Absolutely the right choice (December Reflections 15)

Today’s prompt is: Best Decision of 2019

It was about this time last year when Mr L raised the subject of the Keto dietary regime and asked if we might try it once we arrived home in the spring. I was somewhat aghast – it sounded cranky and extreme but he told me of one of his online contacts who swore by it as a method of weight loss. Reluctantly, I agreed. There was no doubt at all that after a winter in the van we both needed to shed some weight.

It turned out to be not just the best decision of my year but almost certainly one of the best decisions that I ever made. Okay, it wasn’t really my decision, I just agreed to be supportive and go along with it but that too is some kind of decision isn’t it?

I don’t plan to be boring here and offer endless detail. Let us keep matters brief.

Not heard of Keto? The Ketogenic diet is not just another weight loss regime, It is possible to lose weight on Keto and it seems to help a lot of people who cannot lose weight and keep it off on other diets but weight loss may not be the primary goal. It is possible to gain weight.

Keto is essentially a Low Carbohydrate/High Fat diet, that also includes a moderate amount of Protein. For weight reducers this point about Protein intake can be crucial.

Restricting Carbohydrate intake forces the body to find its energy from another source and in this case, that source is Fat. lots and lots of fat. That’s counter-intuitive to most of us who were brought up on the advice that fat is bad… and this is why I thought the regime to be cranky.

So, we read up on Keto and slowly I began to understand. I was attracted to the notion that it is possible to turn one’s body into a “lean, mean, fat-burning machine” – who wouldn’t be!

I am the first to confess that the reading didn’t really help much and really only served to confuse. It doesn’t help that there are many ways to approach low-carb diets. Keto is thought to be extreme because it restricts daily Carbohydrates to 20 or 30 grams. Context? A single white bread roll will give you 30 to 35 grams of carbs.

Yes. Chew on that for a few moments before reading on…

Not being the kind to be doing things by halves, last February we shopped on our way home on our last day of our winter trip and we shopped for Keto. As soon as we stepped in the door we went onto a maximum of 20 grams (net) carbs a day.

It went very well indeed. It turns out that the regime is nowhere near as extreme as we might have imagined. We ate good healthy fresh food and we did not go hungry.

Bread, Pasta, Rice, Potatoes and Sugar are all completely off the agenda on Keto so we had to learn to substitute for those. In came the humble Cauliflower, which makes a very good substitute for mash and for rice.

The hardest part for me was to give up those things that we have always considered to be healthy, such as (many) fruits and fruit juice. Many vegetables are also off limits – typically any grown above ground are fine but those that grow underground are not as these are starchy and sugary… so, no parsnips!

Completely counter-intuitively for those of us who have been trying to lose weight all of our lives is the need to consume fat. “Good fats” such as naturally pressed oils are easy to make sense of but butter? Lard? CREAM? Who would have guessed! The other side of the coin is that those vegetable oils that we have been led to believe are healthy, are actually bad for us – that’s the chemically processed oils. It’s not a cheap diet – compare the price of a nice virgin olive oil against a processed sunflower and you will get my drift. One cost-reducing part is of course the “moderate protein” element. Typically we eat 100 to 125 grams of protein so we aren’t spending a great deal on meat. Also Keto recommendations would have us eat the fattier cuts of meat i.e. the cheaper ones. It turns out that excess protein can be turned into calories under certain conditions so too much meat is bad if you are trying to lose weight. The fat is necessary for energy and to help you to feel full…

True enough, we never get hungry on Keto and we never feel tired. In fact, we find that we have bags of energy to spare. Over a period of weeks we found that we were consuming less food and we naturally drifted into eating just one meal a day.

So, why was it a good decision?

Well, we both lost lots of weight, and with speedy results. That was our initial aim. It isn’t why I think it was a great decision for me though.

There were other benefits and effects and they were ones that I had been completely unexpecting. The boost in energy was a fantastic side effect but I also found general health benefits. After 25 years of suffering from IBS, it went. Just disappeared, effectively overnight. I had been having frequently occurring three-day migraines over a similar period of time. They have also disappeared. Even my asthma cleared up. The general aches and pains in my joints went too and I quickly found myself moving more freely and with no pain.

Keto has changed my life.

I acknowledge that Keto is basically a form of exclusion diet. With no sugar in my diet and no refined flour it is impossible to know whether that exclusion has been the miracle worker rather then the low-carb lifestyle itself but without consciously “doing Keto” I wouldn’t have made the exclusions so Keto gets the credit as far as I am concerned.

That’s the prompt answered.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to say that we have not stuck to Keto conscientiously and continuously since last February. Our nomadic habit makes the regime challenging and we have on our various trips thrown the baby out with the bathwater and said “blow it, we will be good when we get home again.” So, weight has fluctuated but the trend remained downward for the biggest part of the year. (The header image of my weight loss data is not up to date but is the most recent that I have available to me at this time. It illustrates the point at least.)

For the most part my health has remained better and has not suffered for the frequent diet breaks. If I do too many carbs then my joints do ache. I don’t have a clear picture of whether it is carbs per se or specifically wheat flour or refined sugar at fault, I just know that when I reduce carbs again, then the pain goes away,

Most interestingly for me, even with frequent falls from the carb wagon, my migraines have stayed away and so has the IBS. I’d call that a result.

Our current trip is likely to exceed three months in duration and encompasses a birthday, our Wedding Anniversary and the festive season. We have been eating and drinking a lot of bad stuff and our weight is rising rapidly I think (no scales on board to keep an eye on things). I know that I do not feel so good as I did. I have less get up and go. My joints hurt. I actually cannot wait to knuckle down to Keto again once we reach home.

I think that I have sufficient experience now to have learned my lesson. It is unlikely that I will fall quite so far from the wagon on any future trips. Maybe next year’s “Best Decision” will turn out to have been deciding to stick to the regime through thick and thin. Do I have that level of willpower? We shall have to wait and see.

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