After countless failed attempts to escape obesity, low-carb diet turns out to be just what the doctor ordered
By Brian Wiley
Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to work as a Health Coach in Dr. Tro’s clinic, and after seeing so many people start their journey, I have been reflecting on my own.
I see so many who struggle with the same problems I had, and realize they’re asking the same questions I did when I started. It’s amazing how many of us struggle with the same problems and how similar the paths are that we walk.
I was a “normal sized” kid up until the summer of 1982, when I was nine years old,
Up until that point in my life, my family ate mostly relatively healthy home-cooked meals. And ordering pizza or going out for McDonalds was a rare treat. We didn’t go out to eat often, and I was an active kid, riding my bike, playing outside and walking tens of thousands of steps over the course of a day.
But then there were some changes.
Heartbreaking collateral damage of ‘Standard American Diet’
My mom started working, and my father was working long hours, so I was pretty much stuck with a sitter who didn’t cook. The home-cooked meals started getting replaced with fast food, and we started having far more processed foods in our home, including cereal, soda, snack cakes, and ice cream. And with the addition of a microwave to our kitchen, we started eating microwavable dinners, burritos, popcorn, and other junk that was easy to nuke for a quick fix.
Now, I don’t blame my parents for this—they had no education in nutrition, and they were doing the best they could. This was during the early 80s, and there was far less awareness about metabolic disease and obesity than there is today.
I don’t recall exactly how much weight I gained that summer—in fact, until one extremely painful day toward the end of August, I wasn’t even aware that my weight was becoming a problem.
I had fallen asleep in the back seat of our car, and my dad had driven to visit a friend. I woke up when my dad stopped the car but I pretended to still be asleep because I didn’t want to get out of the car.
My dad’s friend came over to the car and, thinking I was asleep, he said “Damn, Brian’s gotten fatter than a pig. What are you guys feeding him?”
Those words never left me.
In the days following, I remember thinking, oh my God, I can’t go back to school fat. I’ll get made fun of like the other fat kids.
I checked myself out in the mirror and on the scale, and, sure enough, I had gotten fat, and school was less than a week away.
Growing up as a kid in the 80s wasn’t pleasant if you were overweight. Kids and even teachers were merciless, verbal assaults were daily and relentless, and bullying was only acknowledged if someone was beaten to a pulp.
I remember thinking, How did this happen? Not one time did I think it was the Friday night pizza or the weekend buffets. It couldn’t have been the McDonald’s Happy Meals and the KoolAid, slushies, or the boxes of cereal with my favorite cartoon characters on the box? I didn’t have a clue.
You would think going through this would be motivation enough to lose weight, but it actually made things worse. It stressed me out to the point where I was eating more of the crappy processed carbs and fats than ever. Even though I walked to school, rode bikes and was active after school, it was not enough to offset the crap I was eating.
During that time, my family was attending church every Sunday, and you would have thought that would be a safe place to get away from all the madness for one day out of the week, but it wasn’t. The kids at church were every bit as merciless as the public school kids.
The only day of the week I had where I could get away from the torment was on Saturdays, sitting in front of the TV, eating giant bowls of cereal. You know, the ones with my favorite characters on them.
I really had no way of escaping the bad food. School lunch was a joke, we were eating out several days a week, and the cupboards and fridge were filled with highly processed carb-laden foods.
My eating was out of control, and we started making a habit of visiting Chinese and American buffets every Sunday after church. Sometimes we would even do a breakfast buffet BEFORE church. Of course I went straight for the pancakes and waffles, and would wash it down with chocolate milk, and hey, ice cream for breakfast desert was awesome!
Between the stress of school and being addicted to foods I couldn’t resist, I just stopped fighting it, and accepted that I would always be overweight. The teasing was daily and really got to me, but I eventually grew numb to it. Of course it didn’t help that I gave it right back, maybe that’s why I have such a smart mouth to this day.
I remember at one point when money got a little tight in the house, my mom stopped buying snack cakes, doughnuts and foods like that. There were some kids at school who got free lunch tickets for the week, and they would sell their whole week’s lunch tickets for a dollar.
I would take my weekly lunch money and buy their tickets for a dollar and take the $6 I had left over and use it to buy the cakes and candy bars. I’d hide them under the bed and eat them, and hide the boxes and wrappers in the bottom of the trash. I was hooked on Hostess.
I dreaded going to school during my elementary and middle school years, but one day in eighth grade really stands out as one of the very worst.
I was in the lunch line one Friday and the whole lunch room was acting up. I was last in line and as soon as I got my tray the principal got on his megaphone and tried to get everyone settled down. He was clearly perturbed when it didn’t happen.
I couldn’t find a seat anywhere, and for some reason I became the focus of his attention. He screamed into his megaphone “Sit down fat ass, I told everyone to sit down.”
I was in shock. I had about a thousand kids looking at me and laughing, while I was frantically moving around the lunch room trying to find a seat to no avail. The entire time the principal was screaming into the megaphone “Sit down moose. The moose still hasn’t found a seat,” while making moose sounds.
It was a total nightmare, and guess what nickname stuck with me for the rest of the school year? You guessed that right. I was now Moose.
The summer before high school, I started to play football, basketball or baseball daily, and I was also beginning my growth spurt, so by the time freshman year started, my weight problem began to diminish. I ended up at 6 feet and about 175 pounds, and for most of my high school career, my weight wasn’t really the issue. But I still had that mindset that I was overweight, I was very self-conscious, and I was never pleased with my appearance,
My eating habits didn’t change all that much, but since I was young and active, I got away with it for a while. I remained a relatively normal weight all the way through my senior year.
Once high school was over, a new set of challenges began and the weight started creeping back, and once again it caught me by surprise.
Marriage, kids and sitting in front of a computer screen
My first daughter was born and my life changed considerably. My activity went down and I started a sedentary job that involved sitting in front of a computer all day. That, combined with my bad eating habits, caused the creep to turn into a quick regain, and by age 21 I was all the way up to around 210 pounds. By the time I was 25 I had hit 230.
It was hard to believe I could gain 55 pounds in a little more than six years, but I was just too busy to focus on it, or I just didn’t think it was a big deal. Either way, just like during school, I learned to ignore it.
One day I woke up with an ear infection, and went to a doctor. My wife came along, and after examining me, the doctor literally said to me, “You don’t miss many meals do you?”
Then he said “The ear infection will be fine. The only thing wrong with you is your wife is feeding you too well.”
I was shocked. Not only that a doctor said that, but the fact I had let myself get there again without really knowing it—just like in second grade all over again.
Weight Watchers fiasco
After that doctor’s visit, I decided to give Weight Watchers a try, My wife had started on the program, and this was around the time when their point system had started. I would save all my points to use on sweets—not a good strategy because a few hours after spending my points for the day on sugary sweets, the crash was on its way and I was hungry again.
I would try to resist, but it was usually too much, and I would just end up binging on leftovers which were usually spaghetti, lasagna or other Italian dishes. We ate a lot of those kind of meals because it was cheap and quick to make, and we also made fried chicken, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, garlic bread and other carb-heavy foods frequently.
Also still part of my cupboard was the Little Debbie and Hostess snacks, “but they were for my daughter,” and we were still eating out a couple nights each week.
I didn’t have any success at all with Weight Watchers, so I quit and let things go again for a while before making another attempt at losing weight. At the same time, my blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol numbers were creeping upwards along with my weight.
I was not needing any meds yet but it was getting close. It was a wakeup call when my doctor told me that according to my BMI, I was in the obese category. So I decided to make another run at getting healthy.
I started working out and went low fat, but that was also a disaster. Not only was the food horrible, but I was hungry all the time. I was never satisfied, and again would underdo it and go off the rails again when the hunger was more then I could take.
I may have lost 10 pounds, but gained that and another 10. At age 28 I was now around 245 pounds, and my wife and I had our second daughter. Weight loss was put aside, and work and being a father was an easy excuse.
Counting calories: fighting a losing battle
At the age of 30 on the advice from another doctor, I did the calories in, calories out (CICO), eat less move more plan. It sounded okay since there were no restrictions, just portion control. We got a family membership to the YMCA and I started working out three times a week and did my best to control portions. I was definitely moving more and eating less, getting stronger and feeling better, but my weight remained pretty high and my numbers did not improve, so again after a few months I started falling back into my old eating habits again.
I tried to keep working out, but I was fighting a losing battle. All these different things I tried never produced any results, and I ended up heavier then when I started. I reached a point where, just like when I was a kid, I accepted the fact that it must be in my genes and there was nothing I could do about it so I might as well just accept it.
That was a horrible place to be. I didn’t really care what I ate, figuring I would be an old man before my numbers reached a level where I had to take meds.
I was wrong. At age 34, I noticed I had no energy and that I had to nap all the time. My body ached and it took me way longer to recover from a stressful or physical day. Worse yet, I wasn’t able to keep up with my daughters when I would take them to the park to play soccer. I would sit on the park bench and watch them play because I just didn’t have the energy.
Close call with blood pressure medications and statins
When I went to my doctor for my yearly checkup in November, shortly before my 35th birthday, I stepped on the scale and was shocked to discover I weighed 265 pounds. Worse yet, my doctor advised and encouraged me to take meds for my blood pressure and blood sugar, and a statin for cholesterol. I did not want to take meds—I mean, these were meds my parents took in their 60s—so I asked her for one more year to get things right.
When she agreed to give me that opportunity, I knew I had to do something because I was not in a good place mentally or physically, and I had no idea where to start. I had tried just about everything and nothing came close to working.
A few weeks later, my wife said they were going to do a Biggest Loser competition at work after New Year’s and she was going to try a low-carb approach. I was interested, and decided to give low carb a try and see what would happen.
It would turn out to be the greatest thing that ever happened to me in this endless weight and health battle.
Discovering low-carb salvation
On January 2, 2009, I began my low carb journey.
At that time, there was not a whole lot of information on low carb, and I was referring to a rip-off of the Atkins induction phase. In the first two weeks I only ate meat, eggs, vegetables and dairy.
Yes, I went through a horrible induction flu and it was as bad as you could Imagine, but that’s because I didn’t have the information about how to balance your electrolytes. Not long afterwards, though, things improved, my energy went up, and I was feeling good.
The first week I lost eight pounds and the second week I lost another four pounds. I was amazed—I couldn’t believe I lost that much in two weeks and wasn’t hungry. I remained very skeptical because of my past struggles, but decided to keep doing what I was doing and see where it led.
After a couple weeks, I had purchased a copy of Atkins New Diet Revolution because I needed some recipes and I wanted to follow the plan correctly. The book helped a lot, it was simple and straightforward, and I was able to expand my menus. My weight loss after the first month became slow and steady, I occasionally had a slip up here and there, but the old foods made me feel so bad after eating them, I would immediately jump back on track and would feel better again.
I don’t recommend that people go off plan for a day or even a meal, because I was one of the rare cases that could jump right back on and stay on. I have seen so many people fall completely off track and never get back on after eating a slice of pizza or piece of cake.
I’ve seen them veer off track, and have one miscue lead to a day, week, months and years—and it’s truly not worth it. Most of us got unhealthy and overweight from eating those foods and they are a trigger that sends us back down a road we really don’t want to go down
The good news is most foods are easy to replicate with a keto version, making it easy to resist and replace. It wasn’t always so easy.
In 2009, there were not a lot of products, information or other resources to consult if you ran into trouble.
I had to figure a lot of stuff out on my own. It wasn’t always easy but even my hardest day was easier than a good day on other plans I tried.
By my next yearly checkup I was down 80 pounds and all my numbers were going in the right direction. My doctor was very pleased, but she was also skeptical of low carb. Fortunately, she didn’t discourage me from continuing, but she said she’d continue to watch things. It took a couple of years, but the numbers stabilized and to this day I am med free.
Early in 2010, I lost my 100th pound, and I have kept it off going on 12 years.
I have had my ups and downs, but this has been the most fulfilling and satisfying way of life I have ever experienced. I eat a variety of foods and I eat until I am full. I never felt restricted and nowadays there are so many options available that it makes this way of life almost effortless, My numbers, my weight, and my overall health and happiness is better now than when I was in my 20s.
I love that I have the chance as one of Dr. Tro’s health coaches to help people find health and happiness in this confusing nutritional world we live it today.