This week I celebrated my one year “ketoversary” – ok, I know that’s not an actual word, but if you’re part of the Keto/LCHF community you’ll understand. Yep, I’ve been on a ketogenic diet for 12 months now, and I’m still going. I’ve learned a few things along the way, and I continue to learn each and every day, so I thought I’d share where I’ve come from, where I’m at, what I’ve learned, and what my aims are as I continue into year 2.
First of all, I should probably explain what “Keto” is. The Keto diet is a very low carb diet that transitions your body from burning glucose for energy and instead switches to ketones, which are produced from burning fat, as its main fuel source. This is known as being in a state of ketosis. It really turns you on your head in terms of everything you were ever taught about food and diet growing up, throws the food pyramid out the window, and gets you to start back at the basics. At least, that’s how I got going.
You’ve probably seen me mention before that I have struggled with my weight for my entire life. Ever since I was fairly young my weight became an issue… the elephant in the room if you were… The problem is, nothing was done about it, education on nutrition was scarce in my household, and I was responsible for most of my own meals other than dinner for a lot of the time. I made my own breakfast and lunch, packed my own snacks, and scavenged more snacks after school. I also was not active at all beyond what I did in school, at least until the age of 15 or so when I began playing soccer. It was the perfect combination of factors to make me fat, and keep me that way. Being a child/teenager trapped in a large body was horrible. I became aware of my size through a childhood game of innocently comparing waist sizes with one of my best friends, and saw it start to grow bigger and bigger. By the age of 9 myself and one other girl were without a doubt the fat girls in the grade. Luckily for me I managed to avoid bullying until high school, but the internal bullying certainly got me started. It became a competition for me; As long as I was the same size as the other girl, who would later be replaced by someone else in high school, I was ok. I wasn’t the biggest.
I comfort ate… a lot. Monkey see, monkey do. Both my parents did it, so naturally I did too. This has always been my Everest as an adult. Even when I managed to shed 20kg over a number of years I still struggled with comfort eating the entire time. The thinner I got, the more obsessive I was about “cheating”, and I’d make myself visualise that food item sitting under my skin and starting at myself in a bikini. GROSS! But I did it. I obsessed about food, all I thought about was my next meal and how many calories it contained. Blow outs were big, but I never made myself sick. It was just standard binge eating really. Later I suffered a major bout of depression and comfort ate those 20kg back on in under 2 years (when it had taken me 4 or 5 years to shed them in the first place). I even told myself that I was eating well during that time, but looking back I can see how well I tricked myself.
Anyway, fast forward to February 2017. I’d just spent an entire year eating well (mostly) and working out consistently (most of the time…), but had only managed to yoyo up and down 3kg. I knew something was in my way, and I didn’t know what to do. My old methods didn’t work, I was so hungry all the time. Traditional eating didn’t help either. I also had come to the realisation that I was consuming an obscene amount of sugar and fake sweeteners too. I’d just finished reading Salt, Sugar Fat by Michael Moss, and I knew that I had to shift away from processed food as best as I could. I started by committing to cutting added sugar and sweeteners for a week. My goodness, what a painful and sickening week it was! I felt so ill, and was so empowered by the knowledge that if my body felt THAT bad without it and was going through withdrawals as if I was a drug addict, I knew I was on the right path. At the time my husband had been itching to try Keto, and I’d been concerned about the sheer volume of fat. At the end of the week I read up on it, we chatted, and on a whim we decided to give it a shot.
My first lesson: my body thrives on this diet
For the first time in three years my body was dropping excess weight left right and centre. For the first time in my life I wasn’t suffering low blood sugar symptoms. After the first month or so I was thinking clearer, and had more energy than ever before. The weight continued to drop, and my muscle mass continued to grow. I was able to work out between 3-5 days a week consistently, only dropping back when work was too busy or my health got too poor. I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome / Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, and even this has eased. I have less inflammation in my body, less pain, less temperature irregularities, and I’m just all-round healthier.
Life got busy and I slacked off tracking my food, but kept to the basic principals and even though I have been eating a bit much I haven’t gained any weight at all just from sticking to keto. As someone who has lived in fear of their weight for so long, this is incredible!
My second lesson: “cheat” meals mess with my head
Over the past 12 months I’ve had a small handful of cheat meals. I think when I started I had one close to the beginning for my husband’s birthday and then not at all for about 4 or 5 months. Since then I’ve worked out hacks around how I can eat things I love and not cop the carbs. The few times I have indulged I’ve observed some pretty radical things happen. Aside from feeling physically ill, my mind goes haywire and leaps into depression and aggression. My first cheat meal I didn’t experience anything, but I think I was still adapting to fat. It wasn’t until my second one that I experienced this, but it was horrible. My best friend’s kitchen tea/hens party was a high tea, and naturally I nibbled on a few things here and there. The drive home was horrible. Depression loomed, and I even had self harm thoughts. That lingered for a couple of days and I was scarred off carbs for a good while. I’d have a nibble here or there while picking toppings off pizza (because pizza is my favourite food), but generally kept it under 100 grams of carbs if I was to indulge at all.
Towards the end of last year we had a beloved pet pass away, and that night we had friends over to keep us company. Since we were entertaining, and drained of energy, we got pizza and for the first time I just started eating it without thinking. Within minutes I grew agitated, angry, aggressive, and depressed. I had to excuse myself because I was so embarrassed by my behaviour. Since then I have been pretty strict, but have found some
cheat treat foods that don’t mess with me in the same way and the bounce-back has been fine.
My third lesson: keto isn’t for everyone, and it’s not going to save the world
Like many people I’ve been on my fair share of diets. I’ve known many people who have been able to stick to certain ways of eating that I never could, and I’ve had vastly different results on those diets too. When I started keto, my husband joined me wholeheartedly. We stuck it out together for about 6-8 months before he began to realise that something about ketosis messed with his cortisol and caused him to have erratic sleep, which isn’t ideal for a physical labour job. On top of that as the Australian summer crept in he began to experience severe electrolyte imbalance. Both of these things were extreme enough for him to decide to stop keto, but then he hated the way carbs made him feel so he switched back and forth a couple of times.
I also had the electrolyte issue, but once we realised that was what was going on I corrected it and haven’t had a problem with it since. The thing is, we’re all different and what works for me may not work for you. There are some seriously hardline keto fanatics who will say CARBS ARE EVIL, EVERYONE SHOULD BE ON KETO, but I don’t believe that. I think it works for some people and it doesn’t for others and whatever works for you is the right diet for you. Diet is so much more complicated than calories in vs calories out; we’ve all got such unique bodies and various dietary challenges that we need to navigate. If keto works for you, awesome. If vegan works for you, wonderful! Most importantly, eat in a manner in which no harm is done to you physically or psychologically.
My fourth lesson: finding this way of eating has helped shift my relationship with food
I mentioned at the beginning of this post how I’ve always had a pretty poor relationship with food. Going onto keto helped me shift this relationship in a way that I never thought possible. For the most part I’ve been able to see food as fuel, yet still enjoy delicious meals. I’ve been able to make good decisions about what I’m eating, not beat myself up about indulgences, and I’ve developed willpower I never thought possible. I’ve also learned that saying no to food offers is ok, and people’s reactions are a reflection on them not you. After a while people get used to it, and if they’re good people they’ll respect your diligence. Having said this, I still struggle from time to time.
It has been ages since I had a food related anxiety attack, but it almost happened last night. Like I said earlier, I have been slack in tracking what I eat and since I haven’t been losing weight lately I decided to start tracking again. When I realised in that day I had consumed 2,000 calories I felt that all too familiar panic rising in my belly. I was frozen stiff and trying to breathe through the fear of those numbers. You see, long before keto I was obsessed with sticking as close to 1,200 calories as possible maybe up to 1,400 if I’d exercised that day. I was totally obsessed with those numbers and doing anything possible to stick with them. Of course, that’s what messed my head up and caused some pretty horrible anguish for many years and it isn’t something I have worried about too much lately, especially in the past year. For some reason seeing that higher number woke that little being in my mind obsessed with those numbers and I had to fight to get it back into it’s cage. I had a choice; let it overwhelm me, or use the knowledge gained as a tool to get back on track. I want to lose more body fat, so I need to refine my intake a little. My macros were good, there were just a few too many of them!
My fifth lesson: people have a lot of opinions, but often no facts
Throughout this experience I have encountered some interesting beliefs. People who think they could never go low carb for various delicious food reasons (fair enough, I miss it sometimes), people who think I’m going to die of a heart attack (even though I’m healthier now than I was before), and people who have very strong opinions about muscle mass and keto. The thing about these beliefs, and many more, is that they are often merely opinions with no scientific backing. Sure, we’ve been taught a certain way for so many generations, but surely if that way was the only way we’d all be so much healthier? The whole way through this journey I have monitored my health, and watched it improve. My muscle mass has increased, and my body fat has decreased. My doctor is happy with how I am progressing, and is on board with the diet, and I am happy too. That’s the only opinion that matters to me, and it’s all that should matter to you.
My sixth lesson: there are some really great people in the keto community
I’m a member of a local keto community on Facebook, and it has been so great to have the support of fellow individuals who are fumbling through this journey trying to get their life on track. On top of that, there are so many social media personalities, bloggers, and celebrities out there who are so supportive and willing to share their knowledge and encourage everyone to just give it their best shot and expand what they know. There are a couple of key individuals I keep an eye on daily to see what they have to share, and to learn from and get encouragement from and it has truly made this process so much easier. I think where I’ve always gone wrong in the past is that I have always felt so isolated and alone, but with this community we’re all in it together and (for the most part) everyone just wants the best for each other. I do think you need to seek out that support, but when you find it the journey gets much easier.
So, that’s what I’ve learned with 12 months of keto, and how I’ve traveled in this time. I’m looking forward to seeing what the next 12 months brings and if my secret target will be reached or not! I have something fun in mind for if I reach the target… all will be revealed in due course.
Ciao for now,