“Do I need hormone therapy, Dr. Gallagher?” asked Mary Gronholz, smoothing her paper exam gown. “I keep getting bigger, and I can’t lose weight no matter what.” The gynecologist patted Mary’s arm. “You have metabolic syndrome,” she said.
The doc went on to explain it happens when stress and junk food damage our cells until they no longer burn sugar and carbs properly, causing most carbs to turn into belly fat instead of fuel. "No wonder my waist is 43 inches, and I’m always tired," Mary thought.
The condition stresses the whole body too. “It’s why your blood pressure is high,” Dr. Gallagher said. That meant Mary’s heart was working harder than it should; she was also at high risk for liver problems and diabetes. Suddenly panicky, Mary’s thoughts raced. "Will I die before I even retire? Will I get to see my granddaughters grow up?"
“Make some changes, and it’s reversible,” the doctor promised. “There’s a book I want you to read…”
Mary felt shaken as she got in her car. A yo-yo dieter for decades, she often prayed for help getting her health and weight under control. Every now and then, it would seem God was whispering a gentle suggestion to try a new diet or workout. But this felt different.
"This seems more like a shout than a whisper," she thought, a chill running down her spine. "I can’t take it lightly." She headed home and ordered The Obesity Code ($11.99, Amazon) by Jason Fung, MD, then found the Jason Fung YouTube channel, where the expert boiled down his entire approach to just three rules: “Don’t eat your first meal until noon,” he said. “Choose whole foods over processed ones. And stop snacking.”
He explained this would dramatically lower levels of blood sugar and the fat-storage hormone insulin, allowing damaged cells to heal and ending constant fat storage and health problems. Mary loved that he mentioned studies done on folks just like her. "I can do this," she thought. Mary told her husband, Scott, about what she’d learned. “We’ll do it together,” he said. Mary smiled, her spine tingling again. God was making this easy on her!
One month in, and Mary was in a groove. She shopped mostly around the perimeter of the grocery store, filling her cart with unprocessed foods. She began whipping up healthy versions of chicken parmigiana, shrimp scampi and zucchini pasta Alfredo. She didn’t count calories, measure portions or stress about her meals at all. And she made a habit of having a little dark chocolate every night and a glass of wine when she wanted one. During holidays and special occasions, Mary would even have cookies, cake or pie as part of her meal with no issues. “The fat seemed to melt off my body,” she recalls. Did she ever struggle? Sure. “Sometimes I was tempted to snack even though I wasn’t hungry,” she says. “I joined a Facebook support group and listened to Dr. Fung’s pod casts to stay focused and motivated.”
In 10 months, Mary, 57, shed 75 pounds. Scott dropped 20.
“I look back on all the other diets I tried, and I realize the key for me is not so much what I eat but when I eat,” says Mary. “I was doing one healthy diet after another, and I still needed a seat-belt extender if I went on a plane.” These days, everything is different. “I was flying to a convention, and when I sat down on the plane and the belt snapped, I felt a rush of relief and gratitude,” she recalls. “Then I realized I had to pull and pull to tighten it. My eyes filled with tears. It seems like a small thing, but for me it was huge. I made manageable changes to my life, and all my aches and pains and fears and embarrassments began to disappear. This way of eating can change your entire life for the better!”
How it Works
Throughout most of her weight loss, Mary ate her first meal at noon and finished dinner by 7 PM each day. She also aimed to avoid snacks and processed food. According to Fung, the strategy — called intermittent fasting — gives the body a much-needed break from the constant flood of insulin our bodies produce when we eat frequently and overload on highly processed fare.
“It’s the way humans ate for centuries before mass manufacturing gave us nonstop access to blood sugar–spiking foods,” he notes. “As insulin comes down, the body is able to heal itself naturally.” Prediabetes and diabetes often improve or resolve, as do conditions like high blood pressure and joint pain. And since excess insulin locks the body in fat-storage mode, reducing levels of the hormone frees us to burn stored fat for fuel.
Oh, and something else pretty magical happens too.
Intermittent fasting gives your body’s number one fat-burning organ — the liver — a break from the constant onslaught of sugar and carbs that leaves it clogged and sluggish. Blockages are eliminated, and suddenly, it can turn fat into energy much faster, so you lose weight and feel invigorated! “With intermittent fasting, that’s one of the most consistent things we see,” says Dr. Fung. No wonder folks report losing up to two pounds a day!
How to Eat Like Mary
To follow Mary’s lead, simply shorten your daily “eating window.” She ate between noon and 7 PM, but many folks get great results using an eight-hour window, such as 1 PM to 9 PM. During your window, enjoy two meals made from whole foods; eat until you feel so satisfied that you won’t need between meal snacks. As always, get a doctor’s okay to try any new plan.
Lunch: Grilled chicken over salad with fun unprocessed toppings and full-fat dressing.
Dinner: Salmon and green beans prepared with garlic butter; enjoy dark chocolate for dessert.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.