Height: 5’1” (155 cm)
Highest weight: 187 lbs (85 kg)
Current weight: 113-116 lbs (51-53 kg)
For the past five and a half years, Karen Parrott has maintained a healthy weight, after 40 years of struggling with obesity, food addiction and binge-eating. This post is about how she did it.
Karen first became aware that she was developing a problem with her weight during grade school, when told she was too large to fit into even “chubby” sizes, as they were called in the 1970s.
“Also, even back then, I didn’t seem to have an ‘off’ switch for hunger much of the time,” Karen recalls.
Then just before puberty, she began eating in secret and binge-eating, which she believes was partly due to stress.
“I remember riding my bike to buy candy at the store and eating it as fast as I could, as well as downing my Christmas stocking full of candy within a day or two,” she admits.
Karen’s many attempts at calorie restriction during her teens and early twenties inevitably failed, alternating with periods of bingeing on high-calorie, high-carb foods. In 1998, at 60 pounds (27 kg) overweight, she joined Weight Watchers because she wanted to get pregnant and recognized that she was at increased risk of developing blood clots and other health problems due to being obese.
Weight Watchers did work; Karen took off the 60 pounds in about 14 months. She learned that she had to avoid certain “trigger” foods completely in order to prevent bingeing, although she still continued to binge-eat occasionally.
“Then I went through a divorce and became a single parent. I developed an ‘I don’t care’ attitude and eventually ballooned up to 187 pounds (85 kg), so I was now 70 pounds (32 kg) overweight,” Karen says. “I tried to return to Weight Watchers at least 10 times, but counting points had stopped working for me. I would lose 5-10 pounds (2-5 kg) but then revert back to binge-eating and using food to soothe myself.”
Finally getting her weight under control
Finally, in 2011 at the age of 46, a couple of things occurred that convinced her to get her weight under control for good.
“A former supervisor who was a couple of years older than me passed away suddenly, and that scared me,” Karen remembers. “I knew I wasn’t healthy. I had achy joints, was often out of breath, and had plantar fasciitis from walking a half marathon at 70 pounds overweight.”
She also had a C-reactive protein (CRP-HS) of 6.8, a level that placed her at increased heart disease risk. And her doctor informed her that at a BMI greater than 35, she had class 2 obesity and was in danger of developing other serious health problems as well.
Although Karen considered getting a lap band, she decided to lose weight by following Medifast, a plan based on liquid shakes providing 850-1100 calories and 75-90 grams of carb per day.
She lost 70 pounds (32 kg) in 40 weeks, which she refers to as a kind of “birth in reverse.”
And she was adamant that this time, her weight loss would be permanent so she could stay healthy and vital for many years.
“I’d also read that some people with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which I have, do better without dairy. I then read Robb Wolf’s book, which really resonated with me, and I adopted my own Paleo, low-carb template,” she says.
Abstaining from certain foodsIn addition to following a low-carb way of eating, Karen realized that she needed to completely eliminate many food additives in order to remain “food sober.”
“It took me a very long time to learn that certain food additives were impairing my ability to recognize natural hunger and fullness signals. I realized that avoiding grains and almost all sugar really helped, but I also had problems with additives like guar gum and xanthan gum,” she says.
She also learned that she has the FTO obesity gene and extra ghrelin release (Ghrelin is a hormone that controls hunger). Therefore, she may need to be especially diligent about the quantity and quality of her food, sticking to unprocessed low-carb foods and avoiding overeating.
“Other maintainers warned me that for the first five years, I could easily go back. Once you hit five years, you do know what is going on,” she says.
Karen also realizes that although she’s maintained her weight for several years, she still has to contend with ongoing challenges as a formerly obese binge eater.
Going against the stream
“In many ways, I’ve had to go against almost everybody and everything. Going against some of my doctor’s recommendations when my cholesterol levels increased, even though my ratios are fine and I have a coronary artery calcium score of zero. Going against what most of society believes, like high-fat diets are unhealthy. I often whip out my phone and show people photos of what I used to look like, because I had a ton of visceral fat around my abdomen, which is especially visible on the side views,” she says.
Then there is the inevitable push to indulge in high-carb foods during holiday celebrations.
“Someone will say, ‘I made this special dessert. You can have just a bite. ‘And I’ll respond, ‘No, I can’t, and I won’t! I’m an abstainer,” Karen says. “They think it’s all calories in, calories out. And I know that although calorie intake does matter and is something I need to monitor and track, I just can’t eat certain foods ever again if I want to stay healthy and avoid binge-eating.”After regaining 5-10 pounds (2-5 kg) a few years ago while going through menopause, Karen explored different strategies to get her weight moving in the right direction. Eventually, she found a method that worked: intermittent fasting. By narrowing her eating window to a few hours a day, she easily moved back to her ideal range of 113-116 pounds (51-53 kg).
“About 85-90% of the time, I eat all of my food within a 7-hour window and fast for 17 hours. Exceptions are travel and holidays, when I may eat a little later in the day. But I always follow the same low-carb, Paleo template no matter where I am,” she says.
Unlike most people who practice intermittent fasting by skipping breakfast, she eats first thing in the morning and has her last meal very early in the afternoon, which works best for her.
A typical day of eating for Karen
Breakfast (6:00 am):
3 eggs and kale sauteed in olive oil with sea salt, 30 grams berries (mainly in summer), coffee
Coffee break (8:00 am):
Coffee, 30 grams dark chocolate
Midday meal (9:15 am):
Chicken breast, lettuce, vegetables, avocado, olive oil, 20 grams dark chocolate
Final meal (sometime between 11:00 am and 1:00 pm): Ground beef, onion, cabbage, avocado, sometimes tea or decaf
After her final meal, she tries to consume nothing but water or sparkling water. She also takes a magnesium supplement called Natural Calm to prevent leg cramps and to help her relax.
Karen does have a few dietary indulgences, although they’re all very healthy.
“My treats are 85% cacao dark chocolate, smoked oysters, and some of the more expensive smoked meats. Really, those are treats for me,” she laughs.
In addition to keeping her net carb intake below 25 grams per day, she walks for 35-45 minutes daily, with total activity adding up to 60-plus minutes per day. She also performs performs strength training at the gym twice a week and does stair sprinting at work.
“I do stair sprinting – full out, hard core – while listening to a song or two on my headphones. I do this twice a week at a minimum but ideally three or four times a week. This has given me a lot of balance, uphill strength, and better stability than I ever thought was possible,” Karen says.
Her best tips
These are Karen’s tips for people for successfully maintaining major weight loss forever:
- Weigh on the scale once a day, every day, and record your weight.
- Look at the trend lines of your weight over a whole month to know where you stand and whether you need to take action. “Tracking my weight and food on a daily basis has really helped me see how I’m doing overall and whether I need to make any changes,” Karen says.
- Be honest with yourself. Know what works for you, and do what needs to be done.