Pulling into the driveway of her California home, Sherri Shepherd grabbed a Reese’s cup from her purse. As the peanut-buttery goodness lulled her into blissful numbness, her son, Jeffrey, 12, leaned toward her. “Mommy, if you die, who’s going to be my bodyguard?” he asked. He pointed to the orange wrapper. “Who’ll watch me if you die?” Sherri was confused…then realization hit like a ton of bricks.
Jeffrey knew candy wasn’t safe for diabetics like his mom. "My boy is asking me not to kill myself with sugar," she thought, her chest tightening."I have a child with special needs, and he’s not ready to be separated from me." Tears filling her eyes, Sherri struggled to breathe. God, give me strength, she prayed. "Show me how to put my son’s mind at ease." Gradually, a calm came over her. She wiped her face and turned to Jeffrey. “Everything’ll be okay, honey,” she said. “I promise.Sherri liked to joke that she came out of her mother’s womb saying, “I have to go to Weight Watchers.” And food was a big way her mom showed love. If Sherri was bullied, there was warm peach cobbler. Good grades meant spaghetti and buttery bread. But when Sherri was just 24, LaVerne passed from diabetes complications; she didn’t live to see her daughter marry, welcome micro-preemie Jeffrey, land roles on 30 Rock and How I Met Your Mother, or get her big break on The View.
So Sherri used food as a surrogate for her late mom’s support, reaching for comfort food over and over until her own type 2 diabetes diagnosis in 2007. "I managed to eat healthy for a while after that," she recalled. But rocked by a second divorce and career worries, she’d reached for candy and cheesecake again. Back on diabetes medication and carrying 197 pounds on her petite frame, she often felt rundown, irritable, and foggy. "Jeffrey was right to worry," she thought. "Let me cut out sugar and see what happens."
The next morning, Sherri traded syrupy pancakes for eggs and resisted the call of chocolate after lunch. By evening, her brain was begging for Hershey’s Kisses. Had she gotten rid of her stash? Could a few really hurt? "Stop," she told herself. "My mind is like a toddler having a tantrum. I’m not giving in. Go to bed, Sherri." Soon the “tantrum” had passed. “Thank You, God, for giving me strength”, she said. "I’m going to need You again tomorrow."
Weeks passed. As skipping sugar got easier, Sherri’s efforts paid off. She hadn’t gotten on the scale, but her pants were looser, her mood and energy up. She’d even started doing more stand-up, and people were loving her new jokes. One morning, she woke up and wasn’t tired for the first time in ages. She lingered in bed, smiling and smiling. In that moment, she could hear the voice of God telling her she was on the right track.
Sherri’s progress had leveled off a bit, when she saw a picture on Facebook and did a double take. Her friend had lost a lot of weight — and her posts were all about the keto diet. Sherri did research and decided she’d try it too.
Using the free MyFitnessPal app to make tracking easy, Sherri aimed to get about 70 percent of her calories from fat, 25 percent from protein, and 5 percent from carbs. It was supposed to improve her blood sugar and force her body to burn more fat. She was floored by the delicious food she could have: steak with roasted veggies, tacos in low-carb shells, pizza on low-carb crust, keto desserts galore.
Sherri began losing faster than ever. “All of a sudden, I look up and I’m not a size 18 anymore,” she recalls. “I fit in a size six!” “For me, it was easy-does-it because I didn’t want to get burned out and quit”, recalls Sherri, 52. She ultimately lost about 30 pounds.
Why Sherri's Plan Works
Most of us get half our calories from sugar and processed carbs — a habit that chronically elevates blood sugar and the hormone insulin. Over time, the constant excess causes insulin to malfunction, “triggering weight gain and setting you up for type 2 diabetes”, says How to Be Well ($11.59, Amazon) author Frank Lipman, MD. Go keto, and you get 70 percent of your calories from fat-rich foods and just 5 percent from carbs, causing blood sugar and insulin to drop. “When your body can’t break down sugar for energy, it turns fat into compounds called ketones and breaks them down instead.” Dr. Lipman says this results in reduced appetite, faster fat burning, more energy and an improvement in diabetes.
Of course, keto can feel extreme and overwhelming. “I notice that women are often more successful when they ease into it like Sherri did”, Dr. Lipman says. Start by getting used to less sugar, then gradually begin tracking nutrients. Women tell us simply giving up sugar can melt a pound a day — and even not-so-strict keto dieters shed up to 20 pounds in two weeks!
Sherri's Keto Plan: A Sample Day
Pancake Breakfast: Blitz 2 oz. cream cheese, 1 egg, 2 Tbs. nut flour, 1⁄4 tsp. baking powder and a dash of salt. Prepare in griddle with butter; serve with sugar-free syrup.
Taco Lunch: Brown 6 oz. ground beef with Mexican seasoning. Serve in lettuce leaves with avocado, 1⁄4 diced tomato, 1 Tbs. sour cream and cilantro to taste.
Snack Time: 1⁄2 cup berries with stevia-sweetened whipped cream, a handful of cashews, or a bowl of roasted Brussels sprouts (Sherri’s new fave!).
Dinner: Sherri's "Low-Carb Pizza": Mix 1 12-ounce can chicken, 1/2 cup Parmesan, and 2 eggs; season to taste. Spread on lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes. Flip and add sauce, mozzarella, and any desired toppings. Bake at 500 degrees until top is lightly brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Serves 2 to 4.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.