Chewing the Fat: My experience on a ketogenic diet
In Part 1 of this series, I discussed my general ambivalence toward “fad diets” and the factors that led up to my decision to cave to keto. I outlined the basics, boasted about bacon, and even went a little “Bill-Nye” for anyone interested in the science. As promised, this section provides an account of my personal journey with the famed high-fat diet.
The first week: When pigs fry
I woke up early and excited to start my new diet with bacon, eggs, and a lot of butter. This basic breakfast had satisfied me for years, except this time I didn’t pat the grease off with a paper towel. For dinner, I stuffed some chicken thighs with garlic and parmesan cheese before frying them in an oily pan. After searing them and letting them spend some time in the oven, it was time for—yes—even more butter. I watched in delight as it melted over those crispy little thighs. They turned out delicious. The side medley of spinach and mushrooms was equally satisfying.
The second morning, I had three slices of bacon and an avocado. Surprisingly filling. Dinner was pan-fried pork with broccoli. About 48 hours in, I was having some pretty intense late-night sugar cravings—far worse than any cigarette ever made me squirm. I also felt extremely thirsty, so I decided to make my water bottle my new best friend. (My old best friend sucked at texting anyway.) According to multiple sources, this thirst was my body letting me know I was headed in the right direction.
Cutting back on carbohydrates causes your body to deplete glycogen stores in your liver and muscles. Glycogen is the glucose held in your body which isn’t immediately used. It’s basically the stored carbs that also hold water—a lot of water. For every gram of glycogen, about three grams of water are stored, which is why people quickly lose a lot of water weight in the first week or so of going keto.
Since the kidneys begin excreting water so quickly, sodium and other minerals called electrolytes begin pouring out as well. This makes it necessary to not only stay hydrated, but also find ways to consume more electrolytes to supplement the loss. An easy way to do this is by mixing up your own “Keto-aide,” a drink that usually contains salt, potassium, and magnesium.
Honestly, I wasn’t too stoked on the idea of purchasing and diluting odd powders like some sort of obsessive mad-diet-keto-chemist, so I decided to settle on salt and lemon-juice (a mixture generally OK’d by the online keto-crew.)
Based on a flu-story
The “Keto Flu” was the part I really wasn’t looking forward to. In the first week of fat-adaptation, the body goes into shock from the sudden change in fuel. For many people, the symptoms are similar to having a flu, as their bodies enter a state of withdrawal from carbohydrates. Headaches, nausea, diarrhea, irritability, and dizziness are just a few of the wonderful little perks that can appear in this transitional phase. It doesn’t usually last very long, but it varies from person to person.
I’m not sure why, but the keto flu wasn’t really too bad for me. It must have had something to do with the keto-aide. I hardly experienced anything aside from some general fatigue. I’m always irritable, so it was hard to tell if there was any real difference in that department.
When starting a Ketogenic diet (or any diet, really), it’s recommended that you shouldn’t eat at restaurants. So just to complicate things for myself, I ended up dining out the first week.
There aren’t a lot of options at most establishments that are keto-friendly—unless you want to be the annoying person making modifications to menu items and having servers ask you if you’re celiac or something. Unfortunately, I timed the beginning of my new food experiment to coincide with a planned two day family trip to Vancouver. I guess I’d be the annoying guy in the restaurant, after all.
Looking at the menu wasn’t easy. I began to notice just how many items included rice, potatoes, and sugary sauces. Although it wasn’t too bad asking the waitress to substitute fries with veggies, it quickly became evident that this diet required some restaurant restraint. My brother’s delicious looking fried potatoes seemed succulent compared to my naked plate of steak. Take my advice: stay away from restaurants when you’re starting keto. After we left, I had to run to the supermarket for some fatty cheese and olives to compensate for my not-so-fatty dinner.
By around the third day, I must have been in ketosis. My mouth was dry, my breath was tasting metallic, and, miraculously, I didn’t feel hungry until 6 pm—even after a three hour walk around Stanley Park. I was also pissing everywhere. Including the bushes.
My final breakfast before taking the ferry back was at Denny’s: A Lumberjack Slam without the slam. This whole trip consisted of sneaking fat in everywhere I could, and this often meant adding butter to my coffee. Commonly referred to as “Bulletproof Coffee,” this little trick involves including butter, ghee, or MCT oil in your typical morning bean-beverage. A few days back home brought me to day seven, so I weighed myself. After one week of keto, I had already lost five pounds.
Weeks 2-4: Bombs away
The food kept getting better. Portobello mushroom pizza. Beef-stuffed peppers with mozzarella. Lettuce-wrapped avocado burgers. I hardly ever thought about anything sweet until I discovered fat bombs. These tasty, concentrated clusters of joy pack a huge energy punch, and their contents are enough to fill your daily fat macro quotient, quickly. Mine were a mix of cacao powder, coconut oil, peanut butter, and honey. All I needed were the ingredients and an ice cube tray. Simple.
Having avoided any sweet stuff thus far, I could hardly control myself by the time they were out of the freezer. They tasted so good melting in my mouth—things might get a little weird if I told you exactly how pleasurable it felt.
Month 2: Fit-for-fat
In a state of ketosis, your body is less capable of short, quick bursts of energy that glycogen stores are excellent at providing. Because your body primarily burns fat during low-intensity exercise anyway, the more intense workouts can (and should) be avoided on keto.
So I cooled down on the crappy cardio and eased up on the anaerobic stuff. And while I did notice a drop in performance, I was feeling increasingly more confident. The gym didn’t seem so daunting anymore. Being pretty happy with how things were going, it was time to check out my progress. Looking down on the scale, my jaw dropped. By the end of my second month, I had lost just over 15 pounds.
Kickin’ carbs wasn’t as complicated as I’d expected. Four months in and I’m still keto-committed. I have cheated with pizza a couple times, but the hangover the next day is usually enough to keep these mishaps to a minimum. To this point, I’ve lost around 20 pounds, my energy levels have stabilized, and I seem to sleep much better.
To anyone considering trying the Ketogenic Diet: remember that becoming fat-adapted takes tenacity. And to anyone else trying something similar: consistency is key if you don’t want to kill your diet-dreams.
Thank you all, for letting me chew the fat on my keto journey.