A low-carb diet: Maintaining a 70-pound weight loss for five years

karen

Before and after

Name: Karen Parrott
Age: 51
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.

She read “Refuse to Regain” from Barbara Berkley, MD, who recommended a low-carb, low-sugar, and low-starchy-foods diet – and to be tough and not moderate with these foods.

“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 foods

In 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:

  1. Weigh on the scale once a day, every day, and record your weight.
  2. 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.
  3. Be honest with yourself. Know what works for you, and do what needs to be done.

You can learn more about Karen’s weight maintenance journey by reading her blog, GardenGirl, or following her Twitter or Instagram accounts @gardengirl_kp.


Franziska Spritzler, RD

More

A low-carb diet for beginners

Intermittent fasting for beginners

How to lose weight

Top success stories

Low-carb basics

Intermittent fasting

20 comments

  1. Tamarah
    Great Job Karen,, on your 5 years of successful maintenance !!

    Tamarah

    Reply: #2
  2. Karen Parrott
    Thank you for your kind comments, Tamarah. I feel so much better now. Maintenance is work that is delicious thanks to LCHF and some habits/routines that work.
  3. Eden
    Yes, Karen! Awesome, awesome, awesome. I love hearing the details of your story. I was especially fascinated by your eating window being early in the day rather than late in the day. I think I do much better with early too. I also liked hearing that food additives bother you. I ate something yesterday at a family party and I wanted to binge all night again. I know I can't do sugar, grains, dairy, and more but now I am going to start looking at food additives.

    And Andreas and all the Diet Doctor staff--we need MORE stories like this. People who are five years out from losing weight and maintaining it and what they do to make that happen. Great article!

  4. Karen Parrott
    Thank you, Eden!!! I expect in the next 5-10 years, better tools will be developed for those of us who have our DNA in hand and want to use the results to the best of our abilities. The guar and xantham gum- only mouse studies came out so far.... those emulsifiers are in many processed products, including spices. Sigh... better late than never.

    Thank you for your kind comments. :)

  5. lowcarbdiabeticJan
    Absolutely fantastic to see you featured here Karen.
    You've done so well and are an inspiration to so many.
    Many congratulations on 5 years plus of successful maintenance.

    All the best Jan

    Reply: #6
  6. Karen Parrott
    Thank you, Jan!!! All my best to you and Eddie for your efforts in the UK. :)
  7. Sean
    Thank you, Karen, for sharing your story. This is an inspiration.
    It is very kind of you to share with us how you did it.
    Interesting that successful maintenance of weight loss requires some degree of intermittent fasting to get the insulin right down.
    You have a great and successful story.
    Sean
    Reply: #9
  8. L.J.
    Thank you for sharing your journey! This is a God send! I'm 55 and gained a tremendous amount of weight during menopause. I want to be healthy and never see that look of shock on the face of someone who hasn't seen me since I plumped up to my current size, again! I was looking at my reflection and trying to set a weight loss goal, i just want my chest to be smaller than my head lol or is that asking too much! Anyway, I've found the starting point on this site for my new way of eating. Thanks again DD and Karen
    Reply: #10
  9. Karen Parrott
    Sean, thank you for your kind comments. Yes!! I was already fasting 12:12, but did not think I would need to fast more at the 3.5 to 5 year stage. Interesting learning. I have spent more work experimenting in weight maintenance than I ever did in weight loss. Thanks again!
  10. Karen Parrott
    LJ- yes, I know that look very well. 40 years of seeing that shock on the faces of those I had not seen for a while. Best wishes for determining your weight loss and maintenance template. Don't ever give up. Keep going. :)
  11. onnik
    Outstanding Karen, you go girl! Based on your typical day of eating you consume little or no alcohol.
    Reply: #14
  12. Maha
    Thanks for sharing your story, Karen. I like stories like this for those of us approaching menopause and how it affects our weight. I had no idea that would be an issue, but now I feel somewhat prepared between your story and this site. I agree this site would do well to have more stories of long term successes like yours. Anyway, nice work and keep it going!
    Reply: #15
  13. Wanda Crisp
    Encouraging and inspiring! I have a couple of ladies in my low carb circle of friends that have lost 85, 100, and 140 pounds! I started about 3 months ago, and at age 60, and well past menopause, I have lost 25 so far with a goal of 75. I lost the same 50lbs twice before
    This time I am not going back. Thanks for the insight!
    Reply: #16
  14. Karen Parrott
    Hi onik, That is correct. I stopped drinking around age 35. I found out later (via my 23nme) that I have a genetic disposition to not break down alcohol and I was high risk for liver disease.

    After I had my daughter- post pregnancy, alcohol started to taste like finger nail polish remover (acetone). The taste made it easy to stop. I was made fun of by other adults for not drinking, but hey, who wants to ingest something that now tastes terrible. I think my body was and is protecting me, so I found new friends to hang out with for social events. LOL. :)

  15. Karen Parrott
    Maha, thank you! I am strengthened each time I tell my story. We are not alone. Best wishes.
  16. Karen Parrott
    Wanda, that's so exciting that you have a good support group. I have no doubt that you will succeed. Keep up the great work. Keep going. :)
  17. 1 comment removed
  18. Linda Love
    Diana, can you try Almond, Hemp, Coconut milks? How about egg beaters? There are so many substitutes nowadays, even for butter, make or purchase Ghee.

    BTW, Kate's, you look fantastic. Great job!

  19. Debbie
    Fantastic story and I appreciate the recommendations for maintenance.
    Question: Where did you go to discover you have the FTO obesity gene and also the high ghrelin?
    I suspect that many obese folks don't have a slow metabolism, but rather have insulin/ghrelin inbalance.
    Again, well done!
  20. Karen
    My name is Karen too; I am 51 and my story is almost exactly the same.
    As a skinny teenager, I would eat more than my father; I didn't have a weight problem until college.
    I lost 60 pounds 3 times with WeightWatchers (1994), Overeaters Anonymous (1997), NutriSystem (2002). I learned ALOT about my triggers and addiction to food through OA.
    In 2011, I found the keto diet, too, thru MediFast, via researching why MediFast works (It's too expensive and uses powdered food). I again lost 60 pounds in 2011 via keto but had regained it all back between 2014 and 2018, due to life stress and comforting with food.
    I restarted keto on Jan 27th, 2018 (22 pounds so far). My weight-loss is slower than in 2011, probably due to pre-menopause (I am currently reading and listening to anything I can find with pre-menopause, like intermittent fasting).
    This time I am dedicated to making this a life style change, I would rather maintain a 30-pound weight loss than yo-yo again +/- 60 pounds.
    I am finally convinced that I cannot handle a little bit of cake because it's my birthday. Nope - because fall off the wagon EVERY SINGLE time. I know I need to make a permanent life-style change if I want to keep it off. This year, I had no carbs at my birthday party! YEAH!
    Good luck to all; may your goals be realized.
  21. Melissa
    Karen, your story is TRULY inspiring. I am a 51 year old who is in full bloom menopause and I'm on a life course to losing 40 more pounds to get down to a healthy 145 for my 5'3 medium frame. I've know about Keto eating for a couple of years now and I'm convinced that this way of eating is so much healthier than the standard American diet that I was raised. We eat way too much grains and sugars in our diet and this is the main reason why it is a struggle for most folks to loose weight. And the cravings for sugar our beast-like!!! Sugar is a chemical and controls the brain; it's been controlling me all of my life and it wasn't until recently that I realize the addicting affects it has on the brains chemistry. I'm still in the learning process and I'm taking each DAY AT A TIME!!! :)

Leave a reply

Reply to comment #0 by

Older posts