Thursday, June 4, 2020

My First Year on the Keto Diet

When I began my keto journey a year ago, on May 25, 2019, I could never have imagined how profoundly the ketogenic diet would transform my health and day-to-day life.
©2020 Margaret Schindel. All rights reserved.

Introducing My New Keto Review Series (By Popular Demand)

During the past 12 months, I've occasionally shared photos, progress updates, milestones, or musings about my new and evolving low carb lifestyle with family members, friends, and colleagues. I have been surprised and touched by the outpouring of encouragement, support, recognition and interest they have expressed regarding my ongoing keto journey

I have also received, and continue to get, numerous requests to share my advice, insights and tips for learning about, getting started with, and losing weight by following a ketogenic diet.

Last week, I celebrated my first “keto-versary,” and it seems a fitting time to launch my new series of posts in response to those requests. This first post is mostly designed to provide some context about how and why I made the commitment to completely change the way I eat for the foreseeable future. Future posts will get into more detail about the what, why and how of my experiences to day on the ketogenic diet.

What a Difference a Year Makes!

When I began this journey last May, I was an extremely sedentary, obese, 65-year-old, life-long carbohydrate junkie with the world's biggest sweet tooth.
Image of obese, middle aged woman
©2020 Margaret Schindel. All rights reserved.

I had less and less energy or enthusiasm for the activities, places and experiences that used to bring me joy. I had gained around 40 pounds in the 20 years since my wedding, and every time I looked in the mirror, all I could focus on seemed to be my disappearing waistline, softening jawline, and growing double chin.

When I walked for more than a couple of blocks, my feet became painfully swollen. The chronic lower back pain I had lived with since my early 20s was now joined by chronic joint pain in my right hip, knees and shoulders, and my doctors were increasingly concerned about my high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol level.

Now, one year later, I and am one year later, looking so much better, being so much healthier, and feeling more alive than I have in a very long time.

Switching From a Low Fat, High Carbohydrate Diet to a Keto Diet Has Improved My Appearance, Health, and Quality of Life

©2020 Margaret Schindel. All rights reserved.
The benefits I've experienced, thanks to my commitment to embrace this radically different approach to eating, have been nothing short of amazing.

When I look in the mirror, I see "the real me" again.

  • I have lost 56 pounds (to date).
  • I am leaner than I would have been if I had lost the same amount of weight on a higher-carb diet.
    • One of the key goals of the keto approach is becoming "fat-adapted," a metabolic adjustment that, among other things, makes your body very efficient at converting fat into ketones and using them as its preferred source of fuel (i.e., energy), and no longer defaulting to converting carbohydrates into glucose for quick access to fuel. (The article "What Does It Mean to Be Fat-Adapted" does a nice job of explaining this process and its significance in greater detail, in a way that's easy to understand.)
    • When someone becomes fat-adapted, the body uses more of the dietary fat they consume for short-term fuel, and there is less left over to be stored long-term as adipose tissue (i.e., body fat).
  • I have gone from wearing size 16-18 clothing to size 8.
  • I'm able to fit into (again) the handful of special outfits I've kept (for sentimental reasons) that date back to my 20s and early 30s, when I lived in New York City and work in retail fashion. Seeing myself wearing them again felt a bit surreal. Fortunately, my taste in clothing favors classic styles and fabrics. No one would guess they weren't new!
  • My hips are proportionally slimmer, so I no longer need go up a size when buying pants or slim skirts.
  • I'm able to wear leggings and a T-shirt out in public without feeling embarrassed.
  • Although I have always been fortunate to look significantly younger than my chronological age, several people have commented recently that I look significantly younger than I did a year ago.

I'm healthier, happier, and virtually pain-free.

  • I no longer have high blood pressure.
  • For the first time in my life, I’m actually looking forward to having a routine physical exam and getting my blood work done, so I can quantify other improvements in my health, such as lower cholesterol levels.
  • My chronic lower back, hip, knee and hip pain are gone, and my feet no longer become swollen and painful are a few short minutes of standing or walking.
    • This has begun to expand my horizons significantly, and allowed me to start being less sedentary, which has been one of my goals for a number of years.

      For example, two months ago, my husband surprised me with a pair of Segway Ninebot MiniPRO personal transporters that he had bought as our birthday gifts to each other this year. Now that the weather is finally becoming more spring-like here in New England, he and I have been having a blast riding them around our quiet and very pretty neighborhood for 20 to 25 minutes, two or three days a week. A year ago, my foot and knee pain would have prevented me from riding one for more than 3 or 4 minutes.


    I feel wonderful!

    • I have much more energy and enthusiasm.
    • I am once again finding joy, satisfaction and inspiration in the beauty of nature and in creative pursuits, such as designing and making one-of-a-kind jewelry making and new skills and techniques.
    • I am filled with more optimism and gratitude than I have felt in decades.
    • I am feeling proud of this major accomplishment, and have a newfound confidence in my ability to fully commit to, and follow through on, making positive, sustainable behavioral and lifestyle changes if I'm not happy with the way things are.

    The Medical Scare That Motivated Me to Get Serious About Losing Weight and Fat

    Last April, shortly after celebrating my 65th birthday, I experienced abnormal vaginal bleeding, the primary symptom of endometrial cancer. My doctors found several uterine polyps that my OB-GYN would need to remove surgically, in an operating room. After the operation, the polyps would be sent out for biopsy so she could determine whether they were benign, precancerous or cancerous.

    After asking a lot of questions and doing a lot of follow-up research online, I learned that I had several of the known risk factors for uterine cancer. I was over 50, had never been pregnant, was clinically obese, and had high blood pressure. My husband and I were terrified (especially since his older brother had passed away in his early 50s from colon cancer, which his primary care doctor had failed to diagnose correctly until my brother-in-law was in the late stages of the disease).

    Although I couldn’t do anything about the first two risk factors, my obesity and elevated blood pressure were within my control. I got serious about developing the habit of practicing meditation daily and committed myself to lose weight and, more importantly, body fat as quickly as possible, since fat tissues tend to produce excess estrogen, especially after menopause, increasing the risk of endometrial cancer for older, overweight women.

    Challenging My Outdated Preconceptions and Misinformed Prejudice Against Keto

    I’m old enough to have been around when Dr. Atkins launched The Atkins Diet. At the time, the program focused primarily on rapid weight loss rather than health. It promoted excessive consumption of red meat, including bacon cured with nitrates and other heavily processed foods, which caused kidney damage in many of the diet's early adopters. Vegetables were not emphasized in the early days, and the diet was so restrictive that it was unsustainable. Most people who followed it lost weight rapidly but also gained it back – and more. That had been my first – and only – introduction to a diet grounded in achieving and maintaining ketosis, and the original version of The Atkins Diet was met with universally critical reviews and warnings from medical and nutrition experts.

    When a couple of our family members decided to start following keto a few years ago, I was very concerned for their health and was extremely surprised when they not only lost a substantial amount of weight, but also lowered their blood pressure and bad cholesterol. After a bit of online research, I found out that although the Atkins Diet shares some similarities, it is by no means the same as the actual ketogenic diet, an eating strategy originally developed in the early 20th Century as a treatment for epilepsy that, more recently, has emerged as a potential treatment for autism spectrum disorder.

    Even so, I likely never would have considered trying the keto diet myself if I hadn’t discovered that that my excess fat had put me at significant risk for endometrial or uterine cancer, and been scared and desperate enough to look at all my options for getting rid of that dangerous blubber fast.

    Rethinking the Conventional Wisdom Around Healthy Approaches to Weight Loss

    My previous efforts at eating healthier and losing weight had been shaped by doctors’, nurses’ and nutritionists’ typical advice to eat a diet low in fat and high in nutritious complex carbohydrates, including whole, fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains, and consume significantly fewer calories than you burn. It wasn’t until I had been eating keto for several months that I understood that my mostly low-fat, high-carb diet was contributing to my weight gain, joint pain and high blood pressure, among other problems.

    Even after hearing my friends talk about the improvements to their health after following a keto diet for an extended period, I was still skeptical. Wishful thinking can have a powerful placebo effect. But after my conversations with my doctors about my elevated risk for endometrial or uterine cancer, my friends’ reports made me cautiously optimistic. But after reading, watching, and listening to reliable sources discussing the potential benefits and risks of following a ketogenic diet for certain individuals, but not for everyone, and supporting their claims and perspectives with scientific explanations and credible proof points, I finally decided that committing to this approach for 4–6 months might well be my best shot at getting rid of my dangerous, excess fat as quickly as possible. At that point, I could decide on a more nutritionally balanced and varied diet to maintain that weight loss long-term.

    It Wasn't Easy...

    I understood in advance that easing into this radically different way of eating a little at a time wasn't an option for someone with a longstanding addiction to sugar and refined carbohydrates. It would also be self-sabotaging, since my goal was to become fat-adapted as quickly as possible, which meant starting the process of severely restricting my carbohydrate consumption over a sustained period of time on Day One.

    The prospect of making a decisive, clean break from carbs was daunting, and preparing myself for this dramatic change—mentally, emotionally, environmentally and socially—was one of the keys to making that transition successfully.

    The first few months were certainly challenging, as I knew they would be. There was a huge learning curve and a lot of contradictory information and passionate opinions about the "right" or "wrong" ways to follow the keto diet. I was confused by jargon like "macros" and "net carbs," didn't understand the concept of the three primary macros as targets, levers or limits, and had no idea how to calculate them initially or adjust them as I lost weight. (If all this sounds like a foreign language—or even advanced calculus—never fear. I'll explain them as simply and straightforwardly as I can in a future post in this series.)

    Curbing my cravings for bread, rolls, pasta, cookies, cakes, and other favorite foods that were high in carbs or otherwise incompatible with my new keto lifestyle took time and effort. So did finding healthy, low-carb, keto-friendly alternatives for some of my favorite baked goods that also tasted good, and safe, healthier, low-carb alternatives to artificial sweeteners like Splenda (sucralose) and Equal (aspartame) that didn't leave a bad aftertaste or cause gastric distress. (I had used these sweeteners for decades, unaware of their potential effects on insulin levels, blood sugar levels, cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure, among other things.)

    But It Was Absolutely Worth It.

    Making a commitment to following a ketogenic diet turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. The dramatic, positive improvements to my health, happiness and overall sense of wellbeing have been been so profound that for me, keto has become a long-term lifestyle choice, rather than a diet.

    Paying It Forward

    Although the initial impetus for starting this new series was the ongoing requests for me to write in greater detail about my experiences to date on the ketogenic diet, I also wanted to express my gratitude to the friends who inspired and encouraged me to join them on this journey of transformation by paying it forward.

    One of the people who ultimately inspired me to take the plunge, and who continues to be my biggest cheerleader, is my very dear friend and fellow Review This Reviews contributor Barbara C. (aka Brite-Ideas). Barbara's keto journey began on May 4, 2019, three weeks before mine. As of her one-year keto anniversary four weeks ago, she had lost approximately 60 pounds, virtually eliminated the formerly frequent, extremely painful flare-ups triggered by Rheumatoid Arthritis, and won her "mind-over-body battle" to remain committed to the ketogenic way of eating. I highly recommend Barbara's first annual review of her weight loss progress on keto as well as her personal keto testimonial from two months earlier to anyone who is interested in reading an inspiring weight loss success story.

    Your Mileage May Vary

    My new series of reviews about my personal experience with keto will be just that: my personal experience, which has been extremely positive but is not necessarily typical or indicative of how this dietary approach will affect anyone else. Similarly, although I plan to share some of the strategies and techniques that have helped me lose weight and remain committed to this dietary lifestyle and hope that others may find this type of information helpful, what has worked well for me may not also work well for someone else.

    Anything I write in this or future posts is not meant, nor should it be construed, as a substitute for medical advice or medical treatment or an attempt to persuade individuals to follow a low carb or ketogenic lifestyle. I disclaim any and all liability of any kind with respect to any act or omission, wholly or in part, in reliance on anything contained in this and future posts about the keto diet.

    I have neither medical or nutritional education, training, professional experience, credentials or other qualifications to offer advice or opinions regarding the safety or advisability of following a ketogenic diet for any individual. You should consult with a healthcare professional before starting any diet, exercise or supplementation program, before taking any medication, or if you have or suspect you might have a health problem.


    My First Year on the Keto Diet reviewed by
    Margaret Schindel


    Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article. “As an Amazon Associate I (we) earn from qualifying purchases.”


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    20 comments:

    1. Well done on your Keto-versary, I'm glad that you've found a lifestyle that suits you so well.

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    2. Oh Margaret, I so want to start this diet as well. Is there a particular book that you recommend? I have tried reading The Plant Paradox, and Dr. Gundry's Leaky Gut. I'm sure that Keto would be the way to go for me. I need all the help I can get to start and continue because my health requires that something must change and my diet will be the first.......

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      1. Olivia, maybe start by asking to join the Keto Canada Facebook Group - You can read posts there and get inspired by all the members stories. If you have a cell phone, download the App "Carb Manager" - then start playing with that, reading, learning to see if it's for you.

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      2. Olivia, unfortunately, I don't have any books about getting started on keto, since I didn't read any. I will be sharing other helpful resources such as YouTube channels and websites in future posts, and I definitely second Barbara's recommendations to download the Carb Manager app (I couldn't have done this without it!) and to join a good Facebook Keto support group, such as the one she recommended. It can be confusing and overwhelming to get started, and I highly recommend starting as simply as you can, at least for the first few weeks, planning your meals a week in advance, and removing temptation by cleaning out your fridge, pantry and freezer before you start. (My husband keeps his cookies, bread, etc., in a cabinet above the fridge where I don't see them and would need to stand on a step stool to reach them!) This "Start Keto" section of the Wholesome Yum site is one of the more helpful, easy to understand online guides I can recommend. https://www.wholesomeyum.com/low-carb-keto-diet-plan-how-to-start-a-low-carb-diet/ And, of course, you've got friends like us who are happy to help and support you, too!

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      3. Thank you so much, I have downloaded the Carb Manager app already. Will look into the FB group as well, thank you Barbara and Margaret for your additional help. Don't be surprised to see a few DM's from me in the future!

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    3. Wow, Margaret, what an inspiring story. I'm so glad you have adapted to your new lifestyle, and the results have paid off for you. You look amazing so keep up the good work.

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      1. Thank you, Sam! I appreciate the lovely compliment and support, my friend.

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    4. Terrific to see in your photos and read in your review how successful the Keto diet has been for you. Well done. I look forward to more updates as I once again re-think my thoughts about beginning the Keto diet myself.

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      1. Thanks so much, Elf! I was so dead-set against keto for so long because I thought it was the same thing as the old Atkins Diet, and I was determined to lose this weight in a healthy way. Taking the time to educate myself better about what a ketogenic diet is, and how to make healthy choices and tailor it to what works for me, made a huge difference. Please feel free to ask questions - I'm happy to answer, if I can.

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    5. Very inspiring. I am in the spot where you were a year ago. I really need to consider this. Thanks so much for your insight

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      1. Thank you, Mary Beth! I'm so glad to hear that sharing my experience is helping to inspire you and others. That was my goal - paying it forward for the inspiration and encouragement that people like Barbara gave me when I needed it most.

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    6. You have always been beautiful Margaret whether now or 50lbs heavier, but I am thrilled to hear that you feel better. That is huge!!! Being able to enjoy physical activity is fabulous and I am so very happy for you. Both you and Barbara are an inspiration. I am impressed by the determination and commitment you have both exhibited. I loved the video on the transporter, as well as the collage of photos showing off your lovely figure. Congratulations my friend! Stay healthy

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      1. Thank you so much for your lovely compliments, encouragement, and support, dear friend! After having tried and failed for so long to commit to eating healthier, losing weight and becoming more active, discovering that I can commit to, and follow through on, major changes and break lifelong habits, even at this age, has been a truly life-changing gift!

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    7. WOW you look amazing!! Incredible change! Watching you on the Segway was a treat, what fun. Would love to try that too. The fact that your health has improved doesn't surprise me, but it is rather shocking isn't it?? Thank you for mentioning my article; very sweet as usual Margaret - you are a kind and generous soul. Love you. Your weight loss has been substantial as well. When you mentioned how people comment on how much younger you look - it's true. You don't look your age at all - 45 maybe. I get the same thing from people - most don't believe my age, and I love it :) - I found out that any sweeteners were causing me gastric issues, so I've completely cut them out. I know you struggle with a sweet tooth, and I know you know that's not one of my battles - thank goodness, because otherwise cutting sweeteners out would be difficult. So sorry about the cancer scare you had as well - hubby must have been so worried. I honestly believe that sugar is just a terrible thing especially with cancer (feeds the cancer or something, or so I read). Healthy sugars, ok, to a limit of course, but sweets..nope. I'll venture a guess that you feel 'lighter' - that's what I'm loving the most about Keto weight loss - I feel small. Today I bought two tops, size small. Oh, and the common thing many Keto peeps find is the fantastic no-carb-reflection face hahaha - man that's the best. Excellent article, and I feel so happy for you, for both of us. You've worked so hard and I think had it tougher because you had to adapt for your sweets passion. Feeling good is what keeps me on this way of eating - I don't eat the wrong things because I'm determined to continue to feel amazing. The difference is dramatic in a year. You look sooooo good!!!!!!! - excuse the rambling thoughts here - just typing what I'm thinking as I'm thinking :) - Here's a toast to our new way of life "cheers my friend, love you"

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      1. Barbara, my dear, dear friend and inspirational keto muse, if it hadn't been for you, I'm not sure I ever would have taken the plunge into the keto pool, so to speak. I owe you more than I can every express! Joining you in that toast, Barb - let's raise our glasses (of water, lol) to healthier, happier, and zestier "living our best lives!" XOXOXOXOXO

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    8. Margaret, congratulations, this is fabulous. I share a lot if your story because I “did” the Atkins Diet years ago and have been so skeptical of keto. After reading your article, I am ready to hit the keto way of eating. I have a huge problem with the sweets so will need to focus on that. I look forward to your articles and again, congrats����

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    9. Sally, I’m so glad you found my first post in this series helpful! Keto isn’t the best choice for everyone, and I would encourage anyone considering it to discuss it with their primary care physician. But it has been a blessing for me. Similarly, I’ve figured out through experimentation, trial and error what does and doesn’t work best for me, and I think that’s true for most people who find long-term success with this approach to eating. I’m looking forward to sharing what has been helpful for me, and hope it is helpful for you and others, too. Thanks again for your lovely feedback!

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    10. Congratulations on your successful weight loss journey Magaret! I just started this keto way of living a week ago, after my daughter lost 30 pounds, and kept after me to try it! Like you, I was so addicted to carbs and sugar, I kept telling myself there was no way i could cut all of that out! Well,I quit them cold Turkey a week ago..and I can tell you that I already notice a huge difference in the way I feel! I have a very long way to go, but I'm determined! There is still a lot I don't understand, and need some really good recipes..because I'm having a hard time coming up with dinner ideas, but seeing so many people benefit from this was of living..gives me a lot of hope. Thsnk you very much for sharing your journey! Kim

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    11. Kim, congratulations on making and following through on this commitment to your health and wellbeing! You’ve already got the most important key to success on your side - determination and commitment. I’ll also be sharing some of the keto recipe sites, cookbooks baking mixes, ingredients and sweet treats that have helped to make this way of eating not just sustainable but also pleasurable. Stay tuned, and again, congrats on taking such a positive step! Glad you’re already feeling better after such a short time. ❤️

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