I posted before and after pictures of my weight loss on Twitter and it had a lot of people asking how I lost weight. So, I decided to write it out so that it serves as a guide and inspiration (for those who need it).
A little background
I always used to struggle with managing weight since I was in school. But things became really bad starting 2007. I was piling on weight. Even though I was active intermittently. I was an active squash player in college, and I used to walk 12-15 kilometers. Then there was a period when I used to run (not jog) 10 kilometers every morning. But that was countered with unhealthy eating habits. More accurately, lack of knowledge on how food affects the body.
As life continued and stress of work and day to day life piled on. I had tried a bunch of diets. Tried cycling. With limited success. In the run-up to the 2019 elections while working for Congress I reached an incredible 147 kgs (nothing to be proud of). It was a particularly stressful period both professionally and personally. Added to this were irregular eating hours and plain stress eating.
I had not shopped for clothing at a regular store in nearly 15 years. Because nothing fit. So only misshapen plus size stuff or custom-tailored clothes.
It crept up and I didn’t take the issue seriously. Once I went to donate platelets (something I have done before) for a friend who was recovering from Dengue fever and the doctors refused to let me do so because they were not able to find the relevant blood vessels.
My big concern in June 2019 was where do I get a weighing scale that allows you to measure more than 150 kgs (which is where most electronic scales stop).
I was diagnosed with hypertension way back in 2008 and the medicine dose kept creeping up. From 10mg, to 20 to 40. Once the doc even said that you might have to take it twice a day if you can’t bring it under control.
I had sleep apnea, which meant I was tired all the time, I was snoring and had brain-fog, being listless and depressive were active side-effects at this stage.
I even consulted a couple of bariatric surgeons who were of the opinion that surgery would be the only serious way forward. Something I wanted to avoid.
Basically, I was screwed and with no path back.
The trigger – a sequence of fortunate events.
During a routine checkup in July 2019, an ultrasound revealed a gall bladder stone that was more than an inch long and also fatty liver grade 2. Though there was no discomfort, the doctor suggested immediate surgery for the removal of the gall bladder. Which I opted for the very next day. Just before the surgery, the assistant surgeon prepping me for the surgery was concerned about my lung capacity as the fat had accumulated around the windpipe. They had concerns about if they would be able to revive me from the surgery. The final test for fitness was whether I could walk up 4 flights of stairs without getting out of breath. I fibbed and said I do it twice a week.
Anyway, the surgery went through uneventfully. During the post-op discussion, the doctor performing the surgery said that fat had accumulated on the liver and it had become very hard. He said it was something that worried him a lot during the surgery and was worried that the liver might break 😲.
Anyway, all’s well that ends well.
During, the post-op recovery, the two doctors who operated on me were very concerned about my weight. One, the bariatric surgeon, suggested surgical intervention to manage my weight. The other, suggested that I try a different diet. He didn’t call it Keto initially, but over two-three discussions, said it was.
I was skeptical, but I had nothing to lose. I was staying with my parents after the surgery, so I tried it. In the first week I lost 7 kgs (basically glycogen burn off along with water loss). I now had firsthand experience that it worked. So I stuck with it. Learned and adapted it to food available in Noida and then later in Mumbai.
By December 2019, I had lost 25 Kgs. Another 15 by March 2020. Another 10 by September 2020.
I am down 50 kgs and am on track to lose another 10 over the next couple of months. I would have lost this sooner, but for the lockdown and my shift to Mumbai, where I was stress-eating quite often.
And I must emphasise that I did this without exercise. After I lost weight I started playing squash again (after more than two decades). But didn’t need exercise to lose weight.
Hypertension meds dose is down to 10mg and with a little luck I should be off them (fingers crossed) sometime in 2021.
I have reversed my fatty liver condition. From Grade 2 to non-existent.
Mostly I have managed to maintain my weight (and falling slowly) at this level for several months now.
Finally, the Keto diet
Ketogenic diet is simple. Without getting into the science behind it (though you should understand it). There are a lot of youtube videos that explain it and I strongly encourage that you watch them before you get started. It will help you to understand why it is ok to eat some things and why you shouldn’t eat some things.
Ketogenic diet seeks to keep your body in a state of ketosis, where it is burning the body fat on a continuous basis. This produces ketones which is a source of energy when glucose is not available. And this is where the name, keto diet, comes from.
Simple thumb rules.
- The key to keto-success is carb-counting. You have to limit your carb intake to 50 grams (some say 30 grams) or less.
- Avoid carbs like the plague. Chiefly rice, wheat (and other grain based flour), dal (all types), potatoes and other root vegetables high in carbs.
- Learn to look up the carb value of any food that you eat and decide accordingly.
- Fat is ok. Within reason. Fat will satiate your body and stop your body from craving food.
- Non-veg – 1 gram per pound of body weight. (So if you are 200 pounds, 200 grams of non-veg/protein a day is your limit). Eat a variety of non-veg. Meat, chicken, fish, prawns. Mix it. Eating too much protein will result in glucose popping up in your system via a process called Gluconeogenesis. This will kick you out of ketosis briefly.
- Mix-up your cooking medium. I use, butter, animal fat, coconut oil, peanut oil, extra-virgin olive oil, mustard, rice bran (physically separated and not refined).
- Don’t use chemically processed oil (anything that says, refined, double refined etc)
- Eat lots of green vegetables (7-8 cups a day). Beans, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, bhindi, karela. Vegetables are a source of potassium which will help your body drain water.
- No fruits. Fruits are loaded with sugars which are carbs.
- Eat eggs. Lots of them. And eat whole eggs, not just whites.
- Avoid milk products. Cheese is ok in moderation. Milk (hung curd or Greek yoghurt is better) are not as milk has lactose, which is a form of sugar.
- Have seeds like peanuts, watermelon, and pumpkin to mix up things and to add micro-nutrients.
What to drink
- Tea, coffee without milk and sugar,
- Diet cold drinks are all ok, but be aware, excess consumption will affect your kidneys.
- You can try ginger and lemon juice
- Avoid sugary drinks (this includes stuff like Rooh-afsa, aam Panna etc)
- Use Stevia as a sweetener.
When to eat
Once you are in ketosis for a while, you will stop feeling hungry as the body will undergo hormonal changes and start burning its own fat for its energy needs. At that point you need to pace yourself and ensure that you eat at pre-defined intervals.
There is a diet called intermittent fasting which also works for a lot of people. Keto is another way to achieve this as your hunger gets sated.
- Ideally, your last meal should be by 7pm.
- Breakfast after 10 AM and lunch by 2PM.
- Once a week skip lunch.
- Once a week skip dinner.
- Once a week skip all meals (That’s 24 hours of no food. You can drink Ginger juice, coffee, tea as mentioned above.
- NO Snacking. At all. No Keto snacks, Keto desserts etc.
If you are a non-vegetarian, every day will seem like a cheat day. But every so often you will want to eat Biryani or a pizza or will get invited to a friend’s place. So, focus on cheat meals, instead of cheat days. The best way to deal with this is to plan. Skip eating one meal prior to your target cheat meal. And after you have indulged, get back on to the plan from the very next meal.
After you have done this a few times, you will know what works and what doesn’t.
Weigh yourself every day. Get yourself a Bluetooth enabled weighing scale. It’s not essential, but it’ll make weight tracking simpler. Whenever you feel you are not making progress or have taken a step back, try and go over what you ate over the previous 24 hours and don’t eat that again.
If you feel hungry. Don’t starve yourself. That’s your body telling you that you are short on something. Eat a Keto compliant meal. If you are craving a certain food, then don’t indulge. You aren’t really hungry. It’s your brain showing withdrawal. 🙂 Carb addiction is a real thing.
While you can do this alone. If you find motivation an issue, find a buddy or a support group (or even better, create one). They’ll help you overcome cravings and have creative suggestions whenever you get stuck.
You should be able to follow this diet yourself easily. But if you feel the need to be supervised, go to a doctor/dietician who knows about the keto diet. Most doctors do not know, and they will immediately try and dissuade you.
Over time, you may have some vitamin and mineral loss as you will be urinating a lot (You lose weight in the form of carbon dioxide and water). I countered that by incorporating liver, ginger+lemon juice and seeds in my diet. Other people incorporate exotic things like wheatgrass juice, apple cider vinegar etc.
If you are diabetic. Don’t do this without supervision.
There is a misconception that Ketogenic diet is about non-veg and fatty food. Yes, that’s part of it. But the fact is I eat more vegetables on a Keto diet than any Indian vegetarian. Indian vegetarian diet should be more accurately called carbitarian. Because that is what it is. We fill up with carbs instead of quality nutrition.
Following a Keto-diet is a lifestyle change. Do not store food items that make it easy to drop off the plan. For eg, rice and wheat are not stored in my kitchen. It comes in small quantities, when I have a party, or someone is coming over. No carb-loaded snacks. Change cooking practices within your home. Tell your cook (or even better learn to cook for yourself and your family) to cook meals in the right way. Don’t treat Keto as a way to lose weight. Treat it is a way to eat better. Not just for you, but for the rest of your family too.
Finally, Keto is an expensive diet. Be aware of it when you go in. It is the realisation that quality nutrition comes at a price.