Happy July! I hope you all are enjoying the summer months. As an exploration for myself this weekend, I decided to try a ketogenic diet (high fat, adequate protein, very low carbohydrate). I’m one week in and I’d like to give you a day-by-day look at my experience. But first, why subject yourself to this? Carbs are so tasty, how have I been able to resist?
A Brief History & Overview of the Diet
There are always new fad diets circulating in popularity, and San Francisco has no shortage of people willing to try them. Ketogenic diets are different, though, because they have then been around for thousands of years. Ketogenic diets have long been present in aboriginal cultures from throughout the world. Indeed, many native peoples have, sometimes by necessity or circumstance, had to survive on low carbohydrate, high-fat diets. The most recent and memorable introduction of the diet to the west would, of course, be the Atkins Diet.
When first confronted with this diet, I was not very intrigued - eating high amounts of fat simply sounded unpleasant. And I looove fruit!!! It was only after I better understood the mechanism by which it affects the body and advantages to the diet itself that I decided to give it a try.
The goal of the ketogenic diet is this: to get the body in a state of “nutritional ketosis” in which the body is safely and effectively producing and utilizing ketones as its energy source. Ketones are an energy source that comes from fatty acids. Your body can run on ketones much in the same way it can run on glucose. When your body is in a state of ketosis, it's essentially in fat-burning mode, instead of the usual carbohydrate-burning mode. Obviously, this can be a great strategy for losing excess body fat, but there are many other benefits, including increased cognitive clarity, better appetite control, increased performance in endurance related events, and the list goes on.
Sounds like a great idea to try. So why don’t more people experiment with this diet? Well as it turns out, your body is quite reluctant to go into ketosis! It varies person to person, but the general consensus is that it takes weeks or more to adapt after weeks of low carbohydrate consumption. Numbers range, but 20 - 30 grams of net carbs seems to be a general consensus. And there can be no “cheat days.” Eating a carbohydrate-laden meal can boot you right out of ketosis and send you back to square one. Furthermore, one must also limit the amount of protein consumed, as it can be converted into glucose, like carbs. So, your diet must be heavy in fat – somewhere in the range of 75-90% of your daily calories. That’s a lot of fat!
I am about 10 days into the ketogenic diet. I’d like to share my observations:
- The diet has made me very aware of my carbohydrate intake. This awareness will no doubt allow me to make better decisions about what to eat long after the diet is over.
- Overall, I seem to be experiencing less inflammation in my body and less bloating after meals.
- There has been a noticeable decrease in fat around my belly and “love handles.”
- Eating a high quantity of fat is not enjoyable for me. I really love the taste of fruit and I wish I could have some peaches or cherries
- My energy levels fluctuated a lot for the first week. Adapting to high fat, low carbohydrate can be a difficult transition, to say the least.
- Working out has been difficult as transitioning from glucose to ketones is a BIG jump.
- I could feel an overall higher level of stress in my body over the first 7 days. I really felt off.
So far, it's been an interesting journey. The individuals I’ve met that have adopted a ketogenic diet have all raved about its benefits (increased stamina, mental clarity, etc), but have warned me that it takes some time to get there. So far, I can say with surety that I’m not there. The last 10 days have been interesting, but overall, not a pleasant experience. I figure that I’ll stay on the program for another week or so, and then most likely dive headfirst into some carbs.
A final note: everyone is built differently, and there is no one-size-fits-all diet.
Ketogenic diets are difficult to maintain, but do have some promising benefits. That being said, it’s not an easy process, and for some, it will not be the right choice. Some people, due to their metabolism or physical routines, will do much better on a diet heavy in carbohydrates. Figuring out what’s best for you is always going to take experimentation, and it will almost always be a dynamic process - the metabolic demands of you today versus you ten years ago are quite different, and the metabolic demands of you when you’re stressed versus not stressed are also quite different. When it comes to food, no diet book will ever compare to your own food logging and your own observation. I hope this helped clarify ketogenic diets for you all, and gave you all some insight into whether or not they could be beneficial for you!