Fitness and Weight Loss Paralyzed Olympian Amy Van Dyken says she's lost a ton of weight on this diet

She says it's also helped with nerve pain.

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amy van dyken paralyzed diet

(Photograph by Getty Images)
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You might remember Amy Van Dyken as an Olympic swimmer who kicked some serious butt in the 1996 and 2000 Summer Olympics, or maybe you've just heard about her at some point.

In case you haven’t followed Amy recently, she severed her spinal cord in a bad ATV accident in 2014, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down.

Amy regularly posts on Instagram about her family, physical therapy, and nerve pain that she suffers as the result of her accident, and now she says in a new Instagram post that she’s lost a lot of weight due to the ketogenic diet. “People are asking how I've been losing weight, and feeling a TON better,” she wrote in the caption next to before and after shots of herself.

Amy also created a YouTube video about being on the ketogenic diet (known as “keto” for short), noting that she’s lost more than 20 pounds on it. “I have so much energy, and I'm able to combat the meds I'm on for nerve pain,” she wrote in the caption. “Hubby says I'm like I was before my accident. Keto can help with pain, but not neuropathic pain like mine. I have noticed a bunch of other benefits.”

The ketogenic diet is big on good fats, moderate amount of protein, and limited carbs. By eating a lot of fat (up to 75 percent of your daily calories) and very few carbs, your body shifts into a state called ketosis. In ketosis, your body produces little molecules called ketones and uses those for energy instead of glucose from carbs, burning fat in the process.

But can it actually help with pain, especially in someone who suffers from nerve pain like Amy? Maybe. "We don't have concrete recommendations from the government or our professional organizations about diet and pain," says Amit Sachdev, M.D., an assistant professor and director of the Division of Neuromuscular Medicine at Michigan State University, "However, I and many doctors believe that diet affects pain dramatically." The most common reasons that people get nerve pains is that the nerves become sickened by a medical problem such as diabetes or metabolic syndrome, he explains.

Body pains from muscles, joints, and tendons also get worse when someone has bodily inflammation, which is most often seen with high blood sugar, kidney disease, and metabolic syndrome. "Diet is very important in controlling these kinds of diseases," Sachdev says. "For this reason I believe diet is important in controlling pain."

The ketogenic diet was originally used to help treat seizures, says Clifford Segil, D.O., a neurologist at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., and there are a lot of benefits to following the diet. But Sachdev says the key for many patients with pain is to move away from a standard American diet, which can improve their health in general—and he points out that the ketogenic, gluten-free, and Atkins diets are all pretty similar. "The number-one effect of these diets is weight loss," he says. "The second effect is a general decrease in the things that provoke inflammation, like blood sugar." And, he points out, the healthier a person is, the more likely they are to heal from their injuries, which should help alleviate pain.

Amy repeatedly stresses how great she feels now on the keto diet—and really, that's all that matters.

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