Ok, so amidst all the writing updates on my novel progress lately, it’s time for another personal post. Back to my epic weight loss journey then!

As you may know from my post in May 2020 I lost 3 stone/42 pounds/ 18 kilos from doing strict keto for 5 months between 10th April and 10th September during lockdown last year. After 3 years of rapid weight gain during pregnancy and my year of maternity leave afterwards I found myself 3 stone heavier than my pre-pregnancy weight. All through my twenties I had taken it for granted that I could eat what I wanted and stay slim. I didn’t have a sweet tooth. But pregnancy changed that! I craved junk food and ate whole tiers of cake and multi-packs of crisps in-between my 3 regular meals. I indulged myself, using hormones as an excuse to fuel my sugar addiction. This led to my first venture into keto.

Keto journey 1 – how I lost 3 stone:

Struggling to do household tasks because of being obese (my BMI reached 31. 30 and above is obese) was what motivated me to start keto in April 2020. Before keto I was used to eating 3000 calories a day of which 250-300grams were carbs; not needed for a 5ft 4 woman! I spent 3 weeks prepping my body by gradually reducing carbs, starting by eliminating the 5 big ones: bread, pasta, potatoes, rice and refined sugar. I then went strict keto, keeping carbs to under 10g a day, although often my overall daily calories were high at around 1600-1800 a day. I made a 2 weekly menu for myself that I rotated. This got repetitive quickly, but I was motivated by the weight loss I experienced and not by variety in my diet. My menu was something like this: black coffee with no breakfast (intermittent fasting)/ naked bacon with eggs, manchego cheese and avocado for lunch with dessert of 2 raspberries and 3 blueberries with 30ml of double cream/ steak or salmon or chicken breast with side salad of 2 brocoli florets and half a tomato in olive oil for dinner. Boring, but it got the job done. After 7 days of keto flu (headaches, lethargy, leg cramps) my body adapted to ketosis and burned between 1.8 to 2.2lbs of fat a week. And I didn’t get hungry as my body was living off its own fuel; and there was plenty of fat to burn! Before I started keto, I had given up on ever being slim again. But the results speak for themselves – check out my before and after photo from 10th April 2020 and 10th September 2020:

After I reached my pre-pregnancy weight target and completed my goal of 3 stone weight loss I slowly transitioned off keto, steering away from low carb by reintroducing carrots, bananas, mangoes and small amounts of potatoes, rice and pasta. By small amounts, I’m talking a cooking spoonful – max! I kept the weight loss off, with a fluctuation of only around 2lbs to account for water weight and managed to maintain my weight loss through October and November 2020. But then, the Christmas holiday happened…

Staying low carb over the holiday period was tough and I admit my sugar addiction got the better of me. I indulged in the chocolates that I’d gotten for presents – without sharing 🤦. Over Christmas I gained 3 pounds. January 2021 hit me with a depressing reality. So I decided to embark on Keto round 2.

Keto journey 2 – sweeteners and weight gain

This time, I didn’t want to deny myself the sweet foods that I realised I had missed so much, but knowing that sugar isn’t keto, I researched alternatives. I discovered to my joy the existence of sugar alcohol sweeteners. The info said they have no effect on insulin response and are zero calories. Hurray! That was my solution, right? A way to have no-cheat-treats, right? So I started baking keto buns using erythritol and using toppings with skinny syrups. Over the course of 8 weeks from 3rd January 2021 to 12th March 2021, I did strict keto of under 20g carbs a day whilst using zero carb sweeteners. To my horror after 8 weeks instead of losing weight, I had actually gained a further 3 pounds, putting my total weight gain at 6 pounds since Christmas. To say I was down was an understatement!

Sweeteners, FODMAPs and SIBO…my descent into gut health hell

Weight gain in March this year was the least of my problems. I did research about why I gained 3 pounds from using sweeteners on strict keto and discovered that certain types of sugar-alcohol such as sucralose (common in diet syrups) can cause an insulin response from the sweet taste triggered by receptors in your tongue – insulin as we know causes the body to store fat instead of burning fat. I’m not sure I can blame erythritol for my weight gain as I had to quit using it after 1 week as it gave me diarrhoea – I only continued with the sucralose for the duration of my 8 week second keto journey, putting diet syrup in my coffee and tea, etc. Added to my weight gain misery from sweeteners was the fact that I didn’t realise sucralose is a high FODMAP (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) food. For anyone with medical IBS, you’ll understand the pain I’m talking about from all the gut distension high FODMAPs can cause. For me this led to further gut-health trouble: it set off my SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). Keto is an awesome diet for lowering bad bacteria in the gut, which feed on primarily carbs, particularly sugar. The bacteria in my gut – both good and bad – were probably throwing a celebratory party at all the sugar-alcohol I was giving them through sweetener use. At this point I was in such pain and depression over my gut health issues that I started bingeing on chocolate and baked treats again as a source of comfort, adding on a further 2 pounds – bringing my total weight gain since Christmas to 8 pounds.

Antibiotics and probiotics paving the way to keto journey 3

For any IBS/SIBO sufferers out there reading this, you’ll understand that sometimes the only course of action is antibiotics. I completed a course of Ciprofloxaccin then began re-colonising my gut with probiotics geared at SIBO sufferers: Bacillus Coagulans, Saccharomyces Boulardii and Lacto-Bifido strains in addition to taking my regular Betaine-Hydrochloride tablets and digestive enzymes. Once I threw all the sweeteners in the food compost bin and was sure my gut had recovered from the double-whammy of insulin response/weight gain and sweetener-induced SIBO attack (this took 2 months), I felt ready for keto journey 3.

Keto journey 3 – lots of vegetables and no sweeteners!

Putting on 8 pounds wasn’t what spurred me to go back on keto; the issue was that I didn’t want to slip back into old habits that caused me to gain 3 stone in the first place. I knew I had to tackle my sugar addiction once and for all. During May I spent 3 weeks cutting out all refined sugar and generally going low carb to reduce cravings. It was tough! I went into full withdrawal, getting the shakes, feeling cold – and even emotional at the idea of not being able to have my sugar ‘fix’. I didn’t lose any weight, but honestly wasn’t trying to – I just wanted to control my cravings so I ate large amounts of fruit as a temporary substitute. On 1st June I switched to strict keto again, but unlike my keto journey last year, I decided to lower the amount of cream and bacon I was eating and instead eat plenty of salad vegetables. In 7 days of eating less than 30g carbs/ 1100-1300 daily calories, I’ve lost the 8lbs I had gained since Christmas. I’m back to my pre-pregnancy weight, but I’m going to stay on keto now not to attain a specific weight loss goal or body measurement, but until my clothes don’t feel tight and my paunch is a little less pronounced!

It’s funny that in reflection, when I was in my twenties as in 2010 (pictured) I was a UK size 8 and within a decade by my mid-thirties had become a UK size 16. My waist size in 2020 (35 inches) was the size of my hips in 2010 and my waist size in 2010 (24 inches) is the size my thigh is today – that’s some reality check! Now, in my forties I’m comfortable at a UK size 12. But it’s all about balance. Keto keeps me on the right track with my health, but more importantly it’s a diet that works for me. I’m a firm believer that everyone needs to find a diet that suits you as an individual and works for your lifestyle.

About Leilanie Stewart

Leilanie Stewart is a novelist and poet. Her debut novel, Gods of Avalon Road was published by Blossom Spring Publishing in October 2019. Leilanie has also published four poetry collections: Chemotherapy for the Soul (Fowlpox Press, 2017); A Model Archaeologist (Eyewear Publishing, 2015); Toebirds and Woodlice (Meandi Books, 2012); Metamorphosis of Woman (Meandi Books, 2012), satirical novella Zombie Reflux (Meandi Books, 2014) and surreal novelette, Til Death do us Boneapart (Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine, 2017). Leilanie is also Editor in Chief of Bindweed Magazine, a poetry and fiction online magazine that also publishes a quarterly print anthology. She currently lives in Belfast with her writer and poet husband, Joseph Robert and their rambunctious toddler, a voracious reader of dinosaur board books. Literary blog: https://leilaniestewart.com/ Meandi Books: http://meandibooks.bigcartel.com/ Bindweed Magazine: https://bindweedmagazine.wordpress.com/

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