When you fall off the wagon, get back in

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I vanished. For that I apologize. What is even worse is that I disappeared several times and each time my return took longer and longer… But, when you fall off the wagon, you just need to get back in. So, without any excuses and over explaining, I will just jump back in full force and hope it sticks.

However, I am human and I know that it likely will not and we will do this again, but, this too is part of the journey. This is why it is hard. This is why most people fail. This is why some people have massive success and then relapse completely. It is no secret. It is just life…

So, lets start over, because at this point, that is the only thing that will help me; and I am willing to bet that I am not the only one.

So, whether you fell off the wagon or are just getting started, hopefully this will help:

What is Ketosis?

Ketosis is a natural metabolic state in which your body breaks down fat into free fatty acids (FFA’s) and ketones to use for energy. FFA’s and ketones always occur together, so by seeing more ketones in the body, it’s easy to say that your body is burning fat for fuel.

Now, your body can always burn FFA’s/ketones, just like it can always burn glucose (sugar broken down from carbohydrates)/fructose (sugar metabolized by the liver) or alcohol (also metabolized by the liver). Your body will burn whichever fuel is present, prioritizing those that would kill you if left in the blood stream (alcohol or glucose). Lyle McDonald explains fuel use in The Ketogenic Diet. Excess energy (from food) is stored until it’s needed. Keto can help you feel more satisfied, which means you take in less energy (and as consequence, use more stored energy).

Keeping carbs low helps regulate insulin levels, which can help avoid cravings and make it easier to eat less. It can also help regulate hormone levels. People with some illnesses (PCOS, metabolic syndrome, autoimmune/inflammatory issues) find symptoms improve while on keto.

Do Calories Matter?

Being in ketosis is not a magic trick for weight loss. Before your body burns stored energy it either uses or stores what you take in from your diet. Energy balance is more complex than a Math formula and biology works like biology. Being aware of how much you eat is important for weight loss because while it is nearly impossible to know exactly how much you are using, if your body is getting all of it’s energy from your diet, there is no need to break down stored fat. Keeping track of what you eat will also help you make sure you’re staying close to your targets and getting proper nutrition.

One side effect many people notice with keto is they are generally less hungry. This could be due to more consistent blood sugar levels or because fat is more satisfying. Many people find if they only eat when they are hungry and only enough to satisfy them (not eating until they are full) they have no problems losing weight. Some find it easy to keep up an intermittent fasting routine where they fast for a certain amount of time and only eat during a specific window.

What Do I Eat?

There is no set meal plan for keto. There are lots of recipes and almost endless possibilities of food combinations. The best way to know if what you’re eating is keto friendly is to look up the nutritional info and measure your portion accordingly. However, we understand a lot of people are overwhelmed by that so here is a quick guide:

Do Not Eat:

  • Grains – wheat, corn, rice, oats etc.
  • Sugar – honey, fruit, maple syrup, agave
  • Tubers – potato, yams, etc.

Eat:

  • Meats – fish, beef, lamb, poultry, eggs, whey protein powder
  • Leafy Greens – spinach, kale etc.
  • Above ground vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber etc.
  • High Fat Dairy – hard cheeses, high fat cream, butter
  • Nuts and seeds – sunflower seeds, almonds, pistachios etc.
  • Avacado and berries – both fruit, but they are high in fiber and low on the glycemic index (meaning they have little effect on blood sugar)
  • Other fats – mayo, high fat salad dressing, cream cheese and coconut oil are all generally ok, so long as you check the nutrition label.

If you are unsure, check the nutritional info and see how it fits with your plan.

A food scale and services like My Fitness Pal are useful for tracking what you are eating. The Keto Calculator will give you a range for where your targets should be. Keep in mind that your body needs adequate protein (for cellular repair and growth), low carbs (generally between 20 and 35g depending on activity level) and the rest of your calories should come from fat. Having a high calorie deficit may seem like the trick for losing weight fast, but it can lead to hunger, cravings, and having a harder time sticking to the diet.

As keto is generally diuretic, it’s also important to keep hydrated. Water, coffee, tea, and liquids from foods all help with this. Going through more water can also cause temporary electrolyte imbalances, so foods like celery, spinach and bone broth can be helpful. Some also find it useful to supplement with Lite Salt to get extra potassium.

Can I exercise on Keto?

Yes. Exercise is good for you for lots of reasons. Endurance training (running, cycling, walking) can be good for your heart and mobility. Resistance training like weight lifting or body weight training are good for your joints, posture and bone density. Being active is important for overall health. It may take some time for your body to adjust to being in ketosis under stress, but people have run marathons while on keto. This video is one experience with endurance and ketosis.

Common Issues on Keto

Time and time again we see the same issues come up in forums all over the internet:

  1. I cheated, now what – Get back on keto. It’s not the end of the world. You may find your weight goes up temporarily as your body retains water, you may find the scale goes down because you drop water. If you do see a drop in the scale please keep in mind that there is likely no metabolic or biological reason you dropped weight after a cheat. You didn’t suddenly lose more fat or trigger your metabolism, you just dropped water weight that would have happened on its own if you just stay patient.
  2. I’ve stalled, now what – First keep in mind that biology works like biology, not like math. The number on the scale only shows you your mass. It does not tell you how much of that mass is water, food, waste, muscle or fat. Many things can cause you to retain water – stress, exercise, lack of sleep, hormonal changes (especially important for women). Secondly keep in mind that weight loss is not always linear or consistent – it’s normal to go a few weeks with no change. On average people will lose 1-2lbs a week, but that doesn’t mean the scale will drop every week. Finally take measurements as well as tracking your weight, often there will be changes in size even without a change on the scale. If it has been over 6 weeks with no change at all it could be time to check how much you are eating and where your goals are.
  3. What about Cheat Days? In general the keto community treats a ketogenic diet like recovery from alcoholism or any other addiction. You wouldn’t find an AA meeting advocating having a drink because it’s your birthday or going on a bender because you’re on vacation. While some people are able to do that and get back on the wagon, many aren’t and we try to remember as a community we are only as strong as the weakest member. If you cheat once a week/month/year that is your choice, but please do not post/advocate this practice.
  4. Leg cramps/dizziness/heart rate/ other sudden issues If you think you are unhealthy, see your doctor. That aside, electrolyte imbalances can be behind a lot of these symptoms – try drinking some broth and eating more veggies. Many people refer to the “keto flu” when they start out – this is a general feeling of tiredness or lethargy that comes with starting keto – your body is expecting glucose for fuel and when it isn’t there it assumes you’re needing to rest and conserve energy. If you have any actual flu symptoms (runny nose, sore throat etc.) you’re likely actually sick.
  5. What Is PISS? – PISS stands for Post Induction Stall Syndrome. However, there is no induction, it’s not a stall and it’s only called that because it was a convenient way to explain the rapid drop of weight early in the diet and then a sudden tapering off. What actually happens is that your body uses up its glycogen stores (glucose stored in muscle). Every gram of glycogen is stored with 3-5 grams of water. Once the glycogen is used, the water is waste and your body drops it. What this can mean is that depending on your weight you have 5-10lbs of water (or more) in your muscles. During the first week of keto you drop that water which makes a huge difference on the scale. From then on, weight loss is generally much slower, averaging out to ~2lbs a week (or much less if you’ve got less weight to lose). Unless you are very obese you can expect to see a slowdown in weight loss during the first month. This is not a stall, or a syndrome, it’s just the effect of dropping water weight.
  6. What About 60/35/5 – You’ll find sometimes that the ratio of 60% caloric intake from fat, 35% caloric intake from protein and 5% caloric intake from carbohydrate. This is a simplified formula for a ketogenic diet, and for most people is oversimplified. Focusing on that “golden ratio” spurs a lot of “should I just eat tablespoons of coconut oil” posts – a method that isn’t helpful at all. Use the keto calculator to find your numbers – low carb, adequate protein and enough fat to keep you from being hungry. Also keep in mind that a day or two of decreased calories isn’t going to hurt you at all – your body adjusts easily to temporary fasts.
  7. I don’t like eggs/meat/butter/dairy/bacon/etc, can I still keto? – Yes. Aside from the broad guidelines stated above, there are no real “rules” so long as you’re low carb, adequate protein and getting the rest of your calories from fat. If it fits your numbers then you’re fine. Some drink coffee with butter and eat lots of bacon, some do vegetarian keto, some are dairy free. There are lots of options to suit any taste.
  8. What happens after keto? – Some people want to go off keto once they’ve reached their goal weight, others choose to stay on keto or take up a paleo/primal diet. One thing to keep in mind – if you go back to your old habits you will put on weight again. Period. If you are eating to excess you will store it as fat. If you keep your intake in check and are not insulin resistant, you may still notice an increase in weight because of glycogen stores refilling. Many people find they stick to keto or a grain free/low carb diet simply because it makes them feel better.

I hope that helps. It is how I plan on getting back on track. Keto on, my friends, and never give up hope!


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