After a decade of failed diets and emotional eating, Darnell Settles III, 36, completely transformed his life. He was slowly gaining weight through high school and during undergrad at the University of Memphis. At his heaviest, he wore a size 72 pant and suspects he weighed about 560 pounds.

“I did a good job avoiding scales,” he says. “When you’re overweight, it affects every aspect of your life. I felt powerless, and people would constantly talk to me about my weight and accuse me of not caring. My mom always bought me workout clothes for Christmas as a way of encouraging me to start exercising.”

In January 2017, Darnell finally started to put those gifts to use and signed up for a gym membership. He saw some positive results, but it was after a difficult breakup in February that he decided to make a permanent change in his diet. Friends from online fitness communities encouraged him to try a keto diet. He got the tools he needed to start weighing food and tossed carbs for good. Over the next year, Darnell weighed himself monthly at the Baptist Memorial Hospital scale. By January 2018, he won the Kroc Center’s annual Aim to Maintain program for the biggest weight loss.

Today, Darnell weighs 308 pounds and is looking toward hitting 20% percent body fat. He also moderates the same Facebook page that jump-started his lifestyle change, Ketogenic Dieters, and uses that platform to encourage and help others.

“Losing 250 pounds in two years completely changed my life,” Darnell says. “Non-scale victories are the best part. I can buy clothes at a regular store. I can fit into the booths at restaurants. I’ve been freed of lots of insecurity and anxiety.”

The Diet

Darnell ascribes to a version of keto focused on adequate protein, moderate fat, and low carbs. On a typical morning, he eats three eggs and four slices of bacon and drinks a black coffee with zero-carb protein powder mixed in. Lunch and dinner are strict, usually grilled meat with a side of dark green veggies; sirloin and broccoli are his favorites.

“I had to shift my mindset,” Darnell says. “I’m in control of what I put in my body, and I don’t feel limited. Because I live downtown, it would be so easy to go grab a pizza at a place like Aldo’s, but I just don’t. These aren’t just foods I can’t eat, they’re foods I don’t eat. My version of going out is to order two sides of grilled chicken at a Mexican restaurant.”

Some of his favorite accommodating eateries in Memphis include El Mezcal, Babalu, and the Majestic Grille.

“Even at work, when we have lunches catered, people take my needs seriously because I do. People have seen me be consistent, and they want to help,” he says. “The most important thing is not being afraid to ask. I have learned to stand up for who I want to be.”

The Workout

Darnell started slowly with exercise, walking a mile or two every morning on the Green Line back in 2014. Since then, he has expanded his regimen to 45 minutes of strength training four times a week at LA Fitness or Harbortown Fitness.

“I like to use 5×5 weight-lifting programs with classic exercises like bench presses, upright rows, leg extensions, and more,” he says. “The best advice I can give to people is to be consistent. You don’t have to make yourself miserable, but you also can’t skip.”

By India Nikotich

Photo by Tindall Stephens