The Ketogenic Diet has been nothing short of life changing for me. I've recently completed 6 months on it and thought this was a great time to pause, reflect and share my progress. I've recently gone through a long term relationship break up which served as a trigger for me to start it. Big events like that have the power of forcing you to rethink your entire life and allow you to change what you’re not happy with.
My goal here is not to convince you that keto is great or to tell you why or how to do it. Every person is different and it's not a "one size fits all" kind of deal. You should learn how it works and adapt it to your needs and preferences. Luckily, there's enough flexibility that you can tailor it into your daily routine in a way that's not too disruptive or hard to adjust. With that said, I should preface with a disclaimer that this is no silver bullet that's gonna make you lose weight effortlessly. Such things do not exist unfortunately 🤷🏻♂️. Also obvious but important, this is not medical advice, you should see a doctor yada yada. Please do not sue me 😀
I've always been a pretty active person, loved sports and exercised 1–3 times per week, usually playing soccer, running, working out, biking, etc. Also kept a pretty steady weight throughout my entire adult life, hovering between 185–195 lbs (84–88 kgs). I'm 6 ft. tall (~182 cm). Food wise, never really followed a strict diet ever, just ate whatever, lots of sugar, carbs, meat and never ate nearly as much veggies as I should.
I wasn't really unhealthy or super overweight, maybe slightly over ideal weight and definitely with more abdominal fat than I had liked, which always bothered me quite a bit. The feeling of powerlessness, of not being able to take control over my own body and not being able to burn fat the way I'd like has always been annoying and something I've wanted to change since forever. I just didn't know how to.
Doing Keto I was able to, for the first time in my life, consistently burn years and years of stored body fat in just a few months.
If you've heard about it before and have your own preconceived ideas about it, I'd ask you to set them aside for a bit and try to approach this with your curiosity and unbiased hat! 🤠
Approaching the problem
Keto seems to be getting kind of "trendy" nowadays, which is great because it means there's plenty of resources online for people to learn from. I've relied a lot on YouTube, Reddit and books. The TL;DR is very straightforward:
- 3-to-1 fat to protein ratio
- No sugar
- 20 grams or less of net carbs per day
- Little or preferably no alcohol
If this sounds counter-intuitive it's because it actually is! You don't have to take my word for it though. There's plenty of research supporting this. The way I approached it was by diving into the science. I've literally watched hours of YouTube videos, articles, etc. By understanding how different kinds of foods are metabolized by your body, you can make an informed decision about what and when you eat, knowing exactly how that's gonna affect your health, energy levels, metabolism, etc. Understanding how insulin works in the body was both very enlightening and interesting to me. Even if you don't care about keto at all, it's important and useful information about how your body works and you should know it.
Tracking your progress is very important, you can't improve what you can't measure! I'd recommend getting a full metabolic blood panel before you start so that can work as your baseline for comparison. Take photos of your progress and track your weight. It might also be useful tracking what you eat (eg.: in a food log), however I haven’t done it. Most importantly:
Build the habit of checking the nutrition facts table of everything you eat!
I’ve never used the blood/urine ketone level tests, but that could be useful too if you want to have a better sense of whether you’re in ketosis or not. Keep in mind that they may not be super accurate, especially the urine ones.
Addressing some common myths
There is a huge amount of online misinformation about weight loss in general, which makes researching this topic much harder than it should be. Nevertheless, here are some reputable sources with good ol' scientific facts for ya:
"Eating fat is bad for you."
"You can lose weight by just exercising more."
"You can lose weight by just eating less."
- “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”
- “You have to eat every two hours”
- “Your body needs carbs to function properly”
I’m not gonna go into debunking each one of them, you can do your homework and find out by yourself if you’re really interested 😃
For me it was rather easy to stop eating bread, potatoes, pasta, rice, etc. I've replaced those with lots of vegetables. Ideally you'd have 7 to 10 cups per day, (which is actually a lot of greens), although I don't usually eat that much every day! Cutting sugar was fairly straightforward too: past the first couple of weeks, you'll stop craving it entirely.
Kale, lettuce, tomatoes, broccoli, asparagus, spinach, bell peppers, onions, garlic, etc. No fruits, fruit juices or sugar. I'd eventually have a "cheat day" and have some cookies, but just once a week at most. That has definitely slowed down my progress a bit, but it's a good way to keep your mental health especially if you're craving sweets 😀. Luckily, after the initial adaptation period, chances are your body will be already adapted to utilizing fat as its main fuel and you’ll no longer be craving sweets at all.
I've added tons of nuts to my diet, mainly almonds, walnuts, macadamias, hazelnuts and pecans. You can have peanuts but only in moderation. Almond and peanut butter (unsweetened) with dark chocolate (80% cocoa or more) worked great as a replacement for dessert! Bacon, eggs and cheese are another staple. For coffee, add half & half, heavy whipping cream or butter and MCT oil for a bulletproof coffee! Other good sources of healthy fats are mayo (organic), coconut oil and avocado.
Another important aspect is alcohol. Due to the way it's metabolized by the body, drinking alcohol will kick you right out of ketosis, not to mention any additional carbs it might contain. Prefer low/zero carbs options like whiskey, gin and vodka and only drink it in moderation. I'm definitely guilty here and many times have failed at avoiding it, however, if you do it sparingly, you can still manage to keep making progress regardless.
I was able to really quickly notice changes to body composition after just a few weeks, which was very encouraging. However, after maybe a couple of months, I’ve reached a plateau where I stopped seeing progress. It was time to make more changes!
Fasting is one of the easiest and fastest ways of getting into ketosis. By shrinking your eating window, you give your body the chance of running on its own fat storage while fasting, which will greatly improve your progress. I’ve been doing 16/8 fasting daily (16 hours of fasting, 8 hours of eating window). I'll only eat between 12pm and 8pm, which means skipping breakfast. You can skip dinner instead if you prefer, in case you really like having breakfast, for example. Personally I’ve found it easier to adapt with not eating during the mornings. My goal is to get to just two meals per day, but that’s not easy and it might take me some more time to get there. Some people advocate for one meal a day but I find that pretty hard to stick to, especially if you’re an active person, want to have dinner with friends, etc.
Even after having a huge meal for lunch, I’ll almost never feel super full or bloated. I’m usually pretty hungry by 12pm so that’s always a big plate 😅. Another really great benefit is you’ll have no gases! 💨
Thanks to a lower insulin resistance, you just don’t want to eat as much as before. It’s quite interesting how you feel more satiated and don’t need to eat every couple of hours. I can go several hours without food and feel fine.
No cravings for junk food
I’ll usually just feel like eating some protein, fat and veggies. The idea of having fries, burger, pasta or something sweet hardly ever crosses my mind.
Aside from that, no other big noticeable changes, I still exercise regularly and energy levels are about the same as before. Sleep quality is still pretty good and overall I feel very healthy!
Weight wise, I’ve maintained it about the same as before, currently at 183 lbs (~83 kg), at just about 5–8 lbs less than 2 years ago, which is a negligible change. The main change was to body composition though, replacing fat with lean tissue.
I’ve also recently done a full metabolic blood panel to check where I’m at and the results are below. Overall everything looks normal and within the expected ranges. One exception is cholesterol which was slightly above. That’s not really an issue though.
- Sodium: 139 MEQ/L (normal range 135–145)
- Potassium: 4.1 MEQ/L (normal range 3.5–5.2)
- Chloride: 104 MEQ/L (normal range 99–108)
- Glucose: 85 mg/dL (normal range 65–140)
- Blood Urea Nitrogen: 17 mg/dL (normal range 6–24)
- Calcium: 9.5 mg/dL (normal range 8.6–10.3)
- Glomerular filtration rate: above 60 ML/MIN (normal range 60–100)
- Cholesterol: 201 mg/dL (normal range 100–199)
- HDL Cholesterol: 40–120 mg/DL (normal range 4–120)
- Triglycerides: 58 mg/dL (normal range 40–249)
- LDL Cholesterol: 125 mg/DL
My progress has been slowing down over time, which means I need to make more changes in order to keep seeing improvements. The less body fat you have, the harder it gets to burn it. Your body simply doesn’t want to do it. Here are a few ideas I have on how to improve:
- Cutting alcohol (rather obvious one)
- Having less “cheat days”
- Reduce on peanut butter
- Shrink the eating window to maybe 6 hours
- Have just two meals per day
- Workout in the morning in a fasted state
Inspiration & Resources
I can’t thank enough Thomas DeLauer and especially Dr. Berg for his YouTube channel. The amount of completely free and high quality content there is unbelievable. A big part of what I learned was taken from those guy’s tons of videos. Also the Reddit /r/keto FAQ is a fantastic place to start. Last but not least, the Why We Get Fat book is a must read.
I hope this serves as motivation to some people and maybe gets them to start eating healthy, taking more care of themselves and living a better life, regardless of whatever diet they want to follow. I’m not trying to advocate for keto here specifically, just do whatever works for you and be happy! 🙂