Table of Contents
Introduction: Keto: What’s All the Buzz About?
Keto versus Other Low-Carb Diets
Your Ketogenic Cake
Biohacking Our Way to Good Health
THE SCIENCE OF KETO
Chapter 1: The Ketogenic Diet
The Basics in a Nutshell
Directing Your Body to Burn Fat
Ancestral Diet Logic
Our Bodies Were Designed to Be Either Sugar Burners or Fat Burners
What Is Nutritional Ketosis?
The Effects of Being a Sugar Burner in a Sugar and Processed Food–Filled World
The Energy Balance Model versus the Endocrine Model
Chapter 2: Exercise and Weight Loss
Ketosis: Receiving Proper Nutrition for Optimal Health
How Keto Differs from Other Low-Carb Diets (aleo, Banting, LCHF, JERF, and Atkins)
Who Should Not Follow a Ketogenic Diet
Easing Your Transition to Keto
The Incredible Benefits of Ketogenic Diet
Chapter 3: Following Keto
Macros: 80/15/5 Fat, Protein, and Carbohydrate
How to Know Whether You’re in Ketosis: Testing Your Blood Sugar and Ketone Levels
Chapter 4: Beyond Macros: The Essentials of a Healthy Diet
The Role of Healthy Carbs
Chapter 5: Hot Topics
What’s the Difference Between Nutritional Ketosis and Ketoacidosis?
Bodybuilding and Keto
Cheat Days and Carb-Loading
Natural and Artificial Sweeteners
Keto for Special Health Conditions
Potential Side Effects of Keto
A Last Note on Health
RECIPES AND MEAL PLANS
Chapter 6: Introduction to the Recipes
Chapter 7: Breakfast
Omega-3 Keto Porridge
Omega-3 Seed and Nut Mix
Omega-3 Portable Seed and Nut Energy Bars
Dark Chocolate and Coconut Energy Bars
Avocado Bacon Deviled Eggs
Baked Eggs Benedict Casserole
Egg, Bacon, Sun-Dried Tomato, and Feta Breakfast Muffins
Savory Brie, Mushroom, and Spinach Crêpes with Sugar-Free Glaze
Eggs with Sausage Stuffing
Eggs, Bacon, and Roasted Rosemary Radishes
Eggs Benedict Royale
Chapter 8: Appetizers, Snacks & Breads
Deep-Fried Goat Cheese Balls with Sugar-Free Glaze
Fried Eggplant Mozzarella Balls
Prosciutto Baked Brie
Keto Antipasto Plate
Prosciutto Mozzarella Sticks with Pesto Dipping Sauce
Guacamole with Cabbage “Chips”
Spinach, Kale, and Artichoke Dip
Sun-Dried Tomato Dip
Ketogenic Girl Hummus
Keto Baba Ghanoush
Avocado Tzatziki Dip
Eggplant Cherry Tomato Pizzas
Keto Bread Loaf
Keto Chive and Onion “English Muffins”
Chapter 9: Salads & Soups
Bacon Wedge Salad
Spinach Gomae Salad
Fennel, Asparagus, and Goat Cheese Salad
Spinach, Goat Cheese, Pecan, and Strawberry Salad
Oriental Salad with Japanese Ginger Dressing
Deconstructed Bacon Burger Salad
Keto Gado-Gado Bowl
Superfood Buddha Bowl
French Onion Soup with Keto Croutons
Keto “Kulajda” Dill and Poached Egg Soup
Tom Yum Koong (Thai Shrimp Soup)
Tom Kha Gai (Thai Chicken Coconut Soup)
Chapter 10: Noodles & Rice
Three-Cheese Macaroni with Bacon au Gratin
Bacon Pesto Pasta
Fettuccine Alfredo with Grilled Shrimp
Shrimp Pad Thai
Sun-Dried Tomato Fettuccine
White Truffle Fettuccine Alfredo
Shrimp Fried Rice
Truffle, Leek, and Mushroom Risotto
Chapter 11: Sides
Creamy Keto Slaw
Braised Red Cabbage
Loaded Cauliflower Bake
Broccoli Stem Fries
Toasted Coconut Chips
Keto Bacon “Potato” Salad
Roasted Eggplant with Tahini-Almond Sauce
Deep-Fried Brussels Sprouts with Tangy Sauce
Duck Fat–Roasted Rosemary Radishes
Cauliflower Sausage Herb Stuffing
Chapter 12: Poultry & Seafood
Thai Chicken Satay
Pesto Chicken Skewers
Chicken and Bacon Pâté
No-Bake Chicken and Bacon Pâté
Hot Wings with Blue Cheese and Celery
Spicy Chicken Fajitas
Ceviche with Spicy Mayo
Crab Cakes with Garlic-Dill Cream
Spicy Shrimp Cocktail
Shrimp Hollandaise Avocado Stacks
Crispy Calamari with Aioli
Keto Moules “Frites” (Mussels and “Fries”)
Easy Baked Lobster Tails with Herb Butter
One-Pan Salmon with Duck Fat–Roasted Rosemary Radishes and Asparagus
Smoked Salmon Blini with Dill Cream
Salmon Avocado Poke
Salmon Rillettes on Cucumber Rounds
One-Pan Cod with Broccolini and Mint Hollandaise
Chapter 13: Beef & Pork
Easy Keto Meatloaf
Keto Shepherd’s Pie
Steak with Béarnaise Sauce
Steak with Mushroom Sauce
Steak and Keto Tabbouleh
Steak on “Honey”-Mustard Slaw
Steak with Green Peppercorn Sauce
Trio of Beef Sliders
Feta-Stuffed Meatballs with Greek Tomato Sauce
Easy Keto Casserole
Green Thai Pork Curry
Pork Gyro Lettuce Wraps with Quick Pickled Red Onions
Asparagus with Prosciutto and Hollandaise
Fully Loaded Gourmet Hot Dogs
Pork Belly with Caramelized Zucchini
Spicy Pork Skewers with Hollandaise
Pulled Pork and Avocado Boats
Pulled Pork with Creamy Slaw
Chapter 14: Desserts
Vanilla Ice Cream
Cheesecake Fat Bombs
Instant Chia Pudding
Chocolate Mint Mousse
No-Bake Cookie Dough
Decadent Keto Brownies
Ketogenic Girl Cheesecake
Coconut “Carrot” Cake
Easy Vanilla Cupcakes
Ketogenic Girl Macaroons
Easy Keto Hot Fudge Sundaes
Chapter 15: Sauces & Kitchen Staples
Sugar-Free Almond or Cashew Milk
Ketogenic Girl Chocolate Hazelnut Spread
Creamed Coconut Butter
Sugar-Free Cranberry Sauce
Homemade Worcestershire Sauce
Blue Cheese Dressing
Ketogenic Girl “Honey”-Mustard Dressing
Creamy Poppy Seed Dressing
Restaurant-Style Keto Japanese Ginger Dressing
Sweet Balsamic Glaze
Special Burger Sauce
Chapter 16: Meal Plans
Compliant Food List
Keto: What’s All the Buzz About?
As a young woman, I had two lofty personal diet and health goals:
• To lose weight
• To eat food
My passion for eating delicious food bested my passion for losing weight, and it wasn’t hard to see which goal was dominant. But through years of frustration with my poor health, the one mainstay—aside from unwanted body fat—was hope. Despite feeling exasperated, I never gave up hope that one day I would discover the secret to having the pain-free, healthy body of my dreams, without daily deprivation from a constant cycle of dieting and punishing exercise. I knew I would find a way to have the wellness and body confidence I’d always dreamed of while also enjoying life and feeling at peace around food. Even when things seemed bleak, I had a single-minded obsession.
This obsession eventually drove me all the way to my personal nirvana of enjoying inflammation-free health. I am satisfied and happy without feeling deprived or being chained to a treadmill. And the cherry on top of my high-fat health sundae is that I am able to have all that while enjoying real, delicious foods. I call it having my keto cake and eating it, too.
Through my business, Ketogenic Girl, I’ve had the privilege of guiding thousands of people to having their own keto cakes and eating them, too. And now, with this book, I’m here to do the same for you! Let’s dig in.
Keto versus Other Low-Carb Diets
The ketogenic diet gets its name from ketone bodies, which are water-soluble molecules that circulate in the body when fat is broken down. In the absence of carbohydrates or during fasting, the body breaks down stored or consumed fat for energy. In other words, when you limit your carb intake, your body is forced to burn the fat you’re already storing as well as the fat in your food. Keto is defined as a very-low-carbohydrate diet. There are varying approaches, but I recommend that your total carbohydrate intake not exceed 5 percent of your total food intake, with the other 95 percent coming from fat and protein.
On the spectrum of low-carbohydrate diets, keto is the most carb-restrictive. Atkins and LCHF (Low Carb High Fat) are in the mid-range, and the Whole30 and Paleo diets are the least carb-restrictive. Whole30 and Paleo diets restrict certain processed foods and refined sugars but allow higher amounts of carbohydrates as well as unrefined sugars such as beets, sweet potatoes, and fresh and dried fruits. These unrefined sugars are completely restricted from the approach to the diet that I ascribe to, which is known as the therapeutic approach to keto. For the most part, they contain too much fructose and starch per serving to stay within the keto diet’s maximum of 5 percent carbohydrate.
Another central feature that differentiates the ketogenic diet from other low-carb diets is that it moderates protein and features healthy fats as a core staple. It also differs from other low-carb diets because of the presence of ketones.
There are three main reasons why ketogenic diets are so effective:
• Nutritional ketosis (a state of being fueled by ketones) mimics the state of fasting and generates many of the same beneficial effects, such as autophagy (whereby the body “burns off” old cells, tissues, and even cysts while also burning body fat), increased production of human growth hormone, and restored insulin sensitivity. (See here for more on fasting.)
• A keto diet optimizes health by properly nourishing the body with fat and protein, which are essential macronutrients, and limits the intake of carbohydrates, which are not essential. (See here for more on macros.)
• A keto diet generates results via the endocrine theory of weight loss rather than the energy balance theory of weight loss. (See here for more on these two theories of weight loss.)
Your Ketogenic Cake
Welcome to the wonderful world of being fat-fueled! I use the word wonderful because my path to the ketogenic lifestyle has been full of wonder and amazement. You might have several reasons for wanting to learn more about the ketogenic diet. You might be looking for a solution to illness, relief from pain caused by chronic inflammation, help with an autoimmune condition, or weight loss. Or perhaps you are attracted by the buzz you have heard about the ketogenic way of eating and its many benefits, which include mental clarity, high energy, and optimized health. Astoundingly, a ketogenic diet can assist with all of these goals. When it comes to optimizing health, nutrition is the most underrated aspect of all. In my opinion, what we eat (or do not eat) is the single most important factor in our overall physical health. Our cells are formed from and nourished (or not nourished) by the foods we eat.
Although the current and predominant approach to a “healthy” diet in the Western world can be classified as low-fat and high-carb, this manner of eating, in my opinion, is far from healthy or ideal. We have been led to believe that eating large amounts of carbohydrates—grains, beans, starches, and certain vegetables and fruits—is healthy. Carbs have been touted as the most nutritious foods, and fats are regarded as being the least nutritious and most detrimental to health. We’ve also been erroneously taught that the total calorie count is more important than which types of foods are supplying those calories. This thinking leads us to believe that we can eat as many french fries, snack cakes, and pizzas as we want as long as we keep total calories in check. This kind of thinking has also led people to ingest food products made in factories that emphasize flavor as opposed to real foods that emphasize health.
However, current science explains the perils of sugar consumption and shows that saturated fats do not cause heart disease. Current science also supports the effectiveness of low-carbohydrate diets. (See here for a few examples.) Consuming large amounts of carbs generates persistent high blood sugar levels, which lead to chronic inflammation and contribute to insulin resistance. Insulin-resistant cells require the pancreas to secrete more and more insulin, potentially leading to type 2 diabetes and a crescendo of negative health effects and other conditions, including nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which is a precursor to type 2 diabetes, or, worse, stroke or heart disease caused by elevated triglycerides in the blood.
Consuming large amounts of carbohydrates (especially sugars) can lead to chronic high blood sugar, which in turn can lead to persistent inflammation, insulin resistance, metabolic disorders, excessive fat tissue generation and fat storage, and, most dangerous of all, contribute to elevated triglycerides because the body converts excess blood sugar into denser forms called blood lipids (fats), commonly referred to as triglycerides. Having high triglycerides is a precursor to heart disease and stroke.
Eating a low-fat diet also deprives our bodies of the essential fatty acids that they cannot make on their own; our bodies must get these essential fatty acids from outside food sources to function optimally and survive. Combine these excessively high blood sugar levels with a lack of essential nutrients and you have the basis for our current epidemic of malnourishment, leading to obesity, type 2 diabetes, autoimmune conditions, heart disease, and many more. The causes of disease are multifactorial and are affected by diet, as well as genetic and environmental factors. However, as I’ve stated, I believe that what we eat is the single most significant and overlooked factor in how our bodies look, feel, and function.
I will explore the reasons I took on the ketogenic diet a little later in this Introduction. For now, let’s focus on what brought you to the ketogenic diet. My clients often tell me that they first heard about keto from colleagues, friends, or family members who have experienced remarkable results. It is one thing to read about the benefits of a diet, but seeing someone you know experience those benefits is much more compelling!
Digging into the Cake
It’s important to define what you consider to be good health. When your health and weight are the way you want them to be, you barely think about them. Your body is invisible to you because you feel comfortable in your clothing and confident in your body. You are at peace with your daily food intake. You eat to live rather than live to eat. You enjoy your food without overanalyzing it. You feel alive and vibrant; you are energized, ready to take on physical demands, and inspired to engage in good-feeling movement, such as a bike ride in the park or a sunset walk on the beach. These forms of exercise are not an obligation or a means to an end; the idea is simply to experience the pure joy of inhabiting your body.
Feeling on top of the world [and] ready to tackle my day. Day 68 of my keto journey, down 41 pounds. Woot woot. My goal was to hit 40 by Sept. 30. Next short-term goal? 5 more by Oct. 15! Shouldn’t be difficult as there are so many nummy new recipes [in Vanessa’s meal plans] to keep me focused.
On the other hand, if your health and/or weight are not what you want them to be, you probably take notice of that fact more often than not. Like it or not, we take our bodies with us wherever we go, and we interact with our bodies all day long. When our bodies are not in good health or are carrying excess fat, every interaction can generate feelings of discomfort.
I know from experience how unpleasant it can be to feel uncomfortable every day. I know how it feels when simple routines like showering and finding clothes to wear become much more difficult than they ought to be. When you aren’t comfortable in your own body, dieting can become a constant part of life, and mealtimes can be filled with anxiety. This anxiety can be especially bad at social gatherings involving meals when you end up bargaining and negotiating with yourself while keeping score of calories. Going off your diet plan or indulging leads to feelings of guilt and regret. Depending on how you feel, you either avoid exercise or exercise excessively as a form of punishment for overindulging. Even when you’ve done the best you can or accepted your discomfort, you can’t escape the reality that your health is not where you want it to be any more than you can escape your own skin. Worse still, all this is not for lack of effort or doing the best you can. In my opinion, it is the result of a faulty approach to health and weight loss that is based entirely on energy balance (calories in versus calories out), which leads to a lack of results and to food fixation.
Keto differs because it is not a diet; it is a long-term lifestyle based on eating real, whole foods, and it generates real results. If your experience with health and diet to date has been less than ideal, don’t fret! The ketogenic lifestyle has arrived.
Taking the First Bite
What is your picture of glowing and vibrant health? Is it feeling like your best possible self, loving the experience of being in your body, having a sense of boundless physical and mental energy, being at your ideal weight, and feeling confident and comfortable without compromise? I can tell you that no matter the current condition of your health and body, you can begin to change it now. No matter how far you are from where you want to be, there is hope. The ketogenic lifestyle is a powerful healing protocol that can dramatically transform your physical state. By picking up this book, you’ve already set the gears in motion, and you can begin making your way toward your ideal health and body. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and read this book along with me to learn why the ketogenic diet is so effective.
Before starting on your journey, it’s critical to know why you are taking the time to invest in and learn about keto. The people who experience the greatest success are the ones who have their reasons—their “whys”—defined. I am here to help you get to where you want to be. However, to get there, we first need to know what your goals are and what kind of vision you have for your physical health and well-being. Knowing your “whys” will propel you forward with massive inertia; having a grip on your “whys” will also sustain you when you hit roadblocks.
The good news is that the ketogenic diet has been a runaway success for thousands of people around the world because long-term compliance is easy. When a diet is difficult to sustain over time, it is less successful. Deprivation diets—the most common model today—often fail because they are hard to maintain over the long haul. Deprivation diets are looked upon as temporary restrictions. The word diet itself implies that this way of eating is a time-limited undertaking after which “normal” life will resume.
As I mentioned, keto is generally referred to as a diet, but I truly think of it as a long-term lifestyle. Once you learn how to do it properly, you will see how easy it is to follow, regardless of your circumstances.
So, before you go any further, take a moment to define what you see as your dream health and body. Close your eyes, form a picture in your mind, and think about why making the effort is worth it to you. Write down your reasons and keep them where you can see them every day; they will add fuel to your fire when you need it most. Your goals will play a big part in propelling you forward on your journey to ideal health.
Biohacking Our Way to Good Health
Biohacking is a relatively new practice that has exciting possibilities for your health and, therefore, your quality of life. Who doesn’t love getting more of what you want with less effort? Who doesn’t love faster, more efficient ways of reaching your goals? By picking up this book, you have taken a step toward leveraging your health with biohacking—also known as life hacking—which is the latest social movement of citizen or “do-it-yourself” health. Biohacking is about using the latest tools and technology to learn about your body and how it is affected by your daily food, exercise, and sleep choices.
When it comes to health, there has never been a more exciting time to be alive. We are at the forefront of incredible discoveries that will drastically alter our quality of life. Researchers, scientists, and health advocates around the world have begun to democratize health by questioning the mainstream consensus of what makes a diet and body healthy. This health revolution is also being propelled by solo biohackers who are willing to venture into new territory. I hope that includes you! When you are armed with hope, determination, and a sense of responsibility for yourself, the health of your dreams is not just some mirage; it is a real and attainable possibility.
The ketogenic diet is one of the most exciting new fields of research in the realm of health. The latest scientific studies showing the health benefits of keto are staggering, as is the growing wealth of empirical data from people doing keto for themselves, often not heeding their doctors’ advice to avoid dietary fat, to great success. (You can read about the positive experiences of some of my clients in the margins of this book.) And these discoveries and the benefits derived from them are no longer confined to labs; they can now be accessed by anyone with a glucometer, a device that fits in the palm of your hand. At one time, glucometers were used only by diabetics to monitor blood sugar; today, however, anyone can buy these monitors without a prescription. Glucometers allow us to monitor our blood sugar levels and track the effects of various foods on our bodies. Apps for our phones and other devices enable us to easily track our diets and macronutrient breakdowns.
A ketogenic diet makes use of these fantastic tools so that we can see with our own eyes how processed foods and real foods affect us differently. This kind of testing is eye-opening for many people, and it is part of what makes following a ketogenic diet a biohacking activity. Testing your blood sugar and ketone levels is not a requirement for following the keto diet, but the information that testing provides is very useful. See here for more on testing with a glucometer.
“Tired? How can you possibly be so tired? At your age, I was full of energy!” I still remember hearing this from my well-meaning parents when I visited them as a young adult. And I vividly recall how terrible I felt in my body. In my twenties, I claimed to feel like an old soul. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter was that I felt like an old soul trapped in an even older body. Every day, something in my body didn’t feel good. I dealt with fatigue, brain fog, headaches, and inflammation. In 2011, I reached the peak of my physical discomfort. My hands were often stiff and cramped, and they throbbed with arthritic pain. I suffered from intolerable digestive pain from ulcerative colitis, for which a common treatment is invasive intestinal surgery. At the time, I was a vegetarian (and former strict vegan).
I had begun avoiding sugar in the early 2000s after the low-carb/Atkins phenomenon had taken off. I tried to eat as healthfully as possible, but I had a hard time shaking off the prevailing advice that whole-wheat bread and pasta needed to form the foundation of my “healthy” diet. I believed my diet was healthy, and I never thought to examine it until my then-partner (now husband) told me a story about his cousin who had learned that she had a gluten sensitivity and suggested that I look into whether I had the same sensitivity. I had a gluten test done by an accredited laboratory in Texas, and it came back positive. This led me to try eliminating gluten from my diet. Within weeks, the inflammation in my hands had dissipated, and after a few months, my sharp intestinal pains had started to subside. I confirmed that the pain in my hands and abdomen was tied to my consumption of gluten by noting that it returned only when I had accidentally consumed gluten within the past two days. This miraculous discovery sparked my low-carb journey, which eventually led me to the ketogenic diet.
Removing gluten from my diet dramatically improved my overall health. However, I still experienced low energy, headaches, and brain fog and carried an extra 30 pounds. I’d been saddled with that extra weight for most of my life—from a chubby child and teenager to an adult who never felt comfortable in her skin. What I didn’t realize was that I had developed insulin resistance over the years from eating a high-carb, high-protein, low-fat diet.
I was born in the 1980s, and I was a product of the belief that a diet of fat-free foods, such as whole grains, brown rice, potatoes, and fruit, was the way to go. My grandfather died of type 2 diabetes, and I inherited a predisposition to being more sensitive to sugar and carbohydrates than the average person. Both of these issues have been a constant in my life for as long as I can remember.
I had been a vegetarian for fifteen years (between the ages of seventeen and thirty-two) and was a vegan for a brief stint, too. I had been seeing a naturopath about my lethargy, brain fog, and general anxiety, and he prescribed some remedies for leaky gut and Candida overgrowth. The naturopath also suggested that I consider adding some animal proteins, such as fish and poultry, back into my diet. I decided to give it a try, although it was challenging for me to eat animal foods after going without them for so long. However, I was desperate.
July 2016: Eating “clean,” 5 meals a day [of] measured protein and carbs with heavy mood swings and no movement on the scale!! July 2017: Eating keto since middle of January with more energy, no mood swings and 45 lbs weight loss!!! #ketoworks #thankfulforvanessasplan
I knew something wasn’t quite right about my persistent exhaustion and feeling generally unwell, so I started researching adrenal fatigue. I learned that my adrenal glands were likely depleted due to stress and high anxiety. What I probably didn’t realize at the time was that I was likely experiencing symptoms related to underactive thyroid. I visited doctor after doctor but did not find relief from the lethargy, regular headaches, and excess weight. I read scores of health and diet books and restricted my eating to large vegetarian salads. I was told that the way to lose weight was to eat low-fat and high-carb and to exercise, so I avoided dietary fat and did cardio daily on my quest to get healthy. I even saved up to buy a treadmill and placed it in my living room, facing the television so that I could watch shows while running for 30 to 120 minutes every day. But despite diet after diet, cleanse after cleanse, and hour after hour on the treadmill, my weight didn’t budge, and my low energy levels, brain fog, and headaches persisted. I tried everything to lose weight and feel better in my body, including even extended juice fasting. The caloric restriction resulted in temporary weight loss, but the weight piled back on when my metabolism slowed down. I started to accept that being anxious, overweight, groggy, and tired was going to be my life.
I studied nutrition in college. While the courses were insightful, they reinforced the high-carb, low-fat dietary regimen that was blasphemous to question at that time. Until, that is, Dr. Robert Atkins and other brave doctors and authors such as Gary Taubes (Why We Get Fat), sparked a low-carbohydrate revolution.
Until then, my vegetarian diet was centered around salads, legumes, and fat-free yogurt and salad dressings. As my efforts continued to fail, I kept hearing about the amazing results people were seeing on the low-carbohydrate or Atkins diet, which was rising in popularity. I was determined to shed my post-college weight, which was creeping up, and to improve my overall health, so I decided to give Atkins a try. I loved the high-fat foods I was allowed on the Atkins diet, but I did not lose the weight I wanted to lose, have the energy I hoped to have, or experience any of the other results I hoped to experience.
My health struggles continued until that fateful day I discovered the ketogenic diet. At first, the concept seemed so foreign to me. The idea of a diet full of fat flew in the face of everything I thought I knew about healthy eating. And yet I had to ask: if everything I had done until now hadn’t worked, what would happen if I did the opposite? The more I read, the more outlandish the ketogenic diet seemed, but the more confident in it I became. I began to think that it might be crazy enough to work. Little did I know that my life and health were about to change dramatically. The person I would become was nearly unrecognizable to me at the time!
Becoming the Ketogenic Girl
When I first started the keto diet, I made a lot of mistakes—that is, until I studied and tested it enough for it to all make sense. It felt like I had been searching for most of my adult life for the plan or program that would finally release me from food and weight fixation, heal my body, and enable me to lose that extra 30 pounds. I was excited about keto and wanted to learn everything I could about it.
You can find a wealth of information about keto on the Internet. However, too much information can lead to confusion and paralysis. The only way to know whether something is working for you is to assess your results. If your goal is to lose fat, you want to see the numbers on the scale moving down; you also want to feel more comfortable in your clothing and become more body confident.
When I decided to take the plunge and try keto, I was overwhelmed by all the information I came across. I started out using urine test strips, as many people do. Initially, it was exciting to see the bright purple readings indicating the presence of ketones in my urine. I wanted more proof, so I purchased a breath meter, which also confirmed the presence of ketones in my breath. I thought this must mean that I was in nutritional ketosis and that the fat would start melting off. I made the mistake of relying on inaccurate data from the urine test strips and the breath meter, which were giving me only part of the picture.
Because I was measuring my ketone levels and getting positive confirmation, I didn’t weigh myself for the first few months. This was the first mistake that I made. I thought that high ketones meant that I was in fat-burning mode because that’s what I had read and seen online. I “knew” that I was on my way to the weight of my dreams because I was following the advice of keto experts I had found on the internet and was getting high ketones. I believed it was only a matter of time before I would see the results I wanted. I was having a blast making delicious high-fat keto recipes and indulging in keto cheesecake, keto ice cream, and bulletproof coffee.
However, a few things were nagging at me. First, I never felt full. Despite all the fat I was eating, I was still fixating on food, and I found myself going back to the refrigerator multiple times a day. Second, I was not feeling especially energetic, and my mental clarity had not improved. Lastly, my clothes were getting tighter and tighter. I felt uncomfortable, but I believed so much in what I was doing that I thought I had to be succeeding. My carb intake was next to nonexistent, and my ketones were consistently in the 2.0 to 5.0 range.
My husband and I went to Las Vegas for a getaway in the desert, and my swimsuit was not fitting well. The bottoms were tight, and I thought they must have shrunk. One evening, we went out to dinner and wandered by a place where we’d had our picture taken two years prior. We had our picture taken in the same place doing a similar pose. When we returned to the hotel, I opened my phone to see the photo, and I could not believe my eyes. I put the two photos side by side and saw a shocking difference in my body size. It dawned on me that I might have gained weight, but it seemed impossible considering how well I was following keto—even going to the grocery store to buy ingredients for homemade omelets with cream cheese during our trip! I measured my ketone levels morning and night. How could this be?
When we returned home, I got on the scale, and my eyes bulged. I weighed 168 pounds. I had gained about 20 pounds since I’d last weighed myself a few months prior, after I’d done some extreme calorie restricting. I could not believe this had happened!
I realized that despite my best efforts and the fact that I was seeing the numbers I wanted to see, I was still gaining weight. I didn’t know that it is possible to gain weight in nutritional ketosis (a state in which the body burns fat instead of carbs). However, I was eating too much food, even though it was the right kind of food.
Clearly, something was way off, and I was doing some major things wrong. Despite this, I still believed in keto. The premise of converting the body from a sugar burner to a fat burner appealed to my sense of logic and ignited my interest. I wanted to be a fat burner more than anything, and I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. I believed that being a fat burner was going to be the solution for me, and I loved eating high-fat after living most of my life feeling deprived of flavor and being stuck eating low-fat foods.
My mistakes were starting to reveal themselves, but I wasn’t quite there yet. I invested in a glucometer and tested my blood ketones. From the start, my ketones were high. My readings were between 4.0 and 5.2 mmol/L, and I knew that 1.0 to 3.0 is the optimal range for nutritional ketosis. I was so excited to see the high ketones reflected on the screen. I tested my husband for comparison, and his ketones were 0.2 mmol/L. Wow! I was in the ketone zone, and it was incredibly exciting. However, I made the third mistake of not measuring my blood glucose along with my blood ketones.
Even though I had read several books and blogs and listened to podcasts on the topic, I missed a lot of key information. Success on keto comes down to several important rules, in addition to the 80/15/5 macronutrient formula that we will explore later in this book.
One of my main mistakes was eating too much protein, which can take you out of ketosis if you eat more than protein your body can use for energy or store. The body treats excess protein as excess sugar in the bloodstream. I did not realize that I was overconsuming protein because I was not testing my blood glucose.
Thought I’d share a milestone that I’ve been striving for—hit a weight loss of 35 lbs this morning and have been on the life-changing ‘Vanessa train’ since end of Feb. I’m pretty close to my goal weight — just want [to lose] a few more pounds before I start easing into maintenance.
Another mistake I made was using a lot of artificial as well as natural noncaloric sweeteners, such as stevia and erythritol, to replace sugar. I had a major candy addiction for years, so I needed to replace candy and sugar with anything that could replicate it. Also, I read that these artificial sweeteners were completely acceptable on a low-carb diet. I fell for a lot of products that pretended to be “sugar-free” only to discover that they contained maltodextrin, polydextrose, or agave, all of which are sugar by another name. These ingredients were hard to pinpoint because when I saw something advertised as being “sugar-free” or containing stevia, I believed that it was indeed sugar-free. Unfortunately, in many cases, products labeled as being “sugar-free” or containing other sugar substitutes are really only free of cane sugar. The product might contain sugar in the form of fructose, sucrose, or sugars going by dozens of other names. I will discuss sweeteners in their own section later in the book.
The last major mistake I made was not eating enough fat. When I started keto, the most difficult part was embracing the idea of eating fat at all, let alone consuming a lot of it. Fat still terrified me because I had long believed that it was artery-clogging and I literally believed that if I ate any food containing fat, it would deposit itself directly on my thighs or elsewhere. Years of fat fearmongering made switching to eating so much fat a scary proposition at first, and it took me a while to work up to retooling my diet from scratch and basing it on eating fat.
My weight had still not really started to trend downward until I broadened my research and redoubled my efforts by reading every book I could find. I watched videos and expert panels online, attended low-carb conferences, and listened to every podcast and audio book on the subject. I started to realize that blood sugar levels—not just ketone levels—are a huge part (if not the more important part) of the equation. I also started to understand that high-fat dairy could prevent weight loss.
I began measuring my blood glucose levels in addition to my blood ketone levels, and combined that with daily, detailed macronutrient tracking. I made some key changes to my diet, and I finally started seeing the results I wanted! The weight started trending down. I started feeling truly satisfied from meals for the first time in my life and began to experience what I have come to know and refer to as “food peace,” which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s freedom from constant fixation on food and where my next snack or meal was going to come from. My body was finally being fully nourished by real food and receiving essential fatty acids from the healthy fats and high-quality proteins that it had been deprived of for so many years. I was astonished by how sharp and clear my focus and thoughts were becoming. I went from constant exercise and punishing workouts with no results on the scale to working out only when I felt like it and shedding weight without any regular, scheduled time at the gym. Instead of steady-state cardio, I started going for delightful walks and embracing good-feeling movement, like yoga.
My clothes were getting so loose that I had to keep buying smaller and smaller sizes, which is probably the best problem ever. I ended up losing more than 40 pounds and getting down to my goal weight of 125 for my wedding in July 2016. I got to wear my dream wedding dress, which was very form-fitting, when I always thought I would have to wear a giant cupcake-style ball gown to hide my out-of-shape form. Feeling so body confident and comfortable in my skin for the most special week of my life was a dream come true.
Through trial and error, I learned from my mistakes. At the same time, I developed a formula that was effective for getting into nutritional ketosis. I was able to apply this formula time and time again to get others into ketosis. Being very carb-sensitive and having struggled with my weight for most of my life, I personally tested my blood glucose and ketone levels with every single recipe in my programs. I knew that if the recipes helped me achieve high ketone levels, low blood sugar, and weight loss, they would work for most people.
The increased energy and mental clarity I also gained in addition to the weight loss helped me accomplish my goal of leaving the online finance news reporting role which I enjoyed, to having the energy and confidence to launch my dream, passion-based business with Ketogenic Girl! While this almost seems too good to be true, it isn’t—and you can do it, too. I always believed I would be depriving myself for my entire life. I had accepted living without much fat or flavor in my food, to keep my calorie intake as low as possible. The irony is that all that sacrifice resulted in me feeling deprived, always hungry, tired, and constantly preoccupied with food. That is, until I found the ketogenic lifestyle!
Taking the Ketogenic Girl Online
I started sharing videos online explaining my early mistakes and what I had learned on my way to enjoying success. Spreading the word about the harmful effects of sugar in the diet and the incredible benefits of keto was quickly becoming my life’s purpose, despite the fact that I was running a finance business and serving as an anchor for a finance news web series. I would wake every day at around 4 a.m. to create as many blog posts as I could before I needed to turn my attention to my finance work. Each day, people sent me messages about how they had been doing keto for a while but were struggling to see results. People were requesting one-on-one help in greater and greater numbers. I felt so driven by my passion and loved it so much that I was working on my blog early in the morning and late into the night, losing track of time.
To date, the Ketogenic Girl Challenge has grown to include over 2,300 participants whom I actively coach on a daily basis, with new daily sign-ups of anywhere from five to thirty people.
I realized that to serve the greatest number of people, I needed to leave the finance world and transition to working on Ketogenic Girl full-time. I wanted to be able to provide wonderful 24/7 support to the people following my program. I also wanted to create an encouraging and loving community of people who wanted to make keto a lifestyle instead of just a means of losing a few pounds. Based on what I had learned was the most effective path to getting into nutritional ketosis and losing weight, I created the Ketogenic Girl Challenge. The challenge features my 28-Day Meal Plans along with online coaching to support people as they follow the program. My coaching includes answering questions and making personalized dietary modifications as needed. I also teach how to test for ketosis, how to maintain a keto diet while traveling and eating out, and how to eat a proper keto diet for life.
Because a high-fat, low-carb keto diet is contrary to what we have been conditioned to believe is optimal for health, it’s critical to have the support of family members and/or a community around you—especially when you make a misstep or lose hope along the way. I have had the privilege of playing a part in the health journeys of thousands of people, and I have witnessed nothing short of miraculous health transformations.
My Mission Statement
Ketogenic Girl is deeply committed to excellence and serving you with love, kindness, skill, refinement, and compassion so that you may reach your goals and inspire others to do the same for themselves! We believe in vibrant health, confidence, and energy for all through the healing power of nourishing, whole foods. We believe in democratizing health care by upholding a sense of self-responsibility for our health, and healing and restoring the body (and spirit) with love and nutrition. We are honored to serve you and play a part in your health journey, as well as that of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. Our passion is championing you in living your life to the fullest!
My approach has been extremely effective because it adheres to the science behind nutritional ketosis. I refer to my approach as strict keto, but without going over the edge. For a program to work, it has to be relatively easy to follow on a day-to-day basis, even during travel and at social events.
When you are on a deprivation diet, attending a special event or going to a restaurant can feel like an experiment in willpower. When you are depriving your body of essential nutrients, as well as over-exercising with the goal to “burn fat,” you will easily succumb to temptation and sabotage your efforts. Don’t waste effort resisting treats, counting and restricting calories, and forcing yourself into an intensive exercise regimen that you don’t enjoy. Doing these things will rob you of the willpower to make the choices that will support your goals when it comes to eating, which is the most important factor when it comes to weight loss and health. You will literally run out of willpower juice! We have to conserve our willpower and use it only when we need it most, and in this case it is selecting what goes on your plate and what stays off of it.
Carbs have a hedonic effect as well because sugar has addictive properties that make it difficult to limit ourselves to a small amount. Sugar’s effects on the body bring on massive cravings for more. On keto, your body and cells are continuously satisfied from the abundance of nourishing, delectable whole foods and healthy fats. You are never in a state of deprivation. Because you also have unlimited fuel derived from ketones from your own sources of body fat, you don’t have to fear losing progress when traveling or during special occasions. You don’t have to worry about carbs triggering an addictive response that will drive you to eat more and more of them with no end in sight. This unlimited supply of fuel puts the odds of success on your side and generates long-term sustainable results!
At the end of the day, weight loss comes from the kinds of foods we eat, when we choose to eat, and how frequently we eat, not from restricting calories and overtraining. The most important thing you can do is to make good choices about what to eat and when to eat it.
My Before-and-After Photos
I’ve spoken at length about the benefits I’ve gained from following a ketogenic diet. The keto lifestyle has improved my quality of life, giving me more energy and vitality, and I live pain-free without autoimmune discomfort. Although weight loss might have motivated me to try keto, the “side effects” have been wonderful, too. My focus has mostly been centered on my physical health. I love how good it feels being in my body and enjoying life to the fullest. However, I know all too well the emotional toll that being overweight can take. You suffer feelings of shame, embarrassment, and worst of all, self-loathing. Learning to love myself is probably the single most important thing that has come out of this journey. Once I was willing to give keto a try, I realized just how much our bodies do for us, and I began to appreciate all the hard work my body does to keep me as healthy as possible. I also learned to love and appreciate myself for who I am.
My Passion for Democratizing Health
To me, keto is a health revolution because many aspects of the ketogenic lifestyle emphasize the responsibility to take charge of our own health. The democratization of health is about increasing access for everyone so that we all can nourish ourselves to the best of our abilities while taking the time to learn about our bodies and how they respond to the foods we eat. We have more and more tools at our disposal, and at lower and lower costs. We are empowered to become our own health advocates, especially when it comes to our daily eating and physical activity choices.
We are fortunate to have unprecedented access to data; we’re also fortunate because the health technology revolution is just beginning. Never before have we had access to small handheld devices that could calculate the amount of sugar in our bloodstream following meals. This data is valuable because it helps us learn how our bodies metabolize food. It also helps us understand how insulin-sensitive our bodies are. Insulin sensitivity (or resistance) is a measure of the body’s sensitivity to “hearing” insulin and its ability to actively respond. If a person overconsumes glucose over a prolonged period, the effectiveness of insulin starts to become compromised, and more and more insulin is required to clear the bloodstream, resulting in hyperinsulinemia. Hyperinsulinemia is characterized by excessive levels of insulin in the bloodstream, as insulin’s effectiveness at clearing glucose from the blood is lowered. Eventually, the pancreas can no longer keep up with the demand as it rises. When a person is no longer sensitive to insulin, otherwise known as being resistant to insulin, or “insulin resistant.” In advanced cases, a person cannot produce enough insulin (or any at all), requiring supplementation with insulin, resulting in a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. Years of overconsumption of sugar impedes the body’s ability to detect and appropriately respond to sugar in the blood. When you choose to eat a ketogenic diet of whole foods instead of refined or processed foods and you avoid excess carbohydrates and sugar, you lower your blood glucose and restore your pancreas’ ability to respond, as it is no longer being overstrained by ever-increasing demands to generate insulin to clear the bloodstream. It will then be able to respond with appropriate amounts of insulin and thereby restore sensitivity. This restored insulin sensitivity has a massive impact on your present and future health.
If you are ill, I can relate. If you have ever experienced the fear and uncertainty that come with illness, I know exactly how you feel. Diet-derived illness can trigger much uncertainty and fear because it is often difficult for traditional medicine to pinpoint the cause. I have a high regard for modern medicine and am thankful that we have access to well-trained surgeons and sophisticated medical technology. However, I believe that our healthcare system could be greatly enhanced if we returned to viewing whole-food nutrition as being paramount in both preventing and treating disease; nutrition should come before prescription drugs and surgeries. This approach is key for addressing the cause of disease instead of treating the symptoms. When I was suffering from painful inflammation, an expert recommended that I resort to drugs and surgery. However, drugs and surgery never would have addressed the actual cause—an autoimmune reaction from ingesting gluten. Not only would the effects from drugs and surgery have been temporary—because the actual cause would not have been fixed—but I might have ended up taking more drugs, having additional surgeries, and living with part of my colon removed. Instead, I stopped eating gluten and all the pain went away. Not only was it effective, but it was free, too! And after a bit of research into gluten-free foods, I found it relatively easy to do.
Health is the first wealth, and without it, there is no point or purpose to do or have anything else. Without health, we cannot live, much less enjoy life. I have always been interested in learning about health and nutrition. Much of what I have learned comes from my burning desire to have the health, weight, and body confidence of my dreams. This desire has driven me my entire life to seek and understand the food, exercise, and body connection. Like many of you, I listened to the predominating health advice proclaimed by the government, health organizations, and the media, and I followed it to a T. I was told that eating fat was bad, and I avoided even a single gram of it. I was told to eat my five to six servings of fruit and vegetables a day, and I did just that. I juiced greens and made “healthy” fruit smoothies. I avoided junk food except for an occasional fat-free frozen yogurt or artificially sweetened ice cream. I did everything I was told, and I never saw the results that I wanted. But I never gave up. I knew that my pursuit of health would eventually yield results if I found that one real solution or answer. I believed it was out there, and I was going to attempt anything and everything to find it, including quite a bit of self-experimentation.
Before I found keto, I tried nearly every health and body treatment under the sun. I’ve tried IV chelation therapy to remove heavy metals, cold baths with hydrotherapy, colonics, extreme calorie restriction, hot yoga, spinning, daily running, personal trainers, workouts using power plates, the Zone Diet, juice fasting, the Atkins Diet, vegetarianism, and veganism. I’ve tried being a raw foodist, being a fruitarian, being a pescatarian, and eating only fish and poultry. I’ve gone high-carb, low-fat, and high-protein. You name it, I have read and/or tried it. If it offered some glimmer of hope for improved health and weight loss, I was on board. Everything was worth trying, and everything gave me hope. However, nothing I’d found previously transformed my health and life until I found my way to keto!
Today, there is a revived interest in low-carb dieting. People following the keto lifestyle are reporting incredible results, and functional medicine, which incorporates all aspects of health by making diet a central pillar of its approach to healing, is on the rise. I believe we are facing a nationwide and worldwide health crisis. Diabetes, obesity, heart disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and many more conditions are on the rise. These conditions have been firmly linked to persistent inflammation, insulin resistance, and poor metabolic health, which is linked to eating excess carbohydrates (and in some cases excess protein). Fear of eating fat still grips our society despite the advances in science that prove otherwise.
We must take responsibility for our health and the choices we make, starting with our food. The sugar awareness movement has been increasingly successful and is gaining traction thanks to increased mainstream media coverage and the growing popularity for a return to our ancestral way of eating. We are returning to the way our great-grandparents ate, when nobody feared eating lard and eating whole foods from the land rather than candy and soda was commonplace.
The ketogenic diet is rooted in therapeutic applications. It was used as a powerful healing protocol for epilepsy (and was very effective until that treatment was replaced by pharmaceutical drugs). The keto diet has been proven to effectively manage seizures, in some cases more effectively than drugs. The keto diet and fasting also have shown success in halting—and in some cases reversing—type 2 diabetes. Because carb intake is dramatically reduced, both keto and fasting rapidly diminish the requirement for exogenous insulin (injected or infused insulin). This approach is much more effective than allowing patients to continue consuming carbohydrates and managing type 2 diabetes with higher and higher doses of insulin. Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common form of dementia and is a neurodegenerative disease, is now being referred to in certain scientific circles as type 3 diabetes. The most significant risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is lifestyle choices, and there have been links made to an inability of the brain to metabolize glucose, which leads to impaired brain function and neurotransmitter action, which decreases memory, processing speed, and overall function. Therapeutic use of medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) oil has seen tremendous success in halting and treating the disease because ketones can pass through the blood-brain barrier (a semipermeable membrane separating the brain and extracellular fluid in the central nervous system from circulating blood), thereby providing an alternative energy source for the brain. We have known for some time that sugar feeds cancerous tumors. We also know that excess blood glucose contributes to high triglycerides. Stroke, heart disease, and deep vein thrombosis are caused by blockages in the bloodstream and have been linked to excessively high blood triglycerides. Because many modern diseases are connected to excessive sugar consumption and to high-carb, low-fat diets, it is time to democratize health for all. We can do so by healing our bodies with nourishing whole foods and limiting our intake of sugars, grains, and processed foods.
I hit a 49-pound weight loss today!!!! Feeling good!! Started at 239, down to 190. Started at a tight size 20, and now 12s are loose. I have 9 friends who have started your program. Thank you, Vanessa Spina, for all that you do! I was going to wait to post until I hit 50, but it’s just a number and I am feeling great so wanted to share.
The Ketogenic Diet
The Basics in a Nutshell
There are three macronutrients: fat, protein, and carbohydrate. The food we eat is made up of varying combinations of these macronutrients, or “macros.” A state of nutritional ketosis is achieved by adhering to a diet with a macronutrient distribution of 80 percent fat, 15 percent protein, and 5 percent carbohydrate. To illustrate this distribution, let’s start with the basics.
Limit or eliminate the following foods:
• sugar, including processed, refined, unrefined, and natural or raw forms
• beets, carrots, corn, and peas
• bread, pasta, and other wheat flour–based products
• fruits and fruit juices (an occasional serving of berries and small amounts of lemon and lime juice are okay)
• processed foods
• starchy vegetables, such as plantains, potatoes, and sweet potatoes
• sugary vegetables, such as beets, carrots, corn, and peas
Include plenty of these foods in your ketogenic diet:
• healthy fats for cooking, such as avocado oil, coconut cream, coconut oil, lard, duck fat, and butter
• nourishing fats for eating, such as avocados, olives, and olive oil
• high-quality proteins that have a higher fat content, such as bacon, chicken thighs, and eggs
• low-carb vegetables, including asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, and leafy greens
• fermented foods, which feed and support the healthy gut bacteria: sauerkraut, kimchi, homemade fermented yogurt, full-fat Greek yogurt, and so on
Easing the Transition with Smart Swaps
If you need to transition gradually, as I did, work on sweetness first. Replace sugar, honey, and fructose with noncaloric natural sweeteners in their pure forms (for instance, stevia, erythritol, and monk fruit). These natural sweeteners do not raise blood sugar as significantly and tend to stimulate insulin less in most people. However, sweeteners still do have an effect on blood sugar and insulin and can cause cravings for carbohydrates. When I transitioned off sugar, I needed to do it gradually rather than take a cold-turkey approach, and natural sweeteners helped me at first. I also still drank a lot of naturally sweetened (with stevia and erythritol) beverages to help me make the transition from artificially sweetened diet soda. The final step in my keto journey was to quit using sweeteners altogether, as I found that they were causing cravings for sweet drinks and foods. Halting my daily consumption of them has enabled me to eliminate cravings and fully restore my insulin sensitivity.
It is important to eliminate all foods and condiments that contain added sugars and replace them with unsweetened options. Here are some examples:
• Replace reduced-fat and fat-free mayonnaise and salad dressings with full-fat mayonnaise and dressings with no added sugars.
• Replace candy with 99% dark chocolate.
• Replace breads and other wheat flour-based baked goods with almond flour or coconut flour–based breads and muffins.
• Replace egg white omelets with omelets made from whole eggs, and enjoy breakfasts such as Eggs Benedict (see here).
• Enjoy pasta guilt-free with zero-carb shirataki noodles.
• Instead of nonfat milk and fat-free dairy products, enjoy coconut cream, heavy whipping cream, and full-fat plain yogurt (count the carbs in Greek-style yogurt), cheeses, and sour cream.
• Replace vegetable oils with real butter.
• Eat avocados, olives, mayonnaise, creamy salad dressings, olive oil, coconut and MCT oil, coconut milk, macadamia nuts, pili nuts, and other nuts, grass-fed butter, ghee, full-fat cheeses, and other healthy, rich, and nourishing fats!
By making these modifications to your diet, you will experience the benefits of a whole-foods, ketogenic lifestyle.
Sugar (including processed, natural, and raw)
Eliminate all sweeteners or transition with natural noncaloric sweeteners, such as pure stevia and monk fruit
Bread and other baked goods made from wheat flour
Breads and baked goods made with almond, coconut, and flaxseed flours
Zero-carb noodles (aka shirataki or konjac noodles)
Fruit and fruit juices
Berries only occasionally; small amounts of lemon and lime juice are acceptable
High-fat dairy, such as heavy whipping cream, and coconut milk
Chia pudding and full-fat plain Greek yogurt (add nuts and sweeten with stevia)
Fat-free mayonnaise with added sugar
Full-fat mayonnaise without sugar
Fat-free salad dressings with added sugar
Full-fat salad dressings without sugar
Vegetable oils for cooking
Avocado oil, coconut oil, lard, duck fat, and butter
Hemp hearts, flax seeds, chia seeds, and nuts
Legume-free alternatives such as my Ketogenic Girl Hummus (see here)
Potatoes and other starchy vegetables
Cauliflower and radishes (Try my Cauliflower Mash [see here] instead of mashed potatoes!)
Beets, carrots, corn, and peas
Low-carb vegetables (see chart), including asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, and leafy greens
Whole, unprocessed foods
Ketogenic Diet Food Guide
Directing Your Body to Burn Fat
There are two dominant theories of weight loss:
• the energy balance theory, which says that in order to lose weight, you must take in fewer calories than you burn
• the endocrine theory, which says that your hormones determine whether weight loss or fat storage occurs
Although both theories have merit, the ketogenic diet is based on the endocrine theory. For decades, the energy balance model has dominated the Western approach to health, yet people seldom see long-term success when they focus on calories in versus calories out. After years of ascribing to this theory of weight loss myself, only to be met with failure, I finally found success by switching to the endocrine approach. Although I do believe that energy balance (calories consumed versus calories burned) plays a small role in weight loss, I feel that hormones are by far the more important part of the equation.
If you are wondering what makes the ketogenic diet more successful than other ways of eating, it begins with internal signaling and aligning with the innate design and function of our bodies. The true power of the ketogenic diet all comes down to understanding exactly how to communicate with our bodies via the foods that we eat.
Unfortunately, we cannot just speak to our bodies outright by saying something like, “Burn all stored fat now!”
If only it were that easy. If only our bodies could say in return, “Right away, boss! Commencing fat-burning sequence!”
However, we can tell our bodies to burn those fat stores rather than store fat. The way we communicate that message is by eating the right foods at the right times. As Dr. Jason Fung of Intensive Dietary Management puts it, we must monitor the “what and when.” Dr. Fung and his partner, Megan Ramos, who founded the Toronto-based clinic IDM, are modern pioneers in the endocrine-based treatment of diabetes and obesity, and they have successfully reversed type 2 diabetes in many people. They have done so by restoring insulin sensitivity (the body’s ability to efficiently respond to glucose in the bloodstream) in insulin-resistant (when one’s body is unable to respond efficiently with insulin to clear the bloodstream of sugar, leading to type 2 diabetes) patients via various ketogenic and fasting protocols that limit the release of the hormone leptin, which signals the body to store fat. He and Megan have applied the hormone theory of weight loss in their practice and are achieving astonishing and consistent results. Their work has significantly advanced and validated the therapeutic promise of the keto protocol.
“I’ve been using low-carbohydrate and ketogenic diets therapeutically in the Intensive Dietary Management program for many years. Many patients improve their metabolic profiles substantially—completely naturally, without medications or surgery.”
–Dr. Jason Fung
The food we eat sends important signals to our bodies regarding energy storage and use. A ketogenic diet mimics the effects of fasting by creating a state of nutritional ketosis, which suppresses appetite very effectively. When we shift into nutritional ketosis by restricting carbs, consuming moderate amounts of protein, and increasing our intake of healthy fats, we no longer experience blood sugar spikes; instead, our blood sugar remains stable because we are being fueled more by ketones from the breakdown of fats and less by blood glucose.
Once you are in ketosis, the ketones circulating from broken-down fats effectively suppress appetite by appropriately signaling satiety hormones. Scientists have learned that ketones promote leptin, the hormone that makes you feel full, while suppressing ghrelin, the hormone that makes you feel hungry. A properly working endocrine system with efficiently produced leptin can lead to better metabolic performance; enhance brain function; improve mental acuity, clarity, and memory; and even positively regulate moods.
I just have to post this wonderful news. I am down 70 lbs since I began my keto journey. Not only do I look and feel better, but I am off all my meds, including insulin and metformin for type 2 diabetes. This is the most amazing way to live, and I sing Vanessa’s and keto’s praises wherever I go. Oh, and I turned 60 this year. Don’t let anyone ever tell you it’s too late.
Initially, leptin binds to proteins in the blood. When leptin reaches the brain, it travels across the “blood-brain barrier” and eventually binds to leptin receptors in the hypothalamus, telling your brain that it is time to stop eating.
Your fat cells release leptin into circulation after you eat, and leptin is an effective regulator of food intake. The ketogenic diet also generates ketones, which directly provide a readily usable energy source. Because your body does not need additional food energy, it secretes leptin to suppress cravings. The opposite occurs on a high-carb diet, which suppresses leptin and revs up appetite-stimulating ghrelin.
When leptin circulating in your body makes you feel full, you stop eating; this allows the insulin in your body to do its job of clearing sugar from your bloodstream and pushing it into your cells to use for energy. Once your blood sugar has been lowered, your body stops producing insulin, which tells your body to burn stored energy. As long as insulin is being produced, your body will continue to use the energy from your food instead of the energy that has been stored as fat. The absence of circulating insulin forces your body to access that stored energy, first in the form of glycogen stored in your liver and muscle tissues. Once the glycogen has been burned, your body resorts to burning its deeper stores (fat tissue) for energy. On a ketogenic diet, the amount of food sugars in the form of carbohydrates is limited. Fullness is generated rapidly from eating satiating meals comprised of nourishing fats and adequate protein. When you feel full and you are restricting carbs, or you fast between meals, your pancreas stops secreting insulin to clear glucose from your bloodstream, which tells your body that it is now time to burn stored fat for energy.
You might think that weight loss is driven by portion control—and you would be right. What is so beautiful about the ketogenic diet is that much of your “portion control” comes naturally. Nourishing fats and proteins are satiating and naturally make you feel full. You feel full because of the restored presence of leptin (the fullness hormone) and the reduced stimulation of ghrelin (the hunger hormone). When we eat delicious and flavorful food, we feel full quickly, and the thought of eating past fullness or grazing loses its appeal. However, on a high-carb, low-fat diet, it’s easy to eat an entire bag of popcorn, followed by a large container of yogurt or ice cream. The carbs in these foods suppress the secretion of leptin and rev up your hunger hormone. They also trigger a hedonic response to carbs, which is similar to the response people have to addictive drugs. Carbs light up many of the same neural reward pathways that other addictive substances do.
It is possible to gain fat weight on a ketogenic diet if you do not abide by the recommended macronutrient distribution of 80 percent fat, 15 percent protein, and 5 percent carbohydrates. Most people need to keep their daily total carb intake at or below 20 grams. In addition, be sure to observe what I refer to as the “protein threshold,” which is the amount of protein that meets but does not exceed your calorie expenditure to be turned into glucose via gluconeogenesis. Carbs and protein are easy to overeat because they can trigger hormonal responses and activate reward circuits in the brain. Fat, however, is a different story. Of the three macronutrients, fat stimulates insulin release the least. It is difficult to overeat fat because it is so nutrient dense and leaves a more sustained “mouthfeel” on the tongue. If you can drink several glasses of fruit juice or eat several bowls of cereal, try eating five or six eggs, several avocados, and an entire bowl of whipped cream. Even the thought of it makes me feel full!
Because fat is very dense, some high-fat, adequate-protein, and lowcarb meals that appear “average” in size can add up to a whole day’s worth of calories. One-half cup of nuts or chia seeds, for example, can easily provide two to three meals’ worth of energy. When portioning your meals, make sure that they are abundant in healthy fats because they will satiate you and help you get into nutritional ketosis by limiting blood sugar spikes and therefore insulin secretion. As a general rule, each of your meals should be based on a high-quality monounsaturated fat (such as extra-virgin olive oil, avocado, or macadamia nut oil) or saturated fat (such as red meat, butter, coconut oil, or MCT oil). Pair this good fat with a high-quality protein, such as grass-fed and organic meat, eggs, and seafood. Carbs should come last in the form of nutrient-dense greens, which are high in fiber. Insoluble fiber (fiber that cannot be broken down and absorbed by the digestive system) nourishes the gut, and reduces inflammation while cleaning the gut lining as it passes through the intestinal tract.
Proper keto meals, such as the recipes that appear in this book, allow you to feel full. When you aren’t snacking between meals, insulin production is halted and nutritional ketosis is turned on, which uses your body’s fat stores and the fat from your diet as its main source of energy. Essentially, you become fat-fueled and therefore can reap the many benefits of a ketogenic lifestyle!
Ancestral Diet Logic
When we consume sugar, whether it is processed or natural (such as the sugar in fruit or honey), it signals to our bodies to store fat for survival. Food has not always been readily available throughout our history. That meant when our ancestors came across plant-based sugars (berries or grains, for instance), they needed to consume as much of them as possible and store the energy by converting the excess sugar into fat so that it was available for future use when other energy sources weren’t available. Bears do the same thing when preparing for winter. They consume as much of the abundant grasses and berries as they can in summer, build up large fat reserves, and then live off those fat stores during the winter months when they are hibernating in their dens and food is scarce. Just like bears, human survival initially depended on the body’s ability to store energy for use when energy sources were not available; access to food was never guaranteed. Just like the bodies of bears, our bodies are very good at making and storing fat!
Our bodies are designed to store this energy for when it is needed, so it makes sense that our bodies would allow us to do so without the discomfort of feeling overly full. That means our bodies switch off leptin production when we consume sugar and carbs, which allows us to consume as much as we can without feeling uncomfortable.
When we eat carbohydrates such as sugar, fruit, vegetables, grains, starches, and so on, these foods tell our bodies that we are in storage mode—storing away for “winter” to survive future food scarcity. When the glucose from our food reaches the bloodstream, the pancreas releases insulin, which chases the glucose from the bloodstream; the glucose is stored in the cells for future use. The body will not burn stored fat when it is being told to store and generate more fat.
Often, people are alarmed to learn that natural sugars, such as fruit and honey, should be restricted on a ketogenic diet because they’ve always believed these natural sugars to be healthy. However, that teaspoon of honey in a cup of tea tells your body to store fat instead of burn it. That banana or handful of grapes tells your body that you’ve come across a rare source of energy and you must pack in as much as possible. Your body switches off fullness hormone signals and generates intense cravings. Your body wants you to eat as much as possible in order to stay alive later when this food source isn’t available. Unfortunately for many of us, these food sources are always abundant, which means that our bodies continue to store the energy as fat even though we don’t need it. The keto diet triggers our bodies to burn stored energy, which is possible because we aren’t processing glucose from our food and thus our bodies aren’t producing insulin. When we don’t eat between meals, our bodies get a rest from circulating glucose and therefore insulin. The absence of insulin tells our bodies that it’s time to burn stored energy until our next meal.
Our Bodies Were Designed to Be Either Sugar Burners or Fat Burners
Why is the ketogenic diet so effective? We first must explore the roles of glucose and fat in our bodies. Our bodies tend to be fueled by a primary and a secondary fuel. Our default fuel is glucose, and our bodies are mostly adapted to using glucose, with fat being a secondary fuel source. Glucose comes from the Greek word glukus, meaning “sweet.” In a typical “healthy” diet, where carbohydrates and protein are consumed in high amounts and fat is severely restricted, glucose is the body’s dominant source of energy, which occurs through the breakdown of the carbohydrates, starches, and proteins via glycolysis which is then taken up after digestion into the intestines. Glucose is then released into the bloodstream and subsequently stored in the liver and muscles in the form of glycogen. Because we are so adept at utilizing and prioritizing glucose synthesis for fuel, and our diets are predominantly high in carbs, our bodies default to using glucose as a primary energy source.
Most of us, however, have never been presented with the option of choosing sugar or fat as our dominant fuel source. Given the choice, would you rather be fueled by your own body fat or by glucose broken down from the food you eat? Because fat is considerably less appealing to deal with and a heck of a lot more visible on the body than sugar, I know which one I would choose (and have chosen by adopting the keto diet!). Also, our ability to store glucose when we take in more fuel than we need is limited to how much the liver can store in the form of glycogen (about 2,000 calories being the upper limit for the average person). As you might have noticed, our ability to store fat on our bodies is virtually unlimited.
Today is my day 28 in round 2 [of the 28-day challenge]. I am officially down 25 pounds. It is so nice to fit into my clothes with ease. Yesterday, I even got to wear a dress I hadn’t worn for 5 years. Amazing and I feel great! Thanks, Vanessa.
Prior to going keto, I never knew that we had the potential to be fueled by fat, let alone as a primary fuel. I had been trained to believe that energy is measured in calories, and that when it comes to diet, a calorie is a calorie, regardless of whether it comes from fat, protein, or carbohydrate. I also believed that I needed to limit my calorie intake for weight loss, and that the easiest way to do so was to stick to lower-calorie foods, such as carbohydrates and protein, each of which contain 4 calories per gram. Fat, on the other hand, contains 9 calories per gram.
From the outset, the calories-in-versus-calories-out equation appears to be logical, which is part of the reason (aside from constant reinforcement) why it has endured. Your body fat percentage, which is an important marker for long-term health, is a representation of your energy balance, just like your bank account is a representation of your funds balance. When it comes to your bank account, you want a positive balance; when it comes to your body, however, you generally want a neutral to negative balance of fat to lean mass. If you expend more calories than you take in, you will have a negative energy balance and lose weight. The best way to do so, we are told, is to lower calorie intake and increase energy expenditure. This notion is so ingrained in us that in the past, to question it would have seemed ludicrous. Fortunately, however, the endocrine theory of weight loss has resurged thanks to interest in the ketogenic diet, calling into question the energy balance theory of weight loss. Keto has become a powerful, disruptive force to outdated diet and nutrition beliefs, and it has been buoyed to new heights by the sheer numbers of people experiencing incredible weight loss and other health benefits. In short, keto has ignited hope.
My basic premise in this book is to explore the basis for why the ketogenic diet is so advantageous from an evolutionary standpoint and why it is so powerful for halting and reversing metabolic damage that underpins many modern diseases. Through this exploration, I hope to contribute to an expanding dialogue of what defines optimal nutrition for human beings in terms of overall health, performance, and disease prevention.
Although high-carb, low-fat diets are often vilified by proponents of low-carb eating, my objective is to acknowledge that carbs are a necessary part of our diet, but we must carefully regulate the kinds and amounts of carbs that we eat. In a balanced approach to eating, all three macronutrients have their place, with more emphasis on the most nutrient dense components and less on those with the least nutritional value. More importantly, I believe that being fueled primarily by fat—and thereby ketones—is much better aligned with optional functioning and health than being fueled primarily by glucose.
In the following pages, I will delve deeper into how our bodies can be fueled by stored fat rather than glucose and how to get our bodies into nutritional ketosis. When in nutritional ketosis, our bodies break down accumulated fat, and we experience many incredible benefits, such as
• easy and rapid weight loss
• increased and much more consistent energy
• mental clarity and sharpness
• satisfaction from delicious and flavorful healthy fats
• an end to food fixation because the body is being adequately nourished
• consistent calm moods
• autophagy (see here)
• relief from inflammation
• disease prevention and the potential to reverse diseases previously thought to be irreversible
Modern Diets Make Us All Sugar Burners
People often ask me how restricting carbs results in a balanced diet. What is so wrong with a balanced intake of healthy foods? To many, the concept of restricting grains, fruit, and some vegetables—all of which we’ve told are part of a “healthy” diet—sounds outlandish and extreme. My response is to ask how can we even begin to have a discussion about the concept of a “balanced” diet when more than 80 percent of the foods in the supermarket have sugar added to them? That leaves only 20 percent of foods that don’t contain added sugar. Navigating the grocery store for optimal nutrition when the odds are so stacked against us is challenging. There are hidden sugars in everything, and they are taking on more and more deceptive names (see the illustration showing sixty different names for sugar!). How can we be expected to have balance? Even health-food stores, which do have tons of great options, offer a similar ratio of foods with added sugar, although they may take on more natural-sounding names, such as agave syrup or evaporated cane juice. Is it any surprise that modern dietary options ensure everyone will be a sugar burner?
60 DIFFERENT NAMES FOR SUGAR
Brown rice syrup
Cane juice crystals
Corn syrup solids
Evaporated cane juice
Fruit juice concentrate
High-fructose corn syrup
Organic raw sugar
Rice bran syrup
The “everything in moderation” adage cannot be applied in our modern age of convenience foods because the majority of these foods only minimally nourish our bodies and can also include processing by-products that can be toxic substances that actively contribute to epidemics of disease, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s (now increasingly being referred to as type 3 diabetes). The ketogenic diet is a whole-foods approach that reverses this added sugar ratio of 80/20.
For starters, our diets need to maximize the ratio of positive nutrition to negative nutrition. What I refer to as “positive-nutrition foods” are foods that contribute to and enhance our health, while negative-nutrition foods do the opposite. Many foods have both positive and negative qualities. My approach to a ketogenic diet is based on maximizing positive nutrition by choosing real, whole, unprocessed foods over food products that have been processed, refined, or modified from their original forms in a lab or factory. We need to limit foods and “food-like products” that have been engineered to overstimulate our taste buds and lead to addiction.
Day 28: lost 16.1 pounds and feeling great! For those wondering . . . I did not do formal exercise at all. This [Ketogenic Girl] eating plan is all I did. Took 3 days off plan this past weekend and still managed to eat ketogenically. Extending the first round of challenge until Thursday. Keto love to y’all!
— Toya J.
Carbs have more negative than positive nutrition. For example, we can look at fatty liver disease, which is a serious health issue. In French, “fatty liver” is foie gras. Foie gras—fatty goose liver—is a rich culinary delicacy that is made by force-feeding grains to geese. Pig farmers also fatten their hogs by feeding them grains and limiting their physical movement. If dietary fat is the main contributor to body fat, then why are geese and other farm animals being fed carbohydrates? If eating fat makes us fat, wouldn’t feeding the animals fat be a much more efficient way to fatten them up? Farmers know that carbs are the best way to fatten animals. The same thing happens in humans when we overeat carbohydrates: we get fatter.
A proper ketogenic diet is primarily composed of whole foods, which are foods that have been grown, harvested, or caught. You can recognize a whole food by the number of ingredients listed; it should consist of only one ingredient—that food. A package of chicken should contain only chicken, not a bunch of chemicals and added sugars. (To my horror, I have actually seen packaged chicken with sugar added to it being sold in grocery stores in the United States.) From farm to table, that food should be food that anyone in the world would recognize as nourishment.
My approach to keto is sensible and practical. People often think the keto diet is extreme because low-fat proponents have been making alarming claims for decades about the negative effects of saturated fats. However, I believe the true danger is found in diets that include copious amounts of sugar and are high in carbs and protein but low in fat. According to the USDA, the average American consumes between 150 and 170 pounds of refined sugar per year. (These numbers would be higher if unrefined sugars were included, too.) People living in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and other Westernized countries are not far behind.
We need only look at the current state of health in the U.S. to see the results of several decades of going over a cliff when it comes to the overconsumption of carbs and protein and the elimination of fats. In many parts of Europe and Asia, people have not entirely embraced that dietary philosophy. People in the Mediterranean, for example, embrace whole-food fats and use olive oil, full-fat cheeses, and olives in their cooking, and in France people drench their food in butter. What is known as the “French paradox”—how can French people can eat so much rich food and still stay slim?—also applies to the Thai people, who eat a great deal of saturated fat, including coconut oil and coconut milk. Little did we know that they were taking advantage of all the fat-burning MCTs in coconut! (See here for more on MCTs and their role in a ketogenic diet.)
We have been a fat-phobic, fat-deprived society for some time. Our great-grandparents were not deprived of healthy dietary fats, which came almost entirely from whole-food sources. You can see it in many ancient cultures still in existence today, such as the Masai and the Inuit, who primarily rely on an animal meats and/or dairy, which is consistent with our ancestral diets, without any processed carbohydrates and meeting the definition a ketogenic diet. They have been observed to have low rates of the diseases that we battle. They don’t have access to processed foods and refined sugars that are readily available in modern urban environments.
When we are surrounded by easy, powerful fuel sources like the “rocket fuel” of refined sugars, we default to consuming sugars. However, in their absence, we consume mostly high-quality proteins and healthy fats, and we become fat burners rather than sugar burners. Because our modern diet is based on the high-carb model, people who try a keto diet often find that staying under 20 grams of total carbs is a challenge at first.