For over 12 years, I’ve had chronic kidney disease (CKD). How I got to that point is a long story on its own, but I’ve been able to maintain reasonable kidney function for a long time. Then at the end of 2019, the day after Christmas, I landed in the hospital with acute kidney failure. The same thing that caused my condition in the first place reared its ugly head once more and my kidney function (eGFR) plummeted. Suddenly, my kidneys had gone from about 40% to 14%. After some good care by my team of doctors, I was stable and my kidneys rebounded a little, but quickly dropped back down again. I’ve been hovering around 10-15% for about five months. Definitely have dropped to Stage 5.
Which means I’m at the end stage of CKD. We’ve been exploring dialysis options, but long-term my best option is a kidney transplant. There are a lot of requirements to be eligible for one. Thankfully, my wife helped me get over the biggest hurdle when she volunteered to be a living donor. (Small plug for anyone considering helping to save a life – give a kidney if you can! God gave you two and you only need one healthy one to live a full life. Ask Cassie grandfather who’s now in his 90’s and has had only one for about 70 years). That means my wait for a kidney will be reduced by years! And although I’m very fortunate to have had few other complications, there’s one I’ve struggled with my entire adult life – being overweight. To be eligible for the transplant, the team at Stanford wants me to be at a BMI lower than 35. To do that, I needed to lose about 35 more pounds!
I’ve been overweight for as long as I can remember. It was never easy to deal with, and I feel like I’ve tried nearly everything. I’ve done Weight Watchers (where I did lose a lot at first, but I can find a way to break any system), I’ve gone gluten-free, I’ve done intense workouts, I’ve even been on Dr. Phil! But there’s one change in lifestyle I’ve avoided for so long – keto. Living a keto lifestyle just seemed a hill too steep to climb. I love my carbs! And as a lifelong Japanese-American, rice has been a staple of my diet as much as water and air. Plus, everything I’ve heard about keto was “high protein, high fat!” And if there’s one thing every nephrologist (kidney specialist) and every dietician will tell you – too much protein is a fast track to kidney failure.
But my wife went on a form of keto about two years ago at the beginning of 2020 (called carnivore which is not just low carb but zero carb) and she has lost a TON of weight! Over 125 pounds! And most of that was in the first year. Not only was she not suffering, she was even happier than before while losing weight. So I read up on this whole keto thing – and even keto people are constantly saying “high protein, high fat!” and there was no way I could make THAT work…or could I? As my kidney function kept getting progressively worse and dialysis more and more around the corner, I kept wondering “Could I make it work?”
The key, it seemed, WASN’T “eat a whole lot of protein.” It was really about reducing your carb intake and replacing it with healthy fat content. I read this great article by The New York Times which summarizes the benefits (and drawbacks) of living a keto lifestyle in a fair and measured way far better than I can do here. Bottom line for me, trying this wasn’t out of my reach. I could reduce my carbs without increasing my protein by replacing carbs with more veggies – something my doctors have wanted me to do anyway. And because keto relies on fats to replace carbs, I can have things like salad dressing (not every kind) to make those veggies taste even better. So far, the results are very promising.
I’m telling you all this because it was so hard to find any information on following a keto diet while dealing with CKD. And while keto has certainly helped those with diabetes and other health conditions, I couldn’t find anything for people going through what I was going through. Yet the benefits seemed so clear. Of course, I talked about all of this with my doctor first and because I’m in Stage 5, I get blood drawn every month which helps me monitor things like protein levels, phosphorous, cholesterol, etc. I’m not a doctor and as every website on earth will tell you, don’t try changing your lifestyle without professional medical consultation. But if documenting this journey can help anyone out there dealing with chronic kidney disease and hoping to lose weight and be healthier, then if nothing else this will all be worth it. Be well and keep following for updates!