When it comes to my own personal nutrition, I have tried about everything - eating all the things, eating nothing, low-fat, high-fat, low-carb, high-carb, fake food, real food... you name it, I've tried it!
Up until recently, I had been simply focusing on eating real whole foods in PFC balance, as I speak about on regular basis to all of my clients and here on the blog.
However, over the past few months, I've been coming in contact with more and more research about ketosis, a super high-fat, low-carb approach to eating that allows your body to produce and use ketones for energy, instead of the typical glucose (aka sugar). I decided to give it a try to see how it would work with my body, especially given the fact that I'm female (most keto and nutrition studies in general are done on men because of the vast hormonal differences) and also given my history with inflammation, leaky gut, and adrenal stress. I figured it wouldn't hurt to see how my body responds and reacts to a different eating pattern. Plus, if nothing else, I'm now able to coach clients through this way of eating as well. Today, I wanted to dive a little deeper into my experience and thoughts on the keto lifestyle.
First off, like I mentioned, when the body is in ketosis, it is producing ketones for fuel and energy instead of running on glucose. When the body runs on glucose or sugar (because all sugar is broken down into glucose in the body, whether it comes from an apple or a pop-tart), it constantly needs to be "refueled" with more and more glucose because the body only has limited reservoirs for storing glucose.
However, when the body runs off of ketones or fat for fuel, I think most of us would agree that there is at least a little bit of extra fat on our bodies that we could use for fuel. Therefore, there isn't quite the need for constant refueling with glucose to keep the body going and energized.
When the body is running off of ketones for energy instead of primarily glucose, the body is able to go into a therapeutic, healing state. This is most widely studied in neurological disorders (especially those who have seizures); however, I would argue that being in ketosis for even a short period of time (a couple of months or so) can have a powerful healing impact on the overall body - brain health, gut health, chronic inflammation, stress. The list goes on and on!
Basically, by taking away the constant reliance on sugar as our main fuel source, we are forcing our body to look to other methodologies for energy, methods that our bodies have used in the past. If you think of our ancestors, for instance, they often when long stretches of time without food, and were free from all the modern diseases an ailments that we have today. Their bodies were most like in ketosis, so they were able to burn their stored fat for fuel and not have to worry about a limited storage of glucose.
When it comes to the actual how-to for ketosis, it basically comes down to eating tons of healthy fat and eating very few carbs, which come mainly from low-carb vegetables. Many keto blogs or websites will encourage you to consume tons of fatty coffee drinks, tons of dairy, and keep veggies to a minimum because of their carbs. However, I would argue that it is possible to do a keto approach while sticking with real, whole foods - which yes, does include vegetables - instead of turning to other methods and foods. Low-carb vegetables do contain some carbs, but that is mainly offset by fiber, making the net carb count and impact very negligible. This means that veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, onions, mushrooms, spaghetti squash, zucchini, and leafy greens are great options for those using a keto approach. Plus, it helps keep your gut health strong and nutrient stores high.
The other piece is keep your intake of healthy fats super high, and when I say super high, I mean it! If you are going to get your body to run off of fat for fuel, you need to feed it fat so it can learn how to use it for fuel. Our modern bodies are so used to running off of glucose that sometimes it can take a few days, weeks, or even months (like in my case) to get the body used to running off of fat for fuel. Healthy fat sources of the body while trying to get into ketosis include avocados, butter, coconut oil, full fat coconut milk, avocado oil, olives, olive oil, nuts, and seeds. However, you do have to be careful not to overdo certain fat sources like nuts and seeds because they do contain a certain level of carbs as well. I prefer to stay mainly dairy free, so I don't include full fat dairy sources in my keto approach (except for butter).
Protein with trying a keto approach will vary person to person. In the beginning, it's probably best to make sure protein intake isn't outrageous. Sometimes protein can be converted to glucose in the body, which isn't what we want to happen when trying to get into ketosis. However, once you're fat-adapted and/or in ketosis, you can start to experiment more with your protein intake depending on your activity levels.
With that all said, why would you want to go into ketosis anyway besides the therapeutic benefits? One of the biggest benefits is the elimination of the blood sugar roller coaster, meaning your energy and mood are more consistent and stable throughout the day. Most people in ketosis talk about their increase in energy. This also can coincide with an increase in mental clarity as well. Plus, because fat is so satiating, you are able to go longer periods of time between meals without getting hungry and/or noticing changes in your mood or energy. Keto diets have also been praised for their impact on body weight, as they tend to help people lose weight. However, this isn't necessarily always the case, and those turning to keto solely for weight loss reasons might be very disappointed. Often there is deeper healing that needs to take place first on the hormonal, neurological, or inflammatory level before any weight loss can occur.
In order to see if your body is in ketosis, it is recommended that you test for your ketone levels. There are several methods - breath, urine, and blood - but the research points to blood testing as the most accurate. You simply buy a keto meter (similar to a glucose meter that diabetics use) along with ketone testing strips. Then, you prick your finger and use that blood sample to see if you are in ketosis. The range to look for is .5-3.0 mmol. Most people in general are at .1-.4 on a regular basis who aren't in ketosis as a reference.
Also, because keto is such a buzz word lately, many supplement companies are jumping on board with keto supplements and shakes. Stay far away from there. Exogenous ketones have their time and place, but will never replace the actual work that goes into getting your body into ketosis naturally. Stay far far far away!
After eyeing the keto lifestyle (I hate the word diet) from afar for a while, I decided to jump in with a program by Shawn Mynar, a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner that I've followed for several years. Her project is called the Fat Burning Female Project, which is specifically designed to help women ease into ketosis slowly and start to reap the healing benefits that ketosis can offer. I started the program at the end of July and slowly started ramping up my fat intake following Shawn's unique block system that was a difference way of counting and tracking my food without counting calories. I also bought a ketone meter and tested my blood ketones after a few weeks on the program. I only got up to .4 at the highest for quite some time. It was frustrating to say the least, especially when I was eating a ton of fat and doing everything "perfectly."
However, knowing myself all too well, I decided to stay the course, take a step back, and RELAX! Stress is one of the biggest hurdles in holding people back from getting into ketosis. So, I just stayed the course, continuing to eat plenty of fat, reducing my protein slightly, and staying away from testing for a while. Then, a few weeks ago, I went about 7 hours without food because of a super crazy Monday at work. I got home around 8pm and realized that I wasn't starving, so I decided to test my blood ketones. I was at 1.1mmol! My body just takes longer to adapt to certain things after everything its been through in the past. Once I realized, accepted, and respected this fat, it all fell into place.
I will say though, my experience over the past 12+ weeks with keto hasn't been all great. I have gained some weight, more than I'm comfortable with (but I'm working on that slowly but surely) and my energy hasn't been great either. So, I'm continuing to tweak and play with the amount of each macronutrient I'm eating, as well as the timing of my meals. I know that it is a slow and arduous process when it comes to anything with regards to my health. But, I'm learning something new almost daily, and I can definitely say I've learned something new from this experiment.
If you are interested in keto or have heard about it and want to know more, feel free to reach out to me with any questions! I'm by no means an expert in keto, but I'm continuing to learn each day. If you think that the ketogenic lifestyle would be right for you, I would highly recommend signing up for Shawn's Fat Burning Female Project, as she guides you through every step on the journey towards burning fat for fuel!
You can find more about that program here. I would also recommend this book by Leann Vogel that covers everything you need to know about ketosis.
Otherwise, my plan is to stay the course with ketosis through the end of the year and see what happens. I'm open to experimentation and listening to the signals my body gives me as I go through this journey!