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.
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.
|©2020 Margaret Schindel. All rights reserved.|
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.
- 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 well-being 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
This new series of posts about my keto diet and healthy lifestyle journey will reflect my personal experience, which has been extremely positive. It is not necessarily typical or indicative of how this dietary approach will work for, or affect, anyone else.
Similarly, I will be sharing some of the strategies and techniques that have helped me lose a significant amount of weight and remain committed to a healthy, low-carb approach to eating for the long term. It is my hope that others may find this information helpful. It is being offered with the caveat that what has worked well for me may not necessarily work well for someone else.
Anything I write in this or future posts is not intended, nor should it be construed, as a substitute for medical advice or medical treatment or an attempt to persuade other 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 by Margaret Schindel
Posts In This Series About My Keto Diet Journey
Reviews of the Keto Diet by Barbara C. (aka Brite-Ideas)
Read More Reviews About Health and Wellness by Our Review This Reviews Contributors
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