I decided to be on the ketogenic diet as my new lifestyle. The keto diet mandates that you cut out all sugar and carbs, and replace it with healthy fats to train your body to burn fat instead of carbs. I tried it for a month before I was traveling, and the effects ultimately changed my life. I have now done it for a year, so here’s my personal anecdotal story of why this all happened. Some of this might be TMI but I think it’s important to understand what I was going through to understand how much of an impact keto had on me.
I discovered I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) when I was in high school, and recently learned that it’s something you’re born with. About 1 in 10 women have it, and the symptoms don’t always manifest until adulthood. The tell-tale sign was that I had really irregular periods. I went to check with a doctor when I had a little scare where my period didn’t stop for six weeks straight. The symptoms I experienced which I didn’t associate with the syndrome for so long were fatigue, extreme bloating, cravings out of this world, and weight gain. Let me explain more.
I was always tired. I did a test one summer in high school where I would intentionally sleep without waking up with an alarm for two weeks. At first it was about 12 hours a day (or more), and when my body had enough sleep from a years worth of school, it tapered off to 9.5 hours a night. When I got to college where my schedule was more flexible, I still needed 9 hours of sleep or I would feel completely dead and exhausted. I would feel nauseous and my body had that rusty, achy feeling as if I had only slept 3 hours. Being on my period also instantly adds two hours of sleep at night, and may require naps. But this was normal, my every day. I asked doctors frequently and they shrugged it off saying that some people just need more sleep and that’s normal. In senior year of high school I actually got the superlative “most likely to fall asleep in class.” I never actually slept in class, but people knew that I had the reputation of always being really tired.
The bloating was a bit odd. Some days I would have it and other days not. On particularly bad days, my stomach would bloat so much that it’d hurt. This was also inconvenient for buying pants, because in the morning I would have a skinny tummy and at night I’d have expanded by two pant sizes.
I have always had intense cravings for sweets. Like the worse they are for you, the more I like them. Krispy Kreme donuts, Thai iced tea, Cheesecake Factory cheesecakes, any cupcakes, any chocolate cake, apple pie (ohhh yesss), chocolate chip cookies, ice cream…you name it. Oh and boba, I love boba so much my license plate is literally LF❤️BOBA. Honk twice if you see me.
After graduating, all of a sudden, I no longer had rigorous practices from swim team. Most people would gradually gain weight but this wasn’t the case for me. I gained 20 pounds in a short amount of time. It makes sense because I stopped working out but it’s especially easy for my body to gain weight; my body can fluctuate 4–5 pounds a day. I weigh myself daily morning and night, and I often find myself lighter at night than in the morning. That doesn’t seem to make sense if I haven’t gone to the bathroom. I just don’t know where all my mass is going.
Thankfully, unlike most women with PCOS, I don’t experience pain with my periods (I heard some womens’ menstrual pain feels like getting their arm torn off), and I didn’t experience unwanted hair growth. However, I will say my periods were shockingly irregular, sometimes skipping for several months at a time, and usually for a long duration like 10 days. I’ve also always had a bro-ish personality.
So yeah, there’s no cure to PCOS.
To make things worse, I also learned that my family has a history of diabetes, and having PCOS is a multiplier in my risk for diabetes. Unlucky.
But I was on reddit one day and there was a side tangent to the main topic, and these women were talking about how they have PCOS but that the keto diet “magically cured” them of their symptoms. Like, haha, nice joke. But I was reading through and there were several women who vouched for the same results, a lot of them explaining symptoms that I had never even correlated to PCOS like energy levels. I happened to be looking to lose weight so I thought, heck, why not, let’s just try and see what happens.
I bought food from keto meal prep delivery companies so that I wouldn’t have to think about my macros. About a week in I started feeling really energized. Luckily for me I didn’t get the keto flu. Suddenly, I could sleep at 2 AM and wake up at 7 AM naturally. I didn’t need an alarm to wake up to go to work for the entire month. I would go to bed, not because I was physically tired, but because I told myself, “Yeah it’s getting late I should probably sleep now.” At work I wouldn’t get hit by the mid-afternoon holy-shit-I-need-a-nap bomb. I’ll never forget the moment, when I woke up at 7 AM, and couldn’t sleep anymore, so I went around doing various errands, and waited at 9 AM by the bank for them to open so I could change the pin on my debit card. In the past if you asked me to have a meeting at 9 AM I’d politely say, “Unfortunately traffic is really bad for me that time, can we push it to 11 AM?” when really in my head I’m thinking, “Fuck you, I’m still sleeping.”
What somebody did not tell me was going to happen, was that keto will disrupt period cycles for some women. I’ve been on the birth control pill to regulate my periods since they’re so irregular, but even taking it correctly every day for the past 3 years, the keto diet started my period in the middle of my pack. I switched to a different active ingredient and it took about 3 months for the regulation to happen.
I have lost a lot of weight — close to 10 pounds — and I experience a lot less bloating at night. I have made it a daily goal to remove myself from a sedentary lifestyle, so I try to keep myself active by going to karate class, swim, or play badminton. I still get bloating, but usually not to the point where it hurts.
I still crave sweets and carbs, but I’ve been able to find some good alternatives to keep myself satisfied. If I really need to, I allow myself to have one bite of a cookie or a sip of a sweet drink, just so I don’t go crazy. I’ve also learned to make keto sweets from recipes online. Basically, it’s the same stuff except you substitute flour for almond flour, and sugar for erythritol (a keto-approved sweetener). It tastes exactly the same, if not better. I also learned that you can find a substitute for everything as long as you are willing to pay more. There is keto bread, keto jam, keto cereal, keto bagels, keto milkshakes, keto desserts, keto ramen, keto pasta…the only thing I really can’t find a replacement for is tapioca boba. The interesting thing is that I don’t really get hungry anymore. When I’m off keto and am hungry, my stomach will growl and rumble and hurt and be pissed off. When I’m on keto, and maybe haven’t eaten in 8 hours, my stomach will just move around but it won’t make noises or hurt. It lets me know that it’s hungry, but I don’t get signals in my brain telling me that I’m starving. It feels more like, knock knock “Yo by the way it’s been like 8 hours, maybe you should like, I don’t know, eat something?” There’s been several times where I look at the clock and it’s 10pm and I think to myself, “What did I eat for dinner?…Wait, nothing. I haven’t eaten yet oops.”
The part that makes it worth it for a lifestyle change is the energy levels for sure. When I’m off keto I know immediately because my body is defaulted at tired. When I’m off keto, I can’t get through the day without a nap in the afternoon. I will frequently experience waves of exhaustion that I cannot ignore. I’ve explained it to friends that the feeling is similar to needing to pee. Your brain just tells you, “Dude, you need to go,” and it just gets worse as you hold it in. So eventually you’ll get knocked out and have to nap wherever you are because your body feels like it’s dying. The cognitive clarity part is pretty real too. Only after being on keto for so long, I have the awareness to contrast that when I’m off keto I am always a little bit nauseous.
Nevertheless, that’s the spiel! Energy levels were the biggest change for me, and I did feel moments of extreme cognitive clarity. Not being in tired in general has helped me be more productive at work. Personally, the change to keto felt like waking up from 20+ years of hibernation. Now that I know the difference, being off of keto feels unbearable because of the constant hunger, feeling super fat, and being exhausted. It felt amazing to no longer be tired all the time, I felt alive. Trading sugar and carbs to feel awake and alive? Hell yeah, no brainer.