Two months ago, Amy Levine felt the way many of us do: frustrated with lingering love handles and sick of squeezing into her jeans. "I was tired of having a little bit of extra weight on me, and I actually started snoring at night," she says, noting that snoring
is more common in people who are overweight and actually has dangerous health implications. "I was horrified at that!" At that point, Levine decided to make a change. She heard about Hacienda del Sol
—a wellness retreat in Costa Rica—from her husband Jason's colleague, who said his wife had a transformative experience during her visit there.
"We looked into the program and I was on board immediately," Levine says of Hacienda del Sol's wellness retreat. As a mom of three, the idea of going to Costa Rica—alone!—for a week was a dream. So she booked it. With six weeks to prepare, Levine says she wanted to feel physically and mentally ready to participate, so she decided to clean up her eating. "I committed to a much more conscious diet," Levine says of her pre-trip prep. "I just didn't eat anything that I shouldn't eat." That meant cutting out sugar (except fruit), switching to whole grains, and practicing good portion control. She also amped up her workout regimen, riding a stationary bike for 30 to 60 minutes, three times a week. "Within those six weeks I actually lost 10 pounds, " she says. "I was really surprised because I didn't think I was eating that badly." But her week at Hacienda del Sol required further dietary changes. (Here are some surprising ways to kick your sugar habit
A Ketosis diet
Levine arrived in Costa Rica feeling lighter and ready as ever to tackle Hacienda del Sol's weight loss program (Ketogenic and TacFit Weight Loss Retreat
), which relies on a ketogenic, or super low-carb diet, for maximum results in a minimum amount of time. A ketogenic diet
switches your metabolism from carb-burning to fat burning—a state known as ketosis. To get there, you need to eat less than 30 to 50 net grams of carbs per day by cutting out all grains, sugar (including fruit), and root and tuber crops including potatoes and carrots. What can you eat? Meat, dairy, vegetables, eggs, fish, and nuts. With this, your body starts to produce fuel molecules called ketones from fat, instead of from carbs. That means your body is burning up fat to create energy! Levine also did daily exercise and wellness activities like yoga and meditation. (This is what happens when you go 100% carb-free
Highs and lows
"Cutting out fruit was the most difficult thing for me," says Levine. "Especially when there are bananas growing and mangos dripping from trees all around you." But it wasn't all sacrifice. Levine enjoyed fresh meals consisting of mostly raw food like avocados and sprouts, along with cooked fish and eggs for protein, in large portions. "One of the things I struggle with is portion control, and I felt that the portions were really big," she says. "In the end, I was only able to finish about half of what was on my plate—so I was losing weight, but I wasn't hungry at all." (These 9 simple changes that helped this blogger lose 45 pounds—and keep it off
Many people who commit to a ketogenic diet come down with what's known as the ketogenic flu. "It's basically the sugar leaving your body," Levine says. On day four, Levine did start experiencing flu-like symptoms. "I could barely get out of bed and get my clothes on," she says. "I felt like I had the flu, minus the fever." Ramiro Gallardo, the owner of the spa, advised Levine to keep moving to get through it. "I spent a good part of the day walking back in forth in the pool, feeling like I was 90 years old," Levine says. The next day she was able to participate in a yoga class and a walk on the beach. "Once I got through that, I felt quite good."
One of the major causes of the ketogenic flu, says Levine, is dehydration. During her week at Hacienda del Sol, she drank a super-hydrating concoction consisting of aloe vera, pepper, salt, lime, and moringa twice a day. "There's an entire teaspoon of sodium in the drink," she says. "You're getting sodium, magnesium, and potassium from it, and those are the things your body is lacking with this diet, especially at the beginning." Now, she makes sure to take sodium and electrolyte pills (recommended for anyone on the ketogenic diet) to help her stay hydrated. Learn how to recognize the signs of dehydration
Got belly fat? "One of the benefits is that the weight loss typically comes from the abdominal cavity," says Levine. "For me, that was my biggest problem. I was always struggling to button my pants and be comfortable. My weight is in my stomach, and that is where I lost it from the very beginning." During her week in Costa Rica, Levine lost another 5 pounds and has maintained that weight loss ever since. What's more, she also felt a major boost in energy. "They call it the keto high. You feel like you can run a marathon," Levine explains. "Once you get into ketosis you just feel much more energized and healthier and stronger." Here's why your weight loss may have hit a plateau
Sticking with it
Three weeks after her trip, Levine has settled back into her daily routine, living and raising three daughters in New Jersey—but she's committed to maintaining her ketogenic diet at home. She's now able to add fruit (berries only) back into her diet and uses Lakanto
maple syrup—a sugar-free syrup made from monkfruit—to satisfy her sweet tooth. "I really feel like this is a sustainable way to lose weight," she says. "Not feeling hungry really makes it possible and I'm able to find substitute recipes [she's a big fan of Pinterest] so I'm not feeling deprived. I'm starting to feel like I can keep this up forever." Read the secrets of 12 people, like Levine, who have maintained their weight loss