Going Keto

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Like many of you, I've spent a fair amount of time considering my weight. And while I've yet to figure out what my perfect body composition looks and feels like while still enjoying real world food (important!), I know that what I have been doing isn't working.

For the past couple years I've done pretty regular Whole30s. They are stringent and require a lot of prep/planning, but I always appreciate the boost in energy and decrease in bloating. My wedding ring and waistband inevitably squeeze my skin a little less by the end of the month. But. (And there's always a But.) It felt nearly impossible to enjoy a date night with Husband or grab dinner on the go with Kiddo while sticking to it. If I forgot my lunch I agonized over what I could actually eat from the hospital cafeteria. Food became a near obsession and part of the "reset" process was a fair amount deprivation when it came to the foods I enjoy. That being said, it worked well for me and I've long-since established that ultra-low carb diets suit my body very well.

With PA school less than 11 weeks away, I started to think about my lifestyle. If establishing a rock solid workout and food routine feels hard now, it'll be darn near impossible once I'm knee deep in an intensive grad school program. The fact is, the time has come to change the language from "diet" to "lifestyle."

It comes down to one fundamental issue: I want to be my best self from here on out. I've done a lot of hard work to get where I am, and I want that feeling of accomplishment to be reflected in all aspects of my life.

In an attempt to bridge what works for me (low-carb) and what I can live with (real food in the real world), I landed on a ketogenic lifestyle. And while it requires a good deal of planning, I'm finding it to be the most manageable [restrictive] food plan I've every undertaken. This will not be true for everyone, of course, but for me it's been completely livable. I'm not naturally a sweets person—I much prefer savory/rich foods—which is why it may be such a good fit so far. I can also find keto-approved foods anywhere, even on the go. (If you are unfamiliar with the ketogenic diet, you can get more info here and here.)

I'm 10 days in, so I'm certainly not seeing dramatic changes at this point. Nor do I expect to. (I took an initial weight and will check it again only at 2 week intervals, if that.) I'm taking a wait-and-see approach to this whole affair; unrealistic expectations are out the window. Do some people lose 20 pounds their first month? Sure. Will I? I'm not counting on it. As long as I don't let my mindset settle into wants instead of needs, I will be able to evaluate the efficacy of this lifestyle as it pertains to my body. I'm giving it 30 solid days—following it to a T—and then I'll reevaluate.

I had one rough day last week—Day 3, I think—where I had zero energy. I literally felt like my limbs weighed 100 pounds each and I struggled to do the simplest tasks...like showering or combing my hair. Otherwise I've experienced a noticeable uptick in energy.

As far as food goes, I've planned well. I have two cookbooks that are my go-to, and the internet contains a treasure trove of keto information. I pick out a handful of meals, make a list, and grocery shop. At the very beginning I bought staple items at a natural food store, but otherwise everything else has been readily available at my local grocer. Zero niche food items that are hard to find, cost a fortune, and never get used up. I do have to track my fat, protein and net carbohydrates, but I have a great app for that. Because I can have cream in my coffee and plenty of fat + protein, I have yet to feel deprived or hungry. I'm adept at abandoning grains, sugars, and legumes thanks in large part to Whole30, but I haven't experienced any of the usual cravings I've had on past eating plans. (There is a fair amount of overlap between keto and Paleo diets.)

Last week we traveled a couple hours away for an event Kiddo was involved in. Mario and I decided to grab lunch before heading back, and I'll admit: I found myself pretty frustrated trying to navigate a restaurant menu for the first time. Did it take longer to peruse the menu? Yes. Did it take creativity? A little bit. Did I have to make requests and substitutions I normally would not make? Of course. In the end I had a fully-loaded cheeseburger, sans bun, with a side salad. And wouldn't you know...it was totally and completely satisfying. Husband commented that he didn't miss the bun one iota and we both observed that the bun actually masks some of the underlying flavors. (He's jumping on board for 30 days as a show of solidarity. He's a good egg, that one.)

I'll update you as the month (and beyond) progresses and let you know what my experience has been. The good, the bad and the ugly. Promise. But my hope is that this continues to be a great experience and I can continue this lifestyle for the foreseeable future. If I can make this way of eating a habit now, hopefully it will carry me through school and into my career. Fingers crossed.

I'm keeping an open mind.

In the meantime, these are the things that have made my success thus far possible:

Simply Keto by Suzanne Ryan // My go-to for advice and recipes. Hands down my most treasured resource. She also has a keto calculator on her website, Keto Karma, to get you set up.

The 30-Day Ketogenic Cleanse by Maria Emmerich // Also an amazing cookbook and overall resource. Her recipes are delicious and advice solid. She does not include dairy in her keto diet, but I've been consuming it in moderation. (Dairy often does me wrong, so I'm being careful.)

Swerve sweetener // I have a very strong aversion to sugar alternatives. I find the flavor/aftertaste to be unpleasant and I can detect even the tiniest quantity in a food. (Stevia included.) This stuff is different. One bag will last a long time, isn't very expensive, and I absolutely can't tell the difference. It's pretty much magic. (The confectioners type blends seamlessly into everything.)

Lily's Baking Chips (waaay cheaper when bought locally, in my experience) and Guittard Extra Dark Chocolate Chips (easy to find)

Carb Manager app // Scans food barcodes, has a decent food library, and allows manual entries. I can even copy a whole meal from one day to the next if I'm eating leftovers. It's unusual in that it tracks net carbs which is rare among other food tracking apps but essential to following a keto diet. The app is free, but I paid about $9 to try the premium membership for a month. It has a few more features and lets me sync my Fitbit. If I like it, it's $40 for a year to keep up the premium features.

Magic Pill // I watched this documentary last weekend, on the recommendation of a friend, and I was both moved and educated. I certainly understand the faults in our food system, but there were things I didn't know or completely understand. As the credits rolled I found myself encouraged and uplifted! (It was akin to Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, Food Inc., and Forks Over Knives. I happen to enjoy food documentaries.)

Fat bombs // Sound gross, taste delicious. And it's amazing how something so small can satisfy my hunger and/or sweet tooth for hours. Pinterest is a source of endless recipes. (And for all things keto, for that matter.) There are even fat bomb cookbooks!

When it comes to specific questions, if you've thought it someone has asked it on Reddit.

I'll also note that a hallmark of this diet is measuring your ketones for the purpose of establishing whether or not you're maintaining ketosis. I have determined that this is not a valuable tool in my case. The evidence showing that these tests provide accurate results is shaky at best. I'm following the rules and trusting that my body will tell me the rest. I'm not interested in pricking my finger or peeing on a test strip. Everyone is different—there is no right or wrong—I've simply decided to rely on weight loss, my energy levels, and a feeling of well-being to determine if I'm on the right track.

I feel obligated to note that this diet is not without controversy. At my last routine doctor's appointment I was chatting with my physician and she mentioned the efficacy of the ketogenic diet, but quickly followed up with "but it's too hard." I can see where she's coming from. So far that has not been my experience at all, but for many people it's simply too restrictive. That's why I'm entering into this with a completely open mind. If this way of eating works for me and I decide to adopt the lifestyle, I will follow up with routine blood work in a few months to make sure my numbers have remained within healthy ranges.

More favorite products, recipes, tips and tricks to come!

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