I’ve never been much of a ‘dieter,’ per se. I’m not a fan of the restriction that often lives hand-in-hand with promises of certain physical or mental benefits here and there. Isn’t the preservation of your overall sanity worth more than any (often short-lived) pride you get for turning down dessert?
A month ago, my answer would have been absolutely. However, 4 weeks into doing keto and I was amazed at how my sanity didn’t even seem tested. All the negative connotation associated with ‘dieting’ seemed to fade into the background, along with my cravings for sugar and pasta.
But that’s skipping way far ahead. There’s a lot to go over about this way of eating that’s suddenly sparking major interest in the health community. Let’s begin with the basics.
What is keto?
A ketogenic diet is one comprised primarily of fat and next to nothing in terms of carbs, with moderate protein. In legitimate macro terms, that means that my daily caloric intake would need to come from 70-75% fat, 15-20% protein, and a *minuscule* 5-10% carbohydrate.
Once you’ve been eating this way for a week or so (duration varies from person to person), you enter a state of ketosis. In this state, as opposed to running on glucose derived from carbs, your body begins producing ketones for energy.
Essentially, your body runs on fat, not sugar.
This switch in energy source is supposed to come with a slew of health benefits: increased energy levels, sharper mental focus, weight loss, hormone and blood sugar regulation, and glowing skin are just a few of the features that drew me in.
While all grains, sugar, fruit, and root veggies are a no-go on this plan, most keto-aficianados stick to meals filled with meats, high-fat dairy, avocado, nuts, seeds, healthy oils, and tons and tons of vegetables. The closest cousin I can think of to this plan is paleo, as meat and veg seem to be its staples.
For the first week or so, keto followers experience something called the “carb flu” or “keto flu,” where there body, so accustomed to running on carbs, isn’t quite sure where to look for energy. You also lose quite a bit of electrolytes through this process (sodium, potassium, and magnesium are the big three), so every keto website on planet earth recommends taking supplements to ease you through the transition.
Alright, I just gave you the *way* simple run-down of keto. If you’re hungry for more, check out this thorough explanation.
Why did I do it?
Honestly? It seemed like a challenge. To actually manipulate the body to run on an entirely different fuel source seemed like a crazy experiment almost too good to be true.
Not to mention I dragged a solid partner-in-crime into doing it with me, my dad. Having someone to keep me accountable and answer all my questions made the process run a bit more smoothly (cue the daily phone calls: is cauliflower a carb?)
The first shopping trip: Went terribly. I loaded my cart up at my nearest Whole Foods with items I had been conditioned to avoid for years: bacon, butter, heavy cream, ghee, cheese, you name it. I flipped flopped about keto so many times I turned a 15-minute grocery trip into about an hour (several calls to my dad for advice contributed to this time-suck. And also checking out all the pretty, overpriced things Whole Foods has to offer). After filling my cart with heaps of veggies to qualm my anxiety about clogging my arteries, I checked out and decided to dive in.
Days 1-2: Felt pretty great, honestly. At this point I was doubtful carb flu was even a thing.
Days 3-7: I was so, so wrong. My legs felt like they each weighed eight tons. My whole mind felt like it was enveloped in a fog. I couldn’t focus, was less productive, and don’t even get me started on my workouts. Even the motivation of knowing I was spending $35 per class (yes, I rent shoes) wasn’t enough to hike up my energy levels for my tri-weekly Soulcycle. After downing electrolyte supplements and eating high-fat meals, my energy skyrocketed, but it was short-lived.
Weeks 2-4: That sky-rocketed energy that I just mentioned? Thank the lord it was here to stay. After my stint with the carb flu, I felt amazing. My lifts were better, my work was more productive, and I *definitely* got my money’s worth at Soul.
- The satiety. Inclusion of healthy fats into every meal helps you stay full for eons.
- Energy levels were high and constant (my workouts felt ever so slightly more kick-ass as a result, too).
- My mood was noticeably lifted.
- My food tasted damn good. Say goodbye to salad with *light* dressing and low-fat anything from the supermarket.
- Alcohol won’t kick you out of ketosis (as long as it’s hard liquor), making social outings nothing to stress about.
- Like any diet, it is restrictive.
- Dining out can be a bit tough. It’s definitely doable, but you have to be ok with being *that* person (substitutions on substitutions on substitutions).
- Dairy plays a big part in keto, and also played a big part in wrecking my skin. After the first two weeks of breakouts, I made a conscious effort to try non-dairy keto and keep my fat sources primarily to healthy oils and nuts, and my skin was eternally grateful.
- Seeing that dairy is also inflammatory, would NOT recommend for anyone following a low-FODMAP diet or especially sensitive in that realm.
So, what’s the verdict?
I’ll keep it up, for now. As mentioned previously, the largest effect on my body I’ve seen since entering ketosis has been increased, constant levels of energy, which will no doubt come in handy as I gear up to start my sophomore year at school. Seriously, though, waking up every morning feeling well-rested never gets old. That 3 o’clock energy black hole that used to exist was no longer.
I wish I could report on some amazing transformation of waking up with six-pack abs but, of course, this wasn’t the case; I’d say out of the first month, I lost about two pounds. I didn’t have much weight to lose when I started out, so the largest physical benefit I got from keto was that it is muscle-sparing, which is an obvious win for anyone focused on muscle hypertrophy (i.e., me).
Aside from the dairy-induced breakouts that plagued me for the first two weeks, my skin seemed to adopt a new…glow. It seemed smoother and clearer, and whether that’s the placebo effect at its finest or a legitimate boost in epidermis health, I’m all for it.
The satiety and reduced need to end my night with a pint of Halo Top was also an added plus. Mindless snacking, a facet of my life that honestly seemed like it was part of my personality, no longer occurred.
So there you have it. I’ve honestly enjoyed my month on keto. In a wild, mind-boggling twist of realities, I’m eating restrictively but never once actually felt restricted.
In the words of Dr. Michael Jensen of the Mayo Clinic on diets in general: “For any given person, it’s really a matter of what can they stick with.” It’s difficult and unrealistic to imagine restricted eating for the rest of my life (as long as birthdays and Thanksgiving exist this will NEVER be the case), so the plan for now is to simply roll with it. If anything, actually switching the fuel my body runs on down to the cellular level turned out to be a pretty cool science experiment.