Some friends of mine recently were discussing the Ketogenic Diet, one of whom was just starting it and the other who was looking to start it. I’ve done the Keto Diet twice, both times to moderate success. I thought some people might benefit from hearing my take, but then things progressed. I’ve done other diets too, and exercise programs. And if you’ve ever looked into honest and comprehensive reviews of exercise programs, you know they are often quite lacking for thorough yet unbiased virtues.
Well, after the (moderate) success of my Ask Me Anything, I thought I’d take this week and give some reviews from my history of and experiences with different diets.
Slow Carb Diet – Score: 4 out of 5
The Slow-Carb Diet is essentially about controlling insulin by avoiding high-glycemic food. It’s built around protein sources and vegetables. It avoids most carbs except for legumes (beans and nuts). Grain, most starches, even fruit, all out. Even most diary is eschewed. On paper, this is very strict, but the inclusion of a weekly cheat day helps to balance the calories and the micronutrients. Basically, you eat meat, veggies, and beans six days a week, and then go nuts on the seventh day.
I frickin’ love this diet. It was so satisfying and so simple and so much fun. Yes, fun. The austerity of the days of the week was surprisingly enjoyable and looking forward to Saturdays as this all-day-binge was like Christmas every week. It also helped me develop a strong discipline when it came to passing up foods. At times, if I was tempted with a food, I would make a note of it and then make sure I ate it on my next cheat day.
The problem? Well, it didn’t take too long before my fat loss began to stall. I cut down to a decent weight but it became increasingly difficult to lose any more. Efforts to rein in my calories on cheat day, cut my calories during the week, it all had little effect. Had I been satisfied with where I was, I could probably have stayed on the Slow Carb Diet for the rest of my life and been pretty happy. Unfortunately, with aesthetic and athletic goals elsewhere in my life, the plateaus were problematic.
Ketogenic Diet – Score: 2 out of 5
If you aren’t familiar with the Keto Diet, it’s very high fat, very low carb, and (perhaps a little surprisingly) low to moderate protein. The goal of the diet is to put your body into a state of ketosis (which is very different from ketoacidosis, for which the two are often confused), which utilizes fat as its primary source of fuel.
I found the Keto Diet tricky because I actually ate too much protein while on it the first time through. I also found monitoring whether I was in ketosis tricky because I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on quality testing strips, so the discount brands I got proved to be very unreliable.
From a cooking standpoint, I enjoyed making keto-friendly versions of common foods, but the ingredients got to be a bit expensive at times (almond flour and coconut oil get costly). I also never really seemed to see many of the benefits espoused to keto.
What persuaded me away from it was three-fold and they were all related to my Depression. Because the Keto Diet is very low carb, eating fiber and starches becomes difficult. Even vegetables become very tricky. This is a problem for getting enough vitamins and minerals (supplements are great, but aren’t as viable an option as people might think). It becomes even more problematic when sustained for long periods because of the effect on your gut bacteria.
The microbiome in your intestines is very important to your overall health, even your mental health. If you eschew foods like starches (meaning carbs) for long periods, the bacteria in your intestines responsible for digesting those carbs die. This can lead to tremendous stomach problems if you do eat carbs again, and it can also lead to physical and mental issues if those bacteria are involved with the creation of other hormones, especially neurochemicals.
For this reason (among others), many people on Keto end up going off it periodically. The stricter adherents will usually end up doing a version of the Slow-Carb Diet, where they eat beans and similar starches but not grains.
Cultivating my gut biome has proven to be very helpful in dealing with my Depression and as soon as I learned this risk the Keto Diet poses, that was enough to dissuade me. Further, the idea that I needed to cycle on and off it periodically to maintain optimum health just made it seem too much work. I liked it, I enjoyed it, and I definitely get the appeal. But if someone asks my advice on it, I do caution them against any protocol that eschews whole swaths of eating staples and this includes going Keto.
Hit-The-Target Diet – Score: 2 out of 5
A diet of extreme austerity, the Hit The Target Diet is the product of an Italian Strength Coach aligned with the Strong First community (one of Pavel Tsatsouline’s group). This means they prize results and simplicity. Cool, great. I did this diet twice, the first time to amazing results. The second time, not nearly so much. The diet is moderate protein, low-to-moderate fat, and low carb. Everything is very carefully spelled out. Cheat days are present but they are progress-based, not time-based. This means if your goal is to lose ten pounds, you don’t get a cheat day until you hit that bench mark. Again, the diet is pretty intense. The first time I did it, I shed fat like water of a duck’s back. The second, it wasn’t nearly as effective. It still worked, but my weight fluctuated wildly during the process and it was a slog just to make incremental progress. Not for the feint of heart.
Intermittent Fasting – Score: 4 out of 5
I don’t remember now when I started intermittent fasting, but it’s been several years now. Fasting is less a diet and more an eating protocol because I’ve done all these other programs (Slow Carb, Keto, Hit the Target) on ‘regular’ eating and on Intermittent Fasting.
When I started fasting, I didn’t see the major weight loss or energy spike or any of that stuff. I honestly, saw few of the benefits that fasting is said to espouse. What I did see was a consolidation of my efforts and an efficiency in my time. Since I didn’t have to cook three meals a day, with some snacks, my mornings and my middays got a lot more productive. Dinner felt a bit grander and I could settle in to enjoy the cooking and the dining.
I’ve continued fasting to this day, not for any aesthetic or athletic reasons, but because it really agrees with my lifestyle.
Athlean-X Meal Plan – Score: 4 out of 5
I’ve only been following Jeff Cavalier for a few months, and I’ve been doing the Athlean Xero workout for five weeks as of this writing. The accompanying meal plan is frustratingly simple, so much so that it really leaves something to be desired. I get that they are going for fool-proof simplicity but for people like me who want more specifics, it would be nice to get that. I also don’t care for the hyper-masculine jock labels and advertising, but I can forgive that as, well, just that: advertising.
Still, the Athlean X Diet is moderate-to-high protein, high vegetables, and moderate carbs. Cheat Days are discouraged but accommodated. Somewhat like the Athlean X program(s?), the diet plan works great if you A) follow it religiously and ask no questions or B) you have enough know-how and background to fill in the gaps with your own research and experience. If you fall between those extremes, there may be some trouble.
So I hope that helps one or two people. Just a quick overview of the diets I’ve followed and a basic outline of my experience. If you have any further questions, let me know and I’ll be happy to answer them.
I think next week, I might tackle my exercise programs. That’d be fun. 😊