When I was a teenager, I pumped iron for hours on end, dreaming of looking like Arnold Schwartzenegger. To add mass, I took whatever rudimentary supplements were available in the late ‘80s and ate everything in sight, and I still struggled to gain weight. That changed shortly after I turned 30, and by the time I reached 45, it was time to reset the clock.
The keto diet worked for me in a big way, because I saw results quickly, while still eating most everything I wanted to eat. I’m not a dietician or a physician – I barely passed Biology 101 in college – so I’m not an expert, but I wanted to share my story, in case it can help someone else.
Shortly after I turned 30, I hit the 200-pound mark that had eluded me for so long. That probably would have been a decent weight for me, but I kept going, adding about two pounds per year. I was still in the gym four or more times per week, and I wasn’t eating any more than normal. The weight just kept coming, until I hit my all-time high of 232. At that point, I began to count calories, and that helped me get to a steady range of 220 to 225 pounds.
A lot of that weight was muscle, but I also had a mid-section that definitely wasn’t muscle. I reasoned that I could probably lose ten or so pounds, if I cut back on calories, but I wasn’t willing to drink light beer and watch my diet that closely. Unfortunately, I needed to do something.
Readers of this blog know that I have extremely weak legs, due to a reaction to a polio vaccine. I rely on strong arms to get me out of a chair or bed, and if I fall on the ground, I can’t get up with just my legs. Plus, years of limping around awkwardly have inflamed and tightened my joints. Because of this, I feel every extra pound.
Shortly after my son left for college in 2017, I suffered a couple of falls, and for most of that summer, I could barely walk and was in pain when I did, so I decided to do something about it.
My wife also wanted to lose weight, and in spite of a relatively healthy diet and regular exercise, neither of us could shed the unwanted pounds, so we started to look at what we were eating. That’s when we discovered that what we thought was healthy eating was actually what kept us from losing weight.
As an example, my breakfast typically consisted of a bowl of cereal and a glass of orange juice. I always thought that was a healthy alternative to eggs and bacon. What I didn’t realize was that meal was full of carbohydrates, as was my mid-morning snack of a banana. While there are benefits to these foods, they are also loaded with sugar, which packs on the pounds.
Similarly, my wife liked to snack on apples, pineapple, grapes and wheat crackers. Conventional wisdom had us thinking that those were healthy snacks, and they can be if you eat them occasionally, but they are also full of natural sugars and carbohydrates. When you add pastas, breads, potatoes and other carb-heavy foods on top of this, you are giving your body more carbohydrates than it can handle, and it turns those carbs into fat.
I don’t want to get into the science of ketogenic eating, because I would probably misconstrue it. The basic premise is that you burn fat instead of carbohydrates when you limit the carbs in your diet, and I am proof. A couple of months after starting the diet, I had lost 15 pounds. A year after that, I was down another 15 pounds, and that’s where I’ve hovered for the past six months, right around 190.
I worried that my high-fat diet would have negative impacts on my cholesterol and other labs, but I just had my annual physical, and everything came back great. Plus, losing 30 pounds has made getting around much easier, and my joint pain is almost completely gone.
This is how I did it.
I generally avoid cereals, breads, pastas, potatoes and other carb-heavy foods. This was a big change for me, since I grew up in rural Nebraska on a meat and potatoes diet. Most meals included some kind of starch. If it wasn’t potatoes, there was pasta or bread on the plate. Even rice contains a lot of carbohydrates. Now, I eat hamburgers without the bun, and pile taco meat on avocadoes. If I want to do a stir fry, I substitute riced cauliflower for rice, and I discovered that I really didn’t need potatoes with my steaks.
I eat a lot of fats, and some of them are healthy. Fat makes us feel full, which keeps us from eating carb-heavy foods. Instead of cereal for breakfast, I eat two eggs, Canadian bacon, Greek yogurt and half of an avocado. Lynda and I also scramble eggs with peppers, onions, salmon and cream cheese, throwing in some diced avocado after it’s cooked.
Before I head to the gym for my noon workout, I eat a handful of nuts. Lunch is typically spinach topped with tuna and cottage cheese. I top my salad with ranch or whatever dressing sounds good and sunflower seeds, but not croutons.
Dinner typically consists of grilled or roasted meats and vegetables. We use flavored oils, like sesame, siracha and avocado, for roasting or stir-frying vegetables. We eat salmon for dinner at least twice weekly. Other dinners center around pork, chicken breasts and steak. If we want something sweet for dessert, we’ll eat a small amount of blueberries and blackberries with some whipped cream that we make without sugar.
I switched from PBR to light beer, and was thrilled to learn that bourbon and most spirits contain no carbs. It’s sodas and pre-made mixes that we add to our cocktails that make them heavy on carbs. Just be careful with the drinks. I learned that you lose tolerance with pounds.
Exercise is important, especially on those days when you slip on our diets and maybe eat a piece of cake or a slice of pizza. Exercise helps you burn those extra carbs and keep your heart healthy while you’re eating bacon, eggs and other foods that make cardiologists cringe.
Consistency is also important. You can’t get into ketosis by doing it part-time. That means that you must push through the urge to quit, especially early on while you’re switching your body’s energy source from carbohydrates to ketones. During this transition, you will probably feel less energetic and experience cravings for carb-heavy foods. This is commonly referred to as keto flu. Just remember that it’s only temporary, and the benefits are worth pushing through.
Lastly, do some research online for recipes and ideas, and consult with your physician, if you have concerns about how the diet might impact your health.