I talked about my weight loss journey a few months back, after I'd lost about 20 pounds. Here we are two months later and I've lost another 25 pounds and I'm closing in on 50 pounds lost, with roughly another 50-60 to go to get to my goal weight. And a lot of people have asked how I'm doing it, so I thought I would share.
All about "Keto"
Standard disclosure before I begin - I have researched this way of life extensively, and there are lots of materials emerging to support it. I admit that I was very skeptical about it when I first encountered it, but I'm another example of living proof that it works. And when you start to understand the science behind it, particularly how our body deals with sugars, it starts to make a lot of sense.
About a month into my weight loss effort, I switched to a ketogenic (aka "Keto") diet. It's also known as "Low Carb, High Fat". The Atkins diet is similar (though they've focused on "replacement" foods a little too much). Paleo (aka Primal) is a cousin diet that you may have heard of. They all focus on eating a different ratio of Carbohydrates to Fat and Protein from the "Standard American Diet".
Keto is the most carbohydrate restrictive version of this diet. Most people on a ketogenic diet limit themselves to around 20g of net carbohydrates per day. Net Carbohydrates takes the total carbs and subtracts out carbs from Fiber. So eating high carb foods that are high in fiber is ok - many leafy green vegetables and some nuts like almonds. 20g net is very low considering many people consume 300-500g or more a day of carbs.
And as far as fats go, the key is to eat healthy fats. And this is where people have to go against 30 years of what they think they know about foods. Saturated animal fats are not bad for you, it's the saturated animal fats in conjunction with a gigantic carb load that's bad for you. I eat animal proteins, and stay away from most poly-unsaturated oils like vegetable oil, canola oil and soy oils. I cook with olive oil or coconut oil, both are great alternatives to some of the other oils we've moved to. No margerine, but I do eat butter. With all of these animal products, the grass-fed beef products and butters are the healthier ones - even in the meat sphere, mass production has lead to shortcuts that have made many meats less healthy for you.
The ratio of fat/protein/carb on Keto as a percentage of calories is roughly 65/30/5, though this can vary quite a bit depending on your makeup. (an excellent calculator is located here) This is very different from what most people eat, and it's way different from what I ate before. I thought I was being healthy eating my lean cuisine frozen meals, and low-fat dressings with salads and other low-fat products but I just kept getting fatter and fatter and fatter. The true a-ha moment with this way of life that it's not the fat that was making me fat, it was the carbs.
What I eat: a typical day
My typical meals in a day looks like this: I eat eggs every morning, usually 2 eggs scrambled with 1/3 cup of cheese. I don't cook them in anything but I put salt on them. I add meat some days, and other days I don't.
That gets me through until lunch - which generally consists of whatever meat we had for dinner the night before, a huge salad made with romaine lettuce, spinach and arugula with a low carb olive oil based dressing or a good blue cheese and a couple pieces of string cheese. If I'm at home, I'll make some lettuce wraps with deli meats like roast beef and salami, and some bacon.
Dinner is a meat, usually a decent quantity - and we mix up red meats, chicken, pork and turkey. Some Keto purists stick to skin on chicken but I like my chicken breasts just fine - just need to supplement with additional fats to keep the ratios in check. We pair with a vegetable, cooked in olive oil and a salad with spinach romaine lettuce, arugula, mixed greens or some combination low carb vegetables or a big salad.
So, to summarize, I can eat most kinds of meat, and I eat a lot of veggies - lots of lettuce and spinach, and broccoli, asparagus and other green vegetebles. I shy away from carrots, green peppers and onions, which are slightly higher in carbs, but I still eat them in moderation. And I completely avoid other root/starchy vegetables like potatoes. And I don't eat any fruit currently, though some berries can be consumed in moderation. Fruit is the thing I miss the most and likely will add back when I get closer to my goal weight.
I don't eat any starches, any grains, any legumes, any processed/refined sugars. This was the biggest dietary adjustment because some form of rice and breads were daily staples in my diet.
Water is also key, I try to drink 128oz of water daily. It's tough some days, but I keep a 32oz Nalgene bottle at my desk at work and usually drink 2-3 of them during the day, with another 32 consumed in the evening. It's much easier to get dehydrated on Keto, I've found.
One challenge is beer. It's not great for me with what I'm trying to do - loads of carbs. I'd already cut my consumption back to a few drinks a week, and I kept drinking for the first few weeks when not on Keto. I've stopped drinking it almost entirely but I still have one or two every couple of weeks, and it hasn't drastically thrown me for a loop. But I'm not going to lie - this a very difficult diet to stay with if you're a craft beer enthusiast who drinks frequently. You can also drink most spirits with diet tonics, which I do on occasion - it doesn't have any carbs in it but the burning of alcohol can slow weight loss and add calories.
Another challenge is going out to eat. When you cede control of the cooking to someone else, inherently there are things that you won't be able to control. At a casual restaurant, a burger without a bun or crazy sauces is still a good option, as is steak or any meat dish that's not cooked in some kind of sugar based glaze. There's always at least a few things on the menu I can eat with modifications to the side dishes or pairing up with a salad. But still, I've had times where it felt really restrictive because so many things are served with carb-laden items even at very nice restaurants.
There are also a lot of low carb "replacement foods" - you've probably seen the atkins stuff they sell in the stores, and artificial sweeteners are a mixed bag. Some people eat them, others don't. There's a lot of different artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols coming onto the market that aren't particularly good for you. Personally, I have a Coke Zero or a Powerade Zero every once in a great while. It hasn't derailed me too badly, but I still tend to shy away from it. I use a sweetener called Stevia which comes in a droplet form on occasion. It's a natural sweetener and it works pretty well to satisfy the sweet tooth. Things taste MUCH sweeter once you've been on Keto for a while since your sensitivity to sweet increases. It's pretty amazing how much sugar dulls your taste buds. But the replacement foods are mostly a waste of time for me because I find that psychologically they tend to hinder my progress.
One other thing about what I'm doing - I don't like to call this a "diet" in the context that tends implies that it's something I'll do for a period of time and then stop. I prefer to call it a lifestyle - implying that it's something that I plan to sustain. And it's been really sustainable so far. I'm able to eat far fewer calories and not have the cravings or feeling hungry all the time - cutting all the excess carbs out causes you to be able to do that, and I really think that is the key for me. As someone who was likely eating in excess of 3500-4000 calories a day or more sometimes, I'm able to keep my calories generally in the 1500-2000 range, which is below my maintenance calories and allows the weight loss to continue.
The beauty of all this is that I do track my food intake but not nearly as strictly anymore, and you don't really have to pay as much attention to it because you will not be as hungry and you will be able to keep your calories below maintenance a lot easier than with simple calorie restriction alone.
And believe me, I was skeptical that I could do this because I was a carb addict. Sugars, breads, starches were all huge parts of my diet, and a lot of it really hidden in ingredients to mask the fact that low-fat foods taste like crap. Carbs are an addiction like anything else, and they cause so many health issues and dietary problems that I think we're really just scratching the surface. I remember reading Gary Taubes' excellent book Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It a few years ago and thinking "there's no way I could ever do that" and here I am doing something even more restrictive and it's not painful in the least.
The food industry doesn't want you to eat this way because it's more difficult for them to mass produce fresh foods that can't be stored for long periods of time. But I really believe it's a direction we need to go to reduce obesity and other epidemic health issues in this country. And from the looks of it more people are signing up.
If you're interested in this diet, feel free to reach out to me, I'm happy to help you along or answer questions. I really appreciated others that have been there for me, like my friend Dez, who has lost 90 pounds on Keto and he's been an amazing inspiration.
Last - some resources if you're interested:
- The Keto reddit group - a great source of inspiration, recipe ideas, and just general information. I've used it as a pick me up many times when I was feeling down
- Keto in a nutshell - General primer about Keto
- Keto FAQ
- Low Carb High Fat for Beginners-excelleng guide to low carb high fat (this blog is great in general - it's written by a doctor from Sweeden who is a big believer in LCHF)
- List of acceptable Keto foods and their carb counts.
- Calculator to figure out what level of nutrients you should eat
- Article on configuring MyFitnessPal to set up goals for this diet.
Some other reading:
- 11 Biggest Lies of mainstream nutrition
- Ketosis: Advantaged or Misunderstood State
- Low Carb High Fat Lifestyle and My Family - the post that started it all for me.
- Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It by Gary Taubes
- Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease by Robert Lustig