As some of you know, I started the Keto way of eating after viewing some pictures of me in…less than great shape. The motivation really came from my little Munchkin, […]
As some of you know, I started the Keto way of eating after viewing some pictures of me in…less than great shape. The motivation really came from my little Munchkin, who snapped the picture below of me in August 2018 while we were at a training session for the Seattle Sounders. I looked as bad as I felt, and it had become increasingly difficult to keep up with an active five-year-old (now 6 1/2; where does the time go?) without needing an inhaler (seriously).
Looking back, I’d been packing on the pounds since 2013/14 when my little girl was born, culminating in a weight I’d estimate got up to around 230 pounds (I didn’t weigh myself for obvious reasons) in September 2018.
I didn’t quite start Keto in August 2018; it took me another two months before I started to change my health habits. As it happens, November 22, 2018 marked one year since I started Keto in earnest. Actually, it was probably a few days earlier than that, but the first day I documented anything was on November 22. And since I can’t remember the exact day, I’m going with that.
PHASE I: LAZY KETO
When I decided to start Keto, I had some basic understanding of the process, as I had done the Atkins diet back around 2003-2004. The principles of the two are the same–stay under 20 grams net carbs (basically if you look at a nutrition label, you take the total carbs and subtract the carbs from fiber to get the net amount). With Atkins however, you’re supposed to be able to reintroduce carbs as you go along. Which is great, unless your willpower isn’t the best, the cravings and hunger return and you decide that a pizza and pint of ‘Cookies and Cream’ won’t hurt.
Anyway, it’s best to think about Keto as a lifestyle or way of eating, which helps focus the mind away from the dreaded “diet” word, which can have negative connotations. Thus it’s not something to go off of eventually or quit; it’s just they way I eat now.
That said, I wasn’t as dedicated to start, to be fair. Hence, the “lazy Keto” designation. The basic premise behind “lazy Keto” is simply focusing on staying around 20g net carbs. You’re not tracking your food intake, you’re not weighing your food, and not moderating alcohol intake (more on that in a bit).
Even without tracking/weighing food, as long as you’re staying under 20g carbs and not overeating calories, you’ll certainly lose weight. And I did quite a good job in the early stages. Unfortunately, I didn’t weigh myself on November 22, so I don’t know my true starting point. By the time I first weighed myself on December 27, I checked in at 219 pounds. Had I weighted myself at the beginning, I’m guessing I’d have been around 230, which easily would have been my all-time high weight. So, I was off to a good start even though I still doing things that probably impeded my progress a bit.
I dropped about 21 pounds in three months, all while doing “lazy” Keto. But as my goal was 175, I knew I was going to have to get serious, especially after I hit a bit of a plateau or stall for several weeks. While weight loss isn’t linear and stalls are normal during weight loss, I knew there were likely a couple of particular suspects behind the relative lack of progress. Well, one specific culprit…
Alcohol has a weird place on Keto. It’s not prohibited per se, but it can interfere with the fat burning process, since the body will stop to burn off the alcohol before it goes back to burning fat. It’s not a big deal if you’re having a couple of drinks once or twice a week, but if you’re at the bar every day throwing them back, it becomes a problem.
And I did enjoy a cocktail or three in the fall/winter of 2018/2019. After all, there are lots of distractions around the change in calendar: Christmas, New Years, my birthday and a couple of trips in February 2019 didn’t help my weight loss (or liver).
After I went a few weeks with little change in weight loss, I decided to make some adjustments to aid in my progress.
PHASE II: STRICT KETO
Around the middle of April, I decided to make some changes. First, I cut out beer entirely–even the low carb stuff. Second, I drastically cut back on alcohol overall. Instead of 3-4 times per week drinking 3+ drinks, I cut down to a couple of drinks, once or twice per week. Third, I got serious about my food intake. I downloaded a food tracking app and bought a scale to weigh foods, instead of eyeballing. People generally suck at estimating food volume (and I put myself in that category), so that made a huge difference in making sure I wasn’t overeating.
Keto is great in helping to burn fat and as a sort of natural appetite suppressant, but it doesn’t really matter if you’re eating too much. Calories in, calories out still rules. Keto just maximizes your engine.
Once I made those adjustments, the weight just started falling off. It was actually pretty crazy.
PHASE III: WEIGHT TRAINING
I’d set my first goal weight (175) deadline by the 2019 Summer Solstice and actually hit it with a few days to spare, which was pretty amazing. I’d estimate I hadn’t weighed 175 since probably 2006 or 2007. I’d gotten myself in decent shape in 2012/2013, but pretty soon bad habits had gotten the best of me and I was back to 200+ in fairly short order.
Hitting sub-175 was a big moment, but I also wanted to try to get into “good shape,” which of course means: Exercise.
I’m no fitness expert, so take this with the standard caveats. I got back into the gym in April 2019, doing a mix of cardio and modest weight training. Hitting the treadmill or elliptical is great for cardiovascular/heart health. And Keto has some significant energy benefits. I even completed a 5k over the summer (late night before notwithstanding).
But if you want to really change the way your body looks, I’ve learned you’ve gotta hit the weights.
I’ve lifted off-and-on since high school, so I know the staples (back/biceps, chest/triceps, legs/shoulders–usually skipping legs), but body composition is as much science as art, so to speak. Not surprisingly, being overweight for years will take its toll on your body. And simply dropping the pounds doesn’t mean you’ll want to head to the beach in a bikini/boykini.
Like many who lose significant weight, I suffered from loose skin and some saggy parts. While frustrating, the only real (non-surgical) answer is to start lifting with a proven program. I started out with a program called 5X5 Stronglifts, and used that regimen for about three months. 5X5 gets some grief from experts because the work is light in some areas, but I liked it for establishing a routine, and it’s easy for novices to get into. You can establish a solid strength/fitness base doing it three times per week, and it’s only about 40 minutes per session.
That said, I agree that it has some flaws, especially in chest work, which is where I wanted the most help. So starting in October 2019, I moved over to nSuns (4-day). It’s a high (and I mean high) volume program that works every area of your body, including your core. When you add in the “accessories,” you are definitely getting a full workout.
It’s not a program for novices, however. Unless you’ve been lifting for at least 12-16 weeks, I wouldn’t recommend moving over to it, and I DEFINITELY wouldn’t start with it.
Additionally, you’re going to be in the gym for at least an hour, four times per week. Some people run the program for five or six days per week, but I’m not that hardcore. I have seen significant progress since October 2019, especially in the upper body where I wanted the most improvement. I’ll spare you the before/after photos, but trust me I’m seeing the gains.
Keto still plays a major role in my hopeful body recomposition. There are a seemingly infinite number of resources (both written and video) out there about working your diet to compliment weight training and I’m far from qualified to discuss it in depth. Suffice it to say that your diet absolutely needs to be in check to see the most gains from working out.
I’m still working through the best way to calibrate my diet to maximize fitness gains. I’m not trying to get into bodybuilder status; I’d just like to increase strength and be toned to be honest. But even that takes a lot of work and a little (genetic) luck. At my current weight, I’m just now seeing the abdominal outlines, and I’ll probably forever have some loose skin covering things. Oh well, gotta play the hand you were dealt.
But don’t let it be said that I’m not happy with where I am at. It’s taken a lot of hard work and sacrifice to drop nearly 70 (!) pounds from my frame, and even more to increase my strength and definition, especially at my–cough–age. It was pretty easy to drop some excess weight and add muscle when I was 25; not so much at 44, as 50 looms around the (somewhat distant?) corner. But better late than never.
I hope this was inspiring to someone reading it who is thinking of making some health or lifestyle changes. I know reading about the successes of my friends and family on Keto motivated me. It’s definitely achievable with some work and desire. On to year 2!