“How wonderful, honey!” Sunny Parker gushed to her youngest son, Jordan. He’d called to tell her about his engagement and was excitedly sharing details of the proposal. Sunny was thrilled for him, yet instantly worried for herself. Please give me enough time to get ready for your wedding, she silently begged.
Sunny had starved off some weight recently, but still struggled to find even plus-size clothes that fit. The excess pounds plus prediabetes, high blood pressure, and a heart condition meant she was always uncomfortable and often exhausted. She imagined herself at the ceremony and shook her head. Not on Jordan’s happy day! Finally, he mentioned a date a year away. Sunny smiled. That’s long enough for me to transform myself!
Sunny began her weight-loss journey at age 11, joining and rejoining Weight Watchers dozens of times — plus trying umpteen other plans. She’d be lighter for weeks or months, but would inevitably begin downing mountains of low-fat cheese, popcorn, whatever “diet” food was on hand.
Eventually, she carried 368 pounds on her 5’3″ frame. I need to do something different this time, she thought, heading to a bookstore and beelining for the diet section. Scanning titles, it was one “been there, done that” after another — until she hit Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It ($8.87, Amazon) by Harvard-trained science writer Gary Taubes. She didn’t put the book down for days.
Sunny read that slashing calories triggers excess hunger, slows metabolism, and leaves you so depressed, irritable, and tired that eventually you can’t stand it anymore. Yes! Sunny thought. The author said the real problem wasn’t calories, but the insulin we make to manage blood sugar.
When our insulin levels go up, we store fat. When they come down, we mobilize fat for fuel. And foods she was told would make her thin, like low-fiber sweets and starches, raise blood sugar and insulin the most. So I wasn’t weak-willed? Sunny thought. I just got bad advice?
To find out, Sunny switched to the “keto diet” Taubes recommends, eating only foods that had little impact on blood sugar and insulin: bacon and eggs, salmon with cream sauce, steak with buttery broccoli. Though she read she might feel tired and headachy for a few days, she felt fine — and incredibly full.
Still, Sunny found herself wandering aimlessly, peering into empty snack drawers. After years of constant carbs, it was as if she’d lost her best friend. Hang in there, she told herself. Then, exactly three weeks after she started, Sunny woke up elated and invigorated. When she headed to her kitchen, she had no desire to peek in the fridge or pantry. “My cravings are completely gone,” she marveled aloud.
Down nearly 20 pounds, she was suddenly bursting with hope. As her son’s wedding drew near, Sunny’s progress slowed. Even so, she celebrated 50 pounds lighter at the event, marveling to friends, “Losing weight is enjoyable for once.” She even got within 40 pounds of her dream weight before life threw a curve ball: A home remodel project went very wrong.
For 18 months, she stress-ate low-carb comfort food and regained weight. When life calmed down, she vowed to get back on track and heard about The Obesity Code by Jason Fung, M.D. Picking up the book, she was again stunned by the science. She’d been told eating every few hours revved metabolism. Nope. “Every time you eat, even if it’s a low-carb meal, insulin rises at least a little,” Dr. Fung explained.
“And when insulin is present, you burn no fat.” What’s more, he said, skipping a meal sets off chemical reactions in the body that spike metabolism, boost energy, reduce hunger, and bolster immunity. So Sunny decided to give it a go. Your hunger really switches off, she thought as she began bumping her breakfast to 10 am, noon, 2 pm. Then she’d have dinner at 7 pm and stop eating for the day. Sometimes she’d eat one large keto meal daily; other times (after getting her doctor’s okay) she sipped only water all day long.
Eventually, Sunny settled into a pattern of a few fast days a week interspersed with “feast days” that included three keto meals plus a snack. “It turned out to be the miracle I needed,” says Sunny. “It’s like my metabolism got off a slow boat to China and got on a rocket. I thought, Oh, it’s going to stop next week. But I kept losing.” Her secret? Keeping it simple. “I finally figured out how I was supposed to be eating to fuel my body properly,” she says.
“Eating a lot of fake sweeteners and low-carb bread tends not to work out. Stick to natural options like greens, eggs, meat, olive oil, and butter for the fastest progress.” And the benefits went beyond weight loss. “My heart condition, atrial fibrillation, didn’t respond to surgery, but went away after I started fasting. I got off eight medications.
My prediabetes is gone. Even the skin that sagged after my weight loss is getting visibly tighter!” Now 113 pounds and a size 2, Sunny is maintaining a 255-pound loss. “It’s never too late to turn your life around!”
This article originally appeared in our special print edition, Keto Over 50. You can purchase the magazine in full on Amazon, $12.99.