I’ve decided to begin a ketogenic diet. Actually, today is day 4. I’m phlyersphan on MyFitnessPal if you’d like to follow along!
What is keto, you ask? It’s basically a low-carb, moderate protein, high fat diet that maintains the body’s metabolism in a state of nutritional ketosis, burning primarily fat for fuel instead of glucose, keeping blood sugar low. (This is NOT the same as diabetic ketoacidosis, which happens when both ketone levels AND blood sugar are elevated). I won’t get into the nitty gritty here; to learn more, check out this Beginner’s Guide to the Ketogenic Diet.
Low-carb diets aren’t new. The Atkins diet started out in the 70s (and may or may not be ketogenic, depending how you do it). Likewise, I’m not new to low-carb diets. Many years ago (I did the math… 2003-ish? maybe 14 years ago?), I did the Atkins diet for 9 months, and it worked really well for me. I lost 45 pounds without much effort and no additional exercise, and I enjoyed eating that way. At the time, I still ate meat, but after more than 9 months of success on the diet, I suddenly started having bizarre symptoms – the inability to think straight, disruption of my menstrual cycle (even though I was on the pill), and a few other things that seriously alarmed me. I attributed them to the low-carb diet because when I went back to eating carbs, everything cleared up. In retrospect, I think I was suffering nutritional deficits and electrolyte imbalances because I was a junk-food low-carb eater. I grew up on convenience foods and fast foods, and didn’t start cooking and eating vegetables and whole foods until several years later (when I went vegetarian). I don’t think low-carb was to blame for my symptoms.
Why am I doing keto? I started thinking about my experience with Whole30. I enjoyed the Whole30 plan. The lack of protein options for vegetarians got old fast, but the improvement in my sleep in particular convinced me that there’s something to cutting sugar. I’m also starting to feel like invisible evils like inflammation are coming to get me and aging my body, and it’s mildly terrifying. I’d jokingly say that as soon as I turned 40, everything started going downhill with aches and pains for no apparent reason, but I know it’s more due to years of neglect and yo-yo dieting – metabolic abuse, essentially. My life has revolved around inflammatory foods, for the most part. If I want this body to look and feel any younger than its age, I’ve got to kick it into gear and stop the abuse.
The Whole30 diet was low-carb and paleo, and the paleo part is where it’s tough to be a vegetarian on the plan. I had to break a bunch of rules to modify the Whole30 for a vegetarian approach, and there weren’t many protein options besides eggs (since dairy is disallowed). The keto diet seems expansive to me, compared to Whole30!
While my primary desires from this are to keep my blood pressure in check and reduce overall inflammation, I’d also like to lose weight. My weight goes hand in hand with my blood pressure, as I’ve got a point where it’s like flipping a switch; one pound above, and my bp is 140/90. One pound below, and I’m back to 105/65. (My blood pressure is naturally on the low end of normal, even when I’m overweight, until I hit that switch-flip weight). My bp is still fine right now, but I’m closer to the danger zone than I’d like to be. Granted, my danger zone is “pre-hypertension,” but I don’t want ANY kind of hypertension, considering my blood pressure has been on the low side my entire life.
I don’t expect to lose 100 pounds like my last serious weight loss effort (which was based on calorie counting and running half marathons), but I’d like to drop a couple sizes. I’m calorie counting on keto via my macros, but I do not have the time nor the inclination to get back to running in the hilly Shenandoah Valley. I said RIP to running when I left the flat lands of suburban Chicago. I do plan to do some DIY weight training, as I really enjoyed the weight lifting component of Crossfit and miss it. Someday I’ll formalize my training and go back to the gym membership and personal trainer, but for now, my budget doesn’t allow it, and I’ve got enough weight to lose that I can sufficiently DIY it until I plateau and need professional guidance.
I’m combining the keto diet with an 8-16 intermittent fasting approach (eat within an 8 hour window each day, and fast for 16 hours). The fasting isn’t much of a change from how I normally eat. Typically, I eat 2 meals per day. I don’t “skip” breakfast (I guess I do brunch!), but my stomach can’t really take food right away upon waking up. So I usually don’t eat until a few hours after I get up. Then I go to work or whatever, and then come home and have dinner. Without dieting, I was probably fasting on average 12-14 hours, so 16 isn’t much of a change. I’m structuring it so that I eat between 1pm and 9pm each day.
I take a multivitamin (the same one I’ve been taking daily for a few years now – Mega Foods Women’s Daily 40+) and am also supplementing with magnesium and potassium, 2 things that some people run low on doing a ketogenic diet. I learned something new as I was researching keto – that my little heart palpitations that my doctor said are of no concern (after an EKG) are probably caused by an electrolyte imbalance. Two days into keto, I had a palpitation, and then got foot cramps that night. I had read that the fluttery-heart can be caused by an electrolyte imbalance. I ate some avocado and took a magnesium and a potassium the next morning, and voila. Back to normal. So I will keep on taking the magnesium and potassium as well. I need to get a pill-form B12 because I have been in love with cherry flavored B12 gummy vitamins, and since they’re full of sugar, they’re off the table. (Most vegetarians need to supplement B12, because it primarily occurs in meat. It used to also come from trace minerals in the soil from fruits and vegetables, but we grow food in such depleted soil these days that it’s not an adequate source of B12 anymore).
I’m shooting for macro targets of 25g net carbs (carbs minus fiber), 125g fat, and 75g protein – approximately 1,525 calories per day. On previous calorie counting diets, I tended to do well around 1,600 calories per day (1,800 when I was running 20+ miles per week). So while this is slightly lower in calories, I wanted macro numbers that were easier to remember, because my approach is to hit my macros. Hitting the net carb macro is priority #1 (since low-carb keeps you in ketosis), followed by fat (since fat is the primary fuel while in ketosis), followed by protein (since it’s important to avoid muscle loss – though too much protein can kick you out of ketosis or result in gluconeogenesis, when the body converts excess protein to glycogen that can be used as glucose. We want to be burning primarily fat, not glucose). If I hit my macros, the calorie count will follow.
I’m curious to see if keto cures my vertigo. I have positional vertigo (usually only happens when I’m laying down, and comes and goes for a few weeks to a few months at a time, a few times a year). Years ago I tried medication for it (though the doctor didn’t do any tests – just took my word and prescribed something… can’t remember what), and the medication made me feel so awful that I went off of it quickly. Since I spend my days primarily upright, the vertigo is usually only an issue when I’m trying to sleep. It’s something I’m definitely keeping my eyes on. A couple weeks ago, a new round of vertigo started – just a minor bout this time. We’ll see if keto impacts it or makes it go away. It seems irrelevant (as vertigo is an inner ear thing), but I’m finding some indications that blood sugar and electrolytes can impact dizziness. Maybe my vertigo isn’t vertigo at all. While finding a solution would be awesome, I’d also be kind of pissed, since I’ve had the dizziness issue for the past 25 years…. and all I needed was to eat right?! We’ll see.
So far (4 days in), I’m finding that keto foods play nice with the things I like to eat. The fathead pizza crust recipe I discovered on Whole30 is back with a vengeance, and eating everything with glorious butter and cheese is out of this world for my taste buds. Today I made the Ultimate Keto Buns and they’re so good, I am in (veggie) burger bliss. The Beyond Meat plant-based proteins are fine for keto! And they’re the best faux-meats I’ve ever tried, so much so that sometimes they scare me a little… like, did they accidentally put a cow in here? Because it tastes like it… I also tried these 2-minute keto buns in a mug which – while a little eggy – weren’t bad at all and will do when I don’t have time to make a batch of buns.
By day 3, I was in ketosis (and confirmed via urine testing strips). That third day, I started to feel a little crappy for about an hour and a half – just long enough to think, “Here it comes… the keto flu.” I planned to hit ketosis going into the weekend so if I did feel like crap, at least I could stay home. But as soon as I thought the keto flu was setting in, it went away and I’ve felt great ever since. No hunger to speak of, and no trouble with fasting.
No complaints so far! While the first week will surely include some water weight loss, I’m down 3# as of yesterday. Here we go…
Keep calm photo: https://flic.kr/p/YngCdT