My ketogenic journey started in June of 2018. I had given the ketogenic diet a try in the past but I didn’t really go all in. Earlier this year I began working with a muscle response specialist for help with some symptoms I was having (large swings in energy, occasional bloating, and a few other health issues). Through muscle response testing we discovered many foods were showing up as “problematic”. The foods that were left over were basically the foods “allowed” on a ketogenic diet: chicken, beef, turkey, fish, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, vegetables and berries. All grains, wheat, dairy, sugar, fruit, corn and basically everything else was a no-go.
With the release of “The Magic Pill” on Netflix, keto was suddenly the newest thing and I was getting a ton of questions about it. I thought to myself, “Hey these foods are the only thing my body seems to like so why not try it out for myself?” (Ironically it turns out I had another health condition that was leading to most of these health issues, and it really wasn’t the food causing the problem…..it’s like rainnnn on your wedding day…..)
So I made sure I did my research on how to implement this “diet” in the healthiest way possible. Obviously there are risks for nutrient deficiencies when you cut out certain food groups. I made sure I was prepared with electrolytes, digestive enzymes, keto products and so on. My focus was ALWAYS on food quality; I was not simply reducing my carbohydrate intake. I was still trying to fuel my body with the best food possible to heal my body while reducing inflammation and risk for disease. Hot dogs and cheese dips were not a staple. I think it’s also important to mention that going keto was not an attempt to lose weight. I thought it might be a side effect but I never expected to alter my body composition by going keto.
Now before I get into why I stopped keto I want to say this: I don’t want this post to come off as “anti-keto”. We all have different goals, lifestyles, genetics, accessibility, histories and preferences. I figured I would share my personal experience to provide some more information to you all. At the end of the day, you know your body better than anyone else. You know what feels good and what doesn’t; what works well and what doesn’t work at all. It’s up to you to figure out what feels best to you, keto or not :)
5 reasons Why I Stopped Keto
Decreased Stamina and Athletic Performance: This was hands down the #1 reason why I was ready to ditch keto. My entire life I’ve been an athlete. From soccer, lacrosse, volleyball, softball and basketball to bodybuilding and just trying to beast out in the gym, athletics have always been a big part of my life. For a brief period of time I did notice an improvement in my aerobic capacity (cardio). Weight training however was a different story. I’ve obviously cut back on my weight training since my bodybuilding days but to say I felt weak was a massive understatement. I’d hardly finish foam rolling and band work and was already ready to call it quits. Step ups made me feel dizzy and squats were basically impossible beyond 6 reps. As someone that used to rack pull 315# (literally one time but still) and farmer’s carried 80# for 5 minutes straight, this feeling was horrible. For people that don’t workout or play sports, this isn’t really a big deal. But for someone who lives for that kind of stuff, it’s a massive bummer. I also recently signed up for an athletic event that requires I consume carbohydrates. Eating for athletic performance is something I personally prefer.
The Mental Effects Started To Wear Off: The initial mental clarity I had on keto was awesome. I had lasting energy that would carry me through the day. My sleep was improved and I just felt awesome. After the first month or so the mental effects started to wear off on me. This doesn’t seem to be the case for everyone, but I just wasn’t as “sharp” as when I first started. Again, this could personally be due to other health issues I was dealing with as many people report continued mental clarity.
I Never Felt Physical Hunger. You may be scratching your head wondering why this is a problem. Although the curbed appetite was great in some ways, after a while, not experiencing that hunger sensation in my stomach felt odd to me. I could “feel hunger” in other ways, like getting irritated, moody, or tired, but my stomach felt physically full. I would eat because I could hear my body telling me I needed nourishment but it’s super uncomfortable eating when your stomach feels full - it’s like you are force feeding yourself. Again, lack of hunger might not be a problem for you but after a while it was something I didn’t enjoy.
I Missed Certain Foods: If you follow me on Instagram, you know I like to cook and get creative in the kitchen. I made tons of keto baked goods, breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks and I genuinely enjoyed the food I was eating on keto. The high fat content makes the food super tasty and satiating, until it wasn’t. I never had food cravings because my blood sugar was so stable and the food was so filling. It wasn’t like I was craving pizza and donuts; but I just started missing little things, like food that crunched, peanut butter and jelly and apples. Which bring me to my next bullet-point……
It Was Becoming Moderately Triggering: With a past history of anorexia and bulimia, as much as I tried to not let it get to me, eventually the restriction became triggering. For a while it didn’t bother me because I believed those foods felt good in my body and I wanted to feel good. I was choosing those foods for health rather than weight loss. I was being as intuitive as possible with it; listening to my body (which is hard when if feels like your signals are blunted), choosing what I thought would feel good in my body, eating more carbs when I felt I needed them, etc. But for anyone that has had an eating disorder, food rules of any type can be detrimental. Eventually, that food police food voice, the one I had worked quite hard to silence, began creeping back in. It was at that point I was able to recognize, this is no longer working for me.
So with that being said, I’ve compiled a list of people I think keto might be good for, and who it may not be indicated for.
Who Do I Think Keto Is GOOD For?
Sedentary to lightly active people, non-athletes
Those with certain health conditions such as epilepsy, PCOS, or type 2 diabetes
People that feel like they have a crazy appetite / cravings or blood sugar / mood swings
Individuals who are willing to educate themselves about what happens in your body while on a ketogenic diet
Men seem to respond better than women as far as weight loss purposes go (generalization, but still)
Who Do I Think Keto Is NOT GOOD For?
Very active individuals / athletes especially distance runners, crossfitters, bodybuilders, powerlifters, etc.
Anyone with a history of eating disorders - (restriction of carbohydrates / food rules can be triggering)
People that don’t want to learn and just want to be told what to eat
Quick-fix chasers - this isn’t something you try for 5 days and cheat on on the weekends. That’s not how ketosis works
Italians (jk comic relief)
How Did Keto Affect My Weight?
As mentioned earlier, I did not set out on a keto journey in an effort to lose weight BUT because I know most people are interested in keto mostly for weight loss purposes, I’ll share my experience. Initially I probably lost 3-4 pounds of water but eventually my weight stabilized (I’ve probably weighed myself 5 times in the past 6 months so it’s hard to say with complete certainty). Initial weight loss on a keto diet is very typical because we store 3-4 grams of water per gram of glycogen (storage form of carbohydrate) stored. When we stop eating carbs, we burn through that stored glycogen which means we excrete the water stored with it. Weight loss can vary greatly from person to person. My body is at a weight it likes to be at and I didn’t really have much to lose. For others that feel they have a large # of pounds they want to lose, weight loss will likely be greater in some. The appetite suppressing effect tends to be helpful in an effort to shed to some pounds.
The longer I did keto, the more “flat” I felt. Bodybuilders will immediately understand that term. For everyone else, it basically means my muscles didn’t feel full. I felt….deflated, but not in a good way. When we eat carbohydrates, we break them down into glucose which we then store in our muscles as glycogen. Think of your muscles as little pipes and the glycogen fills those pipes up. That’s what makes the muscle look shapely. When we no longer consume carbs, we have less glycogen, aka less “filling” and the muscles then appear flat. (This is why bodybuilders will eat Reeses, Pixie Stix, and other carb-filled foods just prior to getting on stage. The carbohydrates fill them up and give them a vascular appearance). This “flatness” translated into poor performance for me.
Take Home Message
Everyone is different and there are always exceptions to every rule. I’m sure there are keto bodybuilders and distance runners. There are probably also plenty of people that have a history of an eating disorder but do well with keto. As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, this is simply my take and experience on keto. If you disagree, that is cool too. Personally, I think it was a great experience. I learned even more about my body and what works (or doesn’t) for me. Rather than taking my word, or anyone else’s word for it, figure out what feels good to YOU! In the meantime, I’ll be over here eating peanut butter and jelly chasing gainz :)
And one last thing….just because I no longer follow a “strict keto diet” doesn’t mean I don’t eat similar things - I didn’t just start eating cake three times a day, although if I want to I will. Instead, I’m back to eating for athletic performance, personal enjoyment and overall health and balance.