We recently caught up with Jason Leow from Keto List Singapore, and discussed all things Keto. Read his story below as he shares his personal journey through the diet, and his motivations behind starting the site.
A keto starter’s journey & how I ended up making Keto List Singapore
by Jason Leow
Why I started on keto
I'd recently decided to try out the keto diet because I wanted to get in better shape and health. At age 40, metabolism slow-downs don't make keeping in shape easy, so it felt like more drastic measures are needed. I'm not overly obese, yet overall I'd been putting on more weight, getting softer and flabbier everywhere, and growing an obvious belly. There's also a growing concern that much of my diet consists of processed wheat flour, ultra-refined sugars and milk, which I'm eager to cut off but always fail. Even our Asian staple, white rice, is something that's increasingly becoming a highly processed grain with empty calories. Everywhere, I see common local foods that are cheap and popular but nutritionally deficient, and in the long term, dangerous. If I am to leap above and ahead on my health trajectory (since our habits tend to be ten years behind our current age/health), I need to try something new and drastic. I wanted to feel alive, fit and healthy again. A deep sense of well-being, for sure.
An unwholesome relationship with food
There's a useful tip regarding identity-focused habits from the book Atomic Habits: "Who is the type of person who has a fit and healthy body?" My answer: someone who organises work in such a way that stress is manageable, makes fitness a priority, and eats wholesome foods. My struggle is with the food. Food had always been more than just fuel. I live to eat, not eat to live. And over the years, my relationship with food had become somewhat dysfunctional. Stress eating, treating junk food as comfort food, are the few ways it's gone sideways. I feel like I need to refresh my relationship with food and eat wholesomely, yet still be able to enjoy the taste and visceral experience of eating.
Starting out on keto had been really tough for me, because having to avoid carbs made me realise how most of my bad eating habits had been centered around carbs. And without my comfort foods, where can my stress go? How can I enjoy eating again? It's tough tough tough. But I'm also grateful for this struggle because it made it plain as day that my relationship with food needs to change.
Keto is about making new habits
Keto was a much harder habit to form because of the almost all-or-nothing approach needed for the body to switch to ketosis. I can try the downscaling technique and cut my carb intake slowly and incrementally, but that will probably prolong the pains of keto flu. It's a habit that sounds easy in theory (just cut carbs - duh!) but is actually hard in practice. Until
I tried keto, I never realised how deeply entrenched refined carbs and sugars are in our daily diets, even though I had been trying to eat healthy for years. So doing keto is basically trying to form a habit in a high friction environment, with cues and nudge
s at home and outside designed to make you fail every step along the way. It reminded me of my past experience as a vegan in a meat-loving world - same experience, same obstacles. Trying to avoid carbs in a food court as a newbie without good knowledge of what foods are keto-friendly, is like walking in a minefield. Traps everywhere.
Scratching my own itch by making Keto List
To help me on my own keto journey, I recently made a directory website, called Keto List Singapore. It's a curated local directory site for people on the keto diet in Singapore, listing out all the local bakeries, restaurants, cafes, supermarkets and online retailers selling keto-friendly products. This site was born out of the initial frustration of not being able to easily find all the local links to keto-friendly food, eateries and products. The thinking was, the lower the barrier to finding keto-friendly foods, the easier it is for me to stick to keto. So I made this site to address that.
How Keto List helps beginners like me
1. For keto, by keto
I'm on the keto diet myself, so these are places and products I vet and use myself. I had also included a form where other keto folks can suggest a new link or establishment that just opened. Over time, the list became a crowdsourced and community-curated one.
2. Local relevance
The establishments are local to Singapore only, except for a few online retailers which I thought are useful to add in as they might not be top of mind in keto beginners. Why local, if you ask? Because it solves that pain point I experienced initially - lack of local knowledge that's not captured on Google search. There's lots of links and resources in local keto forums and communities that Google doesn't quite serve up. Most of these links are lost in comment threads, chat groups, and random conversations, walled up behind apps like Facebook and Reddit. Since I frequent these forums, I thought it'll be such a shame if these links are not captured somewhere.
3. Discover new stuff
Even seasoned folks will sometimes miss out or not be aware of new and interesting places or products—like Wowlah’s keto starter kits—available in the market, so this site helps with discovery. I tried to keep to the not-too-obvious recommendations in the listing - not too obvious from the perspective of a beginner. Hence I left out the usual supermarkets like Fairprice and Sheng Siong, as even beginners would be familiar with them. I also tried to geolocate the listings, where you can filter the listings by regions in Singapore. So that if you happen to be in say, the East, and in need of dinner, you can use the "East" filter to see if there's any keto restaurant nearby. It's a crude location filter at the moment, but perhaps in the future, that can be replaced by a real geolocation map.
My keto today isn’t the same keto tomorrow
It had been really fun to create this listing website. I'm quite happy with how it looks and works at the moment, but also curious to see how the local community would respond to it. Most importantly, it’s been practical and helpful in helping me stick to keto so far.
But my keto today isn't going to be the same keto tomorrow. OK, I meant tomorrow as in sometime in the medium to longer term future, not literally. Because what worked for me months ago, might not work today. I'm about six months in now with the keto diet, and the foods I eat have definitely evolved. What started with a high quantity of fats is now slightly more moderate. I used to eat a lot more avocados, cream, cheese and nuts, but these days, the body seems to intuitively prefer to avoid it. It doesn't feel as good eating them anymore. Sometimes I get mild tummy aches after eating cream or cheese or anything dairy-based – a signal that I had begun to catch on. Keto bakes were a much sought-after treat back in the day, but nowadays, I can't stomach much erythritol, an artificial sweetener commonly used in keto bakes – it gives me tummy aches. I'm increasingly taking more meat, and even starting to read up more about the carnivore diet out of curiosity.
Sometimes when I feel weird or off from eating the wrong foods, I get a little anxious and try to go back to strict keto for the next few days, which was how I used to eat when I just started. But it usually doesn't work either. The foods that I started off with are no longer the foods that will carry me through now. I thought I had the keto diet figured out after three months, but seems like it's a continuous learning process. The body might still be in the process of healing from decades of bad/malnutrition, so the needs will continue to change. Perhaps one day when it stabilises for months or years, would be the time my healing is done?