I’d like to share my experience with using a ketogenic diet for health and weight loss over an extended period of time. It’s been about 8 months since I began, so as I creep up on 3/4 of a year in ketosis, I figured I should start putting my experiences down on “paper”. I’ll be honest and share the highs and the lows, the benefits as well as the pitfalls and troubles I’ve had.
I started my ketogenic diet on August 4, 2014. At that point I was 5 months postpartum, had been running for only 6 weeks after a year of inactivity, and weighed about 160 pounds (I didn’t weight myself consistently until August 16th). My weight before pregnancy was about 140 pounds, so I had 20 pounds to go to get back to where I started and another 3-5 pounds on top of that to get to my goal weight, which is where I tend to settle if I’m really on top of my nutrition and strength training. For me that’s a size 4.
I had used a ketogenic diet before, back in 2012, after reading about Jimmy Moore’s experience in nutritional ketosis. My weight had crept up to almost 150 pounds, so in August of that year (what is it about August??) I started a keto diet and by early December I was down to 136 pounds without exercise.* While the diet worked for me, I didn’t think of it as permanent, so when they weight was gone I went back to paleo/primal.
I decided a ketogenic diet was the way to go for me again this time for a couple of reasons:
- Paleo wasn’t working well for me. I still craved sugar and carbs like crazy and my weight seemed stuck. I felt good but I was eating things like raisins, paleo baked goods with honey, and gluten free stuff that wasn’t paleo.
- I wanted to get back into endurance training again but I didn’t want to gain weight or use sports
- Keto is effortless. And dairy – I love it. Plus I remembered how energized I felt on keto and wanted that back. It’s not a feeling you get on any other “diet” I’ve ever been on.
- I wanted to learn more about being an athlete on a low carb diet so that I could be a better coach.
I think it’s important to elaborate a bit on #2. After my last Ironman (2008), I switched over 100% to a Paleo diet and got really into HIIT and kettlebell training. I even became a kettlebell instructor. Through these interventions I totally changed my body from fluffy (typical of IM training) to lean. I saw my abs for the first time in my life. I really preferred the way my body looked and felt and I loved saying goodbye to all the stomach troubles I had on a high carb, grain and fruit-based diet as an endurance athlete. The only problem was that I really did love endurance sports and wanted to get back to it, but just could not take the plunge knowing that it would lead to weight gain, feeling sore and tired, take 2-3 times as much time as my current exercise routine, etc.
Years passed. I did nothing but teach my Boot Camp and run a few 5Ks. And then I had the baby and I guess starting over from scratch with a bunch of weight to lose was great inspiration to start running and try to do it all low carb. I knew it was possible to run on a low-carb diet but the desire to experiment just wasn’t there -until it was. As anyone who has made major transformations in their life knows, motivation and desire are fickle. You can’t force yourself to be motivated. One day you just wake up and things are different. You are ready. So there I was. I was ready to try it, having no fitness to lose but plenty of fat to lose.
Another reason I wanted to try endurance running with a ketogenic diet was that I am a coach and I wanted to learn the ins and outs of this new way of fueling endurance exercise so I could help my athletes. I know the science isn’t there yet but science is usually behind practice. If you waited until science caught up, your coaching practices would always be 5-10 years behind everyone else.
What if one of my athletes is overweight, has pre-diabetes or diabetes, or has GI distress with traditional sports nutrition? How great would it be for me to be able to teach this person that the high-carb standard was NOT THE ONLY WAY TO DO ENDURANCE?! That’s HUGE.
So that’s my WHY. I wanted to learn, I wanted to shed weight, I wanted to feel good, I wanted to run. And I felt a ketogenic diet was the easiest way to do all those things while promising to be a great learning experience. And this time I looked at it as more of a permanent shift away from high carb diets, paleo or not.
Next time I’ll talk about my first few months on a ketogenic diet, how I fueled my exercise, and how I dealt with problems as they came up.
* Actually, I know what it is about August. I have always tended to weigh the most in late summer and the least in the winter. This seems biologically logical but for many triathletes the opposite is true. You weight the least in the summer during race season and gain weight in the winter.