Last week, I started a 30-Day Keto Challenge, and here is an update on how week 1 has gone so far that could help you kickstart your own keto experiment.
I was scared to start this challenge.
Would I miss out and feel like a weirdo at social events?
Will I be depriving myself of earthly pleasures like sweets and savory foods?
What do I eat?
I’m busy, will it get in the way of life?
It hasn’t been as bad as I thought. If anything, there is a huge payoff in terms of energy, focus, and vitality that I’m just starting to get a taste of.
To recap, the goal of the ketogenic diet is to reduce your body’s dependence on carbohydrates so it can better access fat for energy, which your body was naturally designed to do, and there are health and performance benefits that come along with this.
This may seem extreme on the surface, but from my experience so far, it’s really about eating a wholesome, healthy diet.
Starting a Ketogenic Diet
There are two ways to kick-off a ketogenic diet by using up glucose and glycogen stores (carbohydates) so the body starts tapping into fat stores to produce ketones:
- water fasting for 1-2 days with mild/moderate physical activity
- gradually lowering total carbohydrates and increasing fat intake over the course of a couple weeks with mild/moderate physical activity
I chose option 2 after consulting with my colleague and friend, Alessandro Ferretti. Alessandro is an expert in nutrition and a human guinea pig who lectures all over the world on the health and performance benefits of ketoadaptation, the state where your body can readily access fat as fuel. Not many people pack a suitcase full of keto-friendly clotted cream and coconut oil to make his own fatty espressos. He practices what he preaches and is always digging into the research.
The body takes time to adjust its metabolism from primarily carb burning to fat burning. Just like quitting anything cold turkey, carb withdrawal symptoms can kick in and is often referred to as the “keto flu.” This is your cells and hormones adjusting to a big change, like dragging a child out of toy store…your body will tell you it’s not happy.
With the keto flu you might experience:
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Dehydration from electrolyte imbalances (not enough sodium or potassium)
In order to ease the transition, I’m taking the slow and steady road because the body takes time to adjust to new routines. Why create an impossible struggle early on that will make a long lasting change less likely?
So far, the transition has been pretty smooth, and I have not felt any significant symptoms of the keto flu.
Over the last 4-5 years, I’ve gradually phased out most processed foods and carb-rich foods from my diet and added sugars and sweeteners. This was a gradual process with a lot of trial and error, but this work up front has made the transition pretty smooth.
If you are starting with a Standard American Diet or somewhere in between, this transition will could take longer if you don’t want to go cold turkey on carbs.
A sample of meals from my week in pictures:
I noticed that what I eat hasn’t changed that drastically, but instead the proportions of macronutrients have changed.
Why Track Macronutrients (Carbs, Fat, and Protein)?
If you want to know how your finances are doing, you ask your accountant or use accounting software. If you want to know where your calories are coming from, you can track your macronutrients to know where your calories are coming from.
Just by tracking what I’ve been eating has made me more conscious of what I was putting into my body and how it affects me overall.
Think of your daily calories as money you get to invest everyday. On the ketogenic diet, you want your portfolio of investments divided up in a specific way.
I’ll use myself as an example.
My basal metabolic rate (BMR), the target calorie intake based on my weight and physical activity, is about 2600 calories per day. This gives me an idea of my calorie budget.
Let’s compare the percentage of Calories on a Standard American Diet (SAD) versus a ketogenic/ketoadapted diet:
There’s a reason why it’s called the SAD. It’s not only the percentage of simple carbohydrate, but also the poor nutrient density that makes the SAD…sad.
Now, maybe you’re wondering, “how am I supposed to eat this much fat?”
Luckily, nature has our backs.
1 gram of carbohydrate: 4 Calories
1 gram of protein: 4 Calories
1 gram of fat: 9 Calories!
So, you can eat less than HALF the volume of protein and carbs to hit your calorie goal. For example:
1 Tablespoon coconut oil = 14g of fat = 126 Calories
1 cup of dry roasted, salted pumpkin seeds = 60 g of fat = 540 Calories
You can see that calories from good fats will help you reach your daily calorie needs pretty quickly. In combination with fibrous vegetables and whole foods, you’ll feel more satisfied and stay full longer.
What Can I Eat on a Ketogenic Diet?
The goal for week 1 was to start making my way towards these target percentages and understanding what kinds of foods I could eat more of and what I needed to watch out for.
You can see that the ketogenic diet is more about adding more fats to make up for the carbs you are taking out.
Foods NOT conducive to a ketogenic diet:
- Fruit in excess – “nature’s candy” can have a lot of sugar, some more than others.
- Almost all energy and protein bars – most have A LOT of sugar added
- Doughnuts and baked goods
- Noodles, rice, breads, and pastas
- Sugary drinks and alcohol – watch out for those sweeteners in a lot of Starbucks coffee drinks
- Ice cream
- Most other foods that come in a package – cookies, crackers, popcorn
- Fast food
Foods MORE conducive to a ketogenic diet:
- Nuts and seeds – caution with some nuts like cashews, where the carbs can add up quickly if you eat too many at once.
- Non-starchy vegetables – cauliflower, broccoli, leafy greens, brussel sprouts, etc.
- Lower sugar fruits in moderation – dark berries, tomatoes
- Fresh water fish – canned sardines, herring
- Olive oil and coconut oil
- Meats – an amount roughly the size of your palm
- Dairy is commonly recommended as a great source of fat, but I know I feel more energetic and clear-headed without it, so no dairy for me.
Note: Protein needs to be eaten in moderation because excess protein can be converted into glucose and can trigger a big spike in insulin, which is a hormone that signals your body to store fat instead of use it.
What about cravings?
Any healthy way of eating shouldn’t leave you feeling like you are starving.
I’ve walked through the chip aisle at the grocery store and felt like chips and I were close friends who had grown apart I’ll always have memories of the good times, chips, but you’re just no good for me anymore.
Knowing I have to write these posts and talk to all of you has also kept me accountable. Use the power of peer pressure to your advantage.
Instead of ravenous cravings, my hunger pangs have lost their edge. It’s like I can hear a text message notification, but it’s not as urgent that I check it right now if I’m focusing on something important.
On days I was training harder like lifting weights or going on a higher intensity run, the hunger signals were a lot stronger. After looking at MyFitnessPal, I realized that I just wasn’t eating enough. The way to fix that was to eat more keto-friendly carbohydrates until I felt satisfied. I notice that with more healthy fats in my diet, I feel more satisfied and don’t eat as much.
A ketogenic way of eating does not have to feel restrictive! Eat like a human being…a healthy, energetic, amazing human being!
With that said, if your diet has been full of sugar for years or decades, the hormonal signaling systems that control hunger and satiety could also be sending you false signals. Just know that within a few days or so after cutting out sugar, you will crave them less and less. It’s the hardest in the beginning.
Overall, my energy, focus, and mood feel more even keel than it has in a while with less ups and downs. My focus and thinking have been at least 40-50% better than it has been in a long time.
The changes that are happening are significant. It can be tough to do at first, but I’m already feeling and seeing the benefits in my own life after just 7 days.
This was more of a subjective update, but I will be sharing my data that shows how my physiology is changing just after 1 week.
What specific questions do you have so far? I’d love to know so I can answer them.