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January 23, 2018

How I Lost 12 Kgs In One Year On The Ketogenic Diet

Text by Sadaf Shaikh

Fed up with the calories that had piled on, our Verve writer decided to go on a search for the perfect diet….

Weight gain doesn’t creep up on you sensually like a lover in the night. It ambushes you like the mythological Trojan horse that lay waste to all of Troy. Having been an athlete all through school and subsequently playing for the university football team, I always attributed my skinny frame to an ectomorphic body type. Of course, that presumption went straight out of the window when my career as a writer required that I spend an inordinate amount of time scouring the internet and reviewing delectable restaurant dishes. The hostile calorie takeover manifested itself one fine morning last December during my annual family holiday when I mistook the silhouette of my body against the setting desert sun for that of a camel’s. I definitely wasn’t pleased with the unhealthy bulges of fat that had cheerfully taken up residence in my abdomen, hips and thighs. That’s when I resolved to dedicate the new year to reverting to my pre-career physical form, primarily motivated by my father’s promise of getting me that matte black motorcycle I’d been eyeing since I first started riding if I achieved the weight goal I’d set for myself.

I began by enrolling myself in the 21-day programme at Churchgate’s Qi Gym that simulates high-altitude training conditions in a box-like enclosure. This form of exercise does wonders for your endurance because your heart and lungs have to work twice as hard to deliver the oxygen to your muscles. And although I definitely felt fitter than I had in years at the end of the stipulated three weeks, I was nowhere close to the finish line. I decided to alter my approach and impose some dietary restrictions on myself instead of working out like I had a mountain to climb. In retrospect, the diet worked out better since my perpetually-exhausted body would much rather recline on a couch contemplating the mysteries of life and the universe instead of indulging in any physical activity.

On February 1, 2017 began my complete and utter descent into the dark alleyways of the internet. I googled every single diet known to mankind right from the Palaeolithic version which, simply put, translates into ‘if a caveman didn’t eat it, neither should you’ to Zone, which calls for a nutritional balance of 40 per cent carbohydrates, 30 per cent fat, and 30 per cent protein in each meal. I also encountered the bizarre raw food diet which involves consuming foods and drinks that are entirely plant-based and the Mediterranean diet fashioned after the nutritional habits of the people of Greece’s Crete island and southern Italy. None of them particularly tickled my fancy until the ketogenic diet revealed itself to me like a messiah with its encouraging agenda of wolfing down large quantities of meat and cheese. I pledged myself to the diet and as far as effective prologues go, mine would simply say “I am almost 13 kilograms lighter as I write this.”

There are caveats however, for those who have warmed up to the idea of keto after reading that last line. It is not for the faint of heart. At the outset, you’re going to have to be prepared to spend more hours in the kitchen than in your bedroom, ensuring the food is cooked just right. Seeing how this was not something I could do, I cajoled my mother into being my personal cook for a year — she grudgingly conceded on account of, well, maternal instinct. More importantly, you would do well to follow the diet only after consulting a nutritionist who will help you count your macros correctly, which essentially involves adding up your daily consumption of fat, protein and carbs. To that effect, I sought help from a doctor-friend who moonlights as a dietician, predominantly in the keto department. He explained the nitty-gritty of how the diet works: when you cut down your carb intake to five per cent of your total per day, your body is deprived of glucose and burns stored fat instead which is made available to your body in large quantities through dietary alterations. We spent hours going back and forth on WhatsApp — him proposing a rock-solid diet plan and me imploring him to make revisions that would accommodate my carnivorous food habits. When we’d both had the last word, my total intake of nutrients was pegged at 125 gms of fat, 84 gms of protein, 25 gms of carbohydrates adding up to 1,600 kcals. I knew I was poised at the starting line of a rather arduous race so I treated myself to scrumptious meals of pizzas, burgers, dim sum, biryani and confectionaries in the time leading up to D-Day.

On the morning of day 1, I woke up to the aroma of a cheese omelette being whipped up by mother dearest. She looked at me quizzically as I asked her to grate another cheese cube in addition to the one she had already mixed with the batter as if to say, “Wasn’t your diet supposed to begin today?” I assured her (while slathering spoons full of ghee on top of the omelette) that it was part of the agenda although I secretly had my misgivings about how consuming that much fat was going to make me the opposite of that very word. “Why are thou fearful, O thou of little faith?” said the voice of my doctor-friend in dulcet tones, effectively shutting down all my apprehensions. I inhaled my meal and resolutely left for office, psychologically already five kilograms lighter in the pompous way that only the first couple of hours of a diet can make you feel.

A few guidelines about keto: you can’t go hungry for extended periods of time and then load your body with food. Instead, eat small but satiating meals when you feel the hunger pangs kicking in. There will come a time when you find yourself growing increasingly frustrated as everything you previously considered healthy turns out to be non-ketogenic ­— I sighed angrily as bananas, mangoes, papayas, pineapples, tangerines and grapes were crossed off my list. Coffee addicts will have to switch to either black coffee or opt for bulletproof coffee which uses unsalted butter as a substitute for sugar. You can eat meat, seafood, poultry, kale, lettuce, spinach and cucumber with utter abandon but you have to ensure that your consumption of fats exceeds that of protein or else you stand the risk of slipping into a process called gluconeogenesis in which excessive protein is converted into glucose. You can occasionally eat cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and berries but it is imperative that you avoid all grains, sugar, sweets, milk, and anything that is processed, although you are encouraged to have dairy products like cheese and paneer. Don’t forget to increase your consumption of water because the elimination of fruits and fibre from your diet is bound to get you dehydrated or constipated. There is also the danger of contracting keto flu — a condition that makes you experience fatigue, sugar cravings, dizziness and brain fog in the initial three to four days. Luckily, I didn’t encounter any of those stumbling blocks.

That’s not to say that I sailed through my dietary tryst without incident. There were days when my meat-abiding body refused to stomach another morsel of chicken and ‘jaded’ was the only word I could associate with cheese. Anybody who ate chocolate or any kind of sweet in front of me was subjected to murderous glares and a brief incantation that earned them a place in hell. Sure, I was dropping kilos by the day, but at the end of the month, my body would crave carbs and sugar so fervently that I’d undo the work of almost the entire month with my well-deserved cheat meal. That’s when my research presented me with my personal knights in shining armour — individuals and start-ups that specialised in providing scrumptious tailor-made solutions for those on the ketogenic diet. I first signed up for POD Supply, the brainchild of four young men, which offers delectably nutritious meals to those who wish to adopt a healthier way of life. I was allotted a set number of meals per day that took into account my level of activity, metabolism, food preferences, allergies, fitness goals and medical history, which they used to chart out a personalised meal plan. I broke the monotony of grilled chicken with their varied offerings of beef meatballs with stir-fried vegetables, steamed rawas with black rice, shredded chicken in mustard dressing and nachni crisps with smoked paprika hummus. Although that successfully sated my appetite, I still longed for desserts, something that Rashi Chowdhary, nutritionist and owner of The Protein Bakeshop, took upon herself to satisfy. As part of a one-week programme, I sampled her thoughtful curation of keto-approved desserts, which included the aptly christened ‘fits-cuit bites’, peanut butter truffles, almond cookies and the ‘no-dread bread’, all of which were made up of healthy substitutes like almond flour, 70 per cent (and above) dark chocolate, coconut oil, flaxseed powder and olive oil. This meant that I could indulge my sweet tooth without alerting my body of the influx of sugar and that was more than fine by me.

Over the course of the next few months, I noticed that my body was doing me other kindnesses besides merely reducing in girth. Since ketosis results in a steady flow of ketones to the brain, my sugar cravings had all but disappeared, which led to improved concentration and increased energy. Think Bradley Cooper in Limitless (2011) before his downward spiral brought on by overdosing on the miracle drug. I was recently diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) and my low-carb diet regulated my hormones to such an extent that recent tests at the gynaecologist have indicated that the condition had almost been reversed. My skin also took a turn for the better with breakouts reducing by a good 80 per cent since carbohydrates are to blame for adult acne. Although I cannot vouch for this since I didn’t experience it first-hand, keto is also known to control diabetes by reducing the negative impacts of high insulin levels. You already know that this ends with me achieving my weight goals so I won’t reiterate that. It is worth noting that I managed to do it without a single day of exercise although I’m curious about how my body would’ve reacted to that double whammy. It’s a happy coincidence then that the new year is upon us, just in time for me to revaluate my fitness targets for the year. I’ll get to that right after I’m back from my little road trip on my brand-new Bajaj Avenger, in black skinny jeans and heavy-duty combat boots.

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