17 Pounds in 44 Days: My Adventure with Keto
At the start of my journey, on October 7th, 2018, I weighed 197lbs (89kg). But, I used to weigh even more than that.
For most of my adult life I held a steady weight of 220lbs (100kg). Our bodies seem to “snap” to a particular weight and hold onto it. During those years I would usually deviate by only a few pounds. Though, at my peak in 2013, I reached my highest weight of about 230lbs (104kg), as can be seen in the following picture.
Unfortunately, the above photo was taken during my sisters wedding, when I had a custom tuxedo fitted! According to the Body Mass Index (BMI) calculation, this put me in the Obese category. ProTip: Don't get a tux fitted when you're at your heaviest.
A few years later, maybe around 2015, I moved out of the calorie-ridden Midwest and into California. After a bit of hard work, somewhat due to becoming a runner, but mostly due to reduced access to chili cheese fries, I was able to attain a new weight of 200lbs (91kg). I somehow hid my weight well; any time I'd play the “guess my weight” game people would assume I weighed 180lbs (82kg).
This weight was better, but still not quite what I was looking for. It's true that nobody ever called me fat. But, if you were to plug my numbers into a BMI calculator, you'd quickly tell that I could stand to lose a few pounds:
I suppose that Overweight isn't too bad. After all, my previous steady weight put me in the Obese category. However, I really wanted to approach that special “normal” category. Perhaps it would help me break my crappy running pace. Perhaps it would boost my self confidence. Perhaps I could rebel against my unhealthy Midwestern genetics and outlive my ancestors.
I tried everything. I started running even more. For a few months I was running a half marathon every other weekend. I even completed the 2016 San Francisco Marathon! My apartment complex has a pretty decent gym so I was also using that. The lame thing about burning calories is that you just end up craving more of them! It turns out that exercise has never affected my weight.
I even tried various diets, or trying to exert self control with the quantities of foods I would eat. Perhaps if I buy a pizza I can only eat three slices now then save the rest for another day? Invariably, when that luscious pizza sets down in front of me, I would choke down the whole thing and feel like shit later that evening.
Then, one day while perusing Twitter, I came across this tweet:
To hell with carbs. I feel like absolute crap after a month off keto. Going back on. Never felt better than when on the diet. It's incredible the difference in mood and energy.
I've heard of a million different diets. The Caveman diet is one of the trendier ones right now. Weight watchers. Going full Soylent. I'd heard of the Keto diet a few times before but never really knew of anyone who tried it. After I saw such a positive tweet, written by a peer, it inspired me to try the same diet. So, I set to work figuring out how the diet works and what I'm allowed to eat.
The basics of the diet are that you're not allowed to eat a lot of carbohydrates. Whereas the typical American diet consists of between 200g and 300g of carbs a day, on the Keto diet you should be consuming somewhere less than 40g per day. What kinds of food contain carbs? Why, only the most delicious and tempting foods, of course! Here's a list of some of the highest carb items:
- Bread / Grains
- Legumes / Beans
For the most part I was able to cut those items out cold-turkey. For the first week I didn't eat any of those foods. On the weekend I would cheat a little. I would try to weigh myself every morning but sometimes I would skip (mostly out of shame from a debaucherous weekend). Of course, when you weigh yourself this frequently your results are going to jump around quite a bit. Once a weekend was over I would usually be a little higher in weight, but by the end of the week I would reach a new low. Each time I would weigh myself I would enter the result in Google Fit:
A large proponent of me losing weight is that I know how to cook and that I love Indian food. I started cooking a lot of dishes with chicken while avoiding ingredients that contain a lot of carbs (such as bread/Naan and rice). If a recipe called for Milk I would substitute Coconut Milk. If it called for Sugar I would simply cut it out.
My favorite dish has been Chicken Korma. Normally when I cook Indian food I use a pot and pan and dirty several dishes. But, I recently bought an Instant Pot from Amazon and it allowed me to cook this dish in about thirty minutes, and dirty a single item! I would make a double recipe with 2 lbs of chicken and that would be enough to feed me for three days. Normally I cook it on a Monday night and eat it at work from Tuesday to Thursday, allowing me to eat out with coworkers on Friday. Overall I both save money and eat super healthy.
There's also an overpriced salad restaurant in San Francisco called Mixt. Whenever I go there I get the Cobb Salad and substitute the dressing with Olive Oil. Foods like eggs and bacon and blue cheese are fine with this diet. According to their website their Cobb Salad is about 13 carbs per meal.
However, the biggest weapon in my weight loss combating arsenal is this: Eat an entire Rotisserie Chicken for lunch. Sounds crazy, right? An entire bird! I'll do this once or twice a week. A prepared chicken weighs about two pounds. This sounds like a lot. But, it's a lot of bone, and each time I eat one I'm so full in the evening that I usually skip dinner. Once this is done I wake up weighing between 1 - 1.5lb less than the morning before! Filling yourself up on poultry is not the same as filling yourself up on bread. Normally, with that amount of food, I would crash around 3pm. However, when eating straight chicken, I feel great the whole day.
Here are some other items that I bought to help me with the process. The first one is Ketone Test Strips. These are basically little pH strips that you pee on. They're useful to know if you've hit a state of ketosis, which is a bad thing if you have diabetes but a good thing if you're on the Keto diet. It's supposed to be a sign that your body is in a higher state of weight loss from consuming minimal carbs. That said, while my levels definitely increased on the diet, I don't think I ever actually achieved a state of ketosis.
The next item is MCT Oil Pills. These are supposed to help reduce hunger. A popular drink amongst Keto enthusiasts is a “Bulletproof Coffee”, wherein you add a slab of butter to your coffee. I grab my coffee on the go and so walking around with a pocket full of butter is less than ideal. These pills contain Coconut Oil and achieve the same effect; just pull one from your pocket and plop it into your coffee and you're good to go. They seemed to help reduce my snack cravings.
Note: Another small change I made was replacing my favorite beverage: the sugar-infused latte, with a slightly lighter drink: a cappuccino without sugar. I'm not completely sure how many less carbs this netted me, but I can tell you that the equivalent sized cappuccino weighs much less than a latte.
Finally, I wanted something to snack on. This is great both when travelling as well as getting used to a low carb diet in the early stages. For snacking I chose the Epic Chicken Sriracha Bars. They're available at my nearby Whole Foods, though they're cheaper on Amazon. I recommend getting a box of them for the start of your Keto journey. Each bar contains 2 carbs.
One of the best things about this diet is that I'm actually able to eat quite a lot of food and not feel hungry afterwards. It's insane how much more filling meat is than bread!
Finally, I was able to reach my goal weight of 180lbs (82kg) on November 20th, 2018. Technically, to hit a Normal BMI I would need to weigh 179lbs (81kg), but my goal weight has always been a nice round 180lbs, even before I knew what BMI was. My current BMI value is pretty close to 25, the cutoff point for Normal.
How do I physically feel? Honestly, I feel the same as before I started this diet. As far as how I feel mentally I'm a bit more self confident with regards to my body. Overall my mind does feel a little bit clearer—a little less cloudy than usual.
I haven't lost a belt size through this ordeal. But, I might have lost a “watch” size. One of the niceties of the Keto diet is that you're supposed to lose fat and not muscle. But, my arms seem a bit smaller, so who knows. I used to exercise pretty regularly but I stopped after having a recent surgery. My goal now is to start exercising now that I'm done healing.
Ironically, before the diet, I almost never ate butter and I was considering becoming vegetarian! Now, I eat butter all the time, cook with Ghee more (clarified butter used in Indian dishes), and am now a huge contributor of chicken massacre.
From start to finish I was able to lose about 9% of my total body weight in a relatively quick time. The most eye-opening part of this diet is how easy it was to make a change in the food I eat and see the outcome. This is the lowest I've weighed as an adult and I wholeheartedly believe most other adults can apply the same diet and see a similar outcome.