Right … so … this ketogenic diet/lifestyle thing? It works, but it’s also complicated. It’s not the Magic Thin Pill. Woe and alackaday, it demands thought and effort and more thought and analysis and then some thinking. And every now and then, despite one’s best efforts, one hears the Siren Song of the Carbs, which goes: “Eat me … yumyumyum … ee-ee-eat meee … yumyumyum.”
In other words, February has been a challenge. The thing about the ketogenic lifestyle is that when you’re in the groove, you really do feel good. You have more energy, deeper and more restful sleep, fewer aches and pains, improved mood, clearer mental processes, no cravings or attacks of the munchies. Chomp down on that brownie, however, and the desire for carbs will grab hold of you faster than you can say “Please sir, can I have some more” – and the process of getting back in the keto groove is a real bear: tiredness, brain fog, flu-like symptoms, physical weakness, headaches, depression. I have spent this whole miserable February learning and relearning that my body is not going to cut me any slack at all – but, if I grit my teeth through the change-over from carbs to fat as my source of energy, and if I don’t make stupid choices regarding brownies and their ilk, I do in fact feel pretty darn good. (I know I’ve mentioned this before. It’s important that you understand, dear reader, that deep down I can’t quite shake the belief that you’re actually a figment of my imagination, and so a lot of the time I’m writing these blatherings to myself. I need these reminders!)
I’ve been wandering the web for the past several months, reading up about ketosis, ketones and ketogenic eating, high fat, low fat, the sneakiness of carbs, and just how important is exercise. The volume of conflicting information and opinions, and the gazillion “experts” trying to scare you into buying their products and programs, threatened to overwhelm. I needed a guru, and eventually settled on Jimmy Moore – specifically his book Keto Clarity. I picked Moore because he’s connected with a huge and varied team of experts in his field, he writes from the perspective of personal experience, and he doesn’t push a one-size-fits-all approach. . Rather, he offers practical advice on how to figure out what will work for your unique body.Plus, he never once asked for my credit card information
As a person whose body has been damaged by years of poor nutrition, minimal movement, much stress and regular sugar overload, I know it will likely take me four or six weeks to shift fully into nutritional ketosis. Meanwhile I teeter between feeling fabulous and feeling ghastly, and those excess bloody pounds just won’t let go. My solution is to adopt as extreme an approach as I can, focusing primarily on ingestion – I’ll add exercise later, as I’m able. The one caveat is, I will not get tangled up in a whole lot of numbers. I know what I weigh, and I’ll hop on the scale at random intervals to see what that number is doing – but there will be no awkward fumbling about with tape measures, or keeping food diaries, or filling in charts. (Yep, that’s me – ever the rebel!)
So, now for some practical information. My immediate goal is to get into nutritional ketosis, in an effort to get my body to work more efficiently, generate more energy, and burn fat. I want to tell you what I’m doing to get there – starting, today, with the food.
- It’s all about quality – and that doesn’t have to be expensive. If you choose this as a lifestyle you’re not going to spend money on junk food, and once your body adjusts you’ll find you eat less by choice – so get the good stuff. We’re fortunate to raise our own eggs and beef, and I have the strongest of veggie garden aspirations for this summer. I’ve also identified local sources of pasture-raised pork and chickens. You can do this too! You may not be able to raise your own, but invest in a freezer, find local small farmers, and buy directly from them! It’s important to avoid meat that’s full of hormones, antibiotics and other volume-pumping chemicals because much of that garbage is stored in the fat, and this is a high-fat diet – you want those fatty cuts of meat, and it’s better for you if they’re clean.
- NO CALORIE COUNTING! This is all about choosing the right kinds of food, eating as much as you need to be satisfied, and eating only when hungry. I have found that as I adapt to eating this way, I just don’t get hungry that often. Typically I’ll eat breakfast by mid-morning, and my next meal between mid-afternoon and evening. I may snack around lunchtime and bedtime. but more and more I’m just not hungry more than twice a day.
- I’m keeping those carbohydrates as low as I can – as close as possible to zero, and definitely below 20 grams per day, calculated as total
carbs, not net carbs. This means no sugar and no starch. (Yes, hello, fruit contains sugar! An apple a day keeps the ketones at bay!) You’ll find detailed food lists all over the web; here’s one and here’s another. Usually I just google “how many carbs in food-type-whatever”. Gotta love technology! Mostly I eat dark leafy greens – I’m learning to love the texture and flavor of veggies like kale, collard greens and chard. The dark green indicates a high content of certain essential nutrients, and their carb content is minimal.
- There are conflicting, often complicated theories out there regarding how much protein you should eat. If you consume more protein than your body needs, it will convert to sugar, and your body will use it before burning fat. On the other hand, protein contains essential amino acids, so you absolutely must eat enough for your needs. I try to eat around 30 grams at a time, usually twice a day. That’s a four-egg omelet for breakfast with a sprinkling of cheese, or 3 oz meat, or … again, detailed lists are all over the internet. Just google “Protein content of whatever”. An important factor defining how much protein you need is your activity level. Mine is slug-like, so I’ll be monitoring my progress, and I may cut back on my daily protein intake until I’m able to start exercising intensely if that seems the way to go.
This one-hour lecture will tell you pretty much everything you need to know about the role of protein in your diet.
- I am continually bumping up my fat intake and monitoring how it affects me. Yes, this is counter-intuitive and a bit scary, but everything I read from serious keto writers reiterates that you have to eat dietary fat to burn body fat. A typical lunchtime snack, if I happen to be hungry or planning a later dinner, will be celery sticks or slices of salami, loaded with cream cheese. My breakfast omelet often contains a whole avocado. I dollop sour cream and butter onto anything that will carry it; I choose fatty cuts of meat, munch down on bacon, and save bacon fat to use for cooking. I also cook with coconut oil, and I sprinkle olive oil or mayonnaise generously onto salads. One of the many benefits of fat is feeling fuller for longer; I don’t often drink milk because it contains sugar, but a full-cream latte will stave off hunger pangs much more effectively than a cookie.
- I try to drink lots of water. Initial weight loss on this diet is largely water, and you have to keep replacing it if you don’t want to become exhausted. When I forget to drink, I get tired and spacey. Some people find that caffeine triggers sugar cravings but it doesn’t have that effect on me – but mostly I choose water because I find it hydrates me more effectively than other liquids, and that makes me feel good. (It helps that the water from our well is just about the best I’ve ever tasted anywhere!)
Friends, I’m feeling pretty excited about this! Yes, it’s been tough to get even to this point, and I’m looking forward to continued improvements in my moods and energy levels – and weight loss, of course! Most people apparently see their poundage drop immediately, but that’s not been my experience. I’m hanging in, however, and continuing to tweak the way I eat as I figure out what works for me.
In future posts I’ll cover various other issues, including the short-term and long-term effects of nutritional ketosis, how to ensure that you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs, and exercise. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – your personal experience, concerns, questions, and – I hope – words of encouragement. So chip in! (Just not chocolate chips, okay? Okay!)