By Amy Eiges
If you are brand new to keto/low carb or just starting out on your weight loss journey, you might want to save this blog post for a rainy day, but for the many of us that have been at this for a while and possibly discouraged, frustrated, stalled, finding it difficult to navigate COVID19 isolation and anxiety or like me, you’re just a regular old food addict and have hit a wall? Well, this is for you.
The last few weeks, I could feel my diet slipping away from me. It started with eating too many snacks, grazing rather than sitting down to eat a satiating meal, and too many convenience foods from a package (even keto-friendly ones). Isolation, anxiety and an overly stocked fridge are not a great combination, especially for a food addict. And on top of it? The gym I love and have come to depend on is shuttered, and I have not been motivated to work out as hard or as much as I did pre-virus shutdown. It is the perfect storm for a diet disaster.
Since starting on a ketogenic diet three years ago, I would plan for an occasional low-carb “cheat” day, something I found to be a very livable strategy, but lately they had become an all-too regular part of my routine and started feeling unnervingly reminiscent of my pre-keto days. Too often, no planning, no control. Though a better option and not as unhealthy as if I were shoving high carb “regular” food into my mouth, it turned from a winning strategy into one that just didn’t feel…right.
Down over 180 pounds, I have long since veered into uncharted territory, having never achieved weight loss like this before, and it is easy to not trust even what I could see with my own two eyes: even though the behavior isn’t ideal, I have not gained weight and I’m doing just fine. But infinitely more troubling? I began seriously doubting that weight loss is really, truly sustainable and it is only a matter of time before it all comes piling back on. The disappointment in myself from overeating worked on my psyche enough so that I started to lose faith…getting depressed about how awful failure would look and feel.
It began to insidiously take root, chipping away at my confidence, which then led to more self-loathing and more overeating, which left unfettered, would likely have resulted in weight gain. So, after floundering a little bit and telling myself things my worst enemy would probably deem too mean to say, I pulled a trick from the meditation masters I have occasionally studied: I focused on right here and right now, on what I know for absolute certainty to be true. I also reminded myself that the way out is not through self-hatred and judgement but trusting myself. I have never been able to hate myself healthy or thin. Never.
Over and over I steered my mind away from some random catastrophe I had predicted for my future (“You’re gonna gain every ounce back and be a complete failure”) and instead went back to what I know, what has worked for me in the past, and how much better I feel when I’m eating appropriately. And once I had a clear sense of those things again, I went about putting them in place. I went back to the fundamentals, Keto 101: focus on hunger and satiety and be aware of the foods that impact each. Intuitive eating, only so much better.
I put my head down and with laser-focus started with the basics: prioritize protein, eliminate processed foods that stoke appetite and are too easy to over-consume, don’t eat for any reason other than hunger, and exercise—because it feels good to move my body rather than as a punishment for some ill-perceived failing. I reminded myself again and again that this does not have to be like all the other times because I now have the knowledge and support system to keep me grounded and on track.
Once I was safely back on steady ground, I realized that success rarely happens in some grand sweeping way like in the movies where one dramatic turn of events solves everything just before the closing credits begin to roll.
No, success is messy, imperfect and not always pretty, and is the result of a lot of hard work. It comes from doubling down on what I know to be true, and taking off the kid gloves to get brutally honest about how it felt when I was nearly 400 pounds and had no hope whatsoever. Sometimes it is necessary to go back to a really dark place in order to see a glimmer of light.
Success is showing up for myself one meal, one fast, one workout, one minute at a time, and doubling down on hard work, even when I don’t want to — especially when I don’t want to. It’s remembering my own personal “why” for taking this road less traveled and what it was like living in a body serving a death row prison sentence for a crime it didn’t commit. I am not going back.
For all intents and purposes, long-term weight loss success is a marathon, and last week it felt like I couldn’t go one more minute, the finish line so far away I was not even sure it still existed. My motivation disappeared and everything told me to give up, go home and tune out the world. And the tape playing on a loop in my head: you are going to fail like all the other times, so why bother?
But the way I came through to the other side was recalling what I know, and that failure is not predestined if I show up for myself day after day after day. Sometimes this literally means a plate of scrambled eggs or a walk around the block — the bare-minimum I can muster. Or eeking out one workout when I don’t feel like it. Just today. And then, tomorrow, trying again, one more time. String a few days together and the habit starts to form, and resiliency, like any muscle, gets stronger and stronger. Success is self-perpetuating.
I forgot all of that last week. I forgot that doubt and fear and stumbling are a normal part of the process and when my body, mind and spirit are screaming at me to quit, that is precisely the time to kick everything into high gear rather than retreat.
If anything I’ve written resonates for you, please heed one piece of advice: do whatever you can to put safety nets in place to get you through the tough times before you need them. Those of us who have been doing this a long time are here to tell you that the old demons will show up — it’s a normal part of the process — and being ready and well-protected from them is crucial to long-term goals.
There is no shame in needing and asking for help. I couldn’t do it alone and will be eternally grateful to those who guided me along the way, including Dr. Tro, who has also weathered these same storms and come out on the other side. Why I ultimately became a health coach and share these deeply personal experiences here is because I want to show those who don’t believe (including myself at times!), that significant weight loss is, indeed, possible.
The difference between success and failure: consistency. Pick yourself up as soon as you’re able, “fail fast” and “fail forward” — learn from your setbacks and turn them around quickly. Not Monday or some other arbitrary date on the calendar, not after the quarantine has lifted or after the holidays. Not tomorrow. Now.
Do this regularly and success will come. I am not exceptional. I just keep trying.
Amy Eiges is a health coach and reformed chronic dieter who is passionate about helping others recover from the diet-binge-gain-shame cycle she struggled with for years. Since discovering a ketogenic and low-carb lifestyle, she has lost over 180 pounds and has both reversed pre-diabetes and resolved lifelong depression. “When I was just starting out, facing 200 pounds to lose seemed insurmountable, and the idea I would ever be where I am now was unfathomable. Know this: I am not extraordinary. I just finally got the right advice, put one foot in front of the other and didn’t look back. I know now that it can be done, but after battling this war for 40 years I had lost hope that it was really, truly possible. I am living proof that it is.”