The recent popularity of the ketogenic diet has a lot of people asking questions such as “What is the Keto diet? Does the Keto diet work? Is the Keto diet a fad? Will Keto give me a heart attack?” So let’s chat about what the Keto diet is by busting some common myths first!
If you don’t care about all that crap and just want to find out what my experience was, scroll down to “Why I Tried Keto” to skip all the learnin’.
Myths of the Keto Diet
Myth #1: It is the Atkins Diet
NOPE! The main difference between keto and Atkins is that Atkins only limits carbohydrates. As long as you keep your carbs below a specified number (depending on what phase you’re in), you can eat as much protein and fat as you want. So a mistake people fall prey to is eating a TON of protein, which when in excess, can be converted by the liver into glucose.
Glucose can keep you from entering “ketosis,” which is what you don’t want to be prevented during the ketogenic diet!
The keto diet differs from Atkins by specifying all three macronutrient percentages to target daily. The O.G. medically supervised keto diet required eating the following macros: 75% fat, 15-20% protein, 5% carbs. Therefore protein is limited, carbs are severely limited, and fat is king!
Myth #2: Ketosis is the same as Ketoacidosis
People tend to get ketosis (what you experience on keto) and ketoacidosis (a.k.a. diabetic ketoacidosis) mixed up.
Ketoacidosis is a life-threating condition people with type 1 diabetes mellitus (T1DM) and alcoholics are at risk of experiencing. To sum it up hopefully quickly:
- People with T1DM do not produce enough insulin.
- Insulin acts as a “key” to unlock a “glucose-specific door” on the cells to allow glucose (the body’s preferred fuel source) to enter the cell.
- Without that door opening up, the cells are starved of glucose.
- Therefore, their bodies look for an alternative fuel source.
- So their bodies breakdown stored fat and produce ketones, which are then used as fuel in place of glucose.
- When this ketone production is extreme and uncontrolled, the pH of the body can become too acidic, which can lead to death in the worst of cases.
However, ketosis is simply the presence of ketones in the body. This can happen if you’re on a low-carb diet, you’re fasting, and/or if you’ve consumed too much alcohol.
Myth #3: The Keto Diet is Another Fad
Not only is it not a “fad diet”, but it originated as a medically supervised diet to help people with epilepsy and seizures in the 1920s. Over the years, numerous scientific studies have supported its positive effects on:
- Seizures in children and adults
- Reduction in fasting blood glucose (FBG)
- Reduction in HbA1c
- Weight loss
- Fat loss without losing muscle
- Reduction of intramuscular fat
- Lowering inflammation markers
I wish I could share all of the studies I researched, but unfortunately, I have access only because I’m a student. Sorry folks. But you might be able to find some of them and/or partial versions online!
Myth #4: You Eat Cheese and Bacon All Day
You can abuse any type of diet and still get results if you’re only looking at short-term weight loss. For example, you can stick to a low-calorie diet and eat nothing but skittles and chips. There are vegetarians who subsist on french fries and milkshakes (I know this because I was one of them)! Just like there are people following a keto diet who choose to eat cheese and bacon all day and still see results. This doesn’t mean it’s healthy, good for you, or that you’ll experience long-term results.
However, if you’re doing keto correctly, you might end up eating more vegetables than you did before! When you eat non-starchy/non-grain carbohydrates, it’s pretty shocking how many you can eat while keeping your carb count low. A keto diet should consist of lots of healthy fats, a moderate amount of protein, lots of non-starchy vegetables, and little to no processed foods.
Why I Tried Keto
For the past 10 years, I have been obsessed with being healthy, learning about food, and nutritional science. For most of those ten years, I was doing everything dieticians and doctors would cry tears of happy joy over. High fiber, low fat, moderate amounts of lean meats, regular exercise, etc. etc. And at first, I was seeing pretty good results and weight loss (though it was mild, slow, and temperamental).
But I also never felt…good. I was tired all the time, falling asleep in the middle of the day, experienced frequent brain fog, and suddenly out of nowhere, my digestion decided to call it quits. I won’t go into detail, but it wasn’t pretty.
So what was my diet before this challenge? To start, I was hitting the perfect macronutrients prescribed by dieticians (percentages based on daily calories):
- Carbohydrates: 45-65%
- Fats: 20-35%
- Protein: 10-35%
I made 90% of my meals at home, avoiding most processed foods. The majority of my diet came from whole grains and veggies, with lean protein coming in second, healthy fats coming in third, and then fruit/desserts. I rarely splurged on food and drinks when going out (mostly because my school schedule had turned me into a hermit). The only beverages I drank were water, tea, or coffee.
However, I was diagnosed as hypothyroid during this time, my fasting glucose was borderline high (meaning I would be classified as pre-diabetic), AND could not have a normal bowel movement to SAVE MY LIFE. My energy levels were so low, that my house began to look like the home of a hoarder; dishes piled up, dirty clothes piled everywhere… And, as mentioned previously, I was becoming a hermit, barely having the energy to go to school, let alone hang out with friends.
So I started experimenting with what I was eating, and boy…did I experiment. I tried the GAPs diet, the Perfect Health Diet, the Fast Tract Diet, Paleo, low FODMAPs, going vegetarian, being vegan, low calorie, and low fat. Nothing freaking made me feel better and the weight just kept creeping up…
Enter…the Ketogenic diet.
I chose to try it specifically for three reasons:
- My blood sugar issues.
- Not being able to lose weight no matter what I ate or how much I exercised.
- My worry that I had damaged my metabolism from previous crash-dieting (1200-1300 calories/day) and intense workouts (CrossFit 1-2 hours per day, 5-7 times per week).
So shut up and get to the point, right Lana?
What Did I Eat?
Going in, I decided I wasn’t going to go crazy eating mainly bacon and cheese like some people. I wanted to get the majority of my fats from tasty meats and happy fats (avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, MCT oil, nuts, and seeds).
I bucked the keto system by eating as many vegetables as I could stand, upping my carbs to about 10-15% as opposed to 5%. I avoided starchy veggies (potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn), lowered my intake of moderately starchy veggies (carrots, onions, peas) and ate my weight in low-carb veggies (all leafy greens, mushrooms, broccoli, etc.).
I didn’t eat any processed keto foods such as Quest bars, Atkins snacks, keto-baked-goods, i.e. keto muffins, pancakes, pizza, etc.
Examples of a Typical “Nom Nom” Day
EGGS. EGGS. MORE EGGS. I loved eating egg frittatas, sometimes with bacon but always with 2 cups of some type of veggie mix and wee bit o’ cheese. Sometimes I’d have BP coffee (I don’t know why people freak about adding a TB of butter to coffee, but they’re ok with adding multiple TBs of cream as well as sugar and don’t blink an eye at a 600 calorie frappuccino). More on this later…
Or a delicious “keto” smoothie with a small number of berries, a cup of mixed greens, coconut milk, protein powder, and chia (sometimes adding matcha for a boost):
If I was stuck at school all day, I’d pack some tasty chicken curry wraps, topped with hemp seed and nutritional yeast with a cup or two of homemade chicken broth:
Or I’d have a huge salad with 2-3 cups of greens, an additional cup of raw veg, olive oil, some sort of protein, and maybe some nuts/seeds.
I’d usually have some type of tasty Thai/Indian-style dish with a protein, coconut milk, two types of veg, and my favorite Savory Spice Curry or Vindaloo seasoning. Sometimes I would add a little potato if my carbs were low that day.
Two times a week I’d bake salmon and eat with veggies to get some omega 3’s.
At first, I reaaaaally needed snacks. But after a while I didn’t! If I felt snacky I’d munch on hard-boiled eggs, cheese, Kirkland steak strips, nuts, hummus, or veggies with almond butter. Or I’d get crazy and wrap avocado in bacon (yes it’s bacon and it wasn’t frequent…sue me):
The Horrible Transition
Keto Flu is a B*%$@
Anyone who has ever attempted or read about keto has heard or experienced the dreaded “keto flu.” And it hit me pretty hard. You see, I’m what you would call a carb-a-holic, bread-fiend. If someone told me I could eat nothing else but sugar and various types of bread for my entire life, I would rejoice.
And since I was transitioning from a steady “sugar in my coffee, high grain, high carb” diet, cutting them out immediately almost killed me. Ok, I’m being dramatic. It wasn’t THAT bad, but it totally sucked. By about day two I was experiencing exhaustion like I never had before, headaches, crankiness, depression, nausea, and even body aches. It was like I was detoxing from baby heroin. I also experienced “keto rash“, which is a rare but awesome reaction your body has to ketones being released in your sweat.
But thankfully there was a lot of helpful literature online, so I upped my electrolyte intake, drank plenty of water, and slept (when I could) whenever I was tired. But that didn’t ease my brain screaming at me all day to shove anything starchy, carby, or sugary in my mouth hole.
My digestion also took a while to assimilate, but after about a week it was more regular and awesome than it was previously. I made sure to get enough fiber by either eating a lot of avocados (tons of fat and fiber) or taking an acacia fiber supplement.
When I decided to go super strict keto, I experienced insomnia, where I’d wake up at 2-3 a.m. unable to go back to sleep. Waking up at those hours with the feeling of being SUPER pumped can be a symptom that your blood sugar is too low.
Oddly enough, even though I’d have issues sleeping I’d still have plenty of energy throughout the day. Through research I came to the conclusion that for my body, my carb intake might have been too low. I experimented with adding more carbs to my dinner (i.e. potato or sweet potato), and that improved my symptoms in a couple of days.
Freaking MCT Oil
And BOOM. Weight…loss…stalled. I also noticed my energy was starting to wane for the first time since I started keto. AND…weird skin issues started popping up like uber dry patches in weird areas.
So I did some googling and found out that some people (not all) can experience odd reactions to MCT. I also learned that it’s recommended to start out with about 1/2 a teaspoon and work your way up (which I totes didn’t).
I stopped using it and watched my skin improve, my weight began to go down immediately, and my energy returned.
The Awesome Transition
So within a few days of staying strong and being buff, I was in ketosis (evidenced by my pee pee strips). And after dying from carb-withdrawal, I arose like the mighty phoenix from the ashes.
Holy freaking moly folks. I had some freaking energy. I was bouncing off the walls in the morning, probably annoying my poor, sleepy, student pals. I started exercising again, cleaning up my house, and accomplishing all the mundane and/or difficult tasks I had been putting off for months. I no longer needed a mid-day nap, and the brain fog? Gone. I…felt…great.
I noticed that I, someone who would punch a baby in the face (not really folks, calm down) if it meant I could eat a donut or polish off an entire loaf of bread, no longer had those cravings. At first, I didn’t even notice because it was so subtle.
I was no longer sad that I couldn’t have toast with my eggs, eat a small dessert after dinner, or have sugar in my coffee (which was odd because I used to obsess so much about food that I’d base my whole day upon when my next meal/snack was coming). People would eat cakes, pizza, tacos, etc. around me and I felt absolutely no urge to eat them.
And unlike other diets, I eventually didn’t require willpower. Mostly because of the fact that I wasn’t hungry and could wait longer between meals, but also because I wasn’t having those insatiable cravings!
Drum roll please…The results!
After following the keto diet for two weeks, here’s what happened:
- Fasting blood glucose
- Before: 114
- After: 94 (less than 100 is considered normal)
- Blood pressure
- Before: 120/88
- After: 116/77
- Weight: YEAH RIGHT LIKE I’D TELL YOU THAT. I did lose four pounds!
- Body fat percentage: YEAH RIGHT LIKE I’D TELL YOU THAT EITHER. I will share that I reduced my body fat by 5%
- I also lost 8.8 inches over my whole body, e.g. waist, arms, hips, and thighs
Should Everyone do Keto?
I am someone who strongly believes that there is no one diet to “rule them all.” Instead, I believe that if food can be used as a medicine, there is a diet for almost any ailment. So would I recommend keto to everyone based on my results? NOPE. However, I would recommend keto to anyone who (of course under the care of their physician):
- Has done everything “right” to lose weight and it hasn’t worked
- Is diabetic (however, you should be monitored by your physician), pre-diabetic, and/or is showing signs of insulin resistance
- Is severely overweight/obese
- Has autoimmune issues
- Has PCOS
- Suffers from metabolic syndrome
- Has blood sugar issues
- Diagnosed with epilepsy/seizures or other neurological disorders
And finally, I don’t agree with many at this point that keto is a lifelong way of eating. But I do think that it appears to be a great and temporary way of resetting your body and healing specific ailments. There is a lot more research supporting this than was previously available.
So What’s Next for Me?
How long will I continue keto? Probably until I feel comfortable that my body is done being a crazy person. Eventually, I will re-introduce unprocessed carbs back into my diet and see where that takes me, i.e. starchy veggies, fruit, brown rice, quinoa, etc.
Overall, I couldn’t be more happy with my results. And the best part? When I was done with the two-week challenge I didn’t freak out and eat pizza/ice cream/all the foods afterward (like I’d done previously with every other diet). I had absolutely no urge to! I just kept on eating how I was the previous two weeks.
This diet literally gave me back my self-control.