Our dear friend Eric introduced us to the ketogenic diet. He also had a typical American diet that left him in “comfortable” shape and he decided to change that. Eric went on vacation with us last October to Big Bend National Park and just looked amazing – not just skinny, but fit looking. I’ve always had an interest in nutrition and researched various fad diets as they came around, so I spent a decent amount of time that week peppering him with questions about the diet and learning what I could. Shortly after our trip, I proposed to Tom that we try “keto” after the holidays.
What was nice about having two months before embarking on this “radical” change, was that we could plan and prepare. First, we had to learn what a ketogenic diet was and why it worked and at what cost (both financially and health-wise). I did most of my initial research on a website called Kiss My Keto. They have an academy of video tutorials taking you through what ketosis is and tips on how to get started. Here’s my version of cliff notes of their tutorial based on their website and on other internet readings. I’m furthering my ketosis education with a few books and medical journal article reading and will post any updates or corrections to my understanding as they present themselves.
Cliff Notes of Ketosis
Your body is basically a hybrid engine, meaning you can run on two sources of fuel.
One source is glucose. The vast majority of people run entirely on glucose all the time. The starting material for glucose production is carbohydrates and, to some extent, protein. Glucose is produced in the liver and released into the blood stream to be transported around the body to various cells. Insulin then cues the cell to ingest the glucose, and after some processing, it is used as energy.
The secondary source of fuel for the body is fat. Under the typical America diet, which is full of carbohydrates, when fat is consumed, it is squirreled away for a future famine. Hence for years, the saying has been “Eat fat, get fat”. If you were in a famine, you body would fire up its secondary engine and start burning your fat cells, aka you would be in a state of ketosis. The stored fat would be shuttled to your liver, which would start converting the fat into ketones which are then released into the bloodstream and delivered to cells as alternative fuel.
The Keto Diet
The idea behind the keto diet is to put the body in a state of ketosis by denying it carbohydrates. The body then depletes its stores of glucose (which takes about 48 hours), thinks it’s starving, so turns on its secondary engine and starts burning fat.
To get into ketosis, you have to count your macro nutrients (fat, protein, carbohydrates). There’s really no good way to avoid that unless you just eat butter for two days or, alternatively, fast for 48 hours. The numbers I have seen on various websites for getting into and maintaining ketosis are:
- no more than 20 grams of carbohydrates in a day!
- 75% of your macros come from FAT!
- The rest can be protein or more fat
The protein piece is a bit tricky. If you consume too much protein, more than your muscles need to repair themselves and/or to build if you’re weight lifting, the excess protein will be converted by the liver into glucose. This effectively knocks you out of ketosis, so you do have to watch your protein intake, just not quite as closely as your carbohydrate consumption.
There is one more piece if you want to lose weight using the keto diet – you still have to calorie restrict. You must consume less calories than you burn. That rule doesn’t change. What I think makes the keto diet method so successful is that you’re really too full all the time to eat too many calories. Your stomach is too busy digesting fat. Which is great, because I hate being hungry.
How well does this diet work? Well, here’s our results. Note that these diagrams show one year of progress, so January is that peak in the middle before the second decline.
Both Tom and I have lost almost 20 lbs! My original goal was 145 lbs and Tom’s was 160 lbs and we’ve surpassed that pretty easily. Frankly, I’m still a bit shocked.
My body fat has reduced by 7.5% while Tom’s has reduced by 3.3%. Note that this is all based on a Fitbit Aria scale. We’ve had our body fat tested using the handheld body fat analyzer which is supposed to be a more accurate absolute measurement and it shifts the percentages higher, but relatively speaking, we’ve still seen some pretty amazing changes. Our scale does do some funny things, like when you have a drop in body weight, it immediately increases your body fat percentage, so we only use these measurements loosely.
More tangibly, I’m down two pant sizes in my dress pants and Tom has had to tighten up his belt (I refuse to wear a belt). We’re now swimming in shirts that fit properly before the diet, so there’s some real results that we feel pretty good about.
Other benefits of the ketogenic diet that I have experienced are:
- No bloating at all. This flattens out your stomach without the carb bloat. Each carbohydrate molecule holds onto four water molecules. Each fat molecule holds onto one water molecule. So, if you deplete all your carbs, you lose all that water, usually in the first 48-72 hours. I lost 4.5 lbs the first three days on the keto diet. It’s a great quick win, which is a super important motivator in a diet.
- No more blood sugar crashes. Once you are in keto, your blood sugar levels out so that you don’t have those crashes and become hangry. We can go much longer in between meals without feeling like we’re going to die of starvation.
- My complexion cleared up completely. To the point that I don’t wear any base make-up at all. People keep commenting that I’m glowing. It’s all the diet.
- Less inflammation. This is big for me. I have rheumatoid arthritis and the joints in my fingers are constantly swollen. That has all disappeared. My rings slide on and off without an issue now. If I cheat and eat some glorious dessert, my rings are hard to get on the next morning.