A working meal plan is one that reflects your taste, physiology and health goals. No meal plan is fixed but rather it evolves as you learn more about your body and digestion, gain an understanding what foods aggravate underlying conditions, and figure out which boost your wellbeing. Let’s consider three factors to start:
Goals versus Intentions
A person who’s looking to lose weight will be on a very different meal plan from someone who wants to manage an autoimmune condition or simply begin a healthy eating regime. How to create a keto meal plan is a different question from how to lower blood pressure. The resultant diet may be similar but the intention is very different. In this instance, I’m going to make some assumptions, and imagine that the goal is to start eating healthy to improve overall wellbeing.
Many people associate the keto diet, or any diet, with weight loss but that’s not always the right goal, at least not to begin with. Also, goals tie us to a specific result and that can be frustrating at the beginning when results are slow. Much better to start with an intention, and understand that you don’t know what the results are till you see them. That way, if you slip, it’s okay. You can say, tomorrow, I intend to do better, and that way you’re always achieving. That way you’re not in competition with some arbitrary goal but rather in a conversation with yourself on how to improve your eating habits.
How we eat is very much tied to our relationship to food, and some people have constant cravings that hunt them all day long, triggering them to make unhealthy choices. A meal plan intention might be to simply eliminate the bad choices. It’s much better to start at the point that feels right for you, and as you see results, make adjustments to the plan. If the goal is weight loss, the rule of thumb is to go slow. You want to loose a few pounds a month over a long period of time, and mixing it with exercise to give your body the chance to adjust to its new set point. Losing weight slowly, through a gradual change in eating habits is the only way to achieve sustained weight loss.
Time Restricted Eating
If you have problems with bloating, gas, constipation, or fatigue in the morning, chances are you’re not only eating the wrong things, but you’re also eating them at all hours of the day, which doesn’t give your body the chance to metabolize food, meaning it’s constantly at work leaving you with little energy for your life. If I eat late at night, I wake the next morning with a hangover. Yes, a full-on hangover. I’ll be bloated, cranky, have a headache, dulled skin, lifeless hair and no energy. Just to be clear, I can go to bed stoned but will wake up fresh as a daisy as long as I don’t eat late in the evening. Being stoned doesn’t affect my morning energy levels; eating late affects it hugely.
I’ve found the only way to eliminate the problem is timed eating, meaning I don’t eat after a certain point in the evening. Eating within a set schedule every day is called Intermittent Fasting or Time Restricted Eating, and it’s a potent healing tool, as many studies demonstrate. At its simplest form, intermittent fasting means eating within an eight hour window every day, so you find the window that works for you, be it: 9am to 5pm; 10am to 6pm; 11am to 7pm, and so on. In between that time slot, you can eat what you like. This alone will improve your metabolism and result in weight loss. If an eight-hour window is too tight to begin with, try 10; experiment.
So here it is, the big reveal: The Secret to Sustained Weight Loss. Most people falsely believe it involves complex fitness programs, expensive trainers and fridge full of lettuce, and anything less is a waste of time. The truth is way simpler. The secret to sustained weight loss comes down to this one simple activity: food preparation. Talk to any athlete, trainer or health conscious person and you can be damn sure there are containers of pre-prepared food in their fridge or freezer. The reason for this is not as ambitious as you might think. They do this so that when they go to the fridge to eat, the healthy option is there.
When you’re busy or tired or hungry, the last thing you want to do is cook a meal, especially a healthy one! But if the food is already made, and all you have to do is heat it up, you’ll eat it without thinking, and this is when we start to see changes. First, we have to make it as easy as possible to make the healthy choice, and with time it becomes a habit. Anyone embarking on a new diet or meal plan should first think about their favourite meals, and then think about making the healthiest version of that meal. Understand that this process is an exploration of food, and will take a bit of time.
Think about how you like to eat your food: hot or cold, covered in ketchup, greasy or dry. This is going to help you choose the right substitutes. Trust me, to start you’re going to falter as you crave the toasted batch loaf you can no longer eat, or my favourite, almond croissant. But in time, you find alternatives, and discover they taste better, and make you feel way better because they match your intention of healthy eating.
Everyone’s got their preferences. Make sure that whatever substitute food you choose to create has the same consistency and texture of the foods you’re used to eating and the transition will be much easier. To start, don’t think about eliminating foods; think about expanding your dietary repertoire. Food preparation is about experimenting with food, and recipes, and switching up your relationship to your kitchen and supermarket. It’s a journey that will lead you through a treasure trove of exciting tastes and delicious dishes that eventually become a daily habit of eating healthy.
- Explore healthy eating based on a keto diet
- Reduce carb intake
- Get into the habit of food preparation
WHAT IS THE KETO DIET?
At its simplest, the keto diet is a high fat, low carb diet. In this video, Dr. Rhonda Patrick and Dr. Dom D’Agonstino, both nutrition experts, explain the science behind keto, and how it leads to improved health. But I’m going to explain it briefly here: The body has two energy sources: glucose and fat. Our bodies are set up to run on glucose, which is why it turns carbs into glucose, in turn providing you with the energy you need to get through your day. But the clever body has a reserve system in place for when times get lean. In those instances, the body can switch to its fat energy source to keep you alive when there’s no food. When the body is in this state, it’s called ketosis.
On the keto diet, we hike up the fat intake to trick the body into switching to its fat fuel source, and in the process, the body goes into ketosis. The effect of ketosis is weight loss, as the appetite is suppressed and the body begins to use its fat stores. I’m explaining the process in layman’s terms but you get the idea. What’s most attractive to many people is the simplicity of the keto diet; I mean, what could be difficult about eating too much cheese. The thing is, it’s not easy to cut carbs from your diet, and in the beginning it will mess with your energy levels and mood. It took me a year to adjust to keto, and over that year I’ve been in ketosis twice. Getting to ketosis is not easy; neither is maintaining it, and it’s absolutely impossible to do without food preparation.
Shopping on a Keto Diet
Just as your relationship to your kitchen changes when you switch up your diet, so too do your shopping habits, in particular where you buy food, and what you buy. It’s imperative to understand that this takes time. I had to change EVERYTHING I’d been buying for years, and I had to start reading labels. In the beginning I was cooking from a cookbook, buying spices I’d never heard of, and eating some suspect combinations. These days, I know exactly what flavours I like, and no longer need to read labels, as I know the macros of most items by now. These days, I still buy food from the supermarket but also from health stores and organic butchers.
What Can You Eat?
More importantly, these days, I know which items are high-carb and which are high fat. How did I learn this? By spending time in the supermarket reading labels and online, researching keto food plans. There’s no fancy science here; it’s a simple matter of research but I’m going to provide you with a hack to save you time. Here’s a list, not exhaustive, of keto foods, and things to look out for in the supermarket.
One of my favourite things about the keto diet is nuts. As well as being high in fat, nuts have a host of health benefits, and are an antioxidant powerhouse. Up until a few years ago, I probably ate two walnuts my whole life. Now, I keep a container of mixed nuts on my desk, my go-to when I want a snack. I change up the mix and might have hazelnuts, cashews, walnuts, macadamias, almonds, or pecans in there. Sometimes I throw in some raisins and dark chocolate pips in too, but both of these are high-carb. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing unless your goal is to be in ketosis, in which case it is.
Another blessing of the keto diet: cheese! I add it to everything as it’s the substitute that helps me achieve the creamy texture I like my food to have. I used to be a big fan of cheese toasties; all that hot bread, melted butter and crispy cheese – heaven! I haven’t had a cheese toasty in years but I have found great new ways to use cheese and create even better dishes in the process. I eat a bigger variety of cheeses now but cheddar is still hands down my favourite.
This is a controversial one. Veganism is the biggest trend in the UK for 2019. Everyone is convinced meat-free is the way to improve health and save tortured animals. I don’t like the industrial torture of animals any more than the next person but I don’t believe that cutting out meat is the long-term solution to the problem whereas the eradication of industrial farming is. If everyone demanded grass fat meat from the butcher, farmers and butchers would be thrilled and the supermarkets would have no choice but to get on board.
On this Joe Rogan podcast, nutrition expert Chris Kresser refers to studies that show not everyone has the right physiology to thrive on a meat-free diet. Yes, some people can, but they’re in the minority. I’m not one of them. I tried. I went vegetarian for three months two years ago, and that’s as long as I could last. The keto diet is a meat diet. As much as possible, I buy meat from a local organic butcher, and that is, for now, my solution to the issue. Eventually, I’d like to learn how to hunt. If you’re not comfortable eating meat, fish and eggs, the keto diet is not going to work for you. That said it’s not necessary to include meat in every keto dish.
On the keto diet it’s recommended to stick with low-carb veg, which tend to be green vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, asparagus, lettuce, cucumber, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts and green beans. Also good are avocados, tomatoes, red, green and yellow peppers, onions, eggplant and cauliflower. That’s a whole lot of food variety right there, and the basis for lots of tasty keto meals. I particularly like asparagus and onion because they’re easy to fry up in butter and go great with meat. Broccoli and Brussels sprouts are also easy to prepare, just boil them, and go well with meat, nuts, and/or cheese. Cauliflower and broccoli with four cheeses is my mac and cheese substitute and it’s better than the original.
Just ‘cause you’re on keto doesn’t mean you don’t get to eat bread but you do have to change how you prepare it, and this means getting comfortable with flour substitutes like almond and coconut flour. There are tons of recipes for almond bread online, and I’ll post my own ASAP, but for now, what’s important to know is that making bread with almond flour is way easier than you think, and much easier than traditional bread. There’s no kneading or need to understand the science of yeast. Mix it in a bowl, bake it, leave it to cool over night, and it’s a delicious breakfast.
I only drink water. That’s it. Nothing else. Very occasionally, I might have a cup of coffee, and I like mint or cinnamon tea. But mostly, I drink water. That’s all you need: water. Get a water filter, or find a source for inexpensive bottled water. You’re going to need anything from 1 to 3 litres a day depending on your level of activity.
It’s not realistic to think about cutting out sugar completely and much more productive to think about changing the types of sweet foods you eat, certainly in the early days of transitioning. About four years ago, I made the choice to stop eating milk chocolate, and began experimenting with dark chocolate. I was obsessed, compelled to buy a bar of dark chocolate every time I left the house. Before long, I knew which shops had the best chocolate AKA where exactly I needed to go when I craved a sugar rush. It’s important to note that most bars of chocolate, dark or not, are packed with carbs, but in my opinion, a working diet includes treats or it’s impossible to sustain.
To tackle this problem – I have a major sweet tooth – I buy dark chocolate with a high fat content and I make my own sweets at home. Eating a homemade dessert every day is far healthier than eating a Mars or Snickers a few times a week, and it’s something to look forward to, too. What’s important to keep in mind here is what’s your intention? If you’re intention is to achieve ketosis, cut out all sugar, but if it’s to explore healthy eating, I recommend homemade sweets made with coconut sugar, honey or maple syrup.
No matter what diet you’re on, add hemp hearts to it to drive up its nutritional value. Hemp seeds are packed full of nutrients, are high in fat, and have a host of health benefits. They’re also filling, so by sprinkling them on top of any meal – they go great with everything – it’ll help you feel fuller longer. Buy hemp hearts here.
If you’re not eating butter on a daily basis, start, as it’s one of the best health hacks around. If you’ve got vegetable oils in your house, throw them all out! You can use olive oil but sparingly, on salads, never to cook. For cooking, stick to butter and lard. Replace all your condiments with full fat butter. If you want to understand the science behind this, check out the Twitter account of science journalist Nina Teicholz, and read her book: The Big Fat Surprise.
Mayonnaise is a keto food, but I never eat it, as it aggravates my gout. Again, remember this is about food exploration: you have to find what’s right for you, and what works for me is not necessarily going to work for you. Go forth, explore.
HOW TO CREATE A KETO MEAL PLAN
It’s all about convenience. The first question is what easy-to-prepare meals can I add to the diet that are filling and tasty. In some cases, repetition is the key, and it’s true that I rely on a few go-to dishes that make life easier for me. For example, I tend to eat scrambled eggs with cheese every morning for breakfast. The butcher next door to me has Free Range eggs the size of my fist and I love them. Though I do add variety at the weekends.
It can also be difficult to cut out all high carb food when starting out on the keto diet, so some of these recipes contain carbs to help ease you into the transition. Remember, our intention is to eat healthy, so there’s no need to be so strict until you’re ready or your intention changes.
In future posts, I’ll be providing recipes for dishes that can be made in bulk and stored. For now, my best tip is find a few cuts of meat that you like, be it beef, pork, duck, turkey or chicken and think about teaming those meats with vegetables and cheese, and your preferred cooking method. One of the easiest options is to roast meat and veg, or fry them in butter. I’m a big fan of fried pork and asparagus or roasted duck and veg, both of which are easy to prepare. I add hemp hearts, Parmesan and basil to these dishes for extra fat and flavour.
Here are a few easy recipes:
- 1 cup of almond milk
- 1/2 cup of coconut milk
- 1 banana
- 1 cup of frozen berries
- 1 tbsp of hemp protein
Blend in a blender, and drink. This is a really versatile recipe that’s super filling. You can adjust it to your taste, add cinnamon, or replace the banana with avocado to up the fat content. You can also add peanut butter and/or cocoa. Here are some more keto shake ideas. As a rule, fruit like banana is out on keto because they’re high carb. But I eat some fruits, again because it’s convenient for me. You’ll find what works for you.
Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
- 1 head of cauliflower
- 100 grams of chopped bacon (optional)
- 200 grams of grated cheddar cheese
- 100 grams of goat’s cheese
- 100 grams of cream cheese
- 50 grams of Parmesan cheese
- 1 tsp. of turmeric
- 1 tsp. of ginger
- 1 tsp. of Dijon mustard
- Salt and pepper to taste
Fry the bacon, and put aside. Boil the cauliflower. Once boiled, drained out all the water with a strainer, return to the pot. Stir in the cheeses on a low heat, adding the spices and bacon, too. Mix the whole lot together till the cheese is melted and serve with fresh basil. The great thing about a dish like this is that you can make a large amount in one go, eat one portion, and put the rest in containers in the fridge, then heat one up for when you need a quick meal.
Stuffed Turkey Pudding with Asparagus
- 3 slices of turkey breast
- 100 grams of black pudding cut into 3 pieces
- 3 tsp. of pesto sauce
- 1 tbsp. of Parmesan
- Dried basil
- Salt and pepper to season
- A bunch of asparagus
Grease an oven bake dish with butter. Season the slices of turkey with salt and pepper, spread a layer of pesto sauce on one side, and roll it up with the black pudding inside (make sure to take the outer wrap from the pudding.) Place the pieces of rolled turkey in the baking dish and sprinkle with Parmesan and dried basil. Place the sticks of asparagus in the dish with a few knobs of butter and bake for twenty to twenty-five minutes. Again, it’s possible to make extra turkey rolls and keep for lunch the next day. Black and white pudding is not keto as it’s high in carbs, but again, we’re making slow changes here, and this is a tasty dish, so let’s give it a try.
- 3 tbsp of chia seeds
- 1 cup of almond milk
- 1 tbsp of cocoa powder
- a few drop of vanilla
Mix all the ingredients in a mixing jug, and then pour into empty jam jars, seal and put in the fridge. Leave overnight. Eat for breakfast or as a snack. There are many different versions of this recipe.
YOUR STARTING POINT
Your starting point will be a trip to the supermarket because chances are you don’t have the necessary food ingredients in your cupboard right now. That’s okay. You are an explorer and you’re about to go hunting. Make a list. Go to the supermarket. Start hunting. While there, get some lunchboxes if you don’t have some, and think about which meals you can cook in advance or cook larger amounts of to then store for easy-to-reach options when you need them.
I’m going to start this plan on a Sunday, giving you Saturday to do some shopping, and get ready for the week ahead. In this plan, I’m not getting into portion size, macros, body fat, daily expenditure or any of things that can affect caloric intake, but will discuss those things in future posts. For now, you just want to figure out which meals are easiest for you to prepare in advance, and store in the fridge or freezer to make healthy eating options easy.
To help get you started, here is a simple plan for one week.
- Breakfast: Scrambled egg with cheese
- Lunch: Lemon and ginger roasted chicken and veg. (chicken used for future meals)
- Dinner: Meatballs with tomato sauce, Parmesan and veg (save some meatballs)
- Dessert: Chopped dates, cream cheese and honey
- Snacks: Dark chocolate, hazelnut and raisins
- Breakfast: Scrambled egg with cheese
- Lunch: Chicken salad with feta cheese (using chicken from day before)
- Dinner: Meatballs – they’re even better the next day!
- Dessert: Greek yoghurt with cinnamon
- Snacks: Hazelnuts, almond nuts
- Breakfast: Morning shake
- Lunch: Chicken, Parmesan and avocado salad (use the last of that chicken)
- Dinner: Salmon with asparagus
- Dessert: Applesauce with almond flakes and cream
- Snacks: Hazelnuts, almond nuts
- Breakfast: Scrambled egg with cheese
- Lunch: Salmon, goat’s cheese and walnut salad
- Dinner: Homemade burgers with fried cabbage and onion
- Dessert: Dark chocolate
- Snacks: Pecans, walnuts, raisins
- Breakfast: Morning shake
- Lunch: Homemade burger wrapped in iceberg lettuce (prepared the night before)
- Dinner: Beef stir fry with green beans and asparagus.
- Dessert: Dark chocolate with ginger
- Snacks: Almonds and walnuts
- Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with cheese
- Lunch: Stir-fry (leftover from night before)
- Dinner: Lamb cutlets with Brussels sprouts, hemp seeds and Parmesan
- Dessert: Cream cheese, pecans and maple syrup
- Snacks: Walnuts and an apple
- Breakfast: Morning shake
- Lunch: Cheese platter with dates, walnuts, and cucumber
- Dinner: Pork chop with spinach and goat’s cheese
- Dessert: Applesauce with cream
- Snacks: Hazelnuts and dark chocolate
Typically, I eat two meals a day with one snack and some nuts to keep within my eight-hour window. Some days, I’ll eat three meals because I’m hungrier; some days I only eat one due to a busy schedule or some other reason. Whatever your meal plan, allow for flexibility but aim for high fat foods like nuts and cheeses for snacks to replace your usual carb option. Expect to feel differences in your energy levels to start; this is your body adjusting. Also, allow yourself one or two carb treats. If you’re too strict to begin with, you won’t stay the course. But trust me, with time you’ll find yourself opting for the healthy choice because it tastes better and is more satisfying. Guess what? That’s how to create a keto meal plan and the secret to sustained weight loss.
In future posts, I’ll discuss Why Keto and Cannabis Go Hand in Hand, as well as provide recipes for delicious Keto Cannabis Dishes.
I’d love to hear your feedback, so let me know what you think of this plan and these tips in the comments below. And remember, a working meal plan evolves, so give yourself time, let me know how you’re getting on, and feel free to reach out for support. Best of luck, my freaky friend, I’m with you.