How did you start?
This perspective comes from a middle aged man who at various points in his life has been overweight, out of shape and did not eat a healthy diet. I was first introduced to the keto lifestyle by my wife about two years ago. I have over 30 years of experience as an environmental scientist, yet I understood very little about proper nutrition and making healthy food choices. I believed in the health professionals who touted the benefits of a well balanced low fat and calorie diet, but high in carbs, to lower the possibility of cardiovascular disease. My family has a history of high blood pressure and high cholesterol, so I assumed that I was following the best medical advice. I had heard about low-carb diets, but not specifically keto and the process of ketosis, which my wife had been researching. At the time, I was 20-30 lbs overweight, out of shape, and had difficulty with food cravings and snacking between meals. I was also experiencing digestive issues including acid reflux, excessive gas, gas pain, frequent indigestion etc... When I snacked between meals, I gravitated towards carbs such as crackers, bread or cereal. None of these foods held my appetite at bay for very long. As the keto lifestyle gradually became a part of my daily life, I began to notice that my appetite was reduced between meals. Foods with a higher fat and protein content relative to carbs stayed with me longer and were more filling and satisfying. Once I got on a roll and incorporated a daily exercise program along with greater hydration and daily intake of vitamin/mineral supplements, these conditions greatly improved.
Keto and Special Health Considerations
I have had chronic acid reflux for many years and associated digestive issues including gas pain, bloating, indigestion etc. Once I fully adopted the keto lifestyle, I noticed a significant reduction in these issues as the days and months passed. I’ve also had chronic back pain related to sciatica for the last 15 years which have greatly improved due to a combination of an exercise and a high fat/low carb food program. I have not found the transition to be a struggle and the food is delicious and very satisfying. Another interesting side effect is increased clear-headedness and focus and a higher energy level. Some people have described what is called “brain fog,” the '”keto flu’ and digestive issues but I have not experienced such side effects. In fact just the opposite is true. So I see no downside to this lifestyle.
Before and After
Since I’ve embraced the keto lifestyle, my life has become less food focused and more centered on overall health and well being. About 20 years ago, long before keto, I was actively bicycling long distances several times per week and was in my best physical condition. However, as family and career responsibilities changed, I became more sedentary. Keto has made me much more aware of the mind-body connection. If I’m hungry I eat without remorse or guilt. When I first started I thought how can I possibly live without my go-to carbs, such as bread, crackers and pasta? I soon realized that there are keto-friendly versions of every food imaginable, so it’s not about self control and denial. Yes, it takes time, effort and preparation but it all comes down to self care and love. If you’re important enough, then it’s not a struggle because you’re being true to yourself. I’m less focused on the short-term but my long term goal of improved health and wellness for a lifetime which will enable me to take that long bike ride again. . I’m actually less weight conscious and more in touch with my mind and body. My food and exercise program is now fully integrated into my life and is no longer ancillary to it. It has now become second nature to me.
Although I have not been a chronic dieter throughout my life, I’ve had a dysfunctional relationship with food. I ate food not for nourishment but to calm my nerves, to deal with stressful situations and a means of avoidance. It’s called emotional eating. I ate for the sake of eating ..it’s because I was supposed to stuff my face. I didn’t eat to make myself feel better. If it did, it only temporarily elevated my mood. Food does not get at the root of the problem which was my self image.. It was merely a bandaid. More often than not, I didn’t feel good after eating and my choice of foods made me feel physically unwell. It made my chronic stomach issues worse and resulted in headaches, lethargy, poor (interrupted) sleep to name but a few adverse side effects. The conversion from carb-burner to fat burner has so many benefits, more than I realized. I’m now eating pure healthy food which is good for my health and mind. I can eat whatever I want (keto-versions) of all the foods I love, you name it, pizza, bread, pasta, desserts etc.. I know that people say they don’t cook or they don’t like to cook. When you know you're worth it, then with a few simple ingredients and in about 15 minutes, great food is ready to be enjoyed.
What’s a typical day in the life?
I typically start my day with a bullet coffee which can mean coffee with butter or MCT oil (derived from coconuts) with cream, but obviously no sugar. In fact the less sugar in your life the better. There’s no high’s and low’s with this lifestyle. That’s the beauty of it. It's not just coffee. It’s actually nutritious food and a meal all in one. Several days a week I have breakfast, usually on the weekends and once during the week. I may also grab a handful of nuts or berries so I’m not taking my daily medication on an empty stomach. This usually sustains me until lunch which normally consists of a salad with a source of complete protein such as cheese, fish, nuts topped with low carb, high fat salad dressing. I also track my food and exercise daily using the “My Fitness Pal '' app on my cell phone to make sure my macros are in balance. For dinner, I usually have a source of protein such as chicken, fish or turkey. I also have veggie products such as veggie burgers and tofu. This is accompanied by a leafy green vegetable (cooked or raw) or a salad. On the weekends, I have dessert which may consist of fat bombs (keto-chocolate) or jello with whipped topping. In the evenings I exercise for an hour which includes weight training using a kettleball followed by aerobic exercise (zumba - dance exercise routine). After a day of performing sedentary work on a computer, the exercise is a welcome respite from the everyday grind. It really breaks up the day and is very energizing.
Is keto something sustainable forever?
There are claims that the keto lifestyle is not sustainable over the long term. Well my family is living proof that it is possible because it is such a fun and positive experience and not limiting at all. Once you’ve committed to changing your life for the better forever, get rid of all of the unhealthy high carb food in your house or apartment. You won’t be needing or wanting these foods again. Your experience when food shopping will be totally different. For example, entire aisles of the supermarket are avoided. No more soda, chips, pretzels, bread etc.. You just focus on the foods you love. The urge to impulse buy foods that result in cheating, binging and general loss of control goes away. The keto lifestyle transcends all traditional demographic boundaries defined by age, race, gender, ethnic persuasion, religion etc. Having a supportive family environment is also helpful but even if you live alone it’s a lifestyle designed for a lifetime. Yes, it’s harder if you don’t have that support system or you’re surrounded by naysayers. It all comes down to self-love and not being so concerned about what others think. Once you start to see positive results and self confidence builds, then the need for acceptance and approval of others goes away. Your needs come first which is quite a revelation. It’s a very freeing experience and naturally separates the supporters from the enablers. It’s a natural selection process.
Best Advice for someone starting out
My best advice for someone starting out is to gradually phase in the keto lifestyle. It is much more than a diet which is usually short term and prone to periodic restarts. This is a sustainable approach for a lifetime and a way to permanent weight loss with no backtracking. To fully benefit from this program one must incorporate an exercise regime, increased hydration and adequate sleep. One also needs to include vitamin/mineral supplements to offset any missing nutrients in your diet. Again don’t expect extreme instant results. The slow and steady approach is always the best. Losing even 2 pounds a week is great progress. This is an approach which works in the long term. It can take a few weeks until you are in ketosis after which you are a true fat burner. I wouldn’t suggest rushing to start intermittent fasting. First of all you need to be in ketosis first by getting your macros in proper alignment. When you get to the stage where your meals are satisfying and filling with no urge to eat between meals you can slowly extend the time between meals or even skip meals. Too much too fast generally doesn’t work and your body needs time to adjust. The key is to get away from short term thinking that goes with dieting. It’s not a race to the finish. In fact there is no finish. Again realize that this is a permanent change in your life, possibly the biggest decision you will ever make. You’re freeing yourself from the chains that have been holding you back your entire life. The reason given for failing is that they can’t control their food urges, peer pressure, the change is too drastic....it’s not meant for the long term. When combined with a daily exercise routine, drinking at least 8 glasses of water each day (most people are dehydrated but don’t know it), get better rest you will be well on your way to a better more fulfilling life.
Phil's before and present photo