My Keto Experiment: The Meat of It

So when we left off – I had just told you about my first few weeks of keto. If you missed out, you can read about that here, and can also find my reason for wanting to go keto in my blogpost “Intro Into my Keto Journey.”

As you can see…keto was not going as well as I had expected that it would. The random cold spells, light headedness and nausea were not feeling like “optimal health.” And my gym sessions were horrific. When I had asked Robb Wolf about this at Paleo f(x) he had recommended that I needed to be diligent on getting my electrolytes in. And more specifically – he wanted me to WEIGH MY SALT and get a minimum of 5mg/day of sodium. I admire the shit out of Robb, but honestly…I thought this sounded like a load of crap. I was already drinking LMNT daily – which is his electrolyte drink mix. And I’ve never supplemented electrolytes ever before except for the occasional coconut water during week long backpacking trips or like 6 hour treks in 90+ degree weather. I had read that at first when transitioning from a high to a low carb diet – supplementing electrolytes is important because your body is essentially dumping all of the stored glucose which goes through your kidneys – making you pee a ton which takes your electrolytes out with it, but I was still struggling after the initial transition phase. I really just didn’t understand how this could be making me feel so awful. And since I don’t just usually blindly “do what I’m told” I challenged him on this. I wanted to know why I needed so many damn electrolytes. I live my life pretty “naturally” and I couldn’t see cavemen dropping dead from a lack of weighing their salt. I also don’t really like the idea of supplementing things – I like to get what I need from food.

Robb said that he was actually in the middle of writing a paper or book or something on this very topic. He then told me that traditionally we would not drain the blood from the animals that we ate and that accounted for much of the sodium we would get naturally. Also that many of our ancestors had access to salt deposits. Ah….there it is. That also got me thinking – I bet the water that our ancestors drank were full of minerals – because they came from natural sources. Also…I know that salt was big in preserving meats. And when I thought about that I thought that when we used to eat more fat and protein – we most definitely did probably eat more sodium. Along with other minerals/electrolytes. So maybe Robb was on to something, but I still had questions.

Robb Wolf has been my favorite source of nutrition information for years now – This is his new Podcast, which I HIGHLY recommend!

There was a pretty toned lady that took our picture and overheard our conversation. She told me that the guys from KetoGains helped her and that they mostly worked with women and the keto diet. She also told me to look up a dietician named Ali Miller who helped her with a bit of carb cycling on certain days of her monthly cycle while doing keto. So I went exploring.

I found Luis from Ketogains and asked him what he specifically did with women and keto. He responded with “help them to get their heads out of their asses.” Alright – my kind of guy. He told me to check my blood sugar and blood pressure when I was feeling crappy. I then sat in on one of Ali Miller’s talks and was blown away – that lady knows a lot and talks REAL fast. I appreciated that she discussed the complexity of women’s hormones and that keto sometimes needs to be tweaked or adjusted sometimes to get optimal results. She also operates on a whole foods – food as medicine regiment.

When I got back to Ohio (after kicking out and back into ketosis from apparently too many paleo treats and getting hella sick again…on the plane) I was determined to get this shit right. Most all of the doctors and dietitians and nutrition geeks at Paleo f(x) praised the keto diet and I thought there were definitely still things I wanted to learn. And I learn best by doing.

I kept drinking LMNT for electrolytes – upping my dosage a little and started heavily salting everything that I ate. I thought that really should be enough salt. I was STILL crashing. After barely making it through a shopping trip to Kroger, I tested my blood sugar and it was like 59…which isn’t good. Luis was right. Anything under 70 is considered low and upon reading up on low blood sugar – it outlined most of what I was feeling. Still not fully accepting that I needed so damn many electrolytes, and wondering if I was ruining my health, I got on the KetoGains FB group and asked why they thought I might be feeling so crappy. I got like 20 responses that said….you guessed it…ELECTROLYTES. Sodium in particular.

Ok…I get it, and at this point I really had nothing to lose. Some people in the FB group gave me suggestions on how to get all those electrolytes in which consisted of making salt water, adding potassium and taking a magnesium supplement. So I chugged a 32 oz container of salt water, took the magnesium and decided to lay down because my energy was still low. And I waited….and then…it happened. I felt the effects of the electrolytes, but not how I expected. And If I had been paying more attention in Robb Wolf’s Keto Masterclass…especially on the electrolyte portion…I would’ve recalled him warning me about too many electrolytes at once = disaster pants, and so…well…I’m just going to let your imagination paint the picture for you, and tell you that…it wasn’t good. So please…learn from my mistakes…trust me on this one. Gradually increase your electrolyte intake. Once I adjusted, however, I felt great!

It really was that easy. Electrolytes for the win. My gym sessions got back to normal. Sleep and energy leveled out. No more dizzy spells, nausea or cold sweats. It was smooth sailing after that. I wish I would’ve listened from the beginning. I just had no clue it could make that big of a difference! And when the World Health Organization is constantly telling us that salt is going to kill you…It’s hard to get that out of your head…even when the latest research is really saying low sodium is worse for our health than higher sodium. Link to an article of one of those studies here. I ended up drinking 32 oz of water with 1.5 tsp salt, .25 tsp NoSalt (salt substitute w/potassium) and 200mg magnesium/day on non-workout days and 2 on workout days. Once you get on top of the electrolytes, skipping or not hitting your numbers won’t take you down like it might in the beginning, but if I go too long without, I start to notice signs and start drinking.

So what results did I actually see following the ketogenic diet? Well…my abs started coming in, which was the goal, and I learned a ton about the diet. I did strict Keto for 5 weeks, and the physical changes were by far the best and easiest I’ve had than on other diets or by cutting calories alone. It really does help you feel full faster and longer which makes it a lot easier to eat less. At the end of the day it’s cutting calories that leads to weight-loss, not ketosis. It’s just a tool that helps. There are lots of reports of health benefits from both studies and people’s personal stories. Some of them being: increased energy, lower blood sugar, cognitive improvements, improved cholesterol, etc…Whether those are from ketosis, eating less, eating less carbs/sugar etc…I don’t think we know. Personally, I did not notice many of these things, I assumed that I already eat pretty well and low carb, so maybe I didn’t have much to gain in the areas of energy and lifting a brain fog. My blood sugar levels did drop and stayed around 85. The coolest thing that I noticed, was that I feel like I have less visceral fat (the fat around your organs) and my kidneys feel healthier. The best way to describe it is that there was a pretty constant pressure I had in my lower abdomen and occasional sharp pains in my kidney area and both went away completely. My last blood work results even showed that even though within “normal” range, some of my markers for kidney health were on the low and high end of things. Low carb diets are known to help burn visceral fat more than any other diet and too many carbs are a kidney killer, so that all makes sense. Even though my diet was pretty low carb before – compared to a SAD (standard American diet) – I feel like this goes to show that I still had some room for improvement, and that I may be sensitive to sugar. I personally think I may eat lower carb in general after this and possibly occasionally spend some time in ketosis for the possible health benefits, and to stay metabolically flexible but do not see it as being a way of life for me.

Some take-aways:

  • Not all Keto diets are created equal: Whole Food Keto trumps Versions of keto with lots of products (people just want your money) or processed foods (the sausage/bacon/artificial sweetener/cheese version)
  • Electrolytes are important! – seriously. Seriously seriously. Look into it.
  • Too many electrolytes all at once might make you shit yourself…learn from my unfortunate mistake
  • Ketosis does NOT equal weight loss. Eating less calories does. Keto helps with that.
  • Keto means you are burning fat for fuel…it doesn’t mean you need All.The.Fat. I eat more grams of protein than fat while doing keto. I don’t need MCT oil, butter coffee, or fat bombs to hit my fat intake. Just the oils I cook with, some nuts, avocado, olive oil based vinaigrettes and mayo sauces I make and the fat from the meat I eat get me there.
  • Give your body 4-6 weeks of strict keto to allow your body to get fat adapted
  • If you really want results, weigh, measure and track everything especially until you get the hang of it
  • Keto is not recommended if you are over-stressed, over-training, under-slept, or if you have thyroid issues. I’m not entirely sure why – but these things seem to make getting and staying in ketosis extra difficult and can be an extra stress on your already stressed body. And as always – ask your Dr. if you aren’t sure.

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