What is The Keto Diet
Let’s talk about the keto diet guys!
Why? Just because I’m giving it a full out try again for various reasons which I’ll delve into later. I’m a big fan of nutrition and food. In fact, it’s my second passion behind finance so I’ll talk about it from time to time.
The plan is to have tidbits be my series of off-topic posts. If you’re here for the finance talk you can always ignore these!
What is the keto diet?
In simple terms, it’s a diet that avoids carbs. On the ketogenic diet, a person aims to stay under 20 carbs a day. In order to do that, a diet change must occur to replace carb laden foods with other things. Note that the 20 carbs is net carbs so it doesn’t include dietary fiber as your body doesn’t digest that.
That means instead of cereal, you’re starting your day with a nice bite of butter.
You’re not actually biting butter, although you can if you want.
The goal of the keto diet is to induce a state known as ketosis. On a regular high carbohydrate diet, your body depends on glucose as a source of energy. Carbs are converted into glucose and then insulin is produced to ferry that stuff all around your body.
The body really is an impressive machine!
Glucose is the easiest way for your body to get energy. That means it’s the go to over anything else you eat. Fats are another source of energy but since your body usually has enough glucose, fats just get stored.
That’s where the keto diet comes in to play. Removing carbs forces your body to search for an alternate source of energy as glucose isn’t there anymore.
Damn, that’s a smart, adaptive body.
Ketosis is the end result of that search. It’s a natural state that occurs when your body can’t get enough glucose. That lack of glucose forces your body to try to find something else to power this big lump of matter.
Mr. Liver comes in and produces ketones which take the place of glucose as your primary energy source.
The entire process is started by one missing factor, carbs. Inducing ketosis requires less than 20 carbs a day. For some people it can happen with more than that but most require less than 20 on a consistent basis.
One of my hobbies is reading nutritional labels so I’m aware of what that means. However, for those that don’t share that love of nutrition, let me tell you.
Twenty carbs is basically nothing. One slice of pizza has 34 carbs, one slice of bread is 15 carbs, one banana is 27 carbs.
That means say goodbye to starches of any sorts and fruit. That means no bread, pizza, potatoes, most fruits and sweets.
What do you eat then?
Fat and loads of it with some protein thrown in since you need that to live.
That means butter, oils, meat, nuts, eggs, dairy, avocado and most leafy greens.
That’s great but what’s the point?
The Benefits and Shortfalls of Keto
Most people use this diet to lose weight.
I mentioned before how a heavy carbohydrate diet gives your body a ton of glucose to use for energy. That means fat isn’t needed and is stored for future use.
Replacing those carbohydrate calories with fat changes that. Fat has two great benefits that drive weight loss. First, it’s more satiating than your typical carbohydrate diet meaning you’ll feel fuller longer and eat less. That’s why it’s easier to eat less calories on a diet full of fat than a diet full of carbs. Less calories = lost weight.
Second, it allows your body to quit storing that excess fat and actually use it. That’s great for weight loss since you end up not only eating less calories but also forcing your body to burn fat leading to weight loss. There’s a ton of people out there using this diet with great success to lose a ton of weight, just check out the keto subreddit.
That’s great news but I’m a 6 foot man stick weighing 145 lbs so what the hell am I doing it for? I certainly don’t need to lose anymore weight unless I want to disappear. My mom’s already telling me I’m too skinny.
The reason I’m doing this is for the neurological benefits. This diet has been used for things such as juvenile epilepsy in the past but has also been studied more recently in adults showing promising results for neurological issues. Anecdotally, it has also helped people struggling with anxiety and depression and other problems of that type. Doctors stipulate that the reason might be that the ketogenic diet alters the excitability of nerve cells in the brain which MAY bring about some benefits to people where that’s an issue.
You can check out the keto subreddit again to see the many other benefits that people claim to get from this diet. A lot of them may come from the fact that they’re just losing weight and feeling a lot better but it’s impressive to see people have lower blood pressure and better blood work despite eating a diet full of butter, eggs and steak. It really makes you think about conventional nutritional guidelines.
As always, diets are a very personal thing and what works for one person may simple not work for another. Studies that have looked into the keto diet have shown some issues such as constipation, blood sugar issues, headaches, cramps but as with all diets, it’s impossible to tell if you’ll be impacted by those and/or if those people ate healthy and did all the right things during their time on keto.
The majority of these issues often occur during the transition into ketosis. There’s the dreaded keto flu which happens as your body transitions from a dependence on carbs to a dependence on fat. This can lead to reduced blood sugar levels, tiredness and even flu symptoms as your body gets used to not having glucose and insulin and finally figures out how to create and use ketones.
The transition to ketosis also has a diuretic effect which can also lead to electrolyte imbalance. That’s one of the reasons many people recommending supplementing magnesium and loading up on salt when on the diet as well as drinking a boatload of water. Seriously, you’re gonna be salting everything and drinking a ridiculous amount of water daily.
Another shortfall is that this diet is very restrictive and many people just won’t be able to stick with it. There are carbs in a lot of your favorite foods and going on this diet means cutting them out of your life. One of the reason this diet isn’t often recommended for neurological issues as a first line of defense instead of prescription drugs is because it requires a lot of commitment to changing your entire lifestyle. It’s much easier to just pop a pill and move than reorganize how you eat.
As always, diets are a very personal thing. When I use the word diet here, I don’t mind a short term solution to a weigh problem, I mean what you eat forever. What makes one person feel good may make another person feel awful. That’s why it’s important to try things and see how you feel. I firmly believe that your diet is one of the biggest contributors to your overall health and that’s important if you plan to live a long healthy life.
If you feel great then obviously whatever you’re eating is working for you and no changes are needed. However, for those who aren’t there and especially those with certain neurological issues, the keto diet offers an option that may improve your quality of life as it definitely did for me.
My experience with Keto
I initially tried this diet for one reason. I felt crappy.
It was as simple as that. I was in my late 20s but felt like I was 60 already. My bones hurt, I was tired all the time, felt weak and had no energy at all. My anxiety was through the roof too and I didn’t even have a stressful life! On top of that, I developed a neurological issue for which I had to start taking medication. It wasn’t a great time for me and I went to a variety of doctors to figure out what the deal was.
After spending a bunch of money on a laundry list of tests, my diagnosis was, you’re fine, deal with it. Most doctors just wrote it off as anxiety and prescribed anxiety medication but I didn’t want to take those for the rest of my life. I didn’t feel great, there was probably some reason for it but that reason continued to elude me.
What’s funny is that not once did anyone suggest a diet change beyond the generic, eat healthy trope you often hear.
What the heck does that mean anyway? One of the things that interests me about nutrition is that so much about it is unknown. Eggs are bad for you, now they’re good. Fat is bad, now it’s good. Grains are good, now they’re bad and so on and so forth.
My personal belief is that what’s healthy is so hard to pin down because it simply does not have an answer that applies to the entire human race. What works for one person may simply not work for another. That’s coming from a person with a finance degree and some internet research so you know it’s reliable.
One thought that came through my mind is that maybe what I was eating was an issue. Celiac disease was ruled out but I started an elimination diet to see if it was an allergy or a sensitivity to food but I couldn’t quite pin anything down. When it came to diet, I was always rather malleable and willing to try anything.
I had been raised on a diet of frozen pizza and processed foods. My diet changed after I left home but it was still your typical american fare. Translation; lots of carbs.
I did a bunch of research and stumbled upon the ketogenic diet. I figured, why not give it a try and see how it goes. Avoiding random foods wasn’t helping so why not give an entirely new way of eating a try. After all, it was used to treat a variety of neurological symptoms as well and I had one of those!
It seemed weird at first, avoiding carbs, but I actually found it quite easy to follow. I’ve never been a huge fan of cooking and limiting myself to certain ingredients made it much easier to make meals. Luckily, I also didn’t have a huge sweet tooth so that helped too.
Here’s what you can eat; fat and protein. Here’s what you can’t eat; carbs. That somewhat limits you in your options but it doesn’t mean food sucks. There are still steaks with butter, green salads with olive oil and plenty of cheese and other great things.
I started with the diet although I wasn’t super strict to the limit of 20 carbs. Within a few months, I felt better. My joint pain was almost gone, my energy levels were up and best of all, my lifelong anxiety issues started to get a lot better. They weren’t completely gone but they were definitely at least 80% better.
A few years ago, having to talk to someone at work on the phone would give me anxiety. Now, I could lead a team meeting without any struggle.
It didn’t all happen immediately like a magic button but results came relatively quickly.
As always, it’s impossible to tell how much the diet helped with this and how much is driven by some sort of placebo effect or simple personal growth. It’s hard to tell these things but I do know that recently these symptoms started to return a bit and I’m pretty sure I know the cause.
I won’t lie and say that sticking to this diet is easy. Again, one of the main reasons it isn’t recommended as a treatment for things such as epilepsy is that people find it hard to follow. People want to eat pizza and have a dessert when they go out. As my fiancee and I started going out to various restaurants, I found it harder to stay away from the call of a chocolate souffle. I still ate followed the diet at home but for the past year or two, I wasn’t that strict.
Pizza on the weekends or a dessert after dinner was a common occurrence. If I get pizza on Sunday then I have leftovers on Monday and you gotta eat those. I started adding beans and corn to my Chipotle order, I’d eat the bun at the burger place. Yada, yada, yada and suddenly I was eating a bunch of carbs each day more often than not.
Slowly but surely, I started notice that familiar joint pain again. My anxiety began to creep back and I felt more tired again. I went to the doctor again to see if anything was up but again, nothing.
Maybe, it’s all in my head. Perhaps it’s my anxious self unknowingly associating certain food with feeling bad which cause me to feel bad. The mind is a complicated thing so who the hell knows!
Some may call what the diet did for me a placebo effect but there seemed to be a clear connection to what I was eating and how I felt. It sounds silly to say it because it should be so obvious but feeling good is important to me. Much more important than having a pizza or a sugary dessert so I’m back on the diet full time again.
The overall point of this blog is to save money and retire early. It makes perfect sense to be as healthy as possible while doing it. An early retirement won’t be so great if I feel like an old man when I get there.
Three weeks ago, I cut out carbs completely for the second time in my life. Well, not completely as that’s near impossible. Green leafy veggies are still important and they have a few carbs as do most foods. However, my carb intake for the past few weeks has been below 25 per day; usually lower.
Let me tell you one thing about getting back into ketosis full time. It sucks as your body becomes dependent on carbs pretty damn quick. My head hurt almost every day, I had the chills and a huge lack of energy. One important thing to remember on the keto diet is that your salt and water intake must increase substantially. I’m talking at least 5g of salt a day and a ton of water. That may seem like a lot but it’s hard to get that amount without eating processed food. I was salting my salads and adding a pinch of salt to my water to keep the headaches at bay.
Those first few days were rough but once I had my electrolytes replenished, I started to feel better. The good news is that I’m already feeling better overall. It’s only been three weeks but my wrists don’t hurt as much anymore and I’m less anxious about heading into work.
What have I been eating? Yesterday, I had palak paneer for breakfast, an indian spinach/cheese dish. I made a coconut milk smoothie with hazelnuts and some raspberries for a snack, leaving some for work today. Dinner was a massive salad with plenty of cheese, nuts and a bunch of olive oil. To save time in the morning, I prepared a few extra salads in tupperware for lunch at work and to have a quick snack on the weekend.
This is definitely a harder diet to follow. It requires thinking ahead and preparing stuff in advance to save time.
Eating out is certainly more of a challenge but it’s not impossible. You can still have a steak smothered in butter but might have to ignore the potatoes that often come with it. Most burger places will wrap your burger in lettuce instead of a bun or place it on top of a salad.
Office parties might get a bit awkward as everyone gorges on cake and you pass. You can always bring a cheese stick if you want a snack or make your own fatty treat.
In reality, since I’m back on this diet, I eat out less and cook at home more. That’s good for the pocket book too and will help my portfolio grow. That’s a nice side benefit of those thinking about the early retirement date!
Food you like still exists too although it’s less convenient and probably not quite as good. Pizza with crust made of fat is a thing although it’s a pain to make. You can even eat noddles although they have to be made out of spiraled zucchini and not grains.
One of the nice things about keto getting more popular and mainstream is the bevy of companies creating food to make the diet easier. Easy doesn’t always mean healthy though as convenience food is rarely great for your health.
It’s always good to have something convenient but I think one of the reasons Keto works for me is that it forces me to think about my food choices instead of heating something up in the microwave.
A diet full of fat may seem unhealthy to most people and it can be. I could fry everything I eat in canola oil and eat pork rinds every two hours but just like with anything, it can be as healthy as you make it. You can still eat plenty of vegetables on this diet and get a lot of vitamins and minerals from nuts and seeds and avocados. The fats you choose can be healthy ones like olive oil, coconut oil and grass fed butter. You can eat fresh fish and canned sardines and plenty of delicious food beyond that.
I’ve eaten more salads since returning to this diet than I have in a long long time. My daily lunch is a salad filled with healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. It tastes good, fills me up and is easy to make.
As with all diets(what you eat on a daily basis, not a short term weight fix), whether it’s suitable really depends on the person. It will work for some and won’t work for others. You may think that a diet full of salt and fat will cause your cholesterol and blood pressure to shoot up and your heart to clog up but I haven’t found that to be the case.
My blood work has never been better. My blood sugar is stable, my cholesterol is fine and my blood pressure is always below 120/80.
I am no doctor and I don’t even play one on TV. I don’t know your medical history nor am I giving anyone advice here.
If you already feel amazing then that’s great but otherwise, you can think about some changes. As always, talk to your doctor before starting anything and get blood work done. I’m just some guy on the internet so don’t listen to me. This is just a story about the keto diet and what it did for me.
It’s impossible to tell how the keto diet affects anyone in the very long term. There haven’t been mass studies done about it yet. The question to ask is whether the current diet is so great. Are we all healthy and feeling great? I feel better on this diet and I know the end result of any diet is the same so I’m not too worried about it.
I like it, I’ll probably stay on it for the rest of my life as long as it doesn’t cause any issues and my blood work remains solid. It’s not easy but I’ll take feeling better and missing out on some things I like over feeling crappy any day.
So what’s for dinner tonight? I’ll either stop at Chiptole and get my usual keto-friendly order or get a steak and some asparagus from the grocery store. It all depends on how lazy I feel.