Our Find Me Gluten Free intern, Lizzie, shares her experience with the keto diet, below.
After four months of eating my way through Europe and a holiday season full of gluten-free goodies, this January I found myself in desperate need of detoxing my body and refreshing my eating habits. Losing the few pounds I had gained over the previous months couldn’t hurt, either.
Upon researching and weighing my diet options, the ketogenic diet was especially captivating. Nothing perplexed me more than a diet that lets you eat bacon, butter, and cheese all day – WHILE losing weight! I had to try it. On January 14, I began my 21-day keto diet journey… read on for the low-down.
- Understand the diet. Essentially, when you cut carbs enough and replace those missing calories with calories from fat, you can push your body into a state of ketosis after a few days. Ketosis is a metabolic state in which your body burns ketones as the primary energy source. In layman’s terms: instead of running on fuel from carbs, your body literally runs on body fat (aka fat loss).
- Plan your macros. I used online keto macro calculators to determine my optimal daily macronutrient breakdown. These calculators ask for data such as: height, weight, activity level, and desired weight loss. I tried a couple different calculators to cross-reference and make sure that I was given accurate values. My daily goals were as follows: 1300 calories, 96 g fat, 15 g net carbs, and 77 g protein.
- Research foods. I highly recommend choosing 25-50 low-carb foods that you’ll be eating consistently while on keto and keep a running list of their macronutrient breakdowns. I kept a note on my phone with data for a variety of meats, eggs, cheeses, and non-starchy vegetables. That way, when building a meal, I could quickly reference my note instead of looking up each food on the spot.
- Mentally prepare yourself. Know that sometimes it’ll be hard to fight carb cravings and stick to your ketogenic diet. Keep in mind that you can’t cheat on keto – if you do, it’ll take days to bring your body back into ketosis. If that isn’t motivation, I don’t know what is! And brace yourself for the period of flu-like symptoms (the keto flu) that you’ll have to push through in order to bring your body into ketosis.
- Journal. I bought a mini notebook for my keto journey – each page represented a new day on the diet. On each page, I’d dedicate sections to breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and miscellaneous notes. For example, under breakfast, I might write “2 eggs, 1 serving cheddar cheese, ½ avocado. Total macros: 370 calories, 30 fat, 3 net carbs, 22 protein.” Throughout the day, I’d update my total macros to keep myself on track. In my miscellaneous notes section, I’d comment on my energy levels, any digestive abnormalities, and keep track of my weight loss progress.
- Weigh yourself – correctly. To accurately gauge my weight loss progress, I weighed myself every 4-5 days immediately after waking up. On the morning of day 5, I had lost 3 lbs since beginning the diet. It’s important to remember that the initial, drastic weight loss is water weight since carbs are what retain water in your body. On the morning of day 9, I had lost another 2.5 lbs since day 5. My total weight loss as of the morning of day 21 was 6.5 lbs (-3 lbs between days 1 and 5, -2.5 lbs between days 5 and 9, and -1 lb between days 9 and 21). Needless to say, you will see the most dramatic weight loss during the first week of keto! Overall, I was content with my progress and final results.
- Pay attention to your body. Before starting the diet, I had read reviews raving about improved energy levels and ability to sleep while in ketosis. Unfortunately, I did not reap the same benefits and found myself feeling sluggish. Throughout my 3-week experiment with keto, I found it significantly more difficult to get through my usual workouts and fall asleep at night. Maybe if I had stuck with the diet longer, I would have started to experience more of the long-term benefits. One perk of the high-fat, low-carb diet that I felt, however, was increased satiation. I rarely felt hungry even though I was eating fewer calories than usual! After the first couple days, I stopped craving munchies and felt consistently satisfied on meals alone.
- Get creative. For me, one of the hardest parts of keto was working with a significantly smaller variety of foods. Meat, eggs, avocados, select veggies, and lots of spices made up about 75% of what I ate while on the diet. However, I made it through by experimenting and incorporating different foods into my daily routine. One of my favorite snacks ended up being celery sticks with all-natural almond butter, and I learned how to make a mean tuna salad including ranch, mushrooms, and bell peppers. For dessert each night, I would melt 100% Unsweetened Baker’s Chocolate, stir in some stevia, and dip pecans in the rich chocolate. My sugar cravings were so real, so I was always prepared with either my dark chocolate concoction or 1/3 of a Quest Bar (I don’t recommend eating more than half at a time because the high fiber content will be a shock to your system). Eating a very restricted diet may seem hard at first, but if you rise to the challenge and dare to get creative, the keto diet can be enjoyable – and SO tasty.
- Strategize carb reintroduction and weight maintenance. Day 22 rolled around and boy was I ready for some carbs. One of the biggest downsides of the ketogenic diet, unfortunately, is that once you stop keto it’s incredibly easy to regain all the weight you worked so hard to lose. When you reintroduce carbs, your body will naturally gain some water weight back. To avoid weight gain beyond this, it’s crucial to reintroduce carbs gradually and strategically while continuing to monitor your macronutrients. My first week post-keto, I increased net carb intake enough for my body to exit ketosis, but I kept carb consumption well below average. Each day, I aimed for 80-100 g net carbs and decreased fat intake accordingly while still eating around 1300 calories. Through gradual carb reintroduction and maintaining my calorie intake, I should be able to keep off the fat I lost while in ketosis!
- Fight carb cravings. Once you start giving your body grains and sugar again, it will only crave more. I certainly felt this when reintroducing carbs, and had to have a game plan in order to avoid binge-fests. A nut-heavy trail mix is a great substitute for munchy snacks like chips or gluten-free pretzels, and I stocked up on fruit for when I felt the need for something sweet. However, I’m a dessert girl, so I knew that the ice cream cravings would soon kick in. I keep a couple pints of Halo Top Ice Cream in my freezer for the nights I just can’t resist — not exactly broccoli, but better than regular ice cream.
- Bask in normality. After I finished keto and began phasing back into a normal diet, I enjoyed my usual energy levels and sleep schedule again (I took advantage of my rediscovered energy by hitting some intense gym sessions). Going out to eat and attending social events was much less stressful, and I relished in not having to constantly research nutrition data. Although I believe that keto was the perfect fit for my dieting needs, I’m so happy to be done and have my normal life back.
Overall, the ketogenic diet pleasantly surprised me. I never felt too deprived, got to eat lots of yummy food, and lost the few pounds I had hoped in such a short period of time. The highlight of my 21-day journey was discovering an obsession for thick-cut, smoked bacon (still drooling). Should I ever feel the need to crash-diet again, I’d come running back to keto and my bacon in a heartbeat.