Ketones: Unlocking the Mystery of Weight Loss, Mental Clarity and Other Benefits During Menopause
Rochelle Weitzner | September 16, 2019
Weight loss. A subject most women first learn in the schoolyard… and one whose final exam never seems to pass. From baby fat to baby weight, doing battle with scales and skinny jeans along the way. And then, just when the kids are out, and we can finally look forward to feeling our svelte selves—boom!—menopause. The hormones, the energy fluctuations, the changes in bone density and blood sugar, the fat retention heading south, leaving us with sagging faces but bulging waists, recalculating all those diet equations we’d worked so hard to figure out.
So, isn’t it nice to find a friend with a cheat-sheet? I have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), which basically means my ovaries make too many male hormones. In some ways, women with PCOS live with lifelong menopause: menstrual irregularity, facial and body hair, baldness (oh, the irony!), skin conditions, mood swings and, of course, obesity. And that’s just for starters. But that also means PCOS sufferers have lifelong experience that can help all women entering and enduring menopause.
Take weight loss. Because women with PCOS can’t metabolize sugar, it’s nearly impossible for us to lose weight, at any age. My entire adult life, I worked out like a fiend and tried every diet you can imagine. I spent a fortune on nutritionists only to get the same sad results. Until one of them tried the Ketogenic diet. Although skeptical of a diet that preaches high fat intake, she tested it herself for 12 weeks, and her results in terms of energy, mental clarity, wellness, and weight loss were so astounding that I had to try it too.
Caveat: keto doesn't let you eat just any old fat. The focus is on medium-chain triglycerides (MCT's), which are easier to absorb. But nutritionally speaking, keto is Weight Loss 101, a very low carb diet that causes ketosis (note: not ketoacidosis, which can be deadly—learn the difference here). In ketosis, low on sugar, your body turns fat into ketones for fuel. Because it burns stored fat alongside the fat you eat, the result is weight loss. And there are other benefits, like reduced blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol, improved skin and lower insulin for those of us who thought we were insulin resistant.
Also, keto isn’t a passing fad. It’s been around since forever but didn’t have a name until the 1920’s when neurologists started using it to control epilepsy. It's still used for patients who don't respond to anti-seizure medicine. You see, the brain loves ketones, which are now being studied to treat other neurological conditions, such Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, so keto dieting might have benefits far beyond weight loss to women as we age.
When I went keto, eight months ago, my weight was the highest it had ever been despite eating vegetarian for over a year, and my blood sugar was at pre-diabetic levels. In three months, I lost 22 pounds and kept it off. My blood sugar is back to normal, my cholesterol is excellent, my blood pressure is normal and, most importantly, I feel fantastic. For years I suffered digestive issues—bloating, gas, and excruciating abdominal pain—that I thought I just had to live with. All of those have gone away.
The other big benefit is mental clarity. My friends and family hear me talk incessantly about peri-menopausal brain fog. It can make you think you’re going crazy when, for example, you can’t recall words or names, even though you know you know them. Enter Bulletproof Coffee, containing ghee butter and MCT oil, a keto classic. I usually drink a cup around 9 AM and don’t feel hungry again until 2 PM. But the best part is that I find myself able to put together ideas and conversations like I haven’t done for years.
Ok, now for some bad news: Deciding to follow keto does take some education and planning. You have to understand which foods are allowed, which are just ok, and which are absolute no-no's. You’ll also need to calculate your macros—your daily dose of fats, proteins, and carbs based on your current and target weights. One of my favorite resources is this guide to keto. I also recommend using a food tracker like My Fitness Pal, at least at first, to help you understand the actual carb, fat, and protein content of different foods. As with any big change, you should also work with your doctor and/or nutritionist to design a keto diet right for your particular needs and condition.
On the bright side, while keto does not allow cheat days, the diet is simpler than it sounds and very easy to stick to—you won’t feel deprived. Like, not at all. Ever. After eight months, there are still times I look at what I’m eating and can’t believe this is my diet! Plus, it’s taught me a new hobby: inventing new keto recipes. I make an incredible keto pizza, not to mention my now famous avocado brownies.
I know, I know… Butter in coffee? Avocado in brownies? Are you sure about that mental clarity? But, hey, I never believed I’d become Betty Crocker baking brownies in the kitchen either. If age is going to change us, with keto at least it’s for the better.