October 1st, I decided to start a keto diet. 30 days later, I want to write a post where I capture what I felt during the month and the results I got. It changed a lot of things in my life.
What is ketogenic diet ?
The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet that in medicine is used primarily to treat difficult-to-control (refractory) epilepsy in children. The diet forces the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates. Normally, the carbohydrates contained in food are converted into glucose, which is then transported around the body and is particularly important in fueling brain-function. However, if there is very little carbohydrate in the diet, the liver converts fat into fatty acids and ketone bodies. The ketone bodies pass into the brain and replace glucose as an energy source. An elevated level of ketone bodies in the blood, a state known as ketosis, leads to a reduction in the frequency of epileptic seizures.
: my post is not a descriptive guide to keto or give specific details on how-to (like how many carbs I had. By the way it was less than 20 grams a day) . There are plenty of links and posts everywhere explaining what it is, and how to be in ketosis. Here I will discuss about how I experienced the keto diet, my thoughts and my feelings.
How I ended up there ?
I always have been engaged in sports activities in some way but from 2012 to 2014 I didn't do so much I decided to reengage with sports and thus I started the gym. During two years, it was a way to move and spend some energy, but I didn't want to push myself. But one day I wanted to give a boost to my strength so last year in October 2016, I started with a personal trainer. She is a fantastic personal trainer. We had conversations about various topics, openly and friendly. She advised me first to eat less sugar and replace with more protein for my muscles to grow. Not a big deal, just removing the morning bread/honey and replace by egg/bacon instead.
Slowly during the year, I took less and less carbs but I was not strict. I always said that if gym (diet + workout) took too much space in my life, I would stop. Therefore, if I was offered cake, I would eat it with no hesitation.
I don't remember the exact moment but one day I heard about the ketogenic diet. I was quite surprised to hear that "if you eat a lot of fat, you lose fat". Weird equation, but it also includes the fact that you do have to remove carbs from your meals. It tempted me a lot because I was already at the strength I wanted to be and I lost some fat too but I wanted to go deeper. Lose more fat. I didn't have to lose fat at all, I was already in a good shape but you know, I wanted to have the nice flat shape.
So I decided to give it a go.
When I started the diet, I was in the "let's do it!" and "let's see what happens!" mood to give me motivation and boost. But I think what really helped me was to see it as an experiment. I had an hypothesis and a goal, I set up boundaries and I selected tools.
My goal was to lose fat and my hypothesis would be that keto diet would help me burn fat. When I started, it was my only thought : "lose fat". But after three days, my focus shifted towards another goal : be in ketosis tomorrow. And tomorrow. And tomorrow... "Lose fat" was too vague (how much?), not easily measurable and as it is a long term goal. I felt impatient and it seemed non reachable. Instead, "be in daily ketosis" is specific, measurable and concrete. I used ketogenic stripes that told me in 15 seconds if my body was in ketosis state. The first morning I had been in ketosis, I saw it as a success and I was so happy. I could remove enough carbs from my meals. And when the next day I was again in ketosis, I felt I had another success. By the end of the experiment, I had not one but 30 successes to have been every single day in ketosis. One thing I will remember from this experiment is daily successes are far more achievable and rewardings than long term goals. Long term goals create the vision but I should always find daily successes that will motivate me to continue.
My experiment had a specific duration. One month, no less, no more. When I started, I thought I would sacrify one month of food that I really enjoy (steak & potatoes, yum!). I had to prepare myself mentally to change my diet and convince myself hard to not cheat at all. To make it easier, I was comparing one month with the duration of a lifetime. I came to think that one month was nothing and a lot at the same time. Nothing compared to the rest of my life so I could sacrify things to be better after, and a lot because all the experiences and feelings lived during that month could be powerful and change my life. I also wanted to give a chance to my body and my mind to adapt but it was also short enough to stop if it does not suit me. It felt good to know when it would stop.
To help me during the journey, I used tools to measure my diet but also add a bit of fun.
First tool was ketogenic stripes. It showed me everyday if I was in ketosis. It is cheap and easy to buy. I would say it was a must have to be sure that I respected the diet.
Second tool was My Fitness Pal. It is a fantastic mobile application. The main feature is select an objective of calories per day, then you insert what you eat (or scan your food!) and it tracks how many calories you eat, showing the breakdown per nutriment (fat/protein/carbs). Almost perfect but I used it during 2 days only. Although it is indeed very precise and useful, I couldn't resolve myself to use the app everyday for every meal. It was too much for me and I didn't even enjoy my meals because I knew I had to enter everything in the app. Instead of using the app, I made a list of high carbs / medium carbs / low carbs food and trusted myself to buy and eat only medium/low carbs food to avoid being over 20 grams per day of carbs. Keto specifies also that I had to eat more fat but that was the easy part. I added more olive oil, more cream, more cheese, more bacon in my meals.
Lastly, I wanted to keep a record of my journey. Something I could go back and remember. There is this blog post but I wanted to show progress. I like pictures so I installed Instagram. I felt it could be a great channel to share my workouts and my meals and everytime I cooked something new, I would post it and added some keto hashtags. It was motivating to see people like my pictures. In the end, I didn't use as much Instagram as I had thought (my first idea was to post everyday) but at least I now have something and I like it. Also I remember I wanted to post a picture before/after like, and see how transformed I was. But I didn't do it because I didn't want to measure the progress in terms of aesthetics or look but in terms of how much weight I lifted at the beginning and at the end.
Did I lose fat? With a diet that burns fat and 4 workouts per week, yes of course I did! Did I reach the flat shape? No I didn't. But it didn't matter because I experienced new things that I didn't expect when I started and these things motivate me to continue.
I didn't notice anything during the first 2 weeks of the experiment, and then it occured to me : my level of energy was high, very high and everyday. Like I could wake up in the morning without moaning, I could workout 4 to 5 times a week, I could recover quickly, I was light, I was calm, I was patient, I was listening, my mind was sharp, I had clear thoughts, I had lot of ideas, I was always ready to get things done, I was proactive, I was motivated and motivating, I was confident, I was happy and smiling, I was enjoying a lot more things around me. As far as I can remember, I never experienced that before. It felt so good. It became a drug, a state where I wanted to stay forever. Today I can't pinpoint exactly what drove me to that state, if it was because I was in ketosis, if had no alchohol during keto or if it was because I created a routine. I am guessing it was surely a combination of differents things. What I am sure of is if I wish to return to this high energy state, I could start another keto diet.
During the month, my body and my mind were adapting to this new lifestyle. I had to give time to process the changes. Little by little, I was creating a routine. I built my life around specific tasks at specific times (breakfast, workout, go to bed earlier) and I had to eat specific food to stay in ketosis. I gave a structure to my days and except unexpected events, I was always doing the same thing. By the end of the experiment, I tackled these recurrent tasks in a robot state. It released my mind of thoughts like "When should I do this ?", "Where should I do it ?", "Will I have the time to do it ?", "Should I finish what I am doing before lunch ?". My mind was ready for everything else instead of thinking about the daily needs and tasks.
Another benefit I found was the discipline I imposed myself to stay in ketosis during the whole month. It was a quiet month regarding going out with friends so I was lucky to not have too many external sollicitations that could made things harder. I still had to dine out four times but I always managed to find a keto meal in the menu. It was hard sometimes and people didn't always understand why I was doing that. I had to be patient and explain a lot. My big problem was I didn't really know why I was doing the diet except "losing fat" but people used to tell me "You don't have to lose fat". So I questionned a lot myself if finally it was worth it. As said previously in my post, daily success of being in ketosis state helped me a lot as my main reason of doing this became to be in ketosis.
Discipline didn't stop at the diet. It expanded to a lot more things than I expected. Keto diet was all about taking care of my body, and I could see the benefits of saying no to things than could harm it or harm the diet. As I gained this new power of saying "no", it occured that I used also to take care of my mind. I said no at work if I had no time to handle some tasks, I said no to hanging out if I was tired, I said no to watch-another-episode-before-going-to-bed, I said no to more food if I was not hungry anymore and I said no to probably more things. It just amazed me of how quiet and strong my mind was. It was resting and it saved me a lot of energy I could then use to tackle complex tasks.
Lastly, I would add that keto diet itself seemed to be suitable for my body. Before the diet, I experienced sometimes the "I ate too much", "I feel heavy", "I didn't manage to digest the previous meal". I don't really know of often but I had these thoughts but during keto, I never felt that. I was always hungry for meals and I was always light. My digestive system seemed to appreciate eating more fat and less carbs.
What's next ?
October 31st, I am not in ketosis anymore (it was so sad to not see the keto stripe turning keto coloured) although I wanted to continue after experienced such benefits I am very happy to have managed to complete the 30 days keto. I stopped because it was so difficult for me to cook things for lunch. Around where I work, it is practically impossible to find keto lunch, except two salads at a takeaway. Cooking the evening for the next day took time and energy that I would rather spend with my wife. It also required increased creativity and time to find new recipes. During the first 15 days, I had the motivation to cook but I lost it because it didn't suit me and at the end I was eating only these two salads for lunch.
My only rule post keto diet is I allow myself to eat only one meal with carbs per day. For instance if I eat rice during lunch, I can't eat carbs for breakfast or dinner. With this new rule, I am in a wait-and-see mode. I have no idea how I will change or which impact will occur. I still continue the workout 4 times a week. I see it is a new experiment. Let's see during 30 days if I can accomodate without keto diet.
I would like to thank you people who helped me to do this :
- my colleagues, who were comprehensive and keen to see the results
- my personal trainer, who motivated me and pushed me beyond my limits
- my wife, who supported me and cooked me delicious meals