When I first tried a diet, it wasn’t to loose weight. I had the opposite problem, where it was hard to gain weight, despite eating regularly (I know, woe is me). When I was around 17, foods that I enjoyed slowly started to make me sick. From eggs and spinach to kale and lettuce, my body began to reject an ever-growing list of foods.
After eliminating some foods, and still having issues, I decided to become more prescriptive in my approach, by following a meal plan. I first started with vegetarianism for a few months. I saw a (now defunct) Netflix documentary, and drank the Kool-aid of vegetarianism. Not that all vegetarians are drinking said Kool-aid, but I recall drinking a fair amount after seeing the documentary.
The first few weeks were annoying, but nothing too hard. I was still able to have my scrupulous amounts of sugar (think clearing a quart of mint chocolate chip ice cream every 1-2 days, sometimes), an enormous amount of carbs (oatmeal, cereal, bread on bread on bread), and a small amount of fats.
Generally, I felt sluggish, and foggy. I’d have slight spikes of energy, but that could’ve been from the influx of sugar or general carbs, and not the blast of nutrients that’s commonly referred to with the vegetable shakes. Not saying it doesn’t happen, but for me, my stomach rejected most of the vegetables, so instead of the shake being energizing, I was doing QA for our plumber.
I did find new foods I liked, but ultimately this wasn’t for me. I craved my burgers too much, and decided to then try the Ketogenic diet. After a few weeks of research and eating whatever I wanted, the real journey began.
Paleogenic and Ketogenic
Instead of jumping directly into a ketogenic diet, I used the paleogenic diet as a stepping stone. So I combined the two for this section, but essentially this focuses around keto. Around this time, the keto diet was gaining popularity from podcasts like Joe Rogan, and some doctors on YouTube promoting the effects of the diet.
I outlined the ketogenic portion of the diet here, so I won’t go into much detail. But I will describe what occurred after writing the post.
Due to my IBS, many of the foods a ketogenic diet promotes, such as avocados, leafy greens, and eggs, among others, I couldn’t handle. This made following the diet very hard, since I had to stay within a specific carbs/protein/fats ratio with far less options.
Further, it was very difficult keeping up with the high amounts of fats, because my body was used to a minimal amount of fats from my eating habits before. I hypothesize my gallbladder was not used to such use, and that was very apparent for the carnivore diet. It took a solid two months for me to be able to handle the standard amount of fat from the diet.
At this point, I was at my last option. I did not want to go the pharmacological route. And to this day I’ll try almost anything to avoid taking pills. But that’s for another post. Joe Rogan had a guest on his podcast, Dr. Shawn Baker, who talked about the carnivore diet, which sparked my interest to research more. I stumbled upon the subreddit /r/zerocarb, along with Dr. Kevin Stock’s site, meat.health. Through these resources, I began the adaptation process. Boy was it hell. I’ll go into my subjective experience, but if you’re looking for how/why behind it, check out the links I mentioned for resources. Kevin Stock’s Facebook group, found on meat.health, is also a great place to ask questions and get feedback.
Luckily for me, I had cut out sugar while on the ketogenic diet, so I was halfway there. Cutting sugar out wasn’t fun, but after the withdrawals I truly understood how sugar is a drug. And I think sugar is the smoking of today. Sugar inflames the body (seen through a blood test called C-Reactive Protein), causing fogginess and chronic pain, among other symptoms. And as our blood sugar drops, we become fatigued, and irritated, and need another hit. Overuse of sugar causes permanent damage to our pancreas.
Onto carbs. As my parents and friends can attest to with great detail, the carb withdrawals, were immense. After the first day or so I just felt tired, but then, as my microbiome changed (the bacteria feeding on carbs begin to die off, leading to cravings), I felt extremely fatigued, irritated, and miserable. Huge amounts of depression and anxiety. I was always hungry, but after eating, I still didn’t feel satiated, because the bacteria feeding on carbs weren’t being fed.
Side note: there’s fascinating new research in the gut-brain connection. Depression, anxiety and a slew of other diseases are linked to the status of your gut. As Hippocrates said, “Let thy food be medicine, and medicine be thy food”. This new research includes a revelation in how we thought drugs like SSRIs work (we thought these class of drugs directly interacted with our brain’s neurotransmitters, when in fact it changed our microbiome which in turn, produced the neurotransmitter effect.)
At this point I was eating ground beef, but made it in a pan on the stove. The issue with this, which I only found out in the last month or so, was the rendered fat. Especially using a pan, I can’t easily remove the rendered fat. Which, coincidentally, triggers my IBS heavily. So I was having IBS attacks from what I thought was the adaptation phase.
As a last-ditch effort for this diet, I switched to beef chuck-eye, rib-eye, and sirloin cooked on a grill. This proved vastly better, and after a few weeks, I started to feel normal. Still tired, but on my way to finish adapting.
The next month I slowly begun to see the benefits. Currently, I don’t subjectively realize what the benefits are, until I try a food outside of the diet (like a cookie) where I go back to having carb cravings, I feel fatigued, and generally like crap.
I’ve found this way of eating having huge benefits, despite the apparent craziness of it on paper. However, you have to be strict with it. It’s not too hard, as the cravings for sweets and carbs is zero once you’re adapted. It’s not even work to say “no” to ice cream or anything else. Sure, it tastes delicious and I enjoyed the food in the past. But the drawbacks weren’t worth it.
If you do the diet half-ass, you won’t ever give your body the change to be adapted, you’ll feel like shit, and its dangerous to do. This is because, when combining large amounts of sugar with saturated fats, your triglycerides will climb, leaving you at a higher risk for heart disease. This was the original thought for fats causing heart disease, after the sugar industry paid off scientists to blame fat instead of sugar for the cause of heart problems. People removed fats, and their triglycerides went down. Thus making cereal and grains “heart healthy”, and the food pyramid allowing some amount of sugar. Recently they’ve drawn back their recommendations from public pressure, but originally it was because of the sugar lobbyists deep pockets. It’s no wonder why there exists mistrust. Enough of corruption, onto the benefits!
After about 2 months of sustained eating on the diet, a slew of health benefits occurred. One of which, my blood work (which I had taken during my normal diet, multiple times during keto, and multiple times during this diet) was the best it has ever been.
More subjectively, I had a great sense of clarity. No brain fog. No dips in energy. Typically, around the afternoon, I’d have a huge energy crash. This was more apparent when I drank coffee, but without coffee, I still got it.
Further, my mood wasn’t tied to hunger. If I was hungry, I didn’t “let others know” by being irritable. I didn’t need 6 snacks a day. I would still get hungry, but it would be a different kind of hunger. I call my previous hunger, “carb hunger”, where I’d get painfully hungry. Now, its just a feeling that I can let pass in 10 minutes. It’s great for hiking because I can pack light and still have sustained energy.
Speaking of energy, no matter how long my day is, or how hard I’ve worked out, as long as I get good sleep, I’m never physically exhausted to a point of crashing. Mentally, I might get exhausted, but not physically where I would need to sleep or sit down. I’ve done hard workouts twice in a day, and I have energy to go out that night. A night and day difference than when I was eating carbs.
My skin got drastically better. I used to have eczema on my left eye lid (perfect spot to hide it from the ladies), and the doctors couldn’t do anything about it. Further, I always had very low-grade acne on my face, and arms, which went away.
Most surprisingly, for the first summer ever I didn’t get sun burned. Not that I went to try and get burned, but every year my half-Irish skin would get at least slightly burned, be it my shoulders or back of my neck. Since the diet change, I’ve kept a low-grade tan even when at work, on a computer, and not explicitly trying to get tanned. In the comment section, the hypothesis is that the ratio of omega 6:3 fatty acids was improved. But it’s tough to say experimentally without the research. Subjectively, many others on this diet report similar results.
Each gram of carbohydrate holds about 3 grams of water. Thus, someone eating carbs will have more water retained in their body than someone who doesn’t. As such, what used to get me only buzzed, say a vodka soda, now has me toasty. Two and I’m in a good place. On a normal diet, I’d take me about another drink to hit the same level of intoxication.
The drawback is to avoid hangovers (as you should regardless of diet), I have to drink a good amount of water. As a hangover is just dehydration, essentially, I just need to embody my inner water champ.
The most significant change, and the one I’m happiest about, is my emotional regulation. With carbs in my diet, my emotional state would be tied to my blood sugar. As it fell, I would get more irritable, tired, and just a pain to be around. Again, parents can attest to this.
I also had irritable depression. Essentially the smallest things would annoy me endlessly. As Bill Burr joked about in his recent Netflix special, Paper Tiger, I was “…always idling at 75.”
Before the diets, back at the end of high school, to fix the depression I tried a litany of pharmaceuticals, all with their horrid side effects. After getting off them, these diets were my attempt to take a different approach. Fix the root cause of the issue, instead of performing symptom management, which is what I think most (not all) pharmaceutical drugs do today.
With this diet, the episodes are far far less severe. I’d even take a risk and say it’s normal. The real depressive episodes now only occur when I try to introduce food that I removed due to the diet, to which my body reacts poorly towards. One drunken night with friends, I tried a cookie from a local artsy-pastry place. Boy was it delicious. But the next week wasn’t so joyous.
When starting the carnivore diet, I was on-and-off lifting. When I ended keto, I was hitting personal records (PRs) at an okay pace, but not as much as I wanted to. Dr. Stock wrote about muscle building on his blog, and him being a former body builder, had experience in optimizing for the gainz brah. So I decided not to worry, and to wait it out.
Before working out, I was about 120lbs at 5′ 11″. This was too close to underweight for me. Then I took up MMA, and started working out (this begun before keto). My weight climbed to around 145lbs when at UMass Amherst freshman year (a year of buffet brick-oven pizza will do that) and this was the first time I weighed this much. Mostly fat, but more ‘healthy’ than 120lbs. I wasn’t aware until after I lost the weight from working out and living back at home, but my face had “chubbed” out a bit during the pizza binge. Then I went on the diets, lost the weight again, and was around 130lbs while working out.
My worry was this diet would impede my weight lifting progress, since carbs are a staple in muscle building diets. The carbs increase blood sugar, which in turn activates your pancreas to excrete insulin to regulate the blood sugar, causing a hormone IGF-1 (insulin growth factor) to be produced. This hormone has an anabolic effect, increasing muscle synthesis. This is why body builders will go through periods of carb loading. This process is very taking on your body (when done via massive clean/dirty carb loads), and I think will cause damage if done for prolonged amounts of time. Pancreas overuse is what diabetes is: the inability for your body to produce enough insulin to regulate your own blood sugar.
After about 8 months of maintaining my muscle mass (at the start I lost some weight, but slowly gained it back) I started to hit new PRs. Then the full benefits of the diet started to show. Specifically, my recovery time was almost halved. What would’ve left me sore for 2-3 days I was good in about a day and a half, and my rate of hitting new PRs rose precipitously.
During the last few months, my weight slowly climbed to 150 lbs with around 8-10% body fat. My goal is to be around 170-180 lbs, with a few years of work. But I feel I’m at my most optimized for weight lifting than ever before.
Below are the more common rebuttals I get after discussing my diet. There exists a large array of other questions and concerns, which can be found at the resources linked at the start of this post.
How do you not have scurvy?
Vitamin C competes with glucose for absorption in the body. Thus, the more glucose (from carbs) you eat, the more vitamin C your body requires. Since I eat zero carbs, the small amount of Vitamin C I get is sufficient
Doesn’t your brain require glucose to function?
Yes! It does. And our bodies are prepared through a process called Gluconeogenesis, where your body creates glucose from non-carbohydrate sources (such as protein).
Why don’t you just go with your doctors suggestion and take medication for IBS?
Nothing against doctors in general, but with IBS in particular, there isn’t a ‘cure’. Some people change to a low fodmap diet, others remove a single food item and they’re cured a week later. For those who aren’t as fortunate, typically prescriptions are given to reduce the symptoms. But again, this is symptom management, and as an engineer, I can’t stand using a band-aid for a flesh wound, and calling it healed.
Is this a crazy diet? On paper, yes. Compared to others, yes. But subjectively, I feel the best I’ve ever felt. And objectively, through blood work, gym performance, work performance, everything looks to be improved. This diet is a risk I’m taking, by the sheer fact there isn’t a lot of mainstream research about it. But the alternative is to take pills to mask the symptoms. And typically, pharmacological ‘solutions’ have a vast amount of side effects that are downplayed while the script is written.
Call it bitterness, call it distrust, but I’d rather take a chance at something that seems to work, versus be miserable taking pills for my ‘incurable’ IBS.