As you’ve probably know from my last couple of posts, I’ve been on the ketogenic diet. I started it after hearing a lot of great things about it from a coworker, and because I needed to lose a few pounds to get closer to the weight I usually fight at in judo (57kg/125 lbs). After about 1 month of being on this diet, I’m unfortunately going to have to stop keto because I’ve learned that my body doesn’t tolerate the super low carb thing very well. That’s not to say YOU shouldn’t do this diet–I personally love it and think it’s a fantastic lifestyle. As they say, every body is different, so while this is an unfortunate side effect for me, it might be a fantastic change in diet for you without the negative effects.
Things I’ve learned while on keto
The basic things about the ketogenic diet is to cut down on your consumption of carbs to a point where your body will start burning fat as a fuel source and using ketones to fuel your brain. To do this, you generally cannot eat more than 20g of net carbohydrates per day, which includes counting carbs from fruits and veggies. For the most part, you don’t eat grains because that would contribute to your carb count for the day. To satiate yourself and to fuel your body, you eat copious amounts of saturated fats and unsaturated fats, including animal fats, fats and oils from foods like avocados, fatty fish, and healthy oils (which exclude corn oil, canola oil, and other vegetable oils. Read more here). Protein consumption is carefully controlled because eating too much protein can lead the body to convert excess protein into glycogen via gluconeogenesis, which keeps your body running on glucose.
In short, the diet is high fat, moderate protein, and low carb. While this sounds crazy and goes against everything you probably learned in school years ago, many people have seen a lot of benefits from the ketogenic diet, including myself.
My mind has honestly never been clearer than when I was in a state of ketosis. I’m generally not someone that sleeps a lot (terrible, I know), but during keto, I never really felt sleepy while I was awake, despite not always sleeping for a full 7 hours the night before. I’ve never been a morning person but waking up was a lot easier because I didn’t feel the same kind of grogginess I normally felt. My mental focus throughout the day stayed sharp, even without the aid of coffee in the morning. I knew I had been “kicked out of ketosis” (when I had consumed too many carbs and my body stopped using ketones) when I woke up feeling my usual grogginess.
In addition to being alert, I found that being on keto kept my energy levels sustained–in other words, I never felt my energy crash like when I was on a regular carb diet. During judo practices, I felt energized throughout the entire practice. While I obviously felt tired from the hard practices, I never felt completely winded, and that change was HUGE for me as an athlete. I also felt great when I did my morning runs, which was significant for me because I hate running ahaha. I felt energized and felt the only thing holding me back was the need to increase the strength and endurance of my muscles.
Feeling satiated/lack of cravings
Diets usually make you feel very limited, restricted, and very hungry, which make them ultimately unsustainable. People tend to break from their diets due to difficulty, cravings, and lack of results despite the sacrifice. By far, the ketogenic diet is the most successful diet I’ve ever been on in my life. I used to diet a bunch by increasing my level and frequency of exercise and limiting my caloric intake. The increased exercise was sustainable since I like exercise, but calorie counting is miserable. I’d always feel hungry despite reaching my calorie limit for the day, so it was quite a struggle. On keto, this was almost never the case. Fats generally keep you feeling fuller for a longer amount of time in comparison to carbohydrates. Carbs are basically sugars, and sugars are super addictive. Once you remove the excess of carbs from your diet, the cravings will stop. I know, this sounds nuts, but they really do. I LOVE bread, rice, potatoes–you name it. However, once I started keto, the cravings for those foods stopped. This doesn’t mean I didn’t love those foods anymore (because that’s nuts, I would never not love potatoes); it just meant I didn’t have a crazy desire to have them for dinner. The thought would always be “That’d be nice to have that” but it was never a burning desire that consumed my thoughts.
If you’re a meat and cheese lover, this diet is amazing because all the things you were told you shouldn’t have because they’re too high in fat are now perfect for keto. The keto diet is designed so the percentage of fat intake for your macronutrients is the largest part of your daily diet (since you need the fat now to fuel your body), so bacon and eggs for breakfast everyday isn’t really a negative thing! You are recommended to eat unprocessed and quality, grass-fed meats, but there are plenty of people that have been on the keto diet for years and are in perfect health (their blood work is great!) despite bacon and eggs every morning. Every body is different, obviously, so it’s always best to make sure to consult your physician and run blood work to make sure it’s fine for you as well.
Effective weight loss
This is probably the greatest positive for most ketoers–the very noticeable (and often quick) weight loss. Once people cut the carbs out of their diets, they stopped bloating and retaining water weight, so the initial quick loss is through that loss of water. But as they continue along the diet, fat starts getting burned as the body stops using carbs as fuel (since there basically isn’t any). Because the high fat in the diet helps satiate the dieter, they won’t feel hungry, and the lack of carbs over time will diminish the cravings for junk food. While it will still be a little difficult (it IS a diet where you’re eating at a caloric deficit, after all), it feels a lot easier than the usual low fat diets. I’ve read stories and seen pictures where people look like completely different people even after just a month of being on keto!
Being more conscious about what you’re eating
Another thing I love about keto is that you normally end up eating a lot of good food. Sure, I’m having bacon all the time, but other than that, most of the food I eat is food I’ve made from scratch. Why? Because most processed foods have so many carbs in them. In the United States, almost everything has sugar in it, even our bread! When it comes to diet foods that are low fat, tons of sugar is added in to make it edible and have add flavor. But that’s the thing! Sugar doesn’t satiate you, so you’re just left hungry. Because you have to be very careful about your carb intake, you’ll end up looking at everything to see what’s in your food and notice what you’re eating to stay in ketosis. It can get annoying, I suppose, but I think it’s good to know what’s going into your food, and then choosing whether or not you’d want to make something yourself. I mean, you guys already know I love making things from scratch, but I feel like keto even gives my food making another purpose haha.
Personally for me, I love keto because it forces me to be more creative about my food. I often get bored if I eat the same thing over and over, so I’ll often look up and browse recipes to get meal ideas. On keto, I obviously couldn’t stuff my face with delicious-sounding, carb-laden recipes, I had to think of keto-friendly substitutes. Check out this keto-take on Hawaiian spam loco moco I made using cauliflower rice for rice:
I have a lot of fun experimenting to see what works and what doesn’t! The hardest challenge is dessert because obviously, traditional desserts are pretty high in sugar. I’m not a fan of artificial sweeteners, so I try to find and experiment with recipes that don’t use them.
Difficulty going out
This isn’t a terrible negative, but going out with friends became a little more difficult. With today’s day and age, it’s generally pretty easy to look up a restaurant’s menu online and decide ahead of time what would you could eat and still stay in keto. For the most part, that bit is pretty simple. The downside though is if you’re eating delicious homemade food for potlucks and parties or if you’re going to a small mom and pop restaurant that don’t have that easy access to a menu or calorie count of the big chains. I found it manageable, and while it can get challenging, it was never a dealbreaker.
Normally, when there is a big change in diet or exercise, the female body can react by affecting the menstrual cycle. For me, it wasn’t anything crazy intense, but I definitely started spotting in the middle of my regular cycle (which is usually very, very regular to a tee due to my BC pills) about 2 weeks after starting keto. From what I’ve read from others, this seems to stop after your body adjusts (can take 1-2 cycles, depending on the person) to the change in diet.
Keto rash (Prurigo pigmentosa)
This is the one and only negative I found with keto that I could not handle. Keto rash is honestly like getting allergy hives (I got those once when I was a kid after eating scallops), and you cannot ignore them. The rash (non-contagious) is so itchy that it can (and will) wake you up in the middle of the night. Here’s what mine looked like (from beginning till it started going away):
I got this on my back (both sides since this rash is weirdly symmetrical) and a little on my tummy. Keto rash does not affect everyone; it’s a pretty rare side effect of the ketogenic diet. Unfortunately because it is pretty rare, it hasn’t been studied very much, so no one really knows why it happens and why it affects certain people but not others. As a result, no one really knows how to “cure” it. From what I’ve seen r/keto and various other sites, there are two pretty sure ways to stop the rash: take Doxycycline or increase your carb intake (and leave ketosis). Doxycycline is an antibiotic that a number of ketoers on r/keto have tried and reported that the rash has cleared up after a week or two. There’s no guaranteed timeline to how long the results from Doxycycline last, so it’s a bit of a gamble, although many people have reported that they’ve only had to take it once. Personally, I prefer not to take antibiotics when I don’t need to, so I increased my carb limit. Many people have reported that the itching stops almost immediately after an increased carb consumption. My itching didn’t immediately stop (it was still pretty darn itchy) but the itchiness did decrease as I carbed up. It took about 2 days for the itchiness to subside and about 2 weeks for the coloration from the rash to fade.
Because some people have reported that keto rash only happened to them once, and not the second time they entered keto, I gave keto another shot. Unfortunately, as I slipped back into keto, the rash emerged again.
So what now?
I’m pretty bummed about not being able to do keto because I honestly loved it. The mental clarity and energy levels were fantastic, and I loved the creativity aspect of meal planning. Unfortunately because I don’t want to take antibiotics, keto and I have to say goodbye. The itchiness was too much to just ignore. That being said, I will stay on a low carb, high fat diet/lifestyle where I’ll limit my intake of carbs to about 50-100g per day. Per the keto calculator, my daily consumption will look something between these two:
I’ll have to start adding grains back into my diet to reach the higher carb range but I’ll have to be choosy about which carbs I’ll want to consume to make sure I don’t go overboard. It’ll take some time to adjust, but I guess that’s where my food creativity will get to come in! My recipes will be back to “normal”, I guess, since the food I ate was never really ridiculously high in carbs anyway haha.
Thoughts? Questions? Considering starting keto? Let me know below, and I’ll do my best to answer questions and concerns you might have! Honestly, if you’re interested even in just feeling better, I’d recommend looking into this diet because I think the pros far outweigh the cons (as long as you don’t get keto rash haha).