I met Emily Phillips in a Facebook group for moms living with type 1 diabetes. I learned that she not only lived in my small town but also that we share a lot more in common than type 1 diabetes. It was a pleasure to interview my friend and learn about her inspiring weight loss journey and diabetes care transformation. [This interview was conducted in 2019]
Was weight always a concern for you, or something that you have had to deal with only later in life?
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 17 and had always been a thin person. I stayed pretty thin in college. At 27, I had my first kid. About a year and a half before I conceived my first child, I started putting on weight. I don’t know exactly why; maybe my metabolism was slowing down. After pregnancy, I was breastfeeding for a long time and thought it would contribute to weight loss. I am now 34 and have had ups and downs in weight.
What strategies did you try to lose weight during these seven years?
I dabbled in Weight Watchers after having my first child. This was back in 2014. Because I was breastfeeding, they allowed me many more points than most. I was over 200 pounds at the time, and I feel it was more food than I needed. This only lasted about a month before I realized it wasn’t going to work. With type 1 diabetes, it didn’t make any sense. They wanted me to have, like, juice and stuff, which was not part of my normal life anyway.
After my second child was born (in 2015), I hired a personal trainer. I worked out with her for about 2.5 months, but had no significant weight loss, because my diet was garbage. That was short-lived.
I’ve just always been unsuccessful. Because of type 1 diabetes, I didn’t feel like [typical] diet plans matched my condition.
What made you try a low-carbohydrate diet approach?
I was pretty desperate. In 2017, I got down to about 190 lbs (I was as high as 230 lbs shortly after having my kids), and I had a tummy tuck due to diastasis recti from my pregnancies. I felt pretty good about myself (at that point) but then the weight just kept on adding back on.
Emily with her children (October 2017)
I went out with some girlfriends and one of them told me about the keto diet. I was laughing at her and thought I could never do this because “I have to have carbohydrates, they’re essential.” I don’t know how she didn’t roll on the ground laughing, but she said: “Actually, they’re not essential and it’s perfectly safe.”
I went home and I googled the ketogenic diet for type 1 diabetes and I found a book called “The Ketogenic Diet for Type 1 Diabetes,” and I also found Dr. Bernstein’s book. So, I ordered and read the book about the ketogenic diet a week before I went low-carb. I remember thinking “This might be legit! I think I’m going to do this!”
On my diaversary (in October 2017), I decided to start low-carb.
How much weight have you lost using this approach?
I have now lost about 50 lbs since starting a low-carb diet.
Do you think that having type 1 diabetes made it more difficult to lose weight?
Yes. I have been trained since I was 17 (in Boston at the Joslin Clinic) that I should eat 30-60g of carbohydrates per meal and a 15-20g carb snack between meals. I’ve been told that this is my life, this is my dosing and this is what I should do. So, I better be a good carb counter!
No medical professional had ever told me anything different. I have been told to “watch my calories and move more,” but no one suggested that a low-carb diet could work for weight loss with type 1 diabetes or that it could make diabetes management easier.
Did you do anything besides changing your diet (like additional exercise) to lose weight?
Recently, you decided to cut out dairy products. How has it affected your weight loss?
I was at a stall [with my weight loss]. I was stuck around -38 to 40 lbs. I heard that cutting out dairy could help. I ordered a book by Maria Emmerich and [I don’t follow it strictly but] I use her recipes. I can make everything dairy-free with a stocked pantry.
I’ve lost about another 10 lbs since I went dairy-free 3 weeks ago. I’m not sure if it’s the dairy itself or just that it translated to fewer calories. My insulin requirements have also gone down (this could be due to the weight loss).
Peel-and-eat shrimp and cauliflower rice with broccoli
Quick dairy-free dinner: half a rotisserie chicken and roasted and seasoned cauliflower and Brussels sprouts
You also reaped other health benefits from following a low-carb approach. Can you talk about that?
I am saving so much money! I have a high-deductible plan, so the less insulin I use, the more money I save. I am using 70% less insulin. I am not having roller-coaster blood sugars. I am now going 6-9 months between my doctor appointments because I am so well-controlled, which also saves a lot of money.
My “highs” now are what I used to consider “normal”. My A1c is currently 5.5 percent (and the previous one was 5.4 percent). My A1cs before were around 7.4-7.6 percent. The whole idea of having normal blood sugars was astonishing to me. The first few weeks, I was like “What is this life? How could I have eaten all this food and I’m like 90 mg/dL?”
Emily’s blood glucose trends before and after committing to a low-carbohydrate diet.
What advice would you give to someone with type 1 diabetes who is struggling to lose weight?
Commit fully to low-carb. Easing into it or cheating [makes it harder]. Linking food to life satisfaction isn’t a thing for me anymore. I have so much in it that I just can’t cheat (although I am not tougher than anyone else)! It’s just not worth it to be high and to be chasing it.
Thank you, Emily, for taking the time to share your story with Diabetes Daily! You are an inspiration and we wish you continued success in all your endeavors!