“When your husband transferred to his new job, his plan changed,” the insurance agent told Tina Cole Campbell, 46. “I’m sorry, but gastric bypass is no longer covered.” In that moment, the Alabama mom couldn’t breathe or speak.
After struggling through life in a body that had weighed up to 500.6 pounds, she’d finally been approved for surgery that would save her life. She’d endured seven months of mandatory appointments, counseling, and pre-surgical dieting. She told herself it’d all be worth it. “It was my last hope,” she thought. Now her hope was gone. Tina hung up, a tornado of fear and frustration swirling inside her. She sat in her car, sobs wracking her body. When the storm subsided, she wiped her face, drove home, and began to cry again.
Tina crawled into bed, despair wrapped around her like a blanket. She began thinking back on her life. Raised on deep-fried cooking and huge helpings, she was nearly 300 pounds when her two boys were young. A keto-style diet briefly got her to 180 pounds, but she couldn’t sustain it and regained every ounce.
Then came the nightmare: A reaction to blood pressure pills sent her into respiratory failure; for three years, she was on and off a ventilator, in and out of the hospital. Recovery was slow, each breath painful, food her only true distraction. “Weight gain will make you sicker,” doctors warned. Ignoring them, she packed on 50, 100, 150, 200 pounds. Yet somehow her body healed anyway.
When she was finally off dozens of meds, Tina lost a huge rush of water weight and everything felt suddenly easier. She could walk, talk, and breathe better. Motivated, she began a series of intense crash diets, ultimately starving her way to 265 pounds.
Yet she was slipping again when she learned gastric bypass was an option. It had seemed like a lifeline. Even as she faced new challenges — an emptying nest, a painful separation, an emergency hysterectomy, instant menopause — she clung to the hope that surgery would allow her to reach a healthy weight without having to fight so hard. And now…no surgery. “I don’t have any fight left,” Tina thought, more tears falling.
One day passed, then two. She ate, cried, slept. Friends and family called; they urged her not to give up. “You’ve walked through deeper valleys than this,” insisted her mom. Tina thought about her words. Had she really come this far to only go this far? If nothing else, grown or not, her boys needed her. Tina found herself praying, “God, please lift me out of this darkness and show me a better path.” By the end of the third day, something shifted inside Tina. “I’ll learn to do this on my own,” she told her mom.
Tina already knew a low-carb diet worked for her but didn’t last. I’ ll create a customized version I can stick with, she vowed. She gathered ideas from her doctors, the internet and at her local TOPS weight-loss support group (which she’d joined while preparing for surgery). Everyone said extra fiber could help her chronic tummy trouble, so she started with lots of fiber-rich produce, nuts, and seeds.
Using the MyFitnessPal app to track what she ate and weighed, she tested different amounts of protein, fat and healthy carbs to see what her body responded to best. She discovered fiber-rich, low-carb shakes — which she thought she wouldn’t like — were a filling and convenient meal. A gallon of water boosted her energy and metabolism. Did she need to limit the carbs she got from fruit and veggies? Not at all. Could she enjoy taco night with friends while still losing? Yes, she could! Could she eat ice cream at church on Wednesdays and keep losing? Yes! She even found low-carb Halo Top ice cream (spiked with fiber and protein) worked as a regular weekday treat.
Over the course of two months, she settled on basic menus similar to keto menus but tailored for her body (moderate portions, a little less fat, lots more fiber). Pounds melted away — up to four a week — as her health improved dramatically. Her pain was disappearing, her digestion better, her mood up. “This feels different, strangely good,” Tina thought. “I can do this.”
Over the next few years, Tina shed a final 102 pounds. Last Valentine’s Day, she had 10 pounds of excess skin removed. She now weighs 160 pounds, down from a size 32 to an 8. Her blood sugar improved drastically (A1c levels from 15 to 4.6!) and she no longer has diabetes. Her blood pressure and cholesterol, once off the charts, are normal too.
“Not all that long ago, I was over 500 pounds, on oxygen, and winded after walking 50 feet. Today, I walked seven miles, and I was thanking God every step of the way,” Tina says. “My biggest secret is never giving up on yourself. Pick yourself up each morning and point yourself in the right direction. Oh my goodness, I bet you’ll be amazed by how far you can go!”
The Keto + Fiber Secret
Keto diets replace most of the carbs we eat with fat — a trick that slashes blood sugar, the body’s go-to fuel. To compensate, we convert stored fat into compounds called ketones that become our new fuel. Studies show this increases fat burn by up to 900%. Yet men always seem to drop pounds quicker. Why? Blame estrogen.
Experts say all keto’s dietary fat spurs extra production of the hormone, and it fights to keep us padded with a protective layer of flab — even after menopause. A study led by University of Iowa’s E. Dale Abel, MD, PhD, confirms estrogen counteracts some keto magic.
The easy fix: Get more fiber like Tina did! “Fiber binds to and eliminates excess estrogen,” explains Radical Metabolism author Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD. “It also feeds gut bacteria shown to speed weight loss.”
Keto + Fiber Sample Day
We’ve infused these yummy low-carb meals with Tina’s high-fiber, fat-burning twistA keto diet gets about 70 percent of its calories from fat, 25 percent from protein, and 5 percent from carbs. Experts recommend about 25 grams of fiber a day to optimize weight loss and health. As always, get your doctor’s okay to try any new plan.
Breakfast — Blend 1 cup spinach, 1⁄2 avocado, 1 Tbs. chia and ice, water, mint and stevia to taste.
Lunch — Sliced chicken and low-carb veggies in broth; enjoy with 6 low-carb flaxseed crackers.
Dinner — Heap low-carb toppings on a low-carb tortilla; enjoy with 1⁄2 cup Halo Top ice cream.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.