Discover how I handled a nutrition challenge over Christmas

Discover how I handled a nutrition challenge over Christmas
29 December 2019 Serena Sabala

As many of you know by now, on October 1st I started a self-experiment through food mainly for health and research purposes: I started eating the keto way and massively transformed the macro composition of my plate. It has been by far the greatest nutrition shift (and challenge) of my adult life since the days I started only eating plants.

I went into it with a veil of skepticism because I know all too well how dangerous the animal-based keto diet is and all the terrible side effects and health risks associated with it but I have to admit that I discovered that the plant-based version may just be a great solution for those who get some benefits from being in ketosis. Many believe that it is not possible to be in ketosis whilst only eating plants but I now know for a fact that is not true and you can achieve ketosis whilst also benefitting from all the health benefits of some of the foods most rich in nutrients in the world (nuts, avocado, green leafy vegetables, seeds, soya). Just a few weeks into my experiment, I experienced massive relief from some skin issues I’ve been dealing with from a very young age, which were the reason I tried it in the first place.

The transition was definitely not easy: the first few weeks of eating the plant-based keto way were far from a walk in the park. It took a massive shift in mindset and consciousness above all else to be able to embrace such a radical new way of eating and give up some of my most favorite foods EVER (how I miss you, dear bananas!). Although avoiding most fruit was not as difficult as eating WAY more fats than I was used to, as I realized I had some serious olive oil paranoia to work through! I even had a few days of bad keto flu to deal with which definitely tested my commitment and made me question my decision. Once I got through the hump of the first few weeks, however, my body adjusted and I started experiencing some positive side effects that even went beyond skin relief. I lost some weight, my skin and hair got shinier, I lost all appetite for sugar…to mention a few. I even embraced and started loving the new recipes I was able to try and discover!

I was so positively impressed that I decided to stick with it for longer in the hope of getting to the very root of my issue and get rid of it once and for all: I don’t expect a problem that is almost 30 years old to suddenly disappear for good in only a few weeks. So with this realization in mind, I told myself that I would stay with it for al least two months until November and would then re-assess how best to move forward. I knew I would be traveling to the US in late November and then Italy for Christmas so I gave myself the option to be a bit more flexible during those times and see how my body would handle it.

In London, I had pretty much nailed a solid routine and by the end of the first month, I was feeling really strong and confident in my food choices both at home and when eating out (thank you, Honest Burgers and Beyond Burgers!!). I even did pretty well on a long haul flight to Texas in late November and quickly discovered a way to stay on track in Texas even though I hardly ever had a kitchen to work with and was on the go all day most of the time there. When it came to the end of our stay, we had two events which I thought would be the perfect opportunity to try some foods which are not keto-friendly and see what reaction I would get. The first meal went super well: we went to our favorite vegan diner in Dallas called Spiral: I ordered a keto-friendly main of delicious loaded tofu scrumble but I also indulged in some incredible nachos which we all shared as a starter and loved every bit of it. I felt more full than usual, probably because of the starches that I had gotten so used to avoid, but besides that, I had no side effects or complaints at all on the day or the day after.

The following evening, we went out for our last meal before departure to celebrate with our dear friends and I decided to push the boundaries a bit further: although my main was still mostly keto-friendly, I also ate some tortillas and refried beans and I realized almost immediately that I had taken things too far. As soon as we were done, I started feeling more bloated and uncomfortable than I had done in a long time and so very, very full! What’s worse is that the following three days, as I switched back to eating the keto way, I got the keto flu back and felt really uncomfortable for a solid three days. Not fun at all. I’m not sure if the mistake was to eat starches two days in a row of if the second meal was simply one (or more!) steps too far but I sure didn’t enjoy feeling so sick again after months of feeling great!

We went from Texas straight to Italy where we’ve been spending the holiday season and I was faced with a huge dilemma: would I stick with this keto way of eating and avoid all my favorite Christmas foods (my mum’s vegan lasagna, my favorite pizza, panettone, candied almonds, roasted chestnuts, persimmons …the list goes on!) or would I allow myself to eat whatever I wanted until January and start all over again with keto after the holidays, in full knowledge of how hard and uncomfortable the transition would be? It was a really tough choice to make and I felt lost for a solid day weighing my options. Finally, at the end of my first day, I decided to sit on it. Literally. I plugged in my headphones and sat for an hour-long meditation which never fails to deliver an answer to whatever the question may be. And so it did. After my meditation, my doubts were gone and the right path for me was clear: I didn’t want to endure the discomfort of re-adjusting to ketosis again and I realized I could still have a marvelous time here and enjoy some great meals whilst eating in a way that is currently most conducive to my health. I can have my plant-based keto cake and eat it too! It may not look anything like it did last year and it may be testing at times but it is possible and if I choose to, even empowering and enjoyable!

Feeling like I have wasted all the efforts of the past few months would make me experience way more deprivation than all the foods I’m currently choosing to avoid. I know why I’m doing this and I have realized than only by doing it for 6 months to a year will I give my body the time it needs to get the most benefits from it. What’s that in the big scheme of a lifetime? Not long at all! I’m so grateful for all the work I’ve done on developing myself to the point where I can actually take on this challenge and rise up to it: I’m gonna practice what I preach and remind myself that I am capable of WAY more than I think I am. I’ve got this. All the challenges I’ve faced in this space and all my knowledge of Food and Focus have actually prepared me to navigate this time and do what I have to do in order to become a greater version of myself: I’m ready and I will do what I have to. 

I’m not writing this post to inspire you to do anything like what I am doing. I’m writing it to inspire you to listen to your heart and take the best possible care of you, whatever that may look like today (which is likely to be very different than what it looks like for me). Whenever you’re in doubt, remember that your heart carries way more powerful answers than your mind does: I could have rationalized my way out of this tough decision but my heart spoke loud and clear and it was impossible for me to ignore it.

I’ve said this before and I will say it again: this truly is an experiment of self-development through food and I already feel like the greatest learnings I’m getting from it have actually got NOTHING to do with nutrition.

Stay tuned for more and always remember that NOW is the best time to take one step in the direction to your most fit, healthy and confident self. #maketheshift


P.S.: If you’re ready to #sparktheshift, check out our e-store for our newly released e-book which includes a detailed 7 Days plan to build momentum across the three pillars of Focus, Food and Fitness (with tips, recipes, workouts and SO much more). It’s only £5.99 so no brainer!