Unless you do not follow social media or live under a rock, you have heard of the ketogenic diet. I have family and friends that have followed it. It seems to appear in magazines, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter … it seems to be THE DIET right now. I had been through several years of yo-yo weight gain and loss and unsuccessful diet and exercise plans.
I did not want to try this diet (I love bread), but then my husband told me that I couldn’t do this diet. Never tell a woman she cannot do something she puts her mind to! That was enough of a push for me to try the keto diet for at least 8 weeks.
Just in time for your New Year’s resolution to lose some weight or to change your eating habits, I will break down my experience with the keto diet – the good, the bad, and the results.
What is the keto diet?
Simply explained, this is a popular diet that emphasizes intake of good fats and protein and minimizes intake of carbohydrates. This forces the body to go into ketosis; by minimizing carbohydrates, which are normally broken down into blood sugar for energy, the body is forced to undergo ketosis and to use stored fat as ketone bodies for energy. The process of entering ketosis can take anywhere from 2-5 days, perhaps even longer; after this, it is maintaining that state in the body.
According to an article from the Harvard Health Publishing and Medical School, this diet has been studied with great evidence of possible neuroprotective effects. It can aid those with conditions such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, sleep disorders, autism, multiple sclerosis, and even brain cancer. It also can lower blood sugar for diabetic patients. Still, the diet is popular now for weight loss. My friend and favorite Registered Dietician Nutritionist Megan Kober breaks down the ins and outs of the keto diet on her website – click here to read more about it.
The first thing I noticed after entering ketosis and regularly eating correctly was my energy. I seemed to have extra bursts of it during the day, even without my beloved coffee. I was sleeping decently and waking up rested.
I also found that my tastes changed. I craved sugar and carbohydrates so much during the first 4 days. I was not irritable, a common side effect, but I would salivate just thinking about my favorite banana coconut donuts or a buttery croissant. After that first rough period, I craved these foods less and less. I was feeling very full from all the MCT oil, olive oil, cheeses, and other fats I was eating. It was easy to turn down that piece of cake at work because the thought of it made my stomach turn. And that was within a few weeks! If I did allow myself to indulge, I could only eat a few bites of something sweet or carbohydrate heavy before feeling full. It actually worked.
The keto diet forces one to really learn about food and macronutrients. I had to pay better attention when shopping for food and when meal-prepping for the week (this is a necessary requirement when on the diet. Trust me, it will make your life so much easier). I have been hypoglycemic since I was a young child and have always paid attention to my sugar intake, yet I learned so much more about carbohydrates, fiber, fat, protein, blood sugar, and digestion. Even without the keto diet, I apply some of this learning to my regular diet. I highly recommend an app to help log food and macros; I used Lifesum, which allows you to choose a variety of diet plans to track food and progress for a small fee.
Lastly, this diet’s popularity means that many restaurants and stores are catering to those on a keto diet. I was able to take a trip to Maui with my mom and eat out without drastically ruining my diet. Do not be afraid to ask servers about menu substitutions. My husband would order a burger without a bun and avocado, and we never had a server say no.
Remember those first 4 days I mentioned above? Those were brutal and easily the worst part of getting into ketosis.
Many people may experience irritability, fatigue, cravings, and a strong urge to quit the diet before you have really even started. If you can make it through this phase, it gets easier – I promise.
I had trouble eating enough calories. I chose a Keto Medium diet from the app, which allowed for 50 grams of carbohydrates, 59 grams of protein, and 127 grams of fat; a true keto diet aims for 20 or less grams of carbohydrates a day, but I wanted to give myself a little more room in case my blood sugar dropped too low. I was eating and eating! But there were days where I barely cleared 1400 calories a day. Most of us know that if you drop your calories too low, you can slow your metabolism down. I would try to incorporate as many green veggies as possible and to eat more fat than I have ever eaten before.
I also found it difficult to eat larger amounts of fat and meat. I have generally eaten lean meats and plenty of vegetables and fruits. I rarely eat red meat and limit cheese intake because both upset my stomach; I have even been a vegetarian for a few years here and there. On keto, I had to eat more of the foods I avoided. Gone was the lean ground turkey, veggie burgers, and turkey sausage. It was full beef and full fat meats, cheeses, and dairy for everything. My stomach did not always love this diet!
I did not drink any alcohol while on this diet, and I should point out that you can drink in moderation while following a keto diet. But the choices are limited; easy picks are vodka, tequila, whiskey, or any alcohol with no sweeteners or flavoring. If you are a beer or fancy cocktail drinker, this would be challenging! I eliminated the option altogether, saving my carbohydrates for food.
Finally, this is a more expensive diet. There are tons of websites and cookbooks with keto-friendly recipes and ideas. But many alternative and healthy baking ingredients are expensive. Fresh vegetables and red meat consumed in large amounts, as I feed 6 people, add up. A carton of eggs lasted maybe 2 days in our house. I realized how costly avocados are when we ate at least 1 a day! My food budget definitely felt the impact.
I stuck to the keto diet for 8 weeks – and I lost 20 pounds. That is a significant amount of weight in a short period of time! I will note that I really needed to shed those post baby/stress induced pounds, so perhaps my body took to ketosis more successfully. The diet has varying individual results. There are people who only lose a few pounds or those who lose even more.
After my 8 weeks, I slowly began introducing carbohydrates back into my diet. DO NOT OVERLOAD – you will get sick! I can still feel very full after a little taste of bread or cake, and I stopped the diet months ago. I still use the Lifesum app with a Keto Easy plan, which allows for 100 grams of carbohydrates daily. I am much less concerned with going over that number, but it gives me a good baseline to follow. And I’m happy to report that the weight has not returned!
Is Keto For You?
I’m no expert, but I think this depends on what your short and long term health goals are. Are you looking to jump start some weight loss? Do you have other health issues that could benefit from this diet? Have you tried every other diet plan to no avail? Then maybe keto is for you.
Are you running on an already overstretched food budget? Can you devote time for meal planning, prep, and a lot of thought about your food intake? Are you going to stay dedicated, even when the diet is really hard? If not, then keto is not for you.
The most important thing is to discuss this with your physician, nutritionist, dietician, or trainer. These professionals know the ins and outs of the diet and about your health. They can help you determine if you should or should not try the keto diet.
Keto is not for everyone, and I definitely could not do this for the rest of my life! But I found my 8 week keto diet experience to be challenging and positive.