How Zachary Levi’s meal prep for ‘Shazam’ inspired one teen to lose 80 pounds

Andie Mitchell

Wellness Wins is an original Yahoo series that shares the inspiring stories of people who have shed pounds healthfully.

Hayley Barker is 5’10” tall, and currently weighs 160 pounds. In 2018, after struggling with her weight for most of her life, she decided to try the keto diet and found success. This is her weight loss story.

The Turning Point

I was always a tall kid and was sometimes bullied about my size in primary school. I developed some issues with food as a child. I started to eat later and later in the evening and consistently took food to bed with me. Throughout my childhood there were several embarrassing moments due to my weight. I knew for a long time that my weight was an issue, but I felt like that was just how I was going to be for the rest of my life. I didn’t think that I could change.

When I was 19, I watched a [U.K.] TV show called “The 18-30 Stone Holiday,” a documentary about overweight people who go to a special resort designed for them. After watching, I decided to weigh myself and I was 108kg [almost 240 pounds], only 1 stone [14 pounds] away from the people in this show. I was heavier than my own dad. I knew something had to change.

Haley before her weight-loss journey. Photo: Hayley Barker
Barker before her weight-loss journey. (Photo: Hayley Barker)

The Changes

I started by making very small changes, like cutting out chocolate for periods of time, but still generally overeating. However, I was working as a barista and was on my feet all day. I had been following the actor Zachary Levi, who was in the process of training to play the superhero, Shazam. And on his Twitter whenever people would ask about his diet, he would always say that he was doing keto and eating lots of chicken and broccoli. I liked both chicken and broccoli so I thought, “I could do that.”

Then I saw a Youtube video on “Glam and Gore” that showed me that you could be successful even as a picky eater who doesn’t like to cook. That video was the catalyst. I needed to make it happen. I weighed myself and I was 10 pounds lower than the October before, but still heavier than my dad, so I decided then and there that I was going to start keto.

At the beginning, I focused on eating fewer than 20g of carbs per day and tried to limit them to 5 percent of my daily macros. I didn’t worry about calories, protein, or fats. Looking back, I was eating around 800 calories, which is not enough, so I had to be conscious to aim to eat at least 1,000 calories.

I was also doing intermittent fasting, so I ate between noon and 8pm. On a typical day, I would have 4 rashers of bacon and 2 scrambled eggs for breakfast. Snacks would be cheese, meat, pork rinds, and occasionally nuts, and dinner would be grilled chicken, burgers, or steak— always with broccoli. Sometimes I would have some sugar-free dark chocolate.

For 100 days I focused solely on diet, and then I introduced exercise. I started by doing the Couch to 5K program, and when that finished I had deadlines to meet, so I started to slack on the running. More recently, I’ve completed the Blogilates beginner Pilates calendar. I leaned towards these rather than trying to go to the gym because these plans give you a routine and are free to do at home.

I found lots of support on Reddit. I followed so many subreddits that kept me motivated: r/progresspics showed me amazing transformations; r/keto, r/ketouk, and r/xxketo showed me that this way of eating worked; and r/c25k motivated me with exercise. I had the people in my life surrounding me, cheering me on and being the best support system. I completed couch to 5k with my dad and ran in a Santa fun run last Christmas. My mom would cook delicious keto meals because I would have burned the house down or poisoned myself if it was left to me.

Haley before and after her weight-loss journey. Photo: Hayley Barker
Barker during and after her weight-loss journey, which involved counting calories, followed by the keto diet and intermittent fasting. (Photo: Hayley Barker)

The After

In the last year, I have made so many changes and improvements in my life. They are still ongoing. I’m going to be starting university to do fine art in September, and I’m hoping that I can continue to become healthier while I’m studying. My journey isn’t over. I still have insecurities about my body and issues with food that I have to address. New issues that have come up as a result of the weight loss, and I have to challenge myself again and again to improve. My life has changed because I realized that I can achieve my goals if I put in the effort.

Haley after her weight-loss journey. Photo: Hayley Barker
Barker after losing 80 pounds. (Photo: Hayley Barker)

The Maintenance

I have upped my carb limit to 50g and try to stay around 1,500 calories, though with some of the food issues I’ve developed I really want to transition to a more balanced diet. My exercise at the minute is pretty poor, but I’m hoping to get back into some kind of routine soon and maybe explore some more activities to find what’s right for me to sustain long term.

Habits that I think are healthy and that I want to continue are not eating late in the evening, drinking plenty of water, not getting fast food regularly, and not eating sugary, processed food.

My family and friends continue to motivate me, as well as Zachary Levi, Glam and Gore, all of the weight loss Youtubers like Jordan Shrinks, and all of the people I see improving themselves on Reddit.

The Struggles

Food anxiety is a big thing for me at the moment and trying to challenge those irrational thoughts and behaviors is my main focus. I don’t want to go through this process of achieving a healthy body and ending up having damaged my mind. It was something I was very conscious of at the beginning, but it’s extremely difficult to stop once you start having those thoughts.

Advice

You just have to start. Find something that you think you can sustain. Calories in vs. calories out is the most optimal way to lose weight, but I needed to cut out all of the junk that I would overeat, which basically left me with keto. If you think you’d do better with a vegan or vegetarian diet, go for it! I gave myself one month to try keto, and when I hit a month I aimed for 100 days. Now I’ve been eating healthier than I ever have for a year. It’s about taking steps to improve.

Need more inspiration? Read about our other wellness winners!

Wellness Wins is authored by Andie Mitchell, who underwent a transformative, 135-pound weight loss of her own.

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