Jennifer Before & After her weight loss journey, using both a standard low carb diet and then a zero carb diet.
1. How long have you been eating a Zero Carb diet?
Over three years now, I started April 23, 2015.
2. What motivated you to try this way of eating? Weight? Health?
My entire life I was morbidly obese. I remember being very young at the doctor, maybe kindergarten checkup, my mother was asking about my weight. He told her to watch my portions and I would grow into it. Growing up, we tried everything! Portion control, Slim Fast while I was still in daycare, Fen-Phen in middle and high school, Atkins, low fat, food pyramid, diabetic, just everything. I saw dietitians multiple times and followed their plans as well but I was never successful and never was able to stick to anything very long.
By the time I was 15, I weighed 350 lbs. I was a type two diabetic with migraines, PCOS, depression, and social anxiety. I would count every single carb, exercise, take my medications and was on insulin. I did all of this and my blood sugar was still out of control with readings in the 2-300’s sometimes higher. It was bad. After I graduated high school and I was more on my own, I ignored it all together. I also ballooned up to 420+ lbs. I wanted to have gastric bypass but insurance wouldn’t approve and I needed to lose weight for them to even consider me. I’m not exactly sure what happened then, but I just started losing weight without trying. I had my appendix removed and after that I steadily lost, but my blood sugars remained out of control. I did eventually diet again and got myself down to around 250 lbs. by my late 20’s, mostly by watching carbohydrate intake.
Then an accident that nearly took my life really shook my world. I remember very little of the following years besides highlights, like getting married and buying our house. I slept nearly all the time, ate what was convenient and gained back 75 pounds of what I had lost. Then in January of 2015, weighing in at 325 lbs. after two days of no food and cleaning my bowels out, I had surgery to remove a fibroid from my uterus. It was a rough surgery. I lost a considerable amount of blood and it took a lot longer than anticipated. Afterwards I was just sick. I needed multiple blood transfusions. I had a home health nurse coming in to pack my huge open wound. She was putting a roll and a half of gauze in my abdomen every day! I wasn’t healing at all.
Then the bad news hit. As I was lying on a trauma table in the local ER, where I had to meet my OB for him to clean my wound, he told me that the pathology had come back from my fibroid. He was wrong, it was a tumor. He explained that it was called a STUMP tumor and that it was very rare. STUMP stands for smooth muscle tumor of uncertain malignant potential. In other words, it is cancer without quite being cancer. And because it is so rare they haven’t done much research on it. Laying there looking up at those bright lights, after all I had been through I just lost it. He says quit crying Dodds! Your going to live!
A week later my husband and I made the trek to the oncology department two hours away. His news was just as grim. There is no way my OB could have gotten all of the cells from the tumor and I would have to have my uterus removed. I was devastated! always thought that someday I would be a mother I called my OB on the way home and he came on the phone and told me that having my uterus removed was my decision to make. That it was ok to ask questions and research before I made a final decision. So that’s exactly what I did!
My aunt had a friend who had lived decades with cancer. I started researching and I decided that the best thing I could do for myself was to get rid of all sugar. So I started with a low carb high fat diet sometime in February of 15. But I could not get my blood sugars where I wanted them to be. I think it was around this time that I found Esmee’s website Zero Carb Zen and began reading all the information here. I was doing an egg fast when I decided to never go back to carbohydrates. And that’s it. Something clicked. It only took a few days and I knew this was the magic key I had been searching for my whole life! I had never felt satisfied before, and now I was. On a carb-based diet, I was always full, but still hungry! I was morbidly obese, and yet malnourished.
Jennifer’s mother, little sister, and herself when she was about 6 years old.
3. How long did it take you to adapt to a Zero Carb diet, both physically and psychologically?
It was still a serious mental struggle. Overcoming a lifetime of using food as comfort in every situation isn’t easy. I didn’t realize just how much I ate in social situations like family parties. I just ate constantly because of nerves! I remember having a panic attack and wondering what the heck was going on and it was because I wasn’t allowing myself to eat for comfort that evening. The physical adaptation was a lot quicker than the mental, probably 6 months initially although I continue to heal. Mental adaptation took a lot longer, probably a full year. Lifetime mental habits are hard to break. I still look in the fridge whenever I walk into my parent’s house!
4. What books or people were most influential in guiding you to this way of eating?
I remember reading the Anderson Family interview, probably sometime in late 2014. I had already resolved myself to lose weight before I went in for surgery and was already doing some research on how to fix my hormones. I remember thinking, low carb yes, but there is no way that can be healthy! Like what I was doing to myself was healthy! I remember finding Esmee’s website fairly early on in my journey. I also read about Owsley Stanley (a.k.a. “The Bear”) and Vilhjalmur Stefansson. If you’re reading this with the same skepticism I had, one month isn’t going to hurt you! Give it a try!
5. Do you eat only meat, or do you include eggs, cheese, and cream in your diet?
It has varied over the years. I ditched the eggs fairly early on. I did try and add them back in a couple of times. I even tried fresh from the farm eggs, and yolks only, but my body still reacts. I was eating butter, bacon and occasionally cheese for about a year until I realized they were contributing to my headaches. For the first six months or so, it was all fare game! Then naturally over time, I went to beef only. At first, I was fine with ground beef, even frozen beef patties. Now my husband calls me a “meat snob” because I will only eat fatty, fresh beef. I will eat leftovers if absolutely necessary but they have to be made from super fresh beef and eaten the next day. If I am going on a day trip, I cook my meat let it cool then vacuum seal it. But only if I’m going to be eating it the next day.
Jennifer as a teenager with her little sister.
6. What percentage of your diet is beef verses other types of meats?
7. When you eat beef, do you cook it rare, medium, or well done?
Very rare. I sear my meat then put it in the oven at 270 degrees until warm through, the opposite works too. Lately, I have been eating a bite or two raw. I like it, it tastes very sweet! But I’m not quite ready to eat a full meal like that!
8. Do you add extra fat to your meat? (i.e. butter, lard, tallow)
Not currently, but I have been toying with the idea of finding a constant source of beef trimmings. The meat around here seems to be getting more and more lean and I have been hungry.
9. Do you limit your meat consumption or do you eat until satisfied?
I eat until satisfied, but I do realize when I am eating more than I should and then try to see if there is a reason. I typically eat only once a day unless I feel I am truly hungry.
10. Do you eat liver or other organ meats? If so, how often?
No, but I do enjoy it. There is something in it called tyramine which can cause increase in pressure and the brain and lead to headaches for some people. I realized I was reacting to beef liver as well as cheese and bacon because of the tyramine.
Jennifer and her little sister as young adults.
11. Do you consume bone broth? If so, how often?
No, I have never liked it.
12. How many meals do you eat per day on average?
One, sometimes two. I do really well on one meal a day unless my pain is flared up, then I tend to eat more.
13. How much meat do you eat per day on average?
I’d say roughly 2 lbs. Some days it’s a lot more, some a lot less. I eat to hunger.
14. Do you eat grass-fed/pasture-raised meat, or regular commercially-produced meat?
Regular grocery store meat. I am interested to see what locally raised beef would do for me, but that is costly!
15. Do you drink any beverages besides water? (i.e. coffee, tea)
I only drink water. We purchased a reverse osmosis filtration system for under the sink. I was seeing an oily surface on my drinking water and when you boil it there was a lot of sediment. My husband drinks coffee and I was having to clean the build up on the coffee pot nearly every week. I noticed a difference as soon as I quit drinking the tap water and my husband also noticed a difference! I did have a couple brief flings with coffee that turned out bad for me. If you haven’t tried giving it up yet, I highly suggest it!
Jennifer’s little sister and herself after they had both lost significant weight on a very low carb diet.
16. Do you use salt?
Yes, I have several different kinds of salts I use! My favorite is grey Celtic sea salt. I also use pink Hawaiian and have some others.
17. Do you use spices?
18. Do you take any supplements?
Magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin K and small amounts of calcium and vitamin C
19. How much money do you spend on food each month?
20. Do you have any tips for making this diet more affordable?
I managed to find a source of whole New York Strip for $3-4/ lb. That is what I have been eating lately. Otherwise it is the fattiest chuck roast I can find.
My husband eats what I call “Crappy Keto,” so here is what I have found to keep it less expensive. Chicken thighs are $.99 a lb on average. I cut the bone out and fry them skin side down in bacon grease till brown and crispy. They are the best! I always have chicken thighs ready to go in the fridge.
Liver is super cheap and is packed with nutrients.
Chuck roast tends to be the best priced beef with good fat and fries up good in chunks. I buy a couple big roasts and cut it into strips.
Salting beforehand also makes cheaper cuts more tender and flavorful.
If you have an Aldi’s, it is your friend!
Get yourself a vacuum sealer and buy when sales are good. Summer sales are great for doing this! Meat prices tend to go up in January when everyone is trying to “diet.” Then I tend to only find lean meats on sale and what I really prefer is super expensive. That is when the frozen stuff comes in handy.
Make friends with the dairy/deli/meat department! They will sell you the past date stuff super cheep!
21. Do you exercise regularly? If so, how often and how vigorously?
I have physical therapy routines that I have to do in order to keep moving but nothing strenuous. I also do a bit of light yoga. I also walk quite a bit but not as much as I feel I should.
Jennifer today after a total weight loss of 270 lbs.!
22. What benefits have you experienced since beginning a Zero Carb diet? (i.e. recovery from illness, overall health, body composition, exercise performance, hormonal, mental or psychological, etc.)
I noticed improvement in the time it takes wounds to heal and I just don’t pick up bacteria and viruses like everyone else.
I do still occasionally have seasonal allergies but nothing like before.
After my surgery, I went through three months of little to no improvement and being on constant antibiotics. But within a week of switching to Zero Carb, both my home care nurse and I noticed a huge difference in the healing of my incision. The infection cleared up soon after.
Zero carb also made my blood sugars steady for the first time and got rid of the estrogen dominance that had plagued me my entire life.
It took quite a few months for my weight to go down. I even gained back 10 pounds of what I had lost between surgery and my time on a low carb high fat diet. In fact, it was a good six months before I started to see steady weight loss. But now I am down to 150 lbs. which is 270 lbs. less than my all-time high of 420 lbs. I do, however, still have a fair amount of excess skin to deal with, but I am not surprised since I was so over weight all my life.
I also suspect I have a connective tissue disorder holding me back. After two severe traumas to my head and neck, I have developed some pretty severe symptoms that have continued to increase. I have been diagnosed with Arnold Chiari malformation and told that I have Complex Regional Pain Syndrome of the head and neck. But I suspect otherwise and am sending my information to yet another specialist. But I am still trying my best in physical therapy and at home to avoid any serious surgery.
Before I lost the weight, it was hard to find a doctor who would take my symptoms seriously. I heard from most of them that I simply needed to lose weight and that my MRIs were completely normal — which they weren’t. (Side tip: always ask for the report and a CD of any tests you have done.)
Well, it’s really sad, but since I have lost the excess body fat, the doctors are taking me and my symptoms more seriously. Ironically, though, some of them are now trying to blame my symptoms on the weight loss itself! As far as I’m concerned, I still don’t have an accurate diagnosis, but I feel we’re closer than ever to figuring it out. I will say that a Zero Carb diet has helped tremendously with chronic pain, by eliminating practically all of the inflammation. If not for this, I don’t know how I would have coped.
During the year and a half following my surgery, I went through a time of severe anxiety and stress. My Zero Carb way of eating was a constant in my life that I could hold on to. It was a way for me to control at least some part of my body when the rest of it seemed so totally out of control. Even though my physical problems often make it hard to think and remember things, Zero Carb provides a clarity in my mind and spirit, like a fog has been lifted from me. Also, I find it much easier to calm myself when I do start to feel some anxiety. Through Zero Carb, I feel that I have come more fully into who I truly am.
23. What do you enjoy most about eating a Zero Carb diet?
The freedom! All my life I felt trapped, not only by my own body, but by the food I ate. I am no longer constantly hungry. I see food for what it truly is, fuel not entertainment.
24. Do you have any advice for someone who is just beginning a Zero Carb diet?
Prepare your food ahead of time. Have snacks on hand like cooked bacon. The time I spent eating a very low carb diet before I started a Zero Carb diet really helped the transition both mentally and physically. Mentally, I was able to see that even on a very low carb diet I wasn’t able to control my eating, even with such strict rules. Physically, I was able to transition from a standard American diet to a very low carb diet to a Zero Carb diet slowly, in stages, making it a little less jarring to my system. Find a good support system. Even though I was a lurker for the most part, and rarely posted comments, I was a passive participant in various Zero Carb groups on Facebook that kept me going.
25. Are your friends and family supportive of your Zero Carb lifestyle? If not, how do you handle this?
I believe so! They have all seen me struggle my entire life with my weight and health, and now they are really happy for me.
26. Is there anything you would like share about this way of eating that I have not already asked you?
Do your best to get off of any medications you are taking. One medication I had been taking for years I finally ditched and lost 30 lbs. very quickly. I continued with another and messed up my stomach and digestion. It is healing now that I have stopped it, but I was making myself miserable in the meantime. If you have any chronic health problems, a Zero Carb diet is an excellent way to help yourself get a grasp of what is truly going on. It helped me connect to my body and truly understand it in ways I have never experienced before.
Jennifer and her husband who follows a low carbohydrate diet and has also lost a significant amount of weight.
If you are interested in connecting with other like-minded carnivores, please join us in our Zero Carb Facebook group Principia Carnivora.