While I allow for some indulgence when traveling, I’ve adopted a ketogenic diet in my everyday life. There are many personal health reasons why this was recommended by my healthcare team, and after years of avoidance, I finally listened — and I’m glad I did. Not only have I lost weight and seen an improvement in my bloodwork, but I’ve also seen differences in my mental health. Here’s how the keto diet helps my anxiety, travel anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
What is the Keto Diet?
Before we dive in, let’s discuss the keto diet. In a nutshell, it’s a low carbohydrate, high fat and moderate protein eating plan. You’ll hear people talk about “macros,” and what they’re referring to are the ratios you’ll need to follow to stay on track.
For me, it looks like this:
- 75% Fat
- 20% Protein
- 5% Carbs
Every person is different, and you can use a macro calculator to determine your needs. I’ve played around with it over the past couple years, and this really is what works best for me.
Now, you might be under the impression that the keto diet means you can just eat bacon and cheese all day. And, while that’s somewhat true, you don’t even have to eat meat or dairy to follow a keto lifestyle. Some of my favorite sources of fat include avocado and macadamia nuts! Of course, it’s also best to enjoy some low carb fruits and vegetables such as raspberries, broccoli and cauliflower.
While I could stumble my way through an explanation of the keto diet, it’s probably best to check out informative sites such as Ruled.Me and my favorite, Keto Connect. Follow keto accounts on social media for inspiration, especially in those early days!
My Experience Going Low Carb/High Fat
The first week of keto can be a little difficult. Many refer to it as having the “keto flu.” You might have a headache (or aches all over!), diarrhea and fuzzy thinking, among other things. The good news is that, once it passes, you will probably feel amazing. I definitely did!
After a couple months, not only did I win my local Orangetheory Fitness Transformation Challenge for most weight lost, but my mind and body felt completely different. Here are the things I noticed:
- Less bloating and gas (basically, none!)
- No more mood swings with hunger (I’m never hangry anymore!)
- Better digestion
- Cravings are gone!
- Very small appetite (it’s not uncommon for me to go 16 hours without eating!)
- More endurance (after the first month)
- Greater ability to taste flavors
Once the sugar and wheat were out of my system, it made me feel physically sick whenever I’d “cheat” a little. After having bread or a piece of cake, I couldn’t believe how bad I felt. It made me sad to think that I lived feeling that way all these years.
How the Keto Diet Helps Anxiety
I’m a psychology professor, yes, but I’m not going to claim that status right now. I’m also not going to pretend to be a nutritionist or medical doctor. What I will share is how, as someone who has lived with anxiety and OCD for years, the keto diet has impacted my mental health.
When I’m really strict with cutting carbs, my memory and concentration feel razor sharp. It really did surprise me and this benefit kicked in fairly early in the process (after about a week). I made this dietary transition during a rough period in my life, so I don’t think I fully appreciated how it was helping until I went on a carb binge one night. The next day, I was paranoid, shaky and defensive. Yet, I didn’t make the connection right away.
It wasn’t till one of my children adopted the keto diet that it clicked. Of my six children, she’s the one who inherited my OCD. She absolutely loves eating low carb, but during a trip up to the lake, we stopped at a pizza place. The next day, she was flipping out. Her theory was that the carbs had reignited her symptoms. After that, we paid closer attention and, sure enough, there was a pattern.
On keto, we both experience:
- Better memory
- Improved concentration
- Greater ability to remain calm
- Less obsessing
- Fewer triggers
Now, when we decide to go off keto, we ask ourselves whether it’s worth the toll it will take on our mental health. Usually, it’s not!
A Day in My Life on Keto
If I’m not scarfing down a bagel or a bowl of pasta, what am I eating in a day? I’m amazed by how simple my diet has become, and how much I actually enjoy that.
Here’s what I typically eat in a day:
Breakfast — In the early days, I’d eat bacon and eggs, but now that I’m used to this way of eating, I’m rarely hungry. Instead, I’ll just have a tea (some people like coffee) with a tablespoon of heavy cream in it. That’s enough to get me through till lunch!
Lunch — This is where I have my bacon and eggs. Sometimes, I’ll have deli meat or shredded chicken wrapped in lettuce leaves. Other times, I’ll just have some bone broth. It really just depends on how I’m feeling and what’s in the house.
Dinner — There have been times when I’ve made it to dinnertime without being hungry at all. The most I’ve gone is three days without a meal (and then I got nervous and ate even though I wasn’t really hungry!).
Keeping with my macros, I’ll focus on something that is fatty and throw in a vegetable for balance. Here are some low carb recipes for meals that I’ve come to really enjoy:
- 9 Keto Chaffle Recipes You Need to Make
- The Very Best Keto Cocktails for Fall
- Try These Keto Halloween Treats — No Tricks!
- Keto Holiday Recipes You Need to Try
- Keto Christmas Cookies
Once you get in the groove, you’ll find it easier and easier to modify your favorite recipes to be low carb/high fat. It’s great in my every day life, but following a keto diet is also like travel anxiety therapy for me.
Keto While Traveling
As mentioned, I’ll have a carb-filled meal from time to time, especially on vacation. I’ve gotten to the place where I can enjoy those times without guilt. I’m always happy to get back to keto, however, because it just feels good. Plus, when I overdo it, it brings on my travel anxiety symptoms. That’s why I always pack keto-friendly travel snacks.
It’s entirely possible, though, to travel without going off the plan — even when you’re on the go. There are some keto-friendly restaurants that I love to frequent, and more and more places are jumping on the low-carb bandwagon. One of my daughters is a vegetarian and the other is keto, and we all found many great places to eat in Las Vegas, for example!
Do Your Research
Even though the keto diet has been around for decades and has helped countless people with diabetes and epilepsy, people are still trying to understand whether it’s safe. We’re also trying to understand whether and how the keto diet helps anxiety. You’ll need to do your own research because I’d hate to steer you wrong. Here are some links to help you get started:
- Low Carb Diets Can Eliminate Your Anxiety and Depression
- I Tried the Ketogenic Diet to Help with My Anxiety – Here’s What Happened
- Keto and Low Carb – Stay for the Mental Health Benefits
There’s a lot of information out there, and ultimately, you’ll probably have to try the keto diet for yourself. That first week with the “keto flu” can be rough, so do your best to fight through it — then, see how you feel. Making changes can be challenging, but if it helps you maintain a healthy weight and frame of mind, it’s worth it!
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