Disclaimer: I am not a nutritionist or dietitian and I am not recommending a diet for anyone, but simply sharing my experience and things I have found out after long research. Please consult a health professional prior to any dramatic dietary changes.
When I first heard about ketogenic diets, I thought it would not be possible for me to try it out. I had been vegan for just over 3 years and all the keto-meal-plans I found online were full of animal products (mostly meat, fish and dairy).
Since my teens my weight has always been yo-yo-ing up and down +/-10kg and I had sworn off any diet plans. When I went vegan in 2014 I lost about 6kg and felt absolutely great, but after trying a juice cleanse in 2016 my weight just skyrocketed and I gained more than 10kg, even though I did not change anything in the way I ate.
Since then I’ve had trouble getting my weight off. I tried eating less, cut down on treats and went to the gym, but the weight gain was sitting stubborn on my hips and I felt very uncomfortable with my body. I wanted to change something and was therefore intrigued when I found out about keto from the Australian blogger Rachel Aust.
After a long & frustrating search for vegan keto options online, I thought to myself ‘it must be possible to do vegan’ and decided to take on the challenge. I found a lot of conflicting information on the internet regarding the ketogenic diet and figured I had to try it myself out to see if it was for me or not – so here I was!
How to eat on keto
Everything we eat can be broken down into two categories: macronutrients (Carbohydrates, fat, protein) and micronutrients (e.g. vitamins). A regular European diet sees the daily calorie intake nearly evenly split between carbs, fats and protein (carbs and protein have about 4 calories per gram, fat contains 9 calories per gram). If someone for example ate 2000 calories a day on an even split, they would be eating 167g carbs, 167g protein and 74g fat.
On a keto diet the macro split looks very different: 60-75% of calories from fat (or even more), 15-30% of calories from protein, and 5-10% of calories from carbs.
There are very helpful calculators online that can help figuring out the macros, for example Ketodietapp. The daily keto split I aim for is 5% carbs, 64% fats and 31% protein with a full calorie goal of 1550 calories.
How to calculate your ideal calorie intake
Nowadays there’s websites and apps online for nearly everything – however I calculated my calories manually by looking at my TDEE (= total daily energy expenditure). The TDEE is the amount of calories that my body needs daily to stay as it is and it is calculated by taking your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) and your exercise level into account.
This is how it’s calculated:
BMR = 655.1 + ( 9.563 x weight in kg ) + ( 1.85 x height in cm ) – ( 4.676 x age in years )
With a desk job and going to the gym up to 2 times a week, I see myself between “Little to no exercise” and “Light exercise” and have therefore calculated with the factor x1.3 and came to a TDEE of 1919 calories. This would be the amount of calories I can/should eat daily in order for my body to remain as it is.
Now for weight loss it is recommended to deduct 10-20% off this TDEE and you then have the total calories you should be eating daily to lose weight. Be aware that a smaller deduction will be more sustainable for you and easier to maintain, undereating can have the opposite effect and you might actually gain weight.
I personally deducted about 19% of my TDEE for weight loss and came to 1550 calories daily.
How does keto work?
In a nutshell: Our bodies burn carbohydrates for energy. As these are drastically reduced in the keto diet the body goes through a transformation in which it begins using fat resources for energy. It can take between 2-7 days for the body to enter this stage and there can be some side effects during this transition – I myself experienced slight dizziness, dry mouth and tiredness, but these were all gone after the first week.
In order for keto to work it is important to strictly stay within the carbohydrate restriction of the diet whilst on keto – a ‘treat’ can easily throw you out of keto and you would have to start over again.
The carbs that you should be counting on keto are called ‘net carbs’. So, what are ‘net carbs’? Net carbs represent the total carbohydrate content of the food minus the fiber content and sugar alcohols (if in the product).
Now this is where it can get a little tricky: Whether the carbs you see on the nutritional label include or exclude fiber and sugar alcohols depends on where your product comes from. In the US for example the total carbs are displayed and you simply needs to deduct the fibre to get to your Net carbs. In the UK however most products already show net carbs.
Some fresh foods are also not labelled with nutritional information. This is why I started using the app ‘Carb Manager’ to find out net carbs for fresh food and also some packaged foods (the app mostly holds american items) and I have then manually added them to Myfitnesspal, where I keep track of my daily calories.
My experience with keto
I have to admit the first few days were tough, not only because my body tried to adjust to the new diet, but also because I had decided to come up with my own meal plans, calculated my keto-macros for my body type and used apps such as Myfitnesspal and Carb Manager to track my calories & macros – and also to create my own recipes.
Well, I understand that calorie counting might not be for everyone, but to be honest: It really helped me get a better understanding of portion size. It made me realise that my previous weight gain was probably not related to what I ate, but down to portion size!
The calorie counting also opened my eyes to how many calories different foods contain and I am now automatically prioritising a bigger portion of a healthier option over a piece of sugary sweet for example.
It is also worth mentioning that keto is recommended to be a short-term diet used for weight/fat loss, not a long term lifestyle. The first keto cycle I did took 6-7 weeks, I then ate low carb (under 100g a day) for about 4 weeks before going back into keto for 2 weeks. In my experience the 6-7 weeks was too long and not necessary as my weightloss stagnated. I have since decided to continue in cycles with a mix of keto/low carb – usually lasting 2 weeks each.
Since I started in summer 2017 I have effectively lost 7.5 kg within 3 months, 11.5 cm around my waist, 3 cm on each arm, 6 cm on each thigh and so on.
My skin has also become much clearer than it ever was before – which shows me that a low-carb/no unrefined sugar diet seems to help with my hormonal imbalance (also mentioning that I had a sugary brownie once during my off-keto time and got a complete breakout after!)
Being vegan on keto is definitely not the easiest task, but I love the challenge of finding new foods and recipes that are delicious and vegan – yet totally fit into the diet.
To be honest I haven’t set myself a weight loss goal – as after all, weight is just a number – but my aim is to just feel good in my own body, and feeling comfortable in the clothes I like to wear. And if also gets my BMI into the ‘healthy weight’ range, then even better 😉 (I’m at 26.6!)