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The Journey


Courtney Cunningham

Well... I didn't lose 30 pounds by the time we left for Washing DC (April 9).  But I hit 34 pounds (I weighed 239 this morning) today and its been coming off pretty rapidly in the last couple weeks.  I have not been eating strict Keto.  Not even close to strict.  Which, for me, makes one thing obvious:  weight loss/gain is about hormones.  Specifically, if I keep my blood insulin and blood sugar low, I lose weight.  And, more importantly, I've been losing it from around my belly.  This loss of fat around the mid-section is crucial for health.  Belly fat and visceral fat (around the internal organs) are directly associated with all kinds of disease, the most deadly of which are diabetes and heart disease.

Here's what I've learned works for me:

1.  For the most part, I eat once a day and keep the eating window as short as possible.  This maximizes the length of time between meals.  The longer your "fasting" period, the longer you keep insulin levels low.  This is critical as insulin is the hormone that triggers burning glucose or stored fat.  If insulin is low, you're more likely to burn stored fat for fuel.  I usually don't eat until 5:00PM and I'm done by 8:00PM.  I don't eat within 3 hours of bed time if possible.

There are days that I eat a couple meals a day and don't worry too much about the eating window.  Usually once or twice a week I have a pretty big meal or a 10+ hour eating window.  I just do my best the rest of the week and don't worry about it otherwise.  I only have black chemex coffee with a splash of almond milk in the morning... you're in a natural state of mild ketosis in the morning from fasting through the night so making this fast last as long as possible is the easiest way to burn extra fat.  Also, the oils in coffee are highly beneficial if you have a contaminant free source for your beans.  Reusable metal filters are better than paper filters... paper absorbs all the good-for-you oils.

2.  I've increased the length of my fasts as much as I can tolerate.  Currently, I try to do at least one 40 - 48 hour fast each week.  I was trying to do two, but this has proved somewhat difficult so far.  It seems to be getting slightly easier... partly fueled by the fact that the weight is dropping pretty quickly.  2-4 lbs a week.  I usually make it 40-44+ hours and haven't actually made it to 48 hours yet.  My understanding is that the second day is the hardest... sometimes the third.  If you can get past that point, you can fast for very long periods of time and your energy levels sky rocket.  I'd really like to experience that so I know what it's like.  I think it would be highly motivating if I can make it through to day 3 or 4.

Again, fasting creates a state of ketosis, which means I'm burning fat.  If you're constantly eating, your blood sugar and insulin remain high.  High insulin levels tell your body to burn the glucose in your blood first rather than the fat you have stored.  So your insulin levels never get low enough to trigger the burning of stored body fat.  To make it worse, any unused glucose that remains in the blood after you eat gets stored as fat, compounding the problem... not only have you NOT burned any fat, you've actually added more.  It's all about regulating insulin.

3.  No sugar and no flour.  Let's be honest here... I'm not super strict about this.  I go plenty of days without sugar but will have flour or starchy veggies in a particular recipe or dish.  If we're eating at home, we'll make a giant salad or grilled veggies and some form of meat.  We have some dark chocolate with sea salt in the cupboard.  Since I don't love chocolate, this is the perfect solution to a sweet tooth... one or two squares is all I ever want.

4.  The key is that I eat plenty of fat.  Avocados, eggs, grass fed butter, some cheese (though I try not to go too crazy with cheese), walnuts and macadamia nuts (again, not too crazy here...), prosciutto, etc.  My protein intake is moderate (I'd guess 15-20% of my diet) and I eat mostly grass-fed beef and the ground pork sausage we had made from the pig we bought last fall.  I avoid all starchy veggies and most fruit.  It's strawberry season right now so I'm eating strawberries every week... berries are actually the one fruit you can have that has minimal impact on your blood sugar levels (which is the trigger for insulin).  So, in season, I just help myself and not worry about it.

When I'm having a craving for sweet or sometimes when I'm having a really hard time getting through a 48 hour fast, I'll eat a fat bomb.  These are a combo of grass fed butter, coconut oil, almond butter, unsweetened cocoa powder, and a little monk fruit sweetener for a touch of sweetness. 

If I'm at an event or having dinner at someone's house, I just eat what is served and not worry about it.  This has been the best part about fasting.  When I have a heavy day, an event, or big meal, I just fast the next day or increase the number of days I try to fast in the week to make up for it.  This has been all it takes to keep my weight in check.

5.  The weight comes off faster if I don't drink.  Alcohol is especially inflammatory for me.  It's something I've always known from the first time I got tipsy in high school... I would get a red skin rash from drinking.  It didn't hurt and it went away so I never thought much of it, other than it was an allergic reaction.  DUH... ALLERGIC REACTION.  It's inflammatory!  Which makes me get puffy and retain weight!

This doesn't mean I don't drink.  I work in the wine industry after all.  I just try to keep it to special events and dinner parties with others.  If I drink with a meal at home, I try to keep it to 2 glasses max, and its always with my husband.  I don't drink alone.  Ever.

When I'm fasting, all effects of food, drink, etc. are magnified.  So, given that I often know when big dinners are going to happen, I'll usually fast the day of and break the fast with this large meal.  Overall, this is a good strategy, but alcohol is especially potent in this situation.  I get hangovers quickly if I drink after a fast.  What normally wouldn't affect me, kicks my butt during the night and I wake up with a hangover.  I'm still learning to regulate this.  It's something I'm fully aware of, but never think I'm having too much to drink at the time.  It's usually less than I would drink in a normal situation so it doesn't occur to me to worry about it.  I need to experiment with not fasting prior to big events or not drinking so much.

6.  I drink a ton of water.  I usually have at least one quart with a tablespoon of sole water (sea salt water) and 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar.  This is like homemade gatorade... only 1,000 times better for you.  I do this especially on days that I'm fasting, because you lose a lot of salt when you fast so the sole water and vinegar replace electrolytes and settle my stomach.  Whenever I'm wanting to eat on a day that I've decided to fast, I tell myself I have to drink a quart of this concoction and, after I drink it, if I'm still struggling and want to eat then I just eat.  I haven't broken a fast yet with this technique.

That's another thing.  If I'm struggling, I just eat.  My body is clearly telling me to do so.  The rule about fasting is if I can go without, I do.  If I can't, I eat.  Truly... it's that simple.

7.  I get 30 minutes of unfiltered sunlight a day, within 2 hours of waking up if possible.  NO sunglasses, NO sunscreen.  Vitamin D is my friend.  I also spend about 20-30 minutes with my feet in the grass or on the earth... the exclusion zone water in your body gets recharged this way.  It's the easiest way in the world to have more energy.

8. I don't exercise other than walking with my dog every day... at a snail's pace, BTW.  He's 12 years old so we don't go very fast.  More on not exercising in a future post.  The bottom line is that long periods of exercise, especially intense workouts, are too stressful and release too much cortisol.  Cortisol is another hormone that causes weight gain.  Too much exercise is counter-productive to weight loss.

BTW, I have tons of energy.  I never take naps in the afternoon anymore... like I used to when I was eating too much sugar/flour.  It's freaking awesome that I don't have to carve out time in my day for napping.

THE BEST PART??   I'm 100% pain free.  For reals... I marvel at it and give thanks for this fact every single day. The only aches and pains I have are from sitting at my computer too much... my muscles get tight from prolonged sitting.  But the chronic inflammation is gone.  Even my knees don't hurt... only after several hours on my feet can I feel the arthritis in my knees.  Pain free was always the primary reason for incorporating these changes.  Now that I've accomplished this goal, I can concentrate on losing weight, which is literally making me giddy.  I FEEL GREAT.


Courtney Cunningham

The plan is to begin eating strictly Keto on 1/15.  There will be one exception on 1/21 when we go to Emily and Jason's but I think that's how this thing is going to have to work in the beginning.  I'll be as strict as I can unless I'm at a get together with friends.  My plan is to lose 30 pounds by the time we leave for Washington DC on April 9.  I'm trying to get to 250 by my birthday next week on 1/14 which I think is possible.

For the record, when I started fasting I was 273 pounds.  That sort of blows my mind, but when I look at pictures of myself, it was evident.  I got down to 253 before the holidays and am now almost back to that weight post holiday craziness.  Like I said, I'd like to be 250 by Sunday.

I'm beginning to notice the inflammation in my face when I wake up.  I thought it was just allergies.  Well, it is in a way.  But my eyelids and under eyes are puffy when I've had too much to drink or the like.  I am becoming much more aware of my body's responses to what I eat and drink and that is really great... I like being this in-tune with my body.

This past week, I had some painful edema in my lower legs that got better once I got a massage.  I have to remember to use massage and the cannabis topical ointment that I have.  It's magical stuff.  

I'll be weighing and measuring myself on Saturday 1/13 as the starting measurements.  The birthday party is on Sunday and we begin with the keto recipes on Monday.  I'm excited and nervous, but ready to tackle this thing for the next couple months when things are quieter with work.  If I can really get after it for this few months prior to going to DC, that will give me a giant head start.  The minimum goal is to get to 200 or just under by the class reunion at Whitman in late September.  I see that as a really doable thing... 50 pounds in 8 months is a solid goal.  However, what I REALLY want to do is get to 173... that's 100 pounds in one year.  That is absolutely the ultimate goal and what I'm shooting for.  And that's why I'm writing this blog.  I want a record of the journey and I want to point people to something when they ask how I did it.

Took me long enough...

Courtney Cunningham

I realize now that baking at Community Plate ignited the inflammation.  My entire body was on fire... and I was verbalizing it... to Scott, to my doctor, to anyone who would listen.  Nobody listened.  I remember running into Kris Bledsoe and stumbling into the conversation about her severe arthritis and she said, "Nobody believed me."  I nearly started crying.  We ended up talking for a while and I just kept thinking, "Thank God you believe me.  Thank God SOMEONE believes me."  Scott thought I was 1) a whimp and 2) manifesting it.  He thought I was making it worse by trying to find solutions for managing the pain.  I was focusing on it too much.

But how could I not?  I was BAKING.  Eating sugar and flour 6-11am everyday.  Little bites here and there, tasting for salt and balance, "cleaning up" the last scrap of biscuit dough or pastry cream.  Knowing what I know now, it's amazing I didn't fall into a diabetic coma.  I was ingesting FIRE every day. 

And that was the beginning of this long battle with the mystery that is chronic inflammation.  I've been calling it arthritis... and I certainly have that.  X-rays of my knees prove it and my knees are where I feel it the most.  However, the pain is EVERYWHERE.  I can literally envision the fire spreading as the sugar seeps into my blood stream and circulates throughout my body.  My entire lower half throbs at the end of the day.  My joints are so sensitive that I can't lie still at night.  I'm constantly trying to keep my joints level in order to minimize pressure at various angles.  Its constant pain management.

And then, this August, I read "The Obesity Code".  Mostly, it was a case for fasting but, more importantly, it explained how obesity is a metabolic disease regulated by hormones.  Weight gain and loss is a function of insulin, cortisol, leptin, and a few other important hormones, all of which are triggered by SUGAR.  Eating sugar keeps insulin levels high and keeps you from burning fat.  It's that simple.

I began fasting after our anniversary trip to the coast.  Just two days a week at first, and just an 18 hour fast, keeping the feeding window to 6-8 hours.  The weight came off without effort.  Literally, NO effort.  2 pounds a week and I was down 10 pounds in a little over a month.  18 hour fasts kept me from gaining weight during Scott's 10 day birthday trip to Bend filled with debauchery and endless drinking/eating.  I didn't gain a pound.  I increased my fasts to 24 hours a few days a week and by Thanksgiving had lost a total of 15 pounds.  I even completed a 48 hour fast the week after and lost another 2.

Then I read "Keto Clarity", "Keto Adapted" and "Fat for Fuel" followed by "Bright Line Eating", all of which reinforced the evidence that sugar and flour are effectively tossing matches on a pool of gasoline.  Now, I'm about a third of the way through "Head Strong" and the science is so compelling, I can't see how I can justify eating sugar at all.

That said, I think it will be a challenge.  And I'm certain to lapse.  I have to find a way to work wine into the plan as its my livelihood.  But, who knows?  Maybe this is the beginning of a new phase of my life... maybe someday I won't even have room for wine where my health is concerned.  That in itself is frightening to me.  And yet I've had a longing for something more for the last year or two.  It took me long enough to figure out what was happening to me.  Perhaps I'll just leave the door open and see who/what comes to visit...