I have been meaning to get to this article for the past four weeks. We’ve just celebrated a year of being on a ketogenic diet (LCHF diet) and I wanted to provide a comprehensive review and update for you. (You won’t find a full report yet – it will take me a few days to flesh it out.)
Laura Childs (your author and the co-author of 2014’s Low Carb High Fat Diet book), has now lost 60 pounds. I hadn’t intended to take it this far but the weight has still been coming off slowly and steadily. I do not ‘work’ at this diet. I simply eat the foods I love and (mostly) stay away from the foods I know harm my body.
Unlike other diets (where the weight may come off but returns in a few months with extra pounds), I have been eating this way for just over a year and haven’t returned to my 235+ pound body.
There was a 2 week span in October 2014 where I was fastidious at staying low carb high fat as I wanted to win a bet I had with a group of friends. I wasn’t the oldest in the group, but I did win the bet! 😉 At that time I weighed in at 187 pounds. Today I’ve weighed in at 175 pounds but I usually fluctuate between 175-177. I am 5′ 11″ and considered to have a normal BMI (body mass index) – no longer overweight, no longer obese.
The next step in my journey will be to tone up these soft muscles. I have not lost muscle mass during my 60 pound weight loss (thanks to the protein levels in our KetoHybrid diet) but since I have not exercised, the remaining muscles are soft. Next week we will be on set with Tosca Reno where she hopefully will set us straight and get us exercising!
Tosca was my first inspiration into getting into shape back in 2010. While I worshiped her from afar I still wasn’t ready to commit to losing weight and keeping it off until the start of 2014. If you haven’t heard of Tosca Reno, it is time you did! She was a 40 (something) year old woman; unhappy and overweight at over 200 pounds. Tosca took massive action with her diet and exercise and turned her life around. She won body building competitions, wrote 12 or 13 books that have now sold 2 million copies and has become a New York Times best selling author. Her new show is titled “Clean Living With Tosca Reno”. It has been picked up by a Canadian broadcaster but is planned for USA release as well.
Out of all her books I would highly suggest “Your Best Body Now“. In it you will get to know Tosca, learn about nutrition, find a meal plan, and pick up some exercises. All round a great deal for about $11.
The remaining topics I have planned for this post are below. If there are other topics you’d like me to cover please leave them in a comment below.
Sustainability of Diet
In January 2014, our intention in researching nutrition was primarily focused on weight loss. Results from my late 2013 physical scared me and I knew I was on a slippery slope of further weight gain and on my way to Type 2 Diabetes. My daughter Veronica (19 years old at the time) was just coming out of a stressful lifestyle and relationship, carrying 45-50 extra pounds, unhappy and feeling hopeless. We had dieted together in the past – never with great success, never with lasting success. In retrospect we now realize that diets are not the solution to losing weight; education is!
We knew that counting calories, weighing each portion, separating yolk from white, and all the other trappings of modern weight loss diets, would drive us crazy (or at least lessen our daily joy). Understanding calories was the base lesson, but it left us with questions; namely “What does a fat calorie (or molecule) do inside our bodies? A carb? A protein?”
They way we came to understand the macro-nutrients (carbs, fat, protein) in early 2014 hasn’t changed to this day. Every bite we eat is first recognized: “Does this contain carbs? Is it primarily fat? What about protein?” Most foods contain more than one of the macro-nutrients.
We have continued learning over the last year – I with research reports, books and articles; Veronica with a course in Nutritional Therapy. As a result of this – more often than not – every time we choose to eat something a mental dialogue ensues.
“This has fiber and is rich in Vitamin C; supports my capillaries and gums…”
“This is going to make my pancreas crazy, give me a sugar rush, and cause insulin production…”
A casual dieter may not need to be that obsessive about micro-nutrients as long as versatility of foods are realized, but success with this diet will rely heavily on an understanding of the macro-nutrients (protein, carb or fat). That – and the continuation of questions “What is my body doing with that fat molecule, carb or protein?”
Back to the original topic; is the Keto Hybrid diet sustainable? For us, the answer is a loud YES. Blood work (Laura, 10 months in) reports are positive and we are both happy, energetic, and thinner. As for others, we do hear back from a small percentage of our readers, all happy with their daily food intake although I generally don’t hear back from them after 3 or 4 months. As for the Ketogenic diet in general, I have read many accounts, articles and reports of people happily staying on the diet for years (as a lifestyle).
One aspect of this diet that may not be sustainable is dependent on you. If in the first 3-4 weeks you do not lose excess weight or feel fantastic, or if you have an existing health condition and by doctor’s orders have been told not to balance macros in this ratio. From our readers and research I’m estimating 10-15% of the population may have better results with a different lifestyle diet.
The answer to the enigma of why the diet isn’t sustainable for 10-15% may lie in our ancestral genetics. Here are some clues I’ve discovered:
“I felt great on the Paleo diet but didn’t lose any weight.” (You may be better suited to Keto. Track your macros in a mobile app for a few weeks as it will help you better understand your body and your food choices.)
“I gained weight on Keto.” (You may be the 10-15% that is best suited to a high carb and whole grain diet. Or you are consuming fake sugars and processed foods that stall your progress. If you are a 50+ year old woman I suggest having your hormone levels tested.)
“I’m tired all the time.” (Exhaustion is a health signal from your body. If you’re chronically tired with no other changes in your life, you aren’t getting enough micro-nutrients from your food. Talk to your doctor and then consult with a dietician.)
How Our Foods Have Changed
We started this journey looking for ways to cut carbs from our standard fare and increase fats. It only took a few weeks to find our groove and change our eating habits. I won’t say it was easy. We had years of “don’t eat that, it’s fatty” brainwashing to undo. We had believed in the marketing and labeling of convenience foods. We had well established food addictions (sugar, carbs).
All the struggles and confusion waned shortly after we became Keto-adapted. Our bodies told us what it needed by sending healthy food cravings to our brain. There were periods when I craved and ate cabbage daily. Other times I’d crave a bison burger, or egg salad, or fresh alfalfa sprouts. Healthy cravings feel just the same as unhealthy ones – you simply must have that food, but it isn’t like the craving of an addiction. You’re not quaffing back handfuls of sprouts on the way home from the market.
The biggest change is in the ease of which we now shop and eat. Once a month we visit the local butcher shop. Once every two weeks we go to the Farmer’s Market. Once a week we toss a chicken in the slow cooker, have a meal, store leftover chicken for other meals and then toss all the bones back into the slow cooker for the night. Voila, stock for the week to drink or to use in other recipes. The same protocol for bone-in beef applies. There is a rhythm to the kitchen now; food prep, snacks and meals are less time-consuming than in the early days of dieting. (Note: We carefully skim and toss the fat from chicken stock, less so from beef. Part personal preference, partly due to our source of roasts and hens.)
How We Cheat Today
In the beginning I was a chronic cheater. My ‘go to’ cheat food was a bag of potato chips or a serving of french fries. The healthier you get, the more you learn about how those non-foods affect the way you feel, the less apt you are to reach for them. Those old habits do fade away in time.
When you change your eating habits you learn a lot about yourself. Not just your body, but your mind and your emotional attachment to food. You start evaluating your relationship with food when mixed with social gatherings, holidays, moods.
As an example, at a family gathering on Christmas eve I loaded up my plate with foods I hadn’t missed but ate anyway – Christmas habit. Mashed potatoes – really? Such a boring addition and not worth the spike of insulin. Lesson learned. On the other side of cheating, when my birthday rolled around I ate 4, maybe 6 cupcakes over a two day span. Those were worth it! Sugar laden yes, but exquisite in all other ways and made by a skilled baker with fresh butter, eggs, etc.
Are We In Ketosis? Are We Keto-Adapted?
I’m sure that Veronica and I remain in ketosis most of the time. Now that we are at healthy weights, happy with our bodies, and have learned more about nutrition in general, we are less stringent about our diets. However, that does not mean we’ve gone back to our junk food ways; it simply means that we have branched out with our vegetable choices.
In the beginning I steered clear of high carb vegetables and fruits (beets, carrots, bananas, peaches, etc.) and was mindful of the tomato, onions and garlic content of my food. I would stick to low carb vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, and zucchini. Today I eat a wider variety of vegetables with my dinner. Last night I had turnip. I will eat beets again from a garden (not from the grocery store). Artichokes will land on my plate again.
My point is that even though we are less stringent about our diets does not mean we are loading up with junk foods again. We expand with our variety of health-giving foods.
To be “keto-adapted” (aka fat-adapted) is when the human body has been taught to run on fats (eaten or stored). Once your body is in this state it is relatively easy to maintain as long as you don’t slip out too far, for too long. Our bodies feel as though they are happy running on fats and I think (although I have no scientific proof) that we remain fat-adapted as we haven’t put a pound of our weight loss back on.
Monthly Food Budget
This is hard to sort out or be precise on. Before the diet change we would leave a grocery store with bags of processed foods, hit the bulk food store for inexpensive treats, always buy more than we needed. My husband was home for dinner more often than not and he has still not fully switched off the junk foods.
Last month he was on the road for 6 weeks straight. My household food bill was largely minimized even though Veronica was here 4-5 days per week for work.
A rough estimate and comparison: For one person in the packaged food days, easily $120 week not including drive-throughs or fast food restaurants. For one person in this new phase of life, about $60-65 week, even though I’m eating healthier, organic and whole foods. It is important to note that my pantry has already been switched over to more expensive oils and my freezer containing a supply of grass-fed meats. I buy these items when they are on sale, in quantity, to keep my monthly food budget low. The change-over might cost $100 initially but in time you learn how to save money on the staples.
How Much Food We Eat
In the beginning of this diet I ate much more than I do today. I had a strong carb-addiction and my body thought it was starving if I did not feed it all day. I snacked on all the allowed foods – sometimes every hour. After a few weeks the constant hunger stopped and my body relaxed.
I don’t portion my foods or tell myself I can only eat this amount of food per meal, per day. I honestly believe I would hate my life if I had to do that! I stop eating when my body feels full. Over time I would guess that I eat 1/2 as much today as I did when I started the diet. Some days it is more. I let my body tell me when it is hungry, not my brain, not my emotions (boredom, sadness, celebration).
How Often We Think About Food
Previous to this diet the minute my eyes opened in the morning I’d be thinking about what I could eat or make to eat, what I could buy at the grocery store or what type of treat I’d allow myself. At bedtime I’d end the day by thinking about the next day’s meals. I thought of food all day long as well. I’d start eating within an hour of wakening and I’d often eat an hour before bedtime.
In current times I eat only when I am hungry. My work life isn’t typical, therefore every day is different. Some days I’m rushing out of the house in the morning. At other times I am working in the house for 4-5 days straight, never leaving. Some days I am engulfed in my work for the first two hours of the day and only take a break when my tummy tells me to.
My point is, you have to find your own groove based on your busy life. Most people find that their bodies start to tell them when they are hungry, not their brains and not the clock. For adults this business of “it is 7am, it is noon, it is 5pm – therefore I must eat” is hard for me to get my head around. I think we could all challenge the “eat because it is in front of you” norm. My opinion differs for growing children – they need the energy for brain function, for growth, and to create good habits around food and meals.
Shortcuts We’ve Learned (In The Kitchen)
Buy bone in meats and poultry and make your own stock or broth. Reduce any stock to freeze in space saving containers.
Keep fresh vegetables on hand at all times and attach a price tag to them. You’re more likely to eat them (instead of something unhealthy) when you see them in the fridge knowing that every day you pass them by they are getting less fresh and your hard earned dollars may end up in the weekly garbage.
Prep food in bulk. Even though I usually eat alone, I will make 12 egg muffins at a time. I’ll eat 6 through the week and the rest go to the freezer to be eaten as a snack or breakfast over the next few weeks. I’ll make a full lasagna (with zucchini, not pasta) and freeze the leftovers in individual portions. Cook up all your bacon at one time. Form 24 bison or beef patties at a time and freeze the extras. Boil 8-10 eggs at a time.
As a result of cooking meals for a large family even though I eat most meals alone, I’m only cooking 2 nights per week and eating out of the fridge or freezer for 18 of an estimated 21 meals per week (not including snacks). Unless you absolutely love cooking there is no need to be a slave to the stove 7 nights per week.