This is a follow up to my last post titled Diet 2017 – Starting My Journey into Ketosis – please read that first so you know how I got here.
Step 4 – Ketosis via the Keto Diet
I started on the Keto diet officially on April 21st, 2017 – today marks the 11th day of being on the Keto diet. For those unfamiliar, the Keto diet is pretty simple. It is a high-fat, mid-protein, low-carb diet with a focus on having your body operate off of blood ketones, instead of blood glucose, for energy. The basic premise was summarized in the previous post, but the general idea is that this diet will force your body to operate off of ketones (which come from fat) instead of glucose (which comes from carbs/sugar) – effectively putting your body into fat burning mode. Interesting side note – excess glucose gets stored as fat, excess ketones get peed out – that’s a huge win for ketone energy in my book.
How did it go? Well, from April 21st to May 1st I went from 218.1 pounds to 213.7 pounds – a loss of 4.4 pounds. Given that in the previous step of my diet I lost 2.1 pounds over an entire month, and given that I’d already lost ~20 pounds so far this year (arguably the easiest to lose), I’d count this as an absolutely huge win. Dropping 4.4 pounds in 10 days is definitely a pace I could get used to – I’m hoping it sustains at that rate.
How was the process? Overall I’d say not too shabby. When you read about the Keto diet you’ll often hear of something called the ‘keto flu’. This is really a carb/sugar flu, which is basically a period of time in which you can feel sick, have headaches, etc. while your body makes the transition from having normal carbs/sugar to having less than 20g of carbs a day – basically like coming off an addiction. Luckily for me I didn’t really experience this. I had read that hydration was a big key, and I’ve been very intentional about staying hydrated. The only symptoms I experienced as part of this ‘keto flu’ was that I noticed I felt slightly overheated, like a mild fever, for a single day during some walking around with my son at soccer – I believe that was day 2 or 3. Aside from that I had a couple of nights of not being able to sleep well during that same time – since then I’m sleeping like a baby. I’ve been sticking to less than 20g of carbs a day, and haven’t noticed any negative side effects. I have however noticed some positive side effects which I want to briefly touch on.
Positive Side Effects So Far
- Reduced Cravings – I’ve always been a big snacker, especially late at night – usually snacking up until 11 or 12 at night. I have not snacked at all on this diet. Part of that is trying to adhere to intermittent fasting, but the majority of it is just feeling satiated all the time. I no longer want a snack ~3 hours after a meal. The higher fat content definitely stays with me longer, and I haven’t had any cravings all this week in the evenings – pretty amazing for me.
- Steady Energy – I have noticed that I no longer get the shakes after extended periods of not eating. Previously I would experience shakes and other obvious signs that I had to eat if I went past 11am or so without eating. Since being on the Keto diet I have experienced none of that.
- Improved Mood – I am noticing improvement to my bad mood I would usually have in the hour leading up to dinner. I believe this is because of not needing a sugar/carb fix every ~3-4 hours like before.
- Improved Skin Conditions – This may border on TMI, but I’ve had a couple of skin issues that I’ve noticed have cleared up. First, I have had some sort of dead/white/scaly skin on the back of my ankles/heels for many years now – it is now entirely gone. Second, I had some sort of blister on the bottom of my big toe for 3-4 months now, which hurt bad enough that I couldn’t really walk in flip-flops while at the beach – that has now entirely healed. Sure it could be a coincidence, but I had notable pain putting any pressure on that toe up until the start of this step of the diet, and now it is entirely gone. It went from being inflamed and irritated to being back to normal.
- More Sustained Strength – I have continued to progress in how many reps I can do with my dumbbells (at the same weight as before), and noted that I appear to have longer lasting energy in completing later sets – even at higher reps.
What My Average Day Looks Like
Peeing on Ketone Strips
A few times a day I pee on a Ketone strip. These basically measure the amount of ketones in my urine. A first sign of entering ketosis is starting to get a positive reading on these strips. I started seeing some level of pink/purple on day 3-4 of the diet, and have ranged from somewhat pink to a semi-purple each time since. These strips aren’t the most accurate (there are blood test strips similar to glucose test strips and even a breathalyzer which give more precise numbers), but they were good enough for me to get an idea that I was progressing in generating ketones (something my body wasn’t doing before).
Foods I’m Eating
My diet right now isn’t super varied. It’s something I’m working on, but honestly I am a pretty simple guy that doesn’t much care about eating the same thing frequently. Most days my lunch and dinner consists of the following in some sort of combination: Chicken / tuna / salmon / hamburger / steak + eggs + spinach / asparagus / broccoli + sour cream / guacamole / cottage cheese / shredded cheese / salsa. My main goals are avoiding anything labeled ‘low-fat’ (which really means the fat was removed and replaced with carbs/sugar), and having more fat than protein. I’ve picked up a few different foods to try out, but haven’t yet, including pork rinds, sardines, and string cheese.
Eating out has been somewhat of a challenge, but I’ve done pretty well overall. For example, I went out to eat with family at an Italian restaurant. My first thought was just get a steak and some vegetables, but they didn’t have a steak. My next thought was a meat and cheese plate, but they didn’t have that either. In the end I got a shrimp + pasta meal and just asked them to swap the pasta for broccoli – worked out fine. Similarly, I’ve found that I can still go eat hibachi and just substitute extra vegetables instead of rice. I’ve also been exposed to wedding cake and an ice-cream stand this last weekend, and I managed to only have one bite of each.
When I’m Eating
I’ve largely been following an intermittent diet of not eating after ~8-9pm, and not eating the next day until ~1pm. I feel mildly hungry by 1pm, but given that I’m not eating until midnight the night before anymore, this is a net increase of ~4-6 hours between dinner and lunch with no notable side effects (besides a positive one of not getting the shakes as mentioned above).
How I’m Exercising
For the last 1-2 months I’ve been getting in ~30 minutes of exercise a day. Up until now I have mostly been doing cardio with a VR game called Soundboxing, but I’m now doing 10 minute elliptical runs with short breaks in between. I am also doing 4 different weight lifting exercises daily with 35 pound barbells. I’ve progressed from 3 sets of 10 reps to 3 sets of 16 reps as of today – I definitely have more staying energy.
A Summary of What I’ve Learned
I’m finding some parallels to when I quit smoking 10 years ago. I had tried to do that 3-4 times prior, but always failed 2-3 months in. I only succeeded the last time from educating myself on addiction via Dr. Joel’s daily quit videos. I feel like education on that issue is what made the difference with finally quitting. Similarly, I’d like to think that this diet will succeed since I’ve spent the last few months trying to learn as much as I can about losing weight. I wanted to provide a list of what I consider to be my biggest learnings in that time, because quite frankly the common guidance most folks hear and follow is totally wrong (please forgive me for not adding references throughout these items – as always, do your own research):
- Dietary fat is not bad for you – In the 70′s a nutritional guideline (The McGovern Report) was rushed through the federal government which placed blame for heart disease onto dietary fat intake and instead suggested eating 40-50% of your diet in carbs. This highly-contested guidance led to a food pyramid with carbs as the base, and a wave of ‘low-fat’ foods which replaced fat for carbs/sugar. This has proven to be incredibly detrimental over the last 30-40 years, and is undoubtedly a leading cause of our growing diabetes and obesity epidemics. In reality, higher fat diets can help reduce cardiovascular disease, and Lipitor and other drugs targeted at high cholesterol (and not the specific types of cholesterol) are causing more problems than they are solving. There are a lot of good videos on this subject on YouTube, some of which I linked in my last blog post. Interesting side note, a low-fat diet leads to reduced testosterone and sex drive, and Pfizer makes money both off the Lipitor and the Viagra to fix the poor sex drive due to a low-fat diet.
- Sugar is the problem – Sugar is now in nearly everything we eat. That includes yogurt, bread, and other supposedly healthy, ‘low-fat’ products. The movie That Sugar Film does a good job explaining how sugar is the underlying cause of a number of major health issues wreaking havoc around the world. My biggest gripe about sugar is that I’ve learned that it is addictive, causes a dopamine response in our brain, and causes our bodies to react to a decrease in sugar in the same way we would react to needing a nicotine fix. Basically the more sugar we eat, the more we crave it. The more sugar we eat, the less satiated we are, and the quicker we want to eat more again. After you ween yourself off of sugar you’ll find that your cravings for it (and eating in general) will greatly decrease.
- Calories-in VS Calories-out (CICO) is bunk – While counting calories is a good practice as it forces you to stay within some limit, and potentially reduce your daily caloric intake, it is very misleading. You can do this simple experiment – consume 600 calories of potato chips and soda one day for lunch, and the next day eat 600 calories of meat, cheese, vegetables, and nuts. You will find that the latter will keep you satiated much much longer. It matters what calories you are taking in, not just how many. Similarly, weight gain can frequently be a hormone imbalance – potentially due to an over abundance of insulin due to a high sugar/carb intake.
- It’s about diet, not exercise – Most of what we hear about a healthy lifestyle surrounds exercise, and diet is not as emphasized – no need to stop eating or drinking product X, just play some basketball. In reality, losing weight is ~80% diet, and ~20% exercise at best. For example, if you drink 2 Cokes in a day, that is 300 calories – it would take you 20+ minutes of running on an elliptical to burn that off. If you eat a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream you’re looking at over an hour of intense exercise to burn it off. There are numerous examples of folks losing massive amounts of weight with no exercise just by switching to a low-carb / high-fat (LCHF) diet. Just fix the diet and use the exercise to improve your heart health – it is not your primary driver for losing weight.
- Eating more meals a day likely won’t fix the issue – There is a lot of guidance suggesting that instead of eating 2-3 large meals a day, you should instead eat 5-6 small meals a day. Studies on this subject have shown that the number of meals, assuming the net nutrients/calories for the day are the same, has no overall affect on weight loss. Conversely, if you are eating food with carbs/sugar, then each meal stimulates an insulin response – which is what spurs fat storage. There may be no harm in eating 5-6 meals a day, however it can prevent your body from ever getting into fat burning due to the insulin/glucose spikes after each meal, especially if you aren’t following a LCHF diet.
So What’s Next?
The plan for now is to stay on course. I’m seeing great weight loss in the first 10 days on a ketogenic diet, and I see no need to change course at the moment. I am toying around with getting further into fasting now that I’m not battling with frequent hunger bouts and my body is getting used to converting my stored fat into energy. Otherwise I feel pretty confident that my current game-plan will get me to my goal – I will report back.