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Fat Loss Diary: Rediscovering Nutritional Ketosis

April 23, 2014

It’s been almost two weeks since my last post … and a lot has happened since. In the first week I was implementing the strategy that I had laid out, which was essentially low carb, no snacking, intermittent fasting. It worked – but I began to browse through my extensive collection of books on low carb and actually got a few new ones, and I watched many lectures on YouTube. For a while I got a bit frustrated because I came across so many ideas which I (now) know are false, plus some exciting new hypotheses, most of them sounding too good to be true. After a while things began to clear up though, and one idea stuck:

Nutritional Ketosis

This is essentially a very low carbohydrate diet. I could simply link to the Wikipedia entry for ketosis, but this time I’m going to describe the concept myself: If you go on a diet which is very low in carbohydrate and reasonably low in protein, the body quickly runs out of stored carbohydrate. This is because humans can only store a small amount of carbohydrate in the muscles and in the liver, which in itself tells you something about what’s the preferred fuel for the body (by comparison there’s a virtually unlimited store of fat). In the short term the body tries to compensate by creating glucose (the “currency” of carbohydrate in the body) from protein and fat through a process called gluconeogenesis. After a while (2-3 days) though the body begins to produce ketone bodies from fat in the liver. As it turns out, when there is very little glucose available, the  most important organ in our body which under “normal” (high-carb) conditions relies almost exclusively on glucose – the brain – can switch to ketones as an alternative fuel source. It still uses a small amount of glucose, and other cells in your body continue to rely exclusively on glucose (for example the red blood cells), but all things considered, once the adaption to ketone bodies as a fuel source is made, there is much less need for gluconeogenesis. Being in that state (also called “keto-adapted”) is called nutritional ketosis.

Why is this important for my fat loss diary? Because once you’re in nutritional ketosis, it is much easier for the body to access stored body fat for fuel. The biggest reason for that is that when you’re no longer consuming a big load of carbohydrates with every meal, the level of insulin in the blood stays consistently low. Insulin has many jobs in the body – they include a) keeping blood sugar down and b) stopping fat mobilization. It makes sense – if you eat lots of carbs and your normal stores (muscle/liver) are full, your body should stop burning body fat and burn and/or store the glucose (as fat). After all, glucose is toxic at higher levels in the body, so it needs to be cleared from the blood one way or the other. So by not eating the carbs in the first place, you simply let your body eat from its own stores, which is what you want to achieve on a fat loss diet.

The best part about it is: Once you’re keto-adapted, if you eat the right food (adequate protein, some vegetables/salads, adequate salt/minerals), you’re a) never hungry even if you eat very few calories and b) you can exercise a lot without “bonking” (hitting the wall because glycogen stores run out). I’ve not yet fully adapted, but I’ve been in ketosis for more than 7 days now and I can already confirm both of the previously mentioned points. I still get hungry from time to time, but then I eat a small meal or snack which is moderate in protein and has some fat, but zero carbs – and then the hunger is gone. From time to time I eat chicken broth with eggs, fish or shrimps, olive oil and some vegetables, which takes care of many problems at once (fluid intake, minerals, protein, fiber).

This is really easy, and there is a lot of variation on this diet. It is compatible with most of the rules I established in the previous post, but I can come up with a new list which is more concise:

  1. I eat very little net carbohydrates (less than 50g per day)
  2. I eat about 1g of protein per kg of lean body mass per day, a bit more if I exercise a lot
  3. I only eat when I’m hungry, and then I only eat a small portion of food that has some protein and a decent amount of calories from fat
  4. My fat calories mostly come from saturated and mono-unsaturated fat, and I ensure adequate intake of Omega-3 by choosing appropriate sources of protein (salmon, sardines etc.) for several meals of the week
  5. If I exercise I either do very short, but intense workouts with a lot of time in between for recovery, or low-level endurance work (I use a heart rate monitor and stay at the lower boundary of the aerobic zone)

That’s all. If you think that this is a boring diet, here are some possible meals:

  • scrambled eggs and bacon
  • scrambled eggs and creamed spinach
  • broth with eggs (and/or fish, chicken, shrimps)
  • hard boiled eggs with salt
  • olives
  • olives filled with cheese
  • cheese on its own
  • Chili con Carne (without the beans)
  • coffee with cream
  • coffee with butter (don’t buy the Bulletproof TM nonsense)
  • coffee with MCT-Oil
  • macadamia nuts
  • steak/salmon/prawns with any vegetables and butter
  • any salad greens with some kind of meat or cheese and olive oil
  • ham and cheese
  • salami sticks
  • chinese meals (throw away the rice)
  • sushimi
  • pizza (just prepare the toppings on an egg omelet)
  • canned sardines with tomato sauce

Of course there are many low-carb cookbooks today, and my list isn’t sophisticated cuisine, but the point is that you can do this easily using food which is readily available, not too expensive and doesn’t take much time to prepare.

I saved the best for last: During the last two weeks I lost about 5kg, and the scale says that it’s mostly from fat. Granted, some part of it is lost water weight which is inevitable when switching from high-carb to low-carb, but I’m quite confident that I’ll rapidly lose weight from now on. I did it before several years ago using low-carb, but back then the concept of nutritional ketosis wasn’t that clear to me.

 

That’s it for now – stay tuned for more updates. I didn’t have time to talk about whether this nutritional ketosis is dangerous, whether it involves risks and so on. Needless to say that if you want to try this, you should check with your primary care physician. But here are the two books which I would recommend to anyone to find out all they need to know about low-carb/ketosis:

  1. The Art and Science of Low-Carbohydrate Living
    A somewhat lengthy read, but includes a lot of science and references.
  2. The Art and Science of Low-Carbohydrate Performance
    A much shorter book, includes the condensed info of the first book and less science, and – as the title says – is more about adapting this diet to very physically active people (athletes)

Both books are by Stephen Phinney and Jeff Volek, both PhDs, who have conducted many studies on diet and exercise. You could also read the New Atkins book, where those two authors also contributed, but I wouldn’t recommend the Atkins book for people like me who like to know how the diet works down to the gory detail. Having said that, if you are put off by science (in which case you should have quit reading this post after the second paragraph), maybe Atkins could work for you. In the end it’s the same thing.

Anyway, see you later!

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From → Fat Loss, Science

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