Interview with Airia Papadopoulos, sharing her story on using ketogenic nutrition to heal hormonal imbalances after giving birth to her children. We chat about the effects of childbirth on health, why Airia decided to start eating keto, how she’s adjusted keto to work for her body, and the beliefs/fears she had as she started eating more fat.
For podcast transcript, scroll down.
SHOW NOTES + LINKS
- Get the Keto Holiday Cookbook
- Try the free 7-day keto meal plan
- Subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcast app
- More from Airia Papdopoulos
- Reasons to go keto (24:23)
- Lifelong keto strategies (38:29)
- Keto misconceptions (49:36)
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TRANSCRIPT FOR THIS EPISODE
Leanne Vogel: You’re listening to episode number 12 of The Keto Diet Podcast. Hey, I’m Leanne from HealfulPursuit.com and this is The Keto Diet Podcast, where we’re busting through the restrictive mentality of a traditional ketogenic diet to uncover the life you crave. What’s keto? Keto is a low-carb, high-fat diet where we’re switching from a sugar-burning state to becoming fat burning machines. If you’re in need of keto recipe food prep inspiration, I’ve prepped a free seven-day keto meal plan, exclusive for podcast listeners. The plan is complete with a shopping list and everything you need to chow down on keto for seven whole days. Download your free copy at healthfulpursuit.com/ketomeal. Let’s get this party started.
Happy Sunday, everyone! For those celebrating Christmas, I hope that you are well into the holiday spirit and totally enjoying the days before the holiday. I love Christmas. I’m kind of bummed that we’re going away for Christmas because I really, really love snow during the holidays, but you know, shucks. That’s life. We’re going on a little vacation which I really, really, really, really need. Right now, currently, we are on our way to Disney World. We’re going to be spending a couple of days there. It’s Kevin’s first time at Disney. I’m so thrilled to be the one that is going to take him. I have a map. We have a schedule. We have everything booked. It’s going to be a tight timeline, but I really want him to see everything. For those that have been to Disney before, you understand how important it is to maintain a tight schedule to make sure that you see everything. Last time I went to Disney, my sister printed out a map and the schedule, and she had highlighters and pens and it really inspired me to do that this go around so we don’t miss anything. Last time I was at Disney, I started crying when I saw Belle so I’m like really down with the magic so it should be pretty interesting to see Kevin’s reaction to the whole thing.
The awesome thing this week is toasted coconut chips. This stuff is so good and its unsweetened. I don’t have a brand for you because I pick them up at Bulk Barn, which is a bulk store here in Canada. If any Canadians are listening, I highly recommend you go to Bulk Barn. Pick up the toasted coconut chips. They don’t have salt. They don’t have anything. They’re plain. What I love to do is add oil, salt, and it’s a delivery system for all of the extra fats. If you’re in the U.S. or other places, I’m sure Trader Joe’s has this. It seems like such a Trader Joe’s sort of thing. I highly recommend them, such a great snack.
In today’s episode, we’re going to be covering the reasons to go keto, when keto doesn’t work, lifelong keto strategies, and the misconceptions that come with a standard ketogenic diet. The show notes for today’s episode can be found at HealfulPursuit.com/podcast/E12, and let’s hear from one of our awesome partners.
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If you are in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season and you haven’t figured out what you’re going to be serving for your Christmas dinner, or maybe your New Year’s parties, I definitely recommend that you check out my keto holiday cookbook. You can get more details by going to healthfulpursuit.com/ketoholiday. I’ll include a link in the show notes. Maybe you’re totally sick of hearing about this book. I’m just really excited to be sharing it with you. It includes over 30 keto recipes to help make your holidays and special occasions low-carb, high-fat, grain-free, dairy-free, and paleo and also everyone’s going to love them. Again, that’s healthfulpursuit.com/ketoholiday. If you have an idea for a podcast episode or you want to submit praise over and above your review, which you can leave by going to healthfulpursuit.com/review, you can reach me by emailing email@example.com.
Today’s guest, her name is Airia, and she’s a wife and mother of two young girls and found her way to ketogenic nutrition to heal hormonal imbalances after giving birth to her two children. She has degrees from the University of California at Berkeley and the University of South Florida in Tampa, and is trained in public health, nutritional therapy and breast-feeding, and is currently a doctoral students studying nutritional anthropology. Airia is also a keto coach and has coached countless men and women with techniques and strategies for healthy eating, healthy living, and adapting a low-carb diet to work for them. Airia is one of our amazing admins on our private Facebook group, which you gain access to when you purchase any of my keto products, and she is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to understanding her body and knowing that keto can be flexible to what you need as an individual person. She’s living truth that you can go from a restrictive diet to really encouraging your body to speak to you and tell you what it needs in order to thrive. Without further ado, let’s cut over to the interview.
Hey, Airia, how are you doing?
Airia Papdopoulos: Hey, Leanne, how are you today?
Leanne Vogel: I’m fabulous. I’ve been looking forward to your interview forever.
Airia Papdopoulos: Thank you. I’m glad to be talking to you, too, sister.
Leanne Vogel: Yeah, totally. For people that don’t know you, can you give us a little bit of information about where you come from and what your deal is and your experience on keto?
Airia Papdopoulos: Yes, I will try to sum that up because there’s so much I could say there. Where do I start from? It’s funny because my introduction now is different than it would have been five, ten years ago. I am a full-time mother. I have two beautiful girls. One is five and going to be six in a couple of weeks. My other daughter is three and a half. I am a wife and I have a cat and fish and a home, and all this life stuff I’m taking care of. Years ago, my introduction would have been I am a doctoral student, which I actually still am. I was on the faculty at the University of South Florida here in Tampa Bay, and was hoping to be working towards finishing my degree in a tenure-track position and all of this professional plan stuff, and then I had kids and it just completely turned my life upside down, in a very good way but unexpected way.
What sort of brought me here is a long, windy journey from hormonal upset and problems that I had created in the past that I didn’t really realize I’d created when I started. I thought that I was doing everything as well as I could because I’ve always had an interest in health and wellness and taking care of myself. I’ve always kept up on the latest and greatest with health and nutrition in science, which is kind of funny because I was thinking back to like my very first diet book was… I don’t remember what the title was, but it was by Suzanne Somers and it was about food combining, and I remember, “Oh yeah, all my food combining and I’m going to eat my proteins and my vegetables and my fats separately from my carbs,” which I actually still kind of do right now.
I’ve always been interested in health and wellness and I’ve always, I thought, done things right, and it turns out that I have taken some detours along the way, some at the guidance and advice, unfortunately, of my medical doctors that have gotten me to a pretty sticky place which is how I found my way to ketogenic nutrition.
Leanne Vogel: Cool, and so what enticed you about keto? What was it that you were like, “This is interesting?”
Airia Papdopoulos: Yeah, well you know eating keto, I mean it wasn’t something that I had found my to naturally. My history coming back from prior to eating keto was that I was vegan for several years, and I’m even going to back up before that and tell you where this all really started. Starting with eating keto, it was a bit challenging because there’s all this meat and all these animal products, and this was so not what I had been doing when I was vegan and raw vegan and all. Let me back way, way up. Back in 1993 when I was a sophomore in college, and I’m going to tie this in. There’s a reason I’m going back this far.
I was 18 and my roommates and I… One of my roommates was taking birth control pills and was telling the others of us about how wonderful it was because it was balancing her menstrual cycle, it was “regulating” her hormones, it was clearing her acne, and she made it sound so wonderful that the four of us decided together we were going to go on birth control pills. I knew nothing about what I was doing, except that I had pretty crazy menstrual cycles and I didn’t really have the best skin, and this sounded like a simple fix. I remember going down to the student health center with the girls and we all did this, and we were all so excited. I stayed on birth control pills from 1993, so when I was 18, I don’t remember now what the year was, but I was 33 years old when I stopped taking them.
Leanne Vogel: Wow.
Airia Papdopoulos: I didn’t miss a month. I did miss it for 15 years. The reason I finally stopped taking birth control pills was because I decided that I was ready to have a baby, and if I had just… Boy, if I had I known and I’ve gone back in my head. If I had asked better questions of my doctors, if I had done the history and the study and the research myself, I might’ve come to understand that there are bigger effects of birth control pills on woman’s body than just helping to regulate her menstrual cycle, clearing up acne, things like that, but I didn’t ask those questions so I was on birth control pills for years. When I got to be 33 years old and decided that I was ready to have a baby, I figured, you know, you spent all this time trying to not have a baby, so I thought, “Boy, I’m going to go off these pills and I’m going to be pregnant like the next month,” so I was actually surprised. That tells you how little I really knew about my body.
I was actually surprised when a month later I was not pregnant, and in two months later I wasn’t pregnant, and then six months later I wasn’t pregnant. By the time I got to almost a year after being on birth control pills and wasn’t pregnant, I thought, “Oh my gosh, maybe there’s something wrong.” Why wouldn’t I be able to get pregnant? It’s something that should’ve happened more easily, and this is when I began to really sort of investigate what happens with woman’s hormones in my body, what taking birth control pills long-term can do. For me, what happened was… and this is because I took different types of birth control pills. I took some that were higher in estrogen, high in progesterone, no estrogen at all but again, never missed a month. What it does, what I discovered, and you also I know had a conversation with Doctor… I think it’s Doctor Uzzi a couple weeks ago.
Leanne Vogel: Yeah.
Airia Papdopoulos: It was beautiful, where he was saying that synthetic hormones act really differently in the body than bio-identical hormones do. Synthetic hormones can reduce the body’s natural ability to produce hormones on its own. I didn’t realize that taking synthetic hormones for 15 years could make it so that my body might not be able to produce its hormones, and since I’ve been off birth control pills and have been through having kids, I now know with having menstrual cycles… Hello, guys. I bet you’re really enjoying this part of the conversation, but you know having menstrual cycles without birth control pills, my body has enough estrogen, but I am not able to produce enough progesterone on my own. My DHEA levels are wonky. My testosterone has been all over the place. These are things that are the result taking birth control pills for all these years. I’ll come back to why this is related to keto, but that’s number one.
Number two is, somewhere in there while I was still on my pills and still working really hard and being a professional and not interested in having kids yet, I found veganism and I was so excited. Let me tell you. I was going to be eating a diet that was going to make me the healthiest, super-amazing person on the planet. I was already pretty lean anyway. I’m 5’10”. My weight fluctuates between 135, 145 pounds. Now I’m about 140 to 145 but I wear about a size 6, sometimes a size 8. I’ve not really had big concerns about my body size or my clothing or how I look or anything, but wanting to just be healthy and fit, and veganism seemed to be the way to do it. I remember weight training pretty heavy for a while and at the time that I was weight training, I was eating a very high-protein diet and carb loading on weekends. Don’t even ask me why was doing this. I was not trying to professionally compete or whatever but somehow or other, I found myself doing that.
Anyway, and then I found veganism and said, “I’m going to stop all that animal products and protein,” which by the way was still low-fat. I went from high-protein, low-fat, to like vegan low-fat so I wasn’t eating any cholesterol. I wasn’t eating fat. I was eating lots of plants, which can be really good for you, lots of carbs, lots of legumes, lots of legumes my goodness, and was not giving my body some of the building blocks that it needs, like cholesterol, to build hormones. I didn’t know, again, any of this because all I got was that being vegan, being raw vegan, even for a while I dabbled with being a fruitarian, but all of this was so great and healthy for the body. I ended up finding out, unfortunately, that this wasn’t working well for me when my teeth started splitting.
Leanne Vogel: Oh my gosh.
Airia Papdopoulos: I came away from that pretty quickly and it was a bit of a shock to my body when I introduced animal products as quickly as I did, but this is yet another contributor to what was happening with my hormones. My hormones had already been in balance for a number of years and then I added veganism on top of it, and this is not to say that being vegan is terrible. The way that I implemented veganism wasn’t right for my body, so then there’s that. Anyway, fast-forward. I’m off birth control pills. I finally get things together. I’m no longer strictly vegan. I finally get pregnant, and I have my first daughter, and I didn’t have the, well I won’t go into the details, but I didn’t have the birth experience with my daughter that I was hoping to have. I ended up being in labor for two days. It was very painful. They induced labor over a couple of days and it was not what I wanted it to be. By the time I had my daughter though, just to paint a picture of the scene, I had been awake for two days. I felt like I was falling apart at the seams. I was so wiped out, as every woman is after you have a baby.
I was so determined still to breastfeed my daughter. I didn’t want her to get any bottles. I didn’t want her to get a bottle of formula or breast milk. I wanted it to be me and because I didn’t have the birth experience I wanted, I was really determined to make the nursing experience what I wanted it to be. I’m going to tie this into keto, don’t worry. I was really determined to make this the experience I wanted it to be so after I gave birth, I think I slept for maybe two or three hours and then I was up nursing her. I was up for two days and then was up every couple hours nursing her, and I did this around the clock for months. I can’t even tell you how long because I was so fatigued and kind of lost my mind a bit there. If you don’t get the sleep that you need to recover from childbirth and you don’t get the sleep that you need to recover, even from the months being pregnant, it can do things to affect further your hormones.
My hormones at this point were already pretty wonky from years of birth control and then not eating the proper diet, so now compounded on top of this was not getting the rest that I needed. My cortisol levels suddenly became inverted. My night and my day were completely twisted, and I didn’t know what any of this was. I just knew that I was up every two to three hours to feed my kid. Nighttime and daytime seemed like they were the same to me, except that I would get a burst of energy at night and then during the day, I was wiped out but I had to get up. I didn’t have a choice and I never really recovered.
My sleep, even once my daughter didn’t need to wake up to nurse, I would still wake up a couple times at night and I didn’t realize that this was a problem until I was pregnant with my second daughter, now two and a half years later. I had a conversation with a girlfriend of mine who said, “Oh, I know what you mean. I gave birth just a couple months ago and I still can’t sleep through the night. I have insomnia.” I said, “You don’t have insomnia. That’s just a normal thing for us mothers to go through,” and she said, “Oh no, by the time your kid hits,” whatever it was, “six months old or something, you should be sleeping through the night when your children are sleeping through the night.” That was the first time I heard that I had chronic insomnia.
For years, I had gotten used to waking up a couple hours at night, and then it just got worse from there. I had my second daughter and with my second child, I gave birth at home. This was the birth experience I wanted. It was beautiful. It was quick. Oh my goodness. My daughter was almost 10 pounds, and this was all-natural childbirth, but it was exactly what I wanted it to be. There were some things that were problematic with the birth, and sorry to have to give more details, but one of the things that happened was that I had a low placenta. One of the things that happens if you give birth with a low placenta is that the woman will lose a lot of blood. I lost quite a bit of blood with the second birth and we knew that it was going to happen, but I didn’t understand that there could be other physical effects in the body.
My pituitary gland has shrunk a little bit, known as Sheehan syndrome. There are other indicators as well, but when your pituitary gland loses some of its function, the pituitary controls the thyroid. The research side of me is still fascinated by all of this, even though it’s terrible to be happening in the body. The pituitary gland helps to control the thyroid, if my understanding is right, and it tells the thyroid to do things like produce thyroid hormones, so thyroid-stimulating hormone that the signal to do that comes from the pituitary gland. If your pituitary gland is not functioning well enough, then your thyroid’s ability to respond is going to be a bit diminished. There are other symptoms as well, but this is yet another thing that was adding to my hormonal imbalance. My goodness, there was so much that was going on.
Leanne Vogel: A whole mess, yeah.
Airia Papdopoulos: Yeah, it was a mess and it felt like it. After having my children, I know a number of mothers and we’ve had these conversations about how you have kids, and sometimes you have kids and you feel wiped out all the time, and you feel like you can’t recover your sleep. You feel like you can’t recover your energy. I used to think that this was just going to be a normal happening, that I’ve had kids and now I’m just going to be exhausted forever, but I’ve come to understand that it doesn’t have to be that way. My mother is in her 60s and she didn’t deal with any of this after she gave birth to my sister and me, so all this hormonal upset and imbalance that I was experiencing, thinking this is just normal for women after having children, after, you know, this is just what it is for me. This was not going on for my mother and for some women in my family, and that was when I began to really look into this and try to figure out what I was going to do.
The last thing that happened was that my diet, I’d really been struggling with my diet after high-protein and then being vegan and all. After having my second daughter, I started having real digestive trouble. I’d had a little digestive trouble here and there, but I could ignore it. I started having real problems like I felt like I was having a heart attack. It sounds like I’m being dramatic, but I can’t think of any other way to describe acid reflux and GERD. I mean I would be doubled over in pain. I didn’t know what was happening and it wasn’t an experience that I’d had before. I didn’t have anything to compare it to so I thought I was having a heart attack.
I mentioned it to my midwife after having my daughter so she was just maybe a month old and she said, “Oh yeah, you’re having gallbladder issues. You’re going to need to start taking enzymes with your food.” I said, “Did childbirth create a gallbladder issue? I’ve never heard of this before,” and she said, “Sometimes it happens to women after giving birth because their hormone levels get exacerbated. You get very, very high estrogen levels and congesterone. Everything gets elevated during pregnancy and the high hormone levels can also cause imbalances in the gallbladder. Just take enzymes with your meals and everything is going to be fine.” I thought, “Okay, well that’s fine,” but then I began to notice other things after having my second daughter as well.
I suddenly had food sensitivities that I’d never had before. I couldn’t tolerate grains the same way. I couldn’t tolerate dairy products the same way. I couldn’t tolerate legumes. I was vegan and that was the mainstay of my diet was beans for a while, and I couldn’t tolerate legumes. One day I was washing dishes with the same dish soap that I’d had. It had a really strong floral fragrance to it. Wash my hands with the dish soap and broke out. Broke out into hives, and the hives were so bad they covered my entire body. I went to go see a dermatologist because I thought I had suddenly developed a skin condition and she said, “Oh yeah, you’re probably allergic to fragrance. You need to stay away from products that have scent in them,” and I’m like, “This is insane. Doesn’t that sound insane to you? This has never been a problem for me before. I’ve used this soap for years.” “No, no, no, it’s a very common thing and these types of things happen to women, particularly after you have children. You’re getting older. It’s a normal thing.”
I’m finding myself becoming further limited now. I’m not going to eat certain foods. I’m not going to use scented dish soaps or lotions. What else am I going to do to restrict myself to keep myself safe? Also, I was very concerned that I might be falling apart. Why was all this stuff happening? This is a very long way of saying this is what led me to ketogenic nutrition. I basically sat down after meditating, and meditating quietly and then also sort of praying like, “What the heck? Please solve this for me because I don’t know what’s going on.” I sat down at my computer and Googled “best diet to heal hormones,” and I found keto and that was really what got me started.
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Leanne Vogel: That’s so great, and then so once you started on the keto path because you have a very interesting history and thank you so much for sharing all of that. Once you start on that path, I know that you had a goal weight in mind and, you know, you were working toward hormone recovery as well as balancing your weight set point. How did you go about hitting your goal and then maintaining that?
Airia Papdopoulos: I wasn’t too concerned about my weight, even though I’d given birth now to two girls and my weight was probably about 170 pounds and I said that I’d lived around 135, 140, 145, so I was a few pounds up from where I had been pre-pregnancy, but I wasn’t too concerned about it at this point because I had other issues now. I was having acid reflux every time I ate. I would randomly have little pains, gallbladder pains here and there, and then they’d seem to go away. I was suddenly reacting to foods that I hadn’t been reacting to, and suddenly reacting to fragrances and scents, so I had different things that I wanted to heal. When I came to ketosis, I thought, “Well, this will help balance and heal my hormones and that’s really what I need, so let me just jump in and do whatever it takes to get myself in this keto place, whatever it means, and we’ll just see what happens.”
What I did was find some videos on YouTube, as many of us have done, and saw one person who said, “The way to be in ketosis is to limit your carbohydrates to 20 grams or less per day. You have to limit your protein consumption as well. You have to eat as much fat as you can. That’s how to be in ketosis. Your body is going to naturally balance the hormones. You’re going to also lose any excess body fat that you have and I thought, “Well, I can do that.” I know how to be restrictive with my eating. I’ll just do whatever it takes to get myself into that space, not worried, again, about the weight, but let’s heal my body.” June 1st, 2015 is when I started. This was day one of me eating a ketogenic diet and within maybe a week and a half, I felt worse than I did before eating keto and thought, “I don’t understand what the problem is. I’m doing everything that the protocol says that I should do. I’m having lots of coconut. I’m having spinach. I’m having avocado.”
I was unfamiliar at the time with the concept of histamine intolerance, but I was reacting to all these wonderful foods that are low in carbohydrates and high in fiber and high in fats and proteins, and really good for many people in ketosis, but not good if you’re someone who has leaky gut issues, if you’re someone who has any type of gut dysbiosis or any of the other imbalances that I was dealing with with my histamine and fragrance and allergies and sensitivities and all the stuff. I didn’t realize it so I found myself a keto coach. My keto coach said, “Your carbs are where they should be. Your protein levels should stay nice and low, your fat should stay high, but you’re going to have to stop eating these foods that are high in histamine and salicylates.” I didn’t know what any of those were so I looked them up as well.
Then what I ended up doing was eating an even more restricted diet, so now I’m eating two or three ounces per meal of protein. I’m eating maybe one to two cups of cruciferous vegetables or other vegetables that were low in histamine, low in salicylates, and then I’m pouring the fat on my plate and I thought, “This is going to do it. I’m going to being ketosis. I’m going to lean out. My hormones are going to get healed. I’m going to stop being itchy. I’m going to stop having my histamine reactions. I’m just going to get well and I can stick this out. I can do this.” I was hungry. It was weird. I felt like I was limiting myself, but I was determined to make it work. My husband walked past my plate one day. He walked past me when I was sitting down eating and he said, “It doesn’t look like there’s… ” and I had just sat down so it was a full plate. He said, “It doesn’t look like there’s enough food on the plate. I’d be starving if I were you,” and he walked away. Man, I burst into tears.
I absolutely fell apart and I thought, “Okay, well I’m going to have to figure out a way to make this work because I really want to heal,” but I’m not someone who does really well with being hungry. Listen, it’s just not my thing, and so we’ll come back to that later because I’m glad I finally found the way around that as well. I just was very concerned about how I was going to heal all of this, how I was going to make this work and be in ketosis, but still feel as well as the promise of ketosis is. I did find a way to do it. I did manage to get my glucose levels dropped. We did get my ketone levels high and having high ketone levels, I thought, “Okay, this is it. This is the solution.” Well, it turns out that there are few things that having high ketone levels don’t do. It doesn’t necessarily mean, number one, that your body is going to lose lot of weight, and I think one of the problems, one of the misnomers… and I’m an admin in your Facebook group but I’m an admin in a couple of different groups and I have a lot of conversations with women, with some of my own clients as well, about ketosis.
I think there’s a misconception that keeping your carbohydrates really low and keeping your protein levels, not just moderate, but even low to moderate and eating plenty of fat is going to get you into ketosis and drop your body fat and keep your metabolism rocking and heal hormones and do all these things, and I think there are dangers with it because, you know, someone can use a ketogenic protocol just like you would use any other dietary protocol. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re going to starve yourself, you can starve yourself eating a little protein and a little vegetables and a lot of fat, or you can starve yourself eating rice cakes. There are lots of ways to do it, I just think that figuring out the way to eat the right amount of food for your body is really important.
I went through a lot of these struggles early on. How much should eat? How do I figure out how to make this work? There are a number of different groups on Facebook. I’m someone who tends to do my research. I’m an anthropologist in my training and also have a degree in public health, so to study the science, to study the data is important to me, but I also really like anecdote. I like blogs. I like people’s individual experiences and there was a lot of great experience expressed in some of the Facebook groups. I came across a Facebook group of people who were the lowest carbs that you could possibly be. They weren’t just low-carb, they were zero carb, and I had never heard of eating a zero-carb diet. I didn’t know what that meant.
There were people in the group who were eating animal products only. They were eating meat, they were eating dairy, they were eating eggs, but they were not eating anything that came from the plant kingdom, so no vegetables, no fiber, no fruits, let alone grains or legumes or pastas or any other sugar or other “crazy foods” like that. This was something that sounded interesting to me. I think the reason I was so compelled was because they ate unlimited quantities of fatty protein and I was not allowing myself to have unlimited anything at this point. I was limiting my carbs. I was limiting my protein. I would have fat, but there’s only so much fat you can eat and quite frankly, when you have a digestive problem and gallbladder issues, there’s only so much of the fat that your body is really going to be able to tolerate in each sitting anyway, even with the enzymes, which I discovered later but we’ll come back to it.
Anyway, eating a zero-carb diet was something that I tried and I was encouraged to eat as much fatty protein as I could stomach. I did that. It worked really well for me. I hit my goal weight within a couple months, didn’t take very long. I was eating three meals a day, probably as much as 23 to 2500 calories a day of mostly fatty beef, breakfast, lunch and dinner. If I wanted a snack, I could have it but honestly, when you’re eating a couple pounds of meat a day, how can you have room for snacks? I didn’t have room for snacks and I felt pretty good. I hit my goal weight and then I had to figure out what I was going to do because it was never really my intention to be so limited. I had already become so limited and so reductionist in my living, I was now down to just eating fatty meats and staying away from any fragrance and staying away from, you know, just all kinds of stuff.
It just wasn’t the way that I want it to be so I realized I was going to have to revamp what I was doing and figure out how to make this a life-long strategy, and that was actually when I found you. That was actually when I came across Fat Fueled, so your timing was perfect. Let me tell you, lady, because I really needed to be given permission to listen to my body and to eat in a way that was going to be functional for my life, not just following the protocol that said, “This is how we do it. This is what the bible says about being in ketosis. This is what the bible says about being zero carb. This is what the bible says about veganism,” or about any other nutrition strategy. I hadn’t given myself permission to say, “This is Airia’s bible, written by Airia. This is Airia’s strategy that’s going to work for Airia.” When I came across Fat Fueled, it really changed my whole thinking about how to do this.
Leanne Vogel: That’s so awesome and I’m so happy that my work came to you at the perfect moment because had you found it when you first started keto, you probably wouldn’t have… like given where you were at, you probably would’ve been like, “Yeah, yeah, that’s not going to work for me.”
Airia Papdopoulos: Yeah, I wouldn’t have been open to it because I was looking for… I mean your strategies are open. There’s this flexibility. I mean what a concept of being flexible with your own nutritional protocol. I’m used to having a protocol and following it, and this comes from my background doing research. You have a protocol, you have whatever it is and you follow it, and this has been tested in other populations, so you know that it’s going to be applicable and replicable in your own life. Well, it turns out that if I cut my carbs really low and my protein really low, I’m definitely going to produce high ketones. Is that what’s going to feel best in my body? No, okay. I can fast, and we can talk about fasting too because it’s one of the things that naturally happen to me.
When I was in ketosis, I was still a little bit hungry but my hunger had changed. My hunger signals had changed so I thought, “You know, maybe I can really go longer stretches without eating,” because old diet mentality told me that the less you eat and the longer you go without eating, the more weight your body is going to lose and I was really pumped about trying to figure out how to hold onto that and make it work. I discovered that, yeah, that you do actually have to fuel your body. You do actually have to feed your body and fasting came naturally, but the way that I was doing it initially just didn’t work for me. Some of the freedom that I got from Fat Fueled in the profiles was that I could find a way to eat that was going to really work for me long term, and did it have to be zero carb? No. Did it have to be all carbs, all the time? No. Did it have to be 20 grams of carbohydrates a day or only five grams of carbohydrates in a mean? No.
Here’s one of the things that I discovered. Once I hit my goal weight, I got pretty comfortable and I decided if I’m going to do this long-term, let’s just test some things out. I had been testing ketone levels and blood glucose levels pretty regularly. I don’t do that anymore unless I’m trying something new. It’s still just kind of a fun thing to do. One of the things I discovered was that I decided I was going to, after eating zero carb, I decided I was going to incorporate some vegetables back into my diet so I figured out which vegetables work well for me and which vegetables don’t suit me. It turns out that there are some plants I don’t really react as well to, but there are others that work really nicely for me. I can’t tell you why.
I’m having a little bit of a love affair with sweet potatoes, which is kind of a weird thing to say for somebody who’s in ketosis, but it’s true. Just a little bit seems to work really beautifully for me. There were some foods I wanted to be able to have and so trying to figure out how to work it, I have tried different strategies of eating as much, for instance, fatty protein as I want. That was something I picked up from the zero-carb lifestyle that I will never let go of. I understand now that for me, that is a key to feeling well. It’s important for my brain. It’s important for my sleep. It’s important for my satiety. It just feels really well for me so I’ll let myself have as much fatty protein in a meal as I want to have. If there is a vegetable that I want to have, I let myself eat as much of the vegetables I want.
Then I have tried things like, as you suggest, trying a little bit of a carb up. I tried having, because I’m loving sweet potatoes, I tried having a quarter cup of sweet potatoes with my dinner meal, my evening meal, and I usually have dinner about 5: 00 or 5: 30, and the next morning when I got up and tested my ketones, my ketone levels were 0.6% the first time I tested, 0.6 milliliters per liter, which for people who are not familiar with this, it’s an indication that I was in nutritional ketosis. If you have between 0.5 and 3.0 milliliters of ketones per liter of blood in your body, that’s considered to be an ideal level for being in ketosis. I was in nutritional ketosis after having carbs the night before and I thought, “That goes against what everyone says.”
They say that if you eat carbs, you can’t be in ketosis. I don’t understand what’s happening here but the more I tested, I figured out I don’t have to keep my protein too limited. I can still be in nutritional ketosis. Do I have to limit my carbs? Yes, but I don’t limit my carbs every meal of every day. If I feel like having some sweet potatoes or blueberries or whatever, whatever the carb is, white potatoes, I’ll let myself have a little bit, usually in my evening meal, usually after 5: 00 PM just works better for me. I’ll have a little bit with my dinner meal and then I get up the next day and I keep rocking and rolling, and I’m in ketosis and everything is great.
Leanne Vogel: Which people say that that won’t work, those millimoles per liter will go down when you eat carbs and then you’re not in ketosis anymore, but I mean your little experiment showed that you could continue to eat keto and have the carbs that you needed and still totally rock your life.
Airia Papdopoulos: Yeah, and it works really nicely for me. Again, I’m not testing all the time, but I’m not doing this every day. I figure out what it is that I need to have that day and that’s what I go with, and it may be that the strategies that I’m using… and I have a couple of lifelong strategies that do you mind if I just share, if I share what it is that I’m doing now?
Leanne Vogel: Yes, please share your lifelong strategies and then I’d love to ask you about the misconceptions in our Facebook group and, you know, the misconceptions of keto because you touched on that a bit, but yes, definitely lifelong strategies. Let’s do it.
Airia Papdopoulos: Okay, so one of the things that I learned, again, from the Fat Fueled profiles, is how important it is to be flexible and so I’m flexible even as I go day to day. On a normal day, like even we can take today as an example, most mornings I will start my day with I’m drinking my… I’ve got my glass of tea right here. Actually, I’m going to take a quick sip.
Leanne Vogel: Me, too.
Airia Papdopoulos: I always have my tea with me, hot tea or cold tea, and I usually will have a fatty coffee or a fatty tea as well, and by fatty coffee or fatty tea, I mean that sometimes I will make a rocket fuel latte, and you have great recipes on your website and also in your books. Sometimes I will take a decaf coffee or decaf tea and simply add some MCT oil or coconut oil or gi or rocket cal butter, or whatever it is that I feel like adding, and a little bit of Stevia because that works well for me. There’s fat in my drink without any carbs or any protein.
Let’s bring fasting into this also. Some people believe that fasting that is only a true fast, that you are only truly fasting if you are not ingesting any calories. I don’t subscribe to that because for me personally, the benefit of fasting is autophagy, which is the process of cellular regeneration which for people who are new to this concept, when you are not ingesting any carbohydrates or any protein, the body is able to go in and basically clean the junk matter out of your cells. It will go in and recycle old junk, and it’s a great way of healing, getting rid of old, dying, deformed cells in the body and healing your body. It’s a really good, wonderful process.
Eating fat doesn’t disrupt that so I will usually start my day with some fat and then break my fast, what I consider breaking my fast, with a meal of lots of protein, lots of fat if I feel like it, vegetables or no vegetables, just depending upon how I feel at the moment around lunchtime, which for me is maybe noon, maybe one, just depending upon when I’m hungry. I’m usually not hungry through the afternoon because when I break that fast, girl let me tell you, I’m probably eating half a pound of meat, sometimes more. I’ll add a couple tablespoons of fat to it so I’m getting plenty of calories and it’s enough to tell my body, “Even though we went along period without eating, we are definitely getting lots of calories so we can do all the functions processes that we need to.”
I won’t have anything usually during the afternoon, or maybe I’ll have a tea or something else, just depends. For dinner, I will have more protein. If I don’t feel like having any kind of starches or anything, then I’ll have protein and vegetables and fat. If I do you feel like having a starch, then I’ll have protein and a little starch and vegetables, and I won’t add the fat to it. That’s usually what I do. I usually start my day with fat. I have protein and vegetables midday if I feel like the vegetables, otherwise just protein midday, and then I’ll have a little carbs or a lot of vegetables or whatever it is at night. I switch it up. If I feel like eating something in the morning, I can do that. I can do whatever it is that Airia feels like doing, rather than, again, trying to stick to some random protocol.
Fasting, I want to talk about fasting because that’s the second strategy for me. Flexibility is really important, and the second has been fasting. I started trying to fast probably two months into eating ketogenic last year because when my hunger changed… and this is, again, I’m coming from a high carbohydrate, you know, vegan-for-a-while diet. My hunger, I mean I was so hypoglycemic if I didn’t eat something within three hours, I would start getting itchy and cranky. By the time four hours happened, I was ready to faint.
I remember one time going to an event and not being able to eat for six hours and I was slumped over, thinking I’m going to die and no one is going to realize that I’m dying because I haven’t eaten any food. “How can this be happening? This is the worst thing ever.” I’d heard of people forgetting to eat and I thought, “What’s the matter with those people? How can you forget to eat?” It’s crazy. Then suddenly I would randomly not be hungry. You know, what do you mean I forgot lunch and it’s 2: 45? I didn’t eat and I’m okay even though I was, at the time, still eating smaller portions of food. Ketones have a wonderful way of fueling the body. They give your body a nice, even source of energy and I had a nice, even source of energy so I’d go a little while without eating and it was really cool. It was fun to be able to experiment.
Well, there’s a lot of conversation out there that says that fasting operates differently for women than it does for men, and this is one of the conversations that comes up in your Facebook group. I’ve experimented a lot. I’ve read a lot about it and also have been counseling some clients through it, and here’s what works well for me. Every day, I’m done eating dinner around 5: 30 or 6: 00 PM. I fast until about noon the next day, a little later, a little earlier, but I have about an 18-hour fast built into my day because, again, I don’t count the fat. I don’t count the fat calories and I might or might not have the fat in the morning.
The last time I have protein and carbs is in the evening about 5: 30 or 6: 00 and the next time I have protein carbs or protein to break the fast is about noon the next day, so 18-hour fast built into each day. When I break my fast, I feast. I don’t say, “Okay, I haven’t eaten anything for 18 hours. Let’s see what’s the least amount of food that I can eat now to try to keep this going. I’m going to have two eggs. I’m going to have half a piece of bacon. I’m going to eat a bite of avocado. Look, I fasted 18 hours and then I ate 200 calories.” That I think is the major downfall. It’s the major problem that people keep running into with why fasting doesn’t tend to work.
When you break your fast, when I break my fast, I break my fast. I could rival any man I’ve ever seen with eating food when I break my fast, and that’s one of the wonderful things that I learned from eating zero crab. I just took the limitations off my protein and fat consumption and went for it, let myself have as much as I want. Actually, what’s funny is that for a while, I was trying to get comfortable with eating as little as I could with each meal. Now I try to eat as much as I can. I eat lunch. I eat dinner. With each of those two meals, I put as much nutrient-dense food into my body as I can.
Now, as an aside, one of the side effects of all of the stuff with my gallbladder pain and everything was that I ended having my gallbladder removed this past summer, so that through a little bit of a monkey wrench into this, but not as much as I would’ve expected. What the gallbladder does is it provides the body concentrated amount of bile, and the bile squirts out when you eat fat and it helps the body to be able to wash and break down the fats that you’re eating. When you don’t have a gallbladder, you don’t have as much concentrated bile but the duct that used to connect from the gallbladder, deliver to the gallbladder, to your intestines, it just connects directly from the liver so your body is still getting a slower but steady stream of the bile, and all of that is to say you can still eat fat. Sometimes you just have to adjust it a little bit.
You might need some enzymes, you might need a little help to support your fat digestion, but once I sort of got that figured out and made sure to load up on probiotics and other things to help support my digestion, I don’t have any problems eating large meals. I’ll eat a great big huge meal and break my fast and feel excellent, and it’s a way that I’m able to fast every day. I don’t think you have to fast every day, but I don’t think it’s problematic when you deviate when you need to so you keep yourself flexible and you eat enough food to sustain your activities.
The third lifelong strategy for me is exercising. I’m not exercising at the moment. This is holiday season and I just have a lot going on, but I don’t consider exercise to be a strategy for weight loss or fat burning. I consider it to be a strategy for muscle conditioning, for cardiovascular fitness, for developing your breathing system and helping the skin be able to sweat and detoxify and everything else, but I don’t think of it as being a way for weight loss. It’s also a really good way to be centered and calm, and be connected to your body. I do yoga I do walking when I feel like being a strong, badass babe, I’ll swing a cattle bell or lift some heavy weights, but I do it in a way that works with my body. If I’m sick, for instance, I’m not going to train because my body needs that energy to get well.
If I am fasting, some people will fast and train. I’m not a big fan of that. I think walking fasted is okay, but you know any type of exercise increases the nutrient demands in the body and if you are doing that demanding work and fasting, for some people it can be complicated. If you’re going to do that right before you break your fast, that’s one thing, but I think if you’re going to… You’ve been fasting 12 hours and then you want to hit the weights and then go another 12 hours, it can make things more complicated. If I’m going to exercise, I do whatever it is that I need to do and I make sure that I feed my body to fuel its exercise as well.
The fourth is that I have some stress-reducing strategies, and I have suggested this. I started off just suggesting it with clients you mentioned to me that they were having specific emotional eating issues, but now it’s just the standard for me. Everyone journals. I journal. I believe in journaling. I think that journaling is a wonderful way to get in touch with your heart and how you were feeling, and if you journal even when you don’t need to, I think that when something pops up, journaling will be what you’ll turn to. It’s just a good way to become connected to whatever thoughts are in your head, what’s going on with you. You get to know yourself better and sometimes if you are better connected to your head and your heart, you won’t go in search of food when you start feeling badly because you’ll be better connected to what’s going on.
Leanne Vogel: Totally. Those are beautiful lifelong strategies and I think that they can be so, so powerful.
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Leanne Vogel: One of the things that you touched on with fasting, I know that we chat about this so much in the Facebook group, because we only have a couple more minutes, I was hoping we could go through some of the misconceptions based on… you know, you mentioned that you’re an admin in a bunch of different Facebook groups. What do you see as misconceptions in keto? We talked about the carb ups and how, you know, when you do a little carb up, your body gets right back into ketosis, no big deal. We talked about fasting and your approach with that. I know that there’s a lot of misconception around men and women and the differences between our bodies, and a lot of men will say like, “What’s wrong with you? Just do what we do and it’ll be great,” and women are saying like, “No, this doesn’t work.” What other kinds of things are you seeing?
Airia Papdopoulos: Well, I think that women are most likely to come to a ketogenic protocol because they want to lose weight, not to say that men don’t, but the history of what women are frequently indoctrinated with about weight loss usually looks like diet and exercise until you can’t stand up straight, and that’s how your body is going to lose whatever the weight is. Almost every woman I know thinks that she needs to lose 10 pounds, even women who look to be underweight. We all have experience with dieting. We know that looks like. When I first found my way to keto, one of the things I was told to do was to find a keto calculator, which many of the keto calculators will say figure out what your goal weight is, which let’s say 140 pounds for me. You will multiply that goal weight by 10, and 1400 calories is the amount of calories that you should be eating in order to hit your goal weight.
I think that there are a number of women that are following old advice like this, probably men as well, people who are following old advice like this thinking, “If I just cut my calories enough, long enough, and perhaps even couple it with eating low-carb all the time and keeping my protein limited all the time, and maybe not even eating too much dietary fat so that my body can burn it’s body fat as well, and then add some exercise on top of that, I’m just going to lose 20 pounds in a week and I’m going to look fantastic.” That’s insane and what people don’t consider is… I’m going to take this wonderful analogy from Jason Fung.
He talks about a coal plant. Let’s say that there’s a coal plant and there is coal that comes in on the conveyor belt and it turns. There’s lots of high pressure on the coal and on the other side, the conveyor belt spits out diamonds. If you’re spitting out 2,000 diamonds a day and you go from taking in 2,000 pieces of coal a day to taking in 1,000 pieces of coal a day, for a little while, your body is going to continue to spit out 2,000 diamonds a day because at some point, it thinks that it’s going to get the big shipment that’s going to come in. It just thinks it’s going to.
Eventually, your body gets… It’s savvy. It’s going to catch on. If you cut your calories low, your body will eventually cut your metabolism as well and it will just start turning out the lights. “Oh my goodness, why am I losing my hair? Why is my menstrual cycle gone? Why am I having difficulty regulating my body’s temperature?” There are a number of signs that people display of, essentially, starvation mode and they don’t really consider that doing too much at one time is dangerous so I think that’s probably the biggest misconception.
Leanne Vogel: I think, too, with the flexibility of the protocol, you know we chatted about your lifelong strategies and when you woke up to the fact that after all of the protein things that you were doing, you were like, “Wait a minute, this Fat Fueled thing,” and that’s kind of where I woke up, too. I was doing this like very, very restrictive keto protocol. It wasn’t working for me. I was feeling like garbage, although I looked great.
Airia Papadopoulos: Oh yeah.
Leanne Vogel: Oh great. I totally looked great, but I felt like hot garbage. There really needs to be that flexibility with the protocol, and that’s personally what I see constantly as being an issue all the time, is that people are like, “But I was told to eat 20 grams of carbohydrates, period,” but really listening to your body, and that can be really hard. Quickly, is there… you chatted about journaling and meditation. Has there been a way that you’ve… or a strategy that you can share with people on how you have connected to your body more closely?
Airia Papdopoulos: Well, one of the things that I have done with all of the different… I’ve done a lot of, you know, and have won experiments over the years of my life, but also specifically related to keto nutrition. It’s been nice to be able to eat and then see how I feel after doing it. I thought that I would just try zero carb and see if that works and see how it feels, and when it stops feeling well, I’m okay saying, “You know what? I’m done with that at the moment. Now I need a sweet potato,” and I’ll just go and have a sweet potato. Okay, how did that feel? “Yeah, I think that felt okay.” Now I’m going to go eat a bunch of cauliflower and a bunch of fiber. “Okay, you know what? I think I’ve had enough fiber. I don’t really need them. I’m going to have a fat fast today,” or, “I’m just going to have a water fast today.”
I check in with myself and I’m connected enough with my body, and I think journaling helps it as well so that I’m able to look back and say, “You know, this is fine for today. This is fine for the moment, and now here’s something else I want to try,” and I’m flexible enough that if I try something and it doesn’t work, I don’t throw in the towel. If you eat something and your ketone levels drop away, you know, it doesn’t take very much to get back into nutritional ketosis when you keep your carbs low. The next day you’ll wake up and guess what? You get a do over. You can start over again.
Leanne Vogel: That’s a really good point, too. I think in that dieting mentality, it’s like, “Well, I screwed it up now so I may as well just eat all the things for the next week and then start again on Monday.” That’s something that I struggled with as well, and now it’s just like every moment I have an opportunity to feel good and okay, well that thing that I just did, didn’t make me feel good. Okay, next time I won’t do that thing or I’ll change it. It’s really that all or nothing mentality I think as well, of just you know, if my ketones dropped, well now I’m not even in ketosis so who cares anyways? That can be a misconception, too, because once your body is easily fat adapted, like you said, it’s very, very easy to get back into the swing of things, quite effortlessly.
Airia Papdopoulos: Yeah, and I think also dropping some of the limitations of what I can and can’t eat has made it much more comfortable for me. I’m not craving what I’m missing because I’m really not missing anything. If there’s something that I want, I let myself have it. I’ve taken away the restriction of, “You can’t have it.” I let myself have it. There’s not really a whole lot I want that I don’t have anymore because I’m not craving… I don’t really crave sugar. I don’t tend to crave the carbs. I let myself eat as much protein and as much fat as I want and if I feel like having a starch, I’m going to have a starch and if I want some fruit, I’m going to have a fruit. If I want something, I let myself have it. It doesn’t happen as much anymore, but I think the biggest reason might be mentally that I’ve taken away the restrictions so I let myself go where I need to.
Leanne Vogel: Brilliant. Amazing. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
Airia Papdopoulos: It was so nice to talk with you. Thank you very much.
Leanne Vogel: Totally, you bet.
Airia Papdopoulos: Thank you for writing your books and for having the Fat Fueled profiles because honestly, just saying that it’s okay to have the flexibility gave me, hello, the common sense to be able say, “Yeah, I guess I can think for myself today.” It’s been wonderful, but I think there’s so many of us who don’t do it, so thank you again because the profiles are awesome.
Leanne Vogel: Oh, thanks so much. Actually, I added two more in my paperback that’s coming out April 11th, so I’m really, really excited. It just gives more flexibility and I was hearing that a lot of people do better, like you, on higher protein it sounds like, so there was a piece missing in the Fat Fueled protocol and all of the profiles so that’s been added and a couple more. I’m really excited about it. I’m thankful that you found my work and that you’re such a fabulous admin in our Facebook group.
Airia Papdopoulos: Thank you.
Leanne Vogel: Thanks so much for sharing your story today.
Airia Papdopoulos: Absolutely, thanks again.
Leanne Vogel: You bet, and the show notes for today’s episode can be found at HealthfulPursuit.com/podcast/E12.
That does it for another episode of the Keto Diet Podcast. Thanks for listening in. You can follow me on Instagram by searching Healthful Pursuit, where you’ll find daily keto eats and other fun things. Check out all of my keto supportive programs, bundles, guides, and other cool things over at healthfulpursuit.com/shop, and I’ll see you next Sunday. Bye.