Keto Home Truths for Newbies

This year, keto has become the number one “fad diet” or at least it’s seen that way — rather than an effective way of healthy eating (which it IS!) Pay-based dietary systems are up in arms. There seems to be a coordinated anti-keto influence campaign in online media and that just adds fuel to the fire. Newbies jump on the Facebook sites and are amazed at the success stories and deeply upset when they don’t lose twenty pounds in a week. They have no ideas how their bodies work, no idea how they got overweight in the first place, and just want the magic keto formula for making their obesity go away. Here are some “home truths” about keto for newbies.

People do lose weight (eventually)

That’s the first fact that has people jumping up and down. Often, for the very obese (which I consider anyone in the 300 pound range or more), the impact can be dramatic and initially very fast. For people who weigh well under 200 pounds, its not going to go like that.

Everyone expects weight loss to be very, very rapid. For some people, the first pounds do come off quickly, but this is NOT MOST PEOPLE. For most people, it’s a frustrating, slow shift from one set point to another, taking place over many months.

The big difference is that this shift CAN BE sustainable over the rest of our lives. It has to be. Many people are waking up and discovering that “diets” don’t work: we have to change our entire ways of eating. Can you imagine eating according to a limited plan? Forever? Scary. Worrying. But there are so many ways to make this work! Keto is somewhat limiting, but it delivers on health, it’s adjustable and flexible–and there isn’t a company relying on weekly sales contacts to make a buck.

Learning about how the body works is KEY to figuring out how to “keto.”

Some Home Truths

  • Almost any change of the composition of one’s diet will trigger a small weight loss. In the beginning, these shifts are mostly the loss of “water weight” as one’s fat cells collapse and lose water. It is the HORMONAL TRIGGERS on insulin, human growth hormones, cortisol (and other bodily reactions that are not well understood) that occur when our diets significantly change that causes this. This is why egg fasts work (sometimes) to break a stall. This is at least part of the reason why carb cycling is helpful.

Changing the composition of one’s diet can trigger some (often small) weight loss and “break stalls.” Don’t get in a rut, eating the same things all the times for long periods. Eating the same thing, over and over, contributes to “stalls.”

  • People who need to lose ONLY twenty or so pounds will not lose all that weight in one week. That doesn’t happen. Women who have 100 pounds to lose have SO MANY MORE fat cells –and so their shedding of pounds is MUCH HIGHER. But not even all of those women lose rapidly.
  • Age is a factor. Under 30? MUCH easier. Over forty or over fifty? It will be a struggle, but a struggle you can win.
  • General health is another issue. If you’re diabetic or getting insulin resistance (and if you’re over 200 lbs, you are INCREASINGLY at risk for that)–it’s going to go more slowly. There are ALL KINDS of intervening health issues that slow weight loss: hypothyroidism, Krohn’s disease, immune disorders like celiac and MS– the list is looooooong. There may be underlying problems even YOU don’t know about yet.
  • Women lose more slowly than men. Estrogen levels go up and down, and with it, weight–particularly water weight–bumps up and down. Yes, even after menopause, estrogen still tends to act as a curb to rapid weight loss. Sad, but don’t compare your weight loss with those of the men in your life.
  • If you’ve been on previous diets, well, that is another impediment to fast weight loss. I did South Beach and Weight Watchers (twice). Research on those “Biggest Loser” folks showed that drastic low calorie dieting slows down the metabolism. Since I am a research nerd, here’s an article on that from Scientific American.

Yo-yo dieting –trying and giving up on diets over and over– makes each successive attempt to lose weight slightly harder. This is why you hear so many talking about “keto for life.”

My Glands and My Weight Loss

There is a difference between a problem that is COMPLICATED and a problem that is COMPLEX. “Lazy, dirty” keto is pretty simple –keep carbs under 20 (net) and you’re done. Strict keto is COMPLICATED. The keto police think up new rules every day until our eyes cross and we run screaming into the night. Building a car — or even a bicycle — is COMPLICATED. There are lots and lots of interconnecting parts. Driving a car is complex. The kind of car we drive–a monster truck or a tiny convertible–affects how we steer, how we brake, and what kinds of maneuvers we can pull off. Our EXPERIENCE in driving a car MATTERS. And if you’ve ever had a FAVORITE car that responds to you SO WELL, well, that’s a great experience. But even a car like that gets old, it wears out, and it changes. We can (and will) get new cars. We can’t get new bodies.

Our bodies REWIRE themselves in response to changes in diet. EVEN THE BRAIN gets involved. Each new change in the way we eat causes the body to have to figure out how it should REACT to keep us healthy.

The body’s goal is to keep us at one steady weight. The body is our “mechanic” trying to keep the whole “machine” going–trying to keep us in peak condition (when we’re young) — and trying to help us just keep going for long haul as we age.

To push the car analogy a bit further, we can RESTORE a car, but that is a COMPLEX endeavor. Old parts have to mesh with new parts (and new materials). There are limits in what you can do. The old Model T can’t do 75 mph. Even an expensive, 1930s Rolls Royce is going to have to be babied.

Don’t think of yourself as a Model-T. Me? I’m a classic Ford Mustang. 😀 I want to take care of this body! I’m going to have to work with the mechanic (my body) to coax it into agreeing to some more radical overhauls (weight loss). We are going to have some tense negotiations, but I’m confident we’ll find a good solution.

WEIGHT LOSS is COMPLEX.

Set point theory is the hypothesis that’s been widely documented to be a real phenomenon. The only reason it’s a theory and not a fact is that SCIENCE DOESN’T KNOW WHY this happens. Science has some guesses about what causes this, but nothing’s been definably proven in terms of CAUSE. We do know that weight loss involves the endocrine system: HORMONES. Specifically: insulin, estrogen and human growth hormone. Cortisol is also another hormone that has role in glucose metabolism.

The thyroid is the master gland. It controls the production of hormones. It impacts the pituitary gland that produces a signal to the adrenal glands (on top of your kidneys) to produce cortisol. It also produces human growth hormone. The thyroid impacts the capacity of the pancreas to produce. insulin.

Estrogen is primarily produced by the ovaries but other glands also produce it. FAT CELLS ALSO PRODUCE ESTROGEN. So even us ladies who have been through “the change” have estrogen in our systems from our body fat. This is not a bad thing; estrogen protects our bones and helps our skin to heal after injury. Estrogen increases our sensitivity to insulin–a good thing in losing weight. But it also makes us heavier in the hips. Estrogen helps manage cholesterol levels, which help the liver and the heart.

Weight loss is a complex biochemical dance among the hormone-producing organs (thyroid, pancreas, pituitary gland, adrenal glands–ovaries and fat cells!).

Maintaining a constant weight helps the body to be resilient against health threats–viruses, infections, and malnutrition. Working WITH your body means to make long-term, healthy changes so that the body is more able to relent on weight maintenance, a little. The good news is that slow changes tend to be more sustainable changes. Fast pounds off? Fast pounds back on.

One thing I’ve noticed. I have been on this WOE for six years. If I go to a restaurant and eat some inappropriate things, my fasting blood sugar seems to remain fairly stable — if it’s just for that one meal. Two days in a row of eating badly? Then I see big changes in my fasting blood sugar. Your mileage may vary.

Overblown expectations are a stumbling block.

We tend to expect too much. The paid programs like to make us weigh in every week. This gives them a sales contact with us on a weekly basis. People lose weight on the paid programs, too, but one has to be willing to make that sales contact on a regular basis for the rest of one’s life. Many folks have been exposed to these norms, values and ideas and consider them “common knowledge.” It starts out as “Weight Watchers says” information.

I read it on the forums and boards all the time. “Weight Watchers says that you should shoot for a goal of between 1 and 2 pounds of loss a week.” New keto dieters tend to expect this, never mind the fact that the first weeks’ losses are entirely water weight, rather than fat. Some get this for the first month and more. Others struggle from the very beginning–and that may be most of us.

Us fat people? We’re a big demographic (no pun intended). Women between 40 and 64 make up over 50% of the population of all women in the US. According to the CDC, adult (male and female) between 40-59 years old have an obesity rate of 39.5% with adults over 60 or above have rates of 35.4%. That’s a huge swath of the population. There are daily posts in the forums that are “I guess keto is not for me.” And “I’m so frustrated!” and other posts wailing sadly they “this doesn’t work!” and “I haven’t lost ANYTHING.” This is driven by the idea that everyone’s weight loss journeys are going to be IDENTICAL.

If I eat the same things are Mary Sue, then I’ll lose like Mary Sue. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Paid programs teach us to blame ourselves when we don’t lose week to week. If only we would “do it right.” And if we’re not losing, we’re doing something wrong. They teach us to track relentlessly and criticize each other–and ourselves– without mercy. People get addicted to daily weighing to validate their keto experience. They get anxious, worried and depressed. The forums are virulently ruthless and “hangry” — and that rabid trolling is how trolls deal with their own poisonous anxiety and worry.

Women have been taught to feel body shame and embarrassment. We’ve also been told that we are stupid and need to be held by the hand and told what to do in terms of managing our own ways of eating. There is sometimes a fairly childlike (or childish) attitude. “Just tell me what to eat.” “Help, I don’t know anything!” are very common statements in keto forums. We have to reject this learned helplessness. We have to learn how our bodies work, we have to learn how keto works for us. We have to get educated. If you follow EVERYONE’S advice, you have given up control and abandoned critical thinking. And that’s not gonna work, long term.

However, I do understand that, like me!, many women are just plain overwhelmed with life issues from widowhood, from being “the mom,” to being the family breadwinner, the caregiver for elderly parents (who are also obese), and have no time and little money. I have personally struggled with issues like these, and indeed, some of these exact issues. We all have to find the time and space to get educated and care for ourselves. Resources like Dr Berg’s Youtube Channel, Dr Berry’s Youtube Channel, and the Diet Doctor Website can really change the game. Books can also help.

I’m a Ford, Maybe You’re a Subaru

Don’t compare your journey. Support one another. Be positive. It’s easy to get negative and depressed but don’t go there. It only slows us down further. Find a forum or a group that is POSITIVE and CARING. We all screw up, and we need support when we do. Overall, the important thing is to make healthy choices. We only get the one body. Take the best care of it.

Best ~ Lola

Author: Lola

Recovering academic, real-life, honest to cornflakes anthropologist (Ph.D. and fieldwork and everything), tech-head and social media researcher.

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