Okay, here it goes, friends: I’ve decided to start eating keto.
Ugh. Eye-roll, right?
It’s not something I’d really planned on doing — in fact, until very recently, I didn’t think much of keto.
I began following a paleo protocol sometime in late 2016, and my body responded well to it. Really well.
I’d always thought of keto, meanwhile, as paleo’s dirty second cousin, loaded with bacon-wrapped cream cheese and burger patties smothered in glistening orange cheddar.
My diet is generally comprised of small amounts of as clean meats as possible (ideally organic, pasture-raised varieties, depending on my budget) and an unabashed shit-ton of vegetables.
For the past three years, my mornings have also begun with an almond-milk latte whipped in the NutriBullet with a tablespoon of grass-fed butter and a generous squirt of MCT oil, the combo sustaining me until 11 a.m. on most days.
I will say that after only a few months of eating nutrient-dense foods, eliminating grains from my diet and minimizing my intake of sugar, I started to feel pretty phenomenal. I dropped the 20 or so pounds I’d toiled to lose through rigorous boot camp exercises, my complexion was clearer and I felt more physically fit than I had in ages.
But, alas, life can be a distraction.
In summer 2017 we moved out of the city, in 2018 my small business started gaining traction and in early 2019 I severed two tendons and fractured the bone in my foot while chopping wood.
And unsurprisingly, I started loosening up on my diet — never with wild abandon, mind you, but enough that by the time this past summer arrived, I could tell my pants were fitting a bit more uncomfortably than usual.
I didn’t fuss too much, however. Summer is meant to be enjoyed: drinks on the patio, ice-cream for dessert, potato chips ‘round the campfire. I’d figure it out in the fall, I thought, once the busy-ness of the season had subsided.
A couple weeks ago I went on an overnight trip with my three closest girlfriends. I tried to eat relatively well, like I always do, but we ended up at The Yellow Deli (a strange experience for another day), and I not-so-tentatively succumbed to a chipotle grilled chicken sandwich served on a light-as-a-cloud egg roll.
It was worth it, at least until I got home Sunday night and acknowledged that my guts were monumentally unhappy about my gluten-based transgression.
That triggered a cascade of guilt about how I’d been eating for the duration of the summer, which led me to impulsively grab a book off my shelf that a friend had given me many months prior because it didn’t interest her.
That book was Leanne Vogel’s The Keto Diet, and even as I cracked the spine, I didn’t really have any interest in following a strict keto protocol — I just figured I’d find some decent paleo-esque recipe I could use to help clean-up my diet come fall.
Then I got about 10 or so pages in, and I didn’t hate what I was reading.
The premise of the keto diet, in short (in case you’ve been living under a rock), is that your meals are comprised of approximately 70% fat, 25% protein and 5% carbs. Grains, starchy vegetables, and sugar are strictly forbidden. Avocados, coconut oil and almond butter are the holy trinity of keto eating.
Dramatically increasing the amount of fat one eats leads to a state called ketosis — when your body begins burning fat for fuel instead of sugar.
I was familiar with high-fat, low-carb diets (paleo follows a loosely similar basis), but I also admit I always figured that keto was just a glorified way to dive head-first into a bacon-bender.
There exist two camps when it comes to keto: “clean keto” and “dirty keto”.
The latter, I discovered after joining a “keto for beginners” Facebook group, subsists largely on salty lunch meats, cheese galore and — you guessed it — bacon.
Then there’s clean keto, which I didn’t even know was a thing until I started reading The Keto Diet.
Clean keto focuses on whole, unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods — avocados, coconut oil and almond butter, for instance.
Clean keto, according to Leanne Vogel’s protocol, also doesn’t include dairy (no glistening cheddar, huzzah!), though I’ve resolved with myself to continue adding grass-fed butter to my morning coffee and eating marginal amounts of goat dairy, as neither seem to cause me trouble.
Beyond discerning between clean and dirty keto, there’s also the matter of tracking.
I’m not a mathematically-inclined person. In fifth grade, my teacher reported to my parents during student-teacher interviews that I was falling dramatically behind on my multiplication tables.
Full disclosure: I never followed through on studying multiplication because it just wasn’t my jam. I suffered through the anxiety of high school math, yes, but literally none of it stuck. And then I went on to become an English major and writer by profession, so who even cares anyway, BUT long-winded diatribes aside, the whole tracking-your-macros thing always seemed like one more reason to avoid keto like the plague.
Until Ms. Leanne Vogel of The Keto Diet informed me, as I sat in the bath on a Sunday night regretting that blasted egg roll, that tracking isn’t necessary.
I’ve not spent long in the keto-realm, I’ll admit, but I can already anticipate the backlash of the keto fundamentalists upon reading that last sentence.
And to be fair, tracking probably is necessary if you’re headed into keto with preconceived expectations of wanting to lose a bunch of weight or cure specific conditions or have never tried any kind of cleaner-eating format and want to ensure things stay on track.
For me, reading that tracking isn’t imperative to keto success was the moment I really began thinking maybe I was prepared to give it a go.
Having been (negligibly) paleo for the past three years means that nutrient-dense, low-carb eating isn’t all that foreign to me. Avocados, coconut oil and almond butter are already regular staples in my pantry and diet, and I’m well-accustomed to brewing up all kinds of “alternative” versions of favourite foods in the kitchen (many successful, some not so much).
The only big difference between eating keto and how I’d been basing my diet previously is the elimination of starchy foods, and — perhaps more challenging — sugar.
I love yams, but what I love more is a good quality dark chocolate.
Dark chocolate is quite literally one of my favourite treats, and it’s a regular custom for me to indulge in a couple squares of 70%+ dark chocolate after dinner. The decadence and potency of dark chocolate has always been my ticket to avoiding an all-out, no-holds-barred junk food binge, doing just the trick to satiate my sugar-monster (plus, I’ve always argued, it’s high in antioxidants and therefore pretty much a health food, amirite?).
Fortunately, there is such a thing as stevia-sweetened dark chocolate. I’m sceptical of its comparison to the real thing, but I’m going to figure that part out real soon, because hubs and I are venturing to the local health food store later today so I can try and procure a bar (we all need our crutches, yes).
The more I worked my way through The Keto Diet book, the more intrigued — and convinced — I became that it was something I wanted to try. Hubs happened to be receptive as well (in spite of giving up his beloved craft beer), which was just the motivation I needed to follow through.
Which is why, on Tuesday evening, I drove the half-hour to the closest Costco and loaded my cart with $300 worth of avocados, coconut oil and almond butter, along with walnuts, olives, hemp seeds, some meat and more produce than you can shake a stick at, then proceeded to come home and thoroughly organize the fridge (this meant finally discarding the bottle of Peri Peri sauce long-expired and languishing on the shelf for the past several years).
I never thought I’d say it, and I certainly never imagined doing it, but yesterday marked my first day of eating keto.
Hubs and I have decided on a 30-day trial to gauge how we feel. We may (or maybe just I) may well extend the 30 days depending on the results, though I envision myself resuming a more paleo-style type of eating if I decide that keto’s just not for me.
It’s not that I expect to feel deprived eating keto, but wonder if I won’t get bored trying to find new ways to prepare the same types of foods (though I doubt I can be any more bored than I do trying to figure out what to otherwise make for dinner each night).
Last night’s meal was made up of a whole organic chicken cooked in (my much-loved) Instant Pot, alongside a pan of roasted zucchini, broccoli, mushrooms and radishes (sprinkled with vegan parmesan!) and a handful of arugula topped with cherry tomatoes from my neighbour’s garden, walnuts and a small amount of feta cheese I’m using up, dressed with keto-friendly Yeshi Dressing.
Apart from the absence of yam (I miss you already!), this is pretty much what we’d be eating for dinner while otherwise trying to stick to a cleaner diet, so I feel pretty confident that we’ll be able to “adjust” quite reasonably to everything except possibly the elimination of sugar.
Which is why I attempted to get ahead of potential sweets cravings by whipping up a batch of Keto Peanut Butter Fat Bombs, spooning them into tiny Christmas-themed wrappers instead of the six large muffin cups instructed in the recipe…and they’re alright, I guess. The salt settled to the bottom and I didn’t use enough stevia, but they’ll suffice so long as I can get my paws on some good quality sugar-free dark chocolate, as planned.
I also expect it will be a number of days before I really feel any effects of eating this way, and before I can form any real conclusions on whether this is something I’ll continue to pursue or a wasted experiment.
In the meantime I’ll try not to spill any MCT-infused smoothie down the front of my shirt, which is precisely what I did yesterday morning.
Because that shit stains, yo.