Notice to Keto Diet Beginners: Does Keto Live Up to the Hype?

For all the keto diet beginners out there, please note – your mileage may vary, but changing how I eat has changed my life. After 14 years of pain, this summer I reclaimed my youth and I feel like a new man. Life is more fun, my mood is better, the future is brighter – and the process didn’t suck.

Does the keto diet live up to the hype? Should you even try it?

Background

The pain began after I returned from a deployment to Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Nothing in particular that happened over there triggered my pain. The source of my pain was linked to strength imbalances and bad biomechanics.

I had just turned 21 years old and I was extremely active. I loved playing sports. Then something weird happened.

After playing a game of flag football, I returned back to my room on the second floor of my unit’s barracks – but I could hardly make it up the stairs.

Two nights later, following another game, the same thing happened. I had to keep my legs straight and use my arms to pull myself up the stairs. I had just been sprinting around a field chasing and being chased by other Marines! Now I was concerned and scheduled a medical appointment.

Physical therapy, shoe inserts, and mass amounts of stretching were prescribed and dutifully used with some relief achieved. However, every time I tried to get back to my physical peak, I was quickly reminded that aching joints were going to sideline me after a few days.

I was crushed. After the Marine Corps, I gave my dream of playing college football a shot, making it a semester before daily icing and spending hours with the athletic trainers was no longer cutting it.

I wanted to have kids one day and give them everything I had, so I thought if I saved my body from wear and tear, I’d have a body capable of being the dad I wanted to be.

Except things continued to degenerate as the years wore on. I now had the children I had envisioned. However, I also had trouble walking up the handicapped ramp at work. Physical therapy helped me clear that hurdle and eventually I left to pursue other work.

I was logging long hours behind a laptop studying and working. I was able to give my kids some of what I had dreamed of, but never all that I wanted to give.

Working with The Epoch has some serious perks. One perk is that I’m constantly listening to some of the best speakers in the world who carry amazing messages on a variety of topics. By Memorial Day weekend, about 14 years after knee/hip/foot/back/joint pain began, I had heard enough. I had reached a point where if I went up and down the stairs in my home an extra couple times a day, I was paying dearly for it.

I believed that my body was capable of healing itself and knew that I desired for it to happen. But through some of the messages I had heard, I began to wonder if I was giving myself a chance. Had I been sabotaging myself this whole time?

I was about to turn 35 and my weight, blood pressure, and resting heartbeat were at all-time highs.

Within a month of changing how I ate, going keto and intermittent fasting 16+ hours a day, I noticed a radical change. With my children out of school for the summer, I decided to put my body to the test and do full-body workouts with them Monday through Friday.

Things were going great. The only problem was that in the back of my mind, I had been here before. I had tried to get my body back in the past, making great gains until all of a sudden the pain would return. I was ready for the proverbial rug to be pulled out from underneath me, again.

That fear has yet to be realized. While it can be hard to undo the mental and spiritual damage caused by 14 years of pain and failed beliefs that I thought I possessed, I now truly own the beliefs I thought I subscribed to and my subconscious mind is tuned to recognize and pursue paths that lead me towards what I desire.

Some people hate leg day. Now I love it. I love running stadium steps with my children and flipping tractor tires across football fields. I love coaching youth sports and not just describing proper techniques, but demonstrating them as well. And now I can do it – without pain or fear of pain. I am back – and getting better than ever!

My body isn’t yet back in perfect shape. I’m not moving to Japan to address their ninja labor shortage because I still sound a bit like crispy rice in milk when I walk up the stairs, snapping, cracking, popping.

But I feel so much better and I vastly prefer what I see in the mirror now to what I saw before. I find that life is better when I don’t have to muster up all my might to bend over to tie my shoes.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” – Hippocrates

Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, had good insight thousands of years ago. Yet while modern physicians swear by the Hippocratic Oath, nutrition is a category in which many western physicians get very little training.

In western medicine, the human body is often treated like it’s the sum of its mechanical parts. Yet the human body is a superorganism – a living community – not a machine.

Hippocrates was on to something. The question to you is, “Which way do you go?”

This is a keto diet beginners article, but is keto for you?

There are no carb, low carb, and slow carb diets that address WHAT you eat. There are also diets that address WHEN you eat. Variations of intermittent fasting include fasting for a day or two a week, fasting for a number of hours daily, or simply eating one meal a day (OMAD).

Even with the keto diet itself, there are variations: clean keto, dirty keto, modified keto, and of course the standard keto diet, among others.

An unreasonably brief explanation of each diet:

  • No Carb: If you eat carbohydrates, you fail.
  • Low Carb: Limiting carbs to an extent.
  • Slow Carb: Choosing carbs that are low on the glycemic index and spike insulin less.
  • 5/2 IF: Fasting from food on two, nonconsecutive days a week.
  • 16/8, 18/6, 20/24 IF: Consecutive hours spent fasting / Window of hours in which to eat.
  • OMAD: Eating just One Meal A Day, but getting your money’s worth.

*Dry Fasting (only a few times a year, talk to a doctor about it): No food or water, period – perhaps not even making contact with water. Short, intense, powerful, potentially dangerous. Your body makes water from fat and recycles old cells at an accelerated rate, even compared to water fasting.

Starting Keto Diet Variations to Know

  • Standard Keto (SKD): 20-50g carbs / day + high fat + moderate protein.
  • Clean Keto: SKD + Being choosy about the types of fat, focusing on healthy fats.
  • Dirty Keto: Nevermind the source, just get the SKD ratio of nutrients.
  • Modified Keto: Tweaking the SKD ratios to suit our activity needs while staying in ketosis.
  • Targeted Keto: Getting those carbs (<50g) in within an hour before exercising.
  • Cyclic Keto: Days of carb loading followed by restricting carb intake <50g carbs per day.

*If someone you know disagrees with these unreasonably short definitions – Good for them. Get them a cookie for me – preferably a keto cookie.

If you’d like the down and dirty of what “low carb / high fat” actually means and why it matters, Austin has written a great guide.

So what results do you want?

Measurably better health is available to you right now, you just have to choose the vehicle. Simply remember that your body isn’t a machine.

The Human Ecosystem

Just like every other organism in nature, we don’t exist in isolation.

Beyond us being a 3-part being of body, mind, and spirit, our body itself is a community. Dr. Rodney Dietert describes you and me as “human superorganisms” because of the legion of microbes in our guts that impact our mood, desires, appetites, and nutrient absorption. Having the ideal microbes feeding in our guts can be the difference between having our vitamin k and vitamin b needs met or farting a lot.

Dietary complexity goes even beyond our microbiomes, to our hormonal health. While Dr. Sara Gottfried focuses on hormonal health in women, the wisdom she shares about naturally caring for our hormones through our diet is applicable to all.

Faux low carb diets that allow for 30% of the diet to be comprised of carbs can lower testosterone, as can isoflavones found in some foods like soy. Cortisol, our stress hormone, can also wreak havoc on testosterone levels, as can the BPA that is found in certain plastics and coating paper receipts. Many experts consider testosterone to be a fountain of youth, so keeping it within healthy levels is worthwhile.

Eating for insulin health is important as well. The insulin hormone stores energy to be used later in the form of fat. If insulin is constantly being called for, it becomes desensitized and blood sugar increases as a result.

I chose to eat and exercise in a way that maximized natural growth hormone, a key ingredient in repairing joints. You might have a different immediate need. Whether it’s fixing a leaky gut or lacking a key cog in your nutritional health, taking your whole self into consideration is something we need to own personally and not outsource to a doctor we see once a year or so.

An article about eating for hormonal health could be lengthy on its own. I bring it up here to show how eating for health isn’t simply a matter of calories and arithmetic. Our bodies are amazing and resilient. They are also very fluid and dynamic. What works for a friend might not work for us at a particular moment in time.

Why Keto?

With all these factors and variables, why does starting the keto diet make sense for you?

  • The keto diet is designed to change the base fuel that your body is running on. Instead of relying on carbs, which your body breaks down into sugars for energy, with the keto diet, your body runs on fat.
  • When your body runs on dietary fat as a fuel source, it is easier for your body to pull from fat reserves in your body when the need for more energy arises.
  • Many people report that they feel more stable and clearer-headed when on the keto diet. The insulin spike and crash that people feel after eating a meal loaded with carbs doesn’t happen on the keto diet.
  • The kind of grumpiness that people associate with hunger is less common on the keto diet.

Snickers’ “Hungry? Why wait?” slogan is built on the reality that people who rely on carbs get grumpy and need more carbs right then to stay stable. When your body needs energy on the keto diet, your body will shift gears and begin pulling energy stored in your love handles

We can’t always go off of how a diet makes us feel initially. If we give up sugar, our body will go through an adjustment period. Regardless, the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term discomforts.

Keto Flu

Likewise, trading a high carb/low-fat diet for a low carb/ high-fat diet has caused many people to endure what is known as the “keto flu.” It’s not a certainty. I didn’t experience it. However, some people do.

While the keto flu is only temporary, you might be wondering how to start the keto diet without the negative side effects.

Pro tip: Get some Himalayan pink salt or sea salt and add it to your water (this makes “sole water”), which you should be drinking regularly. Much of the keto flu can be attributed to the body dumping water when carbs are decreased, causing dehydration.

Dangers of Keto

I’ve encountered plenty of articles filled with junk science that plainly state that low-carb diets, including the ketogenic diet, are dangerous. However, there are ways to mess it up that can be dangerous.

  • Increasing dietary fat while failing to keep your carbs in check can be incredibly taxing on your liver and body in general.
  • Keto for kids can cause issues because of protein needs not being met.
  • Too much protein can result in temporarily higher insulin levels, one of the very things the keto diet aims to help.
  • Also, with the keto diet causing your body to dump so much water weight, failing to adjust can cause a variety of issues.

I watched happily as my resting heart rate and blood pressure dropped week after week. Then, I watched as my heart rate dropped below the “normal” range and the difference between my systolic and diastolic blood pressure grew. I actively increased my intake of Himalayan pink salt and watched those numbers rebound to healthy places.

Just as this diet can raise awareness of what we put in our bodies, we need to raise our awareness and listen to what our body is telling us. Being cold, sluggish, or in pain are not things that we need to power through and endure. They are signs for us to correct our current course.

Dr. Dom D’Agostino, who himself follows a modified Atkins diet, is a great source for scientifically rigorous information, both positive and negative, regarding a variety of low-carb diets.

Conclusion

I enjoyed the keto diet for a time. It jump-started my life and pulled out a great awareness of what was actually going on my plate. I’m greatly considering adhering to it on a seasonal basis because I love fresh fruit that is budget-friendly and widely available during the summer and fall months, but not so much during the winter and early spring months.  Daily intermittent fasting has also been a great boon to me and I will continue with it.

However, everyone is different. What worked great for me caused my wife great distress. Whatever you do, give it an honest shot. Dr. Jordan Peterson says he can do anything for 30 days. If we prioritize it properly, I think we are all just as capable.

Perhaps you’ll find the fountain of youth on your first try. Or perhaps it will take a few tries. Either way, it’s been worth it for me and I think it will be for you as well. If we are going to be here for a long time, why not feel fantastic and be able to do all the things we dreamed of – like playing with our kids.

About the communicator

Matt

In addition to contributing to The Epoch, Matt is currently the host of the Evolving Parent Podcast and he coaches any youth sport his kids will play. He's a former US Marine journalist and public affairs specialist who has worked as a contractor in the tech sector for numerous companies. He recently earned a BS in Freshwater Science and Sustainability, but continues learning in multiple fields every day. www.evolvingparent.com


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