I absolutely love the idea of keto. It’s incredibly efficient with a couple simple rules: keep carbs under 20g a day, eat more fat. And lo, the stories one hears about keto success abound. So why, oh why, does keto hate me specifically?
Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been trying to work my way back to a fully implemented keto diet. I did a ramp down of the holiday carbs and got back to a higher fat and very low carb protocol for…about 6 hours. And then my body just started to rebel. For the next couple days, I had to count the carbs in Pepcid AC as a major food group, had headaches and my skin broke out, felt lethargic, couldn’t sleep, felt jittery, and this time around had really crazy stomach pain that just didn’t subside.
After about two days, I threw in the towel and made some toast to hopefully soak up what felt like three liters of stomach acid just sloshing around in there. This was, by far, the worst transition into keto I’ve ever had. Normally, a little keto flu and done. But also normally, once I’m keto-adapted, my weight plateaus as long as I’m on keto and all other measurements of progress flat line. I have always defaulted to the presumption that I’m not implementing it correctly. I have a new perspective this time that has led me to conclude something else: I don’t think keto is for me, holistically.
It’s not keto, it’s me
Since Thanksgiving, I’ve been doing directed work to address the mental side of weight loss, emotional eating, and diet composition based on stress. Though over the many decades, I’ve tried every diet on the planet (I almost got sucked in to Adele’s sirtfood diet last week and caught myself at the very last minute…during a moment of clarity imagining the amount of “green juice” involved). Every diet hasn’t worked except for one: a combination of a low calorie, low fat but high protein diet with a LOT of movement. It was extreme but my body responded immediately. With this knowledge I did a little reflection on why keto has been such a love/hate experience. In short: It’s me.
Part of working through whether and how I emotionally eat has led me to this conclusion: Food does make me feel joyful. I have no interest in only eating for fuel. I’m not a robot. So there are emotions connected to food for me, although a have a great handle on eating to deal with emotions, which is something totally different. And here’s where keto becomes a real issue for me: I don’t find any joy in keto foods.
This realization made me wonder how tied up in resenting this style of eating plays in some of my physical symptoms. I know I’m incredibly lactose-intolerant, a fact I’ve really recently discovered. What is keto without dairy? It’s basically a high fat vegan diet (oils and veggies) with meat. Guess what I also don’t love: meat. So now practically, I’m down to oils and veggies. There is more to life than trying to make keto work by shotgunning olive oil and eating my fill of broccoli, kale, and cauliflower, especially because doing that does not even guarantee I’m going to get into ketosis naturally. Then I have to start thinking about taking exogenous ketones to amp up the ketone production. Just no. The physical limitations and adjustments I require to make this work becomes a burden and eating, something that does give me joy, becomes like the act of taking medication…I have to do it, but I don’t like it. I can live that way but I can’t thrive that way.
I think what I’ve come to realize and accept is that I somewhat have to let the idea of keto go. I tried it. Many times. It didn’t work: I wasn’t happy, I didn’t feel good, and I wasn’t in ketosis. Game, set, and match. Once I kind of let it go, what I realized does “work” in that it helps me get to enough while also enjoying a whole host of foods I like is a diet balanced cleverly between lo- and moderate-carb combined with a sort of intermittent fasting approach. I can still have my cake and eat it too but not for the next 60 hours.
This is the way I need to allow myself to move forward. Keto is an incredible tool to use and nutritional and therapeutic ketosis can have magnificent benefits for those who need that protocol. Or who love it; I mean, you do you. But I’m convinced my body needs some carbs…it just does. What I really mean, is that my mind needs carbs…my soul needs carbs…and I’m not a robot and my body isn’t a machine. If some carbs make me happy, a balanced diet therefore I seek.
Whether that’s my mind or my cells I don’t know but both count and if the difference between my happiness and nutritional panacea, determined by people who don’t know me, are a couple pieces of fibery bread or some white rice every now and then…carb me up.
What’s funny to me is how much justifying I have to do to myself. Not doing keto is a not a failure. It’s choosing a different tool to get the job done.