After hearing so much about the ketogenic diet (hey, if it’s good enough for Alicia Vikander) and skipping one too many (read: all) of my morning workouts, I decided it was time to try out the trendy eating plan for myself. Quick refresher: The keto diet is a high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb diet, where the goal is for your body to reach a state of ketosis (hence, the name). In this state, you burn through fat for energy instead of glucose (i.e., carbohydrates), which leads to faster weight loss.
I enlisted the help of ketogenic diet expert Dr. Josh Axe—partly because I have zero willpower when it comes to pasta and need someone checking up on me, and partly because his keto diet plan allows for four feast meals per month (see previous note about pasta). Here, seven of my biggest takeaways from 30 days of keto eating.
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EATING ALL THAT FAT ISN’T REALLY AS FUN AS IT SOUNDS
Steak! Butter! Avocados! These are a few of my favorite things so I was pretty excited that I could enjoy them freely on my diet. Until I did the math, and realized that in order to get approximately 75 percent of my calories from fat (the remaining 20 percent came from protein and 5 percent from carbs), I had to eat a whole lot of it. After the first week, the amount actually felt a little gross (there’s so much meat). Around day 21, I cut back on my fat intake, which definitely affected my state of ketosis (and isn’t recommended), but I don’t think that I could’ve kept going with the diet otherwise.
YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY INVEST IN THE KETONE STRIPS
Yes, peeing in a cup is messy but using ketone strips to determine your state of ketosis is a great motivator. Without getting too scientific, these strips basically work by measuring the amount of ketones (organic compounds that are the result of the body burning fat for fuel) in your body. To use them, you urinate in a container (which to be honest, I never really got the hang of), let the strip sit for about a minute, and then match the color of your strip to one of the six different levels of ketosis on the bottle. When I wasn’t in ketosis (which happened every couple of days) or had dropped down a few levels, I knew I had to up my fat intake (which again, wasn’t as fun as you’d think).
PREP IS EVERYTHING
Like with any diet, the key to success is preparation. For me, that meant doing a big trip to the grocery store every weekend, having lots of meat in the freezer (and remembering to defrost it before dinner) and telling pretty much anyone who would listen that I was doing keto (accountability means no cheating). Keeping some keto-friendly snacks (cheese and veggies, usually) on me at all times was also super helpful. And while having a social life isn’t impossible on keto, it does require some planning (and some very understanding friends who don’t mind if you pick the restaurant every time and repeatedly quiz the waiter).
MY ENERGY LEVELS SOARED
This one really surprised me, especially because Dr. Axe recommends only eating in an eight-hour window, which means I didn’t have my first meal until lunchtime. But a strong coffee with heavy cream (yep, it’s as delicious as it sounds) every morning really kept me going and I actually found that I had more energy than usual throughout the day. Dr. Axe also gave me some products to try that are designed to boost energy and reduce fatigue. In fact, even though I’m back to my non-keto ways now, I still stick to the eight-hour window rule (and creamy coffee) a couple days per week.
FANCY WEEKNIGHT CARB SUBSTITUTIONS ARE WISHFUL THINKING
Before starting the diet, I had grand plans of cauliflower pizzas, keto breads and avocado brownies. But in reality, it was so much easier to fry up some chicken with vegetables on a weeknight than it was to attempt a new recipe that usually involved at least three kitchen gadgets. I did however manage to try my hand at zoodles (delicious and not too fiddly) and make some keto bombs (also delicious).
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When your body switches from burning carbohydrates as energy to burning fat instead, some people (myself included) report getting flu-like symptoms. And while I’m not sure if my headache and runny nose were because of the diet or because of the snowstorm, I definitely needed a sick day. But hey, sipping on bone broth in bed was a pretty nice way to spend a Wednesday.
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THE DIET REALLY WORKS
The biggest takeaway from my foray into keto? It totally works. I lost eight pounds on the diet, had loads of energy and overall, felt pretty great (except for a couple of days of the keto flu). But here’s the thing: Limiting carbs to such a great extent isn’t sustainable in the long term (at least not for me). Ditto on the increased fat intake. So, while I would definitely recommend the diet to others and I might even do it again in a couple of months, I think a 30-day trial is just the right amount of time. Now excuse me, I have a plate of cacio e pepe to attend to.