Today marks the 2-month anniversary of my ketogenic journey and, let me tell you, it hasn’t been easy! As I’ve mentioned before, I started looking into ketogenic diets because of their effectiveness in treating other neurological ailments (like Alzheimer’s and epilepsy), and because I wasn’t finding relief on a nutrient-dense paleo diet (AIP, Wahls Levels 1-2) alone.
I had also been feeling out of whack since my thymectomy last Fall, and just knew it was time to try out something new. My insomnia was really bad, I had put on some of the weight I had initially lost on AIP (6-8 pounds), my brain fog was so terrible I couldn’t work, and I just felt like I wasn’t being my best self – there had to be something else I could do.
I knew of course about Terry Wahls’ Paleo Plus protocol (Level 3), but I’d shied away from it because it just seemed sooooo hard. Giving up fruit? Cutting out all sweeteners?? No starchy tubers such as sweet potatoes or beets? It just sounded like it would suck all fun out of eating for good. The idea of intermittent fasting also felt overwhelming, especially since I still had quite a ravenous apetite, even after significantly reducing carbs and upping fats on AIP and Wahls Level 2. But desperate times, I guess, call for desperate measures.
Instead of just diving into Wahls Level 3, I started looking into keto more broadly, trying to figure out how it works and how I could optimize it for my needs. One of the main reasons was that Dr. Wahls’ book just didn’t have enough info on Level 3, especially when it came to troubleshooting. So I started looking and I discovered the Bulletproof diet (had I been living under a rock, or what?!), as well as Maria Emmerich’s website. Maria had just come out with a Keto cleanse book, primarily geared toward weight loss but also blood sugar regulation, which I knew was a huge issue for me. It also had some overlaps with AIP (no nuts, no dairy) which were familiar and made me feel comfortable. The Bulletproof diet on the other hand was based on some science I found questionable and also, according to what I was reading online, it seemed to work better for men than women.
So I bought Maria’s book and started weaning myself into keto. I never really followed her plan 100%, choosing a middle path somewhere in-between her cleanse and Wahls Level 3. After over a year and a half of following plant-based, nutrient-dense protocols like AIP and Wahls, it just felt wrong to reduce vegetables as drastically as Maria’s plan recommends. 20g carbs a day total means that you have to watch every single thing you eat and make one of your two daily meals essentially a 0 (or almost 0) carb one. Imagine, for example, that one medium avocado has approximately 18g of carbs, while one serving of kale has about 8! There are also carbs in almond butter, coconut milk, wine (boooooooooh), cheese, yogurt and, even, eggs!
Maria’s argument is that many people are more sensitive to carbs and fiber (even from veggies) than they realize, and counting net carbs interferes with their weight loss (and healing). Dr. Wahls on the other hand really stresses vegetable consumption (6-9 cups a day), as well as offal and seaweed consumption for neurological health. She argues that although 6-9 cups of veggies would normally throw someone out of ketosis, if they are combined with a good amount (at least five tbsp) of coconut/MCT oil, one is in fact able to maintain ketosis because of the way MCTs are metabolized.
Frankly, I don’t know who’s right and over time I might end up following one or the other more closely. Currently, I don’t feel like I can eat 5-7 tbsp of coconut oil a day, I don’t want to give up eggs (I seriously don’t think they are a problem for me) and I can’t possibly keep my carbs under 20g a day while still eating plates that I find appetizing. So a combo it is.
My hope is that I will keep seeing improvement without having to lower my carbs under 30-40g total a day. Something that seems to be making a major difference, and which both plans recommend, is intermittent fasting.
Fasting was terribly hard to get into. For the first month or so, I wasn’t fasting. In fact, I was hungry (ravenous!) ALL the time. I literally had to eat the fats by the spoonful to feel satiated and I also had to eat more frequently. I literally though I was never gonna get used to this way of eating (if you’re me right now, hang in there!). But once my body started adapting, the hunger subsided. Now I can go 14-16 hours without eating easy and I don’t get “hangry” anymore. I also no longer need mid-afternoon pick me ups, unless I am working a crazy deadline or am just super stressed with work. My goal is to work my body up to 18-24 hour fasts, to see if that improves my brain fog and myasthenic symptoms.
Improvements: weight-loss, skin health, brain fog, mood
One of the first major improvements I noticed (within a week or two), was that for the first time since my teens, my “bacne” (back acne) was almost gone. That wasn’t something I’d even thought about going into keto, but it was major! Obviously not as major as fixing jelly legs, double vision and drooping eyelids, but it’s nice to be able to wear a tank top or have sex doggy style (there, I said it) without being embarrassed. I also take that the acne was a sign of inflammation, of something still not being quite right in my body, so the fact that it’s almost gone now is really positive me thinks!
The other surprising side-effect was improved mood. I have suffered from severe mood swings and depression most of my adult life, and seeing that become more manageable has been quite extraordinary.
My brain fog also improved a lot, although I still don’t have the “crazy energy” a lot of ketoers are talking about. I now can get my work done and can occasionally work into the evening without feeling drained, but I still feel sick, or at least not 100%. I did however read three books this past weekend, which is incredible given that only a few months ago I couldn’t read more than a couple of pages.
Weight-loss has been very slow but consistent. My acupuncturist says I’ve lost quite a bit of weight and look “better” overall, but on the scale it’s only six pounds less. I’m too lazy to take measurements.
Concerns: budding eating disorder?
One of my biggest concerns with keto, is that I feel it’s ruining my relationship with food. I used to love food. No, I used to LOOOOVE it. Going out to eat at a Michelin star restaurant or traveling to experience exotic cuisines used to bring me so much joy. While paleo, that was still a possibility. But maintaining ketosis is much harder, especially this early on, and I feel like the implications of me “cheating” will be much worse compared to when I was AIP or Wahls 2. How many days will it take me to get back into ketosis? Will my brain fog take over? Will I gain weight?
Weight. That’s a big one. Losing weight was never a priority for me. I lost about 20 pounds when I first went AIP and it was a welcome surprise, but it wasn’t an obsession. I didn’t care about becoming smaller (after the initial loss), although I did catch myself making an effort to maintain my weight. But on paleo that wasn’t particularly hard.
With keto it’s different, and I think it has to do a lot with the conversations that I am following online. Most people who do keto, do it to lose weight. It doesn’t matter if they’re doing Atkins, or the Bulletproof diet, or lazy keto or following Maria’s plan, or whatever. Weight loss is all they care about and all they talk about and it’s hard not to get sucked into the vortex. Although I initially got interested in keto because I was looking for relief from my neurological symptoms, somehow they’ve stopped being my priority. I bought a scale (after 7 years!) and I am weighing myself every day. Did I lose? Why am I not losing? Did I eat too may carbs? The wrong type of cheese? Did I eat too late? Was my fast too short? What do I need to tweak? It’s become an obsession.
I also bought a scale to measure my food. How much is 3 oz of meat? I had no idea. I think it’s important to track in the beginning because so many of us have no idea what a portion of anything looks like, but it’s a slippery slope. Matters are made worse by the fact that I am using an app to track my macros. On the other hand it’s easy to do keto wrong, especially when you’re not measuring properly. Too much protein can throw you out of ketosis and I know that I would have a hard time keeping my carbs under 50-60g if I wasn’t tracking.
I currently think about food all the time, even though I’m rarely hungry. I plan every meal, every day in advance. I can’t just go to the farmer’s market, because I can’t be spontaneous. Everything needs to be calculated – if it’s not it will either throw me out of ketosis or get thrown out. I don’t want to go out to eat anymore either – it’s too complicated since I can’t weigh my food. Usually eating out means overeating carbs or overeating protein and I don’t wanna deal with that. I can’t have wine anymore because of the carbs, and hard liquor gives me the worst hangovers since I’ve been in ketosis. So going to bars is no longer fun either. Obviously, I can’t have beer.
I’m not sure I like where this is going (can’t you tell) and yet the improvements I’ve seen have been so enticing. What if it eventually reduces my myasthenic symptoms? What if it gives me back my life?