A friend of mine is a firefighter. He works 24 hours straight, followed by 72 hours off. He’s also the president of an insurance brokerage. He’s also married. Needless to say, he’s got a crazy schedule to keep up with.
Recently, he told me he used to eat ketogenically and lost 45 pounds, but hasn’t been able to keep it up. To make matters more challenging, he’s also lactose intolerant. I told him I’d help him problem solve so he can stay keto in spite of his busy life.
What follows is our conversation about his personal experience and my suggestions. I hope you’ll find it helpful in your own keto journey.
What does keto mean to you? How do you define “I am eating a successful keto diet”?
“I was able to completely cut out sugar and did ideal protein diet for about 6 months. I lost about 45lbs which was awesome. I have been creeping back the other way.”
You mentioned “ideal protein diet” in your answer. I want to clarify what I’ve learned about high protein/low carb diets (think Atkins) vs. keto diets.
There are tons of sites that explain the science, so I’m going to keep it simple.
Simply put, the goal of eating keto for weight loss is to keep your blood sugar low so your body will produce ketones as an alternate energy source. Ketones cause your body to burn fat for fuel instead of sugar.
The way to do this is to only eat foods that don’t spike your blood sugar. Limiting carb intake is one way, however moderating protein is also important.
In a high protein diet, your body is still producing glucose. The excess protein triggers a glucose response. You’ll lose weight, but you likely will not be in ketosis. This makes it much harder to maintain (because you may still battle hunger, for example) and you’ll miss out on the health benefits of eating ketogenically.
In general, a keto diet should be 70% calories from fat, moderate protein (70-100 grams) and 20 net carbs per day. In addition, you eat no sugars (natural sugar is sugar too), grains or starches. Fruit should only be berries in moderation and veggies should be the above the ground type. Here’s a list of keto foods from DietDoctor.com.
Having said that, you may have been eating high protein/low carb and not ketogenically. FATS being the most important differentiator.
Q. What is your #1 REASON for eating ketogenically?
“Weight loss & more energy”
Perfect! That’s the reason a lot of people start keto. Unfortunately, it’s also the reason a lot of people quit keto. They lose weight and go back to eating like they were before.
Your reason is what will keep you motivated
…when your weight loss slows
…when you want to have the margarita
…when your friends make fun of you
…when you have to go to a summer potluck or birthday party…
You’ll stay on track because your reason is far more important than those things.
Without a compelling reason, it’s far too easy to cheat or quit. You reason should be so big, so emotionally powerful that you know there is no alternative.
I challenge you to ask yourself, “WHY do I want to lose weight and have more energy?” That may seem like a silly question, but it’s the most important one to answer.
I’ll give you a personal example. My husband didn’t want to eat this way. He loves his pasta and rice. Pretty sure his answer was “fuck no!” for months. He’s diabetic and quite a few years my senior.
I finally got through to him when I said “You married a younger woman. You owe it to me to take the best care of your health, so you can live longer.”
It’s true he wanted his diabetes to be under control. It’s true he wanted to lose weight, but until he thought about it in terms of his relationship with me, he wasn’t motivated. Incidentally, he was off his insulin within a week and has lost 8 pounds in about 2 months.
My reason? I’m eating keto so my breast cancer doesn’t come back. It’s been 9 years now and I used to dread each passing year, just waiting for it to come back. Now, I have a powerful tool to improve my chances of living cancer free for the rest of my life. That’s my reason and it’s a powerful motivator. I’ve been able to stay on track with ketogenic eating for nearly a year now.
I encourage you to go deeper and remind yourself of your REASON every time you feel challenged. The challenges grow less and less over time, but those first few weeks may be tough.
Q: What is your BIGGEST struggle maintaining a keto diet with your current life schedule?
“Sleep deprivation. Being up all night, going to fires etc and being starving at 3am after fighting a fire I’d reach for bread, bagels, any carbs because they are quick and easy. When we are at work we eat when we can there are no set times to eat due to unpredictable timing which tends to cause bigger meals and they tend to be eaten on the go.”
Preparation is going to be key here. Plus, if you were not eating high fat before and start now, you are going to find you’ll be able to sustain energy during your 24 hour shift much more easily.
You’ll need to stock the station with quick, easy to grab foods so you ALWAYS have something keto friendly available when you have the chance to eat or are stuck with hunger.
Here are some dairy free suggestions that don’t require cooking:
- Hard boiled eggs
- Precooked bacon (meaning, you cook it and keep it in the fridge)
- Avocado (kept in the fridge once they are ripe they’ll keep several days)
- Canned tuna in water. The oil used is soybean and you want to stay away from soybean or vegetable oil. (add fat with sugar free mayo or olive oil)
- Macadamia nuts
- Sugar free peanut or almond butter on celery
- Porkrinds (make sure they don’t have sugar in them)
- Rotisserie chicken (the kind grocery stores pre-cook)
- Sogo Meat Sticks (these are so good!) Get the flavors with no sugar, like jalapeno, original and chimichurri
- Bagged salad with a high fat (no sugar) dressing
- Cucumbers in oil and vinegar
- Dill pickles
- Black or green olives
- Deli meat with no added sugar (Go for beef over chicken or turkey for more fat content)
You might even decide start fasting during your shift. When I first started keto I thought fasting was crazy. “What? You are purposely NOT eating? That can’t be healthy.”
I’ve spent the past 2 months studying it and have now done a few fasts myself. It’s actually pretty easy when you’re already in ketosis and the health benefits are DRAMATIC. I’ll spare you the details right now, but keep it in the back of your mind. Having a 24 hour fast one shift a week could make things simple and improve your health and energy (as crazy as that sounds).
Q. Describe a typical week of eating when you are NOT keto.
“I will normally do a protein shake for breakfast and lunch and then do a family dinner with the kids at night. I try to eat proteins when I’m at the firehouse for lunch and dinner. I get in trouble at night when I’m hungry and will snack.”
This brings me back to my point about fat. Protein is going to leave you hungry, fat will satiate you. If you are grabbing the shake because it’s easy, I’ll give you an easy, high fat keto drink instead.
Since you can’t eat dairy, I’d suggest full fat coconut milk 1:1 with ice and add water as needed to adjust the thickness. Add vanilla, and Truvia or liquid stevia to taste. Blend it in the blender or with a stick blender.
For flavor use 2-3 strawberries or a handful of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries. You could use unsweetened cocoa powder for a chocolate version. There are a ton of flavored stevia drops on the market. If your mornings are rushed, make this ahead of time and keep it in the fridge. Then, in the morning, just pour and go.
If you are using shakes because you don’t have to think about it and you do have time to make a quick breakfast, you can’t go wrong with eggs and bacon or sausage. Just watch for sugar in the meats. Costco has Kirkland brand lower sodium bacon that doesn’t have sugar in it. Omelettes are pretty quick too. Make in some oil (or bacon fat, mmmm) for added fat, throw a few veggies in there and bam, breakfast
Q. Do you cook?
“Both my wife and I share in the cooking. I tend to do a lot of the grilling.”
Grill your heart out, just stick to fattier meats. Marbled cuts of beef, higher fat ground beef, dark meat chicken, salmon. Limit yourself to about 4 oz (if you can!) of protein at a meal. Remember, if you eat too much protein, your body is going to start converting that into glucose, which will slow down your progress.
Having low carb veggies with dinner? Cook them with fat, drizzle olive oil on them, add bacon crumbles, you get the idea.
There are a lot of keto breads you can make that are all high fat and a good way to add to your meals. They are mostly comprised of eggs, cream cheese and almond flour. In fact, here’s a 90 second keto bread recipe. Just sub the butter for an equal amount of coconut oil to keep it dairy free. It’s pretty great!
If you are inclined, beef broth is another great keto hack. I make my own beef broth. It makes a good “snack” on the go. In fact, I just made cheese soup in less than 2 minutes using broth, cream and cheddar cheese. It’s super easy to make the broth it’s so rich and full of flavor. I use it in my meals as much as possible.
With a compelling WHY and a little creativity, you can find simple ways to make a keto diet work for your lifestyle and schedule. Once you find your reason, everything else becomes easier. Planning ahead makes all the difference. Keto can be simple. I promise! And, it gets easier over time.
I have a lot of suggestions in my “How To Get Started With Keto” blog post here which I would like you to read as a refresher. Don’t worry, it’s a fast read and will give you even more tools to make your keto adventure easy!
What are some of your challenges with your keto lifestyle? Leave a comment and let’s brainstorm solutions together!