When Helen found out that she had type 2 diabetes, she was devastated and couldn’t accept her diagnosis. For quite some time, she says she refused to listen to her doctor’s advice.
But after a while, she tried a low-carb approach and realized that she benefited from getting rid of the carbs. She went online looking for ways to cut carbs sustainably. That’s how she discovered Diet Doctor and the keto diet.
Keep reading to find out how keto helped Helen reverse type 2 diabetes and get her hunger under control, how she went from hating exercise to enjoying walks, and why she thinks sticking to the plan is important for people with type 2 diabetes.
The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What’s your name, age, and where do you live?
My name is Helen, I’m 55, and I live in a small town called Matamata in New Zealand.
How did you discover keto?
I first discovered low carb when the Atkins diet was popular in the late ’90s. I tried it, but couldn’t stick to it and had little success. Then the Dukan diet made an appearance, and so, I followed that diet and lost several pounds.
Unfortunately, I always saw it as just a diet. So after I reached my goal weight, I went back to my old way of eating and quickly saw my weight increase. But I knew that carbs were not my friend, and so, I decided to look at reducing my carb intake. And that’s how I found Diet Doctor.
Did you have any health or weight struggles before going keto?
Many years prior to starting keto, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I was so upset with this diagnosis that I totally ignored the advice recommended to me. For a long time, I refused to start taking medication. And when I finally did, I didn’t pay attention to what I was eating and rarely tested my blood sugar.
With the help of the Dukan diet, I managed to reduce my blood sugar levels and the number of medications that I took. But once I returned to eating my regular diet, back came the need for medications, and eventually, the need for insulin. I cried so hard the day the doctor put me on insulin!
What were you eating before making this lifestyle change?
What wasn’t I eating? I ate a high-carb diet. I confess to being a massive “carboholic”. I cannot stop at one biscuit. If I eat anything high in carbs, my cravings take over and I can’t stop. I also have a very big sweet tooth.
My portion sizes were huge: I would eat as much as the men ate and would eat way beyond satiety.
When did you start keto?
In November 2018, I decided enough was enough. I wanted to lose my excess weight and get healthier.
In what ways has your health improved since starting keto?
Very quickly, I noticed my blood sugar level coming down and I had to reduce the amount of insulin that I was taking. Soon, I was off all insulin and then I was able to decrease my oral medication. Eventually, I ended up medication-free. My hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) went from a whopping 97 to 38 mmol/mol (11% to 5.6%). I also cried when I got a text from my doctor stating my HbA1c was normal!
I also stopped snoring. This was the first thing noticed by my partner and happened within a week of starting a ketogenic diet. I hadn’t even lost any weight by then, but the snoring stopped. This made me realize that my weight wasn’t causing the snoring, but rather, it was what I was eating.
My acid reflux ceased. Finally, I got relief from the daily heartburn.
I freely admit that I’m not an energetic person, and I dislike exercise. But after starting keto, I was suddenly full of energy, bouncing out of bed in the morning. Now, I must admit that I did, and still do, struggle to get to sleep in the evenings, but I am not tired during the day. Prior to this, my head hit the pillow and I’d be fast asleep.
After starting keto, I did notice some alarming hair loss. This has stopped, but I’m left with less hair than I used to have. It’s funny though to see all the new regrowth of what I call my “baby hairs.”
I also noticed that I was able (and still am able) to recall memories that I hadn’t thought of in years. The amount of detail I can remember is amazing. They say the brain fog clears on keto, and it’s so true.
What does a typical day of eating or fasting look like for you now?
Shortly after I wake up, I enjoy a cup of coffee. This is from someone who never used to drink coffee, but gallons of tea a day instead. Black coffee with a pinch of salt is now my beverage. I love seeing people’s faces when I ask for salt to add to my coffee.
I usually don’t eat breakfast. I’m just not hungry. I tend to have a lunch of cold meats, cheese, and eggs, or a small salad. Our main meal is in the evening and I either cook a recipe from Diet Doctor, one of my many cookbooks from Kristie Sullivan, or a simpler meal of meat and low-carb vegetables. My partner and son are not on keto, but enjoy the meals I cook.
Have you made any mistakes on your journey that you’ve learned from?
Yes! After losing 40 pounds (18 kilos) quite quickly, and looking and feeling great, I thought I could go back to my old way of eating. After all, I’d lost all the weight and my diabetes was gone. So I thought, why not?
Oh, dear. My diabetes, and subsequent need for medication (including insulin), returned. My weight was regained, and I no longer felt full of life.
It’s obvious that eating keto is now a way of life for me. I can’t quite comprehend when people say they are no longer diabetic. I am diabetic and always will be, but I can control it by eating a ketogenic diet. If I eat carbs, my blood sugars go straight up.
Do you think exercise is necessary for success on low carb?
I always joke that I’m allergic to exercise. You’ll never find me in the gym. I managed to lose 40 pounds (18 kilos) without any form of exercise, but I did find that I had more energy, and so, I started to enjoy taking walks.
What are your top three tips for people starting low carb?
- Know your “why.” Why are you starting low carb? Don’t think it’s a temporary way of eating or that once your blood sugar is normal, you can go back to old habits. Believe me, the blood sugars will increase again if you do.
- Keep it simple. Enjoy a diet of meat and low-carb vegetables. Enjoy the taste of butter and cream again, and no more low-fat spreads.
- Don’t obsess over ketones, weighing yourself, or fasting. The weight will come off regardless. I still have more to lose and would love to wake up one morning and be thin, but the health benefits are outweighing the advantages of a stunning figure. You will one day realize you have forgotten to eat! What an amazing day that was for me. Then you know you’re well on the way to becoming fat-adapted. Don’t ever starve yourself to say you’ve fasted.
Thanks for sharing your amazing journey with us Helen, and congrats on your success. I really appreciate your understanding that you are living a lifestyle, not following a diet. That perspective will serve you well for a lifetime of success. Keep up the great work!
/ Dr. Bret Scher
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