I’ve always struggled with my weight. But in my younger days, I was always able to knock off 5 or 10 lbs with minimal effort. I’d simply cut back and in a week or two, I’d be good again. My last major successful weight loss was after Nicholas was born. I did Atkins, a low-carb diet, and lost weight and felt great. The changes happened pretty quickly too. Then I started allowing a little carb creep, and a taste here and a taste there, became a carby meal here and a carby meal there, and fifteen years later I hated what was staring back in the mirror at me. Photographs of me horrified me. “That could not be me” I reasoned and deleted them. All of them. I simply didn’t like how I looked, and I was beginning to have some minor but potentially serious health issues (sleep apnea, acid reflux, wheezing, etc.)
Why I went Keto
But I knew what had worked for me in the past. So in the final days of August 2017, I decided to put on my big girl panties (some might correctly argue that I already had them on!) and take control. I was going low-carb with a twist: keto! The keto diet is low-carb, but high healthy fats. I break down what the keto diet is and isn’t right here.
After the first 4 days of feeling tired and nauseous and blah (that’s typical for those unfamiliar with keto…it’s called the keto flu) I woke up one morning feeling fabulous. My head was clear and my energy boundless. I carried on. A month passed. No one noticed any difference in how I looked. Heck, I barely noticed a difference. Sure my pants were longer (that happens as people with big hips and asses lose weight…there’s less there to hike the pants up!) and my face looked a tad slimmer. But I pressed on. I knew this was the only way that I was going to lose weight. You see, the calorie restriction route is too painful and requires too much will power for it to be a sustainable option for me. I love food and I felt literally powerless in the face of my huge appetite and seemingly insatiable cravings. Six weeks in, Hubby noted a difference. No one else did. I felt my clothing beginning to loosen more. And I felt great! So I pressed on. Plus I was eating the most delicious food ever and having fun challenging myself to keep it keto AND delicious! Three months in I got a bit discouraged. I expected a more radical, visible change. After all, it had happened in the past! What was different this time around?
After the first 4 days of feeling tired and nauseous and blah (that’s typical to those unfamiliar with keto…it’s called the keto flu) I woke up one morning feeling fabulous. My head was clear and my energy boundless. I carried on. A month passed. No one noticed any difference in how I looked. Heck, I barely noticed a difference. Sure my pants were longer (that happens as people with big hips and asses lose weight…there’s less there to hike the pants up!) and my face looked a tad slimmer. But I pressed on. I knew this was the only way that I was going to lose weight. You see, the calorie restriction route is too painful and requires too much will power for it to be a sustainable option for me. I love food and I felt literally powerless in the face of my huge appetite and seemingly insatiable cravings. Six weeks in, Hubby noted a difference. No one else did. I felt my clothing beginning to loosen more. And I felt great! So I pressed on. Plus I was eating the most delicious food ever and having fun challenging myself to keep it keto AND delicious! But three months in I got a bit discouraged. I expected a more radical, visible change. After all, it had happened in the past! What was different this time around?
…then I added Intermittent Fasting
Then a friend of mine who was on his own weight loss journey suggested intermittent fasting to me. I did some research. Ok. I did a lot of research. For me to be giving up food the payback had to be huge. And I was convinced. Intermittent fasting with keto was a game changer for me. I documented my intermittent fasting experience and the how and the why right here.
So why wasn’t I losing weight quickly on keto this time around?
But let’s go back to my original question: what was different this time around? Why was it taking so darned long for me to lose weight? I found the answer: middle age. I was nearing menopause, and my hormones were conspiring against me! In August 2017 I was 49 years old.
The reality of middle age in women
Look around you at the middle aged women you know. Even those who had a trim figure back in the day suddenly start to thicken, especially in the mid section! I looked at myself. Even though I had always been fat, I always had a defined and pronounced waistline. My mom used to marvel at it. Now it had all but disappeared! Is this your experience too? I had one woman tell me on Twitter the other day that even if she eats a twig, she gains weight. And it’s funny you know, these women who used to be average sized in their youth, experience increasing girth even as they watch what they eat oh so carefully! They choose non-fat yogurts, whole grain cereals, fruit, lean meat, some go vegetarian and so on and so forth, but their waistline keeps expanding. How come?
Weight loss: beyond calories in, calories out!
It’s time to debunk the myth that weight gain and weight loss is simply calories in, calories out. It is way more complex than that. It is a fantastic interplay of hormones and metabolism and body chemistry governed more by what and when we eat, rather than how much we eat.
Hormonal Changes as women age
Here’s what’s happening as we women get older:
- belly fat increases
- brain fog
- memory loss
- hot flashes
It is important first of all to understand our hormonal state at middle age. Once that is clear, then you will be able to understand why the keto diet and intermittent fasting are likely the most effective combo in the battle of the bulge at middle age.
According to the experts, our sex hormones start rapidly declining as early as 35-years-old, with most women officially hitting menopause in their early 50s.
Estrogen declines, causing a shift in body fat from hips and thighs to abdomen, a rise in insulin resistance, which causes weight gain, impaired production of leptin and neuropeptide Y, hormones that help regulate appetite and weight balance. Whew.
Testosterone declines, leading to a loss of muscle mass and, as a result, a slower metabolism. Hmmm….
Progesterone declines causing an increase in anxiety and depression. Sound familiar?
Ghrelin (the hunger hormone) increases causing a dramatic increase in hunger and cravings. Who can identify?
Counter hormonal changes with keto!
Keto tackles Insulin Resistance
The ketogenic diet counters these changes in one key way: in the absence of carbohydrates, the body has no need to secrete insulin, so the whole issue of insulin resistance becomes moot! Not sure what insulin resistance means? Insulin is that hormone that is needed to metabolize glucose. Glucose comes from carbs, or carbohydrates. When we eat carbs, the body releases insulin in order to prevent blood sugar (or glucose) levels from getting too high. In the insulin resistant body, normal amounts of insulin don’t work. So the body secretes even more insulin to try to get the job done. The result is an ever increasing level of insulin AND blood sugar with devastating consequences: increased fat storage, inflammation, cell damage and increased cravings. So when we cut carbs from our diet, that whole cycle no longer happens. That’s the beauty of the ketogenic diet.
Additionally, as the body switches from sugar or glucose from carbs to fat for energy, ketones are produced as a by-product. Ketones are great stuff! They provide energy and protect our brain cells too. So the ketogenic diet essentially sidesteps the impact of the normal aging process with all the hormonal changes and negates insulin resistance and cravings and increased appetite.
Keto tackles mood
As for the declining progesterone and the effect that has on anxiety and mood… I spoke here about how and why the keto diet positively impacts mood. When you’re on a ketogenic diet, your body produces more GABA, a major neurotransmitter that helps the brain function properly, says one researcher named Wider. When GABA levels are low, you’re more at risk for anxiety and depression. When they’re high, it may help stave off depression.
On the ketogenic diet, remember you’re not eating sugar. High levels of sugars in your body plays a role in developing chronic inflammation, a cause of a wide range of psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders including major depression.There are different theories about how high levels of sugar consumption contribute to developing depression. It is thought that sugar causes a serotonin crash, it increases brain inflammation and it also depresses the natural antidepressant brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)
Intermittent Fasting PLUS keto: Game Changer!
Intermittent fasting also mimics the effect of a low-carb, high fat diet plus it also results in overall decreased caloric intake. Boom! In the fasted state, there’s no need for insulin, and as your body burns its own fat stores for energy, the production of ketones increases and the result is suppression of cravings, a clearer mind and increased energy.
Some experts recommend that woman at or near menopause slightly modify their keto diet by cutting back on the recommended fat intake and bumping up their protein intake. This is because in the face of declining hormones, adding fat is going to prevent you from burning your own fat stores. They also recommend bumping up vegetable consumption. That certainly can’t hurt.
Keto & Menopause: The Bottom Line
Even though the hormonal changes are natural and expected, there are choices with respect to what we eat that can help us to lose weight if that is our goal, and that can prevent the seemingly inevitable middle age spread, especially in our mid-section. It’s not magic, it’s science. You do not, in fact, need carbs! That sugar that you love so much does absolutely no good for you. In order to effectively contend with your hormonal changes you have to change how you eat and what you eat. Cut carbs and reduce the incidence of insulin resistance. Reduce insulin resistance and force your body to burn fat for energy. Experience reduced cravings and inflammation, experience more energy and weight loss. Couple your low-carb way of eating with intermittent fasting, and watch your results speed up.
What about exercise?
I haven’t spoken here about exercise. Remember our declining testosterone levels mentioned above? Remember our declining muscle mass as testosterone falls? Less muscle means a lower ability to burn fat.Well resistance training combats that! That’s another post for another time. In the mean time, don’t be afraid to work out with dumbbells 3 times a week. I show you how to build an exercise habit here. You’ll see and feel the difference.
Could the keto diet be the answer to your own mid-life frustrations?
For further reading, feel free to check out these references:
I am not a medical doctor nor am I a certified nutritionist and make no claims to the contrary. Each individual’s dietary needs and restrictions are unique to the individual. You are ultimately responsible for all decisions pertaining to your health. The information on this website is written and produced for informational purposes only. This website is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Content should not be considered a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. The reader assumes full responsibility for consulting a qualified health professional regarding health conditions or concerns, and before starting a new diet or health program.