It’s the time of year when I start getting a lot of questions about my WOE (way of eating). Keto and low-carb is gaining traction in the soundbite news cycle we live in. There is still a lot of misinformation out there (both on Keto and first and foremost on U.S. dietary recommendations which are simply wrong and the root of obesity in this country). Just go to DietDoctor.com and read your fill on the subject of real science and nutrition. Anyway, this time of year, I get a lot of, “I’m ready to do this. How do I get started.”
My initial response is if you want to succeed and make this the LAST “diet” you will ever do – start reading and, more importantly, start listening to your body. I put “diet” in quotation marks because this is not a diet to me in the classical sense of the term. This is not something you do short term and expect to go back to the way you were eating before. This is a lifetime decision. This is a lifetime way of eating (WOE). You will get fast, significant results if you do this. You will also gain it all back plus some if you go back to your old lifestyle. Before starting this, you should come to terms with this. Of course, you can tell yourself, you plan to test this theory – just take me to where I lose weight fast. Sure. Go for it. Don’t blame me when you’re twice the size you are now in a year.
Still with me? Ok. Here’s my 4 ways (perhaps steps) to get started based on how committed you are and how “fast” you want to lose the the weight.
4 Ways to Go LCHF/KETO
My own progress has followed this. I would say I’m somewhere between Strict LCHF and Full Keto (but not quite full yet) and have pretty much followed this path since I started in April 2017. I hit a significant plateau around 6 months and have been hovering at the same weight (not at my goal) for over a year now. I’m ramping up to try to go full Keto.
You can choose the go the “baby steps” path starting first with Cutting Back and working your way up to Full Keto or you can jump in anywhere that seems your speed and desire. As always, your milage may vary and it is up to you to understand your body and what is or is not healthy for you. This is totally healthy for me and my little n=1 experiment is just that – a small sample size that may or may not be representative of the population. I take no responsibility if you develop health issues.
Cutting back is just that, just start somewhere. Anywhere that makes sense to you. I did a whole post on how I got started. Basically any or all of the following:
- Stop snacking between meals (no, many small meals a day is NOT going to help you lose weight). Stick to 3 meals a day like we ate before the food industry became the main driver of food information in this country.
- Stop eating 3-4 hours before you go to bed and don’t eat for the first hour you’re awake.
- Cut “white” stuff incrementally. Start with something easy like pasta or rice. Add flour and sugar. Believe me, the quicker you get these poisons out of your system the quicker you will not crave them. Yes. You WILL get past the cravings. I did and I definitely thought, no way no how would I give up bread. I have. (And for those who know me and have heard me whine about missing Mexican food and other high-carb foods – that’s because I was doing a lot of substitute cooking and using artificial sugar which increases cravings – eliminate that you eliminate the cravings.)
- Stop drinking juices and cut way back on fruit (which is just nature’s Snicker’s bar – nope – fruit is not healthy. There is a reason it is naturally only in season for short periods of time).
- Come up with a mantra and repeat it over and over to yourself. Mine was, “Eat when you’re hungry, don’t when you’re not.” I stole it from Dr. Eric Westman, board certified obesity doctor at Duke University.
- As part of learning to listen to your body, every time you go to put anything in your mouth to eat, ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?” If not. Don’t eat it.
- Eat real food. Cut as much processed food as possible from your diet. If your grandmother or great-grandmother didn’t eat it, don’t eat it.
- I highly recommend looking at Dr. Eric Westman’s “No Sugar, No Starch” diet. He has a list of “allowable” foods – all super easy to eat and a huge variety – including McDonalds and other fast food.
Things NOT to do during this stage:
- Obsess about the scale. It takes time for your body to adjust and most of the initial weight loss is water weight. Just chill and concentrate on lifestyle changes.
- Count. Don’t count anything. Don’t count calories or macros or anything else. Just concentrate on lifestyle changes. It’s all about making new habits.
The key here is to start slow, incrementally add challenges as you gain successes (especially if your changes involve cutting bread, rice, flour and sugar). If you don’t see success, be honest with yourself and persevere or maybe this WOE isn’t for you. Not everyone is insulin resistant and carbs might not be the source of your weight issues. It is for me. Absolutely. 100%. For sure.
The more you cut back the closer you get to being LCHF (low-carb high-fat).
LCHF (Low-Carb High-Fat)
I define LCHF the point at which you start to count your macros. Not calories. Macros. You do not need to do this obsessively. You basically want to be conscious of where hidden carbs are and learn to “eyeball” your own carb intake. In this initial stage of LCHF, you want to shoot for 50-70g of total carbs a day. You will learn to read labels and calculate. Ideally, you are also looking at your protein and fat intake as well. At this stage you want to:
- Increase good fat in your diet. Cook with butter. Eat bacon. I love this guide on DietDoctor.com for a visual guide of what to eat.
- Eat moderate amounts of protein. This is not the old Atkins Diet. While you can do this WOE without meat, it is a bit difficult but not impossible. You can learn more about following Keto as a vegetarian at DietDoctor.com.
- Start tracking your carbs. There are a gazillion tracking methods out there. I don’t have a favorite. Just do what works for you. The goal here is to start to recognize where your carbs are coming from.
A bit about total and net carbs.
You will see lots of stuff about total vs net carbs. Net carbs are essentially total carbs minus fiber. Again, there are a gazillion things out there that will say one is better than the other. Just know your body and know what works for you, but at this stage, look at total carbs and try to keep that total number under 70g a day.
Here’s where the rubber meets the road. Hopefully up to this point it was relatively easy. Small, incremental steps that have yielded lots of successes. But at this point, you probably are seeing the scale slow down (even when I told you to not look) and you’re getting frustrated or hit a plateau. It just means your body has pretty much cleared of all the garbage it had in it and you are at your Body Set Weight. Body Set Weight is where your body THINKS it should be and it will fight you tooth and nail not to budge (think fight or flight reflex). Your job in this phase is to start moving that Body Set Weight. You can accomplish that in a few ways and by starting to get serious about your goals.
- Start incorporating intermittent fasting. I follow the teachings of Dr. Jason Fung. Read his blog. Learn why this is safe, normal and effective.
- Get serious about your carb intake and count religiously. NO more than 50g total carbs a day. Try to get to 30g.
- Stop making substitutes. Yeah, I’m pretty sure at this point you’ve made the fathead pizza, fake breads, cookies and other “keto-friendly” sweets that are supposed to mimic your old favorite foods. All that does is increase cravings for sweet things and make your journey miserable. Fake sugars (sugar alcohols in particular) are just going to slow your progress. Dr. Berg has a fantastic, short YouTube video explaining (his channel is also awesome!). Also, this KetoConnect video where they tested several artificial sweeteners and how they affected their blood sugar levels and it absolutely changed my life. Clearly artificial sugars are not all the same and do not have the same effect on everyone – sometimes with vastly different results! Does this mean you can never have comfort foods again? No. But you have to know the consequences of the choices. I recently had a full sugar and flour cupcake from Cupcake Charlies. It was absolutely delicious (although the sweetness is extremely overwhelming to me now) and I have zero remorse. It did not derail me. I mentally set myself up to eat that cupcake. I mentally fought the subsequent cravings and did not succumb. It’s 90% mental at this stage. And during the holidays, I made lots of keto-friendly treats for parties. I paid the price, but not as much as I would have if I indulged in the equivalent amount of “real” treats. It’s a choice. You have to be prepared for the consequences.
More than anything, with Strict LCHF you want to get those total carbs down and balance with good fat and moderate protein. I won’t go into great depth here on the fat/protein balance. I’m sure at this point, you have been reading and learning and adjusting according to your own body.
Now, the real work begins. Full Keto means no more than 20g (preferably less) of total carbs a day. This is not easy. Carbs are in everything. When I say it’s not easy – it’s not that you can’t get and remain full or that you have all kinds of crazy cravings. I mean it is difficult in our processed, fast-food, easy reach world. You are going to have to work harder doing meal prep and planning and shopping often. If you have a busy life, this can get overwhelming. Just remember, if it does, don’t fall all the way down the slide. Scale back at the same pace you scaled up. Go back to Strict LCHF – not all the way to Cutting Back or giving up all together. To succeed at Full Keto (and it’s only a guess for me because I’m not there yet, but this is what I see as the keys to success) you must do the following:
- Keep TOTAL carbs below 20g a day.
- Fast and fast regularly. I’m currently enrolled in Dr. Fung’s IDM Program. I need to learn how to prepare for, execute and come out of extended fasts.
- Keep track of your level of ketosis. This means measuring your ketones. There are urine strips and blood ketone monitors. Go here for more on monitors. I have the Precision Xtra. I got an inexpensive breath meter and really like it and have been comparing it to my blood readings (the strips can get quite expensive) and it’s been correct so I will likely occasionally test blood and regularly test breath. The monitor I have is the Keto HealthCare KHC M3 Keton Breath Meter. (I am not affiliated with them in any way and get no kickback for this recommendation.)
On the plus side, the more you fast the less food you have to buy and prepare and the less macros you have to count!
I think the key to truly beating obesity is a full lifestyle change – not a diet. I know, for a fact, I am insulin resistant and the amount of sugar and carbs in food everywhere has led to my obesity. I know that calorie restriction is ineffective and unhealthy (especially calorie-restricting with low-fat/high-carb processed garbage – aka “diet food”). Notice I never once mentioned calorie restriction? That doesn’t mean you should not watch calories. You just have to know what affects your body. For me it’s dairy – a lovely source of fat. I have to watch my dairy intake and get my fat elsewhere. I pack on the pounds with too much dairy in my diet. It’s all about that n=1 experiment. You are the 1. You find what works for you. This is just my journey. Find what works for you.