Ashton McKinney has struggled with her weight for her whole adult life. Discovering a ketogenic lifestyle did more than just help her shed the pounds, it helped her discover who she was meant to be. Here is her story:
As a young teenager of 12 or 13 Ashton became more aware of her body and even though she was not overweight she developed an eating disorder.
At 5'10' I thought that I was big because I was so much larger than my friends who were all 5'2 Ashton had heard from the women in her life that the way to lose weight was to go on a low-fat diet, and count calories. For the next 15 years that is exactly what she did. But it took its toll. ͞" I struggled with anxiety. I struggled with depression. I struggled with binge-eating and purging."
Ashton was never hospitalised but did see her fair share of counsellors. "It was really, really hard especially since I'm from a large family. I'm the oldest girl and I have 5 siblings 3 of them are sisters. And I was the only person in the family going through this. I really felt isolated. That just compounded the anxiety and the depression".
Ashton struggled as her family could not understand how this tall athletically built young woman could have such an eating disorder. Ashton was hurting.
The lightbulb moment for her came when she discovered she was pregnant. She had been maintaining her weight through very low fat diet, long distance running, low calories and purging. When she got pregnant a few months after marrying James she knew she could no longer hurt herself as now it would also hurt her unborn child.
"I had not eaten well in years and when I got pregnant I started to crave healthy fats and proteins. I just ate everything I could get my hands on, butter and steak, along with all the sugar and carbs. I ate things that I would never eat before. I let myself indulge big time. As a result I put on about 100 pounds during that pregnancy."
Ashton had a very complicated pregnancy and she spent most of her time just sitting. She recalled, "there was a lot of worry and Ben &Jerry's ice cream in my life at that time."After she had recovered from childbirth she resolved to lose the weight but again resorted to low fat vegetarianism "I almost killed myself for the next 2 years trying to eat just fruits and vegetables because
there was no fat in them. And instead of losing weight I packed on another 50 pounds, and got so sick that I really couldn't function anymore."
Desperate for guidance Ashton turned to her doctors who told her to count her calories, eat a low-fat diet, eat lots of healthy carbs, complex carbohydrates, margarine, if you need it.͛ "They just restated everything I thought was true to that point."
Then she discovered that she was pregnant again, the pregnancy was also a complicated one and after
the birth of her second son she and James received distressing news that he had cerebral palsy.
"That was when my husband and I got together and we're like, this isn't working. I'm not going to be around long enough to take care of my son. We need to figure out what to do.
It was Ashton's husband who came across the Ketogenic diet and Ashton recalls that it sounded insane to her, "it was the exact opposite of what I was doing. He was saying; eat as many healthy foods as you want, eat as much healthy fat as you can put your hands on. My brain couldn't comprehend it. We talked about it, and talked about it, and I said no that' s not right - What I'm going to do is go on a juice cleanse, that's going to be the answer. So, we spent thousands of dollars on organic fruits and veggies, and then an expensive juicer".
Ashton admits to hating juice and the program did not work for her. She got really sick. "My iron was so low, it didn't register on my blood work. I had very low B12, and I had the worst anxiety I had ever experienced, just taking my kid to the grocery store would put me through a loop".
As if there was not enough stress on her plate Ashton and her husband were moving states and that's when she decided enough was enough. It was time to try something new.
"On October 31st, 2016. I woke up, and told my husband today is the day. Nothing else has worked I'm going to give it a try".
Ashton remembered it was Dr. Eric Berg's you tube talks that were some of the first she and her husband watched and from there they found lots of helpful resources. Ashton did not start out slowly. She went 100% overnight. She told me that the anxiety she had been feeling got better almost immediately and it was over 4 months before she had even a little treat because she was feeling better than she had felt in her whole life. It was important to her to do it right,she wanted to know if this really worked so she committed to a very clean keto. "I ate fatty meat, and I ate organic everything, heavy cream and some hard cheeses, and then I ate a lot of green, leafy vegetables, and coconut oil. I didn't eat anything else. I ate meat, veggies, and dairy. And that was it. Less than 5% of my carbs were coming from veggies and I was limiting my protein. Next thing I knew, the weight was coming off fast. I didn't count calories because I knew I was eating the perfect type of food. I also didn't count calories because that is a trigger for me with my eating disorder. I counted calories for the 15 years leading up to that, and I just didn't want that to be a part of my life anymore."
So Ashton kept it really simple for the first 4 months and I lost 50 pounds. She told me, "I was able to think clearly. My nerves were completely calm. I was sleeping better; I was able to make more rational decisions. Just everything, it was instantaneous. And what's really crazy was I never had keto flu, I had lots of cravings at the beginning, but I never got sick."͟
Ashton's plan is very basic and easy to follow. Fatty coffee in the morning and two meals a day. She remembers hating breakfast as a kid and has always felt that she should have been starting to eat later in the day, so her new way of eating really works for her. Her first meal is lunch which is usually a plate 3 quarters full of green, leafy vegetables and other green vegetables, and then a quarter would be a fatty source of meat. Dinner is the same thing. Important to note is that Ashton does 15 mins of yoga every day. She reflected ͞"I just knew that it was going to be the killer combo. That was going to be what was going to work, and it worked immediately. And I just haven͛'t looked back.
Ashton started Keto at 315 lbs and today she is down75 lbs and still dropping. She is no longer taking medication for anxiety and depression and she is building confidence daily. I asked Ashton what her
friends and doctors thought of her lifestyle changes and transformation. She laughed out loud as she said "It was so ironic. Everybody was telling me how good I looked, how healthy I looked. Then I would tell them what I was doing and they would immediately say 'you have to stop. That's so unhealthy'.They would literally look at me and say 'you look so healthy you are glowing! What are you doing?' Then look at my plate covered in greens and grassfed beef and say that looks so healthy. Then they would say 'your lab works looks great your weight has gone down but oh no, you can't do a ketogenic diet because
that will kill you.'
And then I laughed too, surprised at how often concrete evidence of improved health still meets with such disbelief when achieved through dietary means and especially when fat is involved.
"My doctor told me that because I was so overweight, he strongly recommended weight loss surgery which I absolutely declined. I knew that wasn't the answer for me because I didn't have a weight issue. I had an anxiety issue. I had an eating disorder issue. And the weight gain. It wasn't the problem. And I thought well that might fix the symptom short term but that s not good for me. So, I shared with him the Ketogenic diet, and he said͚ Yes, that's effective for weight loss, and it will work for people, however, not sustainable long-term. Be prepared to lose lots of muscle mass with it because it destroys everything. And I thought, you͛ have not really given me the best advice in the past. Im going to go off the research that I've read and try it out for myself. And I did, and it one of the best decisions that I've ever made.
Like Ashton, I have heard the loss of muscle argument before and I shared with her that I have had routine DEXA scans during my own keto journey (nearly three years) and I have gained significant lean muscle while losing significant body fat and staying seizure free. Ashton feels as if her strength is growing too and looks forward to doing a marathon this summer.
Ashton also wanted me to share a part of her story which may be all too familiar to many. She was sexually abused as a child. It is estimated that 1 in 3 women have experienced sexual assault and the majority of cases go unreported. Ashton began to understand how common it is when she broke her silence a few years ago.
"Once I started talking about it, I could not believe how many people would say, '͞
oh, my gosh that happened to my best friend, that happened to my cousin, that happened to me,' It scared me how normal it was. This way of eating has given me insight into the fact that my experiences probably contributed to my eating disorder. I felt uncomfortable with my body. I started to dislike my body. Getting onto Keto has helped me with self-acceptance, and self-discovery. Ive been able to emotionally heal from that. I have now embraced the silence. I think a lot of women wear this shame and silence. I want them to know you don't have to go through this alone. You don't have to keep yourself in a prison that you created."
I was so impressed with Ashton's bravery and willingness to share her own insight into how her past contributed to her anxiety and eating disorder. Her commitment to getting healthy, her confidence to look up the research herself and inform herself is inspiring. She has made huge efforts to remove the
negativity from her life and the outcomes speak for themselves. Ashton's journey has also influenced her family. Her husband James is a big support and wins her Keto shout out.
"He was there for the vegetarian, and the raw vegan, the pescatarian, and the juicing and he was there for the just water. He introduced me to Keto and the best part was that he was right, because
we all know husbands love to be right". She also has three sisters, all vegetarian, with whom she has not had the best relationship. Ashton says that since keto she has been able to repair that relationship and that that has been one of the best outcomes of all. Ashton's children eat low carb as well.
The only carbs they have are from fruits and vegetables. They don't eat grain, they don't eat sugar. They don't eat any of that stuff. And my son, who has cerebral palsy, we give him lots of healthy fats and he is doing phenomenally." I mean, the doctors look at his brain scan, and then they look at my son, and they say, this can't be the same person." His brain scan looks like somebody who might not be able to walk, might not be able to talk properly. Most of the time, people who aren't medically trained cannot tell he has Cerebral palsy.
When I asked Ashton what message she wanted to share with the keto community her response was:
"I am not only sharing my experience on a ketogenic diet, Im sharing that you can love yourself in the process. You don't have to wait until you get to your goal weight or your health goal to start loving
yourself. Love yourself first and then the health will come because it's all controlled by your mind. You are worth it! and for all of the mothers who will read this there is one final piece of advice; You have to take care of yourself first because you can't pour from an empty cup.
Amen to that!
Ashton's journey is ongoing. She is going to be a huge success in life because she does not just talk the talk but she walks the walk. She spreads inspiration and confidence through social media and has even picked up a contract to model swimwear. Ashton has reaped many benefits from embracing a ketogenic
lifestyle. I think she would agree with me that one of the biggest ones has been finding her voice.
Keep up the great work Ashton, and thank you for sharing.