I cannot believe we are already two days into March… of 2017! Today I wanted to give you a 6-week review of our experience on the keto diet, an overview of ketogenesis, a little science through a Q&A. I will post Keto recipes over the next few weeks and they will eventually be linked into this article. I will preface this with the fact that I am not a nutritionist, I know there are arguments to the lifestyle, and all information here is opinion-formed based on what I found on the internet and through my personal experience. You should always talk to your doctor before making dietary changes.
Per usual, my husband and I wanted to be healthier this year (we did not set any goals and you can see more about why in THIS post). We are constantly looking to improve our lifestyles, health, and overall well-being. In 2016 I started amping up my protein intake and varying my workouts to gain muscle and strength. Toward the end of last year I was listening to a podcast on nutrition and heard the phrase “ketosis” mentioned. I am a self-proclaimed research-aholic, so I ctrl + tab to my Google-set home page and searched the phrase. I began noticing talk of the keto diet everywhere from family to pinterest. Fast forward to mid-January after I had pneumonia: I was looking to curb my addiction to our candy bowl at work- that my office happens to be closest to- and my husband was looking to drop the last bit of weight he had gained since we met.
We decided to give it a try after I read up on the science and theory behind it. Here are some questions I had to begin, because I wanted to learn all about it after I read some of the benefits.
What are macros?
In the fitness world, your macros are the ratio or combination of 3 primary calorie/energy sources you consume: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. People manipulate their calories or food intake to obtain their ideal body. Of course everyone’s bodies are different and we are all made differently, so keto may work for some and others may not be able to get past the initial hump that is converting your body into a fat burner. There are side effects called the keto flu, but there is more information on that later.
What is the ketogenic diet?
The keto diet is a low net-carb, high-fat diet that helps you lose weight by basically eating meat and cheese and yummy fatty foods. You basically trick your body into burning fat by removing the primary source of food we as a culture consume: sugars. (But FAT IS BAD? It depends- more information on this later).
Along with weight, a keto diet will reduce or eliminate sugar cravings, Estrogen, mood swings, fatigue, cholesterol, brain fog, inflammation, bodily pain, bloating, and heartburn. There exists research showing it will increase your HDL cholesterol levels (which is a good thing), enhance endurance for workouts, and keep you full all day. Type 2 Diabetics can literally use the keto diet to go off or reduce insulin. It can reverse Type 2 diabetes in most cases. Epileptics can use the diet to prevent or reduce seizures. There is even a theory that sugar is the entire cause of cancer and that cancer growth can be stopped or prevented by becoming keto-adapted – or by even getting into ketosis just a couple times a year. Finally and most personally, a keto diet has been shown to slow or prevent Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimers- both of which run heavy in my husband and my family. Reading that fact alone quadrupled my interest in the diet.
What is ketosis?
Ketosis is a metabolic state of the body in which your body is using your fat stores for energy, rather than relying on sugar, causing you to lose weight. If you are in a state of ketosis, your body is shifting your cellular metabolism (yeah I’m talking about mitochondria, so get excited!) from relying on glucose for energy to re-learning how to use fat as energy, as cavemen and our ancestors did. Bread and processed food has not been around forever.
What is keto-adapted?
Keto-adapted means your body has been conditioned to burn your fat stores, rather than glucose (sugar), for energy. You train your body to use your fat for energy, along with the by-product ketones (explained later) for energy.
What are carbs?
There are 3 main types of carbohydrates: Sugar, Starch, and Fiber. (And a 4th newer type called sugar alcohols that is rarely found in foods but is being utilized more commonly with the growing popularity of keto).
How do you calculate net carbs?
grams of Net Carbs = grams of Total Carbs – grams Fiber
I read something about sugar alcohols. What are sugar alcohols?
Ok, ok… truthfully “sugar alcohols” are a 4th type of carb. Sugar alcohols are neither sugar NOR alcohol, but the chemical structure is very similar to both. Your body does not digest sugar alcohols (also called “Polyols”) the same as any other form of macronutrient. Most common are erythritol, maltilol, and sorbitol. I just try to avoid them honestly, but it is an easy way to have a sweet treat a couple weeks in and can replace sugar in cooking. When I need a sweetener, I use Swerve that can be found HERE.
grams of Net Carbs = grams of Total Carbs – grams of Fiber – grams of Sugar Alcohols.
Sugar alcohols taste sweet but do not do a quarter of the damage to our glycemic index, so you can actually eat as much sugar alcohols in the keto diet as you want. Be weary- they have a laxative effect if you over-consume. You will definitely notice that excess sugar alcohols will not breakdown until your lower intestines. One fun fact is that your saliva enzymes that typically breakdown sugar cannot break down the sugar alcohols, so sugar alcohols do not cause tooth decay.
How do you get into ketosis?
Eat between 10-20 grams MAX CARBS to get into ketosis your first week. Stay under 30 grams of carbs to become keto-adapted over time. The whole goal is to lower your blood sugar and insulin levels. You do this by and can speed it up by eating as little carbs as possible to start.
How many carbs do I normally eat?
You probably eat between 200-300 carbs a day. No joke.
How is this different from counting calories?
Calories = energy. Consuming fat gives you over twice the amount of energy than the weight of carbs (sugar) or protein. Your body also takes twice as long to convert fat to energy, so you feel full twice as long. It is logic that it is not how much you eat, but what you eat. You can eat an entire bag of Twix bars to fullfill your calories, but you are probably going to pass out halfway through your workout.
A low-calorie diet can also put your body into starvation mode, which obviously leads to binging and in some instances a slow in your metabolism. With keto you are eating tons of calories, are full, and can still lose weight.
How is this different from Atkins?
Atkins is simply “low carb.” The keto diet is a macro set of 5% carbohydrates, 25% protein, and 70% fats. Keto focuses on lowering blood insulin levels in order to get into ketosis or a keto-adapted state.
So what can I not eat?
Bread, Pasta, Ice Cream, Candy, Chips, Soda, Beer, Potatoes, Whole milk, and FRUITS. It seems like lot, but if you can think of a food, there exists a keto-friendly replacement of some form!
I thought fruit was healthy?
This was most shocking for me as it was half of my normal intake. The theory is that fruit nowadays is GMO- it has all been genetically modified. Even hundreds of years ago men were breeding plant species to get the juiciest, sweetest version of fruit possible. The fruit we eat today is not the fruit the Garden of Eden held. Just avoid it while you are on the keto diet- it is only short term.
So what can I eat?
Chicken, steak, pork, fish, eggs, vegetables, all the cheese and butter your heart can take, coffee, water, nuts, and more. Scroll down to the bottom to find the link to my 1-Week Keto Meal Plan!
Can I have a cheat day or cheat meal?
You are eating so many calories of fat with keto that you should not need or crave a cheat meal after a couple weeks. And if you are craving sugar you likely never got into ketosis in the first place. You do want to detox from sugar. I have the WORST sweet tooth and if I can do this, you can do this. If you cheat you simply stop burning fat, prevent keto-adaption, and your body will go back to relying on spiked blood sugar for energy. Your body is either in ketosis- or its not, and its not worth the effort of eating low carb (Atkins style) if you aren’t willing to commit to a full keto diet. That is just my two sense, and I promise it is not that bad.
What about alcohol?
Since alcohol is not digested the same way as carbs in our bodies, most hard liquors are fine to drink. The toughest part to determine is what to mix with. Coke Zero, Diet Pepsi, and Diet Ginger Ale are all carb free. A Manhattan typically has about 3 carbs. Michelob Ultra is 3 carbs a can, while Bud Select is 2 carbs a can. Just one glass of Pino Noir is about 3.4 carbs. Champagne also has about 1.5 carbs a glass. Brad and I typically stick to Jim Beam with Coke Zero.
I am not currently vegan, vegetarian, or lactose-intolerant, so I am unsure of how realistic this diet could be if you are. There are plenty of vegan keto youtubers so you may be able to find more information there. I am however extremely allergic to cashews and pistachios, so most my recipes are tree-nut free.
What’s the catch?
You caught me! I hate to break it to you, but no matter how healthy you think you are, you are addicted to sugar. In THIS study conducted with mice, sugar was shown to be more addictive than cocaine in addicted and non-addicted mice. Sugar is more addicting than coke! And when addicts cease use of their vice, they experience withdrawals. The KETO FLU is a 3-5 day period of unfortunate side effects of your blood sugar dropping; this is caused by an electrolyte imbalance.
What is this keto flu?
Keto Flu is a 2-7 day effect of sugar withdrawals. During ketosis your liver releases ketones as the by-product of fat breakdown. The ketones are released via urine. You will notice you have to pee 3 times as often as normal. Unfortunately, these ketones are connected to all the good electrolytes your body needs! The electrolyte imbalance combined with sugar cravings may result in a confused circadian rhythm, nausea, fatigue, muscle cramps and weakness, constipation, lightheadedness, and upset stomach. Some people that drastically cease food intake and workout like crazy may experience ketosis accidentally. But if you are aware that this will occur you can take steps to minimize the symptoms.
You can reduce effects by supplementing with electrolytes, go easier in your workouts, drink a TON of water ALL DAY, load your food with Himalayan SALT, and eat more fat. Listen carefully to your body and if you need to have 5-10 more carbs the day you are feeling the effect, thats fine. It may take you longer to reach ketosis, but caring for your body is the ultimate goal here. Next, I highly recommend Ultima Electrolyte Powder for replacing those lost electrolytes. It is calorie and carb free. It is hard to mix because it is simply minerals you suspend into water. My favorite flavors are Lemon, Grape, and Pomegranate Cherry. It has the main electrolytes you need: Magnesium, Potassium, Chloride, Calcium, Phosphorus, Zinc, Vitamin C, etc.
The keto flu does pass, your body will balance out, and you will begin reaping the benefits of stabilizing your blood sugar.
By drastically decreasing your carbohydrate intake, you have less glucose/sugar in your body and your cells slowly start to reach back to that foreign source of energy- GLYCOGEN or FAT. Your liver breaks down the fat and by-products of this breakdown are fatty acids and glycerol. That by-product is used by your body again, leaving acetoacetate that breaks down into KETONES – mostly Beta-hydroxybutyrate (aka BHB) and Acetone. Eventually your body learns to convert the BHB to energy ALSO (after keto adaption), which is great!
Calorie restriction or starvation eventually breaks down muscle. Because you will be eating a ton of calories, you will keep the muscle you have and still lose fat.
How will I know when I am in ketosis?
Buy and pee on THESE KETO STICKS. They are $10 for the only pack you will probably ever need. I believe they measure the BHB ketone, so once you become keto adapted after several weeks they will no longer work to measure your ketones (but you are probably still in ketosis).
How long do I eat keto?
I will leave this open-ended because we are going on 6 weeks and I have zero interest in sweets or bread. I did go off the diet this past weekend and I do not expect to maintain it over next 2 months. I do truly feel I have had plenty of time to break any addiction to sugar. I have an inkling that I may actually be one of the few people truly allergic to gluten (I am getting allergy tested soon), so I do not plan to eat bread or candies again.
How does eating MORE fat not MAKE you fat?
Here is the thing: We have always been told that a high-fat diet will cause heart disease and obesity. THIS IS TRUE, but the key part of this equation is that the doctor is ASSUMING that you are also eating high-carb.
High carb + High Fat = Just Fat.
LOW carb + Fat = Balance & Energy
Carbs will ALWAYS win when it comes to our body converting what we ingest for energy. So of course the fat is stored. BUT IF YOU REMOVE CARBS FROM THE EQUATION, your body consumes all the fat you consume.
On keto, we are limiting carbs so our bodies are forced to use the chemical mechanism that burns fat. We train our bodies to burn fat for energy often (keto-adaptation). Excess is not stored but excreted (such a gross word). Again, fats take longer to digest, so your stomach feels full longer resulting in you consuming less. Fat is GOOD.
The sugar industry boomed in the 80’s and sugar was added to EVERYTHING. The sugar industry ran propaganda saying that fat caused obesity because they assumed and wanted everyone to think that sugar was the way to go for energy. This propaganda has maintained in society’s mindset even today. Everyone knows sugar is bad, but they do not realize just how much we are unnaturally consuming. Consider this new thought and idea.
All the data I can find says a keto diet lowers fat, cholesterol, and has amazing benefits that have not yet been explored. This study featured on NPR.org essentially says that low carb is more effective than low-fat at burning weight, improving cholesterol profile, and lowering blood sugar, but that it is “probably not” good long-term (no data was provided to back this up). I feel the diet is mostly understudied, and it is so non-mainstream that people do not even want to consider that a thought they have held their entire life could be wrong.
Now a quick note on the cancer claim:
For years people have claimed that cancer was genetic and zillions of $ have been spent on genetic researching. Some forms are obviously caused by a genetic mutation, but for the major forms of cancer, the gene mutation occurs as a result of the cell becoming a tumor. Studies do show that survival rates are lowest for people with high blood sugar. Cancerous cells thrive on glucose and the theory is, from my understanding in lamens terms, is that after years of lazily converting sugar to energy through ATP, our cellular mitochondria get lazy and are injured/insulted (i.e. they ‘grow old’/unusable) and turn to cancerous cells through insult. The tumors grow and spread through fermentation of – you guessed it- sugar. The booming sugar industry of the 60’s – present helped suppress this idea, along with the idea that “fat” is bad. If you are interested in this topic and want to know more, listen to THIS PODCAST on Cancer, Ketosis with Thomas Seyfried. If you would like to learn more about the sugar industry, listen to THIS PODCAST called One More ‘Case Against Sugar with Gary Taubes. If you are interested in studies on the Ketogenic diet or the differences from a Low-fat diet, check out this collection of analyzed studies HERE.
To get started I moved all the carb-laden goodies from our pantry into another cabinet. It was grocery store time anyway, so we did not waste much food. We bought The Ketogenic Cookbook and decided to start with ibreatheimhungry.com’s 3-day kickstart plan. Ladies in particular should scroll down to the “ladies only section.” I experienced exactly what is described. I varied a lot of the meals because I do not like eggs and I cannot eat cashews/pistachios. I pinned a million ketogenic recipe pins on PINTEREST. Finally, we decided what to eat for the week and headed to the store. The most difficult part was typing in individual spices and recipes into MYFITNESSPAL.COM to determine our macros, because there are ‘hidden’ carbs in things like sauces and spices.
I had major cravings for sugar the first 3 days, but I knew it was just a habit craving and I was focused on fixing the habit. The only KETO-FLU side effects me OR my husband experienced were muscle fatigue, cramps, and sore-to-the-bone aches ONE night, simultaneously on day 3. Day 4 seemed great and we were over the keto flu by day 5. It really seemed easier than I had read. We were “in ketosis,” based on our KETO STICKS, on day 3.
I began at 127 +/- 4 lbs. Keep in mind that I was not trying to lose weight, and I lost 2 pounds of muscle before hand during pneumonia. I am now at around 122 +/- 2 lbs, so I lost 4-5 pounds. I have not once over the past 6 weeks felt overly full, bloaty, or crampy. I need further testing to confirm that diet was the culprit, but I believe eating ketogenically stopped my eczema. I am typically covered in rashes by February. I feel more mellow and stable throughout the day and do not get the 2-PM tiredness or afternoon crash (this is a result of my stable blood sugar). I experience less mood swings, and most noticeably, I feel happier and have an amazing sense of clarity – absence of brain fog! I did not understand brain fog until I went on a ketogenic diet. I feel focused and have been able to get a lot more accomplished in the day, which has perfectly coincided with starting this blog! Finally, my skin is the clearest it has ever been.
I also have a very sensitive stomach as I am allergic to a ton but have never been officially tested. I ate normally but intelligently this past weekend on a bachelorette party, and spent Monday and Tuesday fighting migraines, aura, and tummy aches. I also noticed eczema popping up on my arm for the first time this winter, which leads me to believe my eczema is caused by an allergy I eliminated through the diet.
My husband, however, flooded 15-20 pounds with light exercise, hot yoga, and the keto diet. He is the lightest and thinnest I have ever seen him. He especially lost inches from his tummy. A benefit of keto is that it targets visceral fat, the pot-belly forming fat around our organs. He says he has a more regulated appetite and that he feels it has curbed his snacking habits and improved his eating schedule and conscientiousness.
We both agree that socializing, trying to figure out what to eat when we go out, beer, and having to buy new clothes have been the worst part. That is all!
I am posting a 1-Week Ketogenic Meal Plan next week. Comment below if you have any questions and tune in tomorrow if you would like to give keto a try next week!
With Joy, Audrey