On August 1st, I started a 6-week fitness challenge for which I decided to maintain a ketogenic diet. For six weeks, I did 6-8 hard workouts every week and didn’t stray from the diet at all.
So I’m happy to report the challenge is FINALLY over :) but I’m also very happy with what I gained from the experience.
For one, any time you do something with absolute commitment you will likely see important results (my fitness has increased dramatically and I also lost 10 lbs and 5.4% body fat.) But most importantly, this extreme experience helped me validate and solidify some of my core tenets about how to best create a long-lasting, sustainable healthy lifestyle. Lots of great insights along the way.
So let me share with you what was good, bad and what I’m taking away from doing a strict Keto diet for 6 weeks. (A Ketogenic or Keto diet is one where the majority of your calories come from healthy fats. Protein consumption is moderate. Sugar, fruit and starchy carbohydrates are out, and green-leafy veggies quickly meet all of your carb allotment.)
I was reminded, yet again, that the core of our diets should always be vegetables + healthy fats. Everything else should be extra.
They days I was most satisfied (and lost most weight) was when I ate a plate/bowl-full of vegetables with a seriously healthy serving of fats (clarified butter or olive oil, avocados, etc.)
I see a lot of people doing a keto diet, eating way too much protein and cheese. Then you hear stories of constipation and bad breath.
The core should always be non-starchy vegetables and fats. Fats do not constipate.
I was reminded yet again, that we need far less food than we think and we need far less protein than we normally eat.
My portions got really small and I was completely content. Eating enough fat is a huge component in not overeating. When you skimp on fat, you are more likely to overeat protein and starches.
When you’re constantly burning fat, hunger is not as intense as the type of hunger you experience after having eaten a high-carb meal earlier in the day. Hunger is more subtle and quiet when you’re in a fat-burning state.
I’ve taught this many times before, if hunger makes you cranky, or you crash or get headaches, that’s not normal. It’s a sign of blood-sugar instability that needs to be addressed. Sugar instability can lead to hypoglycemia, which is what I call the slow road to diabetes. And snacking every 2 hours also adds to the problem.
When you’re not eating any sugar or sweet, starchy carbohydrates, you don’t get any cravings for them.
Deprivation for a little while can reignite your creativity.
I came up with many different dishes made with broccoli, cauliflower, kale, romaine lettuce, spinach, chard, celery and zucchini… the only carbohydrates I ate for 6 weeks… oh, and mushrooms, leeks and garlic. And they were all delicious!
The Not So Great:
I missed fruit.
It somehow doesn’t feel OK to watch blueberry season go by and not enjoy some juicy, sun-ripened berries. The ONE time I cheated was when I ate a strawberry, and it was heavenly. I had a desire for variety and for creating delicious things with ripe produce.
I hated weighing food and counting grams of this and that.
It is NOT natural to be constantly weighing and tracking. This is NOT how we create an intuitive, healthy lifestyle. I did it diligently for about two and a half weeks and then stopped. For one, I had gotten a pretty fair idea of what was within my “calorie allotment” to keep going, but I was simply fed up with tracking.
I felt deprived and that’s just not sustainable.
I hate the idea that I can’t have something. If I were a different person, I could see how this could have easily led me to bingeing once I was “off the diet.” Starting a deprivation-bingeing pattern can create bigger problems.
Restriction and “challenges” do not feel loving.
This was one of the most profound insights. The competitor in me was 100% committed, but the energy of most of this was not one of self-love and nurturing. So with that awareness, I amped up my self-care in other ways.
As I reflected a few weeks ago, the exact same “healthy actions” done with love will have a FAR greater effect than when they’re drive by fear or obsession.
What I’m Taking Away:
Love myself and return to a more balanced, more loving set of habits
The anti-inflammatory eating guidelines that I’ve ascribed to and recommended in my programs for the past 8+ years can’t be beat.
This Keto diet was entirely compliant with my “A List” of foods: lots of non-starchy veggies, healthy fats and healthy protein. BUT in my anti-inflammatory program you also have the B and C lists to use in moderation, which include fruit and other veggies. It’s more balanced, more sustainable and focused on building health.
Strict diets and deprivation should only really be used when serious health issues demand them. Otherwise they’re more likely to drive people to binge.
My 80-20 rule is perfection: 80% of the time eat the healthiest way you can, and 20% of the time eat whatever you want and enjoy it thoroughly.
Not maintaining a 100% strict diet may be a little slower-going when you have a weight loss goal, BUT you’ll be creating more sustainable lifestyle that you’re more likely to keep going rather than “falling off the wagon” or bingeing and feeling guilty.
In a nutshell…
I would only recommend people going on a strict keto diet if they have a specific and concerning health challenge that they need to tackle. For example, there is a growing body of research and case studies on the powerful impact of a ketogenic diet on halting and reversing cancer. The diet has also proven to be life-changing for children with seizures. A number of children have seen their seizures completely disappeared on a keto lifestyle.
For most people however, I’d recommend my anti-inflammatory lifestyle. I’ll be sharing more about that in the coming weeks.
And I would definitely not recommend keto (or any diet) to anybody who’s had a history of an eating disorder.