My Journey Toward Better Health (and why I went Keto)

Adopting a healthy lifestyle has been a long journey for me. As I shared in a previous post, I spent much of my life overweight, and unfortunately, it curated an image of myself that I sometimes still carry. On the bright side, it also created a life-long desire to improve my health.

While I always felt like it was a big part of my identity, I’ve shied away from sharing more of my story. Although I’m not ashamed of my story, I think I’ve been afraid to share my story because I don’t want to create the misimpression that I’ve mastered this health thing. I haven’t. I’m a work in progress. (Aren’t we all? 😉 )

Regardless, this extended time at home is giving us the opportunity to zero in on our health and put it more into focus. That can be exciting and welcome, but it can also be daunting and overwhelming. If anyone gets that, I do.

My journey toward better health didn’t exactly start out with health as the focus. Well, not even close. As a sophomore in high school, I was dating a senior who was dragging his feet on asking me to prom. And when I say dragging I mean avoiding the topic completely. My other friends who were also dating seniors were busy dress-shopping and making plans for the night while we hadn’t even discussed it. In my core, I felt like he was embarrassed by me. Maybe he just didn’t want to go. Either way, I soon broke up with him.

Sophomore Year of High School

I’ll never forget the night of sophomore prom where I watched some of my best friends set out for their most exciting night yet while I hung back with my same-aged happily-coupled up friends. The friends I was with weren’t at prom only because those couples were also sophomores, and you had to be asked by a junior or senior to attend. So I hung out as the 7th wheel, and once again, I felt the all-too-familiar sting of being left out, sitting on the sidelines, and watching life go on without me.

That is ultimately what made me decide to make a change. I just wanted to fit in. (More on how I began the journey in this post)

Losing Weight

Even after losing around 40 pounds, I still remained overweight by societal standards. I’d get the occasional fat girl comment. One boyfriend of mine once grabbed my waist and said ‘too many Twinkies.’ I’m embarrassed to say I was too insecure to break up with him then. Yikes. Another time, I remember walking to a party in college with my roommates and a few guys whistled from across the street. My girlfriends yelled back something flirty and funny and I remained quiet. One of the guys yelled, “It’s always the fat one that doesn’t say anything.”

Sophomore Year of College

But then, at almost 22-years-old, I met Gary. Gary looked at me like there was no one else in the room. For the first time, I felt seen by a guy- really seen for who I truly was. He had (and still has) these huge giant muscles on top of his warm and inviting smile, and I finally felt validated that a guy as fit and kind as him would actually be attracted to me. And while I’d love to say that I grew into my own confidence solely by myself and my journey wasn’t influenced by my relationships or need for approval, I would be lying. But those situations are parts of my story and ultimately helped me grow into who I was meant to be.

Our first photos together: 21-year-old babies. Someone please explain tanner to me. #thosearmstho

Body for Life

After about of year of dating, Gary was going to start the Body for Life program. It was a low-fat/high-protein diet that involved drinking protein shakes between meals. He had done it once before and had great results, so I thought it would be a fun thing for us to do together.

It was.

We meal prepped, went on interval runs, and lifted weights together. But the best part was that one day a week you’d get a ‘day off.’ On those days, you could eat whatever you wanted- literally. We’d plan our day off all week- we would indulge ourselves with chipotle, donuts, candy, pasta… and all of it together actually worked. I went from a size 12 to a size 8, I grew muscle definition for the first time ever, and I was actually running three times a week.

College Graduation After Body for Life

But I was hungry- always so hungry and feeling incredibly deprived. I spent all week counting down the days until our ‘day off.’ The program was effective for a time and it definitely gave us results, but it wasn’t sustainable and promoted binge eating on junk food once a week. I was abusing my body on a weekly basis. Our days off would turn to weekends off and we gave up on doing the 3x a week runs. Eventually, we stepped away from the program and simply adopted a clean-eating lifestyle for the most part. We kept up a workout regimen and exercised together.

Finding Nutrition

The summer after graduation, I started having skin irritations on my legs every time I would go for a run. I went to a dermatologist at the University of Minnesota. He concluded it was caused by something outdoors, gave me an Epi-pen, and sent me on my way. When I told my sister, Kris, that didn’t ring true for her. She encouraged me to try a detox, essentially an elimination diet, to see if there was a certain food causing the rash. After the 2-week detox, I felt more energy than I’d ever experienced. My bloating (that I didn’t even realize I had) dissipated and my rash went away. When I started adding back foods, I quickly found that gluten was the culprit. From that point on, I’ve been gluten-free and gained a newfound appreciation of how what we put into our bodies truly matters for our overall health. I’ve continued to detox over the years and also ditched cow’s milk and cheese after pinpointing how I felt after I ate it. This experience led me to seek out nutrition for health’s sake as opposed to solely doing it to lose weight.

Zeroing in on Fitness

I kept improving my diet and Gary and I were able to consistently work out together over the next 5 or so years. Until kids came.

Exercising together was no longer an option right away. Someone had to be home with the baby. As a nursing mom of a baby who ate almost every hour, I found it incredibly difficult to get to a workout class or muster up the energy to exercise after being up half the night. The baby weight came off some with nursing but I still hadn’t gotten back to working out regularly.

The time finally came when the kids were done nursing and I had more freedom. I decided to hire a personal trainer. For the first time since Body for Life, I saw results again. I was toning up more than ever before and I felt strong. He did a phenomenal job of keeping my muscles guessing to offer quick and lasting results.

Progress Pics after 3 Months
of Consistent Workouts
(plus makeup, tanner, and hair did)

But I still couldn’t quite figure out my diet. I would be so hungry and couldn’t seem to satisfy myself no matter how much I ate. I had the engrained mindset that fat was bad and carbs were necessary to fuel my body for workouts (thanks fat-free 1990s. Does anyone remember WOW chips?!)

Starting Keto

One weekend a few years ago, Gary and I rode up to our family cabin with my sister, Kris, and we listened to a podcast she was featured on discussing the ins and outs of the ketogenic diet. (Her bio and links can be found at the bottom of the page). Hearing her words once again explained the missing pieces in my journey toward better health.

“When I was constantly eating carbs, because carbohydates literally make your body addicted to them because they’re a sugar, they change your dopamine receptors in your brain and you literally want more and more and more, so it’s not unlike being addicted to alcohol, drugs, other things, and so I felt really married to the food. It’s because I was constantly on that blood sugar rollercoaster of wanting something, being hungry, giving myself another carb, that would make me more hungry… I personally felt like, that is a miserable way to live long-term.”

(To listen to the podcast in its entirety, visit https://ketosavage.com/kristin-rowell-endurance-athlete-bodybuilder-and-superhuman/

Gary and I were both sold.

We had never heard nutritional information broken down into such a way that made sense. The science and mathematics of it all took the guesswork out of traditional ‘dieting’ and Kris was living proof of a lifestyle that improved mental clarity and energy and gave lasting results without deprivation. Gary and I started following the ketogenic diet that weekend and for the first time ever, I came back from the cabin not having gained several pounds. I didn’t miss the sweets I normally indulged in on those weekends and I went into the week feeling refreshed instead of sluggish like I normally would.

It’s been several years now that we’ve adopted the ketogenic lifestyle and we haven’t looked back. (I don’t really like saying the ‘keto diet’ because diet has a connotation that it’s temporary and restrictive, yet calling it a lifestyle is also kinda boujee and annoying, but I don’t have a good alternative so lemme know if you have something cooler.) We follow it in combination with weight lifting and cardiovascular exercise. We both have shed more weight, toned up, and found an eating plan that doesn’t feel restrictive.

Gary in April 2018 (L) and in August 2018
after starting Keto (R)
Obviously super cute in both

Me after starting Keto.

Happy. Energetic. Content.

This is just my story. I know people have success with all different types of diets and I believe the successes stem from a combination of aligning to your genealogy, lifestyle, and personal preference.

The takeaway is that food does not have to be the enemy. This took me years- decades to realize. Eating doesn’t have to be a struggle and something that brings about worry, shame, or regret. It can be empowering, fun, and something that fuels you to bring your best self to the world. I know that there is a way that works for each of us.

With the slower pace that the majority of us are receiving right now, we have the opportunity to make a change. And if I can shift my diet from what it once was, trust me- anyone can.

The benefits I’ve received from Keto:
– My cholesterol levels are top-notch. I do get them tested- my bad is very low, and my good cholesterol is pretty high.
– I kicked my sugar addiction! If you knew how many fillings I’ve had and bags of fruit snacks I’ve polished off over the years, you’d be shocked I was able to shift out of that.
– Improved mental clarity (no brain fog from foods that aren’t foods)
– Increased energy
– Less meal prep – eating Keto is actually super easy and I’m not prepping a ton of stuff as I did with other programs.
– Digestion is great
– No more bloating (when I do indulge in carbs, I feel it everywhere)
– No more question marks. Tracking your macros takes all the guesswork out of your health. I eat 70% fat, 20-25%% protein, and 5-10% carbs. I have a free app, Cronometer, that keeps it balanced. When it is balanced, I feel satiated, energetic, and my digestion is good.
– More than anything- NO CRAVINGS. Honestly, it what has gotten me out of the endless cycle of eating unhealthy foods, feeling regret, and restricting myself again. When your blood sugar is stable, you don’t have cravings.

I am by no means a nutritionist (newsflash, I know). I don’t have any stock in the game for you to pick a specific diet. But I did spend years struggling to try to figure out how to enjoy food and feel healthy and for what it’s worth, I can now I can say with confidence that my diet isn’t something I worry about anymore- pay attention to, yes- but not worry. What we eat can be handled in the same way we are conscious of our finances. It’s nothing to be ignored, but obsessing over it doesn’t improve it.

It is possible to have a healthy relationship with food, and we all deserve to have that.

If you are interested in learning more about improving your health, visit my sister Kris’s links:
Website: https://energeticallyefficient.com/
Instagram: @mngoldengirl

Kristin Rowell is a lawyer turned Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, an IPE Natural Bodybuilder in the Figure Division, and she has run 25 marathons. She coaches high-performance individuals, consults for organizations, and speaks around the country about nutrition and other wellness topics. She helps her clients look better, feel better, and do better. If you’re looking for inspiration, you’ll undoubtedly find it with her.