2.5 months on the Ketogenic diet: How Keto has impacted my life
Just over two months ago I began my transition over to a strict Ketogenic diet. At the time I had very little understanding of what being on a Ketogenic diet meant, what the effects would be on my body, the core metabolical differences and basically 0 expectations as to what might occur. I’ve always been the type to dive into things and learn while fully immersed in the subject, so why treat a dietary change any differently?
A good friend of mine suggested that we make the transition together (thank god for this, It would have been much more difficult without her guidance early on). Here is the full story of my Ketogenic transformation in hopes that it can help inspire or motivate someone that can’t quite make it over the mental hurdle to switch to a Keto diet to improve their own quality of life.
My life prior to Keto
It’s hard to talk about the progress I’ve made without first touching on where I began, or what my diet was like prior to Keto. For the last 4–5 years I really made it a conscious effort to be a more active person. In 2016 I spent 10 months of my life working with a personal trainer 4–5 days a week at Equinox to help me achieve my fitness goals. I really gained a ton of knowledge about fitness in general, but never made the dietary aspect of my life a priority. I effectively used my gym time as a “get out of jail free card” in the sense that because I was so active that I could basically eat whatever I wanted all the rest of the time and still come out ahead.
I never had much of a relationship with the foods I ate. I wasn’t particularly interested in cooking and much preferred the convenience of simply ordering in or walking down the street to grab a quick take-out meal. For the most part I engaged in what is known as SAD, or the Standard American Diet. The majority of the food I took in was made up of Carbohydrates. Hell, I didn’t even know or care for the most part what that actually meant. One of my favorite breakfast options for a long time was a fresh, homemade fruit/veggie shake nearly every morning. I’d cram as much fruit and veggies along with some frozen packets of Acai berry and assumed I was getting a healthy dose of everything my body needed to function like a normal human being. I was likely getting upwards of 100g of sugar in a single drink.
Around the same time I started working out heavily, I noticed some not-so-great side effects that were starting to take a toll on my body. For starters I’ve lived with a chronic TMJ disorder for nearly 15+ years of my life. It’s something that started out as an annoyance as a teenager that I easily ignored as so many of us do. In my mid to late 20’s however, the pain and inflammation were relentless, the DOMS effects of a workout were multiplied by 5x at times, making my life an endless cycle of discomfort for the most part.
On top of my chronic TMJ disorder I also began to develop a series of heart related complications. Occasionally during a workout my heart rate would make a rather drastic jump from the low 100’s to right around 220 or so. We’re not talking a gradual build-up, but a lose-your-breath, holy-shit I’m about to die type of shift. In 2017 I had to have a friend call 911 while I was sprawled out on the pavement after my heart rate remained over 200bpm for nearly 2 hours. That day I was diagnosed with SVT. My options were to live with it permanently, take medication until I die or have wires stuck into my heart to burn off the problematic tissue. It’s been a constant part of my life since.
I began to have moderate to severe sleep related disorders on top of everything else that already plagued me- waking up gasping for air, constantly twitching and flailing my limbs around, waking up feeling like a zombie and even suffer recurring episodes of sleep paralysis (this one is truly fun for those of you that aren’t familiar).
The combination of these problems truly began to compound and weigh heavily on my day-to-day ability to function. There were few days where I was able to make a solid 8 waking hours without feeling like ready to collapse. I was plagued with anxiety, constant digestive discomfort, vision and auditory problems (tinnitus anyone??), rapid mood swings, etc. There were very few aspects of my life that weren’t negatively affected by this spectrum of problems. Relationships, friendships and basically every portion of living a normal life were thrown totally out-of-whack. My life became a constant cycle of bearing as much pain as possible before either lashing out or shutting down completely. Needless to say, I was very sick.
As of 2018, I’ve spent well over $30k out of pocket seeing countless specialists, dentists and all manner of holistic healing practitioners with only mild, temporary relief. I never truly considered that the crux of nearly all of my chronic issues could have been something as simple as my diet. It seemed too obvious, something was WRONG with me, other people eat these foods and get by just fine…why would I be any different? I thought my problem was purely physiological, a muscle strained or in spasm, a joint malfunctioning, crooked teeth…something..ANYTHING.
Fast-forward to the first week of May 2018, Tuesday May 1st 2018 to be specific. After talking with my friend I was fairly easily convinced to try this Keto thing out. She told me about a documentary on Netflix, I checked it out and was very intrigued. It seemed like a fun experiment and I’m never one to turn down a good challenge in my life. Hell, if a diabetic can basically stop using all of their medication after a couple months of Keto, surely I’ll reap some benefit from the switch, right?!
Week 1 — I think I’m dying
I won’t lie to you, this week was grueling. My laundry list of health complications was only exasperated further. My heart felt like it was completely unhinged, beating out of control at times, skipping beats at others. My brain felt like San Francisco during the summer time, constantly and completely shrouded in fog. I could hardly keep my eyes open. Nearly all of my muscles were cramping or spasming.
I was suffering from The Keto Flu, a well documented and common series of symptoms that nearly all Keto noobs succumb to. It’s the part of the journey where most will fail. As I’m so prone to do, I set out to solve my problems. I dove into all of the research about Keto that I could get my hands on. I bought books on Amazon, dove deep in to the Keto subreddit and spent every waking minute immersed in Keto-land.
I landed on a few key findings: I needed to supplement my electrolytes more. My body was craving more salt, more sodium, more fat. I was learning very quickly that my old lifestyle of eating out simply wasn’t going to fly with my new Keto self. I had to start cooking my own food. I had to start eating high-quality meats and cheeses and whole foods. I was completely shocked at the realization that almost EVERY SINGLE item of food we consume is fortified with sugar. I had to eliminate 95% of the things in my cupboard and fridge (I HIGHLY encourage this “keto-purge”).
With these realizations I was able to push through some of the most difficult days I have experienced in recent times. Nearing the end of week one, I felt more like my “old” carb-reliant self, only my body had undergone a dramatic shift. I was now in Ketosis. My body no longer relied on sugar and carbohydrates to power my brain. I was totally reliant on fat. Whoa.
Week 2 — BRB, going to Europe
Admittedly the timing was quite poor here, but low and behold at the very beginning of week 2 of totally changing everything about the way I eat, I was heading to Europe for a 10 day trip. I was almost completely sure the diet would fall apart early on in my travels, but I had made it through the most difficult phase already and was motivated to give it my best shot.
I recommend taking a look at the blog post that I wrote immediately after coming back from my trip as I talk in detail about how I was able to remain on a relatively strict Ketogenic diet while traveling. In short, I pulled through and with a bit of perseverance I was able to remain Keto adapt while traveling.
I also noticed a rather dramatic revelation during my trip. It wasn’t so much a sudden change, but almost every day around noon or so I noticed that my normal cycle of pain and inflammation was actually decreasing rather than getting progressively worse throughout the day. I was feeling better as the day went on. This was…unusual…to say the least.
A secondary side-effect that was completely out of the ordinary for me was the almost complete and utter absence of jet lag, something I have never experienced while traveling internationally. Normally around the second or third day I would start waking up closer to noon or 1pm after having struggled to fall asleep all night. Yet here I was, sleeping like a baby at night and waking up fully refreshed every morning around 9am. My energy levels were consistent through the day, I was extremely active and my body wasn’t telling me it needed any sort of break.
I still was extremely weary of crediting any of the side-effects to Keto, being the natural skeptic that I am. It was just too early to claim victory.
Week 3–4 — I feel good, like really, really good
Having reached the conclusion of my trip, I returned home. Once more I was rewarded with the sheer pleasure of experiencing 0 jet lag. I transitioned right back into my normal work schedule. It was business as usual, only I was drinking the Keto koolaide more than ever.
The anti-inflammatory effects I started to experience during my trip were becoming more and more a constant, and much welcomed, benefit. My neck, jaw, shoulder and back muscles were starting to release more and more with every day that passed. In turn, my anxiety was starting to melt away, my digestion was starting to regulate, I wasn’t a hungry ravaging animal 24/7 and I was sleeping normally for what felt like the first time in…forever.
Nearly all of the symptoms I’d attributed to my TMJ disorder were rapidly diminishing to the point where I was having days where I dared to call myself “normal”. I was so inspired by what I was experiencing that I started the very blog you are reading that very same week. I felt like I was undergoing, for lack of a better term, a personal rebirth. I was no longer a slave to my body. I was in control of my mind. I was a smart, functional, stable person. The normality I had craved for so long was no longer a fever dream. It felt achievable, I could taste it.
I doubled-down on every aspect of the diet. I was cooking every meal, I was only eating high-quality, pasture raised meats (grass-fed of course..). I shied away from social engagements that revolved around eating. I lived and breathed fats. Coconut oils, avocados, butter, ghee, bacon, steaks, nuts. Food became my FUEL.
Week 5–8 — Ok. I’m a believer now.
The past month has really only been about fine-tuning what knowledge I had already gained during the first 30 days. I found out I needed to eat a bunch more salt. I’m now intermittently fasting almost every day. I tend to not really even have hunger cravings around lunch time, if I do it usually means I didn’t get enough sodium earlier in the day.
My days don’t revolve around mealtime any longer. I eat when I get hungry, otherwise I don’t really think about food. It’s truly a liberating feeling. For my entire life I was always looking forward to the next time I would eat a meal. My social life mainly revolved around going out to eat with friends. If I wasn’t eating a meal, my brain was craving sugar. “Go walk across the street and buy a chocolate chip cookie from the local bakery”. I wasn’t in control of my own mind, sugar was driving my thoughts. My energy levels, much like my mood, were like a roller coaster in complete darkness.
My transformation into Keto has only just begun, yet I can’t imagine for one second going back to my prior lifestyle. It’s been such a dramatic transformation in quality of life for me. Nearly every derogatory health issue I’ve experienced for so long has either diminished greatly or been eradicated. Even the cardiovascular problems that made it so difficult to live an active lifestyle have remained under control. I workout almost every day again without my heart becoming a runaway train.
Yeah, but are you HEALTHY?
I’ve had plenty of concerned friends and family ask me about the longevity of this diet. They are concerned for my cholesterol levels and a myriad of other things that we’ve come to accept as fact in our everyday lives (like that carbs are a crucial part of our livelihood). Needless to say, Keto for me has turned much of my life upside-down. The answer is…I don’t know if I’ll remain Keto forever. There are plenty of long-term case studies that mostly show nothing but positive effects. I do know this: I feel DAMN good.
I had full blood work analysis done during the first week of my Ketogenic transition and as recently as two weeks ago. I’m functioning well within normal limits. My body and mind feel better than ever. I don’t ever remember my skin, hair and nails looking as nice as they do. I sleep for the most part like a normal functioning person would (I noticed I just need LESS sleep now). I’ve dropped close to 10lbs in weight and have more muscle mass and am leaner than I’ve ever been.
How do you even define “healthy”? I would pose another question in response: “Is your body telling you that things are OK?”. One of the most important things I’ve learned from this experience is that our bodies are VERY attuned at telling us what they need. On a sugar and carb heavy diet, the thing our bodies need the most is MORE SUGAR. One thing matters to your brain more than anything else: energy. Without energy, we die. On a standard carb diet our bodies rely on the constant influx of sugar and glycogen to remain energized, tapping into our fat stores only in desperation or during periods of long-term activity.
I’ve only just begun to understand some of the subtle ways my keto-adapt body hints to me what it needs, but the important point is that I’ve been able to acknowledge that this form of non-verbal communication exists. It just manifests in the form of a cramp in my leg, or a spell of dizziness, which is my body saying: HEY, EAT MORE SALT DUMMY.
Admittedly I didn’t do a good job of taking pictures in the initial stage of the transformation, mainly because I hate taking pictures of myself and find it a bit cringeworthy (also I didn’t expect such a drastic change). However I thought it would be worthwhile to start documenting my journey more thoroughly, so here are some pics as of ~2 weeks ago.
It’s worth mentioning at this stage I’m hitting the gym ~3–4 times a week, but haven’t changed anything else in my routine aside from being Ketogenic.
I’ve been so inspired and motivated by the changes I’ve encountered during this experience that I started both a Ketogenic blog and Ketogenic Shop to encourage and assist others with making the switch to this lifestyle.
Some of the most common questions I’ve received are as follows:
“Yeah but is that Keto thing sustainable?” — Yes, 100%. As long as my body doesn’t tell me otherwise. In terms of finances, I’m also saving money because I don’t eat out and I meal prep all the time.
“Don’t you miss X?” — Nope, not really at all. I don’t crave sugar anymore. I don’t crave carbs at all. For the rare occasion where I just have to have something sweet, I’ll make an alternative with some 0 sugar, 0 carb sweetener and some combination of almond flour or coconuts. Simple.
“But have you tried like, being a vegan or something?” — No. I love meat. And you don’t undergo any metabolic transformations in those other diets.
“Are you crazy?” — I suppose so, but only in the sense that it took me so long (29 years to be exact) to figure out that maybe there is something to this whole “food is medicine” thing.
“You’re dumb” — Well, that’s just like…your opinion man.
If there is one last nugget I leave you with, let it be this. Since the beginning of our existence some two and a half million years ago, fat and protein have been the dominant macronutrients in our diets. We didn’t have endless supplies of agriculturally farmed foods. We hunted animals and ate basically every last scrap of them. A Keto adapted diet is arguably the closest you can be to a “natural” human..if you believe in evolution that is. To quote Mark Sisson: Human metabolism is pre-programmed by evolution to be primarily fat-based.
Eat more fat. Don’t be a slave to sugar.