Introduction

Only if you had been marooned on a desert island, or perhaps blasted into outer space, could you claim to have not heard about the Keto diet over the past few months. Ironically, should either of these situations actually apply to you, then you probably would be – by virtue of starving to death – in ketosis already!

Fad dieting can be dangerous, I found this out the hard way when I lost weight on the Atkins diet and ended up in a urologist’s office having my kidneys scanned. So, I personally took a lot of convincing to try the Keto diet for weight loss. As Michael Jackson would say, I started with the man in the mirror. And what I saw I didn’t like. You see, I had spent the entirety of 2017 working out in my home gymnasium, and yes – for sure – I had the muscles to prove its effectiveness. My lifts had vastly improved from deadlifting 80kg on a good day to easily lifting 140kg for 15 reps. From a 16kg kettlebell to an enormous cannonball-like 32kg solid iron kettle, the same size as used by the Russian military. All that was fine; what was missing was the weight loss to go with it.

Weight is a funny thing. As a married and settled man, who works on a computer, commutes by train 20% of the day and sits at home in the evening, I knew that the effort levels I would need to reach in the gym to lose weight. They would be basically impossible. I would simply continue to bulk. Instead, I set out to focus my efforts on losing some kilograms through a new diet.

It is often said that losing weight is a simple case of calories in and calories out. The media is, however, full of celebrity methods for seemingly circumnavigating this “rule”. I looked through the latest methods of the fad diets that infest the internet. They range from the sublime to the ridiculous. I recall one, which was aptly named, “the bananas diet,” being particularly, well, bent. I was reading a forum where an “expert” in this diet was chastising someone for their question regarding what to have for breakfast as they were already eating 7 bananas in the morning and wondered why they were not losing any weight.

“Ha-ha, dude!” He wrote, “7 bananas are far too FEW for breakfast!”

Truly the mind boggles as to what is happening to these people… perhaps even this is how a new species is born; split off into a genetic niche? Is this how the panda became purely a bamboo eater? Chased into the snow-covered mountains by the giant – now extinct – bears of ancient times? I can see them now, rolling back with their feet in the air, crying in laughter because some idiot can only manage 7 bamboo shoots before lunch! And presto, you’re stuck with it and can never eat anything else again.

Actually, I may have theoretically tried that with pizza before, so perhaps not?

Regardless, one diet started to reappear more often in my searches, mainly because it was the purview of a group of people I had come to respect in terms of high performance. No, not the Kardashian’s, I am talking of CrossFit addicts. There is truly no group more obsessed with physical performance and diet. If they were doing Keto, then I knew it would be at least worth looking at.

What I found when I investigated it was that the diet had initially been created as a medical treatment for all sorts of conditions. The one you hear most often mentioned is epilepsy; but, I can also report that one of my friends has been put on the diet for narcolepsy and is so enamoured that he is “Keto for life”. I was a little more sceptical. How could a diet enable me to have bacon and fried eggs for breakfast and promote weight loss?

I knew that this would require planning.

Keto Breakfast

Keto diet breakfast

Starting the diet

The first thing I decided was to ask Cesca if she would like to do this diet as well. With both of us recording our progress, we could support and encourage each other, and – as she makes the food during the week – with Cesca involved it would be able to easier plan the meals.

Indeed, planning is a large part of succeeding on the Keto diet as we shall see.

The second decision was to also stop drinking alcohol during the diet. This is for two reasons: firstly, I always stop drinking for January through March, every year. Second, many drinks have carbs in them. Lots of carbs. And carbs are out.

The final upfront decision I took was to go and speak to my doctor. In fact, I did a lot more than this. My company offers people of my grade a full medical every two years. It’s part of my package. So, I booked one for after two weeks on the diet. This included blood work and a whole hour with a doctor.

So, armed with a couple of keto diet kindle books, I began.

The first thing I did was order some supplies. The Keto diet involves eating with the following breakdown in macro’s:

4% carbs
15% protein
81% fat

Which is almost the exact reverse of the normal carbohydrate diets we are all used to? So, in order to track this, I needed a really good phone app to help. I chose to go for the paid version of Lifesum, which has a plan for “Ketogenic Strict”. I could then spread out my carb allowance throughout the day. We shall go much further into food below.

The next thing I needed was a way of measuring my ketosis levels. For this, I purchased some urine strips from Amazon. Although they are not designed for dieters, as the instructions make clear. In fact, they say that if the strip turned purple call an ambulance! Now, you may have heard many strange things about Ketosis. This is because, for some portions of the population, ketosis is a deadly condition. Namely, these strips were designed for diabetics. I had an interesting conversation recently with two veterinary surgeons, who laughed nervously when I mentioned being in ketosis as for they, this is normally a sign of a very serious life-threatening condition in an animal.

Why would anyone put themselves purposely into this state?

Keto stick

Ketone measuring stick

Keto stick

Progress

The science of keto

Normally (on a +100g carbs a day diet), the carbohydrates contained in food are converted into glucose, which is then transported around the body and is particularly important in fuelling brain-function. Before sending excess energy to fat cells, your liver and muscles will store carbs in a mechanism called glycogen. However, if there is little carbohydrate in the diet, the liver converts fat into fatty acids and ketone bodies. Ketone bodies are produced mainly in the mitochondria of liver cells, and synthesis can occur in response to an unavailability of blood glucose, such as during fasting. The ketone bodies pass into the brain and replace glucose as an energy source. An elevated level of ketone bodies in the blood is known as ketosis.

The result is a drop in insulin and what is called “leptin-induced satiety”.

That is, you feel full and have very little hunger.

So, in reality you lose fat on a ketogenic diet the same way you do on other diets: you burn more calories than you consume.

The next thing I purchased to prepare was Keto friendly foods and ingredients. Lots of high-quality meats, tons of vegetables, “keto” flour (which is made from almonds), American measuring cups (most keto recipes are in American measurements), MCT oil (which you add to coffee) very good vitamin tablets and Himalayan Pink Salt.

Pink salt?

Yes, this pink salt, which you use just like normal salt, is full of magnesium and potassium, which you will be very short of on the keto diet (unlike on the bananas diet, eh?).

Keto stick

Drink lots of this

Keto stick

Black coffee is OK!

All of these items were to head off what is known as the Keto Flu.

When you first go on a keto diet your body has to switch to using fats for energy. This is difficult. Indeed, I can attest to several side effects I ran into immediately:

  1. Headaches.
  2. Limb aches. Cesca got pains in her arms at the joints. Me? I got knee pains when squatting with weights.
  3. Dizziness. While “transitioning” it is very likely that you will “use up” all the carbs in your body. This is like being exhausted and has the possibility of making you dizzy. Indeed, at one point, I made the rookie mistake of working out during the transition. Do not do this. I had to lie down the rest of the afternoon. Another part of this side effect is that you will find it harder to “think”. This can, for obvious reasons, cause problems at work. I certainly found this the case for me and I had to think very hard to be able to cope.
  4. Thirst. You get a lot of water from your food. You will need to drink at least, AT LEAST, double your usual amounts. This is partial because you will be peeing out may of the fats being released into your body.
  5. Constipation. However, for me, this was not an issue.

How long these effects last is up to your physiology; but, you can help with the following:

  1. Drink water. I drank water with electrolytes added.
  2. Take your vitamins. I also took a pro-biotic.
  3. Eat more salt. Pink salt everything you can.
  4. Do not eat outside your macro’s. Any carbs in over the macro % will reset this period.

Eventually, 3 days for me, you transition and your energy levels come back to somewhere like normal. You can tell when this happens as you suddenly lose a lot of your appetite. This is because your body is eating fats, and they are energy dense.

Welcome to ketosis!

For the first month, I tracked all my food religiously. Every morsel. This meant scanning everything into the app on my phone, planning and measuring every meal and stopping when the system said to.

As a rough rule of thumb, and this is by far the hardest part of keto, you can only have a food that has less than 6g of carbs in any one meal. Now, technically, you could save up and have your 20g of carbs all at once; but, that is almost impossible because almost everything has a little carbohydrate in it. This proves extremely difficult when out and about or at work. As, sure, you can find foods with either high fats or low carbs, but not at the same time. It isn’t good enough to eat a just low carb food, you need to also eat high fats. So, 95% of what is out there in stores for lunch is off the menu. Another problem is not overdoing the protein. Too much of that and you start to affect your kidneys. Yes, quite a pickle.

I found myself having salads; but, nothing from a root vegetable, with lashings of dressing and I really mean lashings of dressing. My fridge was stocked high with Ceaser salad dressing, the original high fat one, not a “diet” one with lots of sugar. My other staple food was eggs. Boiled eggs for preference, on the go. Finally, sashimi is ok in a pinch. I honestly regret having not planned to make all my lunches.

Visiting the doctor

After a week of this, I must admit to being bored of the food. I wasn’t hungry in the slightest. Keto kills your appetite; but, I was, well, suffering some kind of ennui. It wasn’t until I managed to return to working out that I felt “better” and started to gain the keto energy I had read so much about.

At the end of the second week, I went to the health check. Firstly, the phlebotomist took a large amount of blood.

“Please don’t worry if you see high ketones,” I told him. “I’m on the keto diet”

“Oh really?” He said, “so am I!”

I took a longer look at him and immediately could see he was a CrossFit person.

“Wow, cool, so you know then?”

“Oh yes,” he assured me, too cool for school – definitely a CrossFit person, “I have been on it for ages, lose loads of weight”.

“Oh, right. Great. How do you manage the 20g of carbs per day?”

“20g!” He said, shocked, “that’s hardly any. I am on a much lighter version than that. You must be hardcore keto?”

“Well,” I said happy to have impressed him, “One tries, you know…”

While the bloods were being spun up, I spoke to the doctor. She was also supportive of the experiment as in general my health was good. Then the blood results came up on her scr