For the second time now, I have entered the blackhole that is the ketogenic diet. I don’t think that I have a gluten allergy necessarily, but I can’t deny the fact that every single time a refined carb enters my body the results are less than desirable. Like clockwork, my blood sugar immediately crashes, my stomach hurts, my arms and legs tingle and I can no longer see my feet, thanks to my suddenly bloated belly, while being simultaneously met with an insurmountable fatigue and brain fog that makes work difficult the rest of the day.
These also happen to be some of the most common symptoms of gluten intolerance1, granted they could also be signs of countless other medical conditions. The point is, many of us experience symptoms like this throughout our lives and come to see it as normal.
It’s no secret though, that the ingredients which makeup refined carbohydrates – flour and sugar – are extremely unhealthy, especially at the rate the average American consumes them. That is one reason why I’m back on the ketogenic diet.
Another catalyst for my diet change stems from the life-long pleas of physicians, psychiatrists and family members to undergo testing for thyroid problems, anemia, mental illness and various autoimmune diseases.
As a chronically sick kid, I was tested extensively for autoimmune diseases. As an energy-devoid adult with mild depression and anxiety, I drug myself to the doctor’s office to have my blood drawn and tested for hypo and hyperthyroidism. The results are always the same – inconclusive. If I had a nickel for every time a doctor told me to take more vitamin D and B12…well, let’s just say I wouldn’t be living paycheck to paycheck like I am now.
The truth is, no matter how many vitamins I shove down my throat, my symptoms persist. It wasn’t until I reached an unbearable point of exhaustion, depression and anxiety that I started logging my symptoms, eventually linking them to my diet. It was so obvious, and yet, I’d never really given my food a second thought when looking for the culprit.
Once I saw the link though, I couldn’t help but notice the wave of garbage feelings – physical, mental and emotional – that washed over me and clung the rest of the day like Saran Wrap.
By that point, I’d already been a pescatarian (from 14-19 years old), a twice-failed vegan and a brief raw enthusiast who shaved her own cucumber and zucchini noodles with a mandolin slicer every night. I’d been experimenting with fad diets most of my life, but carb elimination terrified me. Partially because a carb-less existence seemed pretty meaningless.
I think the main thing that freaked me out about low-carb dieting though, is that it goes against everything I’ve been taught on healthy dieting: “Meat is bad/causes cancer. Dairy is bad. Fat is bad.” My father was even put on the cholesterol medication, Lipitor, in his mid thirties after a huge weight loss on the Adkins diet.
The popularity of the paleo diet is what changed my mind in the end. It’s hard to argue with the back to basics logic inspired by our ancestors, to whom today’s obesity epidemic would be nothing short of a Black Mirror episode – but I digress. It just makes sense to me. I figured I should at least try a low-carb diet before writing it off.
The first few weeks of keto were rough the first time around. I felt hungry all of the time no matter what I ate. My body, deprived of carbs for the first time, was in shock. All I wanted was some comfort food like mac and cheese, avocado toast, pizza or at least a decent side-dish.
But after I got over that part of the diet, I was almost never hungry. I ate once or twice and felt satisfied the rest of the day. My food cravings completely evaporated. The biggest benefit though was that my blood sugar stabilized, and while I wasn’t exactly the Energizer bunny, I had more energy throughout the day, felt less moody and my concentration improved significantly. I wasn’t the only one who noticed the improvement either.
I did that for a three or four months before I fell off the wagon. I don’t remember why, but I think part of it related to my lifestyle. I still wanted to go out drinking with my friends. The problem with drinking on a low-carb diet, aside from the fact that you’re not supposed to drink at all, is that you can’t soak up the alcohol at the end of the night with delicous carbs. Every time I drank on the keto diet, I regretted it…a lot. That led to cheating which led to quitting altogether.
Although I’ve seen quite a few people manage to do it, this diet isn’t always sustainable. I’m not even sure if it’s the best possible fit for me or as healthy as it claims to be either, but it definitely makes me feel great. I’m not going to lie though…It’s only been three days, I already miss pizza, pasta, chips, mashed potatoes, fries and pretty much every kind of bread.
Truthfully, I think it would be irresponsible of me to fully endorse a low-carb diet since I’m not a registered dietitian, doctor or nutritionist. I also don’t believe there is any universal diet that works for everyone. You have to do what feels right for you, and you should definitely consult a medical professional before significantly changing your diet.
I will say that there are different levels to food allergies and intolerance. Gluten alleriges, for example, are mostly determined through elimination diets despite available blood tests and biopsies. Beyondceliac.org’s article Blood Tests to Diagnose Celiac Disease Under Scrutiny, says, “The fact that celiac disease has been given a comprehensive evidence review indicates an acknowledgement by Health and Human Services that there is a need for increased celiac disease diagnosis.”
Low-carb diets, like the ketogenic and paleo diet, are essentially elimination diets. I certainly didn’t think carbs could effect so many parts of my life until I stopped eating them. Even when I gave up on the diet the first time, I still made better choices afterward because I knew how much better my day would be on a low-carb breakfast.
Now wish me luck resisting the carb sirens on Day 4, please. I desperately need it.
1. [Disclaimer: I don’t think everyone has celiac or the gluten intolerance level of one. If you’ve ever witnessed someone with celiac post-gluten consumption, you won’t need much convincing of this.]↩