The keto diet was an unexpected, life-changing experience for me. Most people are impressed by the quick, physical changes they make on keto, but I’m talking about a shift in my mindset – and ultimately, in the way that I understand my body. That change wasn’t immediate; it gradually came about in phases. Getting to know your body is definitely a process (or if we’re going to be corny, a “journey”) and I can’t claim to be anywhere near “enlightened.” But, I can say that keto facilitated that process.
I’ve done the keto diet 3 or 4 times now, and so far I haven’t had the exact same experience twice (new challenges, new symptoms, but usually great results). Every time I go on keto, I’m reminded of the direct cause-and-effect between what I eat and how I feel. This sounds obvious, but I think a lot of us grow up without realizing how deeply this connection runs. A diet like keto can bring that connection to light in many ways.
In this post I’ll outline some of the most revealing symptoms that occured when I was on keto. These taught me to listen to my body better and changed my relationship with food long after I went off the diet.
The first time we tried keto I developed a mild rash on my belly. At first I had no clue this was related to the diet; I rewashed all my clothes, inspected the bed for bugs, changed laundry detergent and soap – everything I could think of! I don’t typically have allergic reactions to things, so this really had me stumped for a while. Then some research shed light on the situation: I had “keto rash.”
How can a diet lead to a rash? The exact cause of this symptom is still a mystery, but scientists believe there’s a connection between low-carb diets like keto and this rare form of dermatitis. Before you freak out, rest assured the rash is temporary and it will go away once you start eating enough carbs again.
A common explanation is that “keto rash” occurs when your body starts releasing toxins and chemicals stored in fat. If you don’t have enough bile in your gallbladder to handle all the fat you release during ketosis, those toxins find another way out of your body. This explanation by Dr. Eric Berg was one of the most detailed we found back when we first tried the diet, but many other theories have appeared since then.
Even if you doubt this theory, I personally took a lot away from it because I ended up critically reflecting on my usual diet. The idea that toxins were literally seeping out of my skin had me questioning, “What the hell have I been eating that my body is so eager to get rid of?”
The gist of it is, a lot of processed foods we snack on contain chemicals and sketchy substances that we don’t think twice about inserting into our system. Once I returned to a regular diet, I was more committed to avoiding junk food, soda, and alcohol. I won’t say that I never consume these things because I do from time to time; the key is moderation.
My first experience of keto was full of surprises – these ones were positive. Before I get into what happened and why, I should mention that we paired the keto diet with intermittent fasting. This combination triggers important changes in your gallbladder, hormone production, and more.
Keto alone may not lead to an improvement in your complexion, but if you pair this with intermittent fasting you’re setting yourself up for results. In addition to acne, some doctors say that the diet can also improve skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis (somewhat ironic, since it can also cause keto rash in some people).
At the time I didn’t have terrible acne, but I would usually break out a bit here and there. Once I was well into ketosis and had been intermittent fasting for a while, however, my skin became visibly clearer.
Not only did my complexion clear up, but eventually my teeth started looking whiter, too. This is one “side effect” people don’t typically advertise when promoting the diet but if you look it up, you’ll see that plenty of people have noticed it for themselves.
So, what’s the connection? A lot of complex factors affect your skin and dental health, but one significant culprit that cannot be ignored is sugar. Not just sugar in the sense that we typically think of it (sweetener) but also as a simple carb, like the kind junk food consists of. At this point, it’s fairly common knowledge that added sugar is just plain bad for you, so I won’t go into this too much – just keep in mind that this opens an entire can of worms for your body that affects your hormones, skin, teeth, focus, and your mood.
Good fats also play a role here. On a diet like keto, where your fat and protein intake is higher than usual, you’re probably eating more of these and seeing some benefits (like clearer skin) as a result. Avocado, salmon, and almonds are staples of the keto diet, and they have the power to influence many things happening in your body – just like sugar does, only good fats are here to help.
While these changes helped me to see some of the ways sugar affects my body, following the keto diet also helped me to realize just how many foods contain sugar. After several failed attempts to get into ketosis at the beginning, we realized that sugar is hiding everywhere – even in some of our kitchen spices. It’s hard to get away from.
You could be eating foods that you think are relatively healthy, but they probably contain more sugar than you realize. Obviously, you can’t compare a single serving of these to candy; but, if you consume them regularly you’re putting extra sugar in your body.
If you’re unhappy with your complexion, the color of your teeth, your weight...or just plain unhappy, I recommend taking a closer look at your diet and considering how you can cut back on sugar.
By now you can see how the lightbulb went off a couple of different times, but the message really hit home when I noticed the diet had an impact on my period. I could write a whole other post about the ways keto affects your time of the month, but for now I’ll just say that this observation was the biggest wakeup call for me. While all the other side effects played to my vanity, this one felt fundamental.
This led me to explore the connection between food and my hormones. For a long time before the diet, things had not been right. I experienced high stress and anxiety, lack of motivation, low energy, memory fog, and a hell of a lot more. I didn’t have to do much research to confirm that food has a major effect on your hormones and, by extension, many of these other things. I had long accepted these symptoms as defects in my body and personality. I was starting to see that what I probably had was a hormone imbalance.
Even after going off of keto, this realization lingered in the back of my mind. I started questioning everything I chose to put in my body – from low quality meat and alcohol to the birth control pills doctors put me on well over a decade ago. That’s when things got really interesting.
While Matt did a lot of research on nutrition, I was digging into the truth about birth control pills and recovery. I don’t want to digress, but what I learned was alarming and I would encourage any woman on the pill to learn more about it. A helpful starting point is this book by Dr. Jolene Brighten.
We consulted an endocrinologist and I decided to go off the pill. To help my body transition, the most important thing I could do was change my diet and take some basic supplements. In other words, the most important thing I could do was change what I chose to put in my body. In the beginning, this involved removing specific types of foods (e.g. dairy) while increasing others (e.g. seeds). Having done keto multiple times, I figured, “No problem.”
Six months later, I’m still transitioning, but the results so far have been a lot better than I expected. To be clear: changing your diet will not necessarily correct hormone imbalances, but it plays an important role. Likewise, keto will not necessarily balance your hormones; if they’re already balanced before the diet, it can even lead to an imbalance. In my case, however, the changes I experienced during the diet made me realize that things were out of whack under normal circumstances.
If not for the changes I experienced on keto, I don’t know if or when I would have reflected so critically on the food I eat and how it affects me. The keto diet taught me to pay close attention to changes in my body and has helped me to develop a healthier relationship with myself. I have a more educated understanding of my body and I take more time to do things that make me feel good, from eating healthy and exercising to laughing more often.
I still have “cheat meals” and I don’t follow best practices 100% of the time. I’m a work in progress, but isn’t that what health and fitness are all about?
Have you been looking for a way to make meaningful changes in your diet and lifestyle? Keto may help you get there. You can read a general overview of the diet and some tips based on our first experience in this post. Consult your doctor to make sure it’s the right decision for you :)