My weight loss journey started with the ketogenic diet. It wasn’t anything I had ever heard about before. The only information I really had was that it was some type of low carb diet.
When my daughter told me about the ketogenic diet, aka Keto, I was already failing again at another diet attempt. So I thought, should I do keto? After all, it was working for a lot of people, and seemed to be working for my baby girl.
I had tried Atkins once, but found it really difficult to follow. I was just following the Atkins book and didn’t have the resources of the internet available like we do today. So I really couldn’t learn anything that wasn’t in the book.
I did some research and decided to give it a try. In this post, I’m going to share how I prepared, and started, on this journey, which has evolved into my low carb experience.
Keto – The What’s and Why’s
I started my research with one question; what exactly is the ketogenic diet? What I learned was fascinating, and it was completely opposite of what I had been taught and told to eat for decades!
The keto diets has three basic requirements:
1) Limit carbohydrates to less than 5% of your calories per day
2) Keep protein intake at a moderate level
3) Eat plenty of healthy fats
This diet was initially used as a way to control epileptic seizures in children. Doctors found that by greatly reducing the intake of carbohydrates, raising the intake of healthy fats, and keeping protein intake moderate, blood glucose levels dropped, forcing the body to metabolize fat as an alternate fuel source.
Ketones are created during the process of turning fat into fuel. Most cells in the body can use ketones as an alternate energy/fuel source. When ketones are present in the bloodstream, you are said to be in a Ketogenic state. The brain is also able to use these ketones for fuel, and at the same time, create some amazing health benefits, such as greatly reducing, or eliminating, epileptic seizures.
People eating a keto diet report the following benefits:
Better appetite control
Control of Blood Sugar
Reversal of Type 2 diabetes
Increased mental focus
Increased physical endurance
Normalized blood pressure
Decrease in sugar cravings
Reversal of PCOS
OK, I was impressed. But, one question remained. Why high fat?
Keto – Why High Fat?
The body has two basic fuel/energy sources, glucose or fat. The preferred fuel source is glucose, and the brain has to have some glucose to function properly. Our body converts the carbs we eat into glucose and the glucose is converted to energy and used by our cells to perform various functions. Any glucose that is not used as energy is shuttled by insulin into your liver. Anything remaining is pushed into the adipocytes/fat cells and stored for use at a later date, when it’s needed.
If you eat less carbs, there is less glucose in your bloodstream. If there is less glucose in your bloodstream, your body produces less insulin. When insulin levels are low your body will switch over to using it’s alternate fuel source, FAT.
On a ketogenic diet, due to the lack of carbs, and lower insulin levels, your body will run on mostly fat. The primary fuel source for the cells will be ketones. Ketones can only be manufactured by our body from fat. The fat used to manufacture ketones can be the fat that you eat, aka dietary fat, or fat stored in your body.
Keto allows your body to access the fat you’ve been storing to use at a later date now … and this is how you lose weight in the process. Eventually you become a fat burning machine, burning fat 24-7. Awesome! But, what does insulin have to do with anything?
Insulin – It’s Not Just About Diabetes
I found, and still find, the whole subject of insulin to be fascinating. All I really knew about insulin was that people with diabetes had to inject it to stay healthy. My research on insulin led to several eye-opening discoveries.
Insulin is made by the pancreas. The pancreas releases insulin into the bloodstream in response to elevated glucose levels. Insulin acts like a key that unlocks the cells, allowing them to take in the glucose, as fuel, from the bloodstream for energy.
When there is an excess of glucose/energy in the bloodstream, insulin will assist in storing it for later. The short term storage location is in the liver. The liver stores glucose as glycogen. But the liver can only store a small amount of glycogen, about 5% of its size by mass. When the liver has taken it’s limit of glucose, insulin unlocks the fat cells, for long term storage.
The liver storage is for quick access to energy and fat storage is for access to energy later. Kind of like the difference between the bank and your wallet. You keep a few bucks in your wallet, but when that’s gone, you’ll have to dip into your reserve at the bank.
I learned a few things about diabetes along my research journey too. I learned that there are actually two type of diabetes, type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetics suffer from having too little insulin. Type 2 diabetics suffer from their body not being able to use insulin properly. Both conditions result in having too much glucose in the bloodstream (hyperglycemia). The medical solution to both problems is insulin.
Type 1 diabetics primary issue is that their bodies produce little to no insulin, making them very susceptible to hyperglycemia. The most interesting thing to me about type 1 diabetics, is that one of the symptoms is unintentionally weight loss. Insulin is required to normalize their blood sugar and metabolism. Insulin also helps them maintain a stable weight. Type 1 diabetes is not preventable.
Type 2 diabetics main issue is that their bodies cells stop responding to insulin. This is known as insulin resistance, which some are saying should be classified as type 3 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90% of all cases. Type 2 diabetes is preventable and curable. One of the main risk factors for getting type 2 diabetes is being overweight or obese.
The next thing I researched was the specific rules of the keto diet. The keto diet calls for very low carb, moderate amounts of protein, and high amounts of fats. I now had a good understanding of why I wanted to limit the carbohydrates, but why eat more fat and moderate amounts of protein?
Fats – Are Healthy Fats For Real?
I learned that you don’t want to be eating just any type of fats. You want to choose healthy fats.
Healthy fats? But I’ve been told fats are bad. Fat will clog your arteries. Fat causes heart disease. “They” say to eat a low fat diet. Won’t eating fat make me fat … ter?
What’s the deal? Is there such a thing as “healthy” fats?
Actually, yes. There are healthy fats. Healthy fats actually help protect our brains and hearts. Our bodies actually need some fat on a daily basis to stay healthy. There are good, healthy fats, and there are bad fats. Very bad fats.
Bad fats are things like trans fats. Basically, any fat that has to be made. An fat that is artificial. Any fat that requires a high amount of processing to develop. When you think bad fat, think of things like vegetable oils, corn oil, soybean oil, canola oil, and margarine.
Good fats are natural fats. Butter, tallow, and lard are all considered good fats. Anything that can be pressed into an oil without processing or refinement is a healthy fat. Olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, and nut oils are all good fats. Avocados, olives, and many types of nuts are also very good fats!
This diet not only allows you to eat these foods, it requires it. I know … crazy right?!?!?
Think about it all the delicious fats. Cheese, butter, sour cream, heavy cream, olives, bacon. Oh god yes, lots of bacon!
Oh wait … isn’t bacon a protein? Damn! Don’t I have to eat moderate amounts of protein? On to the protein research.
Moderate Proteins – But More is OK, Right?
Moderate amounts of protein. What does that mean? I’ve never been good at moderate amounts of anything. If some was good, more was better! And why just moderate amounts?
The keto diet calls for moderate amounts of protein to assist in keeping blood glucose at a minimum. The body does not convert protein to glucose, but there is some evidence that in the absence of glucose, the body will create glucose from protein using a process known as gluconeogenesis.
Gluconeogenesis is used by humans, and many other animals, to maintain blood glucose at normal levels. A healthy body will not allow the blood glucose levels to drop too low or go to high.
The theory is that by keeping our intake of dietary protein at a moderate level, we are less likely to elevate our blood glucose via gluconeogenesis, thus raising our insulin levels, and shutting down the fat burning process. (NOTE: I don’t subscribe to this theory. It has not been proven, and we need more protein as we age.)
This keto diet was sounding pretty good and the logic made sense. But, what could I eat? How do I eat? Exactly what would a day of eating keto look like … and taste like? How do I get started?
Keto – Getting Started
The internet was full of advice, instructions, and gimmicks regarding the keto diet. Most had the same fundamentals of what you needed to know, do, and how to get started.
In a nutshell, keto calls for breaking down your calorie intake into macronutrient ratios. There are three macronutrients; Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fats. You should aim for 5% carbs, 25% proteins, and 70% fats.
OK, so how do you break down these macronutrients?
Here is a link to a nice page with a great calculator that will do it for you.
I suggest using this calculator. I think it’s one of the best ones you’ll find. It’s easy to use, works well, allows you to make adjustments, and has some explanations of how to read the numbers you’re looking at.
It is also suggested that you track what you eat. I think the best site/app for both is My Fitness Pal. It’s free and easy to use. Here is a link to the website.
Once you’re signed up for My Fitness Pal you can access your account via their website and download/install their mobile app. They have an FAQ page that covers most of the questions you might have. Signing up for the premium version isn’t necessary (unless you want to). I find the free version gives me everything I need. I can track my weight, the number of calories consumed, the amount of fat consumed, the amount of protein consumed, and the amount of carbs consumed. You can also set goals for other things, like exercise, if that’s what you’re into.
Setup is simple. After creating your account, sign in. I use the mobile app about 99% of the time. Go to Home>Goals. Under Nutrition Goals choose Calorie, Carbs, Protein and Fat Goals. Set the values based upon what was provided by the keto calculator you used. I set mine like this:
Carbohydrates 0g 0%
Protein 119g 20%
Fat 211g 80%
I found that by setting my Carbs to 0g 0%, it showed me how many I have eaten opposed to how much was left to reach my goal. I suggest playing around with it until it displays the values the way you would like to see them. That’s basically it. You’re now ready to track what you eat.
At this point I had everything I needed know. I knew what the Keto diet was all about. I knew how it worked and why. I knew what I needed to do and how to get started. Except for one thing, what I could eat and what I shouldn’t eat.
Too Eat – Or Not To Eat
Knowing I wanted to eat very low carb was one thing, but almost everything we eat has carbs. I found out, that like with most things dietary, there were good carbs and bad carbs. Figuring out what to eat, and what not to eat, actually turned out to be easier than I thought. Research led me to determine there were a few easy rules to follow.
Don’t eat anything that comes out of a bag (unless it’s frozen veggies or berries)
Don’t eat anything that comes out of a box
Don’t eat anything handed to you through a window
Don’t eat anything white (unless it’s cauliflower)
Don’t eat anything that tastes overly sweet (this includes most fruits)
Don’t eat anything that is advertised as low fat (DO NOT FEAR FAT!!)
Do eat real food
Do eat meat and other animal based products
Do eat vegetables grown above ground, especially leafy green vegetables (except corn)
Do eat limited amounts of nuts
Do eat limited amounts of berries
Do eat limited amounts of dark chocolate (at least 70% minimum, higher is better)
Do make water your drink of choice
Let’s break it down a little further.
Don’t eat anything that comes out of a bag, from a box, or through a window – because it’s most likely highly processed junk food that’s full of carbohydrates, high in calories, and low in nutritional value. Chips come in bags, pizza comes in boxes, and fast food usually comes in a bag or box through a window!
Don’t eat anything white – because it most likely contains grains, flour, and/or sugar. Each of these items is packed full of carbs. These are foods like bread, pasta, crackers, pizza crust, and potatoes. I know! Those are a list of some of my favorites too. But I assure you there are delicious low carb alternatives to each of them. (look for recipes in future posts)
Don’t eat anything that tastes overly sweet (maybe I should just say sweet) – If it tastes sweet in some way, it probably contains sugar. Even fruit falls into this category. Sugar will raise insulin levels which turns off access to our stored fat.
Don’t eat anything just because it says it’s low fat – To have any success with Keto you have to forgot all the hype, hysteria, and fears forced upon us for the last several decades. There is no sound medical study to support any of the things we’ve been told about fat. Additionally, when a product is manufactured to be low fat, something else is added to replace the taste lost with the fat. That something is usually sugar. DO NOT FEAR EATING GOOD FATS!
Everything in the “Do Eat” list above after “Do eat real food” is, well, “real” food. It’s found in nature. It doesn’t have labels on it because there are no added ingredients. All that’s in Broccoli is Broccoli! All of these foods are found on the perimeter aisles of the grocery store. These are the foods we need to focus on eating, and eventually, you will crave them.
Now the research was done. All of my questions were answered. All that was left was to take the plunge … and I’m soooooooooooo glad I did.
Doing Keto – Experience Based Advice for Success!
Here are some things to know that might help you if you’re going to try the keto diet. I find the low carb diet to be extremely successful for my weight loss and keto helped get me there. My diet has evolved to something different now, and I’ll get to that in an upcoming post, but it’s still the same basic premise. I’ll never go back to the SAD diet, the way I ate before.
Become aware of yourself … your hunger, your cravings, and your thoughts. Losing weight, for most of us, is going to be a battle with yourself and your addictions to food. Make sure your desire to lose the fat is stronger than your desire for the 10 seconds of pleasure you’ll get from putting something high in carbs into your mouth.
I suggest you think about why you want to lose weight, and I mean really think about it. Have some attainable goals that you want to reach. One of mine was I wanted to fit into some clothes I had never worn and others that I had outgrown. Think about these when you’re thinking of giving in to your cravings, because they will come, but eventually, when you break through the carb addiction they will stop! You’re going to need some mental tools.
It takes a while until you are in ketosis, or a ketogenic state, when your body is producing ketones. Estimates range between 4 days and 2 weeks. I think it took me about 7 days. I think in the beginning consuming high fat helps your body learn to use fat as fuel, and helps you get into ketosis. Fat is very tasty, satisfying, and also helps to control your appetite.
As you’re becoming “keto”, you may experience some side effects, like an increase in urination. Increased urination can drain the body of electrolytes, the resulting effect is known as the keto flu. Adding some sea salt to your water, taking some magnesium, or drinking bullion can help. (personally, I never experienced the keto flu, but I did pee a lot in the beginning.) Drink lots of water.
When counting your carbs, there are two schools of thought. You can count the total carbs in a food or the net carbs. Net carbs are the total carbs minus the fiber. If total carbs is 7g and fiber is 5g, the net carbs will be 2g. I’ve always used net carbs. Some veggies and nuts are high carb, but when you subtract the fiber, they’ll fit well into your macros for the day.
Once you become adapted to the keto diet, you’ll notice some positive changes. The best of these being increased mental clarity and appetite suppression. After about 6 months or so, depending on how metabolically challenged you are, you’ll become what is known as fat adapted. Fat adaption means it is easier for your body to enter a state of ketosis. At this point, if you’re inclined, you can have a cheat meal occasionally. Only do this if you know you can handle it, if you’re willing to pay the price in potential side effects (like weight gain), if you’ve planned it, and you know you can get right back on plan with your next meal.
Did you notice there wasn’t much talk in this post about calorie intake with keto? Although there is validity to the rules of physics when it comes to weight loss, on the keto diet you will naturally eat fewer calories due to the types of food you’re eating. You will find yourself more satisfied and naturally eat less. A natural calorie deficit will result in weight loss.
Lastly, if you have a lot of fat on your body, after your body re-learns how to use fat as fuel, you won’t need to focus on getting additional fat. Up until that point, you can get more fat by adding butter or olive oil to your veggies. I added butter to my coffee for about the first 6 months, it tastes delicious and provided some added fat to my diet!
I dived into Keto head first. I was all-in. I went full on Keto. Was it hard? Absolutely! There is a saying that really applies here, “Short term pain equals long term gain” … Or you can go the other way, which was the way I lived my life for way too many years, “Short term gain equals long term pain”. The pain was real and it was for a long, long time.
I have an overwhelming feeling of responsibility to share what I’ve learned, and the success I’ve found, with others needlessly living life overweight, and fighting the same struggle that I am. I truly hope this helps somebody.
If you have a question, please leave it in the comments and I will do my best to provide an answer.
What you do today is who you’ll be tomorrow. You are capable of great things!