If you haven’t read this series yet, let me catch you up.
3 months ago I began a highly restrictive diet (Keto) for 90 days. My hopes were:
- To see what all the fuss is about. Why do people like these diet things anyway?
- At the end, I’d be better able to help people go in or out of highly restrictive diets if that’s what they (or their doctor) wanted.
- To challenge myself; to make sure my moderation motto was because that's really what works best- not because I “can’t” go without things. You know, personal growth crap. This one was in the back of my mind at first, but as I went through this experience, it quickly became the most important aspect to me.
I should warn you that this will be much longer than my usual blog because I learned A LOT from this experiment, including that I wanted to end it 7 days early!
Ok, so my methods weren’t tightly controlled science experiments, because there are enough of those from people who are way smarter than I am, BUT I did try to be as consistent and intentional as possible. Also, I did a few mini experiments within the experiment.
83 Days---> Diet 70% Fat, 25% Protein, 5% Carbs.
I kept NET carbs (Carbs minus Fiber) between 25-35 per day.
I kept the same frequency, volume, and intensity of exercise.
I measured Ketosis with Urine sticks, which aren’t as accurate as measuring ketones in the blood, but that’s how much time and money (and blood) I was willing to spend.
Outcome- 10 pounds lost, 2% Body Fat lost. That means about 6 pounds of fat, the rest water and a bit of muscle, which I expected since I’ve been training for years.
Mini-Experiment #1- Do Calories Matter?
Yes. Research tells us they do. It’s an overwhelming and resounding YES. But just to be sure, I ate at a deficit the first month (~1700 Cals/Day), Maintenance the second month (~2300 Cals/Day), and was super sloppy at keeping track the third month because I knew all my recipes were keto (??? Cals/Day). The first month, I lost 10 pounds. The second month, I maintained the 10 pound loss, and the third month I lost and gained the same 2 pounds.
Mini- Experiment #2- Have a cheat day and get back on.
This, my friends, is why I only completed 83 Days. On Christmas day, as a gift to myself, I gave myself a “cheat day”. I had a plan to exit Keto permanently and gracefully (with sweet potatoes and beans) when the 90 days were up, but I wanted to see how it would feel to just take a day off and go back. BIG MISTAKE. I felt TERRIBLE. I had about 200 grams of carbs, nothing extravagant except probably too much chocolate, and I felt sick. Oddly, though, it had the opposite effect of what one would think.The following day, I didn’t want to go back to Keto- it was like returning back to a 70 hour work week after being on vacation. I ended up taking a “mental health” day for a total of 48 hours off Keto. On day three, I put on my big girl pants and started over. It was probably the most difficult “diet” day of my life. I was borderline depressed at the thought of logging and deprivation. I was over it. I stayed back on for 3 days, and then I decided that 83 days was enough. I made my point. It was time to exit.
What all the fuss is about
Even though I was ready for it to be over, it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. Here’s what I liked about this experiment:
I learned A LOT about my current eating habits. I realized that I didn’t miss pasta, grains, or bread like I thought I would. The thought of eliminating those things was way worse than actually doing it.
I learned that I feel really good without refined sugar. I was having treats pretty regularly before and my body felt way lighter and more functional without it. I also noticed the physiological symptoms of anxiety were reduced.
I loved being at parties this holiday season and knowing I just wouldn’t eat there. It sounds weird, but it was such a relief not to have to make decisions about which treats to eat, how much, if I was actually hungry, etc. I might go sugar free every Oct-Dec!
I really wanted to make sure I was in Ketosis, so I logged all my food carefully. That became burdensome and kind of made me dread eating. Having to be SO STRATEGIC left very little room for error. This also led me to the conclusion that most people who do Keto are probably not as strict as they would need to be to actually be in ketosis 24/7. My guess is that they still feel better, though, from the effects of no sugar and fewer refined carbs.
I really missed fruit, potatoes, and beans. I often had to choose between half a cup of vegetables and a handful of blackberries. I accidentally put myself out of ketosis a few times with pistachios. There are a lot of nutrient-dense foods that I had to cut out.
I really feel for people with food allergies. Going to restaurants and trying to find something to eat was hard. I’d have to research ahead, ask for ingredients, ask if sauces had sugar or honey, etc. I mostly just gave up and didn’t eat or got a salad. I love salad, but that got old.
My workouts suffered a bit. My running got slower and my lifting pooped out after about 40 minutes. This was consistent regardless of how many calories I consumed.
How I’ll help clients
I was really seeking to understand why people are attracted to these kinds of diets, and I think I do now. I understand how rules can make people feel safe, guided, and successful. I hope working with me makes them feel that way, too! As with most things, if you actually follow the instructions properly, it works.
I also understand, though, how a restrictive diet can keep people OFF the wagon for long periods of time. For instance, the thought of having to be so careful, so all or nothing, so all in, feels the same to me as the thought of having another newborn. Yeah, it’s great and I’m glad I did it, but it’s a lot of work. Is there an easier way to get the same result? Can someone just leave me a potty-trained 4 year old on my doorstep?
Going forward, I will help clients execute Keto if they want to try it. I think everyone can benefit from self-experimentation. Even though I wouldn't do it long-term, I would do it again- maybe just for 30 days instead of 90.
I would also love to help clients who have been doing a restrictive diet by collaborating on an exit strategy. To use what I know and what I’ve learned to help them gently ease out of keto and keep the weight off, not just go back to their old ways of eating and then have to start over in a year. The skills it takes to execute a diet like this can be brought with them and utilized when they decide to move on.
I’m really proud of myself. I never thought I could do something like that. At times I loved it, and at times I was overwhelmed, but I am really amazed by my ability to be flexible, be hungry if needed, plan ahead, and say no to food. It was really empowering.
ALSO, if we’re being honest, I’m a little annoyed with myself for quitting early. I mean, I was SO CLOSE to making it the whole time. If I re-frame it, though, I think this is pretty consistent with the average person's experience sticking to a diet and it’s ok with me that I’m an average person. If you’ve worked with me, you know I usually advise people to only “cut” (Diet/cut Calories) for 30-60 days at a time for the sake of their own sanity and metabolic adaptation. After this experiment, I’m pretty confident that I’ve been giving good advice.
I hope you had fun following this and seeing my successes and struggles. If you have any questions or comments, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and make sure you check out my Instagram for balanced and keto meal ideas. And of course, if you are ever interested in ongoing 1:1 coaching, feel free to reach out!