Gemma Kochis aka “Missus Mojo” aka “Keto Somm”
You probably know Mister and Missus Mojo’s story. In 2015, Dorian and I were introduced to the ketogenic diet. Long story short, Mister Mojo lost 47 pounds in 4 months, and it truly changed our lives. My story is not quite as glamorous.
Keto was not easy for me in the beginning, mostly a mental game. Dorian’s ketones were typically around 1.5, while mine sat at 0.3. He lost weight, I languished. It took time — I tested my glucose and ketones consistently to figure out what worked for me and what didn’t from a diet standpoint. The good news is that I eventually lost around 30 lbs., not dramatically, but over the course of a year. But that’s not all, and I began to realize that some of my story just might resonate with other people out there.
Let me start with my metabolic health tidbits, and eventually how it all intertwines with my wine journey.
So my maternal grandmother suffered from obesity and dementia but actually died of complications from type 2 Diabetes, having her legs amputated just prior to her death. My mom had Alzheimer’s and high blood pressure, and eventually, her heart gave out. Dad died of lung cancer. My brother has prostate cancer. Then there’s me — I’m a DES daughter, meaning my mom took DES (an artificial estrogen, diethylstilbestrol) during pregnancy to prevent miscarriage (sort of stacking the deck before I was even born), which resulted in various reproductive health issues. I was born two weeks premature, and was given a high carb formula to fatten me up, which it did — and then some. As an overweight kid, I was strong and “big-boned,” but plagued with many ailments such as croup, pneumonia, frequent bronchitis, allergies, and hives.
My mom was a child of the Depression and after World War II she enthusiastically embraced the innovations of the ’50s. She was a good cook, but sought the convenience of packaged, processed, frozen, and fast foods, equating them to modern marvels. She gave up butter for margarine, cream for skim milk, and tea for diet soda. And then came the ’70s. She read nutrition books, shopped at natural health food stores, and took plenty of vitamins.
I can truly say that I was a product of the Standard American Dietary Guidelines. Mom embraced the pyramid by banishing fat and red meat while celebrating carbs and fiber. I was weaned on a cocktail of saccharine, cyclamates, and red dye #3.
I would fast for days on end, drinking only diet Dr. Pepper, fruit nectars, orange juice, and maybe some water, although I found it rather dull. I constantly dieted. My first diet was actually at age 6 when my mom removed the Fritos from my Barbie lunch pail. As I opened the lid that day, I remember being crestfallen and feeling utterly deprived and unloved.
Since then, I must have tried every diet under the sun, including low fat (of course), the stewardess diet, the chopstick diet (had to eat everything with chopsticks), the cabbage soup diet, the Scarsdale diet, the South Beach diet, SlimFast, and funny enough, the only one that had lasting results – the Atkins diet. At age 13, I lost 40 pounds and kept it off for nearly six months. I went in weekly to have my ketones tested at the doctor’s office, and it was working. For the first time in my life, I was not fat. Unfortunately, it didn’t last — I felt I was missing out because all my friends were headed to Mickey D’s, eating french fries, burgers, milkshakes, and hot apple pies. I caved, and so the yo-yo began…up 20 lbs., down 10; up 5, down 5; up 20, down 10, up 10, up 10 more, and so on. In college, I shot up to 175 lbs. after breaking up with a boyfriend.
The funny thing is that no matter my weight, I still identify with that 175 pound girl. I have probably lost close to 300 pounds if you add it up, but I always gained it back.
I worked out every day, lifted weights, did spin class, had a personal trainer, and was muscular, but still carrying an extra 30 pounds I couldn’t lose. I ended up having a partial hip replacement at age 49 because my hip joint was bone on bone — my body was inflamed, and my joints were a mess. Two years later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was so confused, I thought I had been so healthy before cancer (not!), how could this happen to me? My metabolic terrain was a mess.
Four years later, Dorian and I found our way to the ketogenic diet. It wasn’t easy for me in the beginning. I was working a lot, and then, quite by accident, I started to skip meals. And I wasn’t hungry. And I noticed that my ketones rose, and my glucose lowered. I felt great! This “accidental” intermittent fasting (IF) was what jump-started ketosis for me. To this day, I routinely use IF to stabilize and stay on track.
Dorian and I eventually found a mutual groove, and the ketogenic way of living came together for us. We were eating amazing food, and didn’t feel deprived — in fact, we felt great. So, what was the difference this time? It’s quite simple. It was not a Diet, it had become a lifestyle — a full, balanced, vibrant lifestyle — and we were thriving!
So, what about this wine journey of which I speak? Well, we had honed our love of food and wine in New York City, enjoying great restaurants and wonderful wines we could afford. Then we made our way to the Napa Valley to work in the wine industry. We both ended up working at wineries as Directors of Hospitality. In my 14 years at Inglenook, I was lucky enough to work under Master Sommelier Larry Stone as well as Philippe Bascaules who is now both Director of Winemaking at Inglenook and Managing Director at Chateau Margaux in Bordeaux where he began. I received the most amazing wine education one could wish for, leading to an undying appreciation for wine. I was honored to work with an amazing team of sommeliers and wine educators. We would meet each week before work to blind taste wine. I learned about the growing, harvesting, making, and tasting of wine. I lived and breathed wine.
I was in the process of studying for my sommelier certification when I found the keto lifestyle. OK, I thought, how’s this gonna work?
As I was having a hard time with the whole keto thing, I decided to give up wine for two months to really understand what was going on with my body — not the easiest thing to do in the Napa Valley, by the way. But I did, and what I learned was important. By vigilantly testing my glucose and ketones, I was able to deduce what foods affected me and was able to hone my lifestyle.
I started to introduce wines back in slowly and tested often, finding that certain wines kicked me out of ketosis, but with other wines, I was able to remain in ketosis comfortably. I was becoming fat adapted and would come to learn that it all had to do with the sugar and alcohol levels in the wine.
I was able to find balance. In a blind tasting, you deduce what you believe the wine to be by going through a sensorial grid. I did the same thing when I would try new wines — went through the structure of the wine to figure out the sugar, the alcohol, the acidity, and if it was balanced. More importantly, did I enjoy the wine? Then I would test… typically the next morning, when my glucose would be the highest, and my ketones the lowest. If I was in ketosis with moderate glucose, I would consider the wine a winner.
Studying for my sommelier certification was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life. When I passed, I was thrilled to be awarded the Walter Clore Scholarship, an honor given to the candidate with the highest exam score for theory, blind tasting, and service. I was on cloud nine.
But I still wasn’t sure how this was going to work. Moving forward, it wasn’t enough for me to simply choose low alcohol wines to drink. Dorian and I wanted to have good, balanced wines. What I found interesting, was that the more I became entrenched in the keto lifestyle, the more I was able to gauge my metabolic boundaries and choose wines that fit our lifestyle. We were traveling extensively for the business at the time. When we visited a new restaurant in an area (or country) that we were not familiar with, I would first look at the wine list. Sounds simplistic, but I found that for the most part, if there was a thoughtfully assembled wine list, the food would also be good. It’s worked thus far and we have yet to have a problem drinking wine, eating good food – AND staying in ketosis.
So, this is my story. The most important thing I can say is keto is not a diet. Keto is a lifestyle, and for it to be successful, you must embrace it and find what brings you joy. If you do this, it becomes simple, and you will thrive.
And if wine brings you joy, I’m here to help you find wines that might fit into your lifestyle as well!
Check out our wine recommendations on our blog!