Binge Eating, Headaches, Constipation, Extreme Fatigue: My Disastrous Experience with Keto

By René Eastin, MTI Contributor

Standing over the kitchen garbage can sobbing uncontrollably; consumed with shame.  I had binged before but it had never been this bad. Three banana peels.  Two Kraft macaroni and cheese boxes.  A jar of Jiffy peanut butter.  A box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal and the carton of heavy whipping cream I had used as milk.  A bag of pretzels.  A tub of Cool Whip. A container of Chips Ahoy cookies. A tray from an Entenmann’s raspberry cheese Danish.  Eggshells and an empty syrup bottle from the batch of pancakes I had devoured. A pint of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry ice cream.  All of it glistening in the shimmer of countless Hershey’s Kisses aluminum wrappers.  I hardly had enough energy to throw in the packaging from the laxatives I washed it all down with let alone to give a shit about trying to hide the evidence from my husband who would be home shortly.  

I had been on a diet of some sort since I was in third grade; counting calories and macros long before I even knew what a macro was.  How had I suddenly developed an eating disorder?  Oh my God!  Did I just admit to having an eating disorder?  How had things gotten so out of control?

Ten years prior to the above event I woke up one morning weighing 310 pounds.  Obviously I hadn’t become morbidly obese overnight but it sure felt like it.   One minute I was an 18 year old athlete and the next I was a 30 year old wife and mother sitting in a doctor’s office being told I was prediabetic and needed medication for hypothyroidism, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure if I intended to see my children graduate high school.  

I immediately enrolled in fitness classes at the local gym and the weight seemed to melt off.  Several years later after losing more than half my body weight I plateaued at 152 pounds.  Despite continued consistency the scale began creeping back up and was dangerously close to crossing back into the two hundreds when I was approached by the gym owner and invited to join his circuit training class.  

I began lifting for the first time in my life and fell in love with it.  I enrolled myself in NASM’s personal training course wanting to learn as much as I could.  Eventually I was hired in the gym office, running the circuit class, and training my own clients.  As far as my weight, I was sitting around 170 pounds.  It seemed no matter what I did I couldn’t lose that last 20 pounds but I was comfortable and attributed the extra weight to my now more muscular composition.  

The gym owner suggested I try keto.  Having lived my life on fad diets I already had experience with keto as well as the Atkins and south beach diets.  I had successfully lost weight on all three but had ballooned back up each time I tried to reintroduce carbohydrates.  The gym owner insisted I had been doing it all wrong and was willing to show me the right way because as a trainer in his gym he wanted me to look the part. 

And so it began.  An Inbody Scale measured my starting weight, body fat, and metabolic rate.  My total calories and macros were established accordingly.  I was to track everything I ate aiming for 1600 calories consisting of 80 grams of protein, 130 grams of fat, and 20 grams of carbohydrates.  

Despite having done this before and knowing the lethargy, headaches, brain fog, and constipation I was in for I agreed to commit to the process starting the following day.   

The first couple weeks were a breeze.  I was tired and experienced cravings but the weight was already starting to come off so it made it worth it.  By the fourth week I could hardly drag my ass out of bed and my head was pounding all the time. Worse yet I was starting to feel weak; my personal lifting sessions were excruciating and I didn’t feel safe when spotting my clients.  Determined to succeed past this transition stage of my body adjusting to fat as it’s energy source I pushed on.  

By the eighth week I was starving all the time and falling asleep on the couch by 10 am.  I had persistent stomach cramps that were occasionally accompanied by sharp stabbing pains that I attributed to severe constipation; I was taking a crap once a week if I was lucky.  My cycle completely shut down.  I felt like I was wasting away and with my energy level at an all-time dangerous low I hit a wall.  

I spent an entire day binge eating – mindlessly grazing through the kitchen pantry.  By the end I couldn’t even recall everything I had eaten.  I was miserable and disappointed and vowed to get right back on track. This pattern turned into a regular occurrence each time my energy level dropped to this point. 

Continuing my education with NASM I was studying to become a fitness nutrition specialist; I wanted to know exactly what was going on inside my body.  I began researching keto studies to see if others were having my same experience.  The research was contradictory. For every study I read that said keto was the worst thing you could do I found a matching one saying it was the only way to be truly healthy.  Despite the keto diet being studied around for over 50 years there was not enough long term evidence to conclude any exclusive benefits or detriments.  

What made the difference for me were the numerous studies showing that in terms of body composition there is no significant benefit to a high fat diet verses a high carbohydrate diet.  With that being the case why was I torturing myself!?

My goal was to attain an aesthetic look while maintaining my health and my strength.  This was not happening following keto.  My uncontrollable binging was not only sabotaging my progress but was also potentially being caused by the very diet I was following. I took the nutrition education I now had and became my own lab rat.  I figured out my maintenance calories and adjusted my intake to a sustainable deficit.  I set my macros to fit my desired performance requirements; which included high protein and a minimum of 130 grams of carbohydrates per day to fuel my brain function.  

I found that even at this level of carbohydrates my body hit metabolic plateaus.  I was able to combat these plateaus by, ironically enough, raising my carbohydrates for one or two consecutive days followed by returning to the minimal 130 grams.  It was slow going and frustrating.  I had to let go of the desire for instant gratification.  Eventually I reached my goal. I was even able to reintroduce carbohydrates to a level capable of fueling my energy expenditure without gaining the weight or body fat I had lost.  

As for the eating disorder; I continued to struggle with binging throughout the entire process.  I had created a pattern of turning to mindless overindulgence every time I felt exhausted.  Since I’ve raised my carbohydrates back up and made it a priority to get enough sleep I haven’t had a single binge.

I know my story is no more the norm than it is the exception but I make it a point to share it with all of my nutrition clients.  I help them find their maintenance calories and adjust their intake to fit their goals.  I prioritize total calories and high protein.  

As for the carbohydrate/fat ratio; that falls on them and where they feel their body best performs. I share my story with them, and tell them keto didn’t work for me. 

René is a personal trainer and nutrition coach in Nevada.


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