A year ago I stayed at a Zen Buddhist monastery in Japan that had really weird rules around food. Each day we fasted for around 18 hours, with a six-hour window where we could have lunch and dinner.
We were permitted coffee in the morning – but there was no milk allowed.
One of the guests, who had been at the monastery a really long time, and found the fasting made him feel ‘clear’ – would do something really weird with his coffee each morning. He put lumps of butter in it.
“You are totally gross,” I would say to him each day. “That food combo makes no sense – it’s like drinking port with Fanta.”
Now I know that he was on the forefront of the hottest dietary trend 2017 – keto.
It was even written about last week in Goop!
But first – what is it??
Keto is a very low carb, high fat (hence the butter in coffee) diet where deprived of carbohydrates – and its by-product, glucose – the body raids its fat stores to burn energy.
That process is known as ketosis – where the body switches fuel sources from sugar to fats.
I stumbled on “Keto” by accident. Needing to lose a few kilos – and finding it increasingly tougher as I got older, I teamed up with a buddy who assured me he had a sure fire weight loss method.
Both of us travel a lot – and had heard the siren song of the breakfast buffet enough times to need a plan on our return from frequent travels.
Brigid Delaney explains the Bondi Wellness paradox to Mia Freedman. (Post continues after audio.)
The plan was pretty simple, promised my friend – just do the first phase of the Atkins diet where you double down on the roast chicken, but say no to the chips.
Hmm - Atkins – so 90s – like Jennifer Aniston’s hair. Did anyone still do it?
Googling information about this diet, lead me to its modern variation – Keto – which is pretty much like the early Atkins “Attack” phase, with a high fat component instead of the ‘all-you-can-eat’ protein thing of Atkins.
So it’s all the cheese and meat you want? Yeah? No, sadly. The regime is more effective if you keep a close eye on what’s termed your “macros” - the exact grams of proteins, carbs and fat that you eat. The keto diet recommends you stay under 20 grams of sugar or carbs per day to get your body into a state of ketosis.
The further into the internet I went, researching keto, the more I found a whole world on online keto communities that seemed heavily used by bros who mourned their lost worlds of pizza and beer but traded tips on good Malbecs and cheese pairings. A disproportionate amount of the threads concerned Keto Hangovers, and bowel movements or the lack of them.
I spent hours reading the threads. I was hooked. There were dudes writing about how focused they felt on keto, whether they could ‘lift’ on keto, how they were dropping pounds and pounds a week – but was it just water weight bro?
Occasionally you’d see a woman on the forum seeking advice on how her periods had gotten weird on keto (everything from having two periods a month, to none at all) but many of these forums on keto skewed towards men.
Undettered, I decided to try keto and so stocked up on organic meat, eggs, cheese, vegetables and nuts (to be eaten sparingly).
Going keto was relatively easy – an omelet for breakfast, a salad for lunch, meat and vege for dinner, cheese for a snack.
I couldn’t let go of milky coffee immediately – so I switched from lattes to piccolos.
And I drank red wine or prosecco for a treat. I read all the labels of all the things and downloaded an app, which kept track of how many grams of sugar I was eating (which had to be under 20gm per day to get into ketosis).
After a day or two of doing this, I felt fluey and tired. I took to my cot at 2pm in the afternoon – feverish and ill-tempered. Was this the keto or an actual flu? Who knows. But once again, the forums came to the rescue. I was suffering from “Keto Flu” according to the forums - as my body ran out of its glucose stores and was switching fuel sources.
But it was a quick recovery. I was bouncing around feeling great within a day or two.
— Brigid Delaney (@BrigidWD) June 21, 2017
What I noticed when I reduced my carbohydrates and sugar consumption was interesting: I felt weirdly ‘clear’ – that is my brain didn’t feel foggy. My moods evened out – like they do when I meditate daily, and I found a focus that I realised I didn’t have previously. To subvert an old maxim - it’s only when you get something do you realise that it was missing before.
But was it just me that responded this way? Once again the forums confirmed that this clearing away of the brain fog was a common side effect of the diet.
But after several weeks of this jumping on the scales (actually does anyone ever ‘jump’ on the scales? Not unless they wish to destroy them) – I had lost nadda, not an ounce. Was I eating too much cheese? Was it the red wine? This continued for weeks – a razor-sharp mind and a stubborn body.
Diets are weird, lol.
You can listen to Mia Freedman's full interview with Brigid Delaney on 'wellness' culture. (Post continues after audio.)
Now I am on the road again. It is a particularly perilous trip – through Canada – visiting – I kid you not – a lot of maple syrup producers. Sugar is all around.
I can’t continue strict keto on this type of trip – but the tips I learnt from this community have come with me.
I order martinis instead of a beer or a margarita – take the meat and veg option instead of pasta and potatoes.
Instead of the crème brulee for dessert, I order cheese. Sure my macros are probably all over the place, but I have discovered a new way of eating which while it may not be doing much for my body, is bizarrely having a great effect on my mind.
Brigid Delaney is the author of Wellmania, Adventures in the Wellness Industry published by Nero, out now.