My 6-Week Keto Experiment: What I learned

One of my yummy keto breakfasts: leeks, celery, chard and about 5 oz of pork sautéed in clarified butter. Topped with the most amazing chimichurri sauce.

One of my yummy keto breakfasts: leeks, celery, chard and about 5 oz of pork sautéed in clarified butter. Topped with the most amazing chimichurri sauce.

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.)

The Good:

My keto pad Thai on zucchini noodles

My keto pad Thai on zucchini noodles

  • 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:

My Keto smoothie: 1/2 avocado + handful kale + juice of 1/2 lime + stevia + whey protein + water. New found love.

My Keto smoothie: 1/2 avocado + handful kale + juice of 1/2 lime + stevia + whey protein + water. New found love.

  • 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.