Sixteen Months Deep into the Keto Diet
Who would have thought it? When I started this journey, i my goal was to (as it is with all nutritional plans, exercise programs, new equipment, new supplements, etc) "test drive" this plan so I could come from a place of experience and integrity when, and if, I chose to recommend this plan to clients and friends.
Well here we are, 16 months later, and I am still "on Keto" (in quotes as I have modified quite a bit in order to make this a lifestyle instead of just a 90-day experiment. As I was very clear in my first blog, my intention (in addition to the "test drive") was to improve my performance and overall energy and well being during my long training runs and ultra marathons. I was just so sick of feeling like crap, sick to my stomach, emotional and physical rollercoasters, etc. I was ready to do anything and all of my research on the causes of the massive energy fluctuations and GI issues came down to excess glucose – think gels, GUs, Gatorade, etc.
Well, I can tell you, this plan works 100%. In 16 months I have not had one stomach issue, and my energy levels are amazingly consistent – both during training from as little as 30 minutes high intensity to 6 hours medium intensity!
It has been so long, I actually don’t remember what it feels like to “bonk” and need food so badly you would eat a half-eaten gel you found on the side of the trail (if that sounds like the voice of experience, I will let you, the reader, decide if that actually ever happened 😊 In fact, the ONLY time I have felt that kind of hunger has been on my “metabolic flexibility” days (PC vernacular for “cheat” days) when I allow myself to eat a high level of carbs. More on this later.
So, to reiterate the pros and cons that I have experienced...
Keto Diet Pros
(in order of magnitude of change and my perceived value of the change)
Almost 100% elimination of my chronic anxiety and worry. This effect is DIRECTLY correlated with how compliant I am with my macros. If I go over on carbs or protein the anxiety creeps back in. This is and continues to be, my favorite and most surprising effect of being on this plan. The more I read, the more I see this as an incredible (for some people, this, like any intervention, works better for some people and doesn’t work at all for some), safe and natural way to control anxiety! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gzwtHkUaOfk (btw, this guy is one of my favorites You Tubers on this subject. The most knowledgeable and pure research based person I have found on the Internet is Dr. Dom D’agostino (but be warned, he can be a little dry and monotone) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=keSoSyu9m7c.
Complete elimination of my energy fluctuation and GI issues in training. This is no exaggeration, I have actually completed a 3 hour, fairly tough, hike/jog/run in the mountains on NOTHING except water and electrolyte supplements. And felt totally fine. I am telling the truth that this plan has completely reignited my love for running and, especially, long distance running!
Ease of going “in and out” of the plan and nutritional ketosis. On everything else I have ever done, when my addictive personality hits and I have a “cheat” or “refeed” or “binge” or whatever you want to call it, day, it is brutal to get back “on the plan”. With Keto, it is so easy (even after being completely off for 8 days in Italy) and I really look forward to getting back on it. Using Intermittent fasting really helps this process as well.
Increased cognitive clarity and improved memory and focus, also confidence! Once you have been on this plan for a while, you forget the “carbohydrate fog” your brain used to be in. I will actually test this now, when I am eating carbs (typically one day a week on the weekends) I will look around our church during Mass and test myself to remember everyone’s name that I know. I am 10x better when I am in full nutritional ketosis!
Lower inflammation, better recovery from injury. This is very evident when I eliminate dairy, as this and alcohol are really the only traditionally inflammatory foods I eat on this plan. Another one of my favorites talks about booze and Keto here (he is not as knowledgeable or qualified as other two guys but he is more entertaining)
Virtually no hunger. There are many times during the day where I forget to eat, and this is from someone who ate 6-8x per day for the past 20 years!
Improved body comp and weight loss. This is low on my list as it wasn’t the reason I went on this plan, however I lost about 15lbs and 3% body fat in the first 3 months and have kept it off, with NO feeling of deprivation at all! Nice “perk” for me, this is number one for most people who try this. This plateaued after 6 months, but has started dropping again now that I have added a “feast” day – see number 8……
Ability to make this a lifestyle, not just a short term plan! After lots of research and trying a number of different ways (100% compliance, 1 cheat meal per day, little cheats every day (this does NOT work), etc) to have this last a lifetime, this is what I am currently doing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CH0n25XOTv4 (I really enjoy the guests Ben Greenfield has on his podcasts, his voice – and massive ego – drive me crazy sometimes but the quality of guests and subject matter make up for it. This one is really long, you can fast forward to when he talks about “feast-famine” cycles and why they are important). I do what is called a “5-1-1” plan. 5 days a week I am very strict Keto, with the exception of a beer or two here and there. 1 day a week I eat pretty much anything I like, and try to take in WAY more calories than I normally do (my “feast” day). 1 day a week I fast, water, electrolytes and some caffeine only. That is it!I’ve been doing this for a month and love it, mostly from the psychological standpoint of having a day and treats to look forward to, and a day where I just have a lot of fun with eating with no restrictions! And, since I am so not used to carbs and how they make me feel, it makes the next day fast very easy to do cause I am READY to feel amazing again!
Keto Diet Cons
I won’t go into a lot of detail here, as the cons are pretty much exactly the same as I mentioned in my first blog that I experienced after one month. They are pretty minimal and all very easily avoided or reduced if you pay attention. I would say the biggest one that affects me directly and often, if I am not good about my magnesium supplementation, is the leg cramps at night. The good news is I am VERY motivated by pain, and I had a calf cramp so bad one night it actually injured my calf when I stepped on it – have not forgotten my magnesium supplements since (Thanks to my wife, who made the perfect suggestion to keep the supplements next to my bed so I won’t forget them)! The one thing I have found is that the effects of this plan (both pro and con) are VERY variable and some people have to be extremely strict to get the benefits I have listed. Some are never able to get into nutritional ketosis. As with everything, its not for everyone!
So, to sum it up, I see this plan as a tool in my nutritional tool box that I will use for the rest of my life. I intellectually understand (Dr. Pompa makes a very good case for this in the Greenfield podcase) the case for going in and out of Ketosis for extended periods of time (i.e., seasonal variation in your diet, Meat eating ketosis sometimes, Vegetarian sometimes, Mediterranean diet sometimes, etc.) but right now I FEEL so good when I am in nutritional ketosis that I will stick with the “5-1-1” plan for a while!
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Yours in Health,
Rami F. Odeh, Founder and President
FormWell Personal Fitness Training