Virginia first told her success story to Diet Doctor in June 2019. You can read here how in 2018, when Virginia was experiencing a number of weight and health issues, her doctor told her to visit the Diet Doctor website and try a keto diet.
She took a week to read everything on the site and then jumped in. Within a year she had lost more than 90 pounds (41 kilos), reversed her type 2 diabetes, improved her mobility, and relieved crippling arthritis in her knees. Keto also improved her skin, energy levels, mental clarity, and helped disarm her sugar addiction.
“I was so thankful that my doctor recommended Diet Doctor. It changed my life,” she says.
We caught up with her in August 2022 to hear an update on her progress.
Virginia was warm and welcoming, and shares that her health and weight loss journey continues. Over the last four years, Virginia has continued to eat a low carb diet, but she admits she’s had her ups and downs.
In particular, the lure of keto desserts — even with non-caloric sweeteners — re-triggered her sugar addiction, causing her to overeat and gain weight.
“I had to acknowledge that I can’t do moderation of sweet desserts or use sweeteners, even if they are keto,” she said.
In recent months she has been tweaking her low carb diet, adding more protein and fiber, staying away from keto desserts, and trying the higher-satiety eating (HSE) approach — and losing weight once again.
Here is Virginia’s updated story, which has been condensed and edited.
What is your name, your age, and where do you live?
I’m Virginia, age 59, and I live in Ontario, Canada.
Summarize for us what was happening before you found the keto diet.
I had struggled with my weight for years, but by 2015 and 2016 I had been having increasing health problems and weight gain. And I had type 2 diabetes since the mid-2000s.
By 2018 I had terrible joint pain that required regular cortisone shots in my knees. Between shots, I could barely hobble to the bathroom. I was also on medication for acid reflux.
My highest weight, around 2016, was 286 pounds (130 kilos). My doctor put me on the weight loss drug Saxenda (also known as Victoza) and I lost about 45 pounds (20 kilos), but then I gained 15 pounds (7 kilos) back.
My blood glucose was still too high and I was still diabetic.
I also am very open about telling people that I had addictions in my past. I was addicted to tobacco and alcohol. I haven’t smoked or had any alcohol in more than 20 years. But I put on 110 pounds after I quit drinking and smoking.
I now realize that before those addictions, going way back into childhood, I had an addiction to sugar and sweets. And when I stopped the tobacco and alcohol, the sugar addiction came back. This transference is something addictions specialist Dr. Vera Tarman warns about.
In 2018, my doctor recommended I explore Diet Doctor and the keto diet. I am forever grateful that she did.
Describe your last four years on the keto diet.
The first 18 months were amazing. In fact, I could feel the difference in the first few weeks in terms of more energy, reduced cravings, and lower blood sugar.
When I started the keto diet I also did Diet Doctor’s sugar addiction course with Bitten Jonsson and got Dr. Vera Tarman’s book, Food Junkies, about food addiction. That is where my whole life story finally made sense to me — the connection between my childhood sugar addiction, the tobacco and then alcohol addiction, and then why the sugar addiction came roaring back when I stopped drinking.
Within 18 months I had reversed the type 2 diabetes and I’d lost 90 pounds (41 kilos). I got down to 169 pounds (76 kilos). The acid reflux was gone. I also noticed many other improvements such as better skin, greater energy and mental clarity, and almost no cravings.
The most amazing thing was that I could walk again, from not being able to walk across the room to being able to hike for five hours in rough woods. I could work in my vegetable garden. That was unbelievable to get that back.
But I have to be honest that by 2020 and 2021 with the pandemic and other things, my sugar addiction switched to an addiction to sweeteners and keto desserts. My use of sweeteners just grew and grew into a monster and I was not feeling good. Dr. Tarman warns about how if you have a sugar addiction, you risk transference of it to non-caloric sweeteners.
It wasn’t so much me telling myself that I could have the dessert because it was keto, giving myself permission to eat it, although that was part of it. But it was just the addiction brain, the dopamine circuits, took over from my common sense. Even the sweetness of a salad dressing with non-caloric sweeteners can set off my cravings and trigger my lack of control.
I realize now I cannot do moderation when it comes to sweet tastes, even with sweeteners. It is like one is too much and a million is not enough.
At Christmas of 2021 I really lost control on the keto desserts. I was making them and eating them all the time. My weight was back up to 199 pounds. By January 2022 I knew I had to get back in control again.
What have you done in the last year to get back on track?
In January 2022 I did the Diet Doctor New Me Reset and that was a really good way to start out.
And I started focusing on cutting out the desserts and getting rid of sweeteners. That was incredibly hard. It took more than five weeks to have the cravings disappear. I think it was harder than cutting out sugar in 2018.
I really follow the Diet Doctor guides and when you guys started recommending higher protein I thought I would try it. I don’t like change, but you really have to keep an open mind and try things.
Then in the spring of 2022, Diet Doctor started talking about higher-satiety eating (HSE) so I started doing that, where you really focus on protein, high fiber vegetables and nutrient dense food, and you reduce your excess calories, or energy, from carbs or fat.
I have really enjoyed HSE and I started seeing results right away. In the first four weeks, I lost 6.2 pounds (2.8 kilos) and 2 inches off my waist. As of August 23, 2022, I am down 14 pounds (6.3 kilos) since starting HSE in early May! And my cravings have disappeared!
I plan to continue with HSE. For me, it is great to have that freedom from craving and not the feeling that I just need a little something more from the kitchen to feel satisfied. And there is more flexibility. It is low carb, but not keto, and that seems to be working for me.
Tell us more about what you eat now with HSE?
I now eat two meals a day. My first meal, at about 11:30 am, is the cottage cheese breakfast bowl, which is cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, berries, and nuts and seeds. I add roasted edamame to it, instead of almonds, because the edamame is higher in protein and fiber. That breakfast bowl will hold me until dinner with no desire to snack.
About the edamame: where I live I can’t get roasted edamame in the store so I have to order it online. When I ran out, and was waiting for it to arrive, I substituted roasted almonds back in the breakfast bowl, and I really think my progress stalled a bit.
When the edamame arrived my weight started going down again so I think it is important for my progress that I get a lot of protein without excess carbs or fat. And edamame is great for that and almonds not as good for me. I can overdo it on the nuts.
I am really happy that on the HSE plan I can use the produce from my big garden.
I have blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries in my garden and I was really worried that if I added that back into my diet I might lose control. But so far, if I combine the berries with the cottage cheese, yogurt, and edamame, I don’t lose control.
I have also added higher carb apples from my apple tree to the breakfast bowl, with no cravings or blood sugar spikes. I have not eaten apples since starting keto so it is great to be able to eat them. I am hoping that I can add pear slices from my trees with the same success.
Dinner is a simple protein, like an 8-ounce piece of meat, with vegetables from my garden. My husband loves meat and salads, so most nights it is a variation of that.
I have made the Tex Mex Casserole but with layers of my garden vegetables, like a layer of zucchini, then the cheese and meat, then a layer of eggplant, then the cheese and meat. It is like a Tex Mex lasagna using vegetables, not noodles. It’s delicious.
In my garden I also have higher carb vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and corn. I know that I cannot eat potatoes — they create cravings for something sweet and trigger the addictive part of my mind. I think carrots increase the pain in my joints when I eat them a few days in a row. I am not sure whether I can add fresh garden corn to my dinner meal, but I will try small amounts. If I feel myself losing control, craving sweets, or feeling worse, I will cut it out again.
What are your tips for others?
- Keep an open mind and be willing to change if things are not working. Try higher protein, try HSE and see if it works for you.
- Be honest with yourself about what is not working. I had to acknowledge my problem with sweeteners, that it was all part of my past addictions, and that the keto desserts were not working for me. I had to notice that almonds are not as good for my progress as edamame. You have to take a hard look at what is working or not.
- If you have a slip, if you gain weight again like I did, just refocus and start again.
- Patience is your friend. Don’t expect immediate results. Just keep at it.
I am so grateful to Diet Doctor for helping me on my journey, for always updating and adding to their information and supports. It is an amazing company with amazing resources for people and I really appreciate that.
Thank you, Virginia, for sharing your experiences over the last four years and for being a valuable volunteer moderator. Your experience and honesty about your struggle with sugar and other addictions really help others. Figuring out whether addictive tendencies apply to you and how they might be derailing your progress is a huge learning. Thanks for sharing.
~ Anne Mullens