Like many men over 50, I’ve been putting on a few pounds a year every year since my twenties. The problem that I faced was similar to a lot of guys my age — when you put on weight for a couple of decades, one day you wake up and find yourself seriously overweight and out of shape. Extra weight saps your energy, shortens your life, and (most importantly) impacts your ability to play men’s softball.
In my case, I needed to lose about 50 pounds. That’s a lot of weight actually — about 20% of my total body weight at the time. My doctor had an ugly phrase for my condition: “morbid obesity.” Loosely translated, Morbid Obesity is Latin for “Dude – you are so fat you are going to die.”
Or at least you are statistically more likely to die.
Basically, I found myself needing a simple weight loss plan for men “over a certain age” to avoid certain death.
So, I found and executed a simple Keto weight loss plan and it worked. In three months (at the time of this post), I was able to easily lose more than 30 of the 50 pounds that I wanted to shed, I expect to lose the remaining weight over the coming months — almost effortlessly. I’ve done this with diet changes alone — and without exercise.
But my dramatic success has created another problem. Several times a week, I get approached by people that want to know “how I did it”. They wanted to know how I was able to lose all that weight so easily because they want to lose weight themselves. It turns out there is an obesity epidemic in America (who knew?), and most people are desperate to lose weight.
Success With A Ketogenic Diet
The plan that worked so well for me was the popular Keto Diet. On the surface, Keto is pretty simple to explain. The Ketogenic diet its essentially a very low-carb, high-healthy-fat, moderate protein diet. But there are many details to communicate. So I decided to create a blog post that I could send to people who wanted to give it a try. This is that post.
What’s cool is that the medical literature is mounting showing that Keto offers many health benefits. More than 20 studies show that this type of diet can help you lose weight and improve your health. There is even some evidence that Keto may help fight diabetes, cancer, epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease.
Important Legal Mumbo Jumbo: I am not a doctor or a nutritionist. I am certainly not your doctor. I am not giving you medical advice as I am not qualified to do that. If you are considering making decisions regarding your health, you should consult a medical professional. You should consult your doctor before changing your diet. You are responsible for your own health. And your results will probably be different. Got it?
That said, here is a nice graph showing what I was able to achieve in a short time. I use the Withings (Nokia) WiFi scale (here it is on Amazon), and it records my weight every time I weigh.
My Very Simple Keto Weight Loss Plan
Many people are just looking to understand what I did to lose weight, and don’t care much about exactly how Keto works. I respect that. People are busy. So, I’ll tell you what I did. These are my simple “rules” that resulted in over 30 pounds lost in a few months. After that, we can discuss why this works, and other things that I think are useful for you to understand.
- Completely Stop Eating Sweets. Nix anything that looks like sugar. No exceptions. Look, there is mounting evidence that sugar is horrible. We will talk about why later in this post, but you should not eat anything sugary on a Keto Diet. This includes (but is not limited to) stuff like donuts, cakes, cookies, muffins, candy, pie, ice cream, soda pop (Coke, Dr. Pepper, Sprite), and orange juice. None. No cheat day. Just stop. If it tastes sweet, don’t eat it. Sugar is killing you.
- Stop eating starch. Eliminate starchy things that turn into sugar (glucose) quickly in your blood. I won’t bore you with the details of why just yet. For now, know that you need to stop eating tortillas, chips, bread, pasta, rice and potatoes. They turn to glucose very quickly once you eat them — so they look like sugar to your body — and sugar is killing you.
- Eat more healthy fat. Try and get 70% of your calories from healthy fats like Avocados, olives, cheese, eggs, salmon, pecans, walnuts, and healthy oils like coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil. Healthy fat supports ketosis, and evidence is mounting that “good fat” is really good for you. More on this later. For now, just know you need to get most of your calories from healthy fat on the Keto diet.
- Eat protein, but don’t over do it. Get about 20% of your calories from protein. Shoot for high quality meats if you can (grass-fed beef and the like). Note that this is different from other “low-carb” diets like Atkins that call for a ton of protein. 20% of your calories from protein does not mean that you should eat 17 pound of bacon at every meal.
- Eat lots of green veggies. You want to keep your NET carbohydrates under 20 grams per day (more on this later). The easiest way to do this is to round out your diet with lots of green things like spinach, lettuce, broccoli, zucchini and the like.
Bottom Line: I lost weight by eliminating starchy/sugary carbs and eating more healthy fat. That’s really it. That’s the plan.
Here is a short list of things I did not do:
- I did not get much exercise. I do generally get some because I play softball and coach youth baseball, but I’m not exactly training for a triathlon.
- I did not count calories. I did log food some using a iPhone app called LoseIt, but I only did that to track macros (carbs, fat and protein). I did not count calories.
- I did not get hungry. Mostly. I ate when I was hungry, but I can go hours and hours without eating when I am in ketosis. It’s pretty cool. The Keto Diet works well with intermittent fasting if you are into that.
- I did not hit macros exactly. I just tried to get “in the ballpark”.
- I did not stop drinking alcohol. I did stop drinking beer because of the carb count of good beer, but I continued drinking whiskey and red wine (both are low carb).
- I did not cheat — not much anyway. I did not have any cheat meals or cheat days. I ate things that had more carbs that I thought (like by accident at a Resturaunt), but I never blew my macros on purpose.
- I did not test my keynotes. If you test your Keytones with a device like the Keto Mojo, you can be sure you are in ketosis. I did not do that.
- I did not stay clean. Your Keto Diet can be “clean” or “dirty.” Clean means you are focused on healthy whole foods like organic avocados and free-range pecans (LOL). Dirty Keto refers to foods like processed meats (bacon), pork rinds and other processed, non-organic foods. Common sense says clean is healthier (not much actual data on this) but I did not worry about it. I ate clean when I could but never hesitated to consume dirty foods (A.K.A “The Good Stuff”).
Recommended Keto Resources
The most common questions I get are about various “resources” for starting the Keto Diet. So, here are some of the resources you will need if you are planning on starting Keto.
- What is a Keto Diet? I gave the simple answer already, but if you want a more in-depth explanation that includes some nice details and reference, I recommend this Keto Beginners Guide. At least you will know I am not totally making all of this stuff up.
- What foods can I eat? Well, you can eat anything you want as long as you keep your NET carbs low and your healthy fats high. But many people want a list of Keto foods. I like this one because not all Keto foods are created equal, and this list recognizes that.
- What are Macros, and what should my percentages be for Keto? If you keep you Net Carbs low and your healthy fat high, you will have success. But if you want to understand the details and calculate everything, here is a great explanation of Keto macros and a calculator for you.
- What the heck is a NET carb? Food labels list TOTAL carbs. Net carbs, usually expressed in grams, are the part of carbs that can move your blood sugar and trigger the release of insulin (and kick you out of Ketosis). Here is the definition of Net Carbs and how to calculate them.
- Is there a great Facebook Group I can join for this? Well, yes there is. My great friend Lynn Terry over at Traveling Low Carb has an awesome low carb Facebook group where she runs a 90 day low carb Keto challenge. The group is well moderated and supportive. Great way to get started. Tag me when you get there and say hello.
About Eating Keto
My high-school friend Suzanna asked me if I had any “favorite Keto recipes”. Honestly, since I am the only person in my house on Keto, I have not done lot of Keto cooking. More often, I eat “Keto things” like chicken, nuts, avocados, green veggies. I love the idea of more complicated food, but right now my favorite recipe is:
- Buy grass-fed ribeye
- Salt grass-fed ribeye
- Gently grill grass-fed ribeye
- Serve with avocado and asparagus
- Repeat as necessary.
Seriously, I just generally choose from what’s available, skipping the carbs and trying to add fat where I can. I don’t even own a Keto Cookbook (Amazon has a ton). It’s not perfect – but it works for me. Here are some typical situations.
- Trapped at a burger place. Order bunless burger with cheese, avocado, jalapeños and mushrooms if they have them. Skip the fries. Unsweetened tea or Diet Coke. I don’t think Diet Coke is good for you, but I love it.
- Random Chinese place. Almost any stir fry that is not sweet. Broccoli beef for example. “No rice, extra veggies” is what I say. No MSG is a good thing to say too. It’s not perfect as corn starch is used in the sauce some times, but it’s better than eating a plate of fried rice.
- Accidental Italian. This is a tough one. Pasta? No. Pizza? No? Bread? No. Look for the antipasto. Lots of meats, cheeses and olives. Processed Italian meats are not ideal, but it better than eating an entire plate of penne.
- Fried Chicken Fiasco. Easy. Peel off the skin. Rock and roll. Look for green beans. Chicken places always have green beans. Avoid rolls, corn and (sadly) fried okra.
- American Bistro. Any burger without a bun, most chicken Caesar salads (no croutons). Lots of other things (Chili’s has a guiltless grill steak). My go to — unbreaded chicken wings — but make sure they are naked (not breaded). Buffalo sauce is generally OK. BBQ sauce is not.
My long-time facebook friend Kent asked me about ice cream. That’s a tough one. I love ice cream and I miss Blue Bell every day. I’ve tried all of the “Keto” ice creams out there and I don’t really like any of them. So, I’ve settled for just a little Breyer’s Low Carb ice cream served over a handful of pecans with a bit of whipped heavy cream. It’s a high fat, low carb treat that reminds me of ice cream.
Without Keto Losing Weight Was Really Hard
I’ve been ‘watching my weight” for a couple of decades. Mostly, I’ve been watching it go up year after year. It’s not that I haven’t tried to lose weight before, but it seemed that no matter what I did, the pounds kept sneaking back on. And to make matters worse, dieting was getting harder and harder. 15 years ago, I could drop ten pounds almost overnight. Before Keto, it was a real struggle just to stay even — forget losing weight.
The crazy thing was, I hadn’t really changed anything. Not really. Before Keto, I ate pretty much ate the same way I have always eaten. And it’s not like I’m eating donuts every morning and gorging on a gallon of Rocky Road ice cream every night (as great as that sounds). I was eating a reasonable “standard American diet.”
So why was I gaining weight? And why couldn’t I lose it?
As it happens, I’m an engineer by training. Engineers don’t like it when things change for no good reason – and I am no exception. When you do the same thing you have always done, you should get about the same thing you have always gotten. Period. But not in this case. In this case, what you get is 50 extra pounds.
Enginners do like data. Weight versus time is one kind of data. I’ve got lots of that, and it’s not good. But I have some other data too. I get regular checkups (that’s how I know that I am “Morbidly Obese”), and I also saw that my blood sugar was increasing steadily over time. Hmm. Now I know that correlation does not imply causation, but I also don’t believe in coincidences.
So, again, the question is, why? Where is the weight coming from?
I think the answer for me and a lot of other 50-year old men is insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.
How Insulin Manages Sugar In Your Body
Now before I get in to the details here, let me just remind you that I am not a doctor. If you need medical advice, you should stop reading and find one. I have friends that are doctors, and I read books that are written by doctors, but I am not a doctor, and none of this should be take as medical advice.
My purpose here is NOT to write a medical journal article on Insulin, Ketosis, and other metabolic topics. I’m just trying to get you up to speed so you can ask smart questions and go off and do your own research.
The details here are complicated and poorly understood (to put it mildly).
As an engineer, I am often shocked by how little we actually understand about nutrition and how terrible the epidemiological studies are. Add in farmers, food manufacturers, big Pharma and congress and it’s no wonder everything is such a mess.
All that aside, let’s talk about sugar, and some very important stuff called Insulin.
Insulin is a hormone. Your body makes it when you need it. Specifically, your pancreas makes it. Your pancreas is a long flat gland (well, it’s really two glands mixed together) that hides behind your stomach. It’s a really important organ, because it makes insulin and insulin is responsible for controling blood sugar.
If your blood sugar gets too high for long periods of time (cronic hyperglycemia), lot’s of bad things can happen — including kidney damage, neurological damage, heart damage, damage to the retina and damage to feet and legs. So insulin’s job of controling blood sugar is really important.
Insulin’s job is to manage blood glucose levels.
When you eat something, part of the food that you eat (the carbohydrates particularly) are broken down into glucose during digestion. Glucose is a form of sugar that crusies around in your bloodstream. Muscle cells in your body use glucose for energy, and insulin helps those cells absorb the glucose.
Insulin is sort of like a magic key that opens up your cells so that they can accept the glucose delivery. That’s great, because you need energy to stay alive. So far, so good.
Insulin also signals muscle cells, fat cells and liver cells to go ahead and store “extra glucose” for a rainy day. And there’s the rub. If you have too much glocose in your blood (maybe because you ate too many carbs — more on that later), your body will send in insulin to tell your cells to adsorb the sugar. Once you have stored all you need for normal operations, you will store that sugar as fat.
It’s that simple. To summarize:
- Step 1: Eat food with carbs. Bread is a good example. So are cake, rice and french fries. Cereal. Basically anything with flower and sugar as well.
- Step 2: Food turns to glucose and enters your bloodstream. Your blood sugar starts to rise.
- Step 3: Your pancreas senses this and sends in insulin to signal your muscle cells to store that glocose for later.
- Step 4: If there is lots of extra glucose, that gets stored in your fat cells. In the case of fat cells, you are storing it for much later, and putting on weight.
When everything is working properly, a “normal amount” of insulin keeps your blood sugar in the “normal range,” which is between 70 mg/dL (when you are really hungry) and 180 mg/dL (when you just recently ate a meal).
Insulin Resistance Upsets The Balance
The problem is that over time, if you eat a lot of sugar and other carbs, you pancreas is constantly hammering your cells with a lot of insulin. Like a child who is tired of being nagged by his parents, your muscles, fat and liver start to ignore the signal. This generally referred to “insulin resistance” and is sometime called “metabolic syndrome.”
So, your body does the most reasonable thing. It tells your pancreas to make even more insulin. Over time, your blood sugar levels go up. And when your sugar levels go up, your pancreas wants to make more insulin.
This cycle insulin resistance (a.k.a. metabolic syndrome) is associated with problems like obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes. With your pancreas in overdrive due to insulin sensitivity, it can actually “wear out” the little cells called islets that help make insulin.
So bottom line, while it’s not a all clear to me that physicians totally understand all the details, the evidence is pretty solid that metabolic syndrome is linked to obesity (and diabetes).
The Keto Diet Breaks The Cycle
When you dramatically restrict your carb intake like on the Keto diet, your body will enter a state know as “ketosis”. Ketosis is a situation where, deprived of glucose, your body will start producing and using ketones for energy.
For most people (healthy, no diabetes, etc), ketosis usually by the fourth day of a very low net carb diet. You can detect accurately it with devices like the Keto Mojo, and somewhat less accurately with tools like urine strips.
It’s completely normal for you body to be “in ketosis.” In fact, it’s likely that our hunter-gatherer ancestors were in ketosis often during the long stretches between kills (meals). Any time your body doesn’t have enough glucose, it will burn stored fat instead.
Dramatically cutting carbs (glucose) from your diet means less glucose for your body to burn up. Replacing dietary carbs with fats will cause acids called ketones to build up in your body. Once you get over the tipping point, your body, needing energy, will switch in to fat burning mode and start accessing stored fat.
While your body is in ketosis, it becomes extremely efficient at burning fat. Ketogenic diets can trigger major reductions in your blood sugar and insulin levels, which has additional health benefits.
There is still a lot of debate and misinformation out there when it comes to the impact of the Keto Diet and Insulin resistance. Some studies show that insulin resistance improves promptly for most people when they begin a Ketogenic Diet. It is speculated that the effect appears to be due to the ketones themselves (Newman, 2015), not just the reduced carbs.
It’s a confusing but good circle because other data suggests that losing weight reduces insulin resistance too. All of this is good news.
The bottom line is that the Ketogenic Diet causes weight loss, and that’s exactly what I experienced in my case.
Simple Conclusions About Keto
So, here are some of my takeaways about the Keto Diet based on all of this
- It works for me. It may not work for you. But it works you me and that’s awesome. I lost more than thirty pounds and still losing. Your mileage may vary (as they say).
- Sugar is bad, and so are lots of starchy carbs. Walnuts are better than donuts. Avocados are better than Snickers Bars. Simple.
- The science is unclear. Good studies are hard to do, and because the media is involved in the conversation (and the media is trying to sell ads above all else) it’s really hard to understand.
- Long term data is unclear. I have my annual physical coming up in a month, and I’ll add my findings to this post when I get my blood results back.
Last Reminder: I Am Not A Doctor
That’s right. I have opinions. Lots of them. Good ones. Just ask me. I’ve read a lot of books and done some research. I even went to college. But I am not a doctor. I don’t even play a doctor on TV — and I am not playing one now. Most of all, I am certainly not your doctor, which is where you should turn for medical advice. Don’t make any changes to your diet or exercise program without consulting your doctor. you are responsible for the choices you make. Not me. Got it? OK. Good.