By Chef Gerard Viverito
In my younger years, I was used to always being at the top of my game physically. I was an athlete. I played lacrosse in high school and college. I played tennis. I lifted weights. I skied. But like most Americans, there came a time when I started putting on weight, to the tune of about a pound a year. The weight crept up on me, so slowly that I barely noticed. Then I was laid up with Lyme Disease and my weight really ballooned! Last year, I was looking at pictures from my last vacation and wondered, “Who is this person next to my beautiful wife?” I wanted a do-over.
At one time or another, I’ve tried nearly every diet out there – Paleo, low-fat, high-fat, Scarsdale, South Beach, Zone – and my weight always bounced back up. But this time, I was more motivated than ever. I learned I was prediabetic, probably because I was eating so much low-fat garbage. I was determined not to progress to full-blown Type 2 diabetes.
I wanted this change in my eating patterns to last. For me, the answer was a ketogenic diet. I’ve been following it steadily since January 1, 2018. It wasn’t easy at first. Sugar happens to be my favorite food group. But one of the first things I did was drop desserts. I also stopped eating anything with a crunch (made with refined sugars and flours). Gone were breads, pasta, potatoes, pizza, crackers and potato chips. I began cooking with only healthy, better-for-you oils, primarily Malaysian palm oil, extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil. I started feeling a little better right away, and the pounds started coming off.
I’ve also been exercising daily. I’m seeing drastic changes. I no longer come home from work and need a 20-minute power nap. My blood sugar has leveled out. I look better and feel better.
I want to help you feel as good as I feel.
What is keto?
I asked my friend Dr. Jonny Bowden, The Nutrition Myth Buster, to give me a clear definition of what happens on a ketogenic diet. Here’s what he told me: “The body basically has two fuels it can use to power what you need to do: fats (fatty acids) and carbs (sugar/glucose). The trick is to use as much fat as you can and leave the sugar for emergencies. But that’s not exactly how it works in real life.
“Your body can store a maximum of 1800 to 2000 calories worth of carbs. But you can store an infinite amount of calories as fat. Many people are sugar burners: they’re much better at burning sugar than they are fat. The body gets used to using what you primarily feed it, so it gets real good at using sugar and real bad at using fat. So, you’ve got all this fat on your body, waiting to be burned for fuel, but your body just can’t get to it. It’s like a big “access denied” sign. It’s as if you had a fortune in the bank but you didn’t have the ATM code. Burning mostly sugar doesn’t help with weight loss, and sugar is not a sustainable source of energy. Not to mention, it’s one of the most inflammatory “foods” on earth.
“You want to be a better butter burner. You want to be really good at accessing and using what’s in your fat calorie ATM. When you stop eating sugar completely, eventually you’ll use up those 2000 calories you have stored. When there’s no glucose around, your body has to switch fuel sources and begin using fat calories for fuel. This is what’s known as nutritional ketosis. (This is not, repeat NOT, the same thing as diabetic ketoacidosis, although many doctors get them confused!) As your body metabolizes fat, it produces ketones which are a great source of energy for your heart, brain and muscles.
The ketogenic diet is extremely low in carbs. It is a way to force your body to use fat as its predominant fuel.”
Jonny confirmed that it takes about 10 days to adapt to a keto diet. There’s an interim period when you may not feel the best, which is nicknamed the “keto flu.” But people get through it and feel great afterward.
He also confirmed that you can get about 90 percent of the metabolic advantages of a keto diet by “flirting” with ketosis or doing what’s called keto cycling. That’s partly because when you eat a diet that’s higher in fat, you are consuming the one macronutrient that doesn’t raise your hunger hormone or stimulate your fat-storage hormone.
Keto Cycling / Flirting with Keto
Although there are a lot of keto products on the market, it can be hard to stay on the keto diet. And it’s easy to make the mistake of eating lots of protein and very little fat, which is a big mistake. That can knock your body right out of nutritional ketosis. If staying on keto full time is too demanding, there are a few options that might work for you.
Intermittent fasting. This is a way to dip your toe into the keto world. If you go on an 18-hour fast, you can stimulate ketosis. Ideally your body will be running on fat calories (ketones). Then maybe try a keto cleanse, which is basically following the keto diet for a few days or weeks.
Keto cycling/Flirting with keto. A lot of keto advocates are into this. They follow a ketogenic diet for three to four weeks, a few times a year. It can be very therapeutic. Think of keto cycling as hitting the reset button on your metabolism. It helps jumpstart your weight loss.
Additional keto tips and strategies
Don’t fall for the water weight myth. Some people will tell you that the first pounds you drop when you stop eating carbs are nothing but water weight. Studies now show there’s just not true!
Be discriminating about which fats you eat. As Jonny put it: Your body doesn’t care if you’re eating corn oil that’s been refried 25 times or the highest quality Malaysian palm oil. Either one will raise your ketones. But one’s a junk food and one’s a health food. Junky, unhealthy fats will just wreck your health in other ways. For one thing: They are highly inflammatory. I use Malaysian palm oil for cooking. It is cholesterol and flavor neutral, it stands up well to high heat, and it contains nutrients such as vitamin E tocotrienols that are good for your heart, brain and liver. Stay away from corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil and yes, soybean oil too!
Track your dietary fiber intake. One of the drawbacks to a keto diet is that it is low in dietary fiber. This can be a problem since most Americans are already fiber deficient. Consider supplementing with a high-quality fiber supplement, such as Sunfiber, that won’t cause extra gas or bloating. I like Sunfiber because it is odor-free, taste-free and won’t change the consistency of whatever I’m cooking. I can add it to just about any recipe.
Distract yourself when cravings hit. There’s a lot of mental stuff going on in the beginning. I missed my treats and food rewards. A lot of success with any change in your eating patterns is getting out of your mental routine. It gets easier over time.
I’ve never had as much energy as I’ve had since starting the keto diet. This is achievable. I’m a parent, teacher, and businessman. I’m training for triathlons. I’m losing weight. And I’m gaining muscle at age 48, an age when people typically lose muscle mass. There’s a lot to be said for all of this. If after trying this diet and you feel defeated there are other options for weight loss that don’t involve dieting and exercise. You might ask yourself, “how much does weight loss surgery cost,” it is more affordable than you might think. Don’t give up hope, you have options for your weight loss journey and you are not alone in it!
About the author:
Chef Gerard Viverito, is a culinary instructor as the Director of Culinary Education for Passionfish, a NGO non-profit organization dedicated to educating people around the globe on the issue of sustainability in the seas. [www.passionfish.org] He is also operator of Saveur Fine Catering, a company whose beliefs and products center on local, sustainable and organic foods. Chef Viverito’s pantry is loaded with items commonly overlooked in the supermarkets, yet he has a thorough understanding of them and a passion to teach others how to cook more healthfully.
In addition, Chef Viverito has dedicated a large part of his career to what he terms “functional cooking.” This is where he adds nutritional ingredients to dishes to gain healthful results. He is well known for his ability to lower the glycemic index value of food, add omega fatty acids, and whole proteins to dishes without compromising the texture or taste. He appears regularly on radio and television programs demonstrating this as well as consulting clients on their dietary needs. www.ChefGerard.com