Keto can lead to weight loss, along with some other unpleasant symptoms along the way. Medically reviewed by Kelly Kennedy, RD
When I stepped on the scale, and the needle raced past 200, I knew I had a problem. I was always thin and active as a young man. In college, I was 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighed 154 pounds (lbs). Now, closing in on a half-century of life, over two decades of desk jobs had since passed. The birth of my son made sleeping more of a hobby than a necessity. The long hours and the stress of owning my own business caused me to make my food choices based on speed and price rather than nutrition and fuel. My body was running on Coca-Cola, bagels, and pizza. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when the needle on the scale settled at 208 pounds, but I was still shocked. You never think you are going to become a statistic. But as more and more Americans become overweight, I was part of a not-so-exclusive club.
When I started looking into ways to lose weight, it was hard to avoid the ketogenic diet . In my mind, it was the latest in a long line of diets that have raced through popular culture in my lifetime: Atkins , South Beach , Zone, paleo . It seemed like there was a new magic solution every few years. The difference with keto was that although I was giving up a lot of things I really liked (pizza, pasta, soda), there were quite a few foods that were staples of the diet that I enjoy (meat, fish, spinach, broccoli ). I wasn’t quite ready to make the commitment to such a strict diet, but I decided to take some baby steps.
After a day of feeling extremely depressed , I decided to try to make my worst trip to the scale the best thing that ever happened to me. It wasn’t too late to change. At least I hoped it wasn’t. Every two weeks, I replaced something awful in my diet with something a little bit better. First, day-long Coke drinking was replaced by a maximum of two small Gatorades per day. That dropped the number of calories I was drinking from 1,000 to 220 each day. Two weeks later, bagels were next to go, replaced by two simple scrambled eggs for breakfast. By making those two changes, I lost 15 lbs in less than a month. I wasn’t that far under 200 again, but it was a start. Increasingly restricting my simple carbohydrates was beginning to show immediate results.
If I was going to lose more weight, I needed to move around more. I started by walking to and from my son’s school to drop him off and pick him up each day. Each way was about 2 miles. Three weeks later, I was at about 185. Then I leveled off again.
To try to push through the plateau, I joined a boxing gym. I started with an amazing trainer named Joey Gamache . He is a former world champion, and he made me feel like a champion as well. Joey and I would try to train together four mornings per week — hitting the heavy bag and the speed bag, doing footwork drills. If you’re feeling as out of shape as I was then, you might think a boxing gym may not be a welcoming place for someone who is older, heavier, and a lot slower than they once were. It was the opposite. The people at Church Street Boxing Gym in New York City welcomed me with open arms.
Within three months, I knew everyone at the gym by their first name, something that never happened to me at health clubs. Even the professional fighters would give me a fist bump on the way to their morning workout. We weren’t competitors. We were all on the same team. The enemy was the couch and the TV. Every morning I was in the gym, I was with the extended family I never knew I was looking for. We were choosing life together. Stalled Weight Loss Led Me to Consider the Keto Diet
Four months into my new journey toward health, my weight had dropped from 208 to 168 lbs. In boxing terms, I had gone from a super heavyweight to a super middleweight. I was at my goal, and I felt great! When I got to 168 lbs, some of my friends at the gym thought that based on my body composition, I could easily make it down to 160 (middleweight). But once I got to 168, the weight was no longer coming off as quickly. By now I had eliminated most of the carbs in my diet, but I wasn’t following the ketogenic diet to the letter.
Nowadays, the keto diet is well known, arguably the biggest weight loss diet fad out there. But at the time, it was news to me. My thought process went something like this: “You mean there’s a diet that actually uses your body’s extra fat for energy? Where do I sign up?” Even though there were signs of life in my abs, going keto sounded like the perfect way to burn off the love handles and any other extra body fat that was clinging to my body for survival.
After doing some closer examination, I learned quite a bit about the diet. It turns out that the keto diet traces back to the 1920s, when doctors were trying to find a way to mimic the effects of fasting in children with epilepsy to lessen the frequency of their seizures, according to a report in Epilepsia .
A traditional keto diet menu consists of foods that are high in fat, extremely low in carbohydrates , with a moderate amount of protein to allow the body to repair itself. The diet fell into a more complementary role in the 1930s, when antiseizure medications were developed.
But when you look at how keto works, it’s not all so surprising that the high-fat diet has gained popularity as a quick way to lose weight. By inducing the natural metabolic state of ketosis , the body begins to use fat as a source of fuel instead of carbohydrates. When the body breaks down fat, it produces metabolites called ketones, which your body then uses for energy in place of carbohydrates.
When I saw the foods that were listed as being keto-friendly — chicken , eggs , and cheese — I thought this was something I could do.
There are several different types of ketogenic diets . I opted to try the standard keto diet, which includes getting 80 percent of calories from fat, 15 percent of calories from protein, and only 5 percent of calories from carbohydrates. That allowed me to consume only about 50 grams (g) of carbohydrates per day. 3 Days Into the Keto Diet, I Felt Like I Needed a Flu Shot
The first two days on the diet, I felt a little more tired than usual, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle. After working out hard for a few months, there would be days where I would feel more fatigued than others. I started to feel like that every day. I also felt very strange eating as much butter and oil as I was. Butter in particular is something we have been told for decades is really bad for you, and mentally, it’s hard to change those habits. But getting the fat to protein ratio right is critical. If you eat too much protein, it can actually knock you out of ketosis.
The rules of the keto diet are pretty strict, but they were easy to understand and follow. Pretty quickly the weight loss kick-started again. Within a week, I was down under 160 lbs for the first time, and 154 lbs (junior middleweight) was in sight. But the diet was proving to be pretty grueling. By the third day, I thought I was actually sick. I felt awful. I couldn’t think straight. I felt even more tired than I did when I was overweight. Traffic had come to a standstill in my digestive system. At times, the thought of having more coconut oil made me feel sick to my stomach. That’s when I learned about the keto flu . My Experience With the Keto Flu and Its Symptoms
The keto flu isn’t really a flu, though it feels like it. The symptoms that a person may feel when they begin the ketogenic diet mimic many of the symptoms of the common flu caused by the influenza virus. The fatigue is debilitating, as are the headaches. Nausea becomes a constant companion that won’t go away. This Is Your Body on Ketosis: Constipation and Other Keto Flu Symptoms
As your body makes the transition from using carbohydrates for energy to burning fat for fuel, it goes through some adjustments that can lead to various new symptoms, which usually subside in a […]
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