She’s in her late 30s. She lives and works right here in Jamaica. All her life she tried to lose weight. Spoiler alert: SHE DID! Her story of how she finally did it is absolutely inspiring. Her name is Naki. And there’s so much about Naki’s story that I identify with. Perhaps you’ll find parallels with Naki’s story too. It is my privilege to share her story. I am grateful for her willingness to be open and her generosity in sharing her journey. Naki’s story is about a body and a life “right-sized”. Let’s go!
WARNING: I use the word “fat”, and I do so with understanding, compassion and a huge dose of keeping it real. If you know my own story, you will understand that I of all people, truly get it, and that my using the word “fat” is never a condemnation or a judgement.
An Overweight Teen
Naki went to St. Hugh’s High school (my alma mater too! Didn’t realise this until we sat down to prepare for this story!). St. Hugh’s is a prominent all girls high school in Kingston, Jamaica. She remembers being an outlier in terms of her size. Her group of friends that she hung out with were all average sized. Her friends never for a moment made her feel less than normal or accepted. But Naki always felt like she never quite measured up or fit in. While her friends dressed in the latest fashions and wore whatever was considered cute and trendy at the time, Naki was reluctant to join in due to her size, and this made her feel different, and not in a good way. Her friends were amazed at any display on her part of insecurity. They reaffirmed that she was shapely and attractive of face. And yes, she was and she is. Naki is naturally curvy and has beautiful skin. But she was bigger than everyone else and desperately wanted not to be.
“Eat less, move more!”
So she got active. Naki played netball. She engaged in many sporting activities, all in a bid to lose weight. Isn’t that what we’ve been taught? Isn’t one of the stereotypes of fat people that we’re lazy? “Eat Less, Move More” is an admonition that is thrown to those of us who are overweight. And if we remain fat, somehow we are “eating too much” and “not moving enough”. Greedy. Lazy... and in our own minds especially, worthless…
Navigating Life As A Young Adult
Naki graduated high school and went on to find a job. Her family wasn’t wealthy, not even close, and it was expected that after high school, she’d find a job and play her part in supporting the rest of her family financially. Dutiful daughter that she is, Naki started working in an insurance company in an entry level position. She did one or two industry specific courses, but that was it as far as academic ambitions and pursuits were concerned. She had a job and that was good enough in her mind. And this job was going to be the means by which she made good on the real burning ambition inside her: to own a house. As the “poor relations” among her relatives, Naki was determined to erase that label and prove to herself and the rest of her family, that she too could achieve. Home ownership was her ultimate ambition.
While she worked and plotted in support of her ultimate ambition of home ownership, Naki continued to struggle with her weight as a young adult. She joined gym after gym after gym. And she worked out! She hired a trainer. She walked with friends. She remained active. After all, in order to lose weight she had to “eat less, move more” right? She tried every diet known to man and did juice detoxes too. Sounds familiar? She got fitter and stronger, but never slimmer.
The Struggle is Real!
Imagine exerting yourself physically and never losing weight. Imagine depriving yourself of food in order to lose weight and never really losing it. And indeed, Naki admits that there were times when she grew so frustrated and discouraged, that she simply threw in the towel and gave up, eating whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted, avoiding physical activity for a stretch of time. To this day, she says, she hates the gym! But she’d eventually get up and try to lose weight again. She really didn’t like being fat. The roller coaster of stopping and starting and never quite getting the desired result takes a toll physically and mentally. The narrative in her head kept insisting that she wasn’t good enough. That she was a failure. And in her mind, the reflection in the mirror proved that her self-talk was right.
When Stereotyping Fat People Goes Wrong
Naki went to the doctor one day when she was having a particularly bad sinus attack. The first thing out of the doctors mouth was: “You’re obese.” He checked her vitals and was surprised at her excellent blood pressure, etc. Remember now, Naki had always been physically active. But the doctor didn’t know that. He took one look at her and somehow determined that her weight made her unhealthy. Naki remembers leaving his office angry as hell.
Still “Moving More”…
Naki continued her practice of exercising. She walked with friends regularly and consistently. She started doing 5Ks. 5Ks became very popular as fund raising and PR initiatives by corporate Jamaica a few years ago. Hardly a weekend would pass without a properly organized 5K being held somewhere. Naki did almost every single one of those 5Ks. Sure she walked them, but she was out there. Trying. Still trying. She really wanted to lose weight.
She consulted with a doctor who specializes in weight loss. He put her on a special diet and gave her pills to aid things along. Naki did lose weight, but…
So Naki was by now doing 5Ks regularly. She was also walking with friends. And she was seeing a doctor who had put her on a weight loss program. And she was losing weight. But by her telling of it, she wasn’t happy. Naki insists that she lost weight during this period because of stress. And getting slimmer did nothing to help her mood as she hoped it would have. She was straight up depressed.
Naki had decided to end a 10 year relationship. Ending it was painful, but being in the relationship was equally as painful and she decided to establish her boundaries and walk away. It plunged her into depression and she continued to lose weight. But she was desperately unhappy. This wasn’t how she wanted to get slim at all.
You can’t outrun a bad diet…
Naki remembers the first time she ran a 5K straight through. It was a moment of personal triumph and she started running more seriously. Running lifted her self-esteem and gave her a sense of accomplishment. She became part of a running crew and started training for a marathon. Yes, you read that right. Naki decided to do a marathon. And guess what? She did it! I wrote about another member of that running crew here, a then 58 year old woman who did her first marathon. Well Naki completed that marathon too. And rightfully walked away from that experience with a renewed sense of self and an immense feeling of pride at what she’d accomplished. But by this time, she had regained the weight that she’d lost as a result of that stressful and depressed period of her life. She had done a marathon, but she was still fat.
By now, Naki was doing road races and eating miles for breakfast regularly. But she was not satisfied with her performance. Her weight was holding her back and she tells me that she felt as if her fat was literally stifling her. She felt fatigued and heavy. Getting up before dawn to run became increasingly difficult due to her very low energy levels. She decided to go gluten-free and simply swapped flour and bread for ground provisions. No improvement. She started drinking water with lime juice as a way to light her metabolic fire and energize herself. It didn’t work. Still she kept going…
Could going low-carb help?
By this time, Naki and I had crossed paths. I came to know her through our mutual friend and her “run-panion” Marlene. We followed each other on Instagram, and Naki had a front row seat to my own weight-loss transformation on keto. When I started my own weight-loss journey end August 2017, at the encouragement of my daughter, I decided to use Instagram as an accountability tool. I went public with my new way of eating, deciding to showcase my food since I had challenged myself never to be hungry, never to be deprived, even while trying to lose weight. I sang the praises of the keto diet and told my story hoping that anyone who saw parallels in their story and mine might also see my solution as their own possible solution.
One day last June, I was invited to speak at a forum about my own weight loss journey. Naki was in the audience. I spoke about making the decision (again) to lose weight, going low-carb in order to lose the weight, why I chose to go low-carb and eat the keto way, and how my body, mind and life started coming into alignment. You can see the video of my 12 minute talk here.
A Keto Coach: Guidance, Accountability & Support
A few weeks after I gave that talk, Naki contacted me. She was ready to try this low-carb way of eating, and wanted to contract my services as her coach. I designed a personalized keto meal plan for her after our initial consultation where I asked questions about her lifestyle, her likes, her dislikes, etc. and made myself available to her for 30 days as her accountability partner.
From the beginning, Naki displayed tremendous commitment to the program. She sent me pics of everything she ate. She asked questions. She did what she was supposed to do, and she did it consistently. I remember her being concerned about how eating low-carb would impact her running. I assured her, with supporting relevant articles from the real experts, that eating low-carb would in fact enhance her athletic performance. I remember when we started that Naki had by then been diagnosed with sleep apnea, and was about to buy a CPAP machine for half a million Jamaican dollars…not at all an insignificant expenditure! I begged her to defer buying it. Give me 30 days, I pleaded. I was confident that if she adhered to the low-carb lifestyle she would no longer need it. By now I knew that cutting carbs resulted in significant changes for the better. I along with hundreds of other people all over have lost weight and improved the quality of our life when we cut carbs…science, not magic.
Victories ON and OFF the scale
Naki admits that it was difficult at first. But she kept going. Forming new habits is never easy, but with a clear roadmap, some encouragement and sheer determination she decided to give it a solid try. Then she started feeling better. Her energy levels improved. Her clothes started fitting her better. People started noticing changes in how she looked. She decided to stick with it. Our own coach/coachee relationship eventually ended, but Naki continued on her journey. She was now armed with knowledge and the tools she needed to carry on solo. Naki worked the program like a champion!
- She lost weight. Oh yes she did!
- Her self-confidence sky rocketed. “Keto-confidence”, Ladies and Gentlemen. By her own admission, she no longer walks. She struts!
- Once upon a time, when she was fat, she got a tatoo in an effort to affirm herself. It worked for a while. Now she’s gotten piercings in personal places 🙂 that cause her to smile with gratitude and joy and a sense of inner strength that she’s more than enough. That she did it.
- Naki greeted her newly emerged collar bones with utter glee, even as her arms, waist and hips receded
- Being able to cross her legs effortlessly is a non-scale victory that she revels in with unabated joy
- Increasingly worsening knee pains disappeared as inflammation subsided and her weight fell
- Her PCOS is under control now. Yes, PCOS is perfectly managed on a low-carb diet.
- Naki has added “tri-athlete” to her title of “marathoner”. She competes and trains for triathlons now and her overall athletic performance has improved significantly. She no longer feels as if she’s stifling
- Naki now ENJOYS her physical pursuits, no longer feeling as if being active is a means to an end (weight loss). She is now free to revel in the sheer joy of movement and competition because she wants to, and because she enjoys it.
A Life In Alignment: Debt & Education addressed!
Let’s back up a bit… remember Naki’s dream and goal of home ownership? So she did it; she bought a house in Portmore. It was reason to celebrate. She decided to expand on the unit in order to accommodate her mom and sister. She hired a contractor and well… it all went horribly wrong. The contractor carried her wide, as we say in Jamaica, and the result was huge and growing debt and a house that she was unable to live in. All of this was happening even as she continued with her athletic pursuits and started to lose weight. After frank, brutal but loving counsel from her run-panion, Naki faced up to what she had to do. She made the very difficult decision to cut her losses and start over. She sold the property and put her dream of home ownership on hold. She consolidated and paid down her debt. She established boundaries as the primary bread winner in her family. And then the sun rose again. With the money she saved from not having to buy that CPAP machine, with her determination and confidence at their peak with her newly found clarity, and buoyed by the reality of her newly found control of self, with the space created having paid down her debt, Naki decided to and was able to buy a brand new property. Alignment.
Her run-panion also challenged her: “What was your career goal when you were in school?” Naki was challenged to think bigger than her initial goal of “getting a job”. She dreamed. She dreamed bigger than she ever had. Long story short again: Naki graduates from the University of the West Indies later this year with a degree in International Relations. “Going to university was not ever a thought in my mind” she told me.
And Naki’s Journey Continues…
Encouraged by her tremendous weight loss (don’t ask her for a number…she doesn’t weigh…neither do I incidentally. A lifetime of battling weight and being a slave to the scale does that to some of us!) Naki continues to eat low-carb almost a year later. This is how she lives, she explains to me simply. She feels great, she eats great food, her appetite has self-regulated and she’s in control. She eats how she eats without worrying about the opinions of those around her. She’s an active self-advocate where her food is concerned. Whenever she eats out, she asks for low-carb versions of what she wants: take the food out of the soup, swap fried for veggies please, make my wings without batter please, I’ll have the omelette with no bread please. Simple. She has, over the past months on this journey, found ways to make the keto diet her own. She routinely reads food labels and makes those choices that honour her goals and are in harmony with her own body. She has embarked on a journey of discovery about how to live her life as chemical free as possible as her love affair with herself grows. “My body is my temple” she states very matter of factly.
Naki uses words like “deliberate” and “intentional” when she speaks now about how she lives her life today. And her journey continues…
Why did the keto diet work for Naki?
This way of eating worked for Naki, it has worked for me, and it has worked for thousands of others all over the world. There are some who decry keto as a fad diet and even as a dangerous way of eating. That thinking is not at all rooted in science and for those of us who eat this way, our lived experience says it all.
It is science, not magic, that by cutting the one non-essential macro nutrient from our diets (yes, carbs are non essential provided that fats and proteins are in sufficient quantities) those of us who have found it difficult to lose weight despite following prevailing nutritional guidelines (all things in moderation, whole grains, complex carbs), for whom eating in moderation is difficult and even painful, with huge seemingly out of control appetites and a host of other non-communicable conditions including hypertension, diabetes, painful joints, PCOS, etc now have a new lease on life! WE are in control of our eating now. WE now have the upper hand in our relationship with food. Our appetites are now regulated and cravings are a thing of the past.
Cutting carbs deals with our insulin resistance which is really the root of our issues. Reducing carbs reduces the need for our body to secrete insulin, the hormone responsible for efficiently using starch/sugars in our bodies. The result is both lower blood sugar levels and lower insulin levels. The result of that is better appetite control, switching to fat burning, less of a pre-disposition to gain weight, especially in the mid-section. Science, not magic!