July came faster than I wanted it to this year. I had spent the entire semester eating unhealthy foods, occasions that usually involved my debit card, and my activity level had dropped into the category of “lethargic housecat.”
Like many others, I’ve always been skeptical of “fad” diets. Calorie restriction, fitness regimens, and the elimination of entire food groups always sounded exhausting to me. I could never find a diet that seemed sustainable—and the magic quick fix cleanses and detoxes I read about seemed more like torture tactics designed to elicit confessions from criminal suspects. I didn’t want any part of it.
Unless it involved bacon. Lots of bacon.
Initially, when the Ketogenic diet showed up on my radar, I was again skeptical. Being used to scrolling past click-bait articles promising weight-loss miracles, keto was always lumped in with other buzzword diets like the Paleo or Atkins. Additionally, keto always seemed to be surrounded by words like “caloric deficit,” “low-carb,” and “macronutrients.” Yuck.
However, after noticing that I’d been avoiding my mirror more often than usual, and that my favorite t-shirts had begun to shrink, I decided I could afford to lose a few pounds. For the record, I have zero issues with body types and sizes across the spectrum. I am an advocate of body positivity, all the way. For me, the decision to try something different was more of a personal long-held desire to have a leaner physique with a better fitness routine.
Suddenly excited and determined to make a change, I consulted the most reliable, credible source available to me. Google. As it turns out, the Ketogenic diet has caught global attention, being covered by major publications and news outlets for its sudden popularity.
Medical News Today, in its article “Why is the Keto Diet good for you,” lauds the low-carb, high fat diet for its proven benefits such as “weight-loss, reduced cancer risk, and improved heart health.”
A variety of other sources, including Healthline, claim keto is shown to produce vast improvements for people with Type 2 Diabetes, and even lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Up until this point I was unaware that cholesterol even did the whole Jekyl and Hyde thing, but I was definitely intrigued to say the least.
It all sounded a little too good to be true. Of course, with any diet there’s conflicting research, but I made a conscious effort to soak up the good things. I even picked up The Complete Ketogenic Diet for Beginners by Amy Ramos. As it turns out, not only is bacon allowed on a Ketogenic diet, but it’s absolutely encouraged. My curiosity grew as I began investigating this fascinating regimen that wouldn’t go bacon my heart.
My relationship with food goes something like this: if I like it and I’m hungry, I’ll eat it. Sometimes I don’t even have to be hungry. I’m a relatively simple person, so complicating something as enjoyable as food seems distasteful (to use the best word possible). As an aging millennial with impulse control problems, this lack of self-discipline has been a huge folly for my slowing metabolism.
The following is a simplified, first-person account of my experience with the Ketogenic diet over two months. The scientific information presented here is derived from multiple sources. From those sources, this is my understanding of how the diet works, nothing more.
Disclaimer: I am not a health professional. I do not advise anyone to start a new diet without discussing it with a health professional first. If you are curious about changing your eating habits, please talk to a health practitioner—even though that’s not what I did.
Keto Simplified: Fuel’s Gold
Our bodies can run on two different fuel supplies: sugar and fat. Our sugar supply comes from carbohydrates in the foods we eat, which travel in our bloodstream as glucose. Food like bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes are all converted into sugar for energy. Most people living on a typical western diet cram a lot of carbs into their meals, and have followed official food pyramids that place little priority on fats—and often cautioning of their potential danger. As a result, most people’s bodies primarily burn carbohydrates for energy as dictated by their diets.
Burning fat, our other fuel source, is the basis for the Ketogenic diet. Simply put, it’s based on restricting carbohydrate intake to the point where our bodies must switch to using mainly fat for fuel. Is it really that simple? Well, not exactly.
What’s in a name?
When our body runs out of sugar to use, the liver begins converting fat into tiny energy molecules called ketones. These little guys provide long-lasting energy, fueling both the body and the brain. The resulting diet is called “Ketogenic,” which means “producing ketones.”
When our body enters a state of ketosis it becomes a fat-burning machine, even during sleep. We begin tapping into our fat reserves, making ketosis killer for weight-loss. The satiating nature of high-calorie, fatty foods also makes our bodies feel less hungry for longer periods; and since our blood-glucose doesn’t randomly spike throughout the day (as it does when burning carbs), our energy levels are more consistent.
So, uh, what exactly do you eat on this diet?
In my diagram below, you’ll find a (very) non-comprehensive list of foods you can enjoy on a Keto diet—as well as the ones to avoid. Essentially, you’re opting for whole, real foods instead of processed foods and grains. In order to keep your fat content high, it’s important to cook with lots of olive oil, coconut oil, and butter. Sound delicious? Well, it is.
In the dairy department, go for anything with high-fat content. Heavy (whipping) cream, cheese, unsweetened yogurt, and cream cheese are all keto-tastic. Milk and skim milk are to be avoided, as well as anything flavored, sweetened, low-fat, or no-fat.
This is the part where things get a little technical. Macronutrients are nutrients that the body needs in large amounts. Basically, they’re the stuff in food that give us energy. Before you start to nod off—I’m happy to let you know there are only three of ’em: fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.
Keto is a high fat, moderate protein, and low carb diet. In order to ensure your body enters (and stays) in ketosis, it’s important to pay attention to your daily macros. I know—it kind of sounds like a pain, but it’s not as complicated as it seems.
For simplicity’s sake, I won’t get into the specifics of macronutrient calculation. There are a few great resources linked at the end of this article to help determine yours. Everyone will have a unique daily percentage of macros determined by:
- Current Lean Body Mass (Your weight minus body fat)
- Total Daily Caloric Intake (I.e., 2000 calories daily)
- Daily Activity Levels (Do you work in an office? Wrestle alligators?)
- Workout Regimen (Weight lifting? Running from angry cab-drivers?)
The most important part about Macros is to not obsess over them. A big part of why I decided to start this diet was to have some fun with something new while making some adjustments to my health. But what good is being healthy if you’re stressed out all the time over accidentally eating a french-fry?
Getting Down to Business
The Complete Ketogenic Guide for Beginners advises that before starting, one should clear out their cupboards of high-carb foods. It was interesting to see just how much sugar I was consuming. Canned beans, cardboard boxes of cereal, and crappy granola bars went straight into a donation bin. I said farewell to innocent fruits, and parted ways with potatoes. By the end of this cleanse, my kitchen looked absolutely gutted. Would this be sustainable? Throwing away my last rotten box of raisin bran, I thought to myself: I’ll try this out for a month. If at the end I’m unhappy with the results, a carb rain’s a’ gonna fall.
I stopped by my favorite local butcher, Nesvog’s Meat & Sausage Co. Never before have I felt so much pride in ordering two pounds of bacon. The attendant looked at me, smiled, and simply said “Nice.” It was time to kick myself into full-blown ketosis.
In part two, I will be documenting my day-to-day meals, battling the dreaded “Keto Flu,” and talking about fun words like gluconeogenesis, all while navigating my roadblocks and results. Feature question: is it possible to get sick of bacon? Check out part two to find out.