Keto for Dummies - My Experience and Lessons Learned
Keto, low-carb, paleo - there are a number of "diets" out there that are transforming people's lives and lifestyles. Some are good, some - not-so-much, and few are lasting - but as someone who has gone on the journey - and found the simple keys to success, I wanted to share my story with you. And of course, before you start your own journey to weight loss and better health, speak to your physician to make sure it is right for you.
Like many folks in their early 40s, my metabolism no longer protected me against my poor diet choices. For roughly 40 years, I could eat almost whatever I wanted - and that reliable metabolism of mine would quickly push the contents through my system with largely no affect on my body, and with little or no weight gain. And then came age 41, and all of the sugar, carbs, snacking suddenly had a big impact on my life. In 2 years, with no change to my previous eating patterns, I had gained 25 pounds - and although I thought I was hiding it well, and I could lose it on a whim - that was not the case. Because my trusty metabolism had slowed, it was very challenging to lose the weight, and not be hungry and thus grumpy - all the time! I tried the usual - counting calories - working out a little - skipping meals, but generally was unsuccessful and unhappy.
Then I stumbled across keto. The two quick paragraphs I read on my smartphone one evening seemed enough to convince me that this might work, and the next day I committed to beginning the program. All I knew at that point, was that I needed to eat less than 20 grams of carbs a day - seemed easy enough. I went to bed optimistic.
The next morning I woke up and went into my fridge to find something to eat. Not the usual though - no toast - no cereal - no breakfast bar - no yoghurt. Eggs, I could have eggs - and cheese. I fired up the stove and had scrambled eggs with cheese for breakfast and coffee with cream and stevia.
A side note - Stevia is a game changer - it is the only natural sweetener that you can consume lots of - with no negative side effects - no affect on your insulin levels and it has zero carbs. I had been using it already for years - but it is VERY IMPORTANT that you convert to stevia as your sweetener of choice for coffee, tea and baking.
After breakfast I had to go to work, so I shoveled some eggs into tupperware, added some cheese and I was off to work. I had the eggs for lunch with my cheese, and by the end of the day I was pretty hungry, so off to the grocery store I went. Part of the reason I found keto so easy to manage, and I'll get more into that shortly, is because it is really easy to grocery shop when your only goal is to get products with next to zero carbs. That's really it - it's that simple. I was shocked on my first shopping trip on how many carbs and how much sugar simple, common products have. No longer could I eat pasta, bread, rice, noodles, FRUIT (I'll come back to that), most vegetables, milk, yoghurt, granola, chocolate and so many more. All the products I had consumed everyday for years were no longer on the table!
So I grabbed a few staples I knew I could have. I got cheese, some red meat, some chicken, more eggs, hot dog weiners (no buns of course), and Caesar salad with Renee's amazing dressing - super fatty with no carbs! And then I headed home.
Now it's important to note, that to be successful with keto or a low-carb diet, your goal is to reduce net carbs. A net carb is carbohydrates minus fibre. So if the product has 10 grams of carbs, and 4 grams of fibre - your net carbs are 6. That's 10-4=6. Initially I didn't know this, so in my early days, I was eating a lot of meat and cheese, and relatively no fibre. Later I learned that if I up my fibre, I can also up my carbs as long as my net carbs are low.
Going in kind of blind, I struggled the first couple of weeks. I had to get all that sugar out of my body - but right away I found that although the food you could eat was limited - I was never hungry. If you are never hungry, then it seems less like a diet, and generally I wasn't grumpy. Because I was being very careful the first 2 weeks, I was also eating a little less, and not snacking at night - except on cheese.
The results on my waistline were amazing - I lost close to 10 pounds in the first 2 weeks. Immediately I was impressed, my only challenge was that the menu was very limited. If I could figure that part out, then I could make this work, hopefully for a few months at least. My wife and kids made it a little challenging because they were not going low carb - and like most parents I was feeding them carb heavy family meals like pasta, pizza, fruits and vegetables - and making a separate carb-free meal for myself made meals a little more complex. But I persevered - and spoiler alert - my wife was so impressed - after a few months she joined me and has had a huge amount of success as well.
So 2 weeks in, I needed to keep it going and part of that was increasing my menu of available options, and dealing with what to consume when I was at lunch meeting with clients etc. And, what to eat when I was snacky. My solutions are as follows - and these worked for me - you might go another direction - find your faves! Here were mine...
- Roasted chicken - eat hot. Then take the leftovers and make chicken salad with mayo, cucumbers and hot sauce
- Egg salad - so much egg salad - with mayo, cucumber, bell peppers and hot sauce
- Julienne salad - with romaine or dark leafy lettuce with cheese, and ham, and turkey, cucumbers and eggs with Caesar dressing
- Salami and cheese, pepperoni and sausage
- Steak and pork chops - make extra
- Omelets - with cheese, ham, dehydrated onions
- Steamed cauliflower and broccoli smothered with a creamy cheese sauce - almost every day - perfect for a meal, snacks etc.
- Cucumbers with cream cheese
- Cheeseburgers on lettuce
- Hot Dogs with mustard and mayo
- And for desert - whip cream on blackberries or blueberries
This menu of foods got me through months of living a low carb lifestyle, everyday I was under 50 grams of net carbs and the weight and body fat just kept melting away. Now this was in the early days of keto - since then there are a lot of products that have been created that didn't exist when I started. Like cauliflower crust pizza, keto breads, keto chocolates and so much more. Keto bread is a game changer, because now you can have a hamburger on keto bread, or grilled cheese, or deli sandwiches. The keto and low carb options are deep, you can live a life with a high variety of foods, and still keep your daily carbs under 50.
As I said at the beginning, I am not a doctor - make sure you check with them before you take this journey. But here is what I know... it works and you can do it long term. Two years later my wife and I are living a low carb lifestyle. We make decisions to go low carb if we can, but don't sweat it if we are at a friends house and they are serving pizza. Because we are maintaining our target weight with a consistent low carb lifestyle, having some pizza every now and then isn't going to hurt us.
There are also some side benefits of keto... No arthritis, no inflammation - it all goes away. It is my experience - and that of my parents who also went low carb - that sugar feeds inflammation. Take away the sugar, and you take away the inflammation, the aches and the joint pain normally we deal with as we age.
I would suggest my overall diet is very healthy, as well as low carb. I eat a lot of broccoli, cauliflower and cucumbers. I'll mix in some avocado, lettuce and spinach as well. On the fruit side, I do eat some berries - strawberries, blueberries and blackberries I eat almost everyday. Often I'll throw some whip cream on top and dice up keto-friendly chocolate. Fruit is okay, as long as you don't eat a lot, and that it is high in fibre.
Anyhow, it's been over 2 years now, I have hit my target weight of 185, like I was in my 20s, and feel great all the time! I invite you to try low carb, on your own terms - pick your favourite low net carb foods that you are happy to eat everyday and embrace it. It's a lifestyle choice, and you might find it difficult to start - but you'll never be hungry and you'll definitely feel great!