What is Dr. Khalsa’s experience on the ketogenic diet?

I have had tremendous success over the 37 years I have been in practice in helping my patients with so many different types of problems:  musculoskeletal problems, digestive problems, allergies, fatigue, depression, anxiety, insomnia, sex hormones and menstrual cycle, to mention just a few.  The two conditions that I have had very little success with, both with my own health and my patients, is weight and blood sugar.  I have a practice which is full of people like me who are relatively healthy, except for being overweight.

My weight issues started in my early thirties.  I was skinny as a bean pole one year and had a significant belly the next.  For over thirty years, I have been researching and following different approaches to my weight issue with very little success.  I have tried low fat, calorie restriction, raw foods, yogic diet, whole foods, and high protein.  All have had mixed levels of success for a short time and then the weight came right back.

At the same time, my blood sugar has climbed for many years.  I have been in the “pre-diabetic” zone for several years and I think it has only been my avoidance of refined sugar that has kept me from having full on diabetes.  None of the above mentioned diets addressed this issue either.  

This February, I was reading an article about a new approach to cancer.  It mentioned a way of eating that was helpful in several types or cancer called the ketogenic diet.  It was unlike any diet that I had done before.  I researched this diet and at the end of February started to eat according to the ketogenic principles.

For the past 20 years or so, I had become aware that dietary fat was not the bad guy that conventional nutrition had been teaching for years.  I knew that good quality fats were essential to good health and that there had been some studies that proved they did not cause people to get fat.  I was also aware that the evidence was growing that carbohydrates or “carbs” were responsible for many degenerative conditions because of their link to inflammation.  So I was ready for the principles of the ketogenic diet.

I have been following this diet for the past 3 months.  I have been measuring my fasting blood sugar and weight regularly.  My glucose level for the past four years and has been around 120.  In the first two weeks, my fasting glucose dropped to the 80 to 90 range.  It has stayed at this level consistently.  My weight has dropped 25 pounds.  My pants keep falling off me and I have had to start using new holes in my belt that haven’t ever been use before.  My energy has been much stronger.  I have been doing projects around the house that were too overwhelming to me in the past. 

How hard has this diet been for me?  It has been the easiest diet to stay on of any of the different diets that I have tried.  My cravings for sweets are almost zero.  My energy does not fluctuate when I have not eaten for hours.  In fact, I have stopped eating breakfast and just eat lunch and dinner.  Surprisingly, I don’t really miss bread and pasta.  When I have done diets in the past, these are the things that have gotten under my skin.  I would become obsessed with these foods that I could not eat.  I would think about them and feel deprived all of the time.  I thought that this would also be true with this diet, but it has not been so.  Honestly, I do miss eating fruit a little, which at least in the early stages of this diet are avoided, but I am not craving anything as I did with other diets.

I was surprised that at the beginning of this diet, I still had to get over the deep programming that I had about eating all of this fat.  Fat has been demonized for many years as the source of obesity and heart disease.  When I started to eat this way, it triggered deep fear based programming about fatty food causing more problems.  But I kept eating this way and fairly quickly saw the results in my weight and blood sugar dropping.  Then there was a kind of “Yipee” response:  I could eat as much fat as I wanted with no negative consequences!  I didn’t have to starve myself and deny myself and feel irritable, hungry and tired all of the time.  If I was hungry or starting to crave carbs, eating some fat took away the craving and made me feel totally sated.

Most people who follow the ketogenic diet are not vegetarians as I am.  They eat a large amount of fatty animal products like bacon, sausages, fatty meats, eggs, and cheese.  All of these products have little or no carbs.  But this is not a high protein diet.  Protein is used by our bodies to rebuild tissue.  We need a certain amount of protein, but if we eat more than that, our body converts the excess protein into glucose and this will take us out of ketosis.  So unlike the Atkins diet, to maintain the state of ketosis, we need to limit our protein.  

I have been able to successfully stay in ketosis with a vegetarian diet.  Though I had a strong sensitivity and reaction to dairy before this diet, I have been able to eat cheese every other day and this has made it easier for me.  I have also been able to eat heavy cream and butter on a daily basis.  Based on my experience, I can see that it is definitely possible, though challenging, to achieve ketosis even if you are a vegan and avoiding all animal products.