You have probably tried your friend’s suggestion to take that new supplement, exercise class or certain food after she’s raved about it, completely changing her life only to realize it did nothing for you. It happens.
We are all different so it should come as no surprise that our needs are different. Starting a low carb, high-fat diet can bring just as varied results. While it’s possible to be the person that has a complete health turnover on the diet, you could also be someone that does not find it beneficial, and at worst it might just be too stressful. The good thing is, the diet is flexible!
We all start with specific and unique circumstances surrounding our body’s composition and chemistry. Hormones — chemical messengers that comprise a complicated communication network bringing homeostasis in your body, are a big component to this. Your hormones are sensitive to external factors like diet, exercise, and stress, and you respond to these differently than what someone else might experience. Factors such as body composition and medical history, even your birth story and whether or not you were breastfed can all determine how you’ll fare on a traditional ketogenic diet. Because of this, it’s important to listen to what your body is telling you instead of putting any fault on a diet or even yourself when you don’t get expected results.
There are many things you can do — you just have to know how to read the signs!
Hormones manage hunger, body temperature, metabolism, stress, reproduction, and growth. The thyroid produces many hormones that do just that. If you have ever been diagnosed with hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone), you will know that the symptoms can include hair loss, dry skin, inability to lose weight, “foggy” brain, fatigue, insomnia coldness, and amenorrhea.
You might be two months into a keto a diet and find yourself with these exact symptoms wondering how did this happen?
A simple answer might be that you need more food to avoid going into a type of “bad” stress like starvation mode, or you might need to adjust the kinds of fats you are eating. One of the measured thyroid hormones is T3, the active thyroid hormone. Being on any diet that puts a restriction on any macronutrients can lower the amount of T3 levels running around the body as it senses starvation mode and tries to save its energy for more important things other than growth and reproduction.
Studies suggest that being on a keto diet might still decrease your T3 levels, but your thyroid can still work properly depending on the type of fats you eat. Diets high in vegetable oils can decrease your thyroid function but interestingly the opposite happens when following a low carb, high-fat diet composed of mostly healthy saturated fats, omega-3 and monounsaturated fatty acids. The kinds of fats make a difference! There are studies to even suggest that lower T3 levels are linked to longevity. So a decrease of T3 levels is not the whole story, but still, pay close attention to how you are feeling. High energy levels, better sleep, and mood, are just a few signs that your body is getting what it needs.
You still might be thinking, I am eating the good fats, monitoring my macros and nothing… Well, let’s look at a few scenarios to look at the overall picture and see what is happening with different body types.
You have been diagnosed with classic PCOS (a hormonal disorder common among women of reproductive age) and have dealt with the common symptoms of irregular periods, acne, infertility, unwanted hair growth and possibly overweight or obesity. You start a standard keto diet which makes you feel fantastic, helps you lose weight and even manages to regulate your blood sugars levels!
The key to this success story is the management of blood sugars levels which are initially off in your typical case of PCOS. On a keto diet you can stabilize your insulin, ghrelin and leptin levels. It helped that your adrenals were initially in a healthy state so you were able to handle the “good” stress of a keto diet.
You might be someone with very irregular cycles, it might be PCOS but you’ve never been diagnosed. Your blood sugar and insulin levels have been normal, but a standard keto diet has not given you the boost you thought it would and your hormones still seem out of place. You are struggling. What gives?
PCOS is a common cause of irregular periods, but stress is another reason, especially when blood sugar and insulin levels are normal. In this case, cortisol imbalance is a probable reason why you are not getting the results you were looking for. If you started a keto diet while running on “reserves,” the added stress of a low carb diet might be too much for your body. Cortisol depletes your sex hormones, so if you are using them up, your body has shut down its reproduction system and your periods will continue to be off. You first need to remove some added stressors in your life before starting with keto or transition more slowly by including healthy carbs later in the day. Fat first, carbs last can allow you to increase the carbs you are requiring while still providing the benefits of a high fat, low carb diet. This extra boost of good carbohydrates will nourish your body just enough to help you feel better, turn off the “alarms” and continue on to become fat-adapted.
You are trying this out for health reasons most of all and would like to be exactly sure you are getting the correct percentages of fats, net carbs, and protein. You are doing everything exactly to perfection and yet after a few weeks, you are not seeing or feeling any difference. This is causing frustration and loads of stress so you start calculating your macros even more diligently and cutting out even more food, especially the good fats. Essentially you’re doctoring your diet as perfectionism gets the best of you.
You might be thinking about this too much and restricting your food intake is an unfortunate consequence of overthinking it. Keto diets definitely need some diligence, but it is not an exact science and more than calculating the numbers, you have to sense what your body needs for nourishment. The stress from the diet is itself probably not helping, so consider stepping back and allowing yourself to increase your food (particularly the good fats throughout the day and carbs in the evening) to avoid nutrient deficiency and starvation mode. Again, the Fat First, Carbs Last approach will allow a higher intake of food but will still allow you to enjoy the benefits of a low carb, high-fat diet.
You are probably going for the first success story, perhaps like the one your girlfriend experienced… but sometimes things are a bit more complicated and we need more fine-tuning. It’s important to identify where you exactly stand and know what you need to be able to become your own success story. Stress and a low food intake are common issues that can arise. In women especially, the hormone system is more delicate so pay close attention to what your body is trying to say. Be kind to yourself and listen intently. I assure you, when you do, it’s then you will finally find your own balance and health.