Keto or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Fat

This post deviates from the normal content of this blog, but my intent of this blog was to publicize anything that I found useful in the hopes of it being useful to others.

Around the beginning of October 2016 I weighed approx 157kgs (346lbs). I say approx because I wasn’t too interested in checking my weight any more as it only ever went up. 157 was the highest number I last remember seeing on the scales. With my height of 190cm (6ft 3in) that meant my Body Mass Index was 43.2. Any BMI above 30 is considered “obese”, but above 40 and you’re in obesity “Class 3”, which is the “highest-risk” level of obesity. BMI only measures density though, so it’s not a good metric for measuring health, but regardless I was in the obese category by just being so overweight.

Funnily enough though I didn’t feel that obese. I would see obese people around the place, and think “well at least I’m not at that level”. I could still walk up some pretty steep hills at a decent pace, albeit getting a bit puffed, so I had planned to get a gym membership (planning for like 2 years) and start exercising again to bring my weight down. I also tried moderating how much I would eat and skipping some meals, but hunger would always override my will and the weight would still creep on.

I listen to a lot of podcasts, one in particular being the .NET Rocks! podcast, and earlier this year (2016) Carl had started talking about the Ketogenic diet and the new podcast he had started, 2 Keto Dudes. I’ll admit I dismissed the idea for months afterwards, but hearing more about it I decided to start listening to the podcast.

The difficult nature of the Keto diet is that it sounds almost too good to be true. A high fat, low carb diet that makes you lose weight without exercise, and it reduces cardiovascular disease and improves mental state? It sounds like yet another fad diet, but I implore everyone to do the research to see that it’s not really a diet, but more of a natural state that our bodies should be in.

So from doing the diet now for 4 months, I have lost 32kgs (about 70lbs), and with almost no exercise at all. In fact I avoided exercise at first, as some activities when you’re obese can be damaging to parts of your body. I wanted to play it safe and wait until I was lighter before starting to take up running/cycling/etc. I’ve started climbing nearby mountains/hills to ease myself into exercise.

I won’t go into details about how to do the keto diet (there are plenty of publications about that that’ll be better), but I’ll share some observations I made along the way. I’ll also provide links to things that I found useful when I started the diet. I’m also not a medical professional, so do your own research and talk to your doctor if you’re interested in trying the diet. I personally didn’t consult a doctor, but I was willing to undertake that risk for myself.

It’s even easier if you’re not yet diabetic

Keto is commonly used by Type 2 Diabetics as a method of stabilising their blood glucose and insulin levels, and it’s proving to be very effective for that. This means though that if they ever “cheat” on the diet (i.e. eat too many carbs), then their insulin spikes hard and they get super hungry and stop losing weight.

Although I was definitely on the warpath to getting Diabetes or some other metabolic disorder (I had a few of the symptoms), I wasn’t quite at that stage yet. My metabolism I’ve found has actually been pretty good. I’ve had about 6 “cheat” events where I couldn’t avoid eating carbs (including just drinking beers that were high in carbs at an event), and I continued to lose weight afterwards without it bouncing back.

You’re now a person with “Dietary Requirements”

I always thought it must be frustrating for the coeliacs and vegetarians when they go to an event or dinner that they can’t participate in the same meal as everyone else, or that they’re totally missing out on something. When you’re on keto, you’re now in that same group. The best approach? Always bring your own food, or just skip the meal. Some people will be amazing and try to help by making a special meal just for you, but often they won’t realise that they’ve put something carby in there (especially when it comes to starchy vegetables).

Don’t be a douche to people, especially when they make the effort, just let them know you’re bringing your own food. If they insist on catering for you, I find it easiest just to ask for cheese to eat, as pretty much everyone has cheese.

This ultimately means though that you’re going to need to be prepared. Making larger meals that you can portion and freeze is easy, as you can just grab something out of the freezer at the last minute.

I feel completely different

It’s true that the keto diet gives you more mental clarity. I feel awake all of the time now, and I’m sleeping 1-2 hours less every night. In fact, I have to make sure I don’t go to bed too early (like 10:30pm) otherwise I’m going to naturally wake up around 5am.

I definitely felt like I deflated a little in the first week of the diet. There is the loss of the “water weight” (Glycogen) that makes you drop a lot in the beginning, but I also felt like I was inflamed throughout my joints. I didn’t feel like I was an arthritic old man, but you don’t realise how many aches and pains you get on a day-to-day basis until they’re gone.

I also found that after a couple of weeks on the diet I stopped sweating a lot. My partner used to get frustrated if she tried to hug me in bed, because I would instantly start sweating. I’m attributing this to the inflammation disappearing, as inflammation is typically accompanied by heat.

Salt and Potassium are critical

I take a vitamin and mineral supplement every day. I like taking Berocca effervescent tablets (well, the non-brand name ones) as they let me pretend I’m drinking a sweet soft drink.

If I ever forget to take the supplement, I’ll know about it. During the night I’ll be guaranteed to be woken up by leg cramps. The keto diet causes the spillage of a lot more sodium and other minerals, so you need to keep an eye on how much you’re taking in. Your body will tell you pretty quickly though if you’re running low on anything, so listen to the signals and adjust accordingly.

Sugar-free does not mean carb-free

I would always get excited when I would see some suger-free snack or product, only to check the back of the packaging to see it still has like 30g of carbs per serving. You really need to pay attention to nutritional information, but luckily it’s pretty clear on anything you buy in the shops. After a while you get the hang of it though, and you’ll be able to handle ordering keto-friendly food at restaurants too.

Be wary of Maltitol

There are a lot of different artificial sweeteners. So far I’ve had no problems with any of them, except for maltitol. I experienced a few week-long stalls a while ago, and it turned out that it was from eating some low-carb chocolate bars every day for lunch. After I stopped eating those bars the weight started falling off again.

If you’re experiencing stalls, don’t worry. Everyone has them for various reasons. But have a look with a closer eye to what you’re eating to make sure nothing is slipping through the cracks, or you have a sensitivity to something like Multitol. Half of the “low-carb” bars available in Australian supermarkets are full of maltitol, but the other half are OK with sweeteners like stevia in them.

My teeth feel better

I’ve been plagued with weak teeth for a long time. Probably a mix of genetics and poor dental hygiene when I was young. I’ve had to spend somewhere between $4-8k on my teeth over the last 8 years to patch up all the holes, and I’ve had a couple extracted where decay had hit the roots.

Since keto I’ve noticed my teeth feel a lot stronger, less sensitive and less random aches and pains. I’m yet to see what state they’re in until I visit the dentist again, but I’m feeling confident the results will be good.

There is one drawback though. The fabled “keto breath” is definitely a problem in the first month or so. Particular ketones in your body will expel through your breath, and they don’t exactly smell great, so keep some sugar-free mints & gum always handy for the sake of everyone else.

I didn’t have any real “keto flu”

The first week or two when you start the diet is dubbed the “keto flu” period, where your body undergoes carb withdrawals. Because it’s been using carbs for energy and you’ve suddenly taken them away, most people end up feeling lethargic and experiencing diarrhea for a week or more. I was lucky to not have any of that, aside from two episodes of diarrhea. I chalk it up to still having a decent metabolism, or maybe youth, or possibly both. Apparently it’s easier for guys as well.

The food is amazing, but it’s very DIY

This is hard for some. The joy of cooking isn’t shared by everyone, and with the scarcity of ready-made keto meals you’re going to be needing to cook a lot more.

The cooking can involve things as simple as eating fried bacon and eggs for every meal, but if you want to stay sane you’re going to have to invest some effort in making more interesting food. Most foods have some awesome keto-friendly alternative (fathead pizza, keto chocolate mousse, mashed cauliflower, etc.) but you’ll need to clear off the kitchen bench, clean the oven and at least get some decent cooking utensils/equipment.

When it comes to fast food, it gets really tricky. Of course it’s best to avoid it altogether, but if I haven’t planned properly I just try to stick to McDonalds/Hungry Jacks (Burger King), purely because I can get cheeseburgers or quarter pounders and just take off the bun and scrape off the tomato sauce (ketchup) to ketofy it. KFC in Australia is pretty much out of bounds, because the coatings on all of their chicken is high in carbs (you can safely eat only 1 piece of chicken) and there’s not much else offered there. The restaurants publish all of their nutritional info online and in store though, so you can always check things before ordering.

If you really do hate cooking, I’d advise just getting a crockpot/slowcooker and just using that to make your food. It’s as close as you can get to effortless, and most slow-cooked food is amazing (pulled pork, ribs, etc.), and you’ll make such large quantities that you can live off them for days out of the fridge.

I implore everyone to try this diet for their health. Even if you’re not overweight, as you’ll likely just feel a million times better. You won’t be thinking about food all the time, you’ll need less sleep (which could be handy for new parents), and the research shows you’re going to lower your risk of heart disease, T2 diabetes, hypertension, some types of cancer, etc.

I’m 4 months in now and about half way to my target weight, but I anticipate it’ll be slower now to reach that point. I don’t really mind though, as I know that it’ll just keep working for me and I can always increase exercise (which I do a bit of now) to keep my insulin levels down and metabolic rate up.

To conclude, here’s some resources I’ve found useful along the way:

I’m not going to link to scientific studies. If you want to read the research, check out the links above and follow to the research there.