I Started The Keto Diet After Being Diagnosed With Epilepsy—And I Ended Up Losing 80 Pounds

I'm Chelsea Cerna (@chelsemilywellness). I'm 25 and from Salt Lake City, Utah. After trying a keto diet for my epilepsy diagnosis, I lost 80 pounds. Now, I'm focused on intuitive eating, and I work as a women’s nutrition and transformation coach.

I started snowboarding when I was 4 years old. When I was on the mountain, I had the ability to challenge myself and to get as creative as I wanted; there were no rules. The second I got off the mountain, however, reality set in.

Off the mountain, I struggled with my weight and self-image when I was young. I felt my body was a problem to others. It was the one thing I felt like I never had control over. I used food as a coping mechanism. It didn’t matter how good of an athlete I was. At the end of the day, I was stuck on the belief that I would always be defined by my size.

My turning point came right before my 16th birthday. I was diagnosed with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy.

Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy is characterized by seizures. The anticonvulsants (medications that help treat the seizures) I was put on completely changed who I was as a person. Within weeks, I gained 40 pounds. If I wasn’t eating, I was sleeping—and if I wasn’t sleeping, I was eating.

I felt stuck in some cruel cycle where I was no longer the athlete I trained to be all my life. I had become someone I desperately did not want to be. For years, I allowed myself to become a victim of a disease. That is, until one day, when I decided right then and there that I'd had enough.

I finally sought help so that I could better understand my body.

At age 17, I began training with a coach and learned how to completely change the way I was eating. A few months in, however, I realized I was eating in a way that was too restrictive for my body, and I sought out to eat intuitively instead.

Intuitive eating—which focuses on learning your hunger cues and tuning into your body to know when you should consume food—changed my life in so many ways. It may sound cliché, but ditching diet culture saved my life. I no longer practiced restrictive eating habits and I was much more confident in my food choices. I also started reading labels carefully to spot patterns between food and symptoms and better understand how the ingredients made me feel.

Even though I was feeling more and more comfortable with food and my body, something still felt off. My energy was still super low. So in July 2019, I decided to switch to a keto diet to help manage my seizures. It had been something on my mind for a while, as the high-fat, low-carb diet is sometimes prescribed by physicians to help some people with epilepsy control seizures.

After biting the bullet, within weeks, I was off of the anticonvulsants and finally had energy. At 25, I finally knew what it’s like to not have to nap every single day. I regained the part of me I lost at 15. Using food as medicine has given me a new life, and understanding my body and what it requires has given me such amazing insight. I feel like the best version of me.

In the first year of following a keto diet, I lost 50 pounds. After that, I hit a plateau.

To be honest, I was hyper-focused on the way I looked once I realized the weight-loss side effects that eating keto would have. So I had to refocus. Once I started focusing on how the foods I ate made me feel, everything changed for me.

Over the next couple of years, I lost another 30 pounds. Sure, that's cool, but having control over my food choices is even cooler. For me, eating intuitively and reminding myself that my food choices are truly what's best for my body and my health issues allows me to manage my emotions around food as well.

Here’s what I typically eat in a day now.

  • Breakfast: Eggs, bacon, spinach, avocado and hot sauce.
  • Lunch: I love having a big salad every day. Sometimes I’ll have one for breakfast. My salads always include spinach and iceberg lettuce, chicken, and avocado. I top it with ranch or Caesar dressing. When I go out to restaurants, I like to order a side of extra virgin olive oil and lemon to create my own dressing.
  • Snacks: Almonds, macadamia nuts, or hard-boiled eggs.
  • Dinner: Broccoli and cheese with chicken sausage or steak.
  • Dessert: Berries or nut butter with dark chocolate chips.

    As for my exercise routine? I love to move my body in so many different ways.

    I find that if I don’t, I get creative blocks. Some weeks I lift heavy four times a week, while others I snowboard five days in a row. I really try to listen to my body and what it’s telling me to do.

    I've learned that health is about more than what you weigh.

    You are how you move throughout the day. You are the energy you give off. If you don’t have a healthy relationship with food, you will always struggle with the way you feel. It’s the absence of stressing about the way I look that finally got me to where I wanted to be.

    I had to change my story and no longer look at food as the enemy, but rather accept that it can be my medicine—and it changed my entire life.


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