All posts by Karen Berger

Great Hiking Trails of the World: New Book is Out!

We keep hearing walking is the best exercise, right?  Some years ago, I wrote for a Family Circle magazine called Walk Off the Weight.  I noticed you could not pick up a women’s magazine without some cover title slug saying something about how walking is the dieter’s silver bullet.

So why not a walking vacation? Hiking has become THE number one adventure activity for travelers, according to Travel and Leisure. And really, you have to believe them, right? I mean, they’d much prefer to send their readers to luxury shopping streets and boutique spas.

My newest book, Great Hiking Trails of the World, (Rizzoli, 2017) will get you dreaming, I promise. And maybe walking, too. It’s a gorgeous coffee-table book (great for a gift!) that explores the essence of hiking trails worldwide. Whether you are interested in hiking for half a day or a month (or more), these trails offer opportunities to explore the world on your own two feet. Hiking provides an intimate experience of a landscape, and it helps burn off the extra calories we take inevitably seem to take in when we are traveling.

I was honored that Bill McKibben agreed to write the foreword. And of course, the design and editing team at Rizzoli is unparalleled. Nearly 60 photographers (including me) from all over the world contributed to the book, which contains hundreds of photos about dozens of trails, along with my essays about pilgrimage, historic hikes, alpinism, wilderness, natural diversity, and  long-distance foot-travel.

This might just be my favorite of my 17 books (although that’s a little like a mom saying which kid she loves best).

And if you haven’t already, please check out my previous book for Rizzoli, America’s Great Hiking Trails, (Rizzoli, 2014), which celebrates our national scenic trails. It won several awards, including the Lowell Thomas Award for best travel book, and it made it onto the New York Times best sellers list in travel books.

Low-Carb Flaxseed and Parmesan Crackers

Net carbs. 4.2 per serving of 5 crackers.  Prep time: 10 minutes,  Cooking time: 20-ish minutes. 

I’d been on keto for more than a year when I discovered flaxseed, and, more to the point, flaxseed crackers.  And unlike some substitutions, these are better than what I was eating before.

Crackers and cheese have never tasted better.

I was always picky about crackers. To me, most varieties tasted like gluey cardboard —  useful only as a cheese delivery device. I stuck to the few brands that I liked.

When I went on keto, one of the treats I missed most was cheese and crackers. To me, a specialty European cheese with crackers and wine is one of the best treats on earth.  Having discovered flaxseed (I know, I sound like a commercial — but there are no affiliate links here!),  not only can I have my treat back, but the crackers are better than anything I ever bought in a store.

Flaxseed crackers


  • cup flax seed meal (golden or brown)
  • 13  cup grated Parmesan cheese. (I use a combination of the processed imitation stuff plus some real grated Parmesan.)
  •  Tbsp garlic powder
  • 12  tsp salt
  • 12  cup water

Vegans: Leaving out the Parmesan cheese still yields  a tasty cracker

Experiment with spices and amounts; you can add your selection of any or all of the following (I usually use them all):

  • 1 1/2 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 Tbsp or more (up to 2 Tbs) sesame seeds
  • 1 Tbsp caraway seeds
  • 1 Tbsp gomashio (sesame salt)
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • Pre-heat oven to 400°F.
  • Mix all dry ingredients, then add water.
  • Form into a ball of dough and place on a sheet of parchment paper on a cookie sheet.
  • Press down to form a rectangle, then cover with a second piece of parchment paper or saran wrap. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough.
  • Make sure the rectangle is evenly thin (about 1/8 of an inch) and straighten the edges: I fold the parchments paper over the dough, and press the dough into the straight crease  of the paper to form an edge. Make sure the edges are the same thickness as the rest of the rectangle.
  • Use a spatula to score the crackers into cracker sized pieces.  I usually get about 30 crackers out this recipe.
  • Bake until the crackers are no longer soft, about 15 minutes.  Then flip the whole rectangle and bake on the other side for about another 5 or 10 minutes.  (Your oven may vary so check carefully). Then I turn off the oven and, if the crackers look like they need more crisping, I let them cool and dry inside the oven.

Carb Count

Dinner Recipes: Moroccan Fish Stew

Net carbs. 9.5 per serving. Prep time: 15 minutes, not counting marinara sauce. Cooking time: 30 – 60 minutes depending on temperature choice ((not counting marinara sauce, which can be commercial).

This is basically a fish-and-marinara stew  with Middle-eastern influenced spices. It is one of my absolute favorite meals, especially when I use fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes for the marinara sauce.  I like it best served on a bed of arugula, but you could serve it over zoodles or cauliflower mash.

Regarding temperature: Either slow-cook/low heat  or fast cook/high heat works. Slow cook is more traditional in a tagine-style dish like this, but I choose based on what else I might be needing to put in the oven. (The higher temperature and shorter cooking time works well with roasting accompanying vegetables.)


  • 2 six – eight ounce tilapia or swai fillets
  • 1./2 large red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 small leek, sliced
  • 1 small zucchini, sliced (optional)
  • 1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded (can be omitted, or leave seeds in for more heat)
  • 1 medium tomato, sliced
  • 2  tsp paprika
  • 1 chicken boullion cube, smashed
  • 1/4  tsp cayenne pepper(adjust to your preference); heat lovers can add 1/4 j- 1/2 jalapeno pepper.
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • a few sprigs of chopped parsley,  dill, tarragon, or sage (combine to your taste)
  • 1/4 cup feta cheese
  • 1/3 tsp  ground cloves
  • 1 cup marinara sauce (Commercial or your own, made from fresh tomatoes. Flavor with herbs like oregano, thyme, plus a little garlic and ground cinnamon)
  • Your choice of spiralized vegetables (zucchini  works well with this dish; about 1/2 zucchini per person, if you didn’t use it in the sauce) or a bed of arugula lettuce.


  • Preheat oven to 200 or 4250 (see cooking times, below).
  • Pour a thin layer of olive oil on the bottom of a glass baking dish.
  • Combine the dry spices (paprika, bouillon cube, cayenne, coriander, and cinnamon) with the water and the remainder of the olive oil.
  • Spread the spice m,ix over  the fish.
  • Arrange the peppers, leeks, zucchinis (if using) and tomatoes in layers on the bottom of the dish.
  • Put the fish on top of the the peppers, leeks, and tomatoes.
  • Cover with  about 1 cup cup of marinara sauce (more, if you like)
  • Sprinkle with fresh herbs (parsley, dill, tarragon, sage).
  • Cover with lid or foil and bake for about 1 hour at 200 or 30 minutes at 425 —  in either case, until fish flakes.
  • While the fish is baking, sauté the spiralized vegetable noodles in a combination of olive oil and butter.
  • Serve the fish over spiralized vegetable noodles. Top with bits of feta cheese and more fresh dill or parsley.


Carb count includes zucchini in sauce, but does not include the bed of vegetables/lettuce you might put the sauce on, which is optional.



Keto Dinner Rolls

Approximately 3.4 g net carbs. About 10 minutes prep time and 50 – 60 minutes bake time. 

Too good to be true?

Will they turn out well or won’t they?

Skepticism. That’s my usual response to keto recipes substituting for favorite non-keto baked goods. A fair number of recipes I’ve tried have been a bit disappointing — quite frankly, they taste just close enough to the real thing to remind me how much I used to like it. But some substitutes hit the mark. This is one of those.

Here’s the original recipe, found on one of my favorite keto sites. As usual, I changed it up a bit to try to solve some problems other testers had with it: I add coconut flour and I use whole eggs, not just egg whites. And I used salt and caraway seed as a topping rather than sesame seed, but toppings are a free-for-all zone, so follow your taste buds.

These rolls have the texture, density and taste of a whole grain bread. I’m not a big fan of the taste of psyllium husk, but the small amount here doesn’t overwhelm the flavor. These rolls can be used as burger buns (although you’d have to divide the dough into only six portions rather than eight for them to be big enough). You can also make them long and thin so they’ll work as hot dog buns, in which case, I’d probably take 5 minutes off the cooking time.

Slippery slope alert: The buns are low in net carbs, but they do have quite a bit of fiber (see nutrition information, below). So if you count whole carbs, having one of these means the rest of your daily intake has to be super strict. I count net carbs, and the approach that works for me is to treat foods with high amounts of fiber and sugar alcohols as special treats and limit them. So on a day when I’d have this bread, I’d  avoid other treat foods like fruit or big portions of higher-carb veggies or anything with sugar alcohols.


  • 1¼ cups almond flour
  • 5 Tbsp ground psyllium husk powder. Note: some people report that psyllium husk powders can have an unpleasant purple color. I used Now Healthy Foods brand, and there was no weird color.
  • 2 Tbsp coconut flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1¼ cups boiling water
  • 3 eggs
  • Your choice of sesame seed, caraway seed, course sea salt, or rosemary to taste: 1 – 2 tablespoons

Next time, I am going to try these with some other additions such as fine-chopped olives.  And, OMG, garlic bread can be back on the menu!


      1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
      2. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl.
      3. In another bowl, beat the eggs and add the vinegar.
      4. Bring the water to a boil and add it to the dry ingredients while mixing with a hand-held electric mixer.
      5. Add the eggs and vinegar and continue mixing, about 30 seconds in all, just enough to ensure a good even mix.
      6. With wet hands, shape the dough into the desired form. This recipe makes 4 =- 8 buns, depending on the size needed. Dividing into 8 makes ideal dinner rolls.
      7. Put the rolls on greased parchment paper on a baking dish.
      8. If you are adding toppings (salt, caraway seed, etc) sprinkle them onto the rolls and press gently so they stay on.
      9. Bake on a lower rack in oven for 50 minute–60 minutes (shorter time for small or narrow shapes; longer time for bigger, thicker buns).  When they are ready, they will look nicely brown and will feel firm when tapped. I divided into 8 rolls and baked for 50 minutes.
      10. Serve with butter or garlic butter.
      11. Store leftovers in the fridge or freezer.


      The answer was a resounding “YES!”

      Carb Count

The Five Stages of Ketogenic Grief

with apologies to Elizabeth Kubler Ross….. 

Stage 1: Denial

What do you mean, changing my diet to law-carb is going to help me lose weight? Or reduce my diabetes? You must be high. What about the food pyramid? And the American Heart Association? The American Diabetes Association, for crying out loud! Even my doctor says this is a fad diet. Besides, diets don’t work. Everyone knows that. I’ll just cut back. Get to the gym a bit more. No need to go to extremes. Haven’t you heard? Everything in moderation. I got this.

Stage 2: Anger

Why me? It is freaking unfair. Everyone else can eat whatever they want, but I have to give up everything I like best? Pasta. Potatoes. And pizza? (No effing way am I giving up pizza….) Give up dessert? Chocolate cake and apple strudel and Girl Scout thin mints and Halloween candy? These people are insane.

Stage 3: Bargaining

A few cheat days are  okay, aren’t they? I mean, just a couple of cookies. It was my daughter’s birthday, for crying out loud. You’re being unreasonable. Nothing in life is black and white. Besides, whole grains are supposed to be healthy. And fruit, too. Okay, so I’ll just have the fruit. And I can do that net carb thing. So I can have the sweeteners and the nut flours and make some dessert. I’m doing low carb. Really. Except for these chips. But there’s a game on, I mean c’mon. Be reasonable.

Stage 4: Depression

Low-carb flu sucks. Going out to dinner sucks. And now some idiot tells me I have to be on this way of eating for, like, the rest of my life. I might live longer, but who wants to live longer if you can’t eat food you love?

Stage 5 Acceptance (and Delight!)

Hey, this food isn’t so bad. It’s been days since I’ve had a craving for bread. Or pasta or sugar. And foods are starting to taste better than I ever noticed before. I’m satisfied with less. I don’t find myself needing to snack between meals.

  • …And my pants are starting to feel like I might need to find a belt.
  • …And I don’t need to take naps in the afternoon
  • …And my blood sugar is coming down
  • …And so are my pulse and blood pressure
  • …And I’m getting off some meds I thought I’d be on for the rest of my life
  • … And I’m going broke because I have to buy new clothes.

Remember: Nothing tastes as good as good health feels!



Dinner Recipes: Alsatian Sauerkraut with Fish

Approximately 10 g net carbs. About 35 minutes prep and cook time.

Some years ago, I was hiking across France on the GR-5, a trail that winds from near Rotterdam on the North Sea to Nice on the Mediterranean Côte d’Azur.  Having a healthy hiker appetite, I was enjoying the food along the way: the Dutch-Indonesian blend of rijsttafel, the Belgium mussels and frites (okay, I no longer eat rice and frites, but I sure enjoy the memory!). And pretty much French anything.

It’s really a perfect vacation: Walk 10 or 15 or 20 miles and then eat all the French food you want.

About halfway through, in the Franco-German cultural collision zone of Alsace, I encountered a meal I couldn’t imagine — and it was on virtually every menu at every restaurant.

Choucroutes aux poissons.

Sauerkraut with fish. In — of all things — a cream sauce. It seemed like France and Germany were at war again. I wanted nothing to do with it.

Choucroute aux poissons

I’m a pretty imaginative eater, but somehow my imagination didn’t stretch that far. So I ordered other things. But the choucroute kept showing up and curiosity finally got the better of me.  At which time, I discovered what was to become a favorite recipe.

The recipe below is based on a combination of sources. I started with Saveur‘s version and then altered it to match my memory. This is a flexible recipe: You can cook the fish all number of ways. The Alsatian version I liked the best involved multiple types of seafood. And for low-carb purposes, I took out the flour, added pork rind as an optional dredging ingredient, and gave the option of adding some of the fat back in.


  • Seafood of your choice: 2 – 3 ounces each of 3 selections: shrimp, scallops, trout fillets, haddock fillets, salmon fillets*
  • 1/4 lb smoked bacon or speck cut into small pieces (Other smoked cured pork cuts like Coppa, country ham , Canadian bacon will work)*
  • ½ lb. raw Sauerkraut, drained and rinsed (If you can’t find raw sauerkraut, the regular supermarket kind will do, but you’ll lose some of the popping fresh flavor not to mention the probiotics. But don’t let that dissuade you from trying this recipe. It’ll still be good.)
  • 4 shallots, finely chopped
  • ½ cups heavy cream
  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil (I use extra-virgin)
  • 1 tsp. finely chopped thyme leaves*
  • ½ tsp. cumin seeds*
  • 2 pods star anise (fennel can be used instead)*
  • 1 bay leaf*
  • 1¼ cup dry white wine. Riesling is a traditional Alsatian  choice*
  • Salt and black pepper to taste*
  • 2 Tbs crushed pork rinds (optional)*
  • 1 Tbsp of your choice of fresh herbs for garnish: parsley leaves,  fennel leaves, tarragon, dill weed, chives, or chervil*

*These items not included in the carb calculations because they have only trace or zero carbs. But note, if you use scallops, you will have to factor in an extra 4.6 g per 3 ounces.


The sauerkraut
  • Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Cook bacon, stirring occasionally, until brown and crisp, about 8 minutes. Pour off some of the fat (Your decision as to how much to take off; you can reserve some and add it back later. But leave at least 1 Tbsp in the pan).
  • Reduce heat to medium and add half the shallots and all the thyme, cumin, star anise, and bay leaf. Cook until shallots are soft,(about 4 minutes).
  • Add sauerkraut, ½ cup wine, and ⅓ cup water plus salt and pepper. Cover the skillet and let the mixture come to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook on low for about 25 minutes until the sauerkraut is soft. Check and stir every once in a while.
  • Set aside the skillet and remove the bay leaf and the star anise. Adjust seasonings. Cover and keep warm on a warming setting or warming plate.
The Fish and Seafood

Fish and Seafood, and then the sauce, can be cooked while sauerkraut is cooking and everything will be done at about the same time.

  • Season the fish and seafood with salt and pepper.
  • Optional: Dredge the trout or other white fish fillets in crushed pork rinds.
  • Heat remaining oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add fish and/or seafood (in separate stages, if needed).
  • How you cook the seafood is very flexible, depending on the seafood you choose and your favorite ways to prepare. The simplest way to pan-fry. Shrimp and bay scallops take about 4 minutes. Fish fillets can be dredged in pork-rinds (optional) and sauteed until golden brown (about 5 minutes).
  • This recipe (if you read French) suggests placing haddock in cold milk, then poaching for 10 minutes. It suggests cooking the other fish in the oven with lemon, shallots, salt, pepper, and butter at 410 degrees for 7 minutes.
  • Once the fish — however you’ve cooked them — are done, transfer fish and seafood to a plate and cover to keep warm.
The Sauce
  • Add 2 Tbsp butter to the skillets and cook the rest of the shallots on medium-high heat until soft (about 4 minutes).
  • Deglaze the pan with the remaining wine and cook for another 4 minutes, until reduced.
  • Add the cream and cook on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens (about 3 minutes).
  • Season with salt and pepper, remove from heat, and stir in remaining butter, allowing it to melt.
To Serve
  • To serve, divide sauerkraut into portions on dinner plates.
  • Put the fish and seafood on top of the sauerkruat.
  • Spoon sauce around or over the fish and garnish with your choice of herbs.
  • Serve with dry Riesling wine.

Carb Count

Note: This recipe uses 6 ounces of trout per serving for the nutrition calculation. Add 4.6 carbs per 3 ounce serving of scallops, if you use them. For the label’s sake, I’ve assumed using Canadian bacon.

Dinner Recipes: Shrimp in Cream Sauce

Another quick and simple recipe, which can be altered to suit your taste. It is based on a recipe found here. My version below is slightly different to add a few more flavors and to bring down the carbs. This recipe makes 5 servings.



*Carbs per serving:  Approximately 13  net carbs This can be reduced if you cut out or lower the amount of scallops and/or sun-dried tomatoes.  Nutrition information at the bottom.

Cooking and prep time: 15 to 20 minutes


  • 1 1/2 pound seafood (your combination of medium cleaned raw shrimp and bay scallops. Note: scallops have carbs; shrimp do not.)
  • 4 oz  ground Chorizo  sausage. (Remove from skin if you buy it in links)
  • 1 large leek, diced
  • 4 cups baby spinach; more is okay
  • 3 tablespoons salted butter*
  • 2 cups light cream
  • 1/2 cup white wine, more or less to taste
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese.
  • 4 ounces sundried tomatoes in oil, drained and cut into small pieces  (These are delicious, but high in carbs. Omit if you are on a strict regimen.)
  • 6 – 8  cloves garlic
  • 2 Tbs chopped parsley*
  • 1 Tbs fresh winter savory or sage (optional; dried is okay)*
  • 2 – 3 tsp dried Italian herbs*
  • To taste: salt, black pepper, Italian red pepper flakes*
  • Optional (not included in carb count) 1 Tbs sour cream or cream cheese as thickener.*

*these items were not factored into carb count because they have only trace amounts or zero of carbs or because they are optional.

Prep Directions

  • Peel and mince garlic
  • Remove chorizo from skin
  • Clean shrimp
  • Dice leeks
  • Measure out spinach, herbs, winter savory, parsley, sun dried tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, cream

Cooking Directions

  • In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat.
  • Add garlic and cook about one minute.
  • Add chorizo and cook until the meat has lost its pinkish color (about 5 minutes)
  • Add shrimp and cook until it starts turning pink (about 4 minutes)
  • Transfer shrimp and Chorizo to a bowl.
  • Fry leeks in the butter remaining in the skillet, adding more butter as necessary and deglazing with white wine .
  • After the mixture reduces and the leeks are translucent, add sun- dried tomatoes and cook for 1-2 minutes.
  • Reduce heat and the cream. Stir and bring to a low summer.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste; adjust the wine.
  • Add spinach leaves and stir.
  • After spinach has wilted, add parmesan cheese.
  • Summer and stir until cheese is melted. Cream cheese or sour cream can be added if you would like a thicker sauce, but I don’t use this (and it’s not included in the carb count).
  • Add the shrimp back into the pan.
  • Sprinkle with herbs and parsley.


Options and Variations

Serve over spiralized turnips or zucchini noodles

Counting Carbs

Carb counts are approximate net carbs. based on nutrition label calculator, 

5 portions, approximate 13 net carbs per serving. Carbs count includes 8 ounces bay scallops. 



Dinner Recipes: Mexican-Style Stuffed Peppers

This is a quick, simple, and flavorful dinner with a  prep and cook time of about 15 minutes. Serves two.

Carbs per serving:  5.2 net carbs.  Nutrition info at bottom.


  • One medium green or red bell pepper, sliced  lengthwise
  • 2 links or 8 ounces of fresh  chorizo
  • 2 ounces grated cheese (Mozarella, cheddar)
  • 3 Tbsp fresh salsa
  • 2 Tbsp full fat sour cream
  • 1 cup black soy beans
  • 1 tsp cumin, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp black pepper,1/2 tsp Ancho chili powder. (Adjust spices to taste). *
  • 1 Tbsp green onions

*items not included in carb count because they have negligible or zero carbs


Cut bell peppers in half lengthwise and poke holes in the bottom of them for drainage.

Stuff the peppers with the fresh Chorizo sausage (remove from skins if in links).

Cook in microwave on high about 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan heat the black soy beans .  Cook on medium until hot.

When peppers and meat are done in the microwave, remove from microwave . Spoon and reserve the fat and juices that have collected in the pan. Then sprinkle about one ounce grated cheese over the meat. Return to the microwave and cook about another minute until cheese is melted.

Drain the beans.  Add the s;pices.  Add the fat from the pepper pan. Stir.


  • Put a layer of lettuce on each  plate.
  • Follow with a circle of the black soy beans mixture
  • Place the pepper/meat combo in the middle of each plate
  • Top with salsa, sour cream, and green onions.

Options and Variations

(not included in carb count)

  • Add sliced avocado or guacamole on the side.
  • With a fried egg, this also makes a great brunch.

Carb Count


The Accidental Diet Guru

I did not start out to write about health, weight loss, ketogenic eating, and metabolic syndrome.  And 18 months ago, when  I started losing weight, my sole goal was to crash-diet so I could make the weight limit to go paragliding — I wasn’t concerned about health or a long-term lifestyle change.

That I am now being asked by friends, friends of friends, and perfect strangers for diet advice is about the weirdest thing to happen in a long while. I am not a diet guru…  I am just a person who found a way to lose weight that seemed easy and satisfying. And I’m writing about it here because putting everything in one place is easier than responding individually to lots of people. Plus, I’ll have all my recipes in one place! (Once I get them up)

It just goes to show that life doesn’t always happen as we plan.

The adventure that presented itself last year had nothing to do with rock climbing or scuba diving or skiing, and everything to do with the kind of conversations middle-aged people have about their cardiac health and their cancer treatments.

I am not usually a fan of selfies but getting into a size 10 pair of jeans after losing 85 pounds was a very big deal! Even if you figure that vanity sizing played a role.


Happily, David and I are (I hope) on the back side of those issues for a while. He has to watch his blood chemistry numbers and I have to watch my cancer markers, but while we are watching, we can get back to living. And I’ll get back to the fun adventures soon, weaving food, hiking, travel, skiing, music, and all that fun stuff into this hodge-podge of a blog.

I keep saying this, but it’s important: I am not a diet expert. I am just one person with one story about what worked for me. (And David makes two!) At the same time, I approached this new body of knowledge the way I approach everything: I read a shelf full of books, I dived into a hundred websites, I learned as much as I could — and then I started writing about it.

I was especially interested in the question: If the ketogenic way of eating is so successful and works so well, why do so many people give up?

The following observations may be helpful as you start — or continue,  or maintain — your journey.

First, this is not a diet, it’s a way of life.

Diets don’t work. We all know that. On this way of eating, if you follow it, you will lose weight. Other metabolic issues like high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and some blood lipid numbers will probably improve, too. But if you go back to doing what you did before, you will go back to having the results you had before. I remind myself of this every single day.

Expect some bumps in the road

There’s a learning curve and an addiction to overcome. Apparently (according to the books I’ve read) wheat and sugar act on the brain’s addiction centers. On an MRI, they light up the same places where opiates hang out. (This is my non-scientific understanding.) So when you go off high-carb foods, there is a withdrawal process that can make some people feel quite ill for a day or more. When I first ditched the carbs, I crawled into bed for two days with general lethargy and a feeling of utter disgust at the prospect of eating more meat and vegetables. My stomach demanded toast, oatmeal, pasta, bread…. and threatened dire consequences if I didn’t give in. But I got over it. I’d advise getting started by throwing out all the off-list foods and stocking up with the biggest variety possible of on-list foods that you love. And if you feel ill, just tell yourself that “this too shall pass.”

Moderation is not the road to health; it is the road to hell

I think most people react the same way I did when I first heard about this: shock and outrage. No pizza? No pasta? No beer? No potatoes? No sugar? Restricted fruit? Limited root vegetables? And a whole other list of thou-shalt-nots. Surely one cookie once in a while can’t hurt? And for some people it may not.

But the folks I’ve talked to who are having the most trouble with this way of eating are those who keep telling themselves that one little cookie can’t hurt. They are the ones who tell me they are cutting carbs — even as their hands are in a bag of chips. (This literally happens!)

This is a judgment free zone: Eat what you want, do what works for you. But don’t lie to yourself and then ask me why this way of eating doesn’t work!

Personally, I’d love to be able to eat the occasional cookie — or better yet, French bread, or apple strudel — but that doesn’t seem to work for me. I think for those of us who are prone to metabolic syndrome, moderation is too slippery a slope. And some writers, like William Davis (of Wheat Belly fame; see the booklist) believe that modern wheat has been engineered in a way that makes even minuscule amounts toxic to most people (though some can handle it better than others).

I was a little bit rebellious at the beginning of my journey. I refused to give up lattes (I did go from 2 percent milk to whole milk, but milk of any kind is avoided on a strict ketogenic diet, though full-fat cream is okay). I kept drinking wine (allowed, but not recommended on a daily basis, especially at the start). My salads were bigger than recommended and had more stuff in them, which added to the carb counts.

But almost immediately, I saw how well this way of eating worked. I changed over to cream in coffee, abandoned my daily glass of wine, and counted my carbs even more carefully.

Your tastes will change

As time has passed, I’ve noticed that the occasional fruit I have tastes much sweeter because I have no other sugar in my diet (and because I have fruit so seldom).  I easily pass up bread and pasta: It now strikes me as empty filler fortified with nutritional additives. The food I am eating tastes fantastic. Flavors pop more. Quality matters. I have always enjoyed food, but now, I seem top enjoy it even more.

Keep an open mind because you may just find that foods you used to think you hate taste pretty wonderful.

“Calories in-Calories out”

Traditional thinking is that people with a weight problem need to simply get over their gluttony and lose weight by virtue of managing their calorie intake and exercising more.

The low-carb view is that weight problems occur not because of a lack of willpower, but because the carb-insulin cycle goes into overdrive, putting excess glucose into fat cells and then activating hunger signals to replenish the blood with yet more glucose…  which then gets put into yet more fat cells.

One of the attractions of low-carb is that we don’t have to count calories. However, that doesn’t mean that a low-carb way of eating is a license to pig out! Calories still matter. The magic of a low-carb diet is that it feels more satisfying, so we eat fewer calories. And a ketogenic diet encourages and enables our body to use its stored fat for energy (a process that cannot happen when we consume too many carbs our insulin starts the one-way process of stuffing excess glucose into fat cells).

Portion sizes change

One of the ways this way of eating works for weight loss is that ingesting fats is satiating. So I feel more satisfied with smaller portions. I’ve had to rethink what a portion is. It is much smaller than it used to be. As I follow the advice to “eat when hungry, stop when fill,” I find myself skipping the occasional meal and leaving left-overs for another day. And it has nothing to do with will power.

This will happen over time. At first, I just:  Cut. The. Carbs. That’s it. Then I listened to my body. It started saying “thank you.” Then it started behaving differently around food. This is the first time in my life I have felt that food and I have a positive relationship.

Your family may be an obstacle

Many people, particularly women (the traditional caregivers) have trouble sticking with a low carb diet when others in the household are still eating favorite forbidden foods.  Some people succeed in converting other people in their household (after all, if carbs truly are bad for us, do we want to serve them to people we love?) But if that doesn’t work, many people find that making simple dinners, with carbs served separately from the rest of the meal, works. So we low-carbers can have steak, Brussels sprouts, and green beans, and our carb-eating families can have add a baked potato. I was lucky that David went on this way-of-eating with me (and it turned out, with his health issues last year, HE was lucky he did it, too!) Finding good tasting substitutes for favorite foods also works. I’ll be sharing recipes starting in a week or so.

Find great foods

At this writing, I have been on this way of eating for about 18 months and I totally and completely love the food. Do I occasionally chaff at restrictions? Yes, especially when I am traveling or socializing. The foods I can’t/won’t eat at literally everywhere. Avoiding them makes me one of “those” people…. you know, the ones with all those picky dietary limitations that ruin the meal for everyone else. I try to stay quiet. I pack my own food so I don’t arrive a t a cocktail party starving only to find that every canapé has carbs.

But I have found a lifetime’s worth of recipes that look delicious. Food seems to taste much better now that it isn’t dulled by carbs. Find foods you love and you will never miss the foods you used to love.

Shop the aisles

This isn’t news. The closer you get to real food in its simplest form, the better the chances that it’s good for you.

Most keto groups I am in recommend organic chickens and grass-fed beef to be sure your meat doesn’t have hormones and antibiotics in it. Be careful with cured meats and deli products; they often have added sugars. If you do venture into the aisles (mayonnaise? salad dressings? pickles?) read labels. Know the 60 different words for “sugar”!!!!

Don’t freak out about the cost

Who can afford wild-caught salmon, European cheese, and grass-fed beef? Surprisingly, David and I aren’t spending any more on this way of eating because we are no longer paying for processed foods and grains, and of the rest — yes, our meat and fish bills are more expensive, but we eat less. It seems to have mostly evened out.

Most of what we think we know about health is probably wrong

If you talk to the average person on the street and they tell you they are “eating healthy” they are probably doing the exact opposite of what I am doing. And if you ask your doctor what “eating healthy” means, the answer may be the exact opposite, as well. (I am lucky that my doctor is on board with a low-carb way of eating, but many doctors are most definitely not okay with it. Quite honestly, I chose my doctor because a friend of mine told me his office would support a low-carb diet.)

It’s important to know that the ketogenic diet is the opposite of the high-carb low-fat approach recommended by the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, and most government agencies. The writers I have been reading also take issue with traditional mainstream approaches to cholesterol and how lipid tests are read and interpreted and acted on (usually by prescribing statins).

The ketogenic diet breaks pretty much every “healthy food” rule we’ve been taught for the last 40 years — eat more fruit, eat healthy oatmeal, avoid full-fat foods, don’t touch the bacon, vegetarianism is healthy, avoid red meats, pull the skin off the chicken.

I am not going to argue whether this way of eating is healthy (these books and online resources do a much better job). We each have our own medical and metabolic issues and you will have to come to your own conclusions. All I can tell you is David and I have together lost 160 pounds. My A1c (the diabetes marker) is in the “super-optimal” range. David’s diabetes diagnosis was reversed and his A1c is in the normal range. My last blood pressure was 115/70 (technically declared “awesome”) and David’s is normal as well.  I won’t get into cholesterol, because that’s a whole other controversy, but I am satisfied with our numbers.

From doctors I’ve spoken with, it seems that one reason that they aren’t always enthusiastic about this way of eating is that people, (being people) fall off the wagon and undo all the good they have done. For me, the decision to stay on the wagon is easy. Would I rather be healthy or not?

This is not one-size-fits-all

Some of the writers I’ve been reading seem to think that this is the right diet for everyone. I am not so sure. I know plenty of people who seem to do just fine eating carbs. And there are plenty of variations. For example, there is a lot of overlap between paleo diets and keto. Or between the Mediterranean diet and keto. And Whole 30 and keto. I am not coming at this from a “my way or the highway perspective.” If keto works for you, great. If some variation works for you, great. Maybe my experience can help. And if you can tolerate more carbs, good for you! Enjoy a pizza for me.


Getting Started on Low-Carb: Books

I realize that not everyone wants to read 10 books to figure out what to eat for dinner. But I found that the following books helped me wrap my mind around the science and the practice of a ketogenic way of eating. You might find all you need for free on the Internet, but books curate and organize information in a way that often makes more sense, at least to me.

My Top Picks for Ketogenic and Low-Carb Books


The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living: An Expert Guide to Making the Life-Saving Benefits of Carbohydrate Restriction Sustainable and Enjoyable
by Jeff Volek and  Stephen Phinney 

I think the title of this book neatly sums up the biggest diet issue: Sustainability and enjoyment are key issues for food and life. If we are miserable on our diets, we can’t stay on them. Not to mention (and this is important): Low-carb eating is not so much a diet as it is a long-term way of life. This book explains the science behind and the medical benefits of low-carb eating as a permanent lifestyle change.

Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health
Gary Taubes

Gary Taubes is not a doctor or a nutritionist; he is an award-winning New York Times science writer with a flare for storytelling, which made this a compelling read. I was especially stunned by the whole history of how our government-approved dietary recommendations came to be so wrong. The bottom line: According to this book, pretty much everything most people assume when they say, “I’m making healthier choices” is dead wrong. If you think you are “being good” when you choose low-fat over full-fat, eat oatmeal instead of bacon and eggs, or skip the prime rib in favor of skinless boneless chicken breast, you need a complete sea change in how you view food and health.


Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It
Gary Taubes

News flash: According to this book, we aren’t fat because we have no will power and are lazy; we are fat and don’t have any energy because we are suffering the consequences of a perfect storm. The combination of a predisposition to metabolic system and the standard western diet is a recipe for disaster — and largely responsible for the obesity epidemic. Taubes explains how being overweight is less a cause of disease, and more of a symptom of a metabolic syndrome gone awry. And he tells us what to do to change our metabolic fate.

The New Atkins for a New You: The Ultimate Diet for Shedding Weight and Feeling Great

by Eric C. Westman , Stephen D. Phinney , Jeff S. Volek 

This book, along with both the original Atkins guide and Atkins’s revised edition (described below), is a how-to-change-your-eating book that summarizes the rationale for a low-carb diet and gets into the nitty gritty of how to implement it.  This books stands on Atkins’ shoulders, but it better reflects contemporary ketogenic principles and updates the science.  It explains the rationale behind the low-carb diet, and offers strategies for a variety of situations including eating out. It’s a little bit cheerleadery (as were the original Atkins books) — but the information is easy to take in.

Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health

by William Davis, MD

While most low-carb approaches take a general “all carbs are the enemy” approach, this books zooms in on wheat as the culprit. Its basic concern is the effect of wheat on the human digestive system, metabolism, and even the brain. It also includes information about both the ancient history of wheat cultivation and the modern history of grain cultivation and genetic modification, showing how the grains we use today are different from their forebears and the effect this has on humans.

Undoctored: Why Health Care Has Failed You and How You Can Become Smarter Than Your Doctor

by William Davis, MD

I’m not sure I can ever again be undoctored… thyroid cancer has put an end to that. But cancer notwithstanding, I plan to avoid the clutches of Big Pharma, Big Food, and Big Government Medicine. Undoctored explains some of the financial interests that intrude on the relationship between you and your doctor.  As with Wheat Belly, I read this book when I was already well into my weight-loss journey, and my prior research was such that I’d already started following most of Davis’s recommendations. I found this an excellent source for information about supplements.


More Books on Weight Loss and Health 

Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution, Revised Edition
Robert Atkins M.D.

Low-carb eating is not new…. some say our paleolithic ancestors ate this way, and that it is high-carb grain-based eating (dating only several thousand years) that is new — and unsuited — to humans. That said, the Atkins diet brought low-carb eating into the popular lexicon in the 1970s, just as the “food pyramid” was gaining traction as the medical establishment’s diet of choice. Lambasted as faddish, unhealthy, and even dangerous, the Atkins diet was shot down again and again but somehow never died. Today, it is the foundation of most ketogenic diets. Atkins was not an opponent of sugar substitutes (which have since been shown to impact blood sugar and hence insulin levels because they activate the part of the brain that thinks “I’m getting sugar!”) Nor was he an opponent of processed foods. (The current Atkins corporation bought the name and sells processed foods, which I, and many others following a ketogenic way of life, avoid.) Atkins’s books were often publicized as permission to be as gluttonous as you wanted, as long as you were scarfing down steak and bacon and not potatoes and cake. My own version of ketogenic eating follows a more moderate of avoiding sugar substitutes, avoiding as many processed foods as possible, and limiting protein to reasonable sizes based on an individual’s weight, height, and activity levels. Nonetheless, Atkins’ books are the grand-parents of modern ketogenic thinking. This one has simple, clear explanations, easy science, and an encouraging “you-can-do-it” tone that millions of people have found inspiring.


The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss
by Jason Fung

Dr. Jason Fung is a nephrologist (nephrology refers to kidneys, which are frequently damaged or destroyed by diabetes. Diabetes is in turn associated with obesity). This book explores the relationship between insulin, carbs, blood sugar control, and obesity, and puts insulin resistance squarely at fault for most “diseases of civilization.” In addition to a ketogenic diet, Dr. Fung is a proponent of intermittent fasting. Quite frankly, fasting does not appeal to me. However, the 18-hour fasts that are a starting point (often running from an early dinner to late breakfast the next day) are something that seems to almost happen naturally and easily for me. Many mornings (including this one), I find myself on an 18-hour fast, whether intended or not. Even if you aren’t interested in fasting, this book offers clear explanations behind some of the science of low-carb eating and metabolic system disruption that occurs when the insulin cycle goes awry.


Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution: The Complete Guide to Achieving Normal Blood Sugars

Richard K. Bernstein

A friend of mine (a type I diabetic who has had numerous other health issues including cancer) quite simply says that Dr. Berstein Saved his life. This book is aimed at both type 1 and type 2 diabetics. Dr. Berstein is a physician with type 1 diabetes who practices what he preaches. Here, he explains the basics of the carbohydrate-insulin cycle and metabolic syndrome, and then talks about a ketogenic diet in terms of managing blood sugars. I’m not diabetic, and David isn’t anymore (and he was never on medication for it) but I still found this book very helpful in understanding the science of metabolic diseases, pre-diabetes, and diabetes.

The Great Cholesterol Myth + 100 Recipes for Preventing and Reversing Heart Disease: Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won’t Prevent Heart Disease and the Statin Free Plan and Diet that Will
by Jonny Bowden , Stephen Sinatra , Deirdre Rawling

One of the concerns some doctors and many patients have about a low-carb diet is that it will increase cholesterol. And indeed, sometimes it does. This book takes the position that total cholesterol is a meaningless measure, because it adds a positive (good HDL cholesterol) to a negative (a portion of tryglicerides and LDL). Furthermore, it claims that the evidence that LDL is dangerous is far from complete. There are, it turns out, large, small, and other LDL particles, some of which are neutral and some of which are bad, and only a blood test that examines particle size and number is truly useful. On a low-carb diet, many people experience higher HDL (good) cholesterol and lower triglycerides, but also higher LDL (commonly called “bad”) cholesterol.  To have a useful discussion about cholesterol and statin drugs with a doctor, patients need to have a basic understanding of the studies and controversies surrounding this issue.


Keto Comfort Foods

Maria Emmerich

Who doesn’t love recipes? The absolute best way I know to stay on a diet, or, in this case, on a permanent way of eating, is to love the food you are eating. So cookbooks with great ideas help. This one occasionally includes recipes that are a bit higher-carb than a strict meat-and-greens type meal. So be careful when you plan your meals.  I figure if dinner has a slightly higher-than-normal carb count, that I should be super careful the rest of the day. She also includes a lot of desserts with artificial sweeteners. Personally, I save these for only very occasional treats. Your mileage may vary. Lots of great ideas here. Enjoy!