When approaching the ketogenic lifestyle, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by monetary, social and physical implications that can feel somewhat prohibitive or de-motivational, especially when first starting out. For many people, food is an integral part of their cultural and social heritage, and for many people, that act of altering or giving up that part of themselves can be frightening. I, for one, am a lover of craft beer and neapolitan-style pizza. They are, in reality, my comfort foods, and they are foods from my social heritage I felt most sad about giving up. Because my cultural heritage lies somewhere between Scandinavian and “golly-gee” Northern Minnesotan, many foods that are prominent in my family circle revolve around potatoes, battered and fried foods, cheesy pastas, and loads of delightful sweets that tempt the palate while deceiving the hips. As with any lifestyle change, there are many things that one must keep in mind, things that reach beyond calorie-counting or logging hours at the gym.
Whenever I tell someone I am no longer eating grain-based products, the reactions I get range from interested and enthusiastic to defensive and dismissive. As a culture and society, we have been inundated with the notion that a diet is incomplete without grain-based products; cereal and bread brands across the board boast “100% whole wheat” while nutritionists and the USDA continue to promote the conventional food pyramid, with grains occupying the largest portion of the pyramid and fats and proteins occupying the smaller, upper portions, right alongside sugar. All the while, we grow sicker, fatter, more tired and more depressed as a nation; obesity levels have reached an unprecedented level in this nation, and are projected still to rise in the next 20 years. Heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and many other lifestyle-related diseases cost the US millions of dollars each year and take millions of lives prematurely. So what are we doing wrong?
I’m not trying to say that all carbohydrates are bad. Almost every single vegetable or fruit has some level of carbohydrates that are natural and important to our bodies. When ketogenesis is used as a form of weight control, these carbohydrates are limited until the desired weight has been reached, and are increased over time to a higher (but still moderate) level for weight maintenance. In fact, when done correctly, a ketogenic diet can lead to significant improvements in healthy eating habits and lifestyle choices, largely because the emphasis is not placed upon eating less, but eating smart and being aware of what you’re putting into your body.
So why, then, do so many people become defensive when you tell them that you’re not eating products based in corn or wheat? One might think that these kinds of decisions are strictly personal, but it seems as though many people take these decisions and turn them into their own issues. From my experience, it seems to be a general lack of knowledge about the lifestyle, or perhaps a skewed view of the lifestyle that is based on the negative stigma that low-carb diets tend to carry. Family members and friends may feel offended by the fact that you’ve chosen to remove foods from your diet that have played a large role in shaping your cultural and societal identity. It can seem like a blow, a separating factor, and some people may even dismiss your choice as a temporary, unsustainable change.
Again, from personal experience, it can be disheartening to be met with opposition when all you need is support. It’s not something that should deter you, however, from making whatever choices you feel are necessary for yourself and your health. The truly freeing thing is knowing that you, by yourself, are your own individual being, and you are allowed to make choices about your lifestyle and diet that nobody else is allowed to make. Whether the ketogenic lifestyle works for your goals is for you alone to decide, and it’s important to keep this in mind when dealing with those who feel the need to undermine, dismiss or scoff at your decisions. Arm yourself with knowledge before jumping in; research ketogenics and other lifestyles that interest you before making the jump. You’ll be glad you did.
One criticism of the ketogenic lifestyle is that it’s hard on the wallet; the increased consumption of higher quality meat and “good” fats can certainly put a strain on anyone who is on a budget (which we all should be, anyways), but there are a few things you can do to make it easier on yourself and your wallet when starting off with ketogenics.
- Buy a membership to your local Sam’s Club, Costco or other bulk food provider, and BUY IN BULK. Memberships for these kinds of places run an annual price tag of around $30-$40, and they allow members access to significantly reduced prices in both meat and produce. While it’s easy to spend over $100 in one trip, this often can get you up to three or four weeks worth of protein, such as 7-lb. packages of pork chops or 10-lb. packages of chicken wings, all of which can be individually portioned and frozen until you’re ready to eat them. You’re also able to get healthy oils, such as olive oil and canola oil, at significantly reduced prices in big containers. Personally, my boyfriend and I enjoy buying bulk packages of whole chickens to grill, which we then turn into chicken salad for lunches, dinners, and even snacks. All told, each chicken can cost as much as $7 or as little as $4, and it provides at least four meals for each of us. Nice save!
- Stop eating out (or just don’t do it as often.) You may find early on during your transition to the ketogenic lifestyle that eating out is much harder to do. Because it’s so important to be able to monitor what you’re putting into your body for the first few months, eating out presents a problem because more often than not, you won’t be able to get the kind of information you need without doing some thorough investigation beforehand. At any rate, a typical meal at a restaurant can weigh in at up to $30 for just one person, per meal, which is quite a bit when done more than once a week. Instead, save those precious dollars and find yourself some keto-friendly recipes you’d like to try making at home. Which, by the way, leads me to my third point…
- Create a menu for yourself and stick to it. It’s easy to become overwhelmed when you first start keto (or any diet, for that matter) and going to the grocery store might be a little confusing or frustrating. Setting up a menu plan for yourself before going to the store can save you a lot of headaches and money in the end; not knowing what you need or want for your meals might lead you to over-buy certain perishables, and these foods can rot before you have the chance to get at them. This is especially important when you purchase produce. When you buy according to a weekly menu, the foods you purchase are more likely to make it through the cooking pot and into your hungry stomach without wasting your money!
Another criticism of the ketogenic lifestyle is that it is heavily dependent upon fats and animal flesh to sustain its subscribers. Fats are a completely necessary, healthy component of any diet. It’s said that diets low in fat can lead to depression and other behavior-related issues. When done wrong, some people may think that they can eat as many bacon strips and bunless cheese-stuffed hamburgers as they please. While these things by themselves are not harmful in moderation, excessive consumption can lead to some problems if there aren’t any checks and balances in place. There are quite a few good fats that are important to include in your diet that can help combat LDL (bad cholesterol) and raise HDL (good cholesterol). These oils include olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, flaxseed oil, fish oils, especially those high in omega-3 fatty acids, and palm oil. Fresh garlic and whole or ground flaxseed can help provide your body with heart-healthy benefits, as well. Bacon and 80/20 beef, while acceptable, should not be used to replace fats that can be gained from healthier sources.
That being said, you will likely need to eat much more fat than you’re used to, along with more protein and fiber. The ratio percentages for carbs, protein and fat should fall around 5/35/60, respectively, and your diet should include a good source of fiber to retain maximum digestive regularity, especially during the first few weeks as your body adjusts to the change (try my flaxseed meal crackers with smoked salmon and dill weed!). The fat and fiber will keep you well-satiated and the protein will help to keep your body from burning through muscle as an energy source instead of your stored fats.
And, as with any healthy lifestyle, a certain amount of exercise is important and beneficial, though you don’t want to over-exert yourself through exercise, as this could lead to chronic fatigue and a decreased capability to heal after workouts. If you’re just beginning to work out, don’t sweat the small stuff (literally); take a 30-40 minute walk each day, perhaps before or after work/school, and don’t push yourself too hard. You will improve over time and may eventually find that your workouts become as ingrained into your daily routine as brushing your teeth. If you’re already involved in a workout routine, continue as you see fit, but take special notice of how your body’s reactions change over time. You may experience fluctuations in energy levels and although this is challenging, it’s important to be able to recognize when your body tells you to stop. The key to all of these things, really, is MODERATION.
Confused? Need more information? Check out these websites below for even more reading material, community support and recipes!