Weight-Loss Win is an original Yahoo Health series that shares the inspiring stories of people who have shed pounds healthfully.
This week’s Weight-Loss Win is a double success story: Larry Diamond, 50, and Kay Lynne Diamond, 47, who are married. Back in May 2013, Larry, who is 5′9″, weighed 290 pounds, but over 18 months he lost 122 pounds. And in January 2014, Kay Lynne, who is 5′3″, weighed 200 pounds, but over 18 months she lost 70 pounds. This is the story of their weight-loss journey, as told by Larry.
The Turning Point
Growing up, I was very active but always had to buy “husky” clothes. My mom had limited cooking skills, so I ate mostly processed food and fast food during my school years — a pattern I carried with me into adulthood. Throughout my 20s and early 30s, I gained weight, until I reached a high of 350 pounds with a 56-inch waist. I remained morbidly obese, weighing somewhere between 270 and 300 pounds for the following two decades.
In my late 40s, though, two significant events occurred. The first was when my wife and I adopted our daughter from foster care. I finally had a family. The second was when my beloved uncle, who was like my father growing up, developed dementia. I was devastated for him. One of my earliest memories is my grandmother having her leg amputated when I was 7 years old; she later died of complications due to Type 2 diabetes. My uncle was pre-diabetic and had developed dementia. Now, many doctors are calling dementia “type 3 diabetes,” so I was extremely concerned about developing diabetes.
Now having a daughter, I knew I had to get healthier. I didn’t want to burden my daughter with a dad with health problems, or dementia, in her teens or early 20s, nor did I want to burden my wife. I had no grand weight-loss goals or expectations. I thought the most I’d be able to do was get my weight under 250 pounds and I hoped that would lead me to be a bit healthier and delay some chronic diseases.
Something that had always puzzled me was that, even though I was morbidly obese, I was always hungry. I started to wonder about the types of foods I was eating — not just the calories I was consuming. I had a very carbohydrate-centric way of eating. I wasn’t a sugar guy, per se, but I ate a lot of whole grains and starchy vegetables. I started researching hunger and diabetes and was surprised at the connection: blood sugar swings. Increasingly, doctors who had a lot of success in reversing Type 2 diabetes were calling the condition a carbohydrate intolerance disease. So I started out by cutting out bread, pasta, potatoes, and candy bars, and I no longer went out for fast food.
I researched and found little evidence that natural fats were bad. Around the world and for countless generations, populations eating lard, tallow, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, olive oil, raw nuts, sprouted seeds, and avocado, were all very healthy. It was the rise of products like corn oil, canola oil, soy oil, and margarine and the decrease in natural fat consumption that seemed to be correlated with worse health outcomes. If you decrease fat in your diet, your carb intake often goes up. There was research showing that whole grains are just chains of glucose molecules that raise blood sugar very rapidly. So I adopted what is known as a low-carb, high-fat diet (LCHF) to minimize blood sugar swings in my body.
LCHF is very much a part of the ancestral eating movement. This is basically using insights from evolutionary biology to figure out which foods are the most nutrient-dense and which promote healing and repair. The focus is on consuming foods that give the body the best stuff to keep it healthiest, with the least amount of work, and the fewest amounts of toxic elements. Paleo falls under ancestral eating and so does a “primal” approach to eating, which is Paleo plus high-quality dairy. Basically, the template is to avoid grains, seed and new vegetable oils (all fats that didn’t exist 150 years ago), sugar, artificial sweeteners, and industrially processed foods as much as possible. From there, you figure out what additional foods might still be OK for you.
Larry Diamond before his weight loss (left) and after his weight loss (right). (Photos courtesy of the Diamond family)
When I first started eating this way, I felt kind of dizzy, and even flu-like, for a few days. I was hungry and had some craving withdrawals. But after three weeks, I was no longer hungry at all. This was such an improvement to my quality of life that if the food I was eating had tasted like cardboard, I probably would have continued. But the food was more delicious than ever. For instance, I’ve always enjoyed burgers and they were better than ever without a bun. With no bun, I could taste the meat, cheese, onions, lettuce, pickles, and mustard —all the things I truly enjoyed. And as I would have no or little fries, that left room for an extra patty, or bacon, or a side salad.
My wife recalls me never complaining about going LCHF. In fact, it was just the opposite. I was feeling so great and so happy with the lack of hunger that I was pushing her very hard to try it as well. And she did. In January 2014, around seven months after I started, she saw how sustainable it was, how much weight I had lost, and how much better I felt mentally and emotionally, and she started her journey. She has now lost 70 pounds.
By far the most profound and wonderful changes were a life Renaissance for both me and my wife. Eating real food and abiding by the LCHF philosophy seems to have let us access ourselves at a truer and deeper level. Today, I am both calmer and more energetic. I feel like I’ve become a Warrior Monk or perhaps a Jedi. I’m more focused, happier, more buoyant, and I live in the moment. I think Jedi are a good model to describe Paleo and other ancestral approaches because they used ancient wisdoms and traditions to reach their full potential in their present. It would have been foolish for them to ignore time-tested ways to maximize mind, spirit, and body, so they incorporated them. In the ancestral movement today, we learn from the past and use that wisdom to inform our food choices, how we sleep, play, manage stress, our sun exposure, and the way we exercise.
Life became so much more enjoyable that I never had even the slightest desire to stop. I never even experienced a sense of deprivation. And, of course, the weight loss was nice. Before I started, I could no longer fit into XXL shirts and wore a 48-inch waist. Thirteen months later, in June 2014, I went back to the stores where nothing fit me just a year earlier, and tried on their small sizes. Now I buy either 31- or 32-inch waist pants.
My wife and I have seen all of our physical and mental ailments resolve since losing weight. Before, I had sleep apnea, back pain, severe seasonal allergies, joint pain, GERD, and most likely undiagnosed ADD. My wife had joint pain and panic attacks. Now we are both medication-free. I’ve had one cold in the last two years, my wife hasn’t been sick at all since she started, and our daughter is thriving with only a few minor colds. My blood work has gotten vastly better since beginning LCHF as have all my health markers, especially liver function markers.
Kay Lynne Diamond before her weight loss (left) and after her weight loss (right). (Photos courtesy of the Diamond family)
The fantastic thing about maintaining for both of us is how easy it is. I know that sounds too good to be true, but it is. We are still LCHF with the occasional heavier carb day, which works well for us. We eat the same foods we ate and loved during weight loss, just more of it! Our mainstays are properly raised meats, grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, pastured chickens, pastured eggs, grass-fed butter, raw nuts, sprouted seeds, and plenty of non-starchy vegetables. We eat more vegetables than many vegetarians we know, and certainly more than we ever did before. I’ve also started having potato chips because I found a brand that cooks them in coconut oil. I’ll have 85-percent dark chocolate and coffee daily. Our only other drinks are water and tea. We cook with saturated and monounsaturated fats only, since they are the most stable.
When I started, I couldn’t run 100 yards. I worked my way up to running two 5Ks in early 2014. Since then, I have run only occasionally. I like to sprint more. Now, I mainly walk and stand. Walking is a vastly underrated exercise and has been the foundation of our daily lives for generations. I now stand virtually all day at work, but I had to work up to that. I am conscious not to remain static, but to shift and fidget. I also use minimalist shoes so that my own arches support me. Once I did that, went grain-free (grains being a likely source of inflammation for us), and started standing more, my back pain resolved completely and has not come back.
Strength training has become very important, and I do it all at home — I don’t even belong to a gym. I have no set routine, but do pull-ups, push-ups, planks, lunges, and kettlebell swings here and there. The whole routine takes no more than minutes a day. I did my first pull-up at 49 years old and can now do a dozen, no problem.
There is definitely more planning involved if we are going to eat out and when we travel, but it is worth it. We have found it hard to find restaurants that use cooking oils we are comfortable with, so we call ahead and ask if they have real butter and if they would cook our food in it. Most are happy to accommodate us. They’re usually willing to substitute fresh vegetables for corn chips if we order guacamole or salsa. And I often eat salsa as a soup, like gazpacho.
We really haven’t had setbacks with our new diet at all. We don’t try to be perfect and when traveling or with friends and family, we don’t make what would necessarily be our preferred choices. But we can usually tweak things to make OK choices. And because our food foundation is so solid, our bodies are able to deal with those choices pretty effectively. Not striving for perfection is the reason we don’t slip back into our old habits. We love our daily food now and it has brought such profound benefits to our lives that we really haven’t had any trouble sticking with it, but not stressing about an occasional less-than-optimal food choice is helpful.
Don’t fear natural fats! I think for the majority of people, the low-fat diet advice we heard years ago was the worst advice in the history of nutrition.
When it comes down to it, my wife and I cut out grains and the new seed and vegetable oils to achieve our results. That left quite a lot of delicious, nutrient-dense foods. What is important is to self-experiment and keep an open mind that the nutrition advice of the last 50 years has been much more harmful than helpful for many people. What worked for us was trying to eat only foods our ancestors of 150 years ago would recognize as food. If you try it, the results might surprise you. After all, who doesn’t want to be a Jedi?
Follow Larry Diamond on Twitter @natureboyrr