I took my first 3-week break from my strict Low Carb/Ketogenic regimen in nearly 2 years. I’m going to be real with you– I’m not going to “stevia-coat it”. Below you can read how I compare my expectations vs my reality and how these 3 weeks affected me (during and after).
I started my ‘Ketogenic Journey’ back in January 2017. Here and there I’d slip up (usually by accident, having limited options– or when it’s totally WORTH IT) and I’d fall out of ketosis but get right back on within a 1-2 week period. I am at a point where I easily read my body’s queues, and we have a positive relationship (BFF’s for life – right?).
So, after 23 months and 28 days of sustaining a metabolic state of ketosis, I decided it was time to experiment and eat whatever I desired, no second thoughts. During this time I traveled to visit family and celebrated the holidays, so I felt free to be totally UNPREPARED in knowing what my next meal was going to be. Something, I haven’t experienced in a while.
My 10 thoughts during my keto-break:
Sugar is too sweet
My sleep cycle is whack, I can sleep forever
I have stubborn acne
My stomach is a bottom-less pit
I often times feel bloated, but I’m still regular
It’s not about the food, but the ease and sociability (sharing the same meal, enjoying someone’s cooking)
Fats + Carbs = Oops
Mood is influenced by what I eat
I’m not as easily dehydrated
I had fun doing it
Some of these observations seem obvious. Of course they’re obvious — but living through this helped me determine where I plan on going with this lifestyle. The reason I mention that is, a lot of people ask me “Do you plan on being in ketosis long-term?”… and for a while I assured them “yeah, I plan to”. By reaffirming this for myself, I can continue to feel confident in my way-of-eating (WOE). I’m already immersed and trained in this way of life and the knowledge will never leave me.
Anyway, before I dive deep into my list above I wanted to mention something:
On occasion I find that (if I’m not careful) Keto becomes easily boring and I’m not as enthusiastic. I have to push myself to learn new recipes or products to help normalize this way-of-eating. I can’t always buy “keto-friendly” in the grocery store or order it at any given restaurant.
Ketosis is just a metabolic state– don’t feel defined by how you eat.
Sure, the “Keto Diet” has BOOMED in the past year (like we knew it would) and everyone wants to talk about it. There are more products, more articles, more contradiction, more celebrities siding with or against it. It’s in the news ALL THE TIME. There are people out there that are prescribed this structured diet, and then there are people that like to try new ways of eating and hoping to lose some weight, or gain some gains.
What I’m trying to say is, don’t be hard on yourself. Slip-ups and boredom happen– do the research, cook the food, eat and enjoy the lifestyle.
Back to my observations:
Sugar — it’s sweet. Natural sugars found in a clementine or honey is tolerable to my taste buds. However, eating a bite-size candy bar or taking a sip of soda makes me squint my eyes and almost gag. Sweetness overload! It makes me wonder how I used to enjoy this stuff in the past. It’s almost like the sugar industry knew it could get away with large amounts of sugar in foods and that people would eventually get used to, and even crave, the taste– oh wait (1).
Irregular sleep was a major problem for me these few weeks. I was tired almost all the time– constantly yawning. I could sleep for 9 hours and still feel like I needed more. Prior to starting my Keto Journey, I was always battling heavy eyelids. After a day’s work I’d come home and eat and pass out. This feeling suddenly re-emerged during my break, and it was something I never missed. Now, some people have claimed to experience insomnia while on keto– which is something I’ll never experience (I’m a cat in a human’s body). I’ve learned that eating your “carbiest” carbs with dinner will help you fall asleep. According to Dr. Michael Breus, the consumption of carbohydrates before bed helps reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep (2). Needless to say, pizza for dinner helped me pass out way before my bedtime and sleep until almost noon. However, not everyone’s body reacts the same way.
Facial acne is always a problem for me. I break out around my chin and it’s usually during that time of the month, or I’m experiencing stress. One of the first changes to my body after going “keto” was the my skin was healthier and acne reduced (still broke out but redness/swelling was gone within a matter of hours/days). During my short break from keto, I broke out a bit more than usual and the darn zits stayed around longer than I anticipated– even with treatment and PLENTY of sleep. Now, I was traveling and a bit stressed out around the holidays – so to say that diet alone was the culprit wouldn’t be fair. However, it’s known that sugars can cause inflammation (3) and welcome those pesky breakouts to stick around much longer.
Binge eating is never healthy, no matter what diet you practice. Carb-binging, is unique– your body goes through a lot to digest heavy carbohydrates in the first place, so during a carb-binge your body gets exhausted. Binge eating is caused by psychological and chemical factors. When we binge, we eat a lot because we are filling a void (stress, depression, self-esteem). This false-sense of fulfillment secretes dopamine and serotonin and it becomes a type of “reward system”. When you binge on sugar, you’re in for a special treat where your body adjusts to the high-levels of glucose in your system by supplying more insulin and pushing the sugars through your bloodstream, and making room in your body for this energy. You may feel like you can eat more, and you want to with all this added room and need for energy consumption. When sugars are starting to deplete in your bloodstream, your body feels a “sugar crash” where you may feel irritable. In addition, your body’s immune system is impaired for a few hours to over a day after your high-carb intake (4). Now remember, your body’s preferred source of energy is carbohydrates — so to come down off a carb-binge and hop back on the keto-train, your body feels resistance and possibly even more irritable. Make sure you balance that out with added calories or proteins just to keep a smile on your face.
Bloating, AKA “food baby”, is not the worst concern when breaking Keto. We all feel bloated from time-to-time. What is a shame for those following a Ketogenic Diet, is that when you change your diet drastically (i.e. from eating limited carbs, to heavy carbs) you are more likely to feel like you’re having food BABIES (added bloat). Carbohydrates that contain gluten often times cause inflammation. Adding gluten back into your diet can cause some gastrointestinal discomfort followed up by inconsistent bowel movements and diarrhea (5). After some time, your body can become regular again after it adjusts, but depending on how your body interacts with gluten and carbohydrates, you may experience things a bit different than the next person (prolonged symptoms).
Sharing food and eating socially matters a lot to me personally. My biggest drawback with following a Ketogenic Diet is that I miss out on traditional holiday favorites made with love by my in-laws (my MIL makes the best pineapple stuffing) or celebratory cake for a friend’s birthday, and more. While it’s easy to feel FOMO or like an outcast, remember that even the smallest slip up of carbs can set you back days/weeks on your journey. During my vacation and the holidays I recognized and lived in the moments of eating food together as a family and not needing to alter something or substitute anything (I still preferred no added sugar and healthier items, but I didn’t follow keto). Friends and family would mention, “I don’t think you can eat this…” and I’d be able to reply with, “not normally – but today I can!” (visit my Keto Food List). It was almost a relief to them, too, that they didn’t leave me out. Food is meant to be shared and enjoyed– so if you ever break keto for a small amount of time make sure you plan and ENJOY these moments. Just saying that, I realize my relationship with food is so much healthier than ever.
Adjusting from a high-fat diet to a “standard” diet makes for LOTS of calories when you forget to adjust your fat macros. I realize I love fats. The whole mentality of “I eat what I want” was a mistake, although freeing. I should have planned this change-up better and weaned myself off from fats a bit, so that my taste and habits were adjusted. Truly, it’s not the biggest deal in the world — but this definitely contributed to gastrointestinal bloat, and immediate weight gain (I gained 6lbs in 3 weeks). Plan to cut down on fats for a week prior in your salad dressings, condiments, coffee, and cooking fats, just to start. You might feel some irritability or slight fatigue at first, but then when you’re ready to implement carbohydrates, your body will be like “oooh – yay!”.
Mood swings happened pretty often for me while on a standard diet compared to practicing a Ketogenic Diet. I believe the main contributor to this was when and how I ate my carbohydrates. I tried sticking to my normal intermittent fasting schedule (where I only eat between 12PM-8PM every day). This was difficult for me once I incorporated carbs into my diet. I woke up feeling hungrier than usual and sometimes it wouldn’t pass, and I would get a headache or an upset stomach with my usual coffee. Also, if I didn’t eat protein with my carbohydrates, I would feel a spike in energy that was eventually followed up with a crash. According to healthline.com, protein helps slow the absorption of carbohydrates so we don’t feel those intense spikes and crashes, but rather moderate energy throughout the next few hours (6). I suggest always pairing your carbohydrates with a moderate protein and listening to your body’s hunger queues. Don’t ignore them just because you’re used to fasting.
Hydration was something I thought about constantly while practicing a Keto Diet. I needed to ensure I drank all my ounces every day, or I’d physically feel like my body was shriveling up (muscle cramps, fatigue, regular thirst). Bodies in ketosis retain less water and need more of it to digest and maintain key nutrients (7). While not in ketosis, our bodies are able to retain and absorb water easily which makes for easy digestion and movement. BUT– that’s the thing too, don’t forget to drink water even if your body isn’t signaling to you that it’s thirsty. For those of you who are on keto, ensure your electrolytes and nutrients are well-supplied. I suggest taking magnesium, and potassium supplements along with all that water.
Food = Fun was my motto since starting Keto. Particularly because I wasn’t the best cook, and I knew I had to learn to cook for myself in order to eat tasty, normalized, keto-friendly meals. Creating this mindset helped fuel my new passion of inventing recipes and trying alternative ingredients. I continued this perspective while taking my short keto-break, and it helped me avoid food guilt because this break was a reward and an experiment for myself. I think we need to realize food is as powerful as we allow it to be, and our relationship with ourselves reflects the relationship we have with food.
** I wanted to add in some questions I received via Instagram from my followers regarding my experience:
How did you jump back on keto after your break? DId you struggle?
I looked forward to going back on keto after my 3-week break. I did struggle with the timing, because I originally anticipated only a 2-week break but social events pushed it out. It was a battle of “well I did want to start today, but what’s another day?” type of thoughts. I started out by committing to my intermittent fasting schedule and going back to basics: eggs, dark leafy greens, chicken salad, tuna salad, zoodles. Always having snacks (nuts, cheese, dark chocolate) on hand and a fridge packed.
Did you experience keto flu?
Not really. I felt some fatigue and irritability but nothing like my fellow ‘ketolleagues’ have expressed. I have yet to feel “flu-like” symptoms while transitioning. If you do experience this, make sure you are eating enough calories (it’s okay to eat more while transitioning) and drinking plenty of water — get your rest! You shouldn’t feel like you’re starving yourself. Also intermittent fasting helps induce ketosis.
Well, folks, I hope you enjoyed learning about my experience. I’d love to answer any questions or comments you post below! Thanks for taking the time out to support me and AVOKETO.