My Flirtation with Keto: What I Learned and Why I'm not Afraid of Fat Anymore!

I remember when I hit 100 pounds. I don't remember the age, but I remember I was being weighed at a doctor's appointment. I was starting to be self-conscious about my body because the girls at school were starting to get a little snarky about looks and weight. It must have been around 4th, 5th or 6th grade. This was in the 1970s! I can't even imagine what it's like for girls in this day and age of body shaming! 

Anyway, I remember feeling mortified about being 100 pounds and I'm thinking I might have started the dieting yoyo from that point on. That would be about 40 years of dieting on and off. Sheesh. I've never been extremely overweight, but I know at which point my body and mind feel good and I've rarely been at that target. Of course most of my "diets" have revolved around low fat which is what we've all been taught for the past 50 or so years since American's weight (and health problems) has creeped up and up into the danger zone. It wasn't until about five years ago that I started thinking of my overall chronic health conditions and started working with Chris Kresser to solve my health issues. He described the process as "peeling an onion": years of upon years of bad choices + a parasite added in had gotten me to the point of needing to solve my unhealthy body once and for all.

Although I was turned off a little bit about the "paleo" term at the time, I liked that he was more about finding out what would make my own body feel better and getting down to my own health issues to resole them, but yes, it did require a paleo "reset" which is basically an elimination diet. We worked together and the chronic conditions that I blamed on "my bad luck body" slowly (and not so slowly) lifted. Here's a list:

  • Indigestion (for twenty years)
  • SI joint pain (back pain) (for eight years)
  • Sinus headaches bordering on migraines (for twenty years)
  • Restless legs
  • Excess weight
  • Joint pain
  • Fatigue (for twenty years)
  • Low sex drive

Quite a laundry list, huh? But, I worked through most of this with Chris. Got rid of the parasite and pretty much all of the other conditions until I had enough clarity and energy to want to start sharing this natural healing with others which is why (and how) I got the energy up to start The Healing Farm.

Fast forward to 2017 (my 50th year) and I'm now completely in tune to the food and drink choices I make and how they effect my body. I try to keep to the following:

  • Mostly gluten free
  • Mostly dairy free
  • Mostly sugar free
  • Low caffeine
  • Low alcohol
  • Mostly whole foods eating, mostly organic and mostly grass-fed

It's not been easy to get to this point, but every time I go overboard and "off the wagon" as they say, my chronic conditions creep back. The back and joint pain kick in, I wake up with the sinus headaches, I get a pimple (or two) and sometimes I even get sick (a cold!). Frustrating, but in reality I know when I screw up and I know when I screw up badly, so slowly as I learn to hate having these conditions come back, I've learned to be MOSTLY sticking to what works for me.

The piece of the puzzle I have not yet figured out is the fluctuating weight issues. I came close to hitting that optimal weight when I worked with Chris, but it has slowly been creeping back and I've gone up and down since. After the last THF retreat, a few of the retreat participants and I got together and one of them told me about Keto and the "Keto Clarity" book by Jimmy Moore. She had lost 30 pounds and felt great. But what really caught my interest was that she said she felt "sharp". Since peri menopause kicked in I have not felt "sharp". In fact, I'm not sure I've felt "sharp" since maybe my early twenties. There was a period of time when I first started taking my business classes and started thinking about The Healing Farm that I felt energized and on fire, but I'm not sure if I ever felt "sharp". She explained that one of the concepts behind keto is that the brain feeds on fat. The more "good" fats you give it, the sharper it will become.

This intrigued me even more than the potential weight loss. Since I have Alzheimer's in my family, I'm more than interested in ANYTHING having to do with keeping my brain healthy. I thought of my father who was diagnosed almost two years ago and thought about his low fat diet since the mid 1980s after he had his heart surgery. His diet at home was low fat, but also a lot of carbs and sugar. When he went out, it was all bets off and high fat, sugar AND carbs AND saturated fats. I was a little scared because I've been the same way for years. I decided I wanted to test out keto for myself and weight loss WAS a big incentive.

Doing a "keto" eating plan is hard. Keto is basically VERY low carb (almost no carb), VERY high fat and pretty low protein. I think I may have had an easier time if I could have eaten more protein, but I felt like I was constantly eating too much protein which resulted in not being in a ketogenic state enough to warrant eating all that fat. As a result, I didn't lose as much weight as I had hoped. BUT, there were three benefits that came out of trying the keto thing:

1 - For the first time in my "dieting" life, I didn't dream about buffet tables of food. I'm not kidding. Every time I would go on a low fat/ low calorie diet, I would dream about buffets of food. It's a little embarrassing admitting that, but this time I was losing weight and not feeling deprived. That was an eye opener that my body did indeed like fat. Once I got through the first week of not knowing what I could eat and feeling miserable and headachey, I loaded up on the fat and felt better and didn't dream of buffets. To be fair to Jimmy, he does give some good ideas on what to eat, but I just didn't feel comfortable eating butter with cheese rolled around it. Plus I'm sensitive to dairy, so I was avoiding that anyway! Bottom line was that I had a hard time figuring out what to eat. Plus I also didn't feel comfortable eating so few fruits and healthy carbs, but if I had stuck with it longer, all that probably would have been figured out.

2 - I had more energy and mental clarity than I've had in a LONG time (when I was in a ketogenic state). There were a handful of golden days and hours when I did reach a ketogenic state and I was on fire. I felt like I could accomplish anything. It was great. This was AFTER I started using MCT oil in my coffee though. After three weeks of not really hitting the ketognic state, I read online that MCT oil is key. It really does work and I only use one TBS. in my coffee in the morning (eased into it starting with a tsp, working my way up). What is MCT oil? Says Dr. Axe (read more here)

“MCTs” are medium-chain triglycerides, a form of saturated fatty acid that has numerous health benefits, ranging from improved cognitive function to better weight management. Coconut oil is one great source of MCTs — roughly 62–65 percent of the fatty acids in coconut oil are MCTs — but recently more concentrated “MCT oils” have also been growing in popularity."

3 - I DID lose some weight. In fact, I've lost about 12 pounds in three months and the three months have included two vacations in which I was most definitely NOT in a ketogenic state.  

BUT, once I starting seeing the summer fruit at the farmer's market, I decided there was no way I was going to be able to keep up with a total keto plan. The peaches and cherries just looked too good! I also was getting headaches here and there still, my restless legs were kicking in every time I was not producing enough ketones and when I DID go off the plan, I kind of went bananas. That was a good indicator that this was not going to be sustainable for me.

I just finished up with Magdalena's "Cooking for Balance" program and am inspired again to add back in a small portion of healthy fruits and carbs into my diet. I've learned from the keto plan that I'm no longer afraid of fat. In fact, I lost some weight, felt satisfied AND felt great when I WAS eating a lot of fat so feel confident that I can rein in my tendencies to go overboard when eating if I continue to eat enough fat and not deprive myself of anything. I've also learned to rein in the carb intake too. Although I may add in a sweet potato here and there, it will probably only be a half or a very small one. I may even start adding in small portions of quinoa or rice to my stir fry meals. I'm not drinking nearly as much wine (although I did go overboard on vacation) and I'm definitely much more satisfied with eating nuts and seeds and not craving anything sweet or full of trans fats. I'm also not dreaming of buffet lines, so all-in-all, I think the keto trial was worth it in the end.

Now let's see if I can reach that weight sweet spot, but more importantly, I'm going to incorporate some of the "Cooking for Balance" tips by nutritionist Magdalena Wszelaki to tackle some final stubborn issues having to do with hormone balance and possibly SIBO. Maybe then I will reach my optimal health state once and for all. It's a work-in-progress that is taking several years, but as Chris said it's like peeling an onion. I hope that soon, I'll get to that core!

Come to the fall 3rd Act Retreat to immerse yourself in going through big change and at the same time kick off an elimination diet with a great whole food/paleo type meal plan and a nutrition lecture. The nutrition and eating plan will ALWAYS be a big part of EVERY Healing Farm retreat!

The Healing Farm - Cultivating Practical Wellness.




Old Fashioned Salmon Cakes - It's What to do with Leftover Salmon!!!!

My ex Mother-in-Law used to make these and I remember going over to her house the first time she made them and dreading sitting down to eat. I grew up hating fish for dinner, between the Fridays of Lent, fish sticks, and the dreaded whole cooked fish fresh caught by my dad on Lake Michigan that day (believe me, as a kid a whole cooked fish sitting on the table is not a welcome sight.) I've never been a fan of fish for dinner no matter HOW good it is for you. But as I've aged and started learning about the benefits of Omega 3s, I've been trying to cook more fish. Especially salmon, since that's the most satisfying to me and loaded with Omega 3s.

BUT, if I don't buy the tiny amount fresh at the farmer's market (expensive for such a small amount), I buy the packaged wild caught Alaska salmon at Trader Joe's which is two HUGE fillets. Even though I would be MORE than happy to eat a whole gigantic fillet without a problem, I'm trying to watch portions, so end up with leftovers. Especially if my equally non-fish-loving husband decides to make a frozen pizza instead. Unless I put it in a salad for lunch the next day, it's not very appealing to eat leftover salmon, so remembering the old days at my ex mother-in-law's and I looked up a salmon cake recipe. I'm HOOKED!

Even if your family LOVES broiled/grilled salmon for dinner, consider cooking extra to make these either the next day or freeze the cooked salmon and make the cakes another time. I've made the recipe a little more paleo-friendly (paleo mayo and gluten free panko). It's not 100%, but it's pretty close for those of you who are not 100% paleo like me. These are really tasty when you're hankering for something lightly fried and salty for dinner and really great heated up with salad and 1/2 sweet potato the next day for lunch.

Yumskells!!!! Enjoy!

The Sunday Cook-A-Thon!

Most of the time it's Sunday, but sometimes it's Monday (currently the second day of my weekend as I wind down my photo business). I LOVE my Cook-A-Thon! I know for some of my friends cooking is far from stress-relieving, but it's an incredible stress-reliever for me and my every-other-week cook-a-thon produces such a wide variety of healthy foods to keep on hand all week (or freeze) that I don't have to think much about cooking for the rest of the week!

I read recently that in order to reduce stress, taking the most mundane decision-making out of your routine helps. That's why Steve Jobs always wore a black turtleneck. I just thought it was because he looked really good in a black turtleneck. Who knew?! I feel the same about my cook-a-thon. I've developed a no-brainer routine so that I can actually de-stress and relax while I produce an incredibly healthy bunch of food for the week. I often even make the same recipes from the stock and chicken over and over too. Easy!

I open a nice bottle of red wine, ask Brennan to put on a good music mix and off I go!

Having some fresh flowers and a clean kitchen is a really good start! Some may notice there's already a lot missing from that bottle of red! I started the bottle the night before!

Having some fresh flowers and a clean kitchen is a really good start! Some may notice there's already a lot missing from that bottle of red! I started the bottle the night before!

The star of the show (and most time consuming recipe) is roasted chicken and stock. I use Chris Kresser's recipe which I love because it calls for roasting the chicken so that you can actually EAT the chicken! I used to boil a whole chicken in water. I got good results for the broth, but I really like the roasted chicken stock more AND I get to eat the yummy roasted chicken! I will link to a more detailed description of making the stock, but definitely start the cook-a-thon by stuffing the chicken and getting it into the oven!

Once the chicken is in the oven, I start on a couple of other things. The night I photographed this I also made meat cakes and roasted brussel sprouts. Roast the brussel sprouts first and then you can munch on them while preparing the meat cakes! I have the world's smallest oven with only one rack so I have to get tricky with cooking two things at once!

Yes. That's the roasting brussel sprouts resting on the corner of the roasting chicken pan. You've got to do what you've got to do when you have limited resources!

Don't forget to also drink plenty of water while you're cooking! I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE my Soda Stream! Good friends gave this to me as a gift and Brennan and I drink so much more water now that we have it! Put in a little lemon and it's soooo good!

Soda Stream is a kitchen essential!

Soda Stream is a kitchen essential!

While the brussel sprouts are in the oven get started on your meat cakes! Also, while you had those carrots and celery out before for the chicken, don't forget to cut a bunch more up for the week for snacking and salads. While you're at it get a cucumber and some green onions out too and cut those up! All these cut up veggies are also yummy to snack on and might help you keep your hands off the cheese and crackers you've served to your partner as a snack! Of course if you're making the meat cakes, treat yourself to a few kalamata olives with your red wine. Oh and if you have some gluten free crackers, snack on some of these too with that hard cheddar cheese (low lactose in aged cheeses!)! Remember this is your lovely time to relax and de-stress!

When the chicken is out of the oven and cooling, throw the meat cakes in. Put the chicken on a carving board and deglaze the pan with the water, cut a couple of pieces of chicken off the bone, add some au jus, throw a salad together with those lovely mixed greens you got from the farmer's market and all those wonderful veggies you just cut up, throw some of those brussel sprouts on the plate, pour a little more wine and voila! While your chicken is cooling for de-boning, eat a little dinner!

OK, admittedly, after we're done eating, I'm a little pooped, but while Brennan (he calls himself FEMA and me "hurricane Julie") cleans up the kitchen, I "pick the chicken" and always think of Jeanette Walls, author of "The Glass Castle" and marvel at how a half starving child could "pick a chicken" for her friend's mother without snitching some bits! Seriously, I've just eaten an entire meal of roasted chicken and can't help snitching!

Time to start the stock (still using Chris Kresser's recipe). In a large stock pot, I throw the de-glazed pan juices, all the bones (cracked if I can), all the stuffing that was in the chicken and if I was lucky enough to have the giblets included in the chicken, I would have roasted those too and throw them in as well. Put the stock on flame, and friends and family you can stop reading here - then put on nothing but your apron and while the stock cooks, "relax" a bit with your "FEMA"! Remember this is some SERIOUS relaxing! We have a kid-free house so it makes it a little easier to be spontaneous! 

Since then I'm REALLY pooped, all I do when the stock is done is discard the solids, transfer to a smaller pan and put covered in the fridge so I can skim the congealed fat in the morning. 

Seriously. I am NOT a cook. I always follow recipes (although I've been making Chris' chicken and stock for so long now that I don't need to follow a recipe anymore), I have a TERRIBLE, small and quirky kitchen and well, Brennan calls me "hurricane Julie". I'm out of control. But really, if you get used to it, enjoy all the added perks like the wine, music and your partner, you can do it (no pun intended!) and enjoy it too!

The rest of the week, I've got roasted chicken, stock, meat cakes, roasted brussel sprouts and salad fixin's all ready to go! Here are a few things I make with the stock and leftover chicken:

  • All kinds of soups with the stock (chicken and gluten free noodle, veggie soups (think curry cauliflower, broccoli and borscht (I use Chris' recipe)
  • I keep some stock in mason jars in the fridge for a nice warming snack or breakfast to go (yes, just drink it out of the jar) 
  • As for the chicken! So many options and here are just a few:
    • Of course you've got lovely roasted chicken for your lunch salads
    • make curry chicken or regular chicken salad and have as snacks, with salad for lunch or toast some gluten free bread (or regular if you're not allergic) and have a yummy chicken salad sandwich
    • I treat Brennan and I to chicken enchiladas once every couple of weeks. I buy all organic, whole grain ingredients and yes, even organic tortilla chips and use a sprinkling of cheese and it's SUCH a treat! I'm mostly gluten free, but not Paleo so I do enjoy corn foods once every couple of weeks! 
    • There are all sorts of other recipes that call for cooked chicken so just find your faves and go for it!

and that my friends is The Healing Farm recommended Cook-A-Thon! Whew! Now get started and have fun!

I Call Them "Meat Cakes"

Finished product!

Finished product!

My husband Brennan calls them "meat cupcakes". I found this recipe recently in Shape Magazine. Christmas Abbott is the author of "The Badass Body Diet" and although I wasn't familiar with her (she's a Crossfit celebrity and although I think Crossfit is a great workout, it wasn't for me!) I may look into her cookbook given how much I LOVE this recipe!

These things are great. They are:

  • a great snack
  • a quickie breakfast on-the-run (eat them cold!)
  • a good addition to a lunch salad (seen above although I usually cut them up into bite-sized pieces and toss them into the salad)
  • nice addition to a morning egg scramble
  • if you need a quickie dinner, heat them up and serve them with salad, veggie and mashed potato and it's like a meatloaf dinner!

What I love is that they are low-fat (ground turkey!), you can do any kind of variation with added seasoning, you can add any kind of veggie, they are super easy to make and REALLY they are so convenient!

Here's the recipe (remember that I usually stick to grass/veggie-fed and organic ingredients):

  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • couple of handfuls of chopped broccoli
  • 1/4-1/2 diced yellow onion (I bet green onion would be good too!)
  • chopped pitted kalamata olives (this is so key - they add a yummy salty taste)
  • any combo of seasoning - I added fleur de sel - I bet herbs de provence would be a good addition

Mix everything together and divide into a cupcake tin - the first time I greased the tin, but realized I didn't have to do that. Bake in a 350 degree oven and viola! Yummy!


The Prep

The Prep

Store or freeze in an airtight glass container

Store or freeze in an airtight glass container