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My experience with the ketogenic diet

My experience with the ketogenic diet

I’m just going to start off by saying that while vanity certainly played a role for me, my primary reason for seeking weight loss was actually health related. I have rheumatoid arthritis and have every risk factor and symptom except pain for fibromyalgia. Any time I focus on weight loss it is always for health reasons, excess fat on the body puts a lot of stress on joints and internal organs that lowers quality of life and life expectancy. If you are big and proud, awesome! I mean that fully. There is absolutely no shame in being big.
I had heard about the keto diet for some time and seeing the 80% fat ratio made me nauseous every time I saw it. Now I’m no stranger to eating fat in my food, in fact I tend to prefer fattier foods when it’s cold, however seeing 80% is enough to scare anyone. I finally looked at it more closely because more people I knew were jumping on the bandwagon at a time when I was just stepping into the obese category. I’m not a tall woman at 5’5″ but I have a small frame so I really didn’t look like I was roughly 200lbs. In fact if you look at the profile photo I have on my bio page you would never know that is how much I weigh in that picture. Given my small frame, high metabolism, and exceptionally clean diet it would be hard to figure out why I gained so much weight (I was 120lbs pre-baby), especially since I don’t have any hormone related issues. After I had my child I lost all but 10lbs due to walking everywhere and extended breastfeeding which put me at 130lbs. So why/how did I gain 70lbs or more? Stress. A little from my child who was at that point clearly not neurotypical (2 1/2yrs when I stopped bf’ing) and mostly from an emotionally and verbally abusive partner. Stress increases a hormone called cortisol, when cortisol levels remain elevated insulin levels also remain elevated. Insulin is what allows us to store fat by regulating blood sugar. Now I should clarify that it took a little over 3yrs to go from 130lbs to 200+, my body doesn’t like to store a lot of fat easily as you can guess from the length of time it took. Seeing people I know take the dive made me look into it more closely and I realised I was very close due to my efforts to halt my weight gain, so with a friend’s wedding looming in 2 months, I went keto. Because I was so low carb already the “keto flu” only lasted 2 days and I was good to go. Keto flu is the symptoms your body goes through while it burns stored glycogen from the liver and muscles, the symptoms feel much like a typical flu and can last up to a week.
I feel like I should pause here and explain what the ketogenic diet is and it’s origin. The ketogenic diet is a low carb diet with ratios of 70% fat, 25% protein, and 5% carbs. Weight loss seekers will be looking at 20g of carbs per day and a little math to figure out the other hard numbers on those ratios. The 80% I previously mentioned is for the epilepsy control version of this diet, which is the version I was more familiar with. If you are looking at this diet for medical reasons then you must seek out a dietitian familiar with it because long term use can cause serious stress on some organs. Back on track. So how exactly does the keto diet work when you eat so much fat? Doesn’t that make you gain weight? NOPE. When you eat fat it does not effect blood sugar and therefor insulin does not rise in response, this makes it physically impossible for fat to make you fat. No insulin, no fat storage. The name for the diet comes from the fact that taking away carbs puts your body into a controlled state of starvation, this means the liver will start to produce ketone bodies once all the stored glycogen has been used up. These ketone bodies give us more functional energy than glucose does which is why people on this diet talk about how much energy they have. The diet was developed by research into why prolonged fasting could put epilepsy into remission. Dr. Hugh Conklin would put children with severe epilepsy on prolonged fasts, his reported results set off flurries of research to see what the relationship between carbs, fats, and protein was in relation to the disease. From this research it was found that specific ratios could produce the same ketone bodies that fasting did and therefore allow epilepsy to be put into remission without starving the patient to death. In 1938 the anticonvulsant drug phenytoin was developed and this shifted attention from dietary control to pills which overall would be easier for patients to use compared to the complex nature of the ketogenic diet. Johns Hopkins Hospital continued to prescribe the diet on a very limited basis all the way into the 90’s, Jim Abrahams brought his son to the hospital for this treatment after many medications had failed, shortly after starting his son’s seizures were gone. This led Mr. Abrahams to found The Charlie Foundation, they published a book on the diet which is still available. He also made a for tv movie about it called “First Do No Harm” which starred Meryl Streep. Between the foundation, book, and the movie an avalanche of research would be started around the diet.
With that explained let’s move on. Figuring out what I could and couldn’t eat was easiest when I looked at the nutrition labels directly and just counted up for the day. Fiber was not part of the tally because it is not absorbed, but it does keep things moving if you know what I mean. I also sought out keto youtube channels to follow for recipes and information beyond my own google searches. The people on these channels typically had already read the science in more depth than I had so it saved a great deal of time and effort for me. If I didn’t hear any references to research in the info videos I stopped following pretty quickly. With the high fat content the majority of recipes are very tasty with few exceptions. I personally found the diet expensive, however I don’t think it needs to be, the overall expense is more reflective of where I live. If you go for the fancy frills you can buy then I could see anyone spending a lot of money (ketone tests, mct oil, ect.). Overall my hunger did lessen once the first week was done and my energy levels were very stable as was my overall mood. I never got the overabundance of energy but I have health considerations mentioned right at the beginning. By the time my friends wedding came around I had lost 12 inches off each thigh, a couple inches off my arms and 2 inches off my waistline, I did not weigh in at this point. Incidentally the wedding was lovely, weather was warm with just a light mist for rain. After the wedding I decided to keep going because I had gotten good results so far but was hoping to lose more, especially on my hips which were still unchanged. I started keto at the beginning of April and finished at the end of August. I stopped because all weight loss had ceased a couple weeks ago and I had found that it was causing my arthritis to flare up which was getting progressively worse. On top of that I was also very bored with the food and it was becoming a serious and stressful battle to keep myself on the diet. I could have found a way to troubleshoot the stalled weight loss but since it was causing me stress and my knees were getting worse I didn’t feel it was worth it to me, especially since the primary source of my stress was still there so it was just making me impatient with my child who did nothing wrong. Plus if you keep enough stress surrounding food you can slip right into an eating disorder which I was not keen on experiencing. I’ve gone back to my mostly paleo (not strict, just a basic guideline) diet and have not gained the weight back.

I suppose I should give final numbers shouldn’t I? Total pounds lost is about 20lbs, 12 inches off my thighs, 3 inches off my upper arms, 7 inches off my waist, 3 inches off my hips. Alright so the 70-25-5 ratio is for average folk who will typically only do the diet for up to a year. To get real benefits from the diet I found that people consistently said you must do it for at least 1 month and the majority really won’t need to do it for more than 3 months. The up to 1 year time frame is for individuals with larger weight loss needs but you will want to make sure you take in turmeric and cayenne regularly to support the organs. With that said if you have a larger weight loss I would strongly encourage people towards a less severe option such as doing a lower carb vegetarian diet or a paleo diet because that will not stress the internal organs the way that keto can. Ketone bodies are largely expelled through the urine so you must ensure you drink plenty of water and get enough salt due to the increased water intake, 1 or 2 cups of broth per day is very helpful and tasty. For bulletproof coffee I found the vegan protein powders easier to digest and generally tasted much better than whey protein powders. Plus most whey protein powders use artificial sweeteners which can give sugar cravings for some individuals, vegan protein powders often use stevia. The strong flavour of coffee easily hides the odd after taste stevia has. Basic bullet proof coffee consists of coffee, 1 scoop of protein powder, and butter. If you just use those then you will put 3 tablespoons of butter, if you use a fancier recipe with MCT oil then follow those measurements. Throw it all in the blender and run it for 20-30 seconds, drink up! Overall if I was stepping into obesity again and the cause was not lifestyle or medically related I would do this again just to pull myself back from the edge and regain some control. However it was a lot of work and I could have gotten better results if I had also added in cardio a couple times a week.


Pros:

Lots of recipes and info out there.

Actually does work for fat burning.

Food tastes good.

Energy stabilisation.


Cons:

Keto flu.

Can feel restrictive, especially when out with friends.

Weight loss can stall out.

Autoimmune conditions may flare.

Not the cheapest diet.

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