As some of you know, I’ve been doing the “Keto” diet since mid-November. I’ve seen great results thus far; in fact I’m about
7-10 [edit: 4.8 as of 05/31/19] pounds away from my goal weight and I’ll post another personal update around the beginning of the month. As I’ve been tracking my progress via this blog and Instagram, I’ve had a few people ask me about the diet. So, I figured I’d write a story on my experience.
A couple of caveats/disclaimers (I am a lawyer after all):
- I’m not a doctor, dietician or nutritionist. I don’t claim any particular expertise, except inasmuch as I’m speaking to my experience.
- There is a LOT of information out there on Keto, and it can seem overwhelming. Although the basic premise of the diet is pretty simple–avoid carbs and sugar, and focus on protein/meat–there are a lot of other issues that can complicate progress. For purposes of this post, I’m going to try and keep it basic.
- Generally speaking, I’ve found the diet to be fairly easy to follow, but I know my experience isn’t the same as everyone else who has tried. It can be difficult when you factor in other issues (life, mental health, eating disorders), so I don’t want to make it seem like it’s all sunshine and rainbows once you get started.
- Ignore any morons who say the diet won’t work as well for women. Of course, men and women have different physiologies, but women rock the diet just the same. My friend, whom I bother with Keto-related questions every couple of weeks, has a fantastic Instagram with meals and advice. She has helped me immensely (go follow her)!
With all that said, let’s talk Keto!
The general premise of Keto is to change the way your body fuels itself. On a standard eating regimen, I learned that the body fuels itself by going to the easiest source first: Carbohydrates. Which are in just about all of our favorite foods like pizza, pasta, fruits and desserts.
Once you start the Keto diet and start cutting the carbs, there isn’t a sufficient amount of that fuel source for the body to power itself, so it goes to the next abundant one: Fat. That’s when you go into “Ketosis,” and this is where the weight loss starts. For most people it starts coming off pretty quickly.
Most of it is water weight to start. Carbs basically convert into water and the body holds them like nobody’s business. Once you’re in the diet, that weight starts to go, and depending on how much you weigh, the weight loss in the first couple of weeks (or days even) can be significant.
For people who are “merely” overweight, weight loss of 7-10 pounds in a week is common. It’s not uncommon for people to lose 25-30+ pounds in the first month, depending on what you’re starting at. That said, if you’re a woman (or man for that matter) weighing 210 lbs, you’re not going to go to 180 in a month. Most of the examples of extreme weight loss in a compressed time frame are from people who are in the 350+ weight bracket.
The other benefit of the diet once you do it consistently (and we’ll get to that later), is that it acts as a natural appetite suppressant. You simply won’t be as hungry. The technical term is “fat adaptation,” and there are a number of other benefits. Increased energy and mental clarity are a couple. The natural appetite suppression obviously aids in weight loss once you get past the initial water weight loss.
The first thing to do (and what I did) is go through your kitchen and clear out all of your carb-laden foods. Seriously. Temptation is a thing, and when you’re starting out, having that bag of chips or bagel in your cupboard could kill your diet before you get going. Out of sight, out of mind as they say.
Next, get an app to track what you’re eating. I cannot stress how important this is. There are hidden carbs everywhere, and if you’re not careful, you can bust your carb budget and stunt your progress. For example, I was drinking sugar-free Vanilla lattes and substituting half-and-half for milk, thinking I was only consuming 4-5 carbs. Turns out it was closer to 10!
When you’re watching your carbs this closely (and you will be), it can send you well over your limits. Once I found out, I switched to black coffee with some heavy whipping cream, which is only a couple of carbs at worst, even if you’re enjoying more than one cup (watch the calories though).
For food/carb tracking, I use Chronometer and it’s very user friendly. Other people use Carb Manager or My Fitness Pal. Play around with them and see which works best for you. You type in the food (or scan it), and it’ll tell you the nutritional values based on how much you eat. Also, get a food scale; it will help you with portion control. Make sure you’re honest with the numbers you’re using. If you have an extra piece of string cheese or handful of peanuts, put those in the tracker.
After that, you need to figure out what your limits are. The shorthand term is “macros.” You need to figure out what numbers you need to hit (or stay under) in each category to accomplish your goal. The four main ones are: carbs, fat, protein and calories.
To figure out your macros, input your physical stats into the Keto calculator. It’s pretty simple: All you need is your age, weight, sex and height and the calculator will do the rest. Set your exercise level to sedentary, unless you are a professional athlete or construction worker (Seriously, set it to sedentary. Even if you’re exercising 90 minutes per day, you’re still sitting down for 8-10 hours or more). You’ll have to estimate your body fat percentage and determine out how much of a calorie deficit you want to reach (20% is a good start).
Lastly, get a scale to weigh yourself so you can track your progress. I recommend the RenPho bluetooth scale. It syncs to an app on your phone and measures everything (and I mean everything), so you can see how you’re doing. Also (and this may be less pleasant), take a before photo so you can physically document your progress. You’ll be glad you did at the end.
I’m a pescatarian, so seafood is a staple for me. Most of you are carnivores I’m guessing, and that provides MANY more options for the diet. Meat=good. Very good for Keto. It provides plenty of protein, which is a pretty necessary aspect of the diet, aside from tasting good (there are vegan/vegetarian offshoots of the diet to be sure). Importantly, most meats, seafood and poultry have next to no carbs. So a nice juicy steak or salmon has the benefit of filling you up, providing essential nutrients AND keeping you from breaking your carb budget.
Now the bad news: To stay under the carb budget, you’re going to be cutting out, well, everything that you’ve ever loved to eat. Bread, pasta, pizza, mac & cheese (well, the mac part anyway), sugary sweets, most fruits, juices and milk. Sorry, they’re all full of carbs. Just two slices of wheat bread or a banana will put you over your carb budget for the day, so they’re basically off limits.
Vegetables are a bit trickier. They’re an important staple of the diet and many are very low carb, but a good many of them are also no-no’s. Corn, beans, peas and carrots are bad for the diet; celery, zucchini, and cauliflower are great, subject to portion control. The one people can’t understand are fruits (“how can an apple be bad on a diet?”). They basically all have high carb content.
Bottom line, stay away from fruits on the diet, unless you can budget it in your daily carbs. Berries are okay-ish, but still too high for my liking. They’re personally not worth it to me and I’d rather spend my carbs elsewhere. YMMV, but just be careful with them.
This is where people get tripped up. To guarantee you’re in Ketosis (and thus burning fat), you have to stay under 20g carbs per day. If you are able to do that, you WILL be in Ketosis–no ifs, ands or buts. Now, there are people who can get into Ketosis having more than 20g per day, but you’re risking it. Best to just stay under 20g and not worry about it.
If you want to be horrified, use your food tracking app to gauge your meals pre-Keto. You’ll never look the same way at a helping of Mac & Cheese or a slice of cake again. Or even a fruit salad.
One thing people say is that it’s dangerous to eat that much fat, as if people on the Keto diet are out there eating spoonfuls of butter (I sincerely hope not). One thing I’ve learned is that hitting your fat macros on the diet is not absolutely mandatory. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have any, but the goal is to stay at/under your fat limit, so don’t worry about excess use of the oils or grease or butter to bump your numbers. I rarely hit my fat numbers, and usually try to stay to about 50-60% of the limit.
Use your fats in the normal course of cooking meals. Olive oil is fantastic as a cooking option. Certain nuts are also great in a pinch (or as a snack of course, just check the carbs and use a scale to make sure you’re not eating too many).
Protein is important on the diet. It’s a must, really. You should be meeting your macro budget on this every day. It provides the obvious benefits you’d think of to your body. So, enjoy that steak and shrimp or low carb protein shake!
Calories in, calories out:
Counting calories is another must on the diet. If you’re eating too much, you’re not going to lose weight, even if you’re staying below your carb budget. That’s why using reasonable portions for your meals (again, get a scale) is key. Eating at a caloric deficit is essential to weight loss.
How the diet works for me:
Again, I’m a pescatarian, so my diet is a bit different. But here are some typical meals for me using Cronometer.
For you carnivores, simply substitute (or add) steak, burgers (no bun) or chicken. Eggs and cheese are also staples, though be careful of the fat numbers. I vary between one and two meals in a day, as well as a low carb protein supplement to ensure I hit my protein levels. I use Isopure and super greens in my protein shake. I also take a multivitamin.
Again, your fat macro is a limit and you should stay below it. The carb limit is absolutely a red-line and you MUST stay below 20 g to ensure Ketosis. You want to hit your protein levels, and stay below your calorie limits. There are TONS of Keto-recipies out there to supplement the diet, so you’re not eating eggs and cheese and steak every day.
One of my favorites is a batch of Keto pancakes, a great treat (so long as you don’t abuse it as it’s pretty high in carb/calorie/fat content, though well under your macro limits. And, it’ll fill you up for the day).
Once I was fat adapted, I started fasting. It has significantly assisted in my weight loss. I do 16:8 fasting, which is 16 hours with no food, and an eight-hour window where I get my meal(s) in. I typically fast between 7 pm and 11 am. The fast will not be effective if you’re consuming any signifiant calories during the 16 hour window (I’m talking more than about 30-45 calories, and some say more than 15 calories can break the fast). There is a good app called “Zero” which lets you track your fasts.
I personally wouldn’t worry about fasting until you get a month or six weeks into the diet to ensure fat adaptation, which helps with the natural appetite suppression. During your fasting period, you can drink water, coffee or tea…anything without calories. Speaking of which…
Most of you who know/follow me know that I enjoy a beer or cocktail. Unfortunately, many alcoholic drinks are not good on Keto, as you can imagine. That said, all is not lost. The main thing is to make sure you can fit your drinks in your carb/calorie budget. So, things like Michelob Ultra, vodka/soda, whiskey and Truly seltzers are perfectly fine in moderation. Same with sugar free Red Bull/Rockstar with your spirits which generally have no significant carbs.
However, your IPA’s and other carb-heavy beers are pretty much out. Same with juices and liqueurs. As a side-effect of the diet, I’ve discovered that my tolerance for alcohol is severely diminished on the diet, as I am not drinking nearly as much (and I weigh significantly less). I actually haven’t had a beer in months (shock!).
Exercise has an…interesting role in the Keto diet. Somewhat counterintuitively, exercise can have a stalling effect on weight loss. One, because muscle weighs more than fat. More interestingly (and less known), exercise results in micro tears in your muscles that the body uses water to repair. So you end up retaining more water, which can stall your progress pure weight loss sense.
However, that’s not a reason not to exercise, as you’ll see massive benefits in lost inches along your waistline, and tightening of loose skin. In my case, I didn’t exercise for the first two+ months of Keto, but since April I have been in the gym an average of five times per week. It has absolutely helped, but don’t be surprised if you don’t see a massive weight loss while you’re doing more intensive exercise.
After an initial weight loss at the beginning of April, my weight loss stalled for several weeks, even as I was seeing progress in other areas. Your more defined body and lost inches will more than make up for any stalls.
This is super important when starting out. Dropping all that water weight at the beginning can cause something called “Keto Flu.” It’s mostly a fancy way to say dehydration. Trust me, it’s not fun. It’s important you get sufficient water and electrolytes to replace what you’ve lost. The simple way to get around it is to add sodium/potassium to your meals. Broths are great. So salt away.
As with any diet, you’ll see some variations in progress. Keep in mind: weight loss is not linear. Once you’re into Keto in earnest, it’s possible you’ll see a plateau where you don’t see any weight loss for a while…potentially weeks. The best advice I’ve heard from people if your progress has stalled is to reexamine your meals to make sure you’re staying under your macro limits. To that end, people recommend that you recalculate your macros for every ten pounds you lose.
The good news is that every once in a while, you’ll get the “Keto woosh.” It’s great. Basically, even after you lose all the water weight, you’ll see major progress on the scale. Sometimes you’ll wake up and see that you’ve lost three pounds in a day. Then another two. Then four. I’ve had periods where I’ve lost 9 pounds in a couple of weeks. This was well after I’d shed all of the water weight. It’s pretty fun.
Yeah, so I should probably mention this. Cheating is bad. It’ll probably happen once or twice. I had a two-week stint when I was traveling where I wasn’t very strict. Now, I wasn’t eating pizza and cake and pasta, but I was eating chips and cereal and enjoying (low carb) beer. Vegas trips are death to the Keto diet, let me tell you.
If you’re going over 20g carbs, you’re risking going out of ketosis. Aside from likely stalling your weight loss, it could also bring carb cravings back with a vengeance and result in binges, which could bring the weight back and send you spiraling back to where you started.
The bottom line is: Don’t cheat on this diet. It’s not worth it. Easier said than done I know. Best advice I can give you is to snack on Keto-friendly things like nuts and cheese, or cook Keto-friendly desserts. Better yet, drink some water or coffee or tea, and go for a walk.
And if you happen to cheat, don’t beat yourself up. Just start Keto again. It only takes 24-36 hours to get into Ketosis, so if you slip up, it’s easy to get back on the horse.
Good news/Bad news:
Once you really start seeing progress, you’re likely going to have clothes that don’t fit. Which means: clothes shopping! One thing I would absolutely NOT recommend going out and getting a new wardrobe halfway through. Simple reason: You’ll have to go do it again when you lose more weight.
Granted, unless you want to look like a 90’s rapper/grunge singer, or like you’re wearing a tent, you’re going to have to get *some* new clothing articles. My solution was to hit up discount stores like Ross or TJ Maxx. Thrift stores are great too. It’s not worth it to buy a $75 pair of jeans, when they will be obsolete in a few months. A $20 pair from Ross works just the same. You’ll already be impressing everyone with your weight loss anyway. No need for fancy clothes halfway through.
So, that’s about it. There is so much more information out there regarding diet, recipes and the like that it would be impossible for me to get into it here. I absolutely recommend the Keto subreddit. Lots of great information, and it’s 95% people encouraging each other (as always, there are a few fools). There’s also an in-depth FAQ. Happy Keto-ing!
TL;DR (my Keto-procedure):
- Get rid of all the carb-heavy crap in your kitchen and go shopping for Keto foods.
- Check out the Keto FAQ for answers to more in-depth questions.
- Get a Keto app and a food scale to track your food intake.
- Calculate your macros.
- Get a scale to weigh yourself and track your progress (and take a before picture. You’ll be glad you did).
- Cook delicious foods. Limit booze to Keto-compliant drinks and drink in moderation (if you need to at all). Watch out for things with hidden carbs!
- Stay under your carb, calorie and fat budget. Hit your protein budget.
- Don’t cheat.
- When you get fat adapted (and you’ll know), start fasting.
- Incorporate exercise.
- DON’T CHEAT!
- If you do cheat, start Keto again immediately.
- Hit that goal weight and reward yourself for passing milestones. Shopping for new clothes is great (well, except for the dent it will put in your wallet)! Once I get to my goal, I’ll be getting my first ever (and only) tattoo!
- Good luck!