The low-carb plan isn’t for everyone, but if you can stick with it, you can lose body fat and gain lean muscle mass.
ON DAY 5, I went to the store and bought the fanciest stick of butter available.
I was hungry, and desperate.
I was trying to convince my body to burn fat on a ketogenic diet, also known as a low-carb, high-fat diet. My body had to fuel itself without staples like potatoes. Instead, I was eating butter, olive oil and coconut oil. Yup: fat.
I was skeptical at first about keto. My approach to nutrition has been based on Whole30 (the strictest form of the paleo diet) — eat protein and fresh vegetables; cut packaged foods, sugar and alcohol. It has always worked.
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But a friend had great results from keto, losing 15 pounds of fat while lifting heavier than the rest of us at my gym.
Keto is not for everyone, particularly if you are prone to high cholesterol, or have a family history of heart disease or previous disordered eating, so check with a professional. I went to my friend’s naturopath, Kelsey Klausmeyer. He considers a ketogenic diet effective for many folks, particularly obese patients. He monitors patients using a bio-impedance assessment test, which documents fat, lean muscle mass and hydration.
He ran one on me. It showed I was 26 percent fat and slightly dehydrated. I was surprised. While I enjoy meals out and treats, I cook most of my food. I work out, obviously.
With my diet and activity level, Klausmeyer said, I was a perfect candidate for keto.
In the name of nutrition, energy and higher lean muscle mass, I took keto on for almost three weeks.
To help my body adapt, my goal was fewer than 40 carbs per day, while checking for ketosis with urine strips (available at drugstores). I picked up electrolytes; branch-chain amino acids for workouts so my body would burn fat, not muscle; and MCT oil, which drives fat loss.
I tracked my food and discovered carbs are everywhere. One scone or flavored latte will do you in for a day.
I also fasted. Intermittent fasting, which has been gaining popularity, pushes your body into ketosis quicker. Your body excels at feasting and fasting, Klausmeyer said; most of us only feast. When you fast, once your body uses up stored glycogen in your cells, it turns to fat for fuel.
I fasted 14 hours a night, a good time frame for most people, he said. I drank coffee with butter and MCT oil in the morning to take the edge off, even though it felt blasphemous — and convenient — to skip breakfast.
Eating properly was harder. I was hungry as my body adapted. I slathered butter on my meat and drenched my salads in olive oil. I figured out I could eat green vegetables and stay in ketosis without tracking carbs. I sneaked in cheat meals, including the fish and some chips at Alki on a sunny weekend.
Two and a half weeks in, I had lost one pound. I wasn’t in it to lose weight, but it seemed like a lot of work for one pound. I had been tired and off during regular weightlifting workouts, and my weightlifting coach had me adjust my protein for how much I lift and do yoga. I wondered whether keto was worth the effort.
Then I went back for a second test. In two weeks, I had increased my lean muscle mass by one pound and lost two pounds of fat. My hydration was up. My base metabolic rate, already high, was up, which means I’m burning fat quicker. Klausmeyer was impressed; I was shocked. Keep up the pace, and I could lose six more pounds of fat in six weeks to hit 20 percent, a good range for a woman for athletic performance.
More athletes are taking on keto for performance and endurance. It’s functional medicine to find your sweet spot, Klausmeyer said. Your energy also evens out over time; hunger goes away; and brain fog dissipates, a huge factor for many, he said.
I’m curious. More butter, please.