Can Following the Keto Diet Get This South Philly Woman Off Her Epilepsy Meds?
Before the high-fat, low-carb diet was trendy, it was well-known in medical circles for treating epilepsy symptoms. Ali Shoup Reinhard is trying to see if it works for her.
As a complement to our recent feature package, “The Wildly Expensive Cost of Prescription Drugs,” we’re exploring how Philadelphians are managing their health without pills. Here’s one local’s story.
Who I am: Ali Shoup Reinhard (@ketodelphia), 29
Where I live: South Philly
What I do: Visual merchandising at Free People
I have known I’ve had epilepsy since age six and have been prescribed medication since I was fourteen. The medication caused headaches, weight gain, and memory loss, and my seizures never fully went away. I knew I didn’t like the way I felt on medication, but, at the time, I wasn’t aware of an alternative, so I learned to live with the side effects.
It wasn’t until I was in college that I first heard about the keto diet. I had a professor who had a child with epilepsy, and she told me how successful the diet had been with her daughters’ seizures. As soon as I started researching, I quickly learned that the keto diet has been used to improve epilepsy symptoms for decades. I was intrigued. But as a college student, the idea of not drinking (gasp) and maintaining such a strict diet seemed impossible and unattainable. I never stopped thinking about keto, but I pushed it to the back of my mind and continued taking my medication.
Fast forward 10 years. I am now married, own a home in South Philly, and landed my dream job. The timing and my schedule were finally right to make a lifestyle change. I reached out to a nutritionist who was one of my sister’s friends, Janine Higbie of JH Wellness Co., and expressed my ideas of getting off my medication with help from the keto diet. At my annual neurologist appointment, I told my doctor that I was thinking about trying to go keto and, with a little bit of a fight, she finally agreed to help monitor my body throughout this process.
The biggest changes to my diet were cutting out the majority of carbs, all alcohol, grains, and sugar. With help from my nutritionist, Janine, I measure my intake of fats (75 to 80 percent of my food), proteins (15 to 20 percent of my food), and carbs (five percent of my food) every day to stay in ketosis. I am eating more healthy fats, including nuts, grass-fed meats, wild-caught fish, and lots of leafy greens. I have always tried to avoid processed foods as much as possible, but of course I broke this rule from time to time. Now, I’ve totally eliminated processed food from my diet.
When I first began the keto diet, I was told to keep my workouts to a minimum as my body gets adjusted to burning ketones versus glucose. I am a runner — I run outside almost every morning unless there is sleet and ice — but I stopped running for the first four weeks of keto. Now I am getting back into my morning runs to prep for the Broad Street Run, and I feel great! My husband and I are also fans of the BBG workouts, so I am looking forward to beginning those routines two to three times a week again soon.
I managed to escape the so called “keto flu,” thanks to my water-drinking habits. I always, always have a water bottle with me. (There are times when I walk out of the house to go out to dinner without realizing my water bottle is in my hand until I get to the restaurant.) My husband and I also love cooking, and I think our ability to work together to adapt our meals to be more keto-friendly has been the best part of this experience. We cook together almost every single night, and we both agree that, since I started keto, our dinners have been some of the best yet.
One of the other reasons I decided now is the time to start the keto diet is because I want to be a mother one day. My husband and I want to start trying to have children within the next two years or so, but the medication that I am on can cause birth defects. If I have the time to successfully get off all medication by using food as medicine, I am more than willing to give this a shot.
The hardest part of the transformation has been NO BEER. We live a few blocks from Brewery ARS, and it’s our favorite spot to hang out with people in our neighborhood who have become close friends. I love a good craft beer, but, now when I go there, I drink kombucha or seltzer water. I also enjoy making my own sourdough bread and pasta, but I see this as a challenge to make something new and grain-free that I can eat versus a difficult part. I still make sourdough almost weekly, but now I share it with my coworkers, family, and friends.
After one month of of doing the keto diet, I had an EEG test [a test that tracks electrical activity in your brain; unusual patterns are sometimes linked to epilepsy], and, for the first time in my life, the results were normal. I was at work when I received the message from my doctor, and I yelled with excitement. I was completely blown away to see the word “normal.” It gave me hope and even more encouragement to stick with this keto diet adventure.
I have been on the keto diet for three months now, and I feel amazing! I feel more energized, my usual headaches that I get before I take my second dose of medication have completely gone away, and I find that I am sleeping better. I am still on my medication, but, hopefully at my next appointment, we will begin lowering my dosage. Maybe eventually I will be completely off all medication.
What do I want people to take away? Consulting with a doctor before starting a regimen like this is important. I am not a trained health professional, but I am being monitored by a nutritionist and my neurologist. Also: Eat REAL food and listen to your body! I am a believer in knowing where your food comes from, knowing how it’s prepared, and being aware of what your body is trying to tell you it needs more or less of.