Let me start by saying that I am not a dietitian, nor am I a scientist, so none of what I am about to tell you should necessarily be taken as “advice.”
According to my own reading of the available science, low-carb diets indeed can be effective for weight loss. The main area of debate is whether such diets are effective or practical in the long run. But like any diet, it’s only as good as your ability to make it part of your lifestyle. (Read more about carbohydrates and sugars here.)
Most of my colleagues followed their “Try It Tuesday” diets for one week, but I wanted to make mine a catalyst for greater change in my life, to help me get to a healthier weight and reap the benefits of that. I began my diet the week of June 20 and am still following it as of today.
First Things First: What Is a “Ketogenic” Diet?
Ketogenic diets limit daily carbohydrate intake strictly—at least at the beginning—sometimes to as few as 20 to 25 grams per day, or roughly the amount in two slices of bread. More carbohydrates are introduced over time to levels where weight is maintained.
Within a couple of days or so, your body begins the process of ketosis. When glycogen in your liver and muscles from the breakdown of carbohydrates runs low, your body turns to its fat reserves, which are broken down into ketones to produce energy. (Bear in mind that ketosis is not the same as diabetic ketoacidosis, which can be a very real problem for people with diabetes.)
Like many people, my weight has a tendency to creep up on me. Sweets in particular are my Achilles’ heel. A few times in my life, I have said “enough is enough” and began to exert more control. Each time I did so, I lost around 30 to 40 pounds.
What I’m Eating
I’m probably luckier than most people, in that I’m not especially bothered by the narrower selection of foods with few if any carbs. I love eggs, cheese, meat (bacon!!!), and nuts. Plant-based foods can vary widely in carb content, but many of the ones at the lower end of the scale also happen to be the ones I like most, such as greens, broccoli, cauliflower, avocados, olives, coconuts, strawberries, and blueberries.
On a low-carb diet, I try to keep as many of those foods around the house as possible. I lean heavily on frozen fruits and vegetables because, frankly, I hate going to the grocery store.
Turning to my bête noire, sweets. I work enough substitutes into my diet that it’s really not much of a problem. I’m always stocked up on low-calorie sweeteners (don’t get me started on those who believe, without a valid scientific basis, that they’re bad for you).
I use them in things such as homemade ice cream or cheesecake. Low-carb brownie or baking mixes also can make passable versions of their higher-carb counterparts—at least, to my liking.
First, a caveat: For me, a low-carb diet usually goes hand-in-hand with more physical activity—a more disciplined gym routine, longer walks with my dog, etc. So it stands to reason that it’s easier to lose weight than on a more “normal” diet. But I believe that restricting carbs gives me the extra boost I need to feel better and see faster results.
Week One: I began the week of June 20 at 208 pounds. At 6 feet 2 inches, that put my BMI at 26.7—toward the middle of the “overweight” range. Within the first week, I was down to 206.
Week Two: Ketosis more fully “kicked in,” and my metabolism lit the after-burners. I lost another 5 pounds, down to 201. This was unsurprising; I find that the first several pounds go quickly. The harder part is not getting discouraged when the going gets tougher.
Weeks Three and Four: As I expected, I hit a bit of a plateau. I ultimately lost another pound, but I used as many tools as I could to stay motivated. For instance, I’m taking pictures so that I can see the physical progress. I also made a game out of trying to turn my ketosis test strips as maroon as possible. (I’ll spare you the details of how they’re tested, though.)
Weeks Five and Six: Things were still a little slow-going, but I didn’t let it get me down. All told, I lost another pound—down to 200. It’s like my personal Mendoza line, except that going below 200 is good, not bad.
Weeks Seven and Eight: I was dreading this part because it involved a week-long trip to The Netherlands and Belgium. There was no way that I wasn’t going to sample the local cuisine, so I put the low-carb thing on pause. But even with steak frites, waffles, and pancakes, I managed to lose another pound. Of course, walking an average of eight miles a day probably had something to do with that.
Since returning from Europe, I also returned to the low-carb lifestyle, and the pounds have kept falling away.
As of today, I’m down a total of 12 pounds—at 196 with a BMI of 25.2, just one pound from crossing over to “normal” from “overweight.” (However, take BMI with a grain of salt.) My ultimate goal is around 180 pounds.
Unlike some of my colleagues, I have not measured other indicators beyond the ketones and the pounds I’ve lost—but I plan to. However, if past experience holds true, my LDL (“bad cholesterol”) and triglyceride levels tend to be low when I go low-carb. My blood pressure has always been normal or even slightly below average.
A Virtuous Cycle
There’s no way around it: Losing weight is almost never easy. But for me, the process itself makes it easier. I am less hungry and less tempted by pitfalls, and therefore better able to limit my caloric intake. My slowly improving physical appearance is a big motivator. Getting to a healthier weight and being more physically active make me feel better, which also helps impels me forward.
I can’t predict the future, so I can’t guarantee I won’t be back in the 200s someday. But as I get older and realize how much harder it becomes to lose weight, that fact alone will motivate me to maintain a healthy weight and an active lifestyle.
And yes, some of my favorite higher-carb foods will begin making an appearance. A future completely devoid of pasta, bread, and desserts is one I want no part of.