Who loves carbs? Me! And probably you, too! If you’ve been following my journey, then you know that I’ve most recently been following a very high fat, low carb, moderate protein diet, known as the ketogenic diet.
By eating high fats and depriving the body of carbohydrate sources, your body learns to start burning fat for fuel/energy instead of glucose (and carbs are converted to glucose in the body). This is a metabolic state called ketosis.
I did this for 30 days, then took a week break, then did it again, but the second time, it wasn’t as easy, and I really struggled to stay in ketosis and with food cravings (mostly the carb variety). I also stopped seeing results in terms of weight loss and lean muscle/definition. It was a struggle to reach my macros and get enough fat intake (70+ percent of your diet comes from healthy fats) and I started overcompensating on protein. So I thought perhaps it was time to try carb cycling.
I learned a few weeks in to my second round of keto that consuming TOO much protein can also kick you out of ketosis because the body starts to convert it into glucose (or sugar).
That was a red flag for me that keto would not be my forever way of eating, which I knew would most likely be the case, but this confirmed it.
Some people swear by following the keto diet long term, but I didn’t like the fact that I could never enjoy some of my favorite foods again: bananas and most other fruits like peaches, watermelon, mango, etc., acai bowls, sweet potatoes and other root veggies, quinoa, lentils, chickpeas, dates…the list goes on.
These aren’t BAD or unhealthy foods, they are just higher in carbohydrates. Add to that the fact that I don’t consume dairy, being keto long term would be severely limiting for me.
I don’t like to put myself on restrictive diets, and to me, longterm keto felt too restrictive. I mean, if I want a damn banana, then I’m going to have one.
This was always part of my longterm plan, but you feel so good starting keto for the first time that you don’t want to eat carbs, because “what if I blow up like a balloon?” It’s all in the mind, but I was still wary of eating carbs again.
But, I found myself binging on “low carb” snacks and going out of ketosis anyway and so I knew it was time to eat the banana.
For the first two weeks, I tried alternating two days keto, one day higher carb, but it did not seem to be working for me. Now, I could’ve stuck with it longer to see if my body adjusted, but I found it really hard to get into ketosis the first day and that meant only spending one day in ketosis.
The see-sawing seemed to mess with my hormones and I also experienced keto flu symptoms on each of my keto days. Not good.
I then decided that I would spend the weekdays eating a ketogenic diet, and on the weekends I would have higher carb meals that included some of my favorite healthy, nutrient-dense, higher carb foods like sweet potatoes and acai bowls.
I am only on my first week of this but so far, so good. My body feels so replenished and energized after two days of carb loading, and I am not dreading eating low carb for the next five days, in fact, I am excited. I feel good eating low carb most of the time, but I work out, and this includes some really intense weight lifting sessions. I can feel that my body needs healthy carbs to replenish itself, and so it’s silly for me to deprive myself of that.
What I will do is plan really hard workouts on my “higher carb” days and then during the week, do moderate to easy workouts. I can still lift heavy while eating keto, but I don’t want to waste a carb day on a rest day, or yoga day because I want to use that food energy as fuel to help my body recover and to grow stronger.
One other challenge I ran into during my keto phases is that no matter how great I was feeling or how successful I was at staying in ketosis, when lady time rolled around, I went cuckoo for carbs. It was such a mental struggle to not binge on non-keto approved chocolates, and I wanted all of the carbs.
And I think this is something important to call out for any and all women either on the keto diet, or considering starting it. Our bodies our naturally different from our male counterparts, and we have to accept that and also educate ourselves on it. When we go through our mensuration cycle, our hormones change our bodies and some of us have very delicate hormonal balances. This article from Paleo for Women is a great deep dive into how carb cycling can affect our cycles and how we should approach carb cycling because, as the article puts it, it’s not gender-neutral.
Our hormones impact insulin sensitivity and so if our bodies are craving something during our periods, it’s for a reason. We shouldn’t deny or ignore it. We’re also at a higher risk for thyroid problems, and one criticism of eating keto consistently is that it can create a sluggish thyroid, which impacts digestion and metabolism.
And I totally feel these changes in my body take place. It’s always the first two weeks in my cycle that I get very hangry, and start to crave sugary and carb-y foods. This is because estrogen levels are at their highest (progesterone at its lowest) and that means my body is calling for carbs because it can process them for energy/fuel. And then in the second two weeks of my cycle, the cravings subside and I don’t feel the need to grab for that gluten free pizza or quinoa bowl. It’s crazy how I can observe this about myself.
Carb cycling has been known to help with weight loss/maintenance, and it’s also beneficial for balancing hormones, but you have to find what cadence/structure works for you. Some people do keto/carb cycling every other day, some do two-one, some do five-two — there are many ways to do it. Experiment and find what’s right for your body.
For me personally, it’s also really stressful and mentally draining to constantly be counting my carb, fat and protein intake. And I don’t need that additional stressor in my life 24/7.
My biggest challenge with food and weight loss, muscle gain has always been my mind. I get stuck in these cycles of “I have to do X in order to look or feel like X” and I get so caught up on what I “should be doing” that I forget to tune in to what my body is asking for. It’s taken a really long time to get here, but I’ve finally learned that my body is on my side, and it knows best what it needs. And when that happens, I should forget all of the literature and food science and listen to it. That’s my food freedom.
I don’t have a silver bullet solution for you, I only have some personal wisdom to share, and it’s simple: Experiment, educate yourself, don’t be afraid to fail, and let yourself be happy once you find what works for you.
I’ve done all the diets — Paleo, raw, vegan, keto — and each time I did them, I learned something new about food and about myself. And that makes it worth it. I’ve developed IBS, SIBO and an autoimmune disease during the time I was vegan. Yeah, it sucks, but I am on a path to healing and I am so lucky to have found a doctor I trust, and friends, a boyfriend and family who support me. So don’t give up on yourself. Sometimes it gets worse before it gets better but like all things in life, gut healing and finding your food freedom is a marathon, not a sprint. Just roll with it.