What a Former Vegetarian Learned From the Keto Diet

Steak Asparagus Keto

The ketogenic (also known as “keto”) diet has been gaining in popularity recently and perhaps for good reason! After my husband learned about it in nutrition class, I read a few articles about it and decided to give it a try. At the time I had learned of the ketogenic diet, I was a vegetarian, so as you can imagine, the transition was a little uncomfortable.

I’ve never been a heavy meat eater and the thought of eating most meats made me feel queasy. Once in a while, I could handle a burger here or there but eating meat everyday sounded downright disgusting!

But I didn’t want my feelings about meat to stand in the way of the possibility of experiencing the benefits of a ketogenic diet. I have an inflammatory autoimmune disease as well as Lyme disease, so I was curious if the diet would help with my symptoms.

What is the Keto Diet Anyways?

The main idea of the keto diet is to eat in a way that will get your body to utilize fat for energy instead of carbs. To do this, you have to eat less than 50g of net carbs per day (I did no more than 20g). The amount of carbs you can handle before bumping your body out of ketosis varies. Some people can eat more, some need less.

A common misunderstanding is that you should eat as much protein as possible on the diet and you can only eat meat all day. In fact, you should try to balance your meals by adding low carb vegetables and of course healthy fats such a coconut oil, avocado, oil, extra virgin olive oil, grass fed butter or ghee. If you eat too much protein, it will be converted to glucose and knock you out of ketosis!

The First 24 Hours

When I began the diet, I felt pretty horrible for the first day. This isn’t uncommon, and is often referred to as the “keto flu.” It didn’t feel like the flu to me, more like foggy headedness accompanied by a headache later in the day. And I felt a little bit like a limp noodle. I peed constantly. On keto, you lose a lot of water weight during the first couple days.

Oddly enough, the food options weren’t bothering me too much. I had an excuse to eat cream cheese and drink coffee with heavy cream. I did miss sugar a little bit though and had to figure out how to get over the cravings.

Turns out, Swerve (an erythritol blend often used in keto recipes), is actually a pretty good replacement for sugar. You of course want to minimize its use, but if you feel like you can’t go without a hint of sweetness now and then or want to stick to the diet during a special occasion or holiday, give it a try.

Achievement Unlocked: Health Benefits!

After the first 24 hours, the fog lifted and I started feeling good. Throughout the first week I felt like a new person. The chronic pain I had literally melted away. I experienced less anxiety compared to usual and my psoriasis actually started clearing up. It was obvious to me the keto diet was helping me with the inflammation I struggled with the majority of my life.

My weight decreased dramatically in the first week. I was losing a pound a day and all the puffiness I usually have in my face and stomach area decreased substantially. My guess is that I was mainly losing water weight, but it felt good nonetheless and kept me somewhat motivated. Not feeling like you’re about to bust out of your clothes is a good feeling.

But it’s not easy…

At the end of the first week, I started feeling a little depressed with my food options. Maybe it’s because I hadn’t found enough recipes to keep me interested, but I wanted a cheat day. I strayed from the diet for one meal and resumed it afterwards. To my surprise, it didn’t affect much. I actually stayed in ketosis, according to the ketone test strips I was using.

One difficulty of the diet is having to cook every single thing you eat. After doing that every day, eventually you’ll want a break or feel too busy to do it. Recently, I’ve noticed more keto-friendly options popping up in the grocery stores, but at the time I was on the diet, there was maybe three products I could find that’d help me save time.

Exercising was also somewhat challenging. If you try to lift weights while in ketosis, you’ll feel pitiful and puny. Maybe this is something that changes with time, I don’t know. For weight loss during the diet, you probably won’t need to exercise but it’s still good to do so if you can.

So What Did I Learn From My Experience?

The overall experience of doing the keto diet was one I’m grateful for. It showed me that a diet that includes meat and dairy can be anti-inflammatory after all; you just have to exclude the carbs and sugar! I also found that food tasted so much better during the diet, even on a cheat day.

The flavors of whole foods were intensified. Biting into a strawberry was 100x better when on the diet. I could be happy with just eating a few berries (and sometimes I even ate grapes, though of course I could only have a couple!).

In general, I felt less hungry on the diet, which was kind of nice. My stomach wasn’t barbecuing my ribs when I was out running errands, which is a major plus. Being hungry away from home is usually how you end up making unhealthy food choices. I know this from experience.

I also had more energy. So much so that I had trouble sleeping at night. When I eventually went back to my carb-filled diet, I slept like the dead the first couple nights.

To Keto or Not To Keto?

Personally, I would try the keto diet again. In my opinion, it’s a great diet for those who need to lose weight quickly, people who struggle with chronic Lyme, or just about anyone who has an inflammatory or neurodegenerative condition. Planning your meals before you start the diet is essential though; this is where I sort of messed up.

Find recipes you’ll enjoy and make sure they include some sort of plants! You need the phytonutrients from plant-based foods and they can and should be eaten on a ketogenic diet. Avoid higher carb and starchy vegetables though and eat only limited amounts of low glycemic fruits like berries. When you eat meat, eggs, or dairy on the diet, aim for grass fed, organic, and/or pasture-raised as much as possible.

Have you tried the keto diet or are you considering it? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments section below!

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