Today marks Day 10 since I started following the keto diet.
And let me tell you, my original notion of what I thought a keto diet entailed has already shifted since starting this experiment.
Let’s begin with sugar.
Before looking more closely at the specific parameters of a keto diet, I don’t think I had any clue that sugar was a big fat no-no.
It’s not that I’m a sugar addict (which is exactly what a sugar addict would say), but I like to whip up goodies in the kitchen, to finish off a meal with a square of rich dark chocolate and, on the very rare occasion, indulge in what I deem the really dirty stuff (think Swedish fish, peanut butter cups and sugar-crusted sour keys).
On Day 2 of following the keto diet, I wondered what had compelled me to subject myself to such a cruel punishment while a headache raged at my temples and I fantasized about tearing into the bag of dark chocolate chips tucked away in my pantry.
Then, after another couple days, the headache finally subsided, and I realized I’d battled my way through the worst of the withdrawal.
I assumed cutting sugar out of my diet — completely — would haunt me with longings for all things sweet, but I’ve been a bit surprised by my lack of interest in sugar-laden treats. Granted, I unfollowed a couple of local bakeries on Facebook after images of cinnamon buns and cupcakes popped up on my feed — but these weren’t things I’d have eaten anyway.
I expected the sugar withdrawal to be harder than it was (and maybe there’s some new trial lurking for me on the horizon), but what’s definitively more challenging is being hyper-aware of all the sneaky places sugar hides its ugly head.
The paleo diet, which I’ve loosely followed for the past couple years, allows for marginal amounts of natural sweeteners, including honey and maple syrup. While I do try and avoid processed sugars when possible, I never spent much time fretting about hidden sugar in my foods.
I also don’t generally eat a lot of processed foods, although we tend to keep various staples on hand, like canned tomato sauce and grain-free granola bars, for days when there’s limited time to prepare elaborate meals.
The thing about all those lovely, convenient staples, however, is that they all contain some amount of sugar. Yes, even my beloved Simply Natural Organic Tomato & Basil Pasta Sauce, which contains a modest — but offending— three grams of the sweet stuff.
The only items now taking up keto-friendly space in the pantry are a flat of pitted black olives, three cans of coconut milk and a jar of natural organic peanut butter I have yet to crack open.
Which brings me to my other point: keto requires some level of creativity, lest you burn out on eating the same foods day-in, day-out.
This becomes more challenging in choosing to limit the amount of dairy I’m consuming in this process. I’m comfortable with grass-fed butter, small amounts of goat cheese and even the odd dose of aged white cheddar, but the thought of building a casserole with cheese as the primary ingredient makes my stomach turn.
It’s been 10 days of eating a rotation of pan-roasted broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, mushrooms, bell peppers and radishes, and I’ll admit: I’m ready for some diversity.
I love to cook. I love kitchen alchemy — turning one thing into something completely different and magical. This process becomes tremendously more challenging when it comes to trying to figure out new and exciting ways to incorporate the same cast of ingredients.
And I’ll get there, I’m sure. I have yet to try making my own tomato sauce from scratch or attempting some kind of keto casserole (which sounds especially enticing as the season shifts and I’m craving hearty comfort foods). It’s a learning curve I have yet to master.
And then there is the matter of tracking.
Well, the farther my research took me, the bigger my curiosity grew, until finally I loaded the Carb Manager app on my phone.
The beauty of the app is that after entering the required information about my height, weight, etc., all the math dictating my “macros” (macronutrients, meaning amount of fat, protein and carbohydrates I should ideally be eating each day) was automatically calculated for me.
The last time I tracked my food was several years ago, when I was part of a boot camp at my local rec centre. We were required to track our food intake via My Fitness Pal and share the results with our instructor, who provided us with feedback and advice based on our results.
I don’t like tracking my food. Maybe using my aversion to math was partly an excuse to avoid having to engage in the tedious process of punching everything I eat into my phone, or maybe it’s that tracking has the tendency to become obsessive — to sabotage a process by making it miserable.
I don’t plan to track my macros forever, but I will admit that it only took two days of entering what I was eating to discover that I was way off.
My initial thoughts about keto were all about fat — tales of people losing weight while continuing to eat bacon and cheese and great globs of peanut butter. I’d always thought poorly of keto because it seemed like an excuse to replace garbage with other types of garbage.
Which isn’t necessarily far off the mark, if you approach it from a “lazy” or “dirty” perspective.
As I mentioned previously, there’s a distinction in the keto community about dirty versus clean keto. I’d endeavoured from the start to approach it cleanly, incorporating clean fats like coconut oil, avocado and almond butter (the holy trinity) in lieu of carbohydrates.
But, because hubs and I generally don’t eat a lot of carbs in general, and began incorporating healthy fats into our diets long ago, I realized once I started tracking my macros that I’d been overdoing it.
I assumed keto’s emphasis on fat meant layering my homemade keto loaf with grass-fed butter and natural almond butter, because, fat, yo!
WRONG. What my lovely Carb Manager app did reveal to me is that I was falling short on my protein while my fats teetered somewhere over the prescribed daily limit.
It also showed me that carbs can add up especially fast, particularly when you use tomato paste or blueberries to excess. In fact, tracking has shown me how easy it can be to blow your carb load (sorry not sorry) in one sitting, and has been seriously helpful in making me better understand how to frame my meals and snacks to fall within my macros.
I plan to keep tracking for now, because it’s enlightening and informative to see how the foods I’m eating are tallying up, but I don’t anticipate tracking forever. I’m benefitting for now by gaining an understanding of how following a keto protocol looks, but I in no way plan to forever be enslaved by a pie chart telling me if I’m winning or losing. Nuh-uh.
As for what I’ve noticed since beginning the switch?
Well, for one, I haven’t lost any weight yet.
I wasn’t really expecting to so early on, in spite of anecdotes from people claiming to have lost an astounding 10 pounds in the first week. And maybe that’s attributed to having not been meeting my macros accurately, or the fact that I’m already conditioned to eating nutrient-dense foods.
I won’t pretend like losing a bit of weight isn’t part of my reason for doing this process, but it’s not the sole reason, nor do I plan to use it at this point in the game as a gauge for my failure or success.
I will say that since removing sugar and carbohydrates from my diet, I’m dramatically less bloated than I’ve been in the past six months of eating well outside my normal diet (recovering from an injury + a trip to Mexico + summer revelry did not treat my digestion favourably).
Apart from the first few days, and Day 5 in particular (when all I wanted to do was curl up in bed), I also feel like my energy is finally stabilizing.
I’m a bitch when I’m hungry. Seriously, ask my husband, and he’d tell you the word “hangry” was designed to describe me specifically.
Since starting keto, I’ve not been experiencing the great big swings in appetite I’m normally accustomed to.
Given my propensity to turn into a raging bog witch when I haven’t eaten a morsel of food in over three hours, this might be one of the benefits I’m enjoying most so far.
In fact, it’s second only to the fact that going keto has created a cool new bond for my husband and I.
I’ve always been the cook in our household simply by virtue of the fact that I enjoy cooking and have become good at it over the years. My husband’s always balanced this by helping me with food prep or taking care of the post-dinner clean-up.
He’s definitely not disengaged when it comes to the practice of preparing melas, but he’s also never shown much interest in the past in any kind of food-based protocol like he has with keto.
Case in point: several years ago I was seeing a naturopath who put me on a several-week elimination diet to try to get to the heart of my digestive complaints. And my husband agreed to support me in the process by eating what I ate, until I was putting something in the trash one night and spotted an A&W bag tucked sneakily down the side of the bin.
To be fair, he did support me by eating what I prepared, but it also wasn’t his protocol to follow. He wasn’t forbidden from eating a burger — heck, he’d even gone to extra effort to hide the evidence— but it did kind of feel like I was suffering alone.
I didn’t expect my husband to want to follow the keto diet with me. I disclaimed to him I’d be cooking what I wanted to eat, and that if he didn’t want to join in, he was free to cook whatever else he desired.
The more I talked about my determination to try keto, though, the more his interest was piqued. By the time I’d stocked our fridge with keto-compliant foods and transitioned over, he was ready to give it a go, as well.
And now, we’re collaborating on meals and discussing our macros and exchanging information about articles we read or podcasts we listened to, and it’s awesome! In fact, we have plans to shop for groceries this evening, re-stocking our pantry and fridge as we get more knowledgeable on what to eat, and how.
Having the sense that we’re in this experiment together, as allies — it’s pretty fantastic.
Finally, let me tell you about the last thing I didn’t expect (though I should have, if I’d been paying enough attention) when it comes to switching to keto: the frequency with which I’m peeing.
It’s a lot.
Literally every hour.
My husband and I have been lamenting this fact to each other as we peel ourselves off the sofa during Good Girls for yet another respective trip to the loo.
But hey, it’s just one more thing to bond over, amirite?