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What I learned from 21 days of keto eating

A keto diet is low in carbs, high in fats with moderate protein. Thinkstock

If you're like me on these days after Christmas, you're staring at mostly-empty Christmas cookie containers wondering how it got this far. Crumbs are the only evidence of the carnage that unfolded throughout the holiday season. Oh, the humanity!

The holidays are a time of parties, home baking and well-meaning coworkers delivering treats to your desk (I'm talking to you, Helmut Schmidt). It's been a season of eating and the scale shows it. New Year's resolutions loom on the horizon: I'm going to eat less, get fit and lose weight. But how will I do it?

There's no shortage of strategies out there and I think I've tried many of them. As a woman over the age of 50 and a weekly columnist whose subject frequently includes baked goods, I've found the weight creeping on. Dang! A vicious sweet tooth and slowing metabolism is a nasty combination. (Do your homework to find out what might work for you.) I'll throw something into the mix that has helped me drop weight in the last month or so: a modified ketogenic eating plan.

It's been trending on social media and recipes fill Pinterest boards. Basically, the keto diet is a low-carb, high fat, moderate protein diet. And there's science behind it. When you consume carbohydrates, your body produces glucose for energy and insulin to process the glucose. Because glucose becomes your primary energy source, fats are not needed and are thus stored.

With keto eating and the absence of glucose, the body is forced to tap into fat stores for energy, thus resulting in more fat-burning. Advocates claim it leads to weight loss, controlled blood sugar, greater mental focus, increased energy, less hunger, lowered blood pressure and cholesterol and more.

Critics argue it's difficult to follow and could lead to muscle loss.

But I wanted to see what the fuss was all about. I found the book "The Keto Reset Diet" by Mark Sisson. It spelled out how to reboot your metabolism in just three weeks. I figured even my Pop Tart-loving self could handle restricting carbs for just three weeks.

Here's what I learned when I undertook the 21-day keto reset.

Keto flu is real

Experts warn when you start depriving your body of carbohydrates it will, at first, revolt causing what is described as "keto flu" — a natural reaction as your body switches from burning glucose to burning fat. You might feel foggy headed, irritable and feel an onset of headaches.

I did, but it didn't last long; I kept telling myself it would end soon and that I'd see the changes on the scale and in how I felt. For me, keto flu only lasted about two days. I didn't experience a big headache. The biggest effect of keto flu for me was fatigue.

Fat is good

Remember: with keto eating, fat is your friend. That is a complete 180-degree turn from everything I've come to believe about losing weight. In the 1990s, I was the girl who would eat my weight in fat-free chocolate cookies because I thought it was a guilt-free way to enjoy sweets.

Of course, the reality is the lack of fat in the cookies left me completely unsatisfied, searching for something more to satisfy my cravings moments later. I realized that adding good fats to my diet (olive oil, avocados, nuts, etc.) left me fuller longer. So my afternoon trips to the vending machine at work decreased and, while my meals were higher in calories, my daily intake was less because I simply wasn't eating as much.

Real food is best

What I like most about keto eating is that I'm consuming real food. It sounds silly, but I couldn't believe how good it felt to eat butter with my eggs and real cream in my coffee. Satisfying and filling. I enjoyed food and often times didn't feel like I was on a diet. I came to the conclusion that much of my weight loss was probably more about cutting way back on processed foods. I found I mostly shopped the perimeters of grocery stores in the produce and meat departments and spent less time in the middle, carb-filled aisles.

Let the craving win (sometimes)

One of my darkest days was Thanksgiving ... but not because of the turkey or even the stuffing and potatoes. What was hard for me was fresh-baked rolls. (Is there anything better than the smell of fresh-baked bread?) My mouth watered as I tried to resist. So guess what? I gave in and had a roll with butter as I finished baking them. It tasted fabulous. I simply didn't have another roll at dinner, but I didn't feel deprived.

Everything tasted sweeter

Something interesting happened one day at lunch when I bit into a strawberry — it tasted like candy. My taste buds had been denied my daily dose of sugar and, in so doing, they became more sensitized to the natural sugars in fruit. My routine had always been to have something sweet after a meal, but now it seems fruit was enough to satisfy the sweet craving.

When the 21 days were over, I had lost about 8 pounds. I did crave cookies and breads once in awhile. But I also felt better. As December progressed with holiday parties, I found it harder to eat keto-style ... but not impossible. I focused on limiting the carbs when I could, but didn't beat myself up if I ate a peanut blossom with my coffee.

I heard for diets to work they should have the 3 S's: be safe, simple and sustainable. Many diets will work short-term, but are likely to fail if the dieter feels deprived. I will not give up carbs forever. What kind of life would it be without pasta and bread? I've just learned that I don't have to eat so much of it. I can survive and thrive with fewer carbs in my life and yes, more butter.

Tracy Briggs

Tracy Briggs is a former TV anchor/radio host currently working as a features writer and video host for Forum Communications.

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