My body type is pretty much average. 6’0”, 195 lbs. Not fat, not lean, just kinda right there in the middle. Because I love to eat, I’m always working on maintaining a healthy weight, and typically like to be dropping some pounds on a regular basis. Last thing I want to do is wake up in 20 years and realize I’ve put on 5-10lbs a year - barely noticeable from month to month, but pretty startling in the aggregate.
Recently, after a pretty calorie-laden month of May, I was looking at some ways to optimize weight loss, without having to resort to insanely restrictive diets of 1,200 calories/day. For the better part of the past decade, I’ve been pretty cognizant about tracking calories, if not manually, then estimating in my head, and while it works, it never gave me lasting results. Sure, a pound or two would come off here and there, but it wasn’t terribly consistent. When I started on this round of Shed The Pounds, I stumbled across a different kind of diet: the Keto (short for ketogenic) Diet. As I’m always up for experimenting with things to see the results, I figured I’d give it a whirl.
Keto in a Nutshell
TL;DR - Keto is a super low carb, high fat diet.
Basically, with a Keto diet, your goal is to stay under 50 grams of carbohydrates (ideally under 20), and to have fat make up the vast majority of your calories throughout the day, with “adequate” protein. From a percentage standpoint, this might look something like 5% carbs, 30% protien, and 65% fat, in a typical day.
When you first hear this, it’s startling. Fat? Isn’t fat the thing we’re trying to avoid here?
Well, that’s what we’ve been told, but the science doesn’t appear terribly clear on the matter. In fact, recent studies seem to suggest that saturated fats actually don’t cause heart disease, and that carbs are actually responsible for causing you to store fat.
Here’s the basics of how this works, per my understanding. Note that I’m not a dietician, nor a nutritionist, nor a biologist, but this is my understanding based on the research I’ve read.
First up: when you eat carbs, they’re quickly digested, and turned into glucose, or sugar. This sugar goes right into your bloodstream, like a wild pack of animals.
Your body has a chemical in it called insulin. You’ve likely heard of this. Insulin’s job is to regulate blood sugar. As high levels of blood sugar are toxic, your body tries to keep this well under control.
When the sugar in your blood is raised, your pancreas starts to pump out insulin in order to even things out and keep you safe. The way that insulin works is that it finds this sugar in the bloodstream, and gets rid of it by storing it. First, it stores it as a starch called glycogen, which is used by your body for energy. This is stored in your liver, and your muscles. However, there’s only so much room for storing it, and once the containers are full, the rest of the sugar needs to go somewhere.
Enter your fat cells. Your fat cells can help out by storing the extra sugar, keeping out of your bloodstream. Once your glycogen stores are all filled up, insulin moves to this secondary storage mechanism, and starts to stuff the sugar into your fat cells. Your body creates more cells to hold more sugar, and you get fatter. To really make things worse, when this happens, your blood sugar drops (remember that crash you get at 2pm after a big sandwich at lunch?), you get hungry again, eat more carb-rich stuff, and the whole thing starts back at the beginning.
When you eat a very low carb diet that’s high in fat, your body rips through your glycogen stores, burning those up. Once that’s done, it needs more energy, and unable to turn to your glycogen stores for this, it turns to your fat cells, burning them off in order to fuel itself. Therein lies the secret to Keto.
My Experience on Keto
Once I’d read the science and understood how this worked, I wanted to give it a try. I’m now two weeks out, and the results so far are pretty promising. I’m 7 lbs down, and have lost about 2% bodyfat so far. Not bad. Granted, a few of these pounds are water weight, but things are looking pretty good. My wife has also been on it, and has noticed a similar result.
I’m not going to lie, Keto takes some getting used to. When you go from eating low-fat, high carb to the reverse, it’s an odd feeling. Eating butter with every meal gets a bit icky at first, and the amount of grease you’re dealing with can be offputting. We’ve learned to modify receipes to tone that down a bit, while making sure we still hit our fat goals for the day. Avocados are our best friend.
Some people go through something called “Keto Flu” the first few days. This is a period where your body is making the transition into producing ketones, and can be characterized by low energy levels, a bit of a brain fog, etc. I really didn’t experience much of this, short of some slightly reduced energy levels for a couple days. Once I was past that, it was smooth sailing.
Another interesting side effect of ketosis (the state you’re in when you’re producing ketones) is appetite suppression, and it’s undoubtedly a factor in the weight loss. Because fats don’t spike your blood sugar, with the inevitable drop later, you don’t have constant hunger. Fats fill you up more, leading to less eating overall.
I’m unsure that a true keto diet is sustainable long-term, at least, not for me. Put bluntly, I like bread, beer and fries too much to extricate them from my diet permanently. That said, I think that a lower carb diet, perhaps around 50-100 grams a day, is definitely sustainable. I don’t need to eat carb-rich foods daily, and based on the science, I probably shouldn’t. That feels like an adjustment I can make long term to keep my body trimmed up and in better health. Besides, I can eat all the steak I want :)
If you’re looking to lose a few lbs, you might give keto a try. Check out r/keto for information and support there. Hell, give it a try for a couple weeks like I did - even if you don’t like it, you can always go back.