My Ketogenic Diet Experiment

I’ve been living a secret life. I’ve been following a ketogenic diet for the last month. Why is this a secret? I’m a nutritionist and we are trained to believe that we need to eat a balanced diet of proteins, “healthy” fats (but not too much), and “healthy” carbohydrates. That whole grains are part of a healthy diet and we need them in order to get all our vitamins and other essential nutrients. And that a high fat diet is only a fad that will soon be proven to be harmful to us. And I’ve been trained that mindful eating, intuitive eating, and the Health at Every Size model are all you need in order to achieve a healthy weight and maintain a healthy body. I’ve told just a handful of people about my experiment because I fear judgment from well-meaning, but ill-informed people. But after successfully competing one month of keto, and having amazing results, I’m ready to come out of the closet. Hey everyone, I’m running on ketones (ketone bodies) and loving it!

This post is part of a series about my Ketogenic diet: Month 2, Month 3, Month 4, Month 5, Month 6, Month 7, Month 8, Month 9, Month 10, Month 11

Butter vs. Sugar
Butter vs. Sugar

Why did I start this experiment?

I was very sick. I was in a car accident on March 4, 2014, that was pretty devastating to me physically, emotionally, and financially. As I write this, it has been nearly 16 months since that accident and I still have not fully healed. Initially my legs were the worst of my injuries and I spent a couple of months in bed from the pain. As my legs began to heal, I started experiencing neuro-endocrine symptoms. The symptoms became so bad in January of 2015, I was again bedridden for nearly 3 months due to exhaustion and extreme lightheadedness and had to shut down my private practice. I went to doctor after doctor after doctor that didn’t have any real solutions for me. Due to frustration, and having all that time on my hands, I began searching research literature to see if I could figure out what was causing all my symptoms. I finally landed on Post Traumatic Hypopituitarism (PTHP). (here is an excellent article if you’d like to know more.)

My symptoms of PTHP: hypoglycemia*, low cortisol, mental fogginess, cognitive problems, memory problems, constant lightheadedness, extreme fatigue, amenorrhea, insomnia, and clumsiness with my hands, among many others.  Additionally, I had chronic pain and hypersensitivity in my legs. And then I developed gastroparesis (my stomach was not digesting food and it would just keep getting fuller and fuller all day), GERD, and diarrhea. I was also prone to week-long migraines with no known cause.

(*The hypoglycemia was caused by adrenal fatigue likely from PTHP. When adrenals are fatigued, they struggle to make cortisol, which is necessary to help mobilize energy in between meals. Without enough cortisol, my blood sugar was highly unstable and even the simplest of tasks, like going to the grocery store, would make me shake, tremble, feel confused and forget where I parked my car because my body was unable to mobilize glucose from storage to maintain my blood sugar level.)

Being stuck at home (mostly in bed) for so long, my metabolism was also in terrible shape. I had gained 25 pounds in a little over a year; my inflammatory markers, LDL-cholesterol, HDL-cholesterol, and triglycerides were not great. My waist measurement exceeded the 35 inch mark and my blood pressure was making doctors consider putting me on meds. I had Metabolic Syndrome. Part of this I can blame on the accident, part I can blame on genes, but I have to admit looking back now, I hadn’t been taking the best care of my metabolism over the last 7-8 years. I had been embracing the modalities that I had learned in grad school and taught to my clients. But they weren’t working. The intuitive food choices I was making were more and more full of refined carbohydrates, that I very mindful ate (and enjoyed!). (What I know now is that once this level of glucose intolerance is achieved, it actually perpetuates appetite, cravings, and overeating, so much so that willpower and mindfulness can’t overcome it.) These poor food choices plus inactivity, when you have the genetic code for metabolic syndrome, leads to a ticking time bomb. And my bomb was ticking.

In addition to all this, my family history was staring me in the face. One of my grandparents had died with dementia a few years ago. My other grandparents had just been placed in assisted living due to dementia. And I have family members with type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. If I didn’t do something drastic, I was headed down the same road. (July 2015 update: my second grandmother died due to complications from dementia, as well.)

After I thoroughly researched ketogenic diets, I knew it could help reverse my Metabolic Syndrome, but I wondered if it could help heal my brain and PTHP, providing me with better, more stable energy since my adrenal fatigue was contributing to the frequent energy dips and hypoglycemia and likely my mental fogginess. Could it be the answer to all my health problems?

So how did I land on a ketogenic diet?

I don’t remember the exact trajectory, but I began looking for research on herbs, supplements, and diets that supported healing a traumatic brain injury. I started on a regimen of anti-inflammatory herbs, which helped, but it wasn’t enough. I remembered hearing/learning that ketogenic diets were quite effective in the treatment of epilepsy, so I wondering if it could help heal the brain and started looking down that path. Somewhere along the way, I was reading an article on Chris Kresser’s website (I’ve been a big fan for several years) and one of the comments mentioned Dr. Peter Attia and his website Eating Academy. I began reading his site and the more I read, the more fascinated I became. It really started to pique my interest about what a ketogenic diet could do for me and my health. As I read more, I realized that I recognized Dr. Attia from this Ted Talk. Finally I watched Dr. Jeff Volek’s research in this video and this video, and then bought his book, The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living: An expert’s guide to making the life-saving benefits of carbohydrate restriction sustainable and enjoyable. I felt very strongly that this diet was not only safe, but very healing and healthful for me, as well as a large percentage of the population.

What is a ketogenic diet?

A ketogenic diet, or keto diet, is a very-low carb, high fat diet (LCHF), with adequate protein. Basically, I limit my carbohydrates to no more than 20 grams per day, eat adequate protein (0.8 grams per kilogram of my body weight) and eat the rest in fat. Limiting carbs (in the presence of adequate protein) forces your body to begin using fat as its primary fuel source, which unlike glucose, is abundant in they body. With a steady supply of energy from fat, your body no longer is dependent on the carbs from each meal you eat and you get a constant, steady energy for both body and mind. Once you experience it, there really is nothing like it. You’ll wonder why you’ve been doing it the other way your whole life.

Isn’t a ketogenic diet dangerous? Isn’t ketosis harmful to our bodies?

Short answer: no.

I’ve discovered that only people that don’t understand the biochemistry and haven’t read the research think that a ketogenic diet is harmful. You can find articles about how unhealthy it is, but it’s all based on false and/or misunderstood information. Why would we put little kids with epilepsy on this diet if it was harmful or dangerous?

Long answer, read this. And then read this and then this.

Don’t we need carbs for energy?

I was surprised to learn after re-reading my biochemistry lessons from grad school that we do not need (to eat) carbs for energy. And Dr. Peter Attia answers this perfectly on his website:

“This is actually the wrong question.  If the question is, “Do we need to eat carbohydrates for energy?” the answer is, no.  The conventional wisdom is that we need a minimum of 120 to 130 grams of carbohydrates (glucose) per day to fuel our brains, and we need copious glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrates) for endurance activities. This is just a misconception of what is not controversial science.  Our body can fuel both our brains and hours and hours of endurance activities from protein and the breakdown products of fats.” (See the links in the question above for all the biochemistry and sciencey stuff.)

What does a typical day of food look like? What do you eat?

Breakfast: Decaf coffee (with cream and/or coconut oil), 2-3 egg omelet with spinach, topped with salsa and cheese

Lunch: Salmon filet, a few almonds, and side of broccoli with butter

Dinner: Hamburger patty (no bun) topped with sliced tomato, avocado, and cheese and a wedge salad with blue cheese dressing.

This is a typical day, but there is a lot of variability. I don’t typically snack because I’m not hungry between meals. Each of these meals keeps me full and satisfied for 4-6 hours.

I eat real, natural whole foods. The proteins I eat are beef, pork, chicken, fish, seafood, eggs, lamb, bacon, etc. For fats, I eat butter, coconut oil, olive oil, olives, avocado, cheese, lard and bacon fat. For my carbs, I mostly eat leafy greens (lettuce, kale, spinach), tomatoes, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. Salt, herbs and spices are used freely, too. For the most part, I avoid sugar, grains, starchy vegetables and fruits, and any oil besides coconut or olive (no hydrogenated anything, too.). After my health stabilizes and I reach some goals, I plan to add back in some carbohydrates to a level that my body tolerates and my health is still stable.

Is keto safe for everyone?

Of course, you’ll want to check with your doctor. Dr. Volek’s research shows that almost every body type can thrive on a well-formulated keto diet, but only about 30% of the population can thrive on a low-fat diet (but even that type still does great on a keto diet). There are numerous health conditions that can be helped by carbohydrate restriction (PCOS, GERD, chronic pain, hypercholesterolemia, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, pre-diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome, just to name a few), but a few that may need to use caution, like those with gallstones or gallbladder disease. Some people with IBS find that keto eliminates their symptoms, while others find they do better with a bit more carbs.

Is it hard to do it or stick with it?

It does take some time for our bodies to adapt to primarily using ketone bodies (keto-adaptation). I read about this and was well-informed going in, so I knew what to expect, for the most part. It typically takes 1-3 days to get the body into ketosis, and about 3-4 or more weeks (for some up to 12 weeks) to become keto-adapted. Signs of keto-adaptation are clear head, steady energy, improved energy, reduced appetite, and general sense of well-being. While the body is adapting, it is common to feel a bit fatigued, but since I was already feeling that way, I figured it couldn’t be any worse. I self-committed to trying it for at least 3 months and if it wasn’t working for me by then, then I would give it up. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t have to wait 3 months to see if it would work.)

Adapt Your Life

I gave myself a “Week 0” the week prior to my start date to eat what ever I wanted, but the opposite happened. I was so very ready to start feeling better, I actually reduced my sugar and carb intake to 100 grams per day. It ended up being a great natural transition week of reduced carb eating.

I expected the first 3 days of full-on keto to be the hardest, giving up sugar and most carbs, but it wasn’t really until Day 5 that I had the worst sugar and carb cravings. I didn’t know if I was going to make it and it felt like the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life at that point! But I knew that if I gave in then, I’d be setting myself back that many more days and I’d just have to go through it all over again. I wanted desperately for my brain to heal and for the debilitating symptoms to go away. I knew if I could get through the withdrawals, the other side would be so worth it. And it was. By about Day 10, things started getting much easier.

I developed some strategies to make things easier in the beginning:

  • Avoid looking at recipes and Pinterest
  • Keep meal prep really simple. Follow my hunger, eating when hungry. Make meals that take only a few minutes to prepare.
  • Stock fridge and freezer with easy to make, keto-friendly foods that I love (butter, bacon, avocado, beef, salmon, pork, fresh veggies, etc.)
  • Toss out any sugary/carby foods that might derail me
  • Avoid going to the grocery store (My kitchen was already stocked, so I didn’t need to go. I used to go out of habit, often, just buy more unnecessary carbs.)

I’ve never been able to follow any kind of diet plan in the past due to extreme feelings of deprivation and constant hunger. And as far as the middle path–mindful eating, intuitive eating, all that stuff I used to teach to all my clients–well, that is what lead me to all the metabolic health problems and a 50 pound weight gain over 10 years! However with keto, it has been so easy for me to stick to it, partly because of the threat of having to start over with keto adaptation, but mostly because of the lack of constant hunger and how good I feel. And once I removed the carb and sugar addiction, I can now actually intuitively and mindfully eat healthful foods.

Results  the First Two Weeks

At about 2.5 weeks in I was feeling fantastic. Improvements at that point:

  • Pain and swelling in my legs is nearly gone
  • Cognition is nearly as good as pre-motor vehicle accident
  • Gastroparesis gone
  • Heartburn gone
  • C-RP (inflammation marker) dropped 62%
  • Hypoglycemia symptoms gone; energy stable all day
  • No more migraines
  • Menses returned
  • And appetite normalized

Results the First Month

  • Blood pressure normal
  • 5 inches gone off my waist
  • 18.5 pounds gone
  • Even more improved mental cognition; no more hand clumsiness
  • Appetite greatly reduced, no hunger between meals. Normal.
  • No headaches or migraines
  • Dramatically improved energy that is stable all day
  • Lightheadedness improving (I still seem to have adrenal fatigue symptoms, but improving)
  • Even more reduction in pain, swelling, and sensitivity in legs
  • Sleeping better and my clock is getting reset. Whereas I used to stay up late (until 2, 3, or 4 am), now I’m tired by 11 pm or midnight and getting up by 9 am with no alarm clock.
  • Steady energy all day. No hypoglycemia dips, no crashes, no problems! In fact, I was able to go to an event and hadn’t eaten lunch, and I didn’t get hypoglycemic, no headache, not ravenous, nor irritable, nor food obsessed; I could have gone all night without food. It was extremely liberating.
  • And for the first time in my life, I’m WANTING to walk for exercise everyday; and when I go for a walk, I feel like I have enough energy that I could walk forever.
  • Additionally, I’m saving lots of money on food. This is the cheapest way I’ve ever eaten.

Bottom line is, I feel fantastic. My health has dramatically improved. Doing a keto diet experiment on myself might have been the greatest thing I’ve ever done for myself.

Stay tuned, for more updates.

My next 90 Day Keto Challenge starts soon. Would you like to join me? It includes weekly webinars, meal plans and shopping list, a workbook, and private online support group. For more info, click here.

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34 thoughts on “My Ketogenic Diet Experiment

  1. Hi there,thanks for a great article- I have gastroparesis and colonic inertia and so when I saw you previously had gastroparesis this sparked my interest. How bad was it before starting keto though? It seems your meal plan is quite a lot more food then I can consume and wondering what amounts etc you were able to eat before you started keto and As eating high fat and protein is very hard for me to digest well. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Katie, I have no idea about your specific health issues, so I can’t advise you directly without having a proper full phone assessment, but what I’ve come to learn is that a lot of gastroparesis is related to insulin resistance, and keto is the best solution for reversing and healing it. Mine was really bad, but happily it resolved very quickly upon starting keto. Again, I have no idea what the underlying cause is for you, but I’m happy to do a phone consult to see if keto might be right for you. Check out my main page, and if you’re interested in exploring keto for your health, scroll all the way to the bottom of the page and fill out the questionnaire and then you’ll be taken to the scheduling page.


  2. I really enjoyed your article, thank you for sharing! I have been struggling with adrenal fatigue (not sure what stage I am at) over the past few years. Much like other comments here, I put on 25-30 pounds in about 16 months. As a former athlete, this has been so difficult for me to swallow. I started a strict ketogenic diet around Halloween of 2015 and have yet to see any weight loss and my energy levels are really, really low. The only thing I can figure is that my body is refusing to fat adapt. I am keeping fat at 80%, 15% protein and carbs under 20g on average. ANY ADVICE WOULD BE GREATLY appreciated, I feel so hopeless. I know it is possible for me to heal myself through this and lots of prayer. I just don’t know what I am doing wrong or why my body is not adapting. Thank you!! Tiffany


    1. Hi Tiffany, Sorry to hear you’re struggling. It is hard for me to know what isn’t going right for you without having all your medical information. It could be hormone issues, excess calories, medications, carb creep, or more. If you’d like to work with me one-on-one to try to get to the bottom of it, let me know. I see clients in person and via phone/Skype.


  3. I was recently diagnosed with Addisons Disease, prescribed Corticosteroids and put on 20 pounds in a month! Yikes!!!! Nonetheless, after much research I found that the keto diet is the best for folks with autoimmune diseases.

    I look forward to following your experiment and hope that it works for the both of us.


  4. Hi Carole,
    Great blog. I plan to share it wit all my friends to educate them about the diet. I have just completed 30 days on a strict ketogenic diet. I was pretty healthy before but needed to take off 25 pounds, boost metabolism, sleep better, build more muscle, etc. etc. (I’m 46, 5′ 2″) Well I’ve lost 15 as of today and I’ll never go back. This will now be my lifestyle. My energy is amazing and appetite is under control naturally with this diet.

    My questions – When did you become Keto Adapted? Do you check your blood glucose with a meter and if so can you share numbers please? (resting and post work out).

    I didn’t get blood work done before I started but have an appointment Friday. I’m expected my Dr. to freak as I’ve never had high cholesterol and I expect those numbers will be up. Also my fasting glucose is very high and went higher post-gym today. Any info you can share on this will be greatly appreciated!

    Congrats again and thanks for sharing!

    Samantha (Bellingham, WA)


    1. Hi Samantha! Thanks for joining the discussion. I look at keto adaptation as a gradual process that can take 8 to 12 weeks or longer. I don’t think there is any magical moment in time when you can know for sure that you are since it is a gradual process. I’ve never used keto stix, a glucometer, nor keto blood meter because that just added (a lot) of extra expense that I felt was completely unnecessary. From all the research I did prior to starting keto, I was confident that if I stayed under 20 grams of carbs per day, my body would become keto adapted and worrying or obsessing about blood or urine levels of anything would only unnecessarily complicate my body’s healing and adaptation.

      Since I have the added complication of post traumatic hypopituitarism (PTHP) that causes symptoms that are the opposite of keto adaptation (fatigue, lightheadedness, muscle weakness, etc.) my experience of keto adaption was seemingly slower than what others may experience. While I’m sure my body adapted in the 8-12 week time frame, because of my lingering PTHP symptoms, I didn’t experience feeling as good as I could have had I not been experiencing PTHP… but PTHP is what brought me to keto in the first place, and my symptom reduction was HUGE, so I’m not complaining!

      My fasting blood glucose levels have gone from 96 pre-keto to now a consistent 70, as tested by my doctor. I have not checked pre or post workout numbers for two reasons: not even thinking to care about it, and I haven’t been able to workout consistently due to lingering PTHP symptoms (but I’m getting close!).

      Keep in mind that when you are losing weight, your cholesterol and other blood lipids will be elevated, so it is best to only check those after your weight has been stable for at least 4 weeks. As for the elevated blood glucose, best to check with your doctor (I can’t give medical advice over the internet!).

      Please share your results with me with me when you get them! You can email me directly if you don’t want to post them here.


  5. Hello Carole! I just discovered your experiment and I am going to give this a try. I developed Addison’s disease at age 40 due to autoimmune disease. Up until that point I was very lean, muscular and highly athletic. The first seven years with Addison’s, my illness was not under control due to problems with my body’s ability to process the hydrocortisone that I took as a cortisol replacement. Then six years ago, I was changed to Cortef, which seems to keep my Addison’s symptoms under control, but the remaining problem is weight gain (I am 60 lbs heavier than my average weight before the disease). I had tried reducing my dosage (under my drs supervision) to see if it helped with weight reduction, but unfortunately my addison’s symptoms were not under control at the reduced rate. None of my doctors have been able to give me any useful dietary information to counteract this hydrocortisone induced weight gain; my caloric intake is normal, I am a landscaper and live an active lifestyle, I grow and store a lot of my own vegetables (love my veggies!), and since the addisons, I don’t even like carbs as much as before. This diet might just work for me! One question I have is that I don’t care for a lot of meat in my diet, although I like chicken and some fish; so are protein substitutes like nuts, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas and lentils going to have too much carbs for this diet?


    1. Hi Tammy! Thanks for writing. I’m really excited that you are going to try this. I think it should be helpful and I’m eager to hear to what extent it will help someone with Addison’s, since the diet is very anti-inflammatory, which may be helpful for an autoimmune condition. Yes, in general, nuts, seeds, and legumes are really high in carbs (compared to protein) and need to be limited/avoided. Some can do about 1 ounce per day of seeds or nuts, but most need to cut out all legumes. Please keep me updated on how it goes!


  6. I recently began a ketogenic diet, for health reasons. My husband and I are discussing would like to switch our entire family over to a ketogenic way of eating. Would you think that is a healthy choice? Would there be any concerns or things that we would have to consider (e.g., mineral supplementation)? Do the online keto counters work for calculating macros for children, or are they on a different type of scale since they are still growing/maturing?


    1. Hi Melanie! Just a disclaimer, but I can’t give specific recommendations for any person or family in this forum. In general, a keto diet can be healthy for all ages, if there aren’t any health problems that would be contraindicated. I highly recommend that people work with a trained and experienced healthcare professional (nutritionist or doctor) to supervise their transition into keto to make sure they are getting the proper nutrients and they have formulated the diet correctly. There are multiple concerns, like transitioning through “keto flu”; adequate intake of vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes; ensuring adequate calories for children; etc. I have not seen an online keto calculator specifically for children and yes, they do need more nutrients. Let me know if I can help further. I do offer phone, Skype, and in-person (Seattle area) nutrition services for keto diets.


      1. Good luck, & great news that you’re healing!!! I’m in your court, Carole! I’m Always reaching for the “something” that works for my whole body! Linda Cantrell.


  7. Hi, do you count calories? how many calories do you eatt?how can i know how many calories should i eat? sorry for my english, im from Chile hehehe.. hugs!


    1. Hi Maggie! I track everything I eat on just to make sure I don’t go over my carb limit and to make sure I get enough protein. I don’t limit my calories; I just follow my appetite and eat when hungry. My total daily calories has been in the range of 1200 to 1800 just following my own hunger. will calculate your total daily energy expenditure for you, too.


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