We haven’t left the parking lot yet, and I already need to rest, thought Trish Parella as she strained to lift her 18-month-old twin grandsons, one after another, from her car into a shopping cart. The boys and their older sister were Trish’s great joy, but at 330 pounds and in failing health, she didn’t see how much longer she could help care for the rambunctious toddlers.
Will I even make it through the store today without collapsing? she wondered, pain shooting sharply up her back. She paused to catch her breath; the twins giggled and patted her with their little hands. She couldn’t help but smile. There’s so much I want to do with these kids that I can’t because of my weight. Suddenly, looking at their sweet faces, Trish just knew: I have to find a way to get healthy.
Why count total carbs?
For many years, Oklahoma grandmother Trish Parella had a hunger that no amount of food seemed to quiet. Then she tried Dr. Westman’s twist on keto. “It’s the only thing that truly worked for me,” says Trish. “My hunger disappeared, so much so that my grocery bill was cut in half. I also got off seven prescription medications, one of which cost $90 a month.” And she’s not worried about raising her three grandkids, ages nine to 16. “I feel like I’m in my 40s!” says Trish, now 67, who has traded her size twenty-sixes for twos.
Looking back on her life, Trish was aware that her health troubles began the year she lost two children. Her daughter died of cystic fibrosis; her newborn son never made it home from the hospital. It left such a gaping hole in her that, without even realizing, Trish tried to fill that emptiness with food. Candy, chips, bread, soda. She and her husband, Don, ate pasta, pasta, pasta. Yet the mom of four never felt full. Pounds piled on, and diet after diet failed.
Trish dealt with high blood pressure, diabetes, a heart attack. Eventually, she developed back pain so severe that meds barely helped. “Back surgery is your best option, but you’re too heavy to have it safely,” her doctor told her. “You should look into gastric bypass.” So she did; however, a low-calorie presurgical plan went as badly as the other diets, leaving Trish constantly hungry and thinking about food. Realizing just how overwhelmed she felt brought tears to her eyes. There has to be a better way, she thought.
A week later, an old friend reached out to Trish and mentioned a Facebook support group called Our Keto Tree. “It helped me so much,” said Jackie, explaining they used a plan created by Duke University’s Eric Westman, MD. Trish wanted to know more, so Jackie sent her a link to a video by Dr. Westman. Trish learned that his plan was a bit more strict than other low-carb diets that had failed her in the past. But the rules do seem easier to understand and follow, she thought. Dr. Westman recommended counting total carbs — no “net carbs” or crazy diet math. Trish would just read labels and add up the carbs. When she hit 20 grams, she was done for the day. The payoff, he explained, was that this plan worked when others didn’t.
He even said that folks reported relief from nonstop thoughts of food. Trish raised an eyebrow. If that’s really true, it could make all the difference for me, she realized.
Why does counting total carbs work?
Trish stocked up on keto basics and was soon making eggs and bacon, chicken over salad, steak with green beans. It started out easily enough. But then carb withdrawal set in. She was headachy and irritable and just wanted sugar. “Hang in there,” urged Jackie. “It passes after a few days.” And to Trish’s surprise, on day four, “it really did pass!” she marveled to Don. In the coming days, her energy came surging back and her back pain improved. Then she stepped on the scale: 15 pounds were gone! She couldn’t stop smiling.
Energized and optimistic, Trish went online and found new recipes to try: keto pizza, keto chicken alfredo (over yummy lowcarb noodles made from hearts of palm), keto cheesecake. Even as she had fun in the kitchen, she felt newfound peace. “For the first time in decades, food is no longer my obsession,” she marveled to Jackie. She could waltz by the fridge without feeling its magnetic pull. After six months, “I got into a size 14 and figured it was as far as I go,” says the former size 26. “A few days later, I was already in a 10.” Trish also reversed her diabetes, and her back improved so much, she no longer needed surgery.
But then tragedy struck. Her son was diagnosed with leukemia; in the blink of an eye, he was gone and she was left to raise her three grandkids. In the darkness and devastation, “I expected to go back to eating my feelings, to undo all my progress,” she recalls. “But Dr. Westman’s plan had broken food’s hold on me. These kids needed me healthy and energetic, and I am.” They fly kites, play golf and are acing their homeschooling routine. “I’m not great at new math, but I can tell you I subtracted 216 pounds in two years,” laughs Trish, now a size two. “The most amazing thing — I never felt like I was on a diet!”
Trish used guidelines from Duke University’s Dr. Eric Westman, which are proven to slash the body’s production of blood sugar. As that happens, it forces our systems to run on ketones, an alternative fuel made from pure fat. Dr. Westman’s approach limits fat calories and cuts more carbs than most keto plans. Why? He says it basically guarantees that fat burns fast as hunger is destroyed.
Extra carbs and fat calories sneak into traditional keto diets easily, slowing progress and keeping blood sugar at cravings-inducing levels. The scale barely moves and people don’t feel satisfied, “so they give up,” says the doc. Luckily, he’s found that getting carbs and fat a bit lower works wonders. As blood sugar finally comes down, ketone production spikes. “Ketones are appetite suppressants. Make enough of them, and in 48 hours, hunger is dramatically reduced. I never get tired of hearing patients say that for the first time ever, they’re not hungry.” Folks stick to his plan with ease—and melt up to 10 pounds a week!
What does counting total carbs on the keto diet look like?
Dr. Westman’s keto rules are simple: Enjoy unlimited eggs, fish, poultry and meat; up to four ounces of cheese; eight servings of added fat; three cups of low-starch veggies; and 20 grams of total carbs a day. Be sure to count the carbs in any low-carb drinks, seasonings, or sweeteners. Consult a doctor about any new plan.
BREAKFAST: Eggs, prepared any style with butter or olive oil; side of bacon or sausage.
LUNCH: Steak prepared in butter; roasted veggies or a leafy side salad with vinaigrette.
SNACK: Sugar-free gelatin and heavy cream whipped with zero-carb sweetener.
DINNER: Make a keto chicken mini pizza by wrapping two chicken breasts or four thighs in plastic wrap; pound thin with a mallet or pan. In oven-safe skillet, brown chicken on both sides in oil. Arrange chicken in skillet to form “crust.” Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes. Add one and a half cups of no-sugar marinara sauce, one cup of mozzarella cheese, and low-carb toppings like tomato and basil. Broil until cheese melts.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.