“How wonderful, honey!” Sunny Parker gushed to her youngest son, Jordan. He’d called to tell her about his engagement and was excitedly sharing details of the proposal. Sunny was thrilled for him — yet instantly worried for herself. "Please give me enough time to get ready for your wedding," she silently begged. Sunny had starved off some weight recently, yet she still struggled to find even plus-size clothes that fit. The excess pounds plus prediabetes, high blood pressure and a heart condition meant she was always uncomfortable and often exhausted. She imagined herself at the ceremony and shook her head. "Not on Jordan’s happy day!" Finally, he mentioned a date a year away. Sunny smiled. "That’s long enough for me to transform myself!"
Starting at age 11, Sunny had joined and rejoined Weight Watchers dozens of times. She’d tried umpteen other plans too. She’d be lighter for weeks or months; inevitably, though, she’d begin downing mountains of low-fat cheese, popcorn, whatever “diet” food was on hand. Eventually, she carried 368 pounds on her 5'3" frame. "I need to do something different this time," she thought, heading to a bookstore and beelining for the diet section. Scanning titles, it was one “been there, done that” after another — until she hit Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It ($10.19, Amazon) by Harvard-trained science writer Gary Taubes. She didn’t put the book down for days.
The Keto Difference
Sunny read that slashing calories triggers excess hunger, slows metabolism, and leaves you so depressed, irritable, and tired that eventually, you can’t stand it anymore. The author said that the real problem wasn’t calories but the insulin we make to manage blood sugar. When our insulin levels go up, we store fat. When they come down, we mobilize fat for fuel. Low-fiber sweets and starches raise blood sugar and insulin the most. "I was told those foods would make me thin," Sunny realized. "So I wasn’t weak-willed? I just got bad advice?"
To find out for sure, Sunny switched to the “keto diet” Taubes recommends, eating only foods that had little impact on blood sugar and insulin: bacon and eggs, salmon with cream sauce, steak with buttery broccoli. Though she read she might feel tired and headachy for a few days, she felt fine and incredibly full. Still, she found herself wandering aimlessly, peering in empty snack drawers. After years of constant carbs, it was if she’d lost her best friend. "Hang in there," she told herself. Then, exactly three weeks after she started, Sunny woke up strangely elated and invigorated. When she headed to her kitchen, she had no desire to peek in the fridge or pantry. “My cravings are completely gone,” she marveled aloud. Down nearly 20 pounds, she was suddenly bursting with hope.
As her son’s wedding drew near, Sunny’s progress slowed. Even so, she celebrated 50 pounds lighter at the event. “Losing weight is enjoyable for once,” she marveled to friends. She even got within 40 pounds of her dream weight before life threw a curve ball: A home remodel project went very wrong. For 18 months, she stress-ate low-carb comfort food and regained weight. When life calmed down, she vowed to get back on track.
She heard about The Obesity Code ($15.07, Amazon) by Jason Fung, MD. Picking up the book, she was again stunned by the science. She’d been told eating every few hours revved metabolism. Nope. “Every time you eat, even if it’s a low-carb meal, insulin rises at least a little,” Dr. Fung explained. “And when insulin is present, you burn no fat.” On top of that, he added, skipping a meal sets off chemical reactions in the body that spike metabolism, increase energy, reduce hunger, even bolster immunity and strength.
Sunny decided to give it go. "Your hunger really switches off," she thought as she began bumping her breakfast to 10 am, noon, 2 pm. Then she’d have dinner at 7 pm and stop eating for the day. Sometimes she’d eat just one large keto meal daily, other times (after getting her doctor’s okay) she sipped only water all day long. Eventually, she settled into a pattern of a few fast days a week interspersed with “feast days” that included three keto meals plus a snack. “It turned out to be the miracle I needed,” says Sunny, 63. “It’s like my metabolism got off a slow boat to China and got on a rocket. I thought, ‘Oh, it’s going to stop next week.’ But I kept on losing.” The benefits went well beyond weight loss too. “My heart condition, atrial fibrillation, didn’t respond to surgery but went away after I started fasting. I got off of eight medications. My prediabetes is gone. Even the skin that sagged after my weight loss is getting visibly tighter!” Now 113 pounds and a size two, Sunny’s maintaining a 255-pound loss. “I’m living proof it’s never too late to turn your life around!”
Easy 5-Ingredient Keto Meals
Going keto like Sunny did means aiming for 70 percent of calories from fat, 25 percent from protein and 5 percent from carbs as you enjoy simple meals like the options at right. For help with diet math, use the free tracker at CarbManager.com. To seriously amp up her results, Sunny eventually used guidelines in The Obesity Code to fast a few days a week. Be sure to get a doctor’s okay before following her lead.
Sausage and Kale Soup — Simmer 6 cups broth, 1 lb. browned sausage, 3 cups kale, 2 cups mushrooms, and seasoning to taste for at least 1 hour. 4 servings
Easy Stuffed Peppers — Brown and season 4 oz. ground beef; stuff in seeded pepper with 2 Tbs. cheese. Cover with foil. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until cheese melts. 1 serving
Sheet-Pan Salmon — On a sheet pan, liberally rub 5 oz. salmon and 4 oz. asparagus with olive oil; season. Bake at 325°F until fish is done, 12 to 15 minutes. 1 serving
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.