In case you haven’t been online lately, the ketogenic (“keto” for short) diet is trending so hard that the CrossFit Army is at war in terms of devoted followers. It is the diet that screams, “Fat isn’t bad for you!” and allows you to not only cook with butter but also indulge in copious amounts of cheese every day. Closely related to the once-famed Atkins diet, the keto diet revolves around eating lots of fat, limited protein, and very little carbs.
Basically, you aim for macro percentages of 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbohydrates. Exactly how many grams of each depends on your body type and energy needs, but most dieters take in no more than 20 grams of carbs per day, with few leaning upwards to 50 grams if they’re needing the boost for heavy workouts. In a traditional Western diet, 50 to 65 percent of a person’s calories come from carbohydrates so this is a complete shift in how your body runs.
The goal is that your body will enter into ketosis and start to burn fat rather than glucose. Usually, your body gets its fuel from glucose which is found in carbs. When you take out carbs though, your body is like, “What the heck?” It doesn’t know how to run any longer, so it turns to another source of energy: fat. Or, scientifically speaking, ketones.
A diet that allows ungodly amounts of cheese, has tons of delicious-looking recipes, and sports thousands of Facebook groups for community-building? Sign me up! I began on Monday, August 20th and wanted to experience the keto diet for myself. Here is what happened when I committed to the high-fat, low-carb diet for one month.
As I’ve mentioned over the past few months, I have gained what I kindly call “happy weight” this past year. This gain is due to loving life and eating mindlessly at tons of family and social events. Basically, I’ve been enjoying life through my plate and not focusing too hard on exercise or discipline. It was unfortunate for the wedding and has since become even more unfortunate for my self-esteem, but I am the happiest I’ve ever been in all other aspects of my life so I’m a bit on the fence about my overall health. Physically, I’m no where near peak performance. Mentally and emotionally, I feel whole.
So when I began seeing all these “miracle weight loss” journeys all over Pinterest due to the keto diet, I grew interested. With the wedding fun over and Life finally starting to slow down, it was time I began to refocus on my physical health and get back into shape. Plus I wanted to see if this was yet another fad diet or something that might become a lifestyle. I did a lot of research before plunging into keto. I prepped. I planned. I even took the diet on a test run for two weeks before jumping into strict dieting. I ate keto for four weeks (six, if you include the trial runs as well.) In simplest terms, here was the breakdown on my impression of the diet:
Planning is key
Plentiful & tasty recipes
One word: CHEESE
Lifting of mental fog
Let’s begin with the cons.
Keto Flu. My first week on keto was rough. On my second day, I was unbelievably hangry, had a fever, couldn’t sleep, and threw up for two days straight. The migraines were unbearable and it was physically exhausting to even lift my head from the couch. I had caught the “keto flu” and I had caught it hard.
I read that this was due to dehydration and that loading up on electrolytes would help. I tried to drink chicken broth but couldn’t get it down. I attempted pickle juice but my stomach gurgled while I looked at the glass of green liquid. Finally, my only relief seemed to come when I sprinkled some pink salts into my morning coffee and drank a bottle of Propel.
Leg Cramps, Heart Palpitations, Digestive Issues. Even after the flu-like symptoms lifted, I couldn’t seem to find a happy place. I would lay in bed in tears from the cramps happening in my calves. During the day, the cramps would remain and it would feel as if I was going through growing pains again… at the age of 26.
Then there were the odd heart palpitations. I’d be sitting at my work desk, minding my own business, and all of a sudden feel as if my entire body was fluttering. It was as if I had had too much caffeine or just ran a marathon. I looked further into this, knowing the only change to my routine was my new keto intake. Abnormal electrolyte levels, meals rich in fat, and hormonal changes could all be culprits. Check, check, and check.
Lastly, my digestion was impacted. (TMI warning!) With the strict carb restriction, I was significantly constipated. I was bloated. And I was so uncomfortable. This may have also been due to the increase in dairy products into my diet or the low amount of fiber. Either way, my gut health was really taking a hit with the keto diet, and I knew how important my gut is to my overall health. An interesting article written on Insider only confirmed my fears of what keto may be doing to my digestive system internally.
Feeling Restricted & Limited Fruits. My final complaints about the keto diet are based on how restricted I felt. My entire life I have been told vegetables and fruits are important for my health. With keto, I was limiting my veggie intake to very select varieties: zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower. I could meal prep accordingly to add more varieties in, but that meant losing something else to make my macros meet keto. Sometimes it was just easier to stick to the basics and that became boring. I am a foodie! I love to explore new recipes and flavors, and with such an active lifestyle, keto wasn’t allowing me to do so to the fullest extent I desired. Plus, the fact I couldn’t indulge in the Michigan fruit season was heartbreaking. I had ONE PEACH all month, and Michigan peach season is my absolute favorite.
By the end of this last week, I was sick of sticking to the same foods I knew were safe bets. I made myself a handy keto list of known keto-friendly options, but there were only so many options that made grocery shopping simple, affordable, and not wasteful. Plus, what nutrients were I missing out on by leaving out my go-to sweet potatoes, apples, and oranges? The necessary supplements to make up my vitamin loss was no where within my budget.
Do not get me wrong though, the keto diet does have some amazing results. And even some of the cons don’t outweigh the pros.
Weight Loss. Ah yes, the main reason I went keto. The first week on the diet I lost 5 pounds. This may have been due to water weight loss or due to the fact I threw up for a solid two days, but the scale did move. And I continued to lose every week. By the end of the month, I was down 10 pounds. I know many women do not think 10 pounds is a big deal in 4 weeks because keto is supposed to work miracles, but let’s be realistic. Thousands of studies show that a maximum of 2 pounds lost per week means healthy and sustainable loss. I averaged 2.5 pounds per week. My goal is to lose weight and keep it off, so even this progress is a bit too fast for my liking, but it gives me a good foundation for continued loss.
Meal Prep and Planning & Delicious Recipes. One of my favorite aspects of the past month was how easy it was to meal prep and plan my meals. There are millions of keto recipes to be found on Pinterest, and there are numerous free meal plans as well. This past month has remained busy for me, so having resources I could use to help figure out my macros quickly and easily was ideal.
In addition to meal prep ease, the recipes I found and cooked were fantastic. Not a single one was disliked in my household. But then again, I chose options that I could include carbs for G (like tacos where I made him black beans and rice on the side) and most recipes involved lots of cheese or ranch seasoning. We’re omnivores in my house, so any recipe that has good meat and tasty veggies is a winner. Some of the choices I made were zucchini lasagna, keto chili and cornbread, cauliflower cheeseburger bake, and ranch pork chops.
It also should go without saying that most of my meals included cheese. I try to stay away from dairy products typically, opting for nondairy milks and limited cheeses. However, cheese is and has always been one of my favorite foods. So finding a diet that incorporates cheese so openly was a Godsend to me. (But again, most likely a huge cause for all those digestive issues.)
No Mental Fog. Aside from the great meal options, keto definitely had some benefits. There were good days when I didn’t feel bloated at all. And by my second week on the diet, I was feeling incredibly energized and as if my mental fog had lifted. My focus became 110% and I caught myself honing in on every small detail with any project I was working on — most often packing and cleaning the apartment for our impending move. The energy boost even spurred me to get up early the entire second and third weeks to workout.
Community. A big pro for keto that I wasn’t expecting was how welcoming and inclusive the “keto world” can be. I joined a few keto groups on Facebook for support and ideas, and the ladies were incredibly helpful! When I was feeling sick and wanted to quit, they encouraged me to push through. When I wasn’t sure on a keto question, I would receive many responses and answers. Like CrossFit, the keto-supporters link together to help one another achieve their goals. And the connections I made definitely helped spur me onto fulfilling my month-long journey.
In the end, I’m please with my keto diet results, but I won’t be continuing with this eating style. I am not convinced keto is a “fad diet” — I’ve witnessed many people who have lost weight through this eating style — but I’m also not convinced it is a sustainable diet long-term. I lost 10 pounds which I have kept off for the past few days since returning to non-keto, but I also am being disciplined and started weight lifting a bit. I felt more energetic while on keto, but the cramps and digestive issues simply aren’t worth the energy boosts. Instead, I simply need to start self-motivating myself to move more.
However, now that I know how to enter into ketosis, I may cycle through keto weeks in the future to push through any plateaus. This diet, contrary to what many keto-supporters say, was not designed to be followed long-term. There are so many differing research studies out there that combat this statement, but I’ve also read a lot on how harmful sticking to keto can be to your gut and kidneys. (I’m not a medical professional, so if you are a long-time ketoer, then by all means, continue. This is just my personal and honest opinion.)
The biggest thing I’m taking from this adventure is that keto definitely teaches you to be aware of what you’re putting into your body. For me, that was the greatest benefit. I needed that reminder, and now I’m looking forward to continuing to improve my physical health with a more sustainable lifestyle choice.
Be healthy, friends,