I’ve been on the keto diet for a month now, and my pain has disappeared completely! HA! Just kidding. Got your attention though, didn’t it?
There are a lot of physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual changes that happen while on the ketogenic diet. I started this journey on January 11, 2016. I wrote an introductory Part 1, and now I’m going to describe my first month. Remember that this is only my experience, and some people transition to the ketogenic diet much less dramatically. See Part 3 (my 2nd month) and Part 4 (my 3rd month) to see how it’s going.
Experience: My first week was riddled with frequent trips to the bathroom, sweating, nausea, headaches, exhaustion, dragon breath, and an increase in disrupted sleep. Oh, and feeling like my extremities were filled with lead. Basically, amplify my worst fibromyalgia flare up by 100. My moods were on the roller coaster from hell, and I literally CRIED during the first breakfast I had where I chose to eat meat rather than make my delicious 30+ grams of carb smoothie. The first two days I could not form a cohesive sentence, and my brain fog was the densest it has ever been (hence the choice word “densest”). From what I’ve read, that was basically my body freaking out in protest against dropping my carbohydrate intake to less than 20 grams total per day. They (the collective keto community) call it the “Keto Flu”. I call it withdrawal. Lots of tears that week, lots and lots of tears. There are neat tricks and tips to help you through this phase of starting the keto diet (like drinking salt water, bone broth, and bouillon cubes!). The food itself? I’m not even ready to discuss that yet. Just know that I have too many allergies, sensitivities, and OCD yuck about food, so it’s made it very challenging. Then there’s the testing. How do I know if I’m in ketosis or not? Peeing on a stick? Testing my blood? Which one is best? Oh, and counting carbs? Do I count net, or total? So many options!
Sounds great so far, eh? I kept going. Mainly because I’m a sucker for a challenge, but also because the keto community spewing out golden promises. Basically, hunger and cravings are non-existent, unicorns and fairies are flying everywhere, you have enough energy to run 30 marathons in 1 day, and the best part, going from a size 18 to a size 2 in 5 months! And your mood? They describe an almost manic like state with perpetual happiness. To their credit, I actually do clearly remember a couple of hours where I had a burst of energy that I hadn’t felt since I was a kid. I was on the phone with my friend, and all of a sudden my thoughts were racing, and I was talking really fast. I thought “The glitter and fairy dust are here! I’m running on ketones and not glucose!”
Encouragement: First off, find and secure your support system, and get right spiritually. If you’re working, take some time off of work. Check out books about the ketogenic diet. Join a couple of facebook groups, and just sit back, watch, and learn. Listen to some podcasts (my favorite so far are put out by Ketovangelist). In fact, they’ve got a great post for Keto newbies. Also, be aware that there are several different camps and approaches out there in the keto community. I got very confused with what each camp was saying at first. There’s no “perfect” way to do keto, and you will need to figure out what works best for your body. Just remember that the ketogenic diet is low carb, high fat, moderate protein. Find a good keto calculator to figure out your marcos. Buy some Ketostix if you need reassurance that your body is dumping extra acetoacetate into your urine (not 100% reliable). It’s going to take time to adjust. As far as cooking goes, avoid “ketofied foods” (yes, that is a thing), and stick to basic and whole foods that you tolerate like chicken, broccoli, steak, salad, and avocado.
Experience: My second week was better. I still felt like I’d been hit by a bus, and was in the middle of a fibro hang over. My energy level was still zero. I wasn’t as hungry, I’d gotten used to drinking my homemade electrolyte water, and my cravings were in fact, dissipating! My mood was improving, and it was more stable. I wasn’t crying (as much). Overall, it was an uneventful week, other than trying a couple of new foods. I did a lot of journaling, researching, and reading about keto.
Encouragement: Remember the word patience. Not only with yourself, but with your body. This is not easy for us Pain Campers! We tend to always be at war with our bodies. Continue to be a part of supportive facebook groups. Seek out success stories, and look forward to your own “NSVs” (Non Scale Victories). Ask questions, and get the support that you need! Try and stay away from sweet fat bombs (if you’re a sugar addict), and just get your fat from your whole foods as much as possible.
Experience: At the beginning of my 3rd week I had a little taste of what being “keto adapted” feels like. I had an acupuncture session at the beginning of that week, and I was WIRED afterwards. This has never happened to me. I had so much energy, I felt like I could fly. I stayed up late, got about 5 hours of sleep, and was still wired the next day! Not only was I full of energy, but I felt great! I actually felt just a minor amount of discomfort, but no real pain! My brain was clear, my thoughts were rapidly firing, and I was starting to get a little worried. Instead of using this rare anomaly to clean my house, I dragged my husband to the gym with me. I had a satisfying workout, and was bright, shiny, and happy! My husband asked me on the way home WHO had entered my body and disposed of his wife. Well, the energizer bunny / Lil’ Miss Positivity was all fizzled out by 4p. If THIS was what being keto adapted feels like, then I wanted in! I also measured and weighed myself that day. I’d only lost a total of 6 lbs, but I’d lost 4 inches!
Encouragement: Hold on to the first changes and improvements you see. That is what will keep you motivated when you start to feel like giving up. If you must, live vicariously through other people’s NSVs in the keto community. Gather up their hope dust and ride that for a while. Keep journaling, and leaning on your support systems!
Experience: Did I really make it to week 4? Could I make it to the full 90 days? A big shift happened. I started to lose hope and was feeling defeated. Maybe my body just hated keto and vice versa. I had not had another flurry of energy, my mood was crap, and I was sick and tired of weighing / measuring all of my food. I was irritated with the keto community, 1 camp recommending high fat from the get go and low protein, another recommending copious amounts of protein and limiting the fat until you’re in maintenance phase. Oh, and keto people posting pictures and links to recipes. Some of them are gorgeous, foods that I am too chicken to try, or am allergic to. Others are photos of ridiculous foods that are HUGE NO-NOs, and would ignite my sugar cravings and addiction like the fireworks on 4th of July. It dawned on me that in usual Type A fashion, I had made this process complicated (understatement). I’d read as much of the literature and research that my pain brain can handle in such a short period of time, and I’d stopped absorbing most of it. The truth is that I feel safe in my little bubble of weighing and measuring, as annoying as it is. God forbid I go over on my carb allowance and get kicked out of ketosis! I actually think that happened during week 4. I had started counting net carbs, and I had 1 too many chocolate chia seed puddings and chocolate fat bombs. I stopped losing weight and inches. I didn’t even take pictures this week as was my plan, because after measuring and only losing 1/2 inch, I threw the tape measure on the floor, and choked back tears of frustration and anger. I nearly broke down and bought myself my favorite chocolate bar. BUT, I didn’t, as I was determined to move from striving to thriving!
Encouragement: HANG IN THERE! This is the time to throw a tantrum by yourself if you need to. After you get that out of your system, engage in some awesome self care activities and dig deep into your chronic pain toolkit! Ask your family and friends to forgive you. Ask for their support. Talk to your therapist. Get in touch spiritually. Keep journaling. Schedule an appointment to check in with your doctor between your 2nd and 3rd month to get labs done (cholesterol, A1C, liver, etc).
Send me your stories if you decide the ketogenic diet is right for you!
Pain Camp is a safe place to share your thoughts, experience, strength and hope. Have you heard of the ketogenic diet before? What types of changes have you made to your diet to help with your pain symptoms?