I put on a few pounds while taking grad school courses and working full-time in a hospital (and blogging, and engaged in activities around my business). I was putting in way too many hours in front of a computer, and I became really fatigued. Now, I’ve taken a break from grad school for various reasons, but in general, the timing wasn’t right as I have too many irons in the fire. I apparently haven’t quite neurohacked my way into being a superwoman who didn’t need sleep, downtime, and sufficient fitness time and playtime.
I started to increase my activity and kept my eating lean and clean, but couldn’t break the plateau. Although I wasn't a huge carb-eater, I did eat brown rice, rice crackers, and juices. These are considered healthy foods, but it's still a lot of simple carbs when you want to stay lean. I was ready to eliminate most of the remaining sugars and simple carbs from my diet, so I decided to go with a ketogenic diet to kickstart my new lifestyle. Ketosis works by eliminating glycogen storage (from not eating carbs) and then your body starts to burn fat for fuel instead.
Ketogenic diets have been around a long time, but originally was used to treat epilepsy. The ketogenic diet is very helpful for many people with seizure disorders, but not all. A significant body of research has been growing since the 1920's supporting the benefits of being in a state of ketosis. I'm providing a link just below from Nature magazine on the numerous health benefit derived from the ketogenic diet including neurocognitive benefits, but I am also self-reporting that I do feel mentally clearer and have not experienced any severe migraines on this diet and I feel my mental energy has been great, even during the early stages of while feeling muscle fatigue.
Giving up the relatively small amounts of simple carbs I was eating was a real challenge for the first week, but I got over the hump and the carb cravings went away. I did this for 3.5 weeks and broke my plateau with the loss of a few pounds, which is a noticeable difference in a petite woman with a goal of 6-9 lbs of weight reduction. I didn’t follow any specific prescribed plan, but I have done ketosis in the past with success. I was eating eggs, fish, nuts, leafy greens and delicious treats like avocado and I devoured organic humus as a dip for raw veggies. I was eating only 20-30 non-vegetable carbs a day, and even my vegetable choices were keto-friendly (as in no tomatoes or carrots). After 3 weeks, I started to introduce more carbs. After 4-5 weeks and 5 lbs weight loss, I'm now up to 100-150 net carbs a day.
Ketosis is a little challenging for me since I am already on a fairly limited diet and I almost never eat meat other than fish. Most people seen to stay in ketosis by loading up on meat. I was eating fish, eggs, and nuts and after a week or two, I was sick of fish, eggs, and nuts. I did experience a huge decrease of appetite on this diet which is the side benefit of doing this. When you do keto, you go into a fat-burning state and lose some of your appetite and cravings too!
To monitor my ketogenic state, I used ketogenic test strips to test my urine and I managed my status pretty well that way (they are found at drug stores). I noticed I went out of ketosis once when I had fish in a Thai curry sauce, so I held off on that indulgence until I switched to a more moderate low carb diet. It takes one cheat to throw you off, but once in ketosis, those little setbacks only throw you off for about day. That was by having a little curry sauce that probably had some sugar in it, but a full-on sugar laden dessert would have been a bigger setback. The keto strips keep you from fooling yourself.
I did experience the side effect of muscle fatigue with the ultra-low carbs (when I was in a strict ketogenic state), but I did have plenty of mental energy and those carb/sugar crashes are a thing of the past. As I mentioned, I didn't follow a prescribed plan, but I had a solid idea of the do's and don'ts from previous experiences. Now on the low carb lifestyle, I have mountains of energy, no muscle fatigue, and overall better mental clarity than I did in the afternoon when I was eating more carbs. I’m also only 2-3 pounds away from my ideal weight and I’ve gained a bit of muscle lately as well. Since I attained the goal I had to break my plateau, and because I am continuing to lose with low carbs, plenty of exercise and staying in the right mind-set with self-hypnosis, I have stopped ketosis, but can return to it if I get stuck again. The low carb diet that I live on now is not a "diet" in terms of a temporary activity, but I have incorporated it into my long-term eating behaviors. This is combined with my existing lifestyle of no gluten, no dairy, very rare meat other than fish, no processed foods, and lots of fresh vegetables. And remember, you don't have to be perfect at any diet, but once it's a habit and a lifestyle it's easier to maintain.
This article is not meant to serve as medical advice or recommendation, but to share my personal experiences. Ketosis is not safe for everyone as some health conditions may prohibit it, so check with your doctor before trying any new diet. Ketosis is challenging to attain, and it is considered to be severe carbohydrate elimination. However, low-carb diets are not as extreme, but it is always good to consult a medical professional. Also note, that I have bloodwork done from time-to-time to assure I am not anemic or having any other nutrient deficiencies. In addition, I do some supplementation and I always include B12 due to not eating meat.