14 reasons to ditch the toast and jam (and 7 key tips to help you do this).

After feeling like I’d taken a trip back to 2003 with some of the sports nutrition posts and articles I’d been reading lately, I got tagged in a cool picture from a listener of our Fitter Radio podcast  – a triathlete who has switched from the traditional higher carb, lower fat diet approach to eating lower carb, higher fat, real food whilst training and commented she ‘didn’t know her 41 year old body could be the best body I have ever had’ (Woot! high fives all around!!) This coincided with finishing Mark Sisson’s Primal Endurance book.

Mark outlines 115 reasons why athletes should train and eat the Primal Endurance way. I concurred with pretty much all of them. I have added my own 2c worth, added some literature below (and cut it down to 21 for brevity’s sake). While geared towards athletes, hands down this is applicable to everyone. Everyone.

So if you’re currently eating toast and jam pre OR post training (or in general), I’ve outlined the 14 reasons why you need to ditch that junk and become a fat burning beast, and 7 key tips to help you get there.

  1. Western diet is based on excess grains and sugars (and low fibre) which stimulates excess insulin production, leading to lifelong insidious weight gain, chronic inflammation and elevated disease risk factors.
  2. A high carb, grain-based diet can leave endurance athletes nutrient deficient (due to phytic acid effects on minerals), inflamed and more susceptible to the oxidative damage of the stress of training, general life and poor nutrition.
  3. The way that most people consume modern grains (cereals, breads, pasta) ends up being a cheap source of calories which are immediately turned into glucose upon ingestion and offer minimal nutritional value. There are no good reasons to consume these types of grains and many good reasons not to, especially for those who are sensitive to gluten and other anti-nutrients found in wheat.
  4. Everyone is sensitive to the health compromising effects of grains at some level, especially the pro-inflammatory effects of gluten and the propensity for the lectins in grains to cause leaky gut syndrome.
  5. Even lean people suffer from the consequences of carbohydrate dependency, such as chronic inflammation, oxidative damage, and accelerated ageing and disease risk factors.
  6. Carrying excess body fat despite careful attention to diet and a high training load is largely due to carbohydrate dependency caused by a grain-based diet and chronic training patterns.
  7. Carbohydrate dependency cycle looks like this: consume a high carbohydrate meal – elevate bloods sugar – stimulate an insulin response – shut off fat metabolism and promote fat storage – experience fatigue and sugar cravings – low blood sugar elicits stress response and we consume more carbohydrates – stimulate the fight or flight response to regulate blood sugar – dysregulate and exhaust assorted hormonal processes, and end up in burnout and weight gain (potentially lifelong)
  8. Weight loss through portion control, low fat foods and calorie burning is ineffective long term. And while we think calories burned through exercise stimulate a corresponding increase in appetite – research might not back this up. I tend to think that people are more likely to eat more because they ‘reward’ themselves OR the long slow training allows increased opportunity to eat sports ‘junk food’ and the amount of calories burnt through training is far less than you think – and overestimated more so in females in certain instances. At any rate, the secret to weight loss is hormone optimisation, primarily through moderating excess insulin production.
  9. Endurance athletes can begin to dial in to their optimal carbohydrate intake by asking themselves the question ‘do I carry excess body fat?’ Any excess body fat calls for a reduction in dietary carbohydrate intake to accelerate fat burning.
  10. Endurance athletes who already have an optimal body composition but are looking to optimise training and recovery should choose high nutrient value carbohydrates. These include a high volume of vegetables, a moderate fruit intake, kumara/potatoes and other starchy tubers, dairy for those that tolerate, wild rice, quinoa and small amounts of dark chocolate.
  11. Endurance athletes with high calorie needs who also have an optimal body composition can enjoy occasional treats, but the habit of unbridled intake of nutrient-deficient carbohydrates should be eliminated in the interest of health and performance.
  12. Primal style eating (or eating minimally processed foods) is fractal and intuitive, and when escaping carbohydrate dependency and becoming fat adapted, you don’t have to rely on ingested carbs for energy. Eating patterns can be driven by hunger, pleasure and maximal nutritional benefit.
  13. Escaping sugar dependency and becoming fat adapted gives you a cleaner burning engine, since glucose burning promotes inflammation and increased oxidative stress
  14. Ketones are an internally generated, energy rich by-product of fat metabolism in the liver when blood glucose and insulin levels are low due to carbohydrate restriction in the diet. Ketones are burned efficiently by the brain, heart and skeletal tissue in the same manner as glucose. You do not need to be on a ketogenic diet to upregulate your ability to produce ketones – you can do this via a lower carbohydrate approach.

HOW TO DO THIS: 7 KEY TIPS

  1. Step one: omit sugars, grains, industrial seed oils for 21 days. Step two: emphasis highly nutritious foods such as meat, poultry, vegetables, eggs, nuts, fish, fruits, some full fat dairy, seeds, and kumara/potato.
  2. 100g or less of carbohydrate promotes fat loss, 150g is around maintenance level and over this could promote lifelong weight gain and over 300g could promote disease patterns.
  3. While transitioning to primal there are some struggles initially due to lifelong carbohydrate dependency and the addictive (for some) properties of sugar and excess grains and wheat. Headaches, dehydration, lower blood pressure and ‘dead legs’ are all initial side effects when removing processed food. Trust me – this too will pass.
  4. To minimise side effects, start the transition in a base-training phase of your training where training occurs at an easy pace. The transition phase can take anywhere from 2-12 weeks initially.
  5. Consume salt. Don’t underestimate the importance of this! Lower circulating insulin affects your body’s ability to retain sodium (and other electrolytes) – so we need more, particularly as processed food (of which you are no longer basing your diet around) is where you got around 70% of your sodium from.
  6. You can accelerate the process of fat adaptation by instigating some of the tactics used by athletes who opt to ‘train low’ – i.e. in a low glycogen training state. Some of these are naturally undertaken if you train without eating in the morning, or work out after dinner in the evening and don’t consume anything post-workout. If you’re new to this, have a read through to establish which might suit you best, and start instigating 1-2 x per week. Don’t undertake all of them as this aggressive approach could cause too much additional stress, derailing your plans to become a fat-burning beast.
  7. The FASTER study and Peter Attia, Sami Inkinen suggests any endurance athlete can become fat adapted and deliver performances that may be superior to carb-fuelled efforts all of the way up to anaerobic intensity. This is a new and growing research space, one AUT is testing, among other Universities around the globe.
Strong, lean and awesome at 41y.

Strong, lean and awesome at 41y.

 

PS What the Fat Sports Performance – currently an ebook, about to be published is one I can’t WAIT to read as well – sure to be a goody.

An endurance athlete’s ‘real food’ success story: making it work for you.

I got this email this week from a client that I have worked with since just before mid-year. She is an endurance athlete that came to me as her overall energy levels were low and she was carrying a few extra kilograms that she wasn’t used to.

We chatted through not only nutrition but lifestyle-related changes that she could make to help support her busy lifestyle. This included changes to her diet, additional supplemental support, working on sleep-related behaviours and finding the middle ground between ensuring adequate energy levels and losing body fat to a level that was sustainable and achievable. You can appreciate this is a delicate balance! I discussed with her that when we sorted her energy levels, the body fat loss would take care of itself – she was aware of this and that her energy levels were the priority.

As an endurance athlete she often trained at both ends of the day and came home late, stayed up a little later than she thought she should, and relied quite a bit on carbohydrate-based choices such as bread and cereal to boost her energy levels during the day. While she didn’t recognise it, I immediately flagged this as one of the reasons she was feeling exhausted. She was also hungry a lot, eating at multiple times during the day. This was another indicator that her food choices were not geared towards an optimal balance of good quality carbohydrate, protein and fat. A detailed discussion on her diet proved this to be true.

This client was very motivated to feel better, and took the suggestions that I made and found a way to work them into her lifestyle. We had four sessions together, the last being just before a race that she was doing – the first one for her in a while.

I asked if she minded if I shared her email – she was happy for me to do so.

“Thanks for the item on Thyroid on Fitter Radio this week – it was really helpful. Good to know low thyroid is not something you are necessarily stuck with for life.

Following our catch-up at the end of September I just thought I’d update you with how things have gone since then, and where I have found a really comfortable place with training and nutrition.

Update:

So in summary, I performed well at my last race and was very happy with my placing in my age group. I really noticed that getting extra sleep made a big difference to how I felt, two nights before the race I had 9 hours and felt amazing the next day.

My weight has stabilized at around 53kg so I think this is possibly the happy place for my body, and it’s the same as it was a couple of years ago when I was running at my best.  I feel good at this level and I’ve figured out how to keep it there – for me it’s:

  • at least 7.5 hours sleep;
  • not eating late; and
  • doing some kind of activity in the evening, even if that’s just a walk.

Food wise, what seems to be working and manageable is:

Prep: (crucial to ensuring that I’ve got options available during the week):

  • Bulk making a week’s smoothies at the weekend, then freezing and using during the week
  • Ordering Primal Kitchen for weekday lunches and weekend main meals
  • Making a few wraps at the weekend for weekdays when I do something straight after work. For example, Farrah chia wrap* with Vital Vegetables Slaw, lemon juice, a flavour (Thai spice mix, peanut butter or salsa) + a protein such as smoked salmon or chicken

*yes I know it’s has wheat in it and is a carb but it seems to give me enough energy/and is practical – if I eat fewer carbs than I am I don’t seem to have enough energy.  I have tried other things instead of a wrap like cabbage leaves/sushi sheets/… but they just don’t work as well, they fall apart. The thing that does work is the Vietnamese rice paper wraps but they are very fiddly so I would tend to buy the Farrah wraps instead – very good place in central Wellington to get them! 

Breakfast – usually 5:30-6:30 depending on day

  • Smoothie and a hot drink + a spoon of peanut butter – I usually make the smoothie quite thick and eat it out of a bowl with a spoon!
  • If I’m doing something hard-ish like a swim squad or a run/bike then I have something else too. This tends to be either a sachet of plain oat porridge with the smoothie on top, or 2 hard-boiled eggs with some salt (or on a race day 1-2 x banana depending on length or race).

Mid morning – usually have a coffee with rice milk but don’t need to snack much now. If I do it’s 1-2 Brazil nuts

Weekday lunch – usually eaten around 11am-noon

  • Primal kitchen – 1/2 a warrior size shared with partner + handful baby spinach
  • 2 squares of dark chocolate and maybe a couple of strawberries.
  • Raspberry white tea

Mid afternoon – usually have a Redbush tea with rice milk but don’t need to snack now. If I do it’s a carrot and maybe a few almonds.

Weekday dinner – on days when I do something around 5 or 6pm in the evening, I just eat this around 4pm which seems early but it gives me fuel for the activity then I don’t need to eat a meal later. This way I get a semi-fasted thing happening (as per train-low principles) without it feeling hard. And it means I don’t eat a bunch of rubbish in the afternoon. So it works!

  • Wrap
  • 2 squares of dark chocolate
  • Redbush or green tea

Evening – Usually have a hot drink (not caffeinated), and maybe a swig of wine or my partners beer, but I don’t need to snack as much now – if I do it’s because I’ve just been for a hard-ish training session or MTB ride, and, something like a gold kiwi and few nuts does the trick.

Weekends, similar but we have Primal Kitchen in the evening but I try make sure we eat early, like by 6. For lunch something like sardines on toast if at home with salad, or eggs on toast if we are at a cafe.

Overall

It’s working well and although probably to you getting Primal Kitchen for most of our main meals will probably seem like a bit of a cop out!! But actually takes the stress out of everything – otherwise I would end up doing all of the thinking ahead/planning for both of us on food and basically end up spending more of my free time on it which to me wouldn’t feel fair! (My partner is wonderful but he just isn’t as organised as me and has lean genes and the fastest metabolism on earth so can eat anything. To him, super healthy food isn’t so much of a priority). I think it also works out the same cost or cheaper, definitely frees up some time and makes logistics easier. I’m sure at some point in my life I’ll enjoy doing more food prep and cooking more but this works right now and keeps the balance of effort fair!**

I am planning on giving up triathlon after this summer and just focus on running, mostly trail running and doing other stuff I enjoy for fun.

So, that’s it! Thanks for everything and your podcast, the whole experience of getting nutrition consultation has been a really positive one and the result for me has been to shift a good couple of kilograms and change my mental attitude in a very positive way.  🙂 ”

You can see from the discussion of her food choices, her diet isn’t low carbohydrate per se – though it is definitely LOWER in carbohydrates than it was. There is a lot more protein here than what she was having, and overall the nutrient density has improved.

Overall I think this is such a good ‘real food’ success story and that’s why I asked if I could share it. Does she eat ONLY non-processed food? No – however it’s all about context and finding the middle ground with what can be achieved in the context of the individual’s lifestyle.  That, to me, is success. 🙂

Merry Xmas.

 

**to be clear, I don’t think that getting meals from a place like Primal Kitchen (or ordering through My Food Bag etc) is a cop-out at ALL. I think it’s a smart strategy to help people meet their nutrition goals and not fall back into bad habits that could contribute to poor overall health status. It’s really interesting here that it works out MORE cost effective too. It saves on buying food that they would have to throw out as they haven’t found the time to cook it. It also saves the temptation of just having toast or cereal in the evening, or a sandwich that doesn’t provide enough protein and important nutrients. Primal Kitchen is a great choice.

 

A real food success story.

I love a good Real Food success story – and Julie has a great one. She has happily let me post it here. Over to you, Julie.

My name is Julie, I’m a 50 year old nurse, and Neale and I are coming up to our thirtieth wedding anniversary this year. I have four children and three grandchildren. While not being excessively overweight in my teens, I lived in a dieting environment with a mother always going on a diet “on Monday”. Food was always on my mind, the more I ate the more I seemed to want to eat. Four children and seesaw weight loss and gain followed. In 2002 I was heaviest I had been and a friend introduced me to the high protein low carb eating style and the rationale behind it.

The realisation that I had a high insulin response to carbs was liberating. I had always been constantly puzzled about the fact that no matter how much cereal and fruit and trim milk I ate for breakfast, by mid-morning I was ravenous, foggy headed and wanting to have a sleep. No one else seemed to feel like that and I concluded I was an undisciplined pig. If I was trying to lose weight and went to bed starving, that was a triumph. But the weight went back on – that old familiar story. So I read “The Protein Power Plan” and tried that for about a week and went through carb withdrawal complete with the headaches, moodiness and brain fog. I took that book back and she gave me “Enter the Zone” and this is when the light switch really went on and the liberation of knowing my response to carbs was not my fault allowed me to gain some control.

I counted blocks to the gram, lost weight, felt amazing and thought I could do this forever. And I did always continue to try and follow the very sound principles of eating in a balance of fats, carbs and protein to manage my hunger. But I was still eating grains (limited – low carb 2 slices a day with grilled cheese on top) and making choices for my blocks that were still processed and simply started eating too much always thinking “I’ll start again tomorrow” and lo and behold, there I was at the start of 2014 the heaviest I had ever been – again. A friend came to visit on January 2nd 2014. He is an amazing weight lifter and heavily muscled but wanted to lose some weight and he had read about paleo and was following the principles fairly strictly and lost weight fairly quickly. I had heard the paleo term round and about and admit I am guilty of dismissing things I don’t know enough about until it is thrust in my face, so had thought it was just a fad. I thought I had the tools with “the Zone”, I just needed to get my head back around it.

Neale was keen to lose weight as well so the next day we went to the butcher and vegetable shop and stocked up. I wasn’t prepared to give up dairy (again, I thought I knew better and I actually do tolerate dairy just fine, and don’t have as much as I thought I would want) but never ate bread again from that day – I knew it wasn’t my friend, I couldn’t afford to let it in. Do I want it now? Not a bit. Freedom. And I read. I read everything I could; Robb Wolf, Chris Kresser (I find his book is realistic and possible), Melissa and Dallas Hartwig’s “It Starts with Food” and others. I follow Facebook pages and blogs, and found Mikki in the “North and South” magazine at about that time and started following her as well. Mikki keeps it real too which made me realise this is doable. Forever. I still read and search for anything new, because knowing why I am making these changes makes it easier. But I must stress, it just hasn’t been that hard. The weight loss of 30 kilos is a bonus, but was certainly my main motivation in the beginning was because I wanted to audition for “Mamma Mia!”, the stage show. While I was never going to look amazing in lycra, I wanted to look as good as I could!

What do I eat? When I started I ate all the things “allowed” and quite a lot of it so after the initial loss of 7 kg, I stalled. I continued to read and found intermittent fasting. I would skip breakfast – just coffee with a bit of cream – and have around a 16 hour fast overnight. I was surprised at how well I functioned on two meals and consequently eating less (but never starving), the weight started to drop. Meals with adequate protein (palm of my hand) and lots of vege, never skimping on fat (butter, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado) kept me going in peak form. Two or three days a week I would add breakfast. My crockpot is my best friend, I make tons of bone broth which we drink or turn into soup in the crockpot again – kale or other greens, carrot, some kumara or pumpkin, swede (Southland swede rocks!), leeks, celery, whatever is available. Make enough for the week and lunches are never an issue. I have Melissa Joulwan’s “Well Fed” books and prepare as much for the week in one go as I can. I go to the farmers market and prepare vege, chopped, stir fried or mashed. I brown mince in a pan and use that to add protein to my soup. I keep boiled eggs in the fridge. Being prepared is the key and food is simple, often a one pan wonder, but always tasty because you cook in fat and add salt because there is no added salt in unprocessed food. When I cook, I cook plenty so there is always leftovers. I pin on Pinterest. I have a lot of recipes for treats, but in reality I hardly ever make them, because I just don’t yearn for them. But ideas are good. I do make treats for my grandchildren, and feed them a very clean diet. They love my home-made chicken nuggets from The Ancestral Table, and my 18 month grandson loves porridge made with banana, coconut milk, eggs and ground flaxseed. I make coconut flour waffles for waffle toast which gives them extra protein with eggs and added cottage cheese, and coconut flour mini donuts. I buy cheap apples at the market to make apple sauce for sweetening. It’s great to see Nadia Lim’s recipes guiding us to this way of eating as well.

Healing my gut has been important, I make water kefir and of course the bone broth helps. I sleep like a log, I take a magnesium supplement every night, my blood pressure is plum normal and I’m off meds – whilst it was never normal even on meds. I have stopped taking anti depressants, I feel calm and even in my mood. I guess my diet is fairly low carb because it’s hard to eat too many carbs when your main source is vegetables. I eat 1-2 pieces of fruit daily and some starchy vege like kumara. When I first started the Zone, I understood that it worked for me but I was constantly annoyed ( to say the least) that other people could eat bread and a “normal” diet without being starving all the time and not putting on weight. I just don’t feel like that now. I don’t feel cheated, or that I am missing out on anything. Exercise is something I haven’t done with much regularity and that’s just a mental block of mine which I will conquer next.

People ask me what I’ve done. I say I eat clean, I don’t love the paleo label, but at the end of the day if they want to make changes they will listen, and they will want to learn for themselves. A year may seem a long time but the time goes by anyway, so make it count now, not next year. If you want to see obstacles, you will. If you want to make a change to how you feel and ultimately look, you can. And the obstacles become challenges and then you rise to those challenges and you are there, and you will want to learn as much as you can. I eat what I feel like eating now and I only feel like whole, natural, unprocessed food, and continue to lose about a kilo a month. I have a pair of jeans I want to fit…..but the journey is as rewarding as the goal.

julie

Julie’s transformation

Pre-eating? On that…

Pipped at the post. I was all set to pontificate (and had written ~ 600 pearls of wisdom about) why people eat when they aren’t hungry. Then I notice the email notification for Sarah Wilson’s blog, and I click on it to reveal…. Pre-eating. Great minds…

There are many other reasons though for people to eat when they’re not hungry, but pre-eating –eating in anticipation of being hungry, or – in the case of the athlete – eating in anticipation of needing fuel for a workout – is a biggie for some people. Just a few days ago in the clinic an athlete told me their afternoon snack wasn’t because they were hungry, it was in case they ran out of fuel for their workout in the afternoon. I asked  what the worst thing that could happen was. Of course the automatic reply was that they couldn’t finish the workout. I then asked if they’d ever tried it to see if that was indeed the case. They hadn’t.

So many people pre-eat for because they fear being hungry. I get this a LOT. When I recommend that someone forgo the snacks during the day, sometimes it really is  fear in their eyes when they ask me ‘what if I get hungry?’ What if? While hunger has been the cause of death for millions of people worldwide, it hasn’t actually killed anyone I’ve ever sat down with. Or anyone they’ve ever sat down with. But the idea of being hungry can create this ingrained panic in some people that, if they don’t eat – even if they’re not particularly hungry – they will not be able to resist temptation that comes their way in the form of the jar of lollies on their colleague’s desk, or the biscuit tin in the staffroom. As Sarah pointed out, a lot of people are uncomfortable with the sensation of being hungry –and don’t trust themselves to hold back once they do get to eat.

The other obvious reasons people eat are out of boredom, habit, guilt, stress or because it’s scheduled. All of these deserve a blog post in themselves. A lovely friend I studied with was the classic scheduled eater. I remember quite clearly being in our office, both of us working away on our theses (this was before the internet was anything more than email and I was one of the first people I knew to have a cellphone; there was no Twitter or Facebook to distract us. Thus, I do believe we were in fact working). She started being a bit random in what she was saying (which wasn’t unusual, she was the most intelligent girl I knew, yet could be quite fluffy too…) however when I asked her about it she declared she could barely focus on the screen in front of her because her blood sugar levels had plummeted and she needed to eat. I suggested that we go for lunch, but she was adamant she couldn’t eat until 1pm, yet it had barely turned 12pm. This self-imposed scheduling of meals is not about the fear of being hungry, but more about exerting a level of control. For some, these food rules that govern our intake is a comfortable place to reside in, and if you have the willpower to adhere to them, then that’s the internal battle won.

Another example I came across where the wheels fall of was in the comments section at the bottom of Sarah’s blog: Kat has commented that she delays her breakfast until 8.30 (for as long as possible) yet this leads her to snack constantly throughout the morning. Again, this conscious (or otherwise) rule to not eat until later – trying to delay food intake and (in essence) reduce food intake has  unintended consequences. I see this a bit in my clinic also – people are scared that if they begin to eat earlier in the day, then the overall volume of food will increase because they will be hungrier earlier. Of course, right? Increased food, increased weight. Not necessarily. And, in this case, I believe the opposite is true. The reasons I thought Kat wasn’t able to regulate her appetite was that she either isn’t eating enough at breakfast (which is possible, as she mentions her weight has stalled and she’s not able to shift weight) or she’s not eating enough protein and/or fat to help stabilise both her stress hormones and her blood sugar to enable her to coast through the morning snack free. Those two food-related reasons could lead to higher than normal stress hormones as she isn’t responding to her body’s hunger cues. The body will store more fat in this environment, making it difficult to shift weight. The stress hormones will also cause the liver to dump additional glucose in the bloodstream which leads to fluctuations in energy and mood and (at worst) the dreaded ‘hangry’. Of course, if Kat is constantly grazing, she might never feel that way and could be overeating to compensate for the changing energy levels.

If Kat ate breakfast earlier, and ate MORE for breakfast, I believe she will feel far better. In addition, if this did lead to an increased food intake, the body’s stress hormones will be far more stable, and the way the body responds to calories is largely dependent on the environment within the body. The increased stress response created by delaying the meal could mean that Kat is far more likely to store those calories for later use. By tuning into her hunger signals and regulating her stress response, Kat might find that she is able to eat more food (and thus, more dietary energy) and burn it more effectively.

I actually think that whether Kat is eating too much (or too little) is almost a moot point. If Kat is hungry, she should eat. If she isn’t hungry, then she should wait to eat. As Kat was reading Sarah’s blog, then at least we know she is eating the right type of food to help maximise her nutrient intake and thus her health goals. When she told me what she was eating (quinoa porridge with chia seeds and almond milk), I suggested she go ½ and ½ with almond milk and coconut milk – and (obviously) eat when she was hungry. That’s what I love about open forums. It’s a great place to offer unsolicited advice. 😉

What, why, how, when and where we eat garners so much attention and so many emotions. Sarah’s blog was really just to highlight a fraction of the discussion (as this is), to get people thinking about why they eat and whether or not they needed to snack. It didn’t say to NEVER snack, it was about tuning into your hunger cues and recognising when you are hungry. For a lot of my clients, it’s a habit rather than a physiological drive. That’s why for many people I discourage snacking. However it’s really individual and there is no one size fits all approach. Do you snack? Do you need it? Do you even know? Try going without a snack at a time you would normally eat. What’s the worse that could happen? You get hungry. Well it’s unlikely to kill you.

Keto update week 4: same old, actually!

Four weeks in…. how do I feel? This morning I could have turned a corner, I had an awesome run. If you had asked me yesterday, I would have said: hard to say – actually the same as what I have the last couple of weeks really. My sleep has been better than ever, other than a couple of nights but I put that down to life events and not diet related. Interestingly, I feel that I’ve started letting myself relax more in some instances. For example, I will come to the end of the day and typically I’m doing client or AUT related work in the evening. However I’ve been better at being disciplined about just going to bed and not thinking that I must finish X, Y, Z before doing so. I don’t necessarily think this has been as a result of the change in eating directly. But I do think that when you’re forced to step out of normal routines and reflect on them, it is hard to isolate it to just one area. And it’s fair to say I’ve been doing a bit of reflection lately on a lot of things. Perhaps that is just a product of that.

My day to day energy has been up and down, but again, I think it’s just that I’ve got a lot going on and it’s the impact of feeling stretched in many different directions. My training has been interesting. I’ve noticed that I seem to feel awesome up until about an hour, therefore probably push it a bit on that hour, then I seem to all of a sudden die. I’m still only doing long runs of up to 90-95 minutes, with a lot of my sessions being 60 minutes or less. That’s a bit of a change too actually. Being an endurance girl, it’s hard to take a step back from that – and 15 years of being hardwired in thinking that ‘the longer the better’ particularly where both fitness and body weight is concerned, this could be the toughest nut of all to crack. It’s right up there with the ‘fat makes you fat’ thinking. And this n=1 experiment is certainly teaching me how absolutely wrong that last statement is. I will always train – my head requires it more than my body does and actually my head often does my body a disservice because of it. But the physical effects of this diet necessitates me to reduce the amount of time spent training. That, combined with other commitments, has meant that I’ve had to be okay with not doing as much. Surprisingly, this hasn’t been as difficult as I imagined.

What is my general diet over this ketogenic experiment?

Breakfast is a mix between a chia/coconut cream/cream pudding with a small piece of fruit (like feijoa), or it’s been eggs (mix of scrambled, omelette – ditching the whites, poached) with added avocado, cheese, some greens. The rhubarb crumble with cream has been a favourite.

Lunch has been salad greens, leftover meat with dressing, nuts, some cheese – watching my protein component carefully, and the overall volume of salad is a lot smaller than it would normally.

Dinner has been a mix of vegetables that have been roasted (i.e. swede chips), mashed (cauliflower), creamed (spinach with creme fraiche), and meat. I was staying with my Dad this week in Dunedin and he loved that I added cream and balsamic vinegar to the mushrooms and bacon we had at dinner. Not a ‘Mikki’ thing to do.

I’ve been snacking on macadamia nuts and cheese, adding cream to coffee. I thought I would be fancy and order a vienna, but I had to explain to a café what a ‘vienna’ coffee was.. FYI, a vienna is whipped cream and cinnamon. However, I suspect that ordering a vienna is akin to ordering a ‘cappuccino’ (i.e. not the choice of serious coffee drinkers) after getting mocked by my friend Ash. My friend Chris put me on to this sugar-free Well Naturally chocolate which I have to say is delicious. I’ve actually avoided products like this for the better part of 18 months, and am not sure why I feel the need for it now. But I do.

So that’s me in a nutshell. I am waiting for the feeling of amazing energy; that has yet to happen despite my ketones being around 1 mmol/L every time I’ve measured them, bar twice, after being hungry and eating too much twice in the evening. I suspect that it’s easy to go out of ketosis in that instance, and have read Peter Attia saying the same thing. On those days I recognised that teaching across two campuses on opposite sides of the city, combined with seeing clients, left me little time to prepare, and I suffered for it. I am measuring these less, though, as I become more confident in my choices to ensure a ketotic state (and more mindful of just how expensive those ketone strips are).

My friend Bee is also undertaking the ketogenic experiment. Bee is an amazing athlete who has seen considerable success in Ironman over the last few years, taking some time out right now to focus on her career. Out of the five friends that I hit up, she was the one that dived in boots and all. I asked her a few questions three weeks into it to see how she was feeling.

1.      I know I asked you to do this (keto) but what made you give it a go?

Firstly, I’ve been following the inspiring Bevan McKinnon’s Fatman Ironman campaign over the last couple of years (beginning with the disaster that occurred last year, to the turnaround performance at Ironman New Zealand 2014), and reading his blog on Fitter Facebook page sparked some interest. It makes sense to me, and I want to feel like that when I race again!

And I’m curious. I am a carb burner. I have a high carb diet and when training and racing I relied heavily on carbs, sweet yummy triple caffeinated chocolate bomb power gels (from the health food stores of course!). I almost believe I won’t be able to change energy sources and burn fat, it’s too different. So I am keen to see what can happen.

2.      What is a typical day’s food prior to keto?

When the news first started to trickle through that fat was now ‘ok’ I was stoked and I celebrated with the re-introduction of butter, cream and full fat meats into my diet… but I was the typical mainstream observer and didn’t really cut out many carbs or sugar treats, other than switching cereals to pumpkin / root vegetables for breakfast (yes weird), and from sandwiches to wraps for lunch. Dinners were typically meat/fish and vegetables.  I would eat frequent but smaller servings of chocolate and cakes or sweets each day, I have/ or more so I had a seemingly uncontrollable sweet tooth. When I was a kid I used to want to own a lolly shop when I grew up so that I could have endless supplies of sweet goodness.

3.      What is a typical day’s food now on keto?

Lots of good yummy foods. Breakfast is a variation of eggs, coconut cream, cheese and vegetables. I have them as omelettes, scrambled, or using mushroom or avocado instead of toast.

Lunch is a salad with leafy greens and salad vegetables, protein could be smoked salmon or smoked chicken, eggs or just macadamia nuts. All mixed with cheese and garlic infused oil, tahini or aioli.

Dinner meat and vegetables (dependent on carb allowance) and cheese and oils.

I’m loving the food choices and have not been eating any sugar or sweeteners, I haven’t wanted to.

4.      What have been the main challenges to changing to a keto diet? (energy, appetite, sleep, training …)

The diet itself is surprisingly really easy to follow, I’ve been weighing food where possible and while a little annoying, it’s not the end of the world.  When I’m out I just do the best I can with what’s available, I’m not going to take this so far that the diet prevents a meal out.

The biggest challenge has been in my running and I’m finding it pretty annoying. I have slowed down a lot, I’m missing the extra gear I used to have. I can’t keep up with my usual running pals, forcing them to do hill repeats so I can catch them up (good to see them suffer though). On many runs I’ve wanted to throw the towel in and just eat a damned sandwich. But this is just part of the experiment to see if this carb burner can change.

5.      What, if any, benefits have you seen in the three weeks since going keto?

I don’t eat sugar. I don’t think about sugar. I admit I still walk into a café and drool at the sweet goodness of cakes and cronuts, but I don’t finish a meal and think hmmm a bit of chocolate would go down well right now.  If you could only understand what a change this is for me, if I gain anything from this change in diet the shift from sugar is more than enough. Happy days.

Keto diet update: week 2.

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.

So… have you gone all keto?

Yes. But unlike my decision to ‘go paleo’ this was a predetermined, calculated, conscious decision and not ‘by default’, which is how my whole food philosophy came about. And that’s largely because it would be very difficult to just ‘go keto’ without some predetermined, calculated, conscious decision making occurring. Although, with the wisdom that is obviously gained from now 9 days of carbohydrate and protein restriction, and the consumption of vastly increased grams of fat I am pretty sure a lot of people out there who believe they are ketogenic might not be – if the websites devoted to keto foods and recipes are anything to go by. How on earth would they be in ketosis with protein portions that large??

Now why would I bother jumping on the keto bandwagon? A few reasons. A lot of people I know have tried it and I’ve reached a point where I’m curious enough to see if I had the discipline to follow such a strict dietary regime (regime is a rather harsh word, but I feel it’s applicable for this diet). Whilst some people observe what I eat and exclaim how ‘disciplined’ I am (like it’s a virtue), I love what I eat and eat what I want – eating a real food diet isn’t about discipline, it’s about pleasure. The strict limits on not only carbohydrate but protein requires discipline largely reserved for the very analytical and uber intelligent (i.e. Peter Attia over at Eating Academy).

The second reason is self experimentation – a far cry from the days I mocked people for using the term n=1, I now wanted to experience, document and reflect on how it feels to undertake a ketogenic diet. A great way to learn and understand anything is to experience it. My weight and body image issues growing up, for example, have provided me with better insight into the challenges faced by clients who battle with similar problems, despite the fact that, physically, we may look very different. As a number of my clients now have heard of a ketogenic diet and just want to try it, or have legitimate health reasons that warrant a ketogenic approach as a tool to improve metabolic health markers, then to be able to speak from experience is obviously advantageous.

The final reason is because Caryn gave it a go. And therefore, out of those left in our research team at Human Potential Centre who had yet to follow a ketogenic diet, I was the only person left who had yet to try it. Other than Scott. And as he is still drinking energy drinks (albeit he’s switched to the sugar free variety, and swigs water after having it to protect his teeth), it’s fair to say our respective diets are poles apart at this point. However he has recently jumped on the Twitter bandwagon so I’m sure it won’t be too long before he’s swigging bottles of MCT oil and professing the benefits of butter like it’s nobody’s business. However, I am a nutritionist and, as the last one standing I felt not a small amount of FOMO by having not at least tried it. I’m actually in the best position out of my colleagues – as I can learn from their mistakes. Like I did at St Johns. As a cadet in my younger years we had regional competitions that required assessing a medical emergency and stitching or bandaging people up with the one who illustrated the most knowledge walking away with the trophy. As my last name is Williden I was usually last to front up, and my St John’s group would filter information to me so, by the time it was my turn, I was armed with all necessary information to go into the medical situation and assess, inform, and bandage with skills that would make me an indispensable member of McDreamy’s team. This ketogenic diet experiment is not dissimilar, minus the trophy and the badge to stitch on my jersey.

So Day 9… A short time, sure. But I’ve learned a few things already.

  1. It’s hard to stick to the protein limit. Really hard. I got an inkling of that when I read Tim Noakes’ Real Meal Revolution recommendation of keeping animal protein to 80g per meal absolute amounts. But who also knew vegetables contained so much protein?
  2. That it is hard to get the amount of fat necessary for ketosis and overeat. My food volume has dramatically reduced. Obviously, though, if you do eat more fat than you need, this will be reflected in weight gain/gastrointestinal problems etc over the long term.
  3. That I’d wildly underestimated the amount of peanut/almond/coconut butter I actually ate in normal life (like somehow the Gilmours 3kg bags of nuts just disappeared of their own accord). I’ve never tracked my food to this extent (using Easy Diet Diary app for iPhone) and it is a real eye opener.
  4. That not all food apps are created equal. For example, Fitday lists broccoli has having almost as much carbohydrate as pumpkin. It doesn’t.
  5. That for some people to get into ketosis, 50g of carbohydrate (CHO) might be too high, and closer to 30g is better. Is this a female thing? Maybe. This is clearly insight from Caryn who passed this on. While the academic literature often places limits of 20-30g CHO/day,  there are also studies that refer to a low carbohydrate, high protein diet as ‘ketogenic.’ Confusion is clearly not limited to the bloggersphere.
  6. There is a lot of misinformation on the Internet about ketogenic diets. But there are some very smart people writing about this – way smarter and knowledgeable than I am.
  7. People are unnecessarily verbose in recipes and post too many ‘stages’ pictures.
  8. That, despite being my dislike of Thai food and Thai restaurants, I really like my own Thai red curry coconut chicken. (I must be the only person who doesn’t like Thai food. I know. Is it the cheesy American cover songs and proliferation of sweet chilli sauce? Maybe).
  9. That making pastry is way easier than I ever realized.
  10. That if you decide to make pastry to turn that chicken curry into a pie, you should probably check that you own a rolling pin (or a good substitute) first
  11. That I make really good rhubarb crumble and chicken curry pie. These and other recipes are over on my Facebook nutrition page – definitely check them out.

Other thoughts:

  1. Training wise – I’ve felt great. Up until Friday and then it felt like I’d been turned upside down and emptied out. Hardest. Run. Ever. Barely breaking 5.30 k’s (actually that’s an estimate – thankfully Nicky’s evil Garmin wasn’t working and I was too scared to wear mine). Friday and Saturday were complete write offs but today’s run – storming. Seriously. Even after doing weights yesterday I woke up feeling better than I have in a long time.
  2. During normal day: I’ve felt flat. A bit sick on some days too – and particularly on the days when I missed having a coffee with cream, or something similar, which reduces amount of fat I start the day with. But, again, today I feel back to being awesome.
  3. Twice during the week I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep for an hour. Unusual for me, though not unheard of. Last night I slept right through. This may be due to the diet, might have nothing to do with it.
  4. I miss fruit. And dates. And wine (for now – I’m abstaining for now, given that alcohol is preferentially metabolized in the body – which would largely offset my efforts to turn fat into the go-to fuel tank).
  5. While I, like many people, have my go-to foods, nine days into this and I’ve needed a bit of variety to keep me focused. I typically eat a TON of vegetables, and would feel largely dissatisfied to sit down to a third of that with extra dressing added as a fat source.
  6. It’s a shame that I’m making all these awesome meals and I have yet to meet my future husband. He is seriously missing out on some good eats.

I know. I’m late to the party on this. Just like the paleo/real food/whole food movement, I’m pontificating on something that some of you reading this would have read about, adopted, wrote about, reflected on and then moved on five years ago. If this is you, and you have some wise words then please share! This is a learning curve for me (and clients) so the more I know the better.

So I’m hoping for that ‘keto’ clarity, that ethereal experience people talk about, and that today’s run was indicative of the amazing training that I will experience as I undergo this keto experiment. (It goes without saying that this will of course turn me into an amazing athlete lol) I’m also hoping that my experience will add to the information out there that seems, for the most part, from the male experience. There are a few women writing about it, but it is largely a male dominated space. I will keep you updated, both here and on my Facebook page. Right. Off to make keto hot cross buns. Because nothing says Easter like almond flour buns dressed with a white cross.