Like a lot of people, I ate a ton of pasta and pizza during my college days. I not only gained the feared “freshman 15,” but my stomach was often a mess. There were days when intense nausea or intestinal pain would prevent me from going to class (or going out at all).
Eventually I saw a doctor, who gave me probiotics to balance my gut, but he also recommended that I remove things from my diet, one by one, to determine the root cause of my digestive issues. Ultimately, the culprit turned out to be those heavy carbs I was eating.
Together, we decided that I’d start a keto diet, which focuses on low-carb and higher fat intake. It also doesn’t restrict the amount of food you eat—it’s not about calorie counting—which was important to me. The goal of keto is to get into a metabolic state called ketosis, which happens when the body is deprived of carbs and starts to break down stores of fat for energy.
To start, I cut out potatoes, bread, rice, soda, cereal, and sugary sweets. (I’ll be honest: I still miss those foods—a lot.) I added healthy fats (like avocados) and tons of protein-packed fish (like salmon, tuna, trout, and swordfish) to my diet. I also upped my intake of specific veggies, such as Brussels sprouts, arugula, and bok choy. To get my pasta fix, I started making veggie noodles with a spiralizer.
Even though I was making strides in replacing my core foods, learning to count my carbs was certainly an obstacle in the beginning. Most people know that eating fried chicken or cheeseburgers all the time probably isn’t good for you, but with keto, you have to get specific—especially if you want to get into ketosis. For example, you have to be aware of your carbohydrate-to-fiber and natural sugar ratio. I don’t exceed 30 grams of carbs per day. This is pretty challenging because hidden carbohydrates are everywhere.
For the first few weeks, I constantly needed to pull up the approved keto diet list when grocery shopping. I’d often have to put things back on the shelf—especially fruits, which I never realized were so high in sugar. But I eventually got into a routine with it.
A lot of people were skeptical when they heard I was doing keto. They couldn’t conceive of how a diet that allows you to eat a ton of protein and fat could possibly be healthy for you. (Hint: I do not eat bacon all day! I choose clean proteins and healthy fats.)
What works for me is having a variety of clean snacks or small meals on-hand (like avocados, hard boiled eggs, celery and peanut butter, or tomatoes and blue cheese dressing) when I’m hungry. It helps with the cravings—and prevents me from reaching for an easy (and most likely carb-heavy) meal.
To me, eating keto has become more than just a diet. It’s a lifestyle.
Even though keto can be pretty hard, it is rewarding: I lost 30 pounds in six months and my digestive problems have totally disappeared. I also have way more energy! Before going keto, I’d reached a point with my weight where I was lethargic and couldn’t do the things I wanted to do—like take long walks with my girlfriend.
The benefits of going keto, however, go well beyond the physical: I feel more in control of my wellness, I’m way more creative about my food, and I’m more mindful of my body and my time.
I’m always researching new and exciting meal options, which keeps keto from being boring or unsatisfying. (There’s usually a keto version of any recipe out there, and it can be a fun challenge to find it and make it.) I usually prep my meals on Sunday nights for the week ahead, which has allowed me to better budget my time (as a recent graduate student and full-time professional, it’s crucial.)
Mostly, I am empowered by my own effort. There’s no quick and easy way to be healthy. Choosing to eat healthfully takes time and focus.
These days, checking nutrition labels has become second nature to me, which is a game-changer. I’ve never paid more attention to what I put in my body! It’s made me more mindful of the fact that quality really is more important than speed and ease.
Like anything else, the more effort you put into keto, the better the overall results. I love knowing that the hard work I’m doing has a direct influence on my physical and mental wellbeing.