There are so many questions when you’re doing keto. Hopefully you will find the answer to a lot of them here.
How does the keto diet work?
The basic way in which the keto diet works is that it allows your body to reduce and normalise your insulin levels. Insulin is a hormone that acts in many ways in the body but one of its main functions is to tell the body to store fat. The more insulin the more fat storage. So if you reduce insulin there are less messages to the body for it to store fat.
The best way to do this is to cut carbs as they are the main thing that makes the body produce insulin. Once you cut your carbs to a maximum of 50g per day it will only take a few days to get into ketosis. This is the beginning of becoming a ‘lean, mean fat-burning machine’, this usually taking about six weeks or so. Just enjoy the journey – it’s going to be awesome fun.
What are the benefits of going keto?
The main one, probably why you are here in the first place, is that it is an incredibly efficient way to lose weight. In my first week I lost eleven pounds (5kg). Some of it will have been water but there is no doubt some was fat. I’ve lost 70lbs now and a lot of it is fat. The keto diet is also muscle sparing so you will not lose much lean mass (you can make yourself even less likely to lose lean muscle by doing some exercise whilst on your diet).
If you are like me you will feel your brain clear. Your thinking will become much sharper. Many people have reported their ‘brain fog’ disappearing within a few days of going keto.
Your energy levels will go up, although this could take a couple of weeks. Generally people feel a bit (or a lot) rubbish for a short time as their body gets used to the new energy source. This is the ‘keto flu’ and is a real pain. I’ll discuss it more fully later. It goes away quickly leaving you feeling absolutely brilliant.
Remember how hungry you get on a diet? Not on the keto diet. Getting your blood sugar under control and having enough protein and fat in your diet has an hormonal effect that means you won’t get hungry. You will eat until full and then naturally stop. These ‘satiety hormones’ will give you the natural ability to eat enough, not too much, and know when to stop.
This may sound daft but you will likely experience health improvements that you might not expect – I had ‘normal’ middle-age arthritis and this totally disappeared within a few days of going keto. I used to burn in the sun within minutes – now I can be there hours and no hint of burning. I used to get lots of fungal infections and now they are all gone too. I presume because the sugar the fungus fed on isn’t there any more. My dentist is also a lot happier with my teeth now. My first checkup after going keto, about three months in, was a change from road drilling to gentle, highly specific cleaning. You can Google pretty much anything and keto and find that the high fat diet is being shown to have protective effects.
What are the downsides to going keto?
I mentioned the keto flu just now. I’ll be totally honest here. It isn’t fun. It varies a lot in intensity, duration and how it shows but it can be a beast. In my case I got diarrhoea and constipation over a few days, headaches and, worst of all for me, I got really cold. In Summer!. I walked around for about two weeks with two fleeces on while everyone else was in T-shirts. I also got keto breath, where your body produces ketones but can’t use them properly yet so excretes them in the breath, urine etc. It smells of pear drops and isn’t unpleasant. Headaches were a bit troublesome for a bit but went very quickly.
A big thing for me was how weak I felt at the gym for a few weeks and how my heart rate increased a lot. It turns out that not only was I changing my fuel, becoming fat adapted but I was also losing a lot of salt in my urine. As my fat burning efficiency improved my HR went down and is now way below what it was when I was ‘normal’. I also added quite a lot of salt to my food – even had a spoon of ‘Lo-salt’, the half sodium/half potassium salt. in a glass of water each day. I don’t need to now as I’m in balance but it made a huge difference to my performance in the gym.
What are macros and how can I track them?
Macros are the main constituents of the food we eat. It is short for macronutrients. Macro means big and micro means small, so macronutrients make up the majority of what we consume and micronutrients (like vitamins and minerals) make up the rest. Remember, you are going to keep your carbs as 5% or so of intake with an absolute maximum of 50g. You might relax this as you see success but many don’t as they don’t miss the carbs. I’m one of them.
Tracking of any foodstuffs is easily done using an app. I use MyFitnessPal, though there are many others available.
There is a great article on configuring MyFitnessPal to track carbs at ruled.me.
Isn’t the ketogenic diet too restrictive?
Only yesterday I saw a ‘health’ magazine that did an article on the keto diet. As with most of these articles it got a lot of things wrong, one of them being that this diet is restrictive. I can assure you it isn’t. One of my favourites is curries, either home made or takeaway. On the keto diet you can get a chicken madras, for example, with bindi bhaji and a nice starter of, say, lamb kebab, and you’ll be doing keto. How cool is that? Eat as much as you want and no restriction. Pub food? Half roast chicken anyone?
At home I eat mainly chicken or beef, usually as curries, tagines, coq au vin etc. In Summer I eat masses of coleslaw made with lots of Hellman’s mayo.
Once you are making progress you can try adding a glass of wine to your intake. It will marginally slow down your loss but it will not have a major impact.
So, to recap, curries, pub food and wine!! All OK. Just check the carbs.
Can I eat too many calories?
As you know the keto diet is not about calorie counting. Having said that, if you keep your calories sensible you will lose weight more easily. I am 6’7″ and about 110 kg. I am currently able to eat well over 3000 calories a day and still lose weight, albeit very slowly. I’m near my target weight so am not so bothered about the pace of change. If I drop to 2000 calories a day I lose a lot faster and still get to eat plenty.
Do I need to buy anything fancy?
No. A lot of websites will tell you how you should buy ketostix to monitor your keto levels or how you should buy exogenous ketones or MCT oils to force your body to be even more keto, even faster. Just drop carbs, eat butter and coconut fat and away you go.
You absolutely do not need these to succeed. My advice would be to spend the money on good food that fits the bill. You don’t need to monitor your blood or urine to know if you are in ketosis just like you don’t need a speedometer to know you’re going fast. As soon as you’re in ketosis you will feel different, as I’ve said above. You may have ‘keto breath’ but it will go as you become fat adapted so that sign will disappear too. You will lose weight, lose fat and you will notice it. That is all you need.
Isn’t all that fat bad for me?
In a word, no. We have been told for decades that fat is the enemy. This all came about because of a man called Ancel Keys, who did research that has now been updated, showing fat to be a problem. It is quite clear now that saturated fats, such as butter, lard etc are perfectly safe and healthy. Mono-unsaturates have always been thought of as safe (think olive oil) but poly-unsaturates are now considered to be potentially problematical.
If you have any questions please drop me a line.