participate in any kind of formal exercise.

“I didn’t want to do too many things at once, because it’s too difficult to make a complete change in diet and also start exercising,” she says. “I just focused on one thing at a time. And even now, I don’t really work out, other than that annual 5K run. I don’t like going to the gym, but I love being more active and walking a lot. I go to the park or the zoo or hike with my five-year-old daughter. Before, I was a couch potato kind of girl, but now I really like to go out and explore and do things.”

Suzanne says that tracking her food intake was crucial at the beginning because it helped her learn about nutrition and how to fuel her body properly.

“When I first started, I literally had no idea how many carbs different foods had or what was healthy. I mean, I thought granola and yogurt must be healthy,” she laughs.

“But once I learned what my macronutrient percentages should be, I really didn’t need to track anymore because everything became automatic. I actually did it for a full year because I’d made a commitment to do that. And also, people who followed me on my YouTube channel were looking at my journal for ideas about what to eat, so I felt I needed to do it for them as well,” she says. But what I really love about keto is that now I don’t even have to think about it.”

A typical day of eating

Breakfast: Eggs and avocado or a vegetable omelet, coffee with heavy cream and stevia drops. Or if not hungry and too busy, coffee with MCT oil or powder.

Lunch and dinner: Protein (fish, chicken, or seafood) greens or cruciferous vegetables prepared with butter or healthy oils.

She also eats nuts in limited amounts and occasionally has a few berries. Having grown up eating a lot of sweets and junk food, Suzanne now appreciates the taste of fresh, whole foods. Overall, she prefers to keep things as simple and natural as possible.

“I try to incorporate vegetables at every meal and eat unprocessed food 95% of the time. When I first started keto, I was super hardcore: only fresh foods, nothing packaged. And while that’s still my preference, when life gets busy, I occasionally eat processed things like Quest bars. I do look at the ingredients, and there are some I avoid altogether, like maltitol,” she says.

“At the beginning, I got to the point that I was almost scared to eat anything but a few foods because I thought that if I wasn’t eating 100% perfect all the time, I might not be successful. But since then, I’ve relaxed a bit and have been able to find a way of eating that’s livable and works for me. I just feel so much better and more confident. Because I know that no matter what happens, I’ve got this. I make a real effort to pay attention to what I’m eating and why I’m eating. And the most perfect plan isn’t perfect if it isn’t livable and you can’t stick to it,” she adds.

With her husband’s blessing and encouragement, Suzanne made the decision to continue supporting others through her YouTube channel and expand her reach with a blog, book, and social media interactions. These platforms enable her to share the importance of mindset for overcoming emotional eating and provide support and encouragement to people dealing with food addiction and weight issues. “I’m really passionate about it and just feel it’s what I’m meant to do,” she says, happily.

Suzanne feels fortunate that she’s able to set a good example for her daughter, as well as her husband, who has also struggled with obesity over the years.

“Mick had lost 150 pounds (68 kg) before we met, but once we started dating, he gained pretty much all of it back,” she says. “When I first started keto, he really wasn’t interested. But eventually, he joined me, which made things a lot easier than watching him eat pizza like he did the first week I started,” she laughs.

Olivia eats a few more carbs and less fat than Suzanne and her husband do, and she doesn’t eat much sugar overall. “But I also don’t want her to develop a complex,” Suzanne says. “So if she’s going to a birthday party, I tell her to go ahead and have a piece of cake, but that this isn’t something we eat all the time. She also likes broccoli and vegetables and lots of healthy things. We talk about the importance of good nutrition and not using food to deal with stress or emotions, or as a reward. So I feel like she’s developing a healthy relationship with food, which is so important to me.”

Her best tips

Here are Suzanne’s best tips for losing weight successfully and sustainably:

  1. Focus on your mindset. “Invest in yourself, and find your ‘why.’ Really work on the emotional component and setting yourself up for success, whatever that means for you. If you don’t have a purpose for doing this, you won’t be successful long term,” warns Suzanne.
  2. Make small, livable changes. “If you try to do too much at once, you’ll give up, and then you’ll feel like a failure. Challenge yourself to do new things, but take them one at a time. In my case, one of the first things I did was give up soda, which was huge for me,” she says. “Once I’d done that, I thought, okay, now I can move on to the next thing.”
  3. Have a support system. “This is really important because losing weight is such an emotional process,” says Suzanne. “It’s important to be able to share what you’re going through and bounce ideas off of other people who can relate and provide the support you need.”

You can follow Suzanne on her website www.ketokarma.com, on Instagram @ketokarma, on Facebook at Keto Karma, or on her YouTube channel.

Franziska Spritzler, RD

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