The low-carb diet: Maintaining a 100-pound weight loss for over a decade

Jean x

Before and after

Name: Jean Risman
Age: 68
Height: 5’2″ (157 cm)
Highest weight: 245 lbs (111 kg)
Current weight: 130 lbs (59 kg)
Lowest weight: 122 lbs (55 kg)

Back in 2003, Jean Risman’s quality of life was dismal.

At 55 years of age, she carried 245 pounds (111 kg) on her petite frame and had suffered major depression, asthma and digestive issues for many years. In addition, she suspected that she was very likely on the verge of becoming diabetic, if she wasn’t already.

“My father was a doctor, and I grew up knowing a lot about health and medicine. I also had a need to figure things out for myself rather than consult doctors,” Jean says. “So although I was never diagnosed with diabetes, I figured it out simply from the way I felt. It seemed like my blood sugar was on sort of a rollercoaster, because I went from feeling high and exhausted to feeling hypoglycemic.”

She also had a family history of diabetes and realized that’s where she was headed.

“My memory of my paternal grandmother was an old woman without any legs in a wheelchair, because both of her legs had been amputated due to diabetes. And I certainly didn’t want that to happen to me,” she states, emphatically. “But I was in really bad shape. I was eating large portions of unhealthy food, and I felt awful. I was ready to make a change. And being an older person, I didn’t realize that medical professionals were no longer telling people to cut out the carbs. So I thought, I know what to do, so why should I go to a doctor anyway? I’ll just cut out the carbs on my own.”

That turned out to be a life-changing decision in many ways.

Going low carb

After doing her own research online, Jean read Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution and started following his strict low-carb regimen: 6 grams of total carbs for breakfast, 12 grams for lunch, and 12 grams for dinner. Shortly thereafter, she began incorporating the paleo principles of real, unprocessed food into her new way of eating.

“Losing weight was important to me, but feeling better was even more important to me. Eating low carb helped control my hunger, and I could tell that my blood-sugar levels were normalizing,” she remembers. “I began slowly losing weight and feeling much less depressed, and although I continued to suffer from digestive problems, they were improving.”

Over the next few years, she lost about 90 pounds (41 kg) before reaching a plateau at 155 pounds (70 kg). Unfortunately, however, her gastrointestinal issues crept up again; in fact, they became more severe than ever, rendering her unable to leave the house much of the time.

In desperation, she added some higher-carb foods back into her diet, which resulted in an immediate regain of 20 pounds (9 kg). What’s more, rather than getting better, her GI issues worsened. She promptly went back to the whole food, low-carb lifestyle that had helped her lose weight and resolve many of her other health issues.

However, the digestive health continued to decline, and by 2010, she was nearly incapacitated.

“I was often nauseous and had diarrhea. It got to the point where I had to take six Immodium tablets in order to get some relief temporarily. But then when I ate again, the symptoms came back,” Jean recalls. “It really got to the point where I had no life at all and couldn’t leave the house because I had to be near a toilet all the time.”

Again, she began doing her own research online, which led her to a website about microsocopic colitis, a GI disorder with symptoms that matched her own. After being tested for food sensitivities, she learned that several foods were problematic for her – and ironically, some of them were healthy, low-carb foods.

“In addition to grains, legumes, and soy, I learned that I was sensitive to dairy, eggs, chicken, and beef. After I stopped eating those foods – along with vegetables, because I couldn’t tolerate fiber for a while either – I began to improve right away. However, it took a while until I felt really good,” she remembers.

Over the next two years, as her digestive problems continued to improve and gradually resolved, she lost another 30 (14 kg) pounds, which brought her down to her lowest adult weight, 145 pounds (66 kg). Within another couple of years, she lost an additional 20 pounds (9 kg) by sticking with low carb and avoiding the foods she had sensitivities to.

Eventually, she was able to add a few of these foods back in, such as leafy greens, most nonstarchy vegetables, and beef. But the others remain off limits.

A typical day of eating for Jean

Coffee break (5:00-6:00 am):
2 cups of coffee before morning walk.

Breakfast (8:00 am):
Ground meat burger (beef, venison, or pork), large mixed salad with sunflower seeds, oil and vinegar dressing.

Lunch (1:00-4:00 pm):
Similar to breakfast, occasionally alternating with stir-fry vegetables in coconut oil instead of salad, coffee.

Jean also practices intermittent fasting on a regular basis by skipping dinner instead of breakfast.

“I don’t consume any alcohol, but I drink a few cups of coffee every day. It doesn’t seem to affect my sleep. And it’s really my treat. I’ve given up so many foods, and I can give up almost anything, but not coffee,” she laughs.”

Although her intake from day to day is very similar, Jean logs all of the food she eats in Cronometer.

“I use Cronometer to keep track of my carbs. Lately I’ve been closer to 25 grams of net carbs per day because I’ve been eating my home-grown tomatoes and bell peppers, but most of the time I’m under 20 grams. And I eat very simply because it works so well.”

Achieving and maintaining major weight loss, resolving long-standing health problems, and feeling better than ever at age 68 are powerful motivators to stick with a very low-carb diet. And although some might characterize her diet as extreme, Jean doesn’t see it that way.

“I feel that the way I eat is just a very reasonable thing to do,” she says. “I’ve gotten to the point where I start wondering why everyone else isn’t doing it. I mean, there are so many health benefits. You don’t have to feel as awful as I felt in order to see results.”

On the other hand, she feels that the advice to “Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full” doesn’t always work for everyone, regardless of the diet itself.

“Now, I no longer feel ravenous like I did when I was eating carbs. Low carb definitely helps with that. But I don’t really have an ‘off’ switch where I feel truly full. So although I don’t count calories, I still practice portion control,” Jean says.

While her daily routine now includes a lot of walking, this wasn’t the case until she was well into her weight loss journey.

“I’d say that until I lost the first 100 pounds (45 kg), I really didn’t exercise” recalls Jean. “But now, I walk four to six miles (6-10 km) a day. Today, for instance, I walked two miles (3 km) to the dentist’s office and 2 miles back. In addition, I live in a very hilly area, so I get plenty of exercise. And this is the person that couldn’t even leave the house before,” she adds.

Jean continues to experience excellent health as she approaches her 69th birthday. And although she rarely sees the doctor or has blood tests, her most recent home A1c was an impressive 4.9% six months ago.

Her best tips

These are Jean’s tips for people who want to successfully maintain major weight loss forever:

  1. Attitude is important. “When I tell people how I eat, their reaction is usually, oh, she must be depriving herself,” says Jean. “But I don’t let myself think that way. I tell myself, this a gift I’m giving myself by eating healthy. And I really think having that attitude helps.”
  2. Be disciplined and have a plan. “When I started, I think part of the reason Dr. Bernstein’s diet worked so well for me was because it was so clear: 6 grams of carbs for breakfast and 12 grams each at lunch and dinner, weighing and measuring everything out, and having a plan,” she says. Although it’s become second nature to me now, it’s important to have a solid plan when starting out and not just wing it.”
  3. If you want the results, you have to create the causes. “This is kind of a mantra I have. If the result you want is weight loss, normalized blood sugar, getting rid of your heartburn, arthritis, depression, etc., you have to create the causes. That means figuring out the plan that works for you and then sticking with it,” advises Jean.

Franziska Spritzler, RD

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