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beginning keto: how to start a high-fat, low-carb way of eating

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keto for beginners

I’m not a really big fan of fad or overly popular diets – even the long-lasting ones like Atkins have always felt too restrictive to me. I always preferred to work out, and then eat whatever I wanted because I “deserved” it. But lately, I haven’t had the time or temperament to work out as frequently, and it showed in a 20-pound weight gain over the last six months or so. I’d heard often about the keto diet and the science behind it and started doing some research. The same day I started reading up on it, both my boss and a close friend mentioned that they were doing it, so I took it as a sign.

(Let it also be said that this meal plan includes a lot of things that are not “diet” foods, like bacon, cheese, and a shitload of eggs. So when I say “diet,” don’t think “weight loss plan,” think “way of eating.)

While we aren’t too far into it, I’m really enjoying it and not struggling too badly with it! I thought I’d talk a bit about my experience so far and mention a few tips for anyone else who might be considering starting on it as well.

What is ketosis?

In short, ketosis is when your body burns fat for fuel instead of glucose. Your body learns to do this on a high fat, low carbohydrate diet.

I’m not going to go on too long about this because there are smarter people who have studied this much more extensively, but the basic answer is: science.

But like… why though?

Why, though? Because a lot of people have seen really awesome results – for inspiration before starting, I frequented r/keto almost non-stop in order to convince myself that I could do it and be successful. It’s full of progress pics, sure, but it’s also full of meal inspiration – photos of things that made me feel like I could not only make them, but be happy and satisfied with the meals. It helped me start thinking about food as fuel rather than something to do because it would make me happy or cheer me up. After all the reading and prep, and knowing that I’d have support from my friendos and boyfriend, we decided to start the week after my (EXTREMELY GLUTTONOUS) work trip. I wasn’t going to give up maple crepes.

Beyond that, one of the biggest concerns I had was how easy it would be to cook. I rely on a lot of pre-made meals when I’m not with my chef boyfriend, so I didn’t think there would be freezer meals available in a pinch, but I was super wrong – Trader Joe’s and Aldi, once again, for the wins.

What’s a net carb?

Total Carbohydrates – Fiber – Sugar Alcohols = Net Carbs. It’s pretty easy to calculate once you get used to it.

lou malnati's crustless pizza

Crustless pizza. Oh yes.

But like, where’s the crunch?

Honestly, I haven’t been missing the texture of crunchy things really, but it does seem like there are a lot of mostly “mushy” textured meals. In a pinch, pork rinds are a great snack and super crunchy (they’re also pretty much the MVP of keto,) super crispy bacon, baked cheese, kale chips… there are really a lot of ways to mix up the texture of meals.

Ummmm… where are my sweets?

God gave us sugar alcohols so that we can continue to enjoy our sweet things. “Fat bombs” are little nuggets of pure joy that are often just a bite of something sweet. (There are a lot of balls, which opens an excellent opportunity for a lot of dirty jokes. These are my favorite balls.) Depending on your net carbs for the day, you can also make up a cute, fatty little dessert like whipped cream with berries or cream cheese and jelly (which tastes like cheesecake) or dump some Stevia into your iced coffee. Not that I have to put packets and packets into my coffees because I miss Dunkin’ Donuts, but whatever. There’s probably a substitution or keto version of anything, including bread.

Can you drink?

You can – really dry wines and straight spirits are recommended, or super low-carb beers. This was the hardest thing for me to give up because I really, really love beer. I’ve learned to love Michelob Ultra, and my old favorite, tequila and soda water. Whiskey, gin, vodka – these are all still fair game at zero net carbs.

keto restaurant meal

Keto restaurant meals: bunless bacon cheeseburger with guacamole and side salad with olive oil, and a bleu cheese steak salad in the background

I can’t cook so how do I keto?

Still possible! I don’t love cooking either because it feels like it takes so much time out of your day, but there are a lot of shortcuts. A lot of them do involve some level of meal prep, but cooking and preparing have started to feel quite meditative to me, so maybe you’ll start to enjoy it too. I’m planning to do a post on my favorite quick and easy keto meals, but if you really prefer to eat out, it’s easy to do that too.

Gadgets? Do I need gadgets?

Nah. After you start out, you might find that some things will make your life easier – I’ve found that I want a kitchen scale to be more precise with portions, and boyfriend wants to get a spiralizer for nights we want zoodles but didn’t pick any up at the store – but truly, the only things you need to start eating keto is a good tracking method. I use the app Carb Manager, but Lose It and MyFitnessPal also track macros. I do also sometimes sketch it out by hand in my bullet journal because that makes it easier to look back on for future meal planning.

I did grab a pack of meal prep Rubbermaid food storage to make lunches easier since my lunches are usually leftovers that are eaten in a rush, and these are a nice way to help feel a bit more organized, but it’s totally optional.

How do I start?

We started by using Diet Doctor’s 2-week intro plan. It’s nice because it provides an interactive weekly shopping list that will update the quantities based on the number of people you’re shopping for, and it has you duplicating every dinner for an easy lunch the next day. From there we felt prepared enough to start planning out our own meals, but there are certainly other meal plans you could continue using, or even longer-term options for sale through Diet Doctor’s website.

One thing that I found the most helpful was that I made a spread in my bullet journal of good, keto-friendly snacks that I have stocked in my house so I don’t eat something sugary or carby. Apparently “perfect keto” means eating enough fat that you don’t want to snack, and some days I hit that, but I’m still finding myself hungry between lunch and dinner. (My next move is to color code it depending on which of my nutrients or macros is low, but, ya know, that’s not for everyone.)

Anything else I need?

I’m not being funny here or joking around, but here’s a list of things I desperately needed that no one told me about:

And just as a note… tuck away a book or something in any bathroom you use often.

If you travel a lot, it’s easy to keep keto, but it can require more preparation. Grab some keto snacks to keep in your bag (things like low-carb nut butters, low-carb jerky, almonds, and coconut oil are really good to keep with you). Hard boiled eggs are fairly easy to find (even at gas stations) and can be easily batch made and kept in the fridge wherever you’re staying. Salad bars at grocery stores, hospital cafeterias, and even restaurants are good choices as long as you stick to the low-carb choices.

Honestly, it’s not as hard or intimidating as it sounds. I’ve really enjoyed it, and every day I find a new recipe or food that I want to try out. I lost five pounds in the first week, and I’ve continued to lose 2-3 pounds every week since we started.

Have you ever tried a “non-traditional” way of eating? What was your experience? Any suggestions for bathroom reading materials?

July 21, 2018

doing Chicago: what to do in wicker park

Posted in Food, Travel by

When I was 16, I came to Chicago on an art scholarship. I fell in love and knew in my heart that I’d live here someday. At age 30 (woof,) I finally did it, and I am so happy. Since I’m getting to explore the city more like a native and less like a tourist visiting the same spots over and over, I thought I’d start sharing some of the hidden gems that might be overlooked by people coming to visit for the first time. Today’s spotlight is on Wicker Park/Bucktown. It’s one of the trendiest “hipster”-ish parts of town, but that means there’s a lot of great food and drinks in addition to things to do and places to shop!

Gotta start with my favorite food group. I love Dimo’s (and Dimo’s loves me!) If you’re in the Six Points area and just need to grab something quick, this pizza is where it’s at. Pop in, drop my name, and grab a slice of the white pie or another monthly special – I promise you won’t be disappointed.

If you have more of a sweet tooth, head across the intersection to Stan’s Donuts. Stan’s began in LA and their popularity has spread here to the midwest with two locations in Chicago. There’s not a lot of space inside, so be prepared to eat your donut and get on out. Go on the weekend to get the biggest selection (the beignets, buttermilk bar, and chocolate sprinkles are my favorites.)

Wicker Park is home to many great bookstores, and one of my favorites is Volumes Bookcafe. Part bookstore, part coffee shop, part bar, this is a really cool spot. Browse for books and cozy up in the cafe with a cup of coffee, or come in later on, grab a beer, and borrow a board game with friends.

Mahalo Chicago Wicker Park

Mahalo is the most Instagram-worthy spot on the block. It’s Hawaiian-inspired, and begging to be photographed. The drink menu is fantastic (grab the daily daiquiri and thank me later) and I look forward to visiting again for a meal. We went a few months ago and weren’t bowled over, but the chef has changed since then, and both the menu and website look much better!

There are a lot of great spots in Wicker Park to grab a cup of coffee – hop off the Blue Line and head straight into La Colombe, or head around the corner to the Starbucks Roastery. (Yeah yeah, I know, Starbucks. It’s a roastery, though, and they have more creative drinks – the Coffee Malt is amazing!) If you’re looking for a spot to set up and work, I love Brü. Very freelance-friendly, and they accept Brewpass. Use the code DESI1 when you sign up for a free cup!

Quimby’s is another great bookstore in the neighborhood. They feature indie and underground books, comics, magazines and – best of all – zines. Growing up I was really into zines (I still have a few of my favorites kicking around my parents house) and I could spend hours browsing the shelves here. They have both local and national authors, as well as lots of fun gifts and notebooks. They also host shows from time to time – the great Sad13 played here last spring.

kanela breakfast club

If you want a cinnamon roll the size of your head (and quite honestly if you don’t, there’s a great Urgent Care I can recommend in Wicker Park because something must be wrong,) head down to Kanela Breakfast Club. It’s my favorite one in the city so far, and the rest of the menu is equally great. They have a nice bar area and it’s bigger than it looks, so don’t let a line deter you. They turn it over quickly.

While it’s not a strictly local spot, I can’t visit Wicker Park without buzzing in to David’s Tea. Their summer collection is gorgeous and the iced tea press makes it easy to make single batches of iced tea in one tumbler – just grab and go. Pop in, grab a tea of the day, and try not to walk out with a pound of tea.

Don’t leave Chicago without a souvenir! Transit Tees have some of my favorite t-shirts and knick knacks. Ever since I saw Rachel on The Real World: Back to New York I’ve loved transit-inspired stuff, and there’s plenty of it here. Whether you want to rep a specific line or stop, they’ll have it. (Plus a lot of awesome Michigan stuff, too!)

Cabana Club

reckless records

If you’re into records, stop over at Reckless Records. Wicker Park is just one of their three locations in the city. They have both new releases and used records, and their website has an up-to-date inventory search. I’ve found my one unicorn record by checking their website constantly! If there’s something you’re on the hunt for, head in. Actually, check them out anyway – the staff is always ready with recommendations.

chop shop pizza summit chicago

Though it might not seem like it, there are a couple venues in Wicker Park where you can check out some shows. Subterranean features some of my favorite artists (including Doomtree in a few weeks!) and Chop Shop’s First Ward venue features some really great punk shows. (They also host the Pizza Summit where I attempted to eat my body weight in pizza against two competitive eaters in April, as pictured above.)

By the end of the day, you’ll be ready for some dessert. Jeni’s Ice Cream is a Midwestern classic (I highly recommend the salty caramel and brambleberry crisp combo) or head up on Damen to Mindy’s Hot Chocolate. Their whole menu is great, but I definitely recommend their namesake hot chocolates or cookies – chef Mindy even wrote a cookbook about cookies, so you know they’ve got to be great!

What are your favorite things to do on vacation? Any places in particular in Chicago you’re curious about? Let me know in the comments – I’d love to share the city with you!


July 21, 2017

st. patrick’s day: irish style with Rhetoric Coffee!

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I was provided a complimentary product from Rhetoric Coffee to review, but all opinions are my own.

Rhetoric Coffee Irish Whiskey

Over the holidays, I went to a Christmas party where they were serving the BEST coffee I’ve ever had. I asked my friend and she said it came from a coffee subscription – from a super cool company called Rhetoric Coffee.

Since getting that taste at Christmas and hearing their sponsorship on My Favorite Murder week after week, I was so excited to partner with Rhetoric Coffee to check out what their subscription is like. I checked the mail as I was heading out of the house one day and got too excited about it – sitting at a stoplight, I tore the box open. It included the best smelling coffee with really awesome artwork, along with information on the artist. They deliver a bag every two weeks so you’re never running out, and different bag size options satiate even the most ardent coffee household (like Dani and I!) Their website has a fun roast countdown too, so you can see when their next one is coming up! I also love that this month’s featured artist is a Chicago guy. The roasts come with themes as well – this batch’s theme was the band 311 (how perfect) and the even included a playlist. I think it might be a cool art option – maybe frame all the bags in your coffee corner! The notes on this roast had our mouths watering: black cherry, orange, hazelnut and milk chocolate. It’s every bit as rich and delicious as it sounds.

They’re also a company run primarily by women, and I love that. You can get your own sample by reaching out to them on Twitter!

One of the benefits of living with a coffee and cocktail enthusiast is that I’ll often get sent amazing recipes throughout the day. The latest was this extremely timely brown sugar Irish whiskey recipe that immediately got me thinking about St. Patrick’s Day coffee!

Our first Rhetoric Coffee delivery arrived a few days ago, so it seemed like the perfect brew for Irish coffees on St. Patrick’s Day. Inspired by the recipe Dani had sent my way, here’s our own version of Irish Coffee:

Read more…

March 17, 2017

announcing desi does pizza!

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I’ve been working on a new special, secret project for awhile, and on March 1, I brought it into the world. Desi Does Pizza is my ode to pizza perfection – I’ll feature reviews, recipes, interviews, news, and much more. I hope you’ll join me, or at least check out my interview with Toronto’s Newstalk 1010 from this past Monday!

If you’d like to keep up on social media, you can find me @desidoespizza on Twitter and Instagram, and on Facebook at the same name!

March 9, 2017

Saved By the Max: birthday dinner in Bayside!

Posted in Food, Living by

I turned 30 this year. A big birthday, for sure – especially for me. I had always had this inkling that I was going to die before I turned 30 (I know this is a very strange intuition to have, but I started feeling it when I was very young and it always kind of lingered.) I felt a little pressure to really make my birthday super memorable – to do something unique to commemorate the occasion. At first I considered recreating my 21st birthday (when I drove to Chicago with some of my friends – by midnight, I was so exhausted that I merely walked across the street to drink a cosmo at the bar with my best friend, then retreated to the hotel where I fell asleep as my under-21 friends partied around me) but in December, I got the email I had been dreaming of. Back in May, the Saved by the Max pop-up diner opened in Chicago – it was scheduled to close quite a few times, and I never made it. Around Christmas, they sent out an email that they were staying open for one more “semester,” and I excitedly bought tickets for Brendan and I for my birthday dinner.

When you walk in, you’re immediately in the locker hallway at Bayside – complete with Zack’s cell phone and rally posters. Ms. Bliss’ classroom is one of the tables, and you can even dine in Mr. Belding’s office. Saved by the Max even has the pay phone featured by the “door” of the diner.

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January 24, 2017