Four Weeks of the Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet is one that strikes up debate among those into health and fitness fanatics but also the medical world due to its origins in epilepsy treatment. I looked into the keto diet (KD) for my studies and at the same time partook in the diet myself and thought I’d let you all know how it went.

What is the ketogenic diet in a nutshell? Basically, it’s a high fat, low carb diet that puts the body into what is called “ketosis” where more ketones a produced which encourages the body to use its own fat as an energy source. It has been used for weight loss but is also a diet of choice for a number of gym and fitness types.

Ketogenic diet

The fats need to be healthy fats - avocados, nuts, eggs, cheeses, oils, salmon, mackerel, pork belly and so on. Ideally meats and dairy need to come from organic sources.

KD was derived from fasting as a treatment for people with epilepsy and was incredibly restrictive (as medical approaches to ketosis are) in its early stages and has developed over the years to have a number of different approaches.

There are 4 types of KD out there that you can do. The ones that I did not even consider for myself were;

· Classic KD – Fat 90%, protein 6% & Carbs 4%

· MCT KD (done when introducing MCT oil to a diet) – Fat 73%, Protein 10% & carbs 17%

· Low glycaemic index treatment – Fat 60%, protein 30% & carbs 10%

Ketogenic diet types
Image credit: Ketogenic dietary therapies in adults with epilepsy: a practical guide. Schoeler and Cross

Classic KD was developed to treat epilepsy and is incredibly restrictive, needing a diet to be 90% fat does not sound like something even remotely achievable to be me. LGIT sounds close but after recording my eating on My Fitness Pal I realised that the below version of KD is what I was hitting…

The MAD (Modified Atkins Diet) is the “branch” of ketogenic diets that I have been doing for 4 weeks leading up to time off it and writing. This branch of the diet is 65% fat, 35% protein and 5% carbs.

To put some context into this, I’m a relatively healthy, relatively fit man of 35 carrying some stubborn fat around my waist and I have tried a “dirty keto” diet in the past but as mentioned this time I tracked my food intake on My Fitness Pal and have ensured that my grams of carbs are under 50g per day, once you consider the “net carbs” (subtracting the fibre) which the app doesn’t do it would be much lower than 50.

The experience for me up to the 4-week mark has been mostly positive but there have been some bumps along the way. As I went into ketosis there were days when I forgot to replenish my electrolytes and this led to lightheadedness and struggles with muscle cramps while running, especially in my calves.

There have been times when I’ve known I’m feeling dehydrated and times when I’ve known what I need to eat. I have been able to create enjoyable meals and enjoyable snacks however there have been times when I have missed getting a take away or having a treat with absolutely no worries.

I then came of the KD for a few weeks, at the point of writing this I have been off the diet for a couple of weeks and am about to get back on it tomorrow. I graduated back into carbs but there was one day I hit carbs hard; porridge for breakfast, toast for lunch and pizza for dinner and I didn’t care about what snacks I had. I felt so sluggish, tired, lethargic and bloated. When in ketosis and consuming very few carbs I felt like my tummy and torso was just smaller and I felt far more comfortable.

Going forward, I have ordered MCT oil (I’m dubious about this but giving it a try) and have ordered some keto snacks from Holland and Barrett and I’ve learned some lessons from my first attempt as to what to eat and what to avoid. The way I like to think of it is a have 50G of carbs to spend a day and if I want to have a pint at the pub – great and fine but that means I’ll probably have about 30G’s left for food so it makes you use those grams wisely!

Is it sustainable? Some will say yes – like Joe Rogan, but really it’s all about what works for the individual. I don’t think I could maintain it as a full time diet because I enjoy social eating and drinking and it really puts a dampener on that for me. That said it certainly something I’m thinking of doing a month on and a month off or something along those lines.

The jury, for me, is very much out on the ketogenic diet however I can firmly state that eating fewer carbs makes me feel great, so much better than my default setting with carbs!