“My skin got clear. I was able to focus a lot more. I actually have more energy.”
– Awilla Rodriguez
Awilla Rodriguez has always eaten a relatively balanced diet and exercised. But despite that, her genetics were catching up to her.
With a family history of high blood pressure and high cholesterol, plus exacerbating stress, she found her markers were elevated for both – even in her 20s.
By age 27, her doctor had put her on medication for hypertension that ran in the 160-190 range (diastolic).
“My blood pressure has been going up for the past few years,” she says. “I knew it was a problem. It’s in my family. It started getting higher and higher as I went through nursing school.”
And as a nurse, she knew the risks.
“Any moment I could have a heart attack,” she says. “That really scared me.”
A Keto Diet for High Blood Pressure
Then, while pregnant with twins, her blood pressure normalized to the point where she didn’t need to be on medication.
But in the last two weeks before giving birth, it spiked to near-dangerous levels.
Thus, soon after her babies were born, she was back on blood pressure medication.
In the months following the birth of her twins, Awilla felt lost. She’d gained 50 pounds during pregnancy, and no longer felt like herself – especially with the stress of caring for infant twins plus her six-year-old daughter.
She signed up for Beach Body and at the same time began researching the ketogenic diet. But the diet’s demands gave her pause. From the Dominican Republic, Awilla knew it would be tough to give up carbs.
“I’m Spanish and keto means no carbs,” she says. “And guess what we eat everyday? We eat rice like crazy.”
The ketogenic diet limits carbohydrates while focusing on healthy fats, which puts the body into a metabolic state called ketosis. With ketosis, the body burns fat for energy and turns fat into ketones in the liver.
Numerous studies have indicated that a ketogenic diet can help regulate blood sugar and insulin levels, and help with heart disease, cancer and inflammatory disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
While Awilla didn’t eat processed food before, she did consume considerable carbs and dairy.
Her daily diet typically included banana bread paired with coffee – with lots of sugar and cream. Then she would eat fried plantains with eggs and sausage. Then lunch and dinner would be rice with meat.
Though the benefits of keto were compelling, Awilla knew following it would be tough.
Instead, she chose to focus on what she COULD have, instead of what she couldn’t. Keto would allow her to have high-quality meats, eggs and all the vegetables she wanted.
At the same time, she started working out four to five times a week – doing Beach Body right in the living room during her babies’ naptime.
Focusing on Quality Fats
Awilla collected recipes and went all in with the keto diet. But before seeing progress, she had to endure what’s called the “keto flu.”
“When you start keto, it takes all the water out of your system,” she explains. “You get so dehydrated. If you don’t drink enough, you get very cranky and get bad breath. You’re detoxifying your body from carbs and sugar. You are a miserable person for a week or two.”
She also had to learn how to count “macros,” which refers to the macronutrients that are in the fat, protein and carbohydrates of our food. To adhere to the macros allowed on the keto diet, Awilla had to track them carefully.
Largely, it was about choosing healthy fats.
“Instead of salmon without the skin, you choose salmon with the skin,” she says. “Or instead of chicken breasts, you go with chicken thighs.”
Her family mostly eats what she does. She makes breads now with coconut or almond flour, which her kids enjoy. She sweetens such recipes with erythritol or monk fruit. However, she does make rice and beans for her kids.
Blood Pressure, Cholesterol Return to Normal Ranges
Within a week, Awilla started losing weight, and within a month, she saw a slew of positive improvements.
“My skin got clear. I was able to focus a lot more. I actually have more energy,” she says.
Additionally, her blood pressure dropped – from 180 or 190 down to about 118.
And unexpectedly, her cholesterol levels went down from over 200 to the 140s – despite eating a high-fat diet.
Awilla went on to lose most of the weight she gained during pregnancy.
With that progress, she remains on the diet most of the time, with a few breaks during Christmas or when she traveled back to the Dominican Republic for vacation.
Now, Awilla passes on her experience and knowledge through her blog and by coaching other moms who want to embark on a keto diet. For them, she offers a few tips.
- Don’t go cold turkey – While Awilla went 100% on the diet, she recommends that others ease in, giving up one thing at a time.
- Hang on through the “keto flu” – “You just have to get through that horrible two weeks,” she says.
- Focus on the benefits – “With any lifestyle changes you make, know the first month or two is going to be difficult. It’s going to be hard,” she says. “Remind yourself why you’re doing this.”
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