The ketogenic diet is something very close to my heart, which is the whole reason I started this website. I’m not here to jump on a bandwagon or capitalize on a diet trend. I’m here because the keto diet literally changed my life. This is my health journey.
In order to give you the full story, I need to go back about 3 or 4 years. (Really, this story starts before then, but there is too much. Let me sum up.)
I had a terrible pregnancy with my daughter. Around the time I found out I was pregnant, I was diagnosed with a vitamin D deficiency and trochanteric bursitis (basically an inflammation of the hip bursa) and then I got hyperemesis gravidarum, which I struggled with for the first half of the pregnancy. I got on vitamin D supplements, went to physical therapy, and got through HG as well as I could. I thought things would return to normal after she was born, but I was failing to lose the baby weight and struggled immensely with energy. Every day I battled to get myself off the couch in the afternoons. I had brain fog all the time, and I was beyond exhausted.
I came up with possible reasons at any given point as to why I was struggling so much. It’s the newborn phase. Having two kids is just tiring. I’m not as young this time. And then as time went on and things didn’t get better, Maybe I have a thyroid problem. Maybe I need more B vitamins. I got my thyroid checked and it was normal. So were all my other blood tests. Well, except that my fasting blood sugar was just a little tiny bit elevated. Nothing my doctor was concerned about at this point, but I made note.
I had gestational diabetes with my son (albeit very, very, very mild) and I have a family history of type 2 diabetes. I knew I’d have to keep testing for it for my whole life and figured that at some point it was inevitable I’d get it.
Then my mom got diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. She started doing all kinds of research and found books by Dr. Jason Fung. She found TED talks and films. And all these sources were telling her not to follow the typical advice given about how to manage diabetes.
My mom comes over once a week and brings my nephew, who she watches while my sister works. After she started reading Dr. Fung’s work, she wouldn’t stop talking about it. At first I just thought, yeah, ok, mom. Go ahead and try that. But then she put on a TED talk by Dr. Sarah Hallberg and had it on while we were making lunch. In it, Dr. Hallberg talked about the success she had with her patients, getting them off their diabetic medications, helping them lose weight, and get their blood glucose levels stabilized by following a low-carb, high-fat diet. My interest was piqued.
See, since my daughter was born, I had been trying to lose weight the same way I’d lost it after my son was born. Portion control, tracking calories with My Fitness Pal, and eating everything in moderation. Only it wasn’t working this time. At all. No matter how much I adjusted my calorie intake, I couldn’t lose weight. I’d work really hard for weeks only to lose half a pound. And then we’d have a family celebration where I loosened my restrictions for one meal and I’d gain two pounds. Needless to say, this was beyond frustrating and undercut my motivation. It seemed the only thing cutting calories worked to do was to slow my metabolism. I tried exercising, going from no consistent exercise to exercising 3-4 days a week and still the scale barely moved.
So after listening to my mom’s ramblings (love you, mom!) about this low-carb, high-fat diet stuff, I was intrigued. Still not enough to do research for myself, but intrigued nonetheless. But my mom was begging me to help her find things to eat. My mom is not a cook. Seriously, she hates cooking with a passion. Plus she has some food allergies, so the thought of having to come up with food she could eat following this diet was overwhelming to say the least. She nagged me weekly about this (love you, mom!) until finally I decided to do some googling for her and see what I could find.
Now, if you google “food for diabetics,” mostly what you’ll find is a bunch of recipes for desserts made with artificial sweeteners and not much else. But when I searched for “low carb, high fat recipes,” I found a website called Diet Doctor.
You guys, this website changed my life. And that’s not hyperbole.
What I found there was a website run by medical doctors with a wealth of information on the science of insulin, insulin resistance, and a ketogenic diet. I discovered that you can have insulin resistance for years before you ever get a diagnosis of diabetes or even pre-diabetes. I discovered that insulin is a fat-storing hormone. I discovered delicious low carb recipes, including a few for treats that include no artificial sweeteners! And most of all, I discovered that the symptoms I’d been experiencing– the fatigue, the brain fog, the stubborn weight– could be improved by trying a ketogenic diet.
The ketogenic diet: the basics
Ketogenic vs. LCHF- let me clarify the difference between the terms “ketogenic” and “low-carb, high-fat” (LCHF). LCHF is a broader category that can describe a diet where carbohydrates are restricted to 100 grams per day or less. Protein intake is moderate, and the rest of the day’s calories are made up of fat. A ketogenic diet can be described as a strict low-carb, high-fat diet, where carbohydrates are restricted to 20 grams per day or less. This makes it so carbs account for about 5% of the day’s calories, with protein accounting for roughly 20% and fat the remaining 75%.
Whoa, whoa, whoa! You might be thinking. Seventy-five percent of my calories should be fat calories?? But isn’t fat bad for you? No. Fat is not bad for you. The low-fat movement was never based in good science but we all bought into it anyway.
A ketogenic diet is one full of whole foods like meat, fish, butter, cheese, eggs, nuts, vegetables that grow above the ground, and berries. It does not include grains, sugar of any kind, starchy vegetables, or much fruit.
What’s the point of restricting yourself in this way? Because when you eat a ketogenic diet, you train your body to be a fat burner rather than a carb burner. When you’re a fat burner, you can seamlessly go from burning fat from food to burning fat you’ve stored. Your blood sugar remains stable, meaning you don’t ride the waves of sugar highs and crashes. The level of insulin in your body drops, so your body isn’t telling you to hold onto fat. You’re less hungry, and your energy levels stabilize. You have better mental focus and increased physical endurance. Really. Some people also report fewer migraines, less acne, lower blood pressure, and more.
But What can I eat?
I know what you’re probably thinking. Ok, Amber, but what can I eat? No pasta, bread, rice, or potatoes? No way can I enjoy eating without those! Well, that’s what this whole site is about. I have a whole host of low carb recipes here, and if you take a look, you’ll see that I still eat very well.
Does it take a little bit of an adjustment? Yes. But it’s 100% worth it.
So what happened when I tried this diet? Well, I eased into it a little. For a few weeks, I just cut out grains and sweets (other than my beloved dark chocolate– totally allowed!) from my diet. I lost a couple of pounds this way. Then I decided to go all-in and took the Diet Doctor two-week challenge. They give you your meal plans for two weeks (free!) and as long as you eat what’s on the list, you’ll automatically stay under 20 carbs/day. I’ll tell you that the first few days can be a little rough. I managed to time it so I was going through the worst days as I was also PMSing (not advised) but once I made it through about day four, I felt amazing.
By the second week, I couldn’t believe how much energy I had back. I can’t tell you how many times I’d said, in the days before keto, that I shouldn’t feel this way in my thirties! Heck, I started saying that in my twenties. I can’t remember a time in my adult life when I felt better. My husband noticed right away. I started joining him and the kids on bike rides, even on Saturday morning, when I’d usually be trying to sleep.
In that second week, I was suddenly capable of more exercise. Let me tell you, I had been doing the same postpartum exercise DVD for a year, friends, without ever having felt like I’d mastered it. And yes, if you’re counting, this was 2-3 years after having my last baby. No judging! But suddenly it was way too easy. And I could lift weights and my muscles recovered faster. I suddenly went from struggling to exercise 3x/week for 15-20 minutes, to being able to exercise consistently 5-6 days a week for 30-45 minutes easily.
Another great thing? I wasn’t hungry. I can’t tell you how many times, back when I was counting calories, that I just could not make it between lunch and dinner without a snack. On a ketogenic diet, if you eat adequate fat, you don’t need to snack. You won’t be hungry between meals. And let me say– I have never craved sugar since starting to eat this way! I can hardly believe it myself. I’ve clearly always been someone with a sweet tooth!
The other benefit I noticed was that my stomach felt better. I never realized how much bloating I’d had on a regular basis until I didn’t have it any more. My stomach was noticeably flatter nearly immediately.
My mental fog lifted! I dealt with mental fog most every day before this, and it’s totally gone. I feel so much smarter now.
Additionally, my pain level went down drastically! I still sometimes struggle with pain from my hip problems, but it’s dramatically decreased. My theory is that it’s because I have less inflammation in my body overall.
I started this ketogenic journey at the end of May, and I’ve lost around 12 pounds (I’m currently at my initial goal), all without starving myself, without counting calories, without being hungry, all while eating butter, cream, bacon, and all the cheese. But I’d stay on this diet even without the weight loss just for how good I feel. But I will not complain about getting back to a healthy weight– can I get an “amen”?
And my mom? She’s been downgraded to pre-diabetic.
Where can I get more help?
I’d love to share some great resources with you that I’ve found. I know I’ve been gushing about Diet Doctor and it might make you suspicious, but I promise I am in no way affiliated with their site. I’m just a dedicated user who finds their website easy to use, well laid out, bursting with information, and fully inspirational.
A Keto Diet for Beginners -Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt. A great intro to the diet. Diet Doctor.
Insulin Causes Insulin Resistance– Dr. Jason Fung. An informative explanation of how insulin resistance develops. Diet Doctor.
Glucotoxicity and Double Diabetes– Dr. Jason Fung. In this article, he explains how elevated insulin levels actually lead to more long-term health problems than elevated blood glucose levels. Intensive Dietary Management Blog.
Evidence for Caloric Restriction– Dr. Jason Fung. In this article, he explains how studies show caloric restriction does not lead to long-term weight loss. Intensive Dietary Management Blog.
Reversing Type 2 Diabetes Starts with Ignoring the Guidelines– Dr. Sarah Hallberg. In this TED talk, she explains how she successfully treats diabetes in her practice by doing the opposite of what the American Diabetes Association suggests. YouTube video.
I could keep going, but I’ll stop. Just know that there are so many great, science-based articles out there that explain why and how a ketogenic diet works.
Other great websites for ketogenic recipes:
Maria Mind Body Health
The Keto Diet App (also a great app you can use to help track your carb intake)
All Day I Dream About Food
Shoot me some questions! I’d love to do a keto q&a soon!
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. Please take this as a personal story of what has worked for me. Always consult your doctor before making major changes in your diet or medication usage.