Last summer I did some intermittent fasting. I lost a few pounds and then plateaued. I found it difficult to maintain on a daily basis long-term. I dropped it after a couple of months and gained back the pounds I had lost.
For the past 5 weeks now, I’ve been following a ketogenic diet, and again, I’ve lost a few pounds. I haven’t lost muscle that I can tell: I’m still able to do as many repetitions of bodyweight exercises (squats, pushups) as before with about same amount of effort. I have an abundance of energy, which stays stable. I sleep well. I feel good!
I did a lot of online research about the ketogenic diet. Basically it is a high fat, moderate protein, very low carb diet. By consistently eating this way, your body makes the switch from burning glucose to burning fat for fuel. (That’s what ketosis is.) Once your body gets trained into ketosis, it affects your fat-burning ability for life. This can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months to occur.
The keto diet has a lot of other benefits as well. It helps with epilepsy, early Alzheimer’s and cognitive impairment, Parkinson’s, ADHD, MS, autism, and bipolar II. It lowers blood sugar and insulin, and some say it prevents and kills cancer cells (which may be due the lack of sugar/carbs). There are more claims based on personal experience. Although high in fat, it does not increase your risk for heart disease, and it’s said to prevent strokes.
Here are 14 takeaways from my experience so far (and if you have health issues, especially regarding blood sugar, please consult with your doctor before trying any of this):
- Many keto sites recommend counting calories from fat, protein, and carbohydrates and staying within narrow ranges for each, by the meal or by the day. This is after calculating your ideal body weight and BMI and doing some math regarding calories and grams. To me, all that measuring just sucks the pleasure right out of eating. “Yeah, I’m eating this delicious piece of bacon right now while using my calculator or app to determine whether I can have another slice.” Right. If I can’t do this the easy way (controlling what and when I eat and getting simple feedback that I’m in ketosis), I will hire someone to crunch numbers and come up with a weekly meal plan (or learn to do it myself). And I will let you know!
- I bought a container of keto sticks for simple feedback. You pee on a stick and the color on the end of the stick tells you how ketogenic you are. The darker the color, the higher your level of ketosis. Since there are 100 sticks in a $10 package, costing 10 cents per stick, it’s not a big deal to measure 2-3 times a day until you’re consistently measuring 0.5 (trace) or above, and then measure occasionally if you’re curious. You probably want to wait a couple of weeks after starting the diet before starting to measure, though, because it takes time for your body to make the switch to ketosis/burning fat. And…I’ve read that after a few weeks of eating this way, people excrete fewer ketones because the body is burning fat more efficiently, so if/when that happens, I may switch to a breath or blood test. Or not.
- Here’s how the feedback loop works: If I’m not measuring 0.5 (trace) or higher, I eat more fat, less protein, and/or only very low carb veggies (plus stay hydrated). Probably the hardest thing is to eat more fat. It’s been so ingrained for my entire life that fat = bad for your health. On the keto diet, you can eat a lot of fat. Bacon, butter, coconut oil/butter/cream, dairy cream, sour cream, cheese, whole milk Greek yogurt, avocados, olive oil, cooking in bacon grease, etc. (Just not ice cream, because sugar.) Eat the healthiest fats you can, from pastured sources, organic, with no antibiotics, growth hormones, or sugars.
- I bought some MCT oil. That stands for medium chain triglycerides. They are a good kind of fat for getting into ketosis more quickly and for reducing hunger pangs. MCT oil doesn’t have any flavor. You can cook with it (it has a high smoke point) and add it to hot drinks, green drinks, salad dressings, etc. I consume 1-2 tablespoons a day. It’s great in my morning matcha along with a dab of stevia and some coconut cream, whirred with a frother. But watch out! Start slow, with a teaspoon or less, to see how your body tolerates it, because too much too soon will give you diarrhea (aka disaster pants). MCT oil is not the same as coconut oil…but coconut oil has more MCTs than any other source, so if you don’t want to buy MCT oil, make coconut oil your go-to fat. For those in the know, the brand shown here has 60-65% C8 and around 35-40% C10 with negligible C12. It is expeller-expressed and then fractionated from coconut oil and palm oil. The price is also very good.
- I never had the “keto flu“, where some people experience flu-like symptoms for a few days while they are adapting. Since I was already eating a Paleo/Weston A. Price diet (no grains or legumes and not a lot of sugar/starchy carbs), it was not hard on my body to make the switch. If you’re not already eating Paleo, you might try transitioning for a few weeks before going full ketogenic by cutting down on carbs and ramping up on fat consumption. I haven’t had brain fog, either. FYI, the ketogenic diet and the Paleo diet are similar but not the same…and that’s a topic for another day.
- If you have any kind of sweet tooth at all, stevia is your friend. Sugar, honey, and other sweeteners are anti-ketogenic, and artificial sweeteners are something I want to avoid. Stevia comes from a plant. Read stevia labels for carbs and ingredients, and get the least processed, purest form you can find.
- You probably are eating a moderate amount of protein already. Stick with that! I eat meat, poultry, or fish, about 2.5-3 ounces per meal, and dairy, eggs, and other sources of protein for variety. Again: pastured, grass-fed, cage-free, organic, wild caught, etc. Too much protein means going out of ketosis, whereas too little means muscle loss. If you’re a big person (I am not) or very muscular, you will need more.
- You must drink plenty of water on the ketogenic diet. I drink a big glass of water on waking, then morning tea, and I carry a water bottle with me throughout the day, refilling it as needed with good water and a pinch of salt. I also enjoy herbal teas, bone broth, and green drinks. I aim for a gallon of water a day if I’m not sweating much, and that works for my body size (half your weight in ounces).
- You also need to add salt. You’re not eating salty processed junk food any more! I recommend Real Salt. It has over 60 trace minerals, which you need. You also want to get enough other major minerals like magnesium, potassium, etc. Eating a piece of seaweed like nori every day helps. Supplement with minerals if needed.
- Carbs! Stick to green veggies for the most part, especially leafy greens like spinach, kale, and collards, and you can eat all you want with a full fat salad dressing if you like. Stay away from starchy root veggies like carrots, beets, and potatoes. It helped me to look up which veggies were lowest in carbs and steer in that direction. Again: go for organic. When you’ve reached your weight or fat loss goal, this is where you can add back in modest amounts of starchy veggies and fruit for the taste, fiber, and nutrients.
- To keep your bowels regular, drink enough water and eat fermented foods like sauerkraut for a healthy gut microbiome daily. Eliminate dairy (butter and ghee are usually okay) and see if that changes things — you may be sensitive. Take a magnesium supplement. Also: relax. When you’re stressed, your digestive system is not operating optimally. An Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) bath relaxes and nourishes you through your skin.
- Move or exercise every day. I do yoga and body weight exercises like squats at home, and I dance weekly when I can. When the weather is good, I like to get in the water and on the trail. Once ketogenic, you’ll have plenty of energy!
- Avoid alcohol, at least at first, to help your metabolism become ketogenic. When you drink, your body uses the alcohol for fuel instead of fat or glucose. When the alcohol has burned up, you resume burning fat. If you’re serious about weight loss, avoid alcohol. If and when you decide to add it back in, learn which forms are lowest in carbs and stick to those. Your tolerance will be lower, so please drink mindfully.
- After the first couple of weeks, I added 2-3 days of intermittent fasting each week, skipping breakfast, which is easiest for me. It probably helped me become ketogenic faster, since the body burns more fat for the last few hours of a fast. I fast for 16-18 hours. This is different from my experience last summer: The added fat and MCT oil reduce hunger pangs, and my energy level seems to stay pretty even. Intermittent fasting on the ketogenic diet appears to be more sustainable.
The next thing I’m going to experiment with is using exogenous ketones, a supplement said to put one into ketosis in one hour. I’ll report back on my results.
There’s not a lot of information about women and the ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting, so I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments, ladies!