So there’s this thing that I do with food. Whenever I hear about a new diet or trend, I feel compelled to try it out for myself. It all started after college, when I heard of the Macrobiotic Diet. I had been invited to a conference and ate Macrobiotic meals three times a day. The difference I felt in my body was so remarkable I immersed myself in a macrobiotic lifestyle for the next six months. Since then, I’ve been vegetarian, vegan, raw foodie, gluten free, paleo, low carb- all in the name of learning and experiencing what it actually feels like to eat according to a particular set of guidelines. My objective has always been to feel and perform optimally. So my newest adventure is in the land of nutritional ketosis. Have you heard of eating for nutritional ketosis yet? If not, oh boy, I can’t wait to tell you all about it! I like to try out different diets (or eating styles as I like to call them) so I can give feedback to my clients about what it’s like. I think it’s a little better than just reading about eating a particular way then trying to give recommendations from solely a knowledge-based perspective. The other part is that I’m a naturally curious person who loves to experiment and try new things.
Why I wanted to try it
A few things got me curious about ketogenic eating. One, was that it’s reportedly great for energy, and cutting cravings for sugary foods. Not that I struggle with having enough energy, but I’m a constant sweet treat seeker, so if anything could help with that, I’m open to the experience.
Secondly, I struggle a lot with getting sore after workouts- no matter how intense or not. I also recently began taking some curcumin supplements to aid with this as well as Branched Chained Amino Acids during exercise, but I was curious about the muscle preserving effects ketones have during exercise as well as any other performance enhancing effect. I want to find the most anti-inflammatory way of eating possible, and if there is the potential for performance benefits as well, then I’m definitely interested!
Also another thing that had me curious was the potential for weight loss and body composition improvements following keto. I’ve noticed a slow and gradual weight gain over the past couple of years (since discontinuing running) and having less time for endurance cycling, I’ve not found a food and physical activity balance that works well for me. So I felt I had nothing to lose by trying another approach. I was intrigued by the promise of little to no sugar cravings and full satiety between meals. I’ve tried sugar detox plans, but they were so hard to stick to. I felt like I had to be 100% perfect or it wouldn’t work. And often it didn’t work once I indulged my sweet tooth a bit- it really activated that reward center in the brain for sugar/salt/fat.
So I had my own personal reasons and was open to a new experience.
And what is Ketosis, exactly?
So what is this eating for ketosis about? Basically about getting your body to produce ketones to burn for energy instead of relying on glucose. the reason being is that ketones supply a steady source of energy and the presence of ketones in the body may exhibit protective benefits. The main way to product ketones is to reduce carbohydrate intake substantially while boosting the fat intake and leaving protein at a low to moderate percentage. The premise is that once you shift your body’s metabolism to burning ketones, you are in “fat burning mode” and are providing a steady supply of energy to the body that doesn’t “dip, crash or run out.” The ketones themselves are by products of burning fat and can have protective benefits like reducing lactic acid, and preserving muscle breakdown during exercise. They also seem to blunt the appetite and reduce cravings for carbohydrate foods, including sweets. For more detail about what ketosis is and what it’s about, I highly suggest reading the book Keto Clarity by Jimmy Moore and Dr. Eric Westman available on Amazon. It’s a comprehensive collection of opinions and experience from many researchers in the field along with many stories of folks who’ve obtained great benefit from eating this way.
Taking the Plunge
After getting the book, I was about 2 days into reading it when I thought it would be interesting to see if I could lower my carb intake enough to produce ketones myself. One way you can test for this is to use urine ketone strips that are readily available at a pharmacy over the counter. Now, it’s important to know that I normally do not consume large amount of carbohydrates on a daily basis- probably less than 80- 100 grams per day. It’s possible I may have already been producing ketones at some point, but have never tested for it. The transition period to produce ketones steadily was much shorter than for most people who make this transition coming from a higher carb diet. After a day of eating about 50grams of carbs, I was indeed producing ketones. So, I kept my goal to stay at or below 50 grams of carbs per day. For folks who normally consume quite a bit more carbohydrate in their diet, the transition period can take longer to produce ketones and undesirable symptoms can accompany the journey, such as low energy, fogginess, headaches, weakness, poor athletic performance and moodiness. I luckily had virtually none of these symptoms- which may make a great case for doing this gradually. Say eat under 100g carbs for 2-3 weeks, then drop it to under 50 grams.
This is what I noticed:
During the first few days, I remembered that feeling of being a little foggy headed, like I wasn’t thinking clearly enough but it was gone after a couple of days. I scaled back my workouts at the gym to 2-3 Bodypump classes (a 1-hour strength training class) and just 1 15 minute High Intensity Rowing Interval session and sadly avoided spin class. I kept my normal amount of daily walking, taking the dog to the park, etc. I didn’t have any problems getting through my workouts (but again, I think this is because I was already somewhat adapted to low carb eating and working out fasted in the early morning. But interestingly, by the end of the week, I was able to add weight to my lifts and acknowledged that I wasn’t weakening from the diet. Mid week- I noticed that strongest benefits, a full satiety that lasted for hours after meals. This was likely due to the fact that I was intentionally adding quite a bit more fat to my meals. One particular day, I worked late and taught a class and wasn’t able to eat dinner on time and wasn’t even hindered by moodiness, blood sugar dropping or hunger pangs. It felt like freedom! But of course, when I got home, I had a decent meal. I can’t say I’ve ever had this experience with any other style of eating, high fiber, balanced protein/fat/carb- maybe the magic meal that comes close is a large salad bar salad with sunflower seeds, olives and can of sardines in oil. By the end of the week, I noticed some trends. I kept testing for ketones with the Ketostix test strips and could see that early mornings seemed to produce lower ketone readings, and once when I waited a long time to eat, and began to feel a little hungry, it maybe was the stress hormones kicking in- which could induce the production of glucose from the liver, thereby lowering ketones. But interestingly, I could eat a piece of dark chocolate and even a bite of a homemade cookie or a lick of frosting- if I wanted to- just because- and it didn’t seem to influence my ketone production at all. For me this was relief! I didn’t feel like I was “failing” a sugar detox or ruining my efforts using stevia in my tea, potentially goosing up my insulin production. I seemed to be producing ketones just fine even if few grams of sugar touched my mouth.
My takeaways from the experiment in Ketosis this week:
1. I can gladly be satisfied, well-nourished and energized during the day and at the gym by eating in a way that produces ketones 2. I feel less preoccupied with food and feel like I can take my time preparing the meals I prefer, instead of getting hungry or worrying about becoming hungry- it’s much more manageable, almost liberating. 3. I finally feel free of sugar cravings- the uncontrollable kind. I do get that feeling for “something” after dinner, but I warm cup of unsweetened almond milk actually works for that! Or I can grab a piece of coconut oil chocolate made with stevia if I think only chocolate will do. But that sugary sweetness, uber dessert craving is pretty much gone. 4. My week has been based on about 50 grams of carbs or less. I’m not sure if there is any benefit to going lower- I feel like I’m getting exactly what I’d hope to from this level of ketosis. I will continue the experiment for the rest of the month to see what other observations are worth sharing.
Breakfast: Cauliflower porridge (ground cauliflower, eggs, flax, coconut milk & cinnamon), occasionally bacon and eggs.
Lunch: Usually leftovers, or a salad with extra avocado and dressing, leftover protein, broccoli and salmon, lots of summer tomatoes.
Dinner: last night was turkey meatballs with a thai spinach coconut sauce over spinach.
Snacks: Coconut Manna(coconut butter), Macadamia nuts, Parmesan Reggiano slices, olives, coconut oil chocolates.
Stay tuned for Week 2- in my Nutritional Ketosis Adventure!
But I’m super curious, have you heard of this yet? Have you tried it? Would you?