My Experience With Keto (Pros + Cons) & My Professional Opinion
The Keto Diet is all the rage right now for good reason. Any diet that promises rapid weight loss and a long list of physical benefits? Count me in.
Well, you guys know that I love being a human guinea pig, so I decided that the only way to really make up my mind was to experience it for myself. So, mid-March, I started my keto journey, or what I like to call my “kourney” . (Ha, see what I did there?).
WHAT IS THE KETOGENIC DIET?
Ketosis is state in where the body gets energy from fat instead of sugar. Ketones are a type of fat that the body can burn for fuel. On the keto diet, the body becomes fat-adapted whereas in a non-ketogenic state, the body is a sugar burner (using glucose for fuel).
Both of these states are natural to the human body, but nowadays, many people never experience a ketogenic state due to our high carbohydrate diets. Most of our hunter-gatherer ancestors continually cycled in and out of ketosis when carbohydrates became scarce, causing their blood sugar to plummet and ketosis to kick in.
This survival mechanism allowed the body to switch over to using stored body fat in the form of ketones in case of food scarcity or famine.
IS IT REALLY THE MIRACLE DIET?
Because of it’s effects on the nervous system, it can have incredible neurological benefit for applications like Alzheimer’s, chronic anxiety, autism and seizures, but what about regular old joes like you and me? I’ll be honest, with so many people screaming from the rooftops about how amazing it is, I was hella curious about it.
As someone who has experimented with every style of eating under the sun over the past 5+ years, from autoimmune paleo to my brief stint as a fruitarian (ya, I’m looking at you, Jessica of summer 2016), I’ve learned how to read my body and know exactly if something is working for me or not.
I had two goals I wanted to achieve with ketosis:
Fat Loss — I’ve had a stressful 6ish months and when I’m stressed, my body tends to store a few extra pounds of fat. This is totally normal, but I was ready to shed some extra weight. When I started Keto, I was sitting at about 143. I’m more comfortable at around 130-135.
Lower A1C Hemoglobin — if you aren’t familiar, your A1C is a blood test measure of how sensitive your body is to insulin. Like most women with PCOS, I’ve been working hard over the past 5+ years to lower my insulin resistance. When I first started my health journey, I was pre-diabetic at 5.9. Before keto, my A1C was 5.4.
I decided to commit myself to doing strict ketosis for 8 weeks. This was 30 grams or less of net carbs, 120+ grams of fat and a moderate amount of protein. I focused on eating when I was hungry and stopping when I was full. For the purpose of the experiment, I tracked all my food in MyFitnessPal just to make sure I was eating enough.
- Energy: other than the first week, where my energy went up and down, I woke up feeling like the energizer bunny. My energy didn’t slump at all throughout the day, even around 5 pm, when I usually start to get a little tired.
- Mental: this is what surprised me the most. On this high-fat diet, my mental clarity was on fire. I felt sharper, focused, my memory was better and my mood was way more stable.
- Skin: my skin looked awesome and stayed pretty clear.
- Fitness: I continued my regular strength training/HIIT about 4-6x a week and felt strong and energized on most days. No loss of strength or athleticism.
- Hunger: This was my absolute fave thing about being keto. I never felt hungry or “hangry” nor did I have many cravings.
- I dropped 8 pounds fairly quickly and it didn’t feel that hard. I also stayed very lean and didn’t retain much water. With this being said, after the initial weight loss, I just kind of plateaued.
- My A1C dropped from 5.4 to 5.0 in a relatively short time. I am stoked about this result. This showed me how effective keto is at helping the body regain a sensitivity to insulin.
What happened around the 7th week mark::
After the initial two months, my body didn’t seem to feel as good as I did at the beginning. I began feeling lethargic and heavy and wasn’t sleeping as well as before. I lost strength at the gym. I was retaining water. I craved energy and lightness. I also really began to crave carbs like fruit and sweet potatoes. And you guys know that when my body speaks, I listen.
With that being said, I’ve learned that:
- My body feels much more satisfied with a higher-fat style of eating
- I need less carbs than I was eating before I started Keto
- I, like most women, need a moderate amount of carbohydrates to feel my best and have high-functioning hormones
- Restrictive, calorie counting diets are not my thing and drain my quality of life
How I'll be going forward::
I’ve focused on adding wayy more veggies, seasonal fruits and starchy root veggies back into my diet. The benefits I was feeling on keto like mental clarity and energy have continued to stick, but now I feel even better.
As someone who’s struggled with eating disorders in the past, I felt like keto was a little too restrictive and could feel fear of food starting to rear it’s ugly head. I nipped that in the bud quickly by allowing myself to go back to eating intuitively. I saw how a diet that’s so meticulously calculated can trigger disordered thinking around food very quickly.
My Humble Conclusion:
Let me preface this by saying that this is my own personal experience and observations and might not be true for everyone. But, I have seen a trend with myself and amongst many of my female clients and friends.
I’m well aware that ketosis, or using ketones and body fat as a primary fuel source, is not a new concept. Our bodies have been able to switch into ketosis for thousands of years as a survival mechanism. When food is scarce or there’s famine, your body is wise and knows exactly how to survive.
But, is putting an already stressed out, depleted, hormonally imbalanced body into survival mode the best course of action?
I’ll let you decide.
Bottom line is, you’ll never know if keto works for you unless you try it for yourself. As for me, I’m walking away from keto with more awareness surrounding my body and another tool in my belt as a nutritionist.
Now, can you pass me the carbs?