Dona Keto Transformation
Dona's Keto transformation Image Credit: GN

I weighed 76 kilos at a height of 154cms just three months ago. From September 16 to now, I am 13 kilos lighter, free of insulin resistance and loving the new shopping experience.

I do have to say, in retrospect, I was in denial of how bad the extra weight was for me. Skimming the higher indices of overweight BMI, with just a few points to obese territory, I was definitely too heavy for my height. While not one for basing everything on limited indices such as the BMI, I would be lying if I said I was just fine as I was.

Done Before
How I looked before I went on Keto Image Credit: DC

Mid first week in September, one of our colleagues wrote in an account of the Keto diet and how it turned his life around. Being the sceptics we were, our editor encouraged us to try the diet out and document the changes, good or bad, or the lack thereof. I decided to give it a go on September 16 – and a weekend prior spent some time researching the diet itself.


So what is the Keto diet?

An extremely low carb-high fat diet, the Keto diet is one where you are allowed only around 20-50g of net carbs (total carbs - dietary fibre) a day. The diet is a namesake for the process that the body goes through called ketosis or ketogenesis – a state where the liver produces acidic ketones and burns fat for energy due to the lack of carbohydrates in the diet.

Fat fuels you, with the ketones, and your body starts burning stored fats for energy.

It takes your body days to get into this fat-burning mode, usually 4 to 5 days. According to experts, once you’re in ketosis, your body retrains itself to stop depending on non-existent carbs for energy and switches to burning ketones and stored fat sources.

Now what’s so hard about it, you may ask. A decent-sized banana has 27 grams of carbs, which is basically all the carbs you could have on this diet on a single day. The key to this diet is having loads of fat, at least 75 per cent of all your calories.

Add to all this the fact that I am a South Indian and we don’t understand the concept of any meal without rice or some rice-sourced ingredient. Idiyappam, puttu, appams, steamed brown rice, biriyani, rotis, dosas, idlis – basically everything I eat on a normal day would have to be avoided if I were to start this.

I do think I wouldn’t have done it if there wasn’t a work element to it. Three months later, 13 kilos lighter, I don’t regret it at all.


How did I start?

During the first week, I definitely had apprehensions. According to my chosen diet, I could have 20 grams of net carbs, 65 grams of protein and around 80 grams of fat.

I am not a huge fan of cheese, or chunks of butter floating around in my coffee – so I knew getting enough fat into my system would be hard. Too much protein is also not recommended on the diet, so eating chicken for all meals would be a strict no-no.

My options included eggs, lean or fatty protein, cheese of various kinds, heavy cream, butter, ghee, fatty nuts, coconut oil, small amounts of berries, non-starchy vegetables including greens, and almond or coconut flour. I wasn’t allowed any carbs including grains or grain-based foods such as rice, wheat, oats, fruits, starchy vegetables, low fat foods, skimmed milk or yoghurt, and most importantly, sugar. For my own version of the diet, I do drink limited quantities of full-fat milk, which some Keto experts do not encourage as it could kick you out of the ketosis process. It seemed to work for me as long as I kept an eye on portions.

Dona
Dona after she lost 13kgs Image Credit: Clint Egbert, GN Photographer

You do have to keep your water intake steadily high so as to maintain healthy ketone levels, or your body could go into ketoacidosis which is a serious condition and could be fatal.


My main issues with food…

Spice. As a Malayali, I grew up eating really spicy food. Popular diets have put me off before because what other people might find tasty, I usually find bland and uninteresting. I knew I had to find a way to add spice in without compromising on the rules of the diet, or I would give up very soon.

Eggs I have always been wary of having too many egg yolks, so I always limit my intake to a maximum of two whole eggs a day.

Cheese I had to find one or two variants of cheese that I liked. Contrary to popular belief, not all of India loves cottage cheese (paneer). Paneer has never been cooked or served at my home ever.

Milk I had to have coffee with milk, so I went the off-route by deciding to keep it in the diet but in limited quantities but always full cream or full fat.

Fat other than coconut oil, we never use cooking fats much at all. Cooking with butter and ghee were always discouraged and now I had to re-train my hand and brain to be generous.


A day of Keto

From the first day of Keto and then every day to this day, I start my day with two eggs, usually boiled and sometimes fried in a generous spoon of ghee. For lunch, I usually have a protein such as fish or chicken along with some cheese or butter. Dinner is light, with microwave almond ‘bread’ and cheese or a nice sweet dessert – yes, dessert.

My daily pantry items are almond flour (I get mine loose for Dh66 a kilo at supermarkets, don’t go for the shiny packaging and labels), eggs, ghee, coconut oil, full fat milk (200 ml or less daily), cheddar cheese slices, heavy cream, unsweetened cocoa and Stevia sugar substitute.

The key, for me, to stay Keto was to not have an iron-clad meal plan in my head, I needed to have the option of switching things around at a moment’s notice.

Three recipes making my Keto journey amazing

Cheese-stuffed chicken

A chicken breast, pan seared, sliced three-fourths through stuffed with a mixture of parmesan, mozzarella and sliced chilli and garlic. Use tooth picks to secure the stuffing as the chicken cooks through.

‘Icecream’

Into a tin of chilled thickened unflavoured cream, add a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder and two teaspoons of stevia sweetener. This is enough dessert for two servings for one. You could also use heavy cream with cocoa and sweetener – shake the heavy cream mixture until slightly thickened and freeze to get Keto-friendly icecream.

Almond microwave ‘bread’

Use your favourite coffee mug for this one. Add in three tablespoons of almond flour, one egg and a pinch of salt (skip the salt if you plan on adding cheese later). Mix well and cook in the microwave for 45 seconds to a minute to get bread. You could eat this with just cheese but I like to use one tablespoon of schezwan chilly sauce (3 grams of carbs) and some parmesan cheese or a cheese slice.


Why I will stick with the Keto diet

1. I got measured for my wedding gown right after losing around 8 kilos, so I have to keep it up until January 14 to make sure I have a non-bridezilla wedding.

2. I find the strict rules of the diet comforting because it helps me stay on track – there is no grey area.

3. I have found ways to keep my tummy and mind happy – for example, I still have a burger sometimes, just without the bun. Trust me, it tastes just as good with all the dressings on there.

4. I was diagnosed with insulin resistance which made dark pigmentations appear on my neck and face – both resistance and pigmentation have disappeared.

5. My body feels light even after heavy Keto meals.

Cons

1. The first two weeks are not easy.

2. The diet is definitely strict with no concept of a cheat, unless you decide to go in and out of ketosis.

3. This may not work positively for everyone. Always consult a doctor before attempting the diet as it is an extreme one.

4. You lose out on key vitamins and minerals that fruits, vegetables and grains are abundant in.

If you decide to try this diet, my only tip is to be patient; not just for results but for a method that works for you. With your doctor’s advice find variants that work for your taste buds and your macro requirements.


Breaking out of Keto

After Keto, I am determined to still avoid sugar in processed forms. If I do I have rice or wheat, this would be weekly and in small quantities. I aim to take away the self-control and nutrition-reading ability from Keto to apply on a balanced diet that works for me. Some of the weight I lost may come back but I would rather it be through healthy food in a healthy timeframe.