Things were taking a turn, trouser-size wise, so steps had to be taken. I remove myself from the sentence in order to avoid responsibility for my own agency.
I’d read a review in the Guardian of The Case for Keto by Gary Taubes, and thought I’d seriously give it a try. My greatest weakness in food is most definitely the carbohydrate, and I have spent my life stuffing bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes on a rotating basis. I even dedicated a huge chunk of my time to perfecting pizza.
So – like many people I’m sure – I am not inclined to be enthused about a high-fat-no-(or low)-carb diet, and like everyone else I’ve got 50 years of inculcation about the dangers of too much fat. Everything about this diet goes against the grain.
First problem: a decent recipe book. I’m just not well enough informed, and couldn’t go to browse in a books shop, so I made the mistake of ordering two likely candidates on Amazon. I wanted to start off with a 14-day trial, so I wanted a 14-day meal plan. I ordered two books. When they arrived I was disappointed. One was self-published with no photography, and the other had photography, but both were American. And as anyone who has been to the States knows, American food and ingredients are bad and weird. The book with the 14-day meal plan started off with a “breakfast sausage” recipe that, I kid you not, served eight.
I tried to imagine the person who would make this quantity of breakfast sausage in a house with – at most – two people who might try this diet. It just seemed like the author couldn’t be bothered to adjust quantities. The other book is titled, The Easy 5-Ingredient Ketogenic Diet Cookbook, and, reader, I’m here to tell you that that is a lie. The recipes have five ingredients over-and-above the fifteen or so “essentials” she lists at the front, many of which are esoteric, peculiarly American, or just weird.
As I found when I was gluten free, the problem here is the attempt to make “keto versions” of standard dishes. So, for example, what is “keto gypsy toast”? It is not toast, contains no bread, and seems to be some horrific amalgam of ingredients, including coconut flour, of which I am not a fan. With a diet that encourages you to eat meat, oily fish, butter, cream, and leafy green veg, I don’t see the need to construct such horrors as “Cauliflower Pizza”. Just as good as the real thing! Erm, no, it’s fucking not, AS YOU WELL KNOW.
So both books were chucked on the reject pile. I’m not going to faff around in the kitchen trying to make alternatives to much-loved foods.
This was not a good start. And for me, this doesn’t feel like it’s going well. I’m seven days in, and I don’t feel, yet, any confidence that ketosis is happening. I have kept the carbs low, I have tried my best to eat against my ingrained habits, but I’m not feeling it. My other half has lost 2.2kg in a week, and she’s happy, and not feeling hungry. Have I lost weight? Maybe. But I don’t feel like it’s falling off me or anything, and while I’m not doing too badly on the hunger front, I don’t think I’m capable of shovelling enough fat into my body. I just can’t bring myself to do it.
So I end up eating what we had last night, which was a really nice meal of stuffed oven-baked sea bass with roasted fennel. It was a proper diet meal, and I was generous with the olive oil on the fennel, but it didn’t feel like a keto meal. When I had a rump steak, similarly, it was great, but I cut the big fucking rind of fat off it, and never would that pass my lips. On the first day, I followed a recipe for a creamy tomato soup, which was lovely, containing loads of cream and butter. But the portions were so small because of the “net carbs” in the tomatoes that you felt cheated. So when I made up my own chicken and courgette soup, I threw in some cream, but made it so you could have a decent bowlful. You can see here my food pathology at work. The calorific result may have been the same, but with one of them, the bowl was full.
“Net carbs,” by the way, is essentially carbohydrate minus fibre, so you are encouraged to seek out high fibre foods. There’s a spectrum with nuts, for example. Brazil nuts: excellent; cashew nuts: avoid. And I quite enjoy snacking on nuts, or forcing down a small square of 100% cocoa chocolate with an espresso without sugar. You feel like a Benedictine monk, mortifying yourself with bitterness.
But ask me to ladle butter and cream into a crock pot with skin-on chicken pieces and “keto dumplings” made of coconut flour, or whatever, and you lose me. I had bacon and eggs for breakfast. I’d have liked to have had a bit of fried bread and some stewed tomatoes, but you can’t.
Another week of experimentation. I have weighed myself, so I know what the damage is. I’ve never been that concerned with weight: I know how hard it is to haul my carcass up a hill on a bike. But I am concerned with trouser size and notches on my belt. So I’ll know, in another seven days, whether I can get into those trousers I was bursting out of more comfortably.
Meanwhile, I have turned to some strange foodstuffs to make cooking easier. Those barenaked noodles aren’t bad at all. They aren’t food, really, but the texture and mouth feel of them is fine, so you can make a dish of stir fry or noodle soup and feel quite happy eating it. I also quite enjoy those seaweed wafers. Again, virtually no nutritional value, but lots of iodine. In the post: some keto snack bars, because I have craved something sweeter on the tongue.
Top tip, by the way. If you dip down into 85% chocolate, the Divine brand has more fibre than, say, Green and Blacks. And more fibre means fewer net carbs. Four squares of that chocolate was just 1.4g of net carbs, which on some days you can get away with. Anyway, I am not an advertisement for keto. I’m on a diet, and I might lose some weight, but I’m not a scientific miracle. So I’m calling my diet the Nara* Diet. © ® etc.
*No Spaghetti, no Carbo…