Meet my friend Beth Maconaughey who will inspire you. Beth has gone from a medical patient on 10 meds and 330 pounds to healthy runner and athlete. Beth has lost over half her body weight and just finished a 50 mile run/bike challenge.
Thanks Beth for sharing your amazing story of hope and perseverance.
What was your childhood like?
I had a pretty normal childhood and was a small to average sized kid. I was active- played baseball, basketball, football in my neighborhood with other kids and rode my bicycle all over. I was busy. We ate dinner at the table every night. I was not a veggie eater but my mother tried to get some of that in. We ate what I consider a pretty normal diet for that time 70s-80s: Casseroles, pasta, meat and potatoes. I often complained about certain things bothering my stomach so I was known to have a “sensitive tummy’” as a child which would later be attributed to Crohn’s- Colitis but was not diagnosed until my late twenties.
When did you start gaining weight?
Not until my twenties. It’s a long, rather complicated and dramatic story, I suppose. I’ve been married twice and both times became very stressful situations for me with each of them becoming addicted to prescription narcotics, leading to me living in a very emotionally abusive and extremely stress filled environment at home. During that time, I certainly was in people pleaser mode and trying to make everything good for other people but not focused on what was good or healthy for myself. The weight started packing on after a major medical crisis in my first marriage. I was 26 when I suffered a stillbirth, subsequent coma and septic shock. Ultimately to save my life, I had an emergency hysterectomy w/ various complications. I did recover though and during that recovery I lost a bit of weight and maintained that for a time. A year following that ordeal, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Colitis and developed a very substantial leg ulcer about 6 inches in diameter on my calf to the bone as well as several smaller ones on both legs. It was a condition called Pyoderma Gangrenosum , a debilitating side effect of my inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s Colitis). At this time, because of the severity of my ulcers, doctors pursued the plan of amputating my right leg just below the knee. I had one doctor pushing to help me keep my leg and to find aggressive treatment for the underlying disease. They did ultimately go that way and decide against amputation-fearing a poor outcome because my lab work was horrible so I wasn’t really healthy enough for the surgery. It took a long time but the ulcers did heal over about 10 months. There was muscle loss and I walked with a cane for over a year after that but the ulcers healed and the flare of the disease calmed down eventually. I was being treated with high doses of Prednisone (a steroid) and an immunosuppressor along with a low residue and fairly high carbohydrate diet.
I ended that first marriage not long after recovery from the bout of Pyoderma Gangrenosum. During the next few years, I fluctuated a lot with flares of the Crohn’s and stuck to that same diet as I was advised it was best to keep fiber and vegetables to a minimum to keep the disease in check and keep inflammation low.
A few years later, I remarried and slowly gained weight again-convenience food, carbs, etc at first and later after discovering my second husband’s addiction and going through the stress of that, trying to fix it all, ignoring my own health, the emotional toll caused my disease to flare again. That meant lots more prednisone, carby diet, inflammation and weight going up and up. At my biggest and unhealthiest I was a size 26-about 320 pounds. I think that’s the weight but I promise you during that time, I stayed off the scale if possible!
What was your food philosophy?
During those years, I’d definitely classify myself as an emotional eater-what made me feel better, tasted good and was easy. During both marriages, I went out of my way to do for them and make meals they’d want which was lots of heavy carbs, sandwiches, potatoes, pastas. That was one way I could keep the peace and once I was diagnosed and told to keep vegetables out of my diet, I followed that to help reduce flares as much as possible.
What was a typical eating day before life change?
I rarely ate vegetables or fruit. Usually breakfast was high in some grains and sugars- oatmeal, cereals, toast, yogurt with granola. Lunch was sometimes fast food or processed things like canned ravioli, frozen pizza, leftovers from a carb filled dinner. Dinners were meats and potatoes, pasta, burritos, pizza, sandwiches with chips. If there was a vegetable it was peas or lima beans- still starchy. But I thought those were what my body could handle. At least that was my perception of my health at the time. If I was inflamed and having issues I’d eat crackers, toast, chips and donuts.
What was the turning point?
I ended my second marriage in 2014. The divorce process took over a year so that brought more stress and drama. During this same time, my father’s health was declining. I was working, dealing with court proceedings, driving back and forth to the hospital or nursing home and running errands to help my mother with caring for my dad when he was at home. In June of 2015, my divorce was finalized and in July, my father passed away. In November of that year, I started a new job as well. So, I had a lot going on all at once. I spent time processing all of that and during that time I was just coming off of autopilot, having had so much on my plate to deal with so I wasn’t that focused on my diet. Just taking a breath, finally. I was exhausted and just took some time to deal with processing it all and come back to life a bit.
In 2017, I was on a vacation and my joints hurt so bad I couldn’t sleep in a bed-had to rest in a recliner that took pressure off my joints more. I was miserable. After returning from that trip, I did seek help for my joint pain but also just started a conversation with myself saying, “ Maybe you can try to lose a little weight and get on a bit of a healthier track.” In 2013-14 I had suffered another bad flare with the Pyoderma ulcer complications and threats of amputation once again. I had lost about 30 pounds, recovered and maintained that loss. In flares with Inflammatory Bowel Disease, someone may gain weight from steroid treatment but may also lose weight if they are flaring badly and having difficulty keeping nutrients maintained in their body. That was the case for me.
So at the point in 2017 considering an attempt to try again to lose weight, I was around 290 lbs, probably size 20-22. I figured I had spent my whole life putting my energy and efforts into other people and making everything good for them while not giving effort and care to myself. I guess I felt like maybe it was finally time to do something for myself and see if I could feel a little better. I’d never had much luck on diets but I’d always had someone else’s issues pulling my focus. That was no longer a problem so maybe my result would be different. Couldn’t really do worse.
How did you start losing weight?
In February of 2018, I joined weight Watchers online. I started adjusting portions and getting processed junk food and fast food out of my diet. I only did the actual program for a few months but I just kept adapting and tweaking my diet to find what was working for me. I kept adjusting and just trying to do healthy things for me. I started pulling back carbs after a few months, gradually and monitoring how my body responded and adding in vegetables and whole foods to see how I’d handle it. I adapted what I did as I went along and I lost pounds slowly. After a couple months, I started adding in walking-just a little at first. I was sore, inflamed joints, no stamina, but it all did improve a little at a time. I gradually built up more walking over time as I changed my diet gradually as well.
What is your new food outlook?
As I adapted, I started to find out my body was doing well with less and less carbohydrates. I eventually pulled them back enough to decide to try ketogenic diet. I didn’t get to that until about a year and a half into my journey. That is when I really felt like I caught fire! I had lost weight-maybe 60 lbs and some inches, too. But once I figured out my body could do low carb and was feeling better that way, I decided I would try the low carb/high fat method. I started researching and learning about how it could actually reduce inflammation and help heal lots of other disease. I went forward and locked in with keto and did start losing more weight, found I had more energy, to do more activity and my body just started to respond and change and become so much healthier. I quickly started to feel so much different and realized I was having measurable healing of prediabetes/insulin resistance issues and all symptoms associated with my Crohn’s-Colitis!
So I have to say my outlook is very much low carb lifestyle all the way. Some people do really well at 50 grams a day of carbs and that is still very low carb compared to the Standard American Diet. I’ve found for me, the lower I go the better and stronger I feel. So I generally stay below 20 grams. I am actually venturing more into carnivore-keto experimenting a bit so I am tending to stay very low on that spectrum these days- about 5 grams a day. Some days I’ll bump up and have more veggies but always under that 20gram mark for me. That’s my spot where I know I function well and stay in a healthy place FOR ME!
What role does exercise play?
I’ve been so much more active in the past two years and especially the past year-since going keto. Much more than I ever was in my teens or twenties. I started running about a year ago. That’s certainly a process and I still consider myself new to it but I keep moving. I’m working at my level with my limitation but I continue building up. I get out and just go and know I am a work in progress and still have a great deal of more healing going on- particularly in damage in my feet and legs from years of excess weight. As I heal, I am confident my performance in my running and all other active pursuits will continue to improve, too. I do a lot of strength training, functional fitness, some yoga, walking, running, hiking. I just started working on kickboxing for fun and am getting back on my bicycle after a long hiatus. A few years ago, I tore my meniscus riding my bike back when I was very heavy and totally out of shape! .Now I am getting out on the bike for nice long rides and really enjoying it again. SO, exercise is a HUGE part of my life these days and I am thriving on it.
How has your life changed?
Enormously! This has been an incredible journey for me personally- physically and emotionally. My body has certainly transformed and some days it’s still hard for me to believe and reconcile it all. This is me now! Seems so odd but at the same time, it’s the best and most comfortable I’ve been in my own skin I have ever felt! Now, lots of that is that I physically feel so good and can move so much better but a great deal of it is that I’ve also healed a lot of emotional scars and damage. I’ve changed my perception of who I am, and what I can do and what my life should or could look like moving forward. So I suppose I’m just more free with myself and not putting any limits on what my life might be. I’m just continuing to work on everything, do good stuff and enjoying living in the moment, moving forward at my pace. I’m really just up for the challenges, adventures and living whatever this new healthy life is to be!!
Can you describe to us the biggest challenges in maintaining this?
For me, it has been just a lot of judging of my methods and my ketogenic lifestyle. I’m clearly healthier and feeling so much better but I have to say I got some and still continue to get push back about how I choose to fuel my body and heal myself through better diet. People want to tell me how unhealthy it is- mind you, without doing any of their own research on the matter. Most people continue to operate under misinformation we’ve all been taught about nutrition for years and NEVER BOTHER to open their minds to new ideas. I’ve had folks get pretty rude and nasty with me telling me I’m doing something dangerous but when I question them as to why they believe that they can’t really hold up an argument. The more I’ve shared about my journey and my success in implementing a low carb/high fat diet, the more people think they can judge me for it. However, I did educate myself and learn about the science here before I decided to go down that road to see if it would help me or be a good fit. So, I am ok with criticism and happy to discuss it and back it up- unlike most of the ones who want to tell me how wrong I am. These days, I’m pretty quick to say my results are speaking for themselves, too.
Additionally, I get a lot of “One won’t hurt you” or “Everything in moderation’ comments from folks who do try to knock me off track. I don’t subscribe to either of those philosophies regarding food , especially when it comes to carbs and sugars. I know how my body works so moderation is not the best formula for me. There may be certain times I choose to treat myself to higher carbs but for me, I choose those occasions wisely and am mindful about it and pretty diligent about managing my nutrition afterwards. I’m also way past the point of wanting to celebrate every minor event with a sugary or high carb feast! I have a very different relationship with food now and it is far more important for me to keep myself functioning at my best. I definitely do get some pushing and some attitude but I’m pretty good at shaking it off now and just knowing what I am doing is keeping me healthy. Most people are finally getting used to that about me.
What have you learned to be the go to foods and activities to keep you on track?
I love jerky or beef sticks-of course you have to do your homework and make sure they are very low carb versions without lots of extra sugars added. For on the go or long drives, I go for those, flaked, unsweetened coconut and sometimes seeds or nuts for a little crunch. I try mostly to limit my snacking but if I need a little something and to avoid going for anything that would take me off the rails, those are easy picks for me. At home or work, sometimes just a small piece of cheese will fill me up for quite a while too. Meals are simple- spinach salads with steak and some boiled egg are a favorite or just any meat with a veggie will work. I’m currently tweaking and experimenting more with carnivore-keto just to test my body and any sensitivities so I’m loving my bacon and eggs right now. I’m a big fan of intermittent fasting , keeping those insulin levels on an even keel. I started out at a 12-12 fast and most days I do 18-6 or if I’m feeling great, I’ll do 20-4. I listen to my body overall, so somedays I need to fuel earlier than others and that works fine for me.
Why do you think most people fail at diets?
I’m no sort of expert on this but my honest opinion is : They are never fully invested in being healthier. If someone said “ you should lose weight” and then you just follow something in a book or some diet plan you heard about and decided to try, well yeah you might lose some pounds but more often than not won’t really lock in to a healthier lifestyle. For me, the whole thing was always about my health and happiness overall and was motivated by that. I had a real desire to find ways to live a better life! I’d lived most of my adult life doing for others and getting sicker myself. I wanted to feel and live better and needed to find a path to lead me there. Finding the HOWS and WHYS and science behind the idea of ‘lose weight, reduce inflammation, help insulin resistance’ meant I was interested and invested in my own journey! I also took time and put real work into looking at my history and relationship with food, exercise, emotional eating, my medical crises, disease and underlying issues and the possible correlation to my diet. I dug in deep. It wasn’t just eat what someone told me to without having info and substance behind it. I educated myself as I went and adapted things , restructured my belief system in regard to nutrition and what my body REALLY needs. S0, I developed a new relationship with fuel for my body . If you don’t take on your demons and issues-physical and mental and dive in deep enough to find your reasons for real change, I don’t know if you’ll ever be doing anything more than “eating what someone else told you to” and THAT isn’t enough of a WHY to sustain a different lifestyle. You need to find that and when you do then you’ve invested in your life and future. That is powerful!
What role does running and the running community play in your continued recovery?
Oh, goodness so much! The local group “Bros &Bras Social and Fitness” has done so much for me and my continuing journey. I didn’t join them until last year when I’d just started my baby steps of running. They just scooped me up, listened to my story and have supported me in all my health and fitness goals as I move forward and challenge myself. They really have become my cheering section as well as huge motivation and inspiration to me. I have become pretty open about my life, my struggles, and this wellness journey and I have to say this group has accepted me and let me share the good, bad and ugly of it as I go. So that is just an amazing family I have found there. I appreciate the running community so much. I don’t always think I’m doing much but I also know I’m in the right place and going at the right pace for me as I grow into this new me. I never imagined being in a running and fitness group but I couldn’t ask for better support and I’ve found out it’s exactly where I should be!
Any running goals for this year?
Well, this year has obviously been so weird for running. I’ve only been out there for about a year and so I still consider myself a newbie. I am learning more, still fixing and healing all kinds of weird issues that come from being so heavy for so long but I am getting out, moving and making progress as I go. I ran/walked a half marathon with my amazing friend and coach in August. It was actually a terrible run but we worked out some kinks and figured out a major heat intolerance issue I’d been struggling with. I always think it’s still a good run if I figure out something new to work on or that explains a problem. So now I have a place to work from in training that distance this year. I expect to probably keep training and find some 5k and 10k runs to get after in the coming months while I just try to keep moving, getting stronger and seeing what I can do. Plus, the cooler temperatures are definitely my friend!
Any go to resources you would recommend for people who were trying to start the journey?
There are tons of low carb, ketogenic Facebook groups and Pinterest pages for recipes, tips, grocery lists, etc. I enjoy the medical and science side of things so I watch a good deal of YouTube videos as well.
I enjoy Dr. Eric Berg, Dr. Ken Berry and Thomas DeLauer in particular but there are many. A couple of good documentaries on the subject are “FAT:A Documentary”, “FAT FICTION”, and “ The Magic Pill”.
There are just so many medical issues related to eating a highly inflammatory diet, which is really what the Standard American Diet is. I am not a medical professional so I would never presume to tell anyone what to eat, how to live, or how to manage their health. I would, however, like to be a person who someone might look at and say, “She was unhealthy and unhappy with that and made changes to do something about it all”. I’d like people to just understand that living a healthier life is something we are absolutely capable of doing for ourselves if we just put in the work.
Well, Thank you, Mark for this opportunity and platform to speak about my wild ride to better health.
I want to just let people know they can decide to do better at any point. I didn’t come to a place where I started putting focus and real effort into my health, weight loss and fitness until I was 45 and ½ years old. Now, two and a half years later, I am living a completely different kind of life -one I couldn’t have imagined. I’m healthier and happier and more free and content with myself and life than I’ve probably been in thirty years. Make a change and you could just surprise yourself with the person you find and all the true healing you can accomplish.