What is the Ketogenic lifestyle
The ketogenic lifestyle (I’ll explain why I don’t call it a diet) is simply changing your body’s main source of energy from glucose to ketone bodies. Many people have very detailed posts, with numerous graphs and charts, who will explain it much better than I. Specifically, ruled.me is a great resource (no sponsorship) that I’ve used numerous times when starting out.
Why do I call it a lifestyle and not a diet?
When I think of the term ‘diet’, I tend to think about someone who is restricting their food choices, and food quantity, all the while they can’t eat what they’re actually craving, or can’t eat as much as they want. For instance, someone who restricts their sugar to, let’s say, 35 grams per day, will usually feel unsatisfied they can’t have more to eat after the limit is reached. With a diet, most of the time there’s an implied willpower you must possess to not indulge in your cravings.
The term ‘lifestyle’ more accurately portrays what some of the more popular meal plans do to one’s life (paleo, ketogenic, pescatarian, etc) in that, the food is a part of changing their every day habits, and not just a means to a short term goal (loose x pounds in y days).
I’m young, why worry about what I eat?
My drive to change my lifestyle ultimately stemmed from my lack of energy. I would get spikes of energy throughout the day, then by around 2:00 pm my energy would nose dive. Even with coffee, the energy felt superficial, and I was constantly on edge if I drank too much.
Changing what I eat is one of the many factors of my lifestyle that I’ve taken a deep-dive into optimizing. I’ve looked into getting more optimal sleep, quitting caffeine, regularly exercising, and more recently, visiting a sauna multiple times a week. (I’ll expand on those in future posts)
I’m an avid listener of the Joe Rogan Podacast, and on multiple occasions the topic of the Ketogenic diet has come up, with guests ranging from casual friends to research scientists. After hearing the science on keto, and the anecdotal accounts, I decided to give it a try.
Before the change
Before I ever considered changing my diet, I was eating mostly anything I craved. I stuck to mostly whole-grain foods, but quart-sized ice cream nights were a regular occurrence. Thankfully, weight was never a concern, as I am 5′ 11″, and at the time weighed about 135. So if anything, I needed to gain some weight.
I exercised moderately, weight training a few times a week (at the time I was doing full-body exercises which turned out to be a mistake), and did some kick boxing/jiu jitsu. During the semester, I would pack multiple Cliff power bars, a large peanut butter sandwich, a bag of cashews, and a small pasta salad. That sounds like a lot, however I was always struggling not to eat my whole supply of food before my second class of the day.
Furthermore, if my blood sugar wasn’t in check with the copious amounts of carbs, I would become very irritated at the most irrational things. Sleep was also a disaster, as I would toss and turn for hours until falling asleep for a measly 4 hours.
Falling off the wagon (twice)
Strike one – High carbs, high fat, moderate protein
By happenstance, there were two colleagues of mine who were also “doing keto” for months by the time I started. I took most of their advice on what to eat, but not all of it. I still loved cashews, and felt almost addicted to them, where I’d have to consciously stop reaching into the jar at home. I did, however, up my fat intake dramatically, as well as my protein intake.
Anyone whose familiar with macros will see that high carbs, with moderate protein, and high fat, leads to pretty bad blood work. Specifically, my triglycerides went through the roof. My doctor promptly recommended I start a low-fat diet (while high triglycerides are not caused by fat intake, rather by high carbohydrate intake. Eating fat does not make one fat.)
After that blood work scare, I eventually began eating anything I wanted, as my carb cravings never left, only intensified, since I did not properly reduce my carbs beforehand. Essentially I was on the edge of cutting out carbs, but gave my body just enough to always want more.
Strike two – Low carbs, high fat, high protein
The second time around, I embraced the bacon lifestyle. I cooked it nearly every day, and loved it! I also ate a large amount of chicken, which, unless supplemented with fat, will shoot one’s protein macro sky high. And that’s the basis for the second go-around.
This time around, the culprit was a process called gluconeogenesis. Specifically, gluconeogenesis is
a metabolic pathway that results in the generation of glucose from non-carbohydrate carbon substrates such as lactate, glycerol, and glucogenic amino acids.https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Principles_of_Biochemistry/Gluconeogenesis_and_Glycogenesis
Essentially, my body converted the excess protein into glucose, to compensate for my low carbs (around 20-50g). This resulted in, again, poor blood work, but nothing as bad as my initial trial. During this time I felt very fatigued, and after a month I dropped of the wagon a second time. Note I thought this was the keto flu, but because the symptoms lasted longer than two weeks, with no signs of improvement, I took it as my body reacting poorly to keto.
I learned about gluconeogenesis after the second attempt, which then propelled me to perform further research into exactly what I needed to do, to try this out a third time. Thus, I intensely tracked my macros, increased my salt intake (2 teaspoons per day), added more spinach into my diet (magnesium boost), and went through the keto flu.
At this point I had cut out all refined sugar, so all that was left was to reduce my carbs down to 20g or less. Still tough, the carb cravings came strong, from bread and cashews to peanut butter and bread. Also, more bread. Once the carb cravings passed, it was noticeably different going through my day without the blood sugar peak and valleys.
For one, my energy was still low, as I was in the transitioning phase, but it was consistent. Aside from the effects of coffee, my focus was generally higher, and my brain fog cleared. Note, I didn’t feel like a super hero like others claim, but it was a nice difference. I was also more calm, and it was much easier for me to fall asleep. All in all, it was well worth it.
Started from the bottom
After a few months, my energy levels slowly crept up, and my sleep got much better. I enjoyed what I ate, and have even begun incorporating intermittent fasting (16/8), where I have an eight hour eating window, followed by sixteen or more hours of fasting. During all of this, I also revamped my workout routine, allowing me to go from 135 pounds to 160 pounds today.
Throughout most of my life, I’ve had a consistent auto-immune reaction on my eyelid, specifically eczema, caused by the inflammation in my diet. Refined sugar was a huge culprit, along with a variety of other foods. (to test this theory out, I ate a mint-chocolate chip popsicle. The next day, the eczema appeared once more, before subsiding two weeks later). After sticking to the keto diet, the eczema went away for good, and my stomach issues subsided (namely intense bloating, and sharp pains…more on that later).
Although my sleep was improved, it still wasn’t as refreshing as I expected sleep to be. Next I’ll discuss me quitting caffeine, as well as numerous other steps I took to improve the quantity and quality of my sleep. Future posts will also discuss how I changed my exercise routine, as well as the stomach issue that led me to look at the food I ate.