I wasn’t going to post again about my ketogenic experiment. Well, not immediately. However after getting 28 more followers of my blog in the last week, I figured that perhaps this was something people were interested in hearing more about. It makes sense. A ketogenic diet is the extreme version of a low carbohydrate diet. And when you combine the words ‘diet’ and ‘extreme’ in reference to an eating pattern, then that’s bound to spark some interest. Think ‘magic bullet’ It’s like Beyonce endorsing the lemon detox diet. Except she likely received a hefty payout for the pleasure of losing 9 kg in 7 days (to then gain it all back… but who’s counting?) I’m still waiting on my cheque. Not sure who to contact, however. Within the last week I have delved further into the information I have around what constitutes a ketogenic diet. How much of what we read on the internet is in fact ‘ketogenic’ and how much is someone’s misinterpretation of it?
For example, there are a few websites that provide information on the ratio of carbohydrate (CHO) and protein to fat that you should aim for when adopting a ketogenic diet. This keto calculator here gives a good overview of the information that should potentially be taken into account when providing structure to the diet. I used this as a starting point with regards to CHO and protein, and adjusted the fat grams per day so the end result wasn’t a hefty calorie deficit leading to unwanted weight loss. However, as that is the end goal for a good number of people, it will provide some idea of the macronutrient totals. On that note, there is a misconception that you can eat fat ‘ad lib’ and you will lose weight or – at the very least – not gain it. That’s just not the case. I know many people who have dabbled in ketosis and have not been successful with their desire to lose weight, whereas others have found the weight has literally dropped off. Of course, as ketogenic diets are the extreme end of a low carbohydrate, high fat (LCHF) diet, there are many people who have lost weight just by opting to include more real food in their diet and have spontaneously eaten less due to the higher satiety factor, without the need to meticulously count macronutrient grams, weigh food portions or think twice before eating out. This can be a source of frustration for others who have committed to doing all of the aforementioned but have not had the same experience. I did wondered if part of this is to do with the macronutrient ratios – that their protein and/or CHO grams are too high to truly get into ketosis and enable the body to adapt to burning fat. I emailed Stephen Phinney – one of the world’s experts in the ketogenic diet and co-founder of the Art and Science of Low Carb – a website where you can find information on the research he has conducted and the books he has authored with Jeff Volek and Eric Westman. His response?
“The simple answer is that if your ketones are above 0.5 mM and after a meal you are satiated (while keeping protein in the area of 1.5 g/kg), then you have got your diet right. Rather than trying to prescribe fat intake in grams or ratios, it works best to eat fat to satiety. In this regard, it is important to recognize and manage ‘fat hunger’ by having high fat items available so that one is not tempted to over-eat protein.“
And that makes sense -so potentially it has less to do with the ratios as a rule, however they are the starting point for some people and could help if they are having trouble regulating their protein intake. For some, however, merely recommending they eat fat to ‘satiety’ is too difficult for them to put into practice successfully and still lose weight. It is entirely possible to get into ketosis and have blood ketones above the 0.5 mM that illustrates they are being used as the predominant fuel source. However, the amount of fat consumed is in excess of what they need, and the fat that is used for energy is provided by the diet, therefore there is no physiological requirement for burning body fat. Frustratingly, despite meticulously counting macronutrient ratios, watching protein portions and being mindful of situations that could blow them out of ketosis, those jeans are not getting any looser.
While managing fat hunger is the key, it’s really difficult for some to recognise their fat hunger – as this is relying more on the physiological signals sent by the body in response to the food eaten. For many people, the hormones responsible (insulin and leptin being the predominant ones) are either disrupted due to poor metabolic health and/or being overridden in the context of the food environment they have been exposed to for most of their life. The food choices that have been part of a ‘healthy, balanced diet’ have constituents that drive appetite and feed into our food/reward system in the brain that extend far beyond our physiological needs. Couple that with ingrained behaviour whereby we must eat what is in front of us, it is rude to decline a piece of home made cake, and those around us comment on what we choose to eat or not to eat, it is no wonder many people have lost touch with their true appetite.
As with any change in diet, it’s such a good time to assess the effects of those environmental cues on your own appetite and adjust where necessary. Serving smaller portions is a great start when following a ketogenic diet, as fat is naturally more satiating. Chewing food properly and finishing a mouthful is also key. For some, putting their knife and fork down in between bites is a good way to do this. Eating without distractions is often recommended, though some can read/browse the internet while still being mindful of their food intake – so use your honest judgement here.
I’m also learning a lot about my own dietary habits and how a change in eating has affected other things. In no particular order, these include:
1. For the first time in memory I’ve been consistently sleeping through the night. I mentioned this last week but in the last seven days I’ve slept through the night on all but one occasion. I put this down to a reduction in vegetables that I’ve been eating. Don’t go thinking I’m vegetable free – at ALL! I’d easily meet the 5-a-day recommendation for me, you and that person who sitting over there on a normal day. Now I’d probably just meet mine and yours. This reduction in water means I’m no longer getting up in the middle of the night and despite the fact that humans likely didn’t sleep throughout the night back in paleolithic times, I’m loving the uninterrupted sleep I’m getting.
2. While I was meticulously weighing my food portions in the first 10 days, I’ve reached a point where it’s easy for me to eyeball amounts. I have eaten out a few times over the holiday period, stayed at a friend’s house for three nights and maintained my ketone levels between 0.7 mM and 3.9 mM.
3. Training hasn’t been that bad, aside from an almost repeat of last Friday’s run. This time it was on trails and I knew within two minutes it was going to be a long 90 minutes. I believe this was down to dehydration actually – my heart rate shot up immediately, then settled, though was still a hard run. There has been a slight decrease in strength for my weight training also. However I’m a bit slack on that front so there are obviously confounding variables (as with all of this…) These have been offset by some awesome sessions too.
4. Throughout the day my energy levels drop off markedly – more than usual I believe. I think this will change as I adapt. I understand, according to Steve Phinney, that it can take up to 12 weeks for that to occur. Perhaps this is longer than a four week experiment.
5. Peter Attia, The Eating Acadamy, is a WEALTH of information – the posts are just the start of it. He is amazing with his responses in the comments sections and I’m learning a lot there. Go over and check it out if at all interested.
6. It took about a 10 day period to get my head around the smaller portions and that they would be filling enough. The reason why I ate so many vegetables is down to being a calorie-counter for over half of my life. As vegetables are low energy, nutrient dense, I relied on them to fill me up. This clearly goes hand in hand with the ingrained dietary fat phobia for the same time period and my tertiary education in nutrition. If you think it’s hard to get your head around a high fat diet, try having the nutrition qualification at the same time. THAT is a challenge ;). Whilst I’ve made massive dietary shifts over the last 18 months, this experiment has been as much about what I’d experience psychologically as it has been physically. I have read the science that clearly shows fat doesn’t make you fat. I tell people on a daily basis that fat doesn’t make them fat. I have had clients and friends who have upped their fat intake (within and outside of the ketogenic diet) and have seen them improve or maintain an already good body composition throughout. Perhaps for some, seeing that with their own eyes would be convincing enough. It wasn’t for me. However, after 13 days on a ketogenic diet, one kilogram down from when I started,
7. Fat – from between 130g – 200g per day depending on the day, in the form of cream, nuts, low carb desserts, olive oil, coconut oil, butter, cheese, coconut cream – is not making me fat.