Imagine we are getting together for coffee and you just said, “wow, you’re looking great – what are you doing?!” And I say, “It’s this thing called the keto diet – sounds weird, I know – but hear me out…”
At its core, keto is a diet high in fat, moderate in protein
and limited in carbohydrates.
After last week’s post I had a lot of great feedback and interest in the keto diet so I thought I would share some more info with you about this specific way of eating and how I practice it. There are certainly more scientific explanations of the keto diet out there, as well as a lot of great research highlighting it’s numerous benefits, this is just my personal take on it and is not meant to be taken as medical advice. As I mentioned in my previous post, ketosis (the metabolic state you enter on the keto diet) is a game changer for anyone who has struggled with their weight long term and just hasn’t had real or lasting success with the “eat less, move more” paradigm. At its core, keto is a diet high in fat, moderate in protein and limited in carbohydrates. Here is a recap of questions my girlfriends have asked me over coffee (yes, coffee is allowed!) and a summary of my responses.
High in Fat??
The goal of the keto diet is to enable your body to use fat as your primary fuel source. Ketones are the byproducts of your body breaking down fat, either fat you eat or from the fat stores on your body. This is a normal state for our bodies and it’s likely that your body uses fat for fuel overnight if you don’t eat right before bed. We inhibit ketosis when we consume carbohydrates. They are a quicker and easier fuel source because they are more readily converted to sugar. If we never abstain from carbohydrates, our bodies will rarely have the opportunity to burn fat as a fuel source and we will lose a certain amount of metabolic flexibility (the ability to switch between fuel sources efficiently).
Isn’t that Just a Fad Diet?
On the surface ketosis might sound like a fad diet because it’s so different from what we are taught by experts and diet gurus, but the sad fact is that the current recommendations have been heavily influenced by food manufacturers and the agricultural industry. Before packaged food was so readily available, humans had to rely on their fat stores to survive during times of scarcity. Now we live in a time of abundance where food is available 24/7 and we are enlarging our fat stores for a winter that will never come. Specifically restricting only carbohydrates allows our body to access those abundant fuel stores without actually starving.
Ketosis is a completely natural state.
Just like a bear gorging on honey and berries in the summer and living off its fat stores all winter while it hibernates, ketosis is a completely natural state. The difference between us and the bear is, we have to choose to abstain from the donuts in the lunch room every morning and the Grande Caramel Macchiato every afternoon in an effort to access that fuel bounty. A keto diet can be very healthy long term as long as you are including leafy greens and other vegetables in your diet and are choosing high quality sources of fat and protein as much as possible. There are also a lot of great side effects beyond weight loss, one of the best being that it will improve your insulin sensitivity and regulate your blood sugar (more about it here). A lot of research is coming out right now about what a healthy way of eating it actually is, and it is even starting to be used to treat diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer (more on that here).
It Seems Complicated.
The keto diet is a very big change in the beginning and takes a bit to become adapted to, but once you’ve got it figured out it’s actually quite easy. The cool thing about it is you don’t really even have to think about it once you know what works and what doesn’t. You’ll want to calculate your macronutrient ratio and keep track of what you’re eating in the beginning so you can get an idea of how much fat/protein/carbs are in things. Hitting your macro goal is more important than hitting your calorie goal at first – the goal is to get into a state of ketosis, then you can change your calorie intake as you see fit.
You’ll know when you’ve gotten into ketosis
because you will have lots of new-found
energy and much less hunger.
If you go over 20-30 grams of carbs per day you will delay getting into ketosis – and you really don’t want to prolong the adaption phase. You may feel sluggish or have a headache, this is your body learning to use fat as a fuel source. This is known as “keto flu” and you can help it a lot by taking magnesium and potassium and drinking broth with added himalayan salt. Eat lots of fat whenever you’re hungry or struggling with carb cravings. You’ll know when you’ve gotten into ketosis because you will have lots of new-found energy and much less hunger. Buying a ketone monitor and test strips isn’t really necessary, it’s better to just get acquainted with how your body feels in either state. Here is a more in-depth article on becoming keto-adapted.
What Do You Actually EAT?
There’s a great in depth food list here. But here are some of the staples in our house:
Proteins (avoid lean cuts):
- Roast chicken
- Chicken wings
- Pork chops
- Pork belly
- Bacon (check for sugar in the ingredients)
- Breakfast sausage (check for sugar in the ingredients)
- Brussel sprouts
- Leafy greens
- Whipping Cream
- Boursin cheese (amazing on steak)
- Cream cheese
- High fat unsweetened yogurt (10% MF or higher)
- Sour Cream – 14%
- Almond Milk
- Coconut Milk
- Liquid Stevia
- Sugar-Free Davinci Syrup
- Swerve – Granular (for baking)
- Swerve – Confectioner’s (icing sugar substitute)
- Just Like Sugar (for baking)
- Macadamia nuts
- Baby bells
- Pork rinds
- Bacon jerky
- Hard boiled eggs
- Premade guacamole
- Roasted chicken from a grocery store
On the Road:
On the road you can get burgers or wraps and discard the bun/wrap. A lot of restaurants, like Fat Burger and Red Robin’s for instance, will wrap your burger in lettuce. One of my husband’s favourite things to eat out is a big salad with extra guac from Mucho Burrito (or Chipotle, for our American friends).
But What About My Family?
My husband and I both do keto, but when we have people over I just add a carb to the meal, like roast potatoes or rice – then everybody’s happy. The kids eat what we eat at supper time, but other than that they aren’t really low carb. The food pyramid they are taught in school really is unbalanced, so I don’t have a problem with telling my kids that meat and vegetables are more nutritious than grains and potatoes. Your kids may not even notice if you’re not eating carbs at dinner time. I think what kids notice more is our uneasiness with food or with our bodies. If you sit down to dinner and fully enjoy the food on your plate all they are going to think is, “wow, mom seems happy.”
There are tons of great recipes online and on Pinterest.
I keep suppers pretty simple – usually just a protein and a veg like roasted ham and steamed broccoli, roast chicken and sautéed brussel sprouts, steak and salad. Other suppers ideas are fork and knife burgers (all the toppings, no bun), Texas style chili (no beans), beef stew (with radishes instead of potatoes, surprisingly good!) and cauliflower mash, or tacos in romaine lettuce wraps. There are tons of great recipes online and on Pinterest, you can subscribe to my feed here.
I Don’t Think I Can Swear Off Bread Forever!
I did straight keto for a long time before I read a book that suggested that it’s important to introduce carbs now and then to keep your hormones in balance (more about it here). Insulin is the most prevalent hormone in our bodies and if it’s never triggered in a significant way, other hormones that rely on it for a cascade effect can down-regulate – this can actually lead to thyroid issues in the long run. The work of Dr. Mike T. Nelson also suggests that if you never have carbs, after awhile you could lose metabolic flexibility in the opposite way. The ideal would be to be able to efficiently use any form of fuel available to our bodies.
I have settled on having carbs once a week – dinner and dessert. It works great because I get to have the things I miss and can also schedule it around events that will have yummy food. I’m usually hungrier than normal for 2-3 days following, then back in ketosis. I would recommend doing straight keto for at least a month so that you’re fully adapted before adding a carb meal. There are definitely keto purists out there who will never eat a piece of bread again, but we are each personally responsible for what we choose to eat and need to decide what will be sustainable for ourselves long-term. I like to think of it in terms of “fasting and feasting.”
Feasts are an important part of life. This is a vitally important fact to acknowledge. That is, every single important celebration is marked by feasting. Eating is a celebration of life. Any diet that does not acknowledge this fact is doomed to failure. We eat cake on our birthday… We don’t celebrate with birthday salad.
In the Old Testament there were established times of restriction and times of feasting, it was the rhythm of life. There is absolutely nothing wrong with feasting and celebration (and having a slice of birthday cake!) and there is also joy to be found in the daily self-discipline of choosing to abstain. Because I have a history of binge eating I am still careful to do my best to listen to my body and eat within the boundaries of hunger and fullness – it’s a planned indulgence, not an all out binge-fest.
Where Would I Start?
There are also tons of great resources and groups available out there for you. Here are some of my favourites:
- Keto Clarity by Jimmy Moore
- Keto-Adapted by Maria Emmerich
- The Ketogenic Cookbook by Jimmy Moore & Maria Emmerich
- Quick & Easy Ketogenic Cooking by Maria Emmerich
Groups and Forums:
- Ketogenic Success Facebook Group
- 2KetoDudes Facebook Group
- Super Easy Keto Recipes Facebook Group
- Everything About Keto Reddit Forum
Ok, But Does it Actually Work?
It sure does, grin. Once your body adapts to burning fat, that fuel comes straight from your waistline or love handles. You can expect to lose a good chunk of weight right away, mostly water weight, but a boost in confidence, none the less. After that you will begin to notice your clothes getting looser and other positive changes in your body. You will feel fantastic too, endless energy and no more blood sugar crashes or “hangry” moments. Over time you will feel less hungry and may even skip a meal without even thinking about it. This is called intermittent fasting, and is another great benefit of the keto diet. Whenever your body isn’t busy digesting food it is free to commit its resources to cell regeneration and house-keeping. When you do eat, the food will be delicious and satisfying because fat equals flavour. Whipping cream in coffee? HELLO!! Of course, everyone needs to figure out what works best for their individual bodies…. but if you’re still searching, the Keto Diet is definitely worth trying out. Just make sure you stick to it 100% for at least a month so that you can really experience all it’s benefits.
After years of trying and failing at various diets I am living proof that the Keto Diet works. My girlfriends are actually starting to notice! Finally all my hard work is paying off and I have landed on a way of life that makes me feel great and helps my body lose the excess weight at a regular, healthy pace. Have you tried the keto diet? Please share any of your tips or thoughts with us in the comments below!