My Keto-Alkaline-Intuitive Dietary Experiment as a Female Athlete with Lyme Disease
When I pursued my Nutritional Consultant Certification over a decade ago I hoped to find black and white answers for my personal benefit as well as the questions my clients had. What I found was a lot of gray area. The basic premise of what I learned among the many seminars that I attended and books read throughout the learning process was a healthier version of the Standard American Diet (SAD) as governed by the USDA looking more like that of a Mediterranean. The more current research and knowledge I have gained since then has certainly changed what goes into my body in my quest for optimal health. Even though my own diet is always evolving to find what best suits my body and lifestyle in a given time, I generally scoff at the fad diets that come and go. Leaning instead toward the "eat whole foods, leave out the processed stuff, focus on nutrient density within those whole foods, and make tweaks based on your body's needs and intolerances - approach." As such, I've been dairy free for quite awhile after noticing my intolerance which was difficult to let go of (hello love of my life ice cream, oh how I will miss you!). I've slowly added in healthy very nutrient dense foods that I had never tried before preparing them in different ways and growing to love them. Some foods that were considered to be healthy were also ditched as more information about farming practices emerged. Such as the soy bean crops we found out were all ridden with pesticides and genetically modified with an extra hormone dose we didn't need. Goodbye edamame snacks. As happy as sugar has always made my tastebuds, it is very unhealthy both emotional and physical attachment. The quest to demolish that attachment was one of the reasons why I decided to give Keto a chance.
Before I delve further into my self experiment let me give you a brief description of what a Ketogenic diet is. It is moving from a sugar burning state into a fat burning state by eating high fat, moderate protein, and low carbohydrate and/or incorporating various forms of fasting. The main reasons I wanted to explore this eating style were both to potentially help with lingering Lyme Disease symptoms and the potential to not have to fuel with loads of carbs and sugar if I were to enter back into longer training durations or racing. There are many different healthy eating styles out there or rather, potentially healthy as long as they are done in a responsible way. You can call yourself a Vegetarian and eat all processed foods forgoing the actual real vegetables of the diet. Like wise you may be able to get into ketosis by skipping veggies using only a few nutrient void carb sources and bunless McDonald's burgers cooked in toxic oxidized vegetable oils but...not so great for your health. I am 3 months into this little journey of mine. Before I started and through out this process, I've read 4 books on the subject as well as countless hours researching online lectures by doctors and scientists who have done studies on various aspects of nutritional ketosis. Frustratingly there is very little research done using female subjects. Thankfully that is where the podcasts of fellow female nutritionists and practitioners became helpful. In case you hadn't noticed, the male and female bodies are different.
I did not find all that many articles, studies, or personal accounts for Lyme patients either. As a brief insight into Lyme and it's endless array of co-infections that typically go hand in hand with the disease, there is a huge variance from case to case. There are hundreds of symptoms that you can produce from the different spirochetes or bugs that are invested all throughout your body when you have chronic Lyme Disease. Most of those spirochetes feed off sugar, hence my theory that not only ridding the sugar from my diet but, limiting everything that can turn into sugar would produce a die off of those nasty buggers. Carbohydrates in all forms essentially turn into sugar as they are broken down in the body. So it can go in as a potato and turn right into a sugar cube. magic. Carbs aren't the only magical macronutrient creatures, proteins have tricks up their sleeves as well. Consume more than a moderate amount of this muscle building macro and surprise....it also converts into glucose (sugar) via a process called gluconeogenesis. My grandma scientist would be proud of all the fun I've had with my personal science experiment and all that I've learned. The flip side, there are some co-infection bugs that feed off sugar. So, I figured I will eventually feel great or worse through this process.
Alkaline and Intuitive Eating
I chose to go about this journey in a way that incorporates mindful or intuitive eating from the start. Many people choose the opposite route buying their glucose monitors and diligently track their insulin levels and ketone levels as well as their macronutrients each day. Those are stellar tools to use. However, I knew that other than the less than week of macro tracking I did to make sure I was in the correct range, it would be numbers misery for me on a daily basis. This is my personal journey and at the end of the day I need to be able to eat in a sustainable way listening to what my body tells me. Not to mention the cost of ketone test strips! I'd rather spend what I can afford on high quality food. I am basically eating lots of cruciferous veggies (high alkalinity), some grass fed and finished meat (eating more would be more acidic), wild caught seafood, some berries and avocado, and way more olive oil, powdered mct oil, coconut oil, and full fat coconut milk than I ever have before. Oh, also some nuts and seeds. If you missed my personal scrumptious nut butter recipe check it out here. I am still playing around with how much approximate carbs I need to consume to feel good and stay in ketosis. I can tell my nutritional ketosis state mainly by mouth feel and if my "hanger" is still gone. I used to get hungry every 2-3 hours. Beyond 4 you risk the hanger monster. That hunger is now more of a background elevator music than heavy metal blasting in my ear after 5-6 hours. Depending on activity levels, I may have anywhere from a 10-20 hour fast starting with a really early dinner until when I feel the need to eat the next day. Previously I could eat right before bed and still wake up ravenous. These are all the queues that tell me I am in a state of ketosis. And without going into detail, I can tell you that most people do not need to consume exogenous ketones to get into ketosis. At this point I have done a few carb up days where I consume more carbohydrates (think root veggies or fruit) and less fat than I have been on a daily basis. This may become a weekly occurrence if I feel I need it. Again, it is all listening to my body. I wouldn't put myself into a keto box category even if I find that my body responds well to my version of this eating style over time.
I wish I could give a definitive conclusion at this point but, my jury is still out. I am assuming they are all out eating ice cream taunting me with it right about now. Hanger gone. Longer deeper sleep, not definitely improved. Periodic low energy levels, also not yet definitively improved. What is my point in sharing all this and who really cares? Well, I would just like to encourage you in a few nutritional ways.
Be flexible, open to change, and ready to experiment for yourself. I have over the course of my adult life thus far tried many eating styles and I can tell you, as your body changes you may need to alter how you healthfully eat to suit your needs.
Be patient with the process. You need to give adequate time or you may never know if that eating style was going to suit you.
Focus on your health not your looks. Notice I have not mentioned any weight loss benefits of the keto life? Yes, we've seen the before and after pictures from this diet...as well as other diets. In fact let's not even refer to them as diets because that has gotten the implication that it is a short term plan centered on weight loss. Your body could change in a way that makes you excited to see yourself in the mirror. But, that should be the side benefit.
If you have heard the keto buzz word and were intimidated to try it with the complexity of the testing and tracking, just know that it can be done with out. I would highly encourage you to do your own research as well as devote extra time in the kitchen to make most of your meals and snacks from scratch. I make most of my own personal care products, condiments, food, and drinks these days. Comment below if you would like me to share some specifically. See my last post here for meal prep tips to get started or how to save time in the kitchen and on the road here.