"Come for the weight loss but stay for the energy" would be my summary of the Ketogenic Lifestyle... but let me roll back a little and give you some context because this is going to be a very personal post. It might sound like bragging from time to time. Be gentle. While I got some interesting results, I am still trying to understand what is happening.
TL;DR: between April and November 2018, I changed my lifestyle. I went from Slow-carb, to Low-carb, then Paleo and finally Ketogenic. I lost 16kg in the process and discovered abilities I never suspected. This post is about that journey.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, I have no medical training whatsoever. All this, I learned from books, from podcasts and from my own experiments. So take my words with a pinch of salt, make your own mind about it and consult your doctor if you want to try something out!
1. Slow-Carb à-la Tim (Ferriss)
I love cooking, eating, sports and chocolate. In the past, with those three aligned, everything was fine. When health problems (feet), sleep deprivation (kids & work) and stress (work) grew, all hell broke lose. For the past 10 to 15 years, my weight has been the archetype of the yo-yo effect.
Twice in those 10 years, I used the slow-carb method to lose weight. This is a technique coined by Timothy Ferriss in his book The Four Hour Body. This is a low-carb diet coupled to simple hacks that aim to reduce the effects of insulin on the body. On the slow-carb diet, you eat as much protein as you want, some fat and of course "slow-carbs" like lentils and beans.
Why are those carbs called "slow"? As you may know, carbs are not created equals. Carbs absorbed by the body raise the blood sugar level and thus create an insulin response. By the way, Diabetes is the absence of such a response. Slow carbs are low-glycemic or slowly metabolized carbs. They are digested and absorbed at a slower pace. They thus have a reduced effect on the blood sugar levels.
I followed this diet from April to July and lost about 7kg. The loss was fast, followed by a two months plateau. At the end of those two months, four things were bugging me:
- I was eating way too much meat
- It felt like like a bunch of empirical hacks (which it is) and not like a „science-based“ approach
- It is still a diet, not a lifestyle
- Why did I lose so much weight very fast, but was not losing anymore?
Time for a tweak!
2. With „The Primal Blueprint“, it‘s starting to make sense
I don‘t know where or when, but at the end of the summer, I heard multiple mentions of the book The Primal Blueprint from Mark Sisson. So I decided to give it a try.
Among other things, this book more or less describes the Paleo diet. This is a low-carb/high-fat diet (LCHF) and not "let‘s eat everything raw like Neanderthals". Human beings have been living as hunter-gatherers for hundred of thousands of years. Only in the last 5000 years or so, did we invent agriculture and start eating a lot of carbs & sugar. Those were seldom in our diets before. Did our bodies & DNA have the time to adapt to this change? The Paleo enthusiasts say "no, 5000 years is not long enough“.
Dietary wise, the Paleo diet recommends:
- 50-150g of „carbs or sugar“ per day
- 1.1g of protein per Kilogram of Lean-Body-Mass (your weight if you had 0g of fat)
- As much fat as you want to feel satiated
Those are the two dietary rules:
- Eat lots of animals, insects and plants.
- Avoid poisonous things
In addition to these, the book prescribes the following 8 rules:
- Move around a lot at a slow pace.
- Lift heavy things
- Run really fast every once in a while.
- Get lots of sleep
- Get some sunlight every day.
- Avoid trauma.
- Use your mind
As you can see, the diet is but a small yet important part of this lifestyle guideline.The author goes in great details about how the body actually works. He explains how fat is created and stored. He explores how blood glucose is metabolized, and how Ketones are sometimes produced. It went in even greater details to explain how the body can live on proteins and fat only. Finally the way the body stores energy started to make sense.
3. It‘s starting to make sense
This is when it started to click in my mind. If it is that easy for the body to release insulin and store energy into fat cells, it would be logical to have an equally fast mechanism to use those energy cells when needed.
But then why do my body seem to never make use of this mechanism?And the answer is: because our bodies are vehicles running on blood sugar. As long as we fill the tank with things that convert into blood sugar, there is no need for the body to use its own energy source.
To lose weight, you have to force your body to restart its own engine and burn some fat to create energy. It works if you create a caloric deficit i.e. burn more energy than you ingest. Or if you ingest so little „blood sugar“, that your body cannot rely on it anymore. This second idea is what LCHF diets do.
This. Finally. Fucking. Makes. Sense. Don‘t you think?
So I started experimenting with this Paleo thing right away and lost a few more kilograms.
4. Into Ketosis
In The Primal Blueprint, the author talks about one extreme version of the Paleo lifestyle called Keto (for Ketogenic). This is the Paleo diet with even less carbs: 20g/day at most. That means we ingest only „incidental carbs“. Those are the ones you cannot avoid. For instance, 100g of eggs have 0.7-1g of carbs already.
Ketones are another kind of fuel that the body can use as energy. To produce ketones, the liver has to burn fat. When you "go Keto", the body cannot rely on carbs & sugar for its energy. So it starts burning fat to create ketones.
From this point on, the daily limits were easy:
- As little carbs as possible (less than 10g if possible)
- As close to 80g of protein as possible.
- As much fat as I need to feel satiated and have energy!
It took a few days for the body to adapt. After half a dozen very low readings on my blood-ketometer, I entered "nutritional ketosis" at the beginning of September. From then on, the weight dropped FAST: 7kgs in 2 months (among which about 6kg of fat). And with this, I finally had all the pain points of the slow-carb diet solved! Awesome!
5. The climax, the weird effects of Ketosis
Now let’s go back to the sentence I wrote at the very beginning of this pamphlet: "Come for the weight loss but stay for the energy".
It now seems obvious to me, but it took me so long to realize it. If I am not feeding my body with easy "blood sugar" to burn, it can start burning fat like it always wanted to. With over 21% fat still around, I have plenty of reserves. My body can burn fat to supply the demand all the time. Which means that it is less dependent on energy intake than it used to be. No more energy drop before lunch. No more sugar crush after lunch. No more cravings at 4 PM...
The effects are amazing: my body can be hungry, but it doesn't lack energy. I can hear my stomach grumble, but sill being awake, alive and kicking! I did 3-days fast without feeling groggy or tired or turning into the hungry-angry-beast I used to be when I skipped a single lunch before.
THIS is the new thing. And THIS is awesome!
6. What now?
Now I’ve reached a new phase with its own interesting questions:
- Recently, I have not been able to raise my ketones levels to the numbers I used to. And a thorough analysis of my eating habits can‘t explain it. Ketones flowing in the blood stream, are only the "remaining ones", the ones that were not used yet. Thus a low reading can mean two things: being out of ketosis? Or that the body got so used to ketones that it now creates "just enough" of them. There are thus less unused-ketones in the blood. From the energy standpoint, I very much feel in ketosis. So I tend to believe the second theory. But that would mean that the readings are now useless. And this makes me feel like a kid learning to drive a bike without the supporting wheels...
- The other point is to start understanding the signals my body is sending me. One of the effects of insulin is to inhibit the feeling of "satiety". This is not the same as feeling "full". I am getting this feeling back, but it is still a complicated process. I am also discovering signals of lower metabolism: cold hands for example. I can thus start differentiating between "my belly is telling me that I am hungry" and "I need energy". That’s a new thing!
- Most important of all, I started questioning "normality". This all makes so much sense, that I cannot picture our bodies working any other way now. I am not the one that has a weird lifestyle, you are!Last thought before I let you go. If humanity was able to completely mess up our diet. If we were able to screw ourselves over such an essential thing. What else should we question as well? What do you think?
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