Who: Vero Encinas, 43
Where: Hamburg, Germany
Time with Levels: Three months
Most Useful Takeaway: Starting with one small habit—going outside in the morning—created momentum and motivation to change her diet and activity.
What was your health like before learning about Levels?
All of my life, I had struggled with my weight. This started when I was around 8 or 9 years old, which could have been connected to a traumatic event I experienced as a child. At the age of 15, I saw a famous doctor who was helping people get super thin. We later learned that he was giving people amphetamines—including me. For a long time, my weight yo-yo’ed.
When I was 29 years old, I moved from my hometown Ciudad Juarez (on the border with El Paso), to Playa del Carmen, Mexico. With the tropical weather, my lifestyle completely changed. I biked, walked to the beach, and ate fresh food all day. I lost weight naturally and kept it off for eight years without effort. But then life events, both good (starting a new relationship) and difficult (a death in the family), triggered weight gain again. At this time, I also went vegetarian and ate a lot of carbs. Then the pandemic hit, and I lost my jewelry business. My husband and I moved to Germany, where he’s from.
In Germany, I embraced the potato and bread diet. I felt very heavy, but the breaking point was when my husband and I went to a climbing park. We traversed a four-story climbing park with obstacles like ropes, tires, zip lines, and climbing walls. I realized I was completely out of shape and lacked the energy or strength to perform. I felt old, and it was a terrible feeling. I was in such physical and emotional pain; it was like carrying a backpack full of stones. My joints were screaming the entire time. I decided that this was the last day I would feel like this.
That very same day, I started researching. I wanted to uncover what was happening inside of me that always caused me to regain weight. I needed to figure it out to put an end to it. I came across the concept of metabolic health. I started following Dr. Mark Hyman, David Sinclair, Dave Asprey, and Dr. Mindy Pelz. They all led me to Levels and Dr. Casey Means.
The first thing I learned was about why we gain weight. Your metabolism stores glucose as fat to protect you, and it stores it in strategic places such as hips, legs, and love handles [known as subcutaneous fat] so that it doesn’t represent a threat to your health [the way visceral fat surrounding your organs does]. The moment I learned that I was overwhelmed with gratitude, love, and kindness. I thanked my body for everything it had done for me. Prior to this, I had been blaming my body for my weight all my life, thinking it didn’t work properly. I told my body that from that moment on I was going to take care of it and take my health into my own hands.
Without dieting, I adjusted what I ate, shaping my choices around metabolic health and mainly focused on low-carb eating and fasting. I felt like a metabolic professional and a fasting expert. Within six months I had already lost 20 kilograms (44 pounds). In 1.5 years, I lost 35 kilograms (77 pounds) total.
What made you want to join the new Metabolic Health Reset challenge?
I had been consistently following Levels, but the product is not available in Germany. When I saw that Sonja Manning, Chief of Staff at Levels, was hosting this cohort on Instagram, I joined immediately. This was finally my opportunity to do something with Levels. My goal was to learn more about metabolic health from the best.
What changes did you make in the program that moved the needle on your health?
When I started the program, the first task involved stepping outside and taking in the first rays of the sun. It was winter in Germany, and I hadn’t seen the sun in more than two months, and with darker, colder days, I spent a lot of time inside.
At this time, I didn’t realize that I was experiencing the winter blues. I’ve never had it—I grew up in Mexico! My symptoms included feeling sad and lost, lack of energy and motivation and isolation. I would only get out of bed at 11 or 12 to cook something for my husband, eat, take a walk, and shower. Then, I’d put my pajamas back on because, by 3 pm, it was dark out again. When the cohort started, I was in really bad mental and physical shape.
So, when Sonja suggested that first tiny habit, I sent her a note and a picture: This is my sky—look, it’s dark. She was supportive and kind in her response: “I feel you, but trust the science–get outside.” She sent me an article from Huberman Lab about how viewing morning sunlight sets your circadian clock and improves your mood. She really had me at her first “good morning.” Just seeing her super smiling face and the blue sky behind her blonde hair in the Instagram stories inspired and motivated me. She was a ray of shine and hope to me! I was in disbelief, but I got out. After three or four days, I felt so much better. It was as if this was summer. I couldn’t believe it.
How did participating in the cohort improve your metabolic health?
I knew it could only go up from there. So, I fully committed to every habit Sonja recommended. Checking in with her daily gave me something to look forward to because Sonja was right there with me celebrating each win. Every morning I woke up excited to check my iPad and see the next message from her and experience the community of this program.
Other habits I worked on implementing included counting plants in every meal and aiming to eat 30 plants a week. I combined fiber, fat, and protein into each meal. I turned off my phone 30 minutes to 1 hour before bed. I walked after breakfast. And I even took cold showers, getting up to two minutes. (This is Baltic Sea water. It’s cold!) This was a big one for me. I thought I would die the first time I did it, but after, I felt so alive and energized.
Within two weeks, I was back to my super happy, energetic self. As a Mexican, we’re famous for having a mariachi inside of us (we’re loud, singing and dancing all the time) but that had been gone within me. Now, I was dancing, singing, and talking to people again.
Gone are the days of sleeping through the morning. I’m up at six or seven a.m. to do my routine. After four weeks, I felt superhuman. With the structure that this challenge and experiment provided, I felt I was given my (summer) life back.
What habits have stuck with you?
Right now, I’m back in Mexico. For the first time in my life, I wake up between six and seven a.m. with no alarm. I get up, drink a glass of water, and take a walk—I won’t miss out on the first rays of sun! After 30 minutes, I’m back home and hop in the cold (though even cold water in Mexico isn’t as chilly) shower. My husband and I make sure we take a walk at sunset. Every day I feel better. My energy is better than ever, and I feel and look better than I have my entire life!
There’s another challenge right now, and you can bet that I signed up. I’m maintaining everything I learned from Sonja in the first round. I get emotional talking about my experience because it completely changed my life. This challenge came to me at the perfect moment when I was feeling lost and low. All I needed was a bit of structure in my day, the sun in the morning, a few small habits, and a wonderful community of people.