Going Keto: Learning the Hard Way
After being a vegetarian for over eight years followed by a crazy diagnosis, I’ve dabbled with different diets to see what works best for me. I can’t say I’ve tried it ‘all,’ but I’ve certainly been around the block with many of these diets. But I haven’t quite gone full keto.
I went raw vegan for a spell, then turned paleo, but perhaps a more palegan version of the paleo diet. Or pegan – aka super heavy on the plants, a little bit of animal protein. I’ve done the anti-candida no sugar no carb diet, and dabbled with keto here and there. I’ve also relaxed and ‘cheated’ on occasion on each of these diets. I’ve also been playing with Intermittent Fasting to see how that goes down.
Part of this experimentation stems from personal health motivations, part of it is out of personal curiosity, and part of it from professional predilection to research and experiment and dive in to the ‘data.’
My Ketogenic Diet Experiment
I decided to put myself through a proper ketogenic diet experiment to see if I could see and feel the benefits of it first-hand. As a health coach, it helps to know beyond just theory. Plus, I’ve dabbled with it in the past and generally speaking already eat pretty low carb. So I figured the transition shouldn’t be too terrible.
The tricky part would be the chocolate. No question, if there was something I knew might cause the destruction of this experiment, it would be chocolate.
But I dove in and got my organic pasture raised eggs and avocados all lined up. I also really wanted to experiment with a no meat, no dairy, and potentially even completely vegan version of keto. Could it be done with ‘relative’ ease?
Restricting your diet is never easy, but an extreme diet like that would certainly require a high level of diligence and dedication. Since I’m already low carb and low on the animal protein, I figured the test and transition wouldn’t be too extreme for me to try. Evidence suggests that the ketogenic diet could be a powerful way to help fight and heal certain diseases, so I figured it would be worth the experimental efforts.
Going Keto, Bulletproof Style
I began with a bulletproof coffee in the morning. I even got the Bulletproof brand coffee (which supposedly has no mycotoxins) and I already had a bottle of the Brain Octane MCT oil that I’d purchased (on sale) a year prior in a previous half-hearted bulletproof trial run. I also had a jar of grass fed ghee in my cabinet, so I was sorted. If I was going to experiment, I might as well do it ‘right.’
I added some of the Bulletproof approved add-ins like collagen peptides, cinnamon, a little bit of organic cacao powder, and even a little cardamom to boost the nutritional benefits of the butter coffee. The idea is you replace breakfast with the bulletproof coffee and eat the rest of your daily calories within a restricted number of hours. Which is basically intermittent fasting. Since the coffee is mostly fat, it’s also a very coffee-lovers keto-friendly way to get MCT fat calories in.
Both the bulletproof coffee and the ketogenic diet supposedly help you feel more focused and energetic throughout your day. Between the lingering fatigue and chemo brain from treatment, I figured this would be an excellent thing for me to test out.
Derailed by Chocolate – Or Something Else?
Drinking the coffee and holding off to eat until midday (the intermittent fasting component) wasn’t hard. Neither was eating low carb, since I tend to eat this way anyway. But I did experience some intense chocolate cravings – and yes it could have been the sugar itself I was craving. Day one I got a little derailed by a chocolate binge. I figured it was like my transition day – Day two would be easier. But then the same thing happened.
Unfortunately, as it turns out, I was right: it was the chocolate that got in the way. But I was also actually wrong – it wasn’t actually the ‘chocolate,’ it was the underlying cause of the craving itself. The truth is, the realities of being a woman kicked me hard in the butt.
Day three I woke up feeling absolutely miserable – I literally felt like a ton of bricks. Could this be the dreaded keto flu? This was surely a piece of the overall picture. But on top of that, I got my monthly visitor, and – duh! – I realized that possible low blood sugar issues aside, this was probably the primary source of those intense chocolate cravings and why I was feeling like crap.
Keto Flu or Feminine Issues?
So I just gave in and ate my (sugar-free) chocolate avocado mousse topped with a bit more dark chocolate. But then I also began to experience chills, shakes, and – shockingly – nausea. Good lord I’ve never felt so awful before in my life due to my cycle. I have a strong stomach. I rarely experience nausea.
This was certainly more than that. Keto was clearly not helping, nor the chocolate. The combination of it all was brutal. All my body wanted at that point was a meatball. But it also felt like all it wanted to do was regurgitate the contents of my stomach. And I still had my yoga class to teach that evening.
I raided the pantry for some ginger tea and thank goodness my stomach began to settle. The class went smoothly, but yep immediately afterward I went straight to the Whole Foods hot bar and found a tray of giant meatballs. I got my meatball, paid, and immediately sat down to eat that meat.
I did feel better. But I realized this meatless, possibly even fish-free and egg-free version of keto might cause some unforeseen difficulties. Particularly since I apparently had to factor in female considerations.
Giving In but Not Giving Up
So I’m taking a couple days off of the full-on keto plan to let my body do it’s thing, and then I’ll regroup. Day four I was consciously off keto, yet still more or less doing IF. I still stuck to an overall low sugar, higher fat diet. But I woke up that morning bloated and throughout the day a substantial headache kicked in – another extreme rarity for me. I slept well after Day four, yet Day five I’m still feeling pretty tired.
The reality is, keto aside, my hormones still seem to be a bit out of whack. My body is still re-regulating. It seems I am overall just extra sensitive now. So keto at this time was definitely not a great idea. But I’ve heard and read that once you go keto, it can actually help your hormones regulate.
To be sure, I have considered that maybe keto isn’t actually right for me. But at this point I’ve hardly given my body a chance to transition, so I still don’t have a fair read on how it impacts me. Low carb seems to work pretty well for me, but full on keto is a different ballgame. And the potential benefits of keto are certainly alluring. The jury’s still out, but I’ve learned a few things already:
- Planning is key. Yes, going to the store and buying the right food and planning your meals is a key component of doing keto – or any dietary shift – right. But, planning any attempt to shift your diet, particularly keto, into your overall life schedule is equally important. As much as you might hear people say things like ‘the best day to start is today,’ certain things in life – especially diet and lifestyle change – do require a transition. You can’t/ shouldn’t do an extreme diet like keto from 0-100 overnight because it’s more likely you’ll fall off the wagon and/ or experience very unpleasant side effects. And if you’re sensitive or have health considerations, you’ll need to be extra careful. Most people do experience the keto flu in the first couple days, or up to a week, as their bodies transition into fat burning mode, so don’t try to go keto right before an important day or event in your life! Finally, ladies, don’t try to go keto right before your period! Hormones have a real impact. Don’t mess with them.
- Bulletproof coffee is energizing. While I have only a couple days of full on keto under my belt, I’ve been doing the bulletproof coffee for closer to a week. I honestly feel like the one cup does keep me revved all day. Is it necessary to consume it in this precise form to still reap the benefits? I’m not sure. I’m going to keep playing with that one.
- Your body is the leader. The expert. The King. The Queen. Ok, so this is a lesson I’ve learned before, but it’s a lesson that bears repeating. No matter what health quest you might be on, you must always listen to what your body needs. To be clear, there is a distinct difference between what your body wants and what it truly needs. Chocolate cravings like mine mean more than ‘sugar.’ They mean ‘iron’ and ‘magnesium’ and other such nutrients like antioxidants, and even serotonin needs as monthly hormone cycles come into play, so learn the proper swaps to feed your body what it needs without falling back on what you think it wants. And what works for one person might not work for you, so when making any dietary changes tune in and let your body lead the way.
- Optimal health is a moving target. As is diet. As humans, we are constantly changing and evolving; that goes for our health too, and diets along with it. Metabolism changes, and health situations may alter the way we react to a food, or how sensitive we are to particular ingredients. Life changes, circumstances change, we change; what we need may likely change in turn.
Stay tuned for more updates as I continue to report on my keto experiments. And if you’ve had experimented with the keto diet I’d love to hear your experiences – good and bad!
For some keto-friendly, plant-based recipes, check these out:
- Creamy Celery Soup
- Cauliflower Mash, Three Ways
- Vegan Creamy Broccoli Cheezie Soup
- Key Lime Pie Avocado Mousse
- Chocolate Hazelnut Butter