I will always be a Paleo Primal eater. By that I mean I don't eat grains, beans, processed oils and as few processed foods as possible. I do however have dairy (which is why the Primal). This is a great way to live and I can't ever see wanting to change. That being said, I believe in learning new things and constantly refining, and when a new idea comes along that looks promising I give it a try.
That's how I started changing my general Primal Paleo diet into a more specific LCHF KETO one. Paleo Primal is low carb by it's very nature, since you don't eat grains. Now it's also been found that too much protein can be stored by your body as well, so LCHF (low carb high fat) makes huge sense. However when you start out with a broken metabolic system - and many of us do - you have to take some of the normal recommendations with a grain of salt, and find out what actually works in your particular situation.
I've been working with this diet for about six months now and it wasn't especially successful for me at the start. Then I did a bit of experimenting, and a bit of research, and now I've found a few tips that have made all the difference.
LCHF KETO Tip # 1 - Calories do Count
When you do LCHF Keto you're told by most practitioners that calories don't count. As long as you stick to the food list you can eat until you're full and you will still lose weight. For those with a messed up metabolic system like me, this is dangerous advice. Why? because people like us don't know when we're full, and we end up eating way too much.
We've spent most of our lives eating carbs that never filled us. We were always hungry, and we have a really screwed up idea of how big our portions need to be. When I first started I would eat as much as I usually ate, and often half an hour after a meal I would feel uncomfortably stuffed. While I was eating though, I didn't feel full at all. So eating without any limits just didn't work for me. What I found was that when I started counting calories, not only was this an eye opener, but LCHF KETO actually started to work for me.
The nice thing about eating LCHF Keto is that you can eat a lot more food and still lose weight, but you do need to find your sweet spot, and the only way to do that is to experiment. If you really don't have any idea how much you're consuming, it's hard to make any educated decisions.
I use sparkpeople.com now and I find it works very well. For me, 1600 calories a day seems to be the magic number. I can eat as much as I need, so I don't feel hungry all day, and I still lose 2 to 3 lbs a week on a pretty steady basis. When the weight loss stops or plateaus I go to Fasting - but that's a topic for another post.
photo of calorie counting woman by James Dennes
If you're going to really be successful eating the LCHF KETO way, you can't look at it as just a temporary diet. For one thing, once you change from a sugar burner to a fat burner, if you go back to being a sugar burner again you're likely to not only gain any weight you lost, but you might also feel very sick as well.
After I had given up all grains for over a year, I found myself in a position where I had to make a cross country car trip and food choices were very limited. Because I was under a lot of stress and didn't take the time to plan ahead, I ended up reverting back to eating the fast food that was available along the way. After a couple of days of eating carbs again, I started to feel really sick. Things that I'd eaten with no problem all my life up until going grain free were now making me really ill.
So be warned. This is why it's important that once you convert your body to burning fat, you stay that way. This means you have to plan menus that you can live with long term, not just while you're losing the weight you want to lose.
(You can get a copy of the menu planner above here : Weekly Meal Planner )
Which brings me to LCHF KETO Tip # 3. You need to find replacements for your favourite foods so you don't spend the rest of your life feeling deprived. Thankfully these days that's very easy to do. The 3 most commonly craved foods are bread, pizza and pasta - and, believe it or not, you can have all of these on a LCHF KETO diet. You just have to use the right products and recipes.
I love almond bread. It toasts beautifully and gives me the crunch I miss, but some people can't eat nuts. Oopsy bread is another option and so are Keto waffles. If you look online you can find tons of grain free bread recipes now from which you can choose.
Pizza is another one of those things that is easy to replace. You can try an almond crust, a waffle base, or my favourite, a simple to make pizza casserole. These all taste just like pizza and will definitely satisfy that craving. An added bonus is that they are much more filling than regular bread dough pizza, so you won't need nearly as much to feel full.
Finally, pasta is also easy to replace. Spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles won't make you feel stuffed and will also give you more vegetables in your diet.
Even though I like both of these options and use them often in my own menu planning, my favourite replacement has to be Miracle Noodles. If you know how to prepare them and use the right ones for the dish you're making, these taste just like regular noodles. In fact some people I've fed them to have happily devoured large portions without realizing what they were actually eating. (I like them so much I've written a couple of books about them. You can get them here : MIRACLE NOODLES (Gluten & Sugar-Free Pasta Book 1) MIRACLE NOODLES for Weight Loss (Gluten & Sugar-Free Pasta Book 2) )
An added benefit of Miracle Noodles is that they are full of fibre. A lot of people have problems with constipation once they start eating less carbs. I can tell you from experience that eating these on a regular basis can really help a lot.
When you start LCHF KETO you're told you need to drink plenty of liquids and this is very important if you don't want to suffer from constipation, but many people just don't like to drink water.
My answer is to flavour it. Why pay extra for flavoured water when you can make your own so easily? I often use herbal or fruit teas for this purpose. Just brew up a large double strength teapot full, let it cool, strain it into a jug or bottle, and keep it in your fridge. Then, when you want a glass of water, just add an inch or so of this concentrated liquid to the bottom of your glass, fill the glass with water, and voila! flavoured water!
My favourite way to flavour water is with lemon and ginger root. I slice up lemons and fresh ginger root, put this into a teapot (about a third full) then fill the rest with boiling water and leave to steep in the pot until completely cold - usually overnight. Then I strain and refrigerate this and use it as above. Not only does this make the water taste great, but it has lots of health benefits as well. (Read about the health benefits of different teas here.)
If you're used to drinking Starbuck's flavoured fancy coffee, you can make healthy sugar-free versions at home using cream or coconut cream and your favourite sugar-free sweetener, and these will count towards your liquid intake as well. These home-made coffees will taste close to what you're used to, but will be so much better for you.
One of my favourite winter indulgences is hot cocoa made with unsweetened cocoa, dark chocolate shavings, and lots of whipped cream. Very decadent and very LCHF KETO.
photo of water with lemon by Sooraj Shajahan
LCHF KETO Tip # 5 - Have a quick Meal Replacement available for emergencies
If you're going to be eating LCHF KETO long term, you have to expect things to happen to take you off track once in a while. Either a trip will come up, or you will be stuck somewhere at meal time where there are no good options to be had.
This is where you need to find something you can keep in your jacket pocket or purse that will see you through. This can be as simple as a small package of nuts. Almonds, pecans or macadamia nuts are all good options.
What I have found just lately and use as a meal replacement bar now are the new Primal Chocolate Almond bars. These don't have any gluten or dairy, getting their protein from grass-fed collegan instead. This works really well for me because I've found that I can't eat regular whey based protein powders. Keeping one of these in my purse and a couple in my car glove compartment keeps me safely on track with my eating, even when everything else is falling apart.
(If you want to try these bars you can get them here : Primal Kitchen Dark Choc. Almond Bars - Pack of 12 Bars )
There are so many people who write about being Keto adapted and only eating one meal a day, that everyone tends to think this is what you're supposed to aim for. Not necessarily.
Everyone is different, and some people still get hungry several times a day even on a healthy LCHF KETO diet. I'm one of those people. That's just the way it is, and there is nothing wrong with that. As long as you are eating healthy food and you eat only when you're really hungry, you should eat whenever you need to, and if that means three meals and a couple of snacks, so be it. People often find this changes over time as your system heals, but if it doesn't, don't worry about it. It's eating the right things that's important, not meal timing.
If you're going to eat LCHF KETO long term it's going to require a lot of home cooked meals, and this can be a real problem for a lot of people. Even for me, even though I enjoy cooking, there are a lot of times when I'd rather be doing something else.
I have two solutions to this problem :
(1) Keep to a very basic very simple menu plan. I've worked out a six day plan where breakfast and lunch and snack is the same every day. I have six different dinners I rotate, and once a week I eat whatever I feel like. That gives me the leeway for going out, entertaining, or trying new recipes. On the other hand, if I don't want to do any of these things I often just have a Primal bar instead of dinner.
If you need lots of variety this probably won't work for you, but keep in mind that most people don't actually eat that many different meals. If you think about it, you probably have half a dozen recipes or so that you rotate on a pretty regular basis. Just make sure those recipes are LCHF KETO, and you're all set.
(2) Eat out of my freezer as much as possible. This can be as simple as making 4 servings instead of one when I'm making dinner, and freezing the other three for another day. It's usually not much more work to make a few extra servings, but this can be a real time saver.
I also use my slow cooker a lot, and these recipes tend to make a lot of servings, all of which can be frozen.
Now that my freezer has a stash of meals in it, I have one day a week that I designate as a Cook Ahead day. I make my weekly basics - salad dressing, etc. - and also cook a couple of dishes to freeze, then the rest of the week I can just eat out of my freezer.
crock pot photo by Tammra McCauley
Since I discovered Bullet-proof coffee I've been in love with it, and I think it's the best thing ever for a LCHF KETO diet. If you get into the habit of having this for breakfast like I do every day you'll be prolonging your fasting state, making sure you stay ketogenic, and it's super easy to make. On top of all these benefits, it does great things for your brain, makes you really sharp and energetic, and now I find I do my very best work first thing in the morning.
I've heard some people say you shouldn't have it every day because it has too many calories, but I really don't understand this. They seem to think you use tons of butter and MCT oil, but this just is not the case.
I make the original recipe which calls for a cup of coffee blended with one tablespoon of MCT oil and one tablespoon of butter, and this only has 230 calories which is a lot less than most people have for breakfast. Furthermore it's all fat, so you don't have to worry about any carbs or protein, and it keeps you full for hours - on top of being delicious. What's not to like? This is my breakfast of choice now and I have it every morning.
If you just can't afford to pay the high price most places charge for grass-fed beef, this is a great option. Great Lakes collegan gelatin is made with grass-fed beef and a couple of tablespoons mixed into a cup of broth (or a noodle sauce as I do it) will give you all the protein you need for a meal at a small fraction of the price.
Not only is it cheaper than buying grass-fed beef, it also has a great side benefits as well. If you are losing weight and worried about ending up with saggy skin, taking gelatin on a regular basis will keep your skin elastic and make this much less likely to happen.
If you suffer from arthritis, this could also be a game changer for you. In a recent study a group of arthritis sufferers were given gelatin every day and after a month over 90% of them saw major improvements. (Read about it here. You can get grass-fed gelatin here : Great Lakes Gelatin Collagen Hydrolysate Beef, Kosher, 16 oz. )
When we are talking about a way of eating for life, you have to be realistic. If there are foods that you love and they've always been a part of your life, you're not going to give them up indefinitely without feeling very deprived. And sooner or later you will give into temptation.
The way to make sure this doesn't happen is to find substitutes for these foods (see LCHF KETO Trick # 3) and make sure you make these a part of your daily or weekly menu plan. This includes treats as well.
For example, having grown up in England I love my afternoon tea. A nice pot of Earl Grey with a little something to nibble on the side helps make my day, so I allow myself this indulgence. I have my tea with a couple of thumbprint cookies every afternoon - and thoroughly enjoy every bite.
I also like to have a glass of wine with my dinner, and a dessert to finish. These as well are very doable on an LCHF KETO plan. A small glass of dry wine, whether red or white, has few carbs and some even consider it a healthy habit. As for dessert, a small serving of mousse made with real whipped cream and flavoured with lemon peel, cocoa, or a couple of strawberries is a great way to end a meal. None of these indulgences are huge, but they make a big difference in how I feel about staying on this plan for life.
The thing to remember is that most of the pleasure you get from the foods you really love come from the first bite or two. After that the pleasure slowly diminishes. So train yourself to be happy with small portions. (This is where the calorie counting comes in useful again.) One of the biggest benefits of a LCHF KETO diet is that small portions satisfy. You don't have to live with cravings that you can never fill.
Some people tell you that you have to count all the carbs, not just net carbs. The reasoning behind this is because many have taken the net carb system as licence to discount all the artificial sweeteners they use as not counting, whereas in fact half of them are usually metabolized.
If that's the case, I don't see why we need to go to extremes here and discount all fibre carbs. Most people who try to eat a healthy diet are not using sweeteners to extremes. A lot of their fibre calories are actually fibre from vegetables, and these don't have to be counted. I think its much more reasonable to count net carbs, but to add half of the carbs any time you use a sugar alcohol.
This last trick is one of the most important. Be flexible. Mark Sisson has always advocated the 80/20 rule, and I still think it makes a lot of sense.
There will be times when you are going out to celebrate with friends or family. There will be times when you're on vacation and want to try the local dishes. There will be times when you just want a break from your regular routine. If you stick to your plan most of the time, these little indiscretions are no big deal. Have a good time (keep away from the foods you know will make you sick) and then get right back onto your plan.
dinner on the beach photo by Christopher Michel
For more information on the LCHF & KETO diet, check out my books. These include menu plans and cook ahead plans as well as recipes to make your life easier.
romantic dinner photo by Portobay Hotels & Resorts