I went on the Silicon Valley diet craze that encourages butter and bacon for 2 months - and it vastly improved my life
Melia RobinsonJan 1, 2018, 22:24 IST
A viral diet that's been shown to burn 10 times more fat than a standard diet is gaining momentum among Silicon Valley tech workers. And it involves eating a lot of fat.
The ketogenic or "keto" diet - which first became popular in the 1920s as a treatment for epilepsy and diabetes - limits carbohydrates to no more than 50 grams a day, which is the rough equivalent of a plain bagel or a cup of white rice. By comparison, dietary guidelines from the US Department of Agriculture recommend between 225 and 325 grams of carbs a day.
A small study recently published in the journal Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome found that adults who had been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome (a precursor of diabetes) and ate a ketogenic diet had resting metabolic rates (a measure of how much energy your body burns when at rest) over 10 times higher than people who ate a standard diet.
Earlier this year, I spent two months eating bacon, butter, and avocados to see why the keto movement is so popular with tech workers. Here's what it was like.
I am no stranger to diets. I've cut sugar, counted points on Weight Watchers, and swapped solid food for Soylent, a venture-capital-backed meal-replacement shake.
But those usually don't last long. I love food. I'm a chronic snacker.
When I first learned about the keto diet, it caught my interest because dieters could eat seemingly unlimited amounts of healthy fats, like cheese, nuts, avocado, eggs, butter — foods that have high "point values" on Weight Watchers and are severely restricted.
The keto diet is like Atkins on steroids. It turns the body into a fat-burning machine.
But the keto diet is not for everyone, so I sought medical supervision. Dr. Priyanka Wali is an internal-medicine physician with specialty training in obesity medicine. She uses the keto diet routinely for her patients who have insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, and diabetes.
After asking me about my family history and my reasons for trying the keto diet, Wali determined I was an "optimizer," like the healthy tech workers who rely on the diet.
Wali introduced me to the "keto food pyramid," via this image that went viral on Reddit.
She taught me how to count carbs the smart way: Carbohydrates - dietary fiber = net carbs.
Pasta was off the menu. A cup of cooked whole-wheat noodles has about 41 net carbs, which would blow through my daily carb allowance in one small portion.
I had to be careful even with fruits and starchy vegetables. A cup of blueberries has about 11.5 net carbs. It's also low in fiber, so it's not very filling for long.
When I got home from my visit with Wali, I was forced to rethink all my dietary staples. I let my boyfriend finish off our supply of apples, bananas, bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes.
And I said yes to fat. A typical breakfast included a coffee with half and half, along with cheesy eggs cooked in butter and two slices of bacon.
For lunch, I ate a lot of "sad desk salads." Two cups of leafy greens, an ounce of cheddar cheese, a handful of nuts, and avocado or cauliflower rang up about 6 net carbs.
Our office has the best snacks — Goldfish, Nature Valley bars, animal crackers, and peanut-butter-filled pretzels (my personal brand of indulgence). I thought of them often.
I scoured keto blogs for high-fat snacks — called "fat bombs" — to power me through the sugar cravings. Loaded cauliflower made with butter, sour cream, cheddar cheese, and bacon became my go-to treat. The keto comfort food didn't make me feel deprived.
During Week 2, my ketone testing meter kit arrived in the mail. The pocket-sized medical device uses a small blood sample to measure the presence of ketones.
My first encounter with a lancing device, a tool that draws blood from the fingertip, was not particularly pleasant. Afterward, I held the ketone testing meter to the drop of blood.
I got 0.4 mmol/L, a low-level state of nutritional ketosis. In less than two weeks on the diet, my body flipped the switch on burning carbs to burning fat as its primary fuel source.
Three weeks in, I felt the difference. Even on days when I ate bun-less cheeseburgers for lunch, my energy was sky-high. I no longer needed coffee to stay awake in the afternoon.
I suddenly could go three, four, even five hours without thinking about food. My snacking became much less frequent, and I became more focused on work as a result.
When I splurged on a bagel or pizza, which did happen, I wanted to curl up under my desk and nap within 30 minutes of eating. I felt uncomfortably full and groggy.
To avoid the ill feelings that carbs gave me, I experimented more in the kitchen. I learned that pizza made with a baked cauliflower crust was not pizza. It tastes like a vegetable casserole, but at least I don't wake up feeling bloated.
Eating at restaurants was the hardest part. I ate taco fillings out of tortillas and scraped the breading off fried chicken. Every menu had just one or two things I could order guilt-free.
After eating mostly fat, protein, and leafy vegetables for one month, I reached my peak ketone reading of 0.9 mmol/L — a strong indication that I reached a state of ketosis.
It was then that I realized why I loved eating keto — it made me feel like a superhero.
I also lost about 8 pounds in two months, without added exercise. It was a nice bonus!