One of the rules I have tried to always adhere to in our fitness business is to never, ever promote a product, service, diet, equipment, etc. without personally trying it first. I find that this allows me to promote from a strong place of integrity and understanding of the benefits and/or pitfalls of the product, diet, etc.
Of course, I am fully aware that this is NOT a valid way to test something in a pure experimental form -- this "an experience of 1" is simply anecdotal but it helps me feel much better about selling or promoting something having tried it myself.
One of the main places I do this is with diet programs. At this point in my life, I have tried almost every diet on the market (except completely non-science based and, quite frankly, stupid diets like "The Lemonade Diet"). I also do my best to try the diet for a long enough period to experience the most benefit, or lack of benefit, from the plan. The exception here would be the 100% Vegan diet which I only did for 21 days -- I felt so terrible I just couldn't continue for longer than 3 weeks. I am sure it is a good plan and works for some people but I am definitely not one of those!
The Keto Diet
So, the latest: The Ketogenic Diet. (or simpler: Low Carb / High Fat - LCHF diet). This diet has actually been around since the 1920s, as research has shown that it is one of the only effective interventions for drug-resistant Epilepsy seizures. It has seen a bit of a resurgence lately, especially in my sport (ultra running) as some top athletes have seen great success with it. This is actually what attracted me to this plan -- I was looking for a way to get off the "sugar train" that I tend to get on in races longer than 2 hours -- causing a roller coaster of energy and mood and horrible nausea in longer, especially hot weather, races.
To step back a bit, in September of 2016 I had adopted an "anti-inflammatory" nutritional plan, virtually eliminating all the major food groups responsible for inflammation: Gluten, Dairy, Soy, Alcohol and Simple Sugar. I saw some AMAZING results, mostly in joint pain reduction (almost immediately) on this plan so I have stayed on it about 80% of the time since then.
There is a TON of strong research on the Ketogenic diet so I won't go into all of that here, I want to focus more on my results and experience.
Here is a good place to start if you are a research and data geek like me....
Basically, to explain the macro breakdown in the simplest way possible; think of the Atkins Diet but with moderate protein. On this plan you derive 80% of your daily calories from fat (you read that right), about 15% from protein and 5% from carbs.
Yep, pretty different huh?
For most people (it doesn't work for everyone btw, researchers haven't figured out why) this forces your body to go into a state of "nutritional Ketosis" (NOT dangerous Keto acidosis that can occur with Diabetes) , switching from using glucose and glycogen (stored sugar) for fuel to using dietary and body fat for fuel. Just from a "gas tank" view, this was very intriguing to me: Most people have enough stored glycogen to run about 20 miles without refueling (about 2000 calories - some elite endurance athletes can bump this up to 2500-3000 calories). At my level of body fat I have approximately 91,000 stored calories in fat -- enough to run 900+ miles on just water (if I could teach my body to become "fat adapted" and use body fat for fuel more than sugar)!!!! I could run to Miami only stopping for water and the occasional electrolyte supplement :-)
I did a TON of research on this before I started this plan, both anecdotal from athletes and true research studies. There is some really strong research coming out on Ketones being "neuro-protective" (protecting against brain disorders - Alzheimer's, MS, Dementia, etc), helping prevent and possibly reduce size of cancer tumors, improved mental cognition and memory, reduction in depression and anxiety symptoms, energy and mood improvement, reduction in inflammation, reduction in triglycerides, and many more benefits! One benefit, believe it or not with all the dietary fat, is an improvement in Lipid profiles -- increase in HDL Cholesterol, improvement in LDL (small to large) ratio, etc.
I did initial blood work to get my baseline, then I ate Ippolitos as my "last meal" :)
Armed with all this research I did the diet 100% for 4 weeks.
Since then I have been on it 6 days a week, giving myself one "cheat day" to have some fun with foods that I was missing.
What do I eat on KETO?
One of the downsides, unless you are a professional cook, is the type of foods you can eat are pretty limited, luckily I don't mind eating without a ton of variety!
"Keto Coffee" - I have this every day. (you have probably heard of "bulletproof coffee" pretty much a homemade version of this) - this is my favorite part of this diet!:
(I am not trying to drop weight so I don't measure very accurately, mostly estimates)
MCT (coconut) oil
Heavy whipping cream
Splenda for taste
(blended, it sounds weird but it is actually delicious - think of a full fat, frothy cappuccino). This is about 600-800 calories of 90% fat so normally keeps me full all morning.
If I am training hard I eat a 2nd breakfast. Normally a 4-6 egg omelets or fried eggs cooked in grassfed butter and MCT oil with cheese. Maybe a side of grass fed, no nitrate bacon. I eat a ton of bacon - yum! Normally a side of tomato, or avacado for a small amount of carbs.
Usually don't need it as I am so full from morning meals.
Some type of high-fat meat or fish (very careful to choose organic, wild caught, grass fed, no additives, hormones, nitrates, etc.) Cooked in, well, you guessed it. Large salad if I haven't eaten my allotment of carbs yet. There are also frozen, organic "riced" veggies that are great (with butter and coconut oil of course).
Pork rinds (Whole Foods has grass fed, clean pork version)
Berries (small amount) mixed with Heavy Cream and Splenda
Avocados (not enough)
Keto Diet Results
All of my research prepared me for a rough first week, as your body depletes its stored Glycogen and switches over to using Ketones for fuel there tends to be a rough (3 days up to as long as two weeks- affectionately known as the "Keto Flu") transition period. I didn't experience much of this, probably because I fasted for 24 hours at the start -- this helps jump-start the process a ton (Intermittent Fasting is a topic for another Blog for sure). I was a little tired and out of it day 2 and 3 then I was fine.
After the first week, what did I notice?
Cramps. Supplementing with electrolytes, specifically, magnesium, helps a ton with this. Drink LOTS of water! When you cut out carbs, you automatically drop a ton of stored (excess) body water and electrolytes.
Heartburn. Digesting so much dietary fat. Digestive enzymes alleviated this.
Constipation. Easily fixed with added fiber, more water and a few veggies and berries. Back to "normal" after about 4 weeks on plan. MCT oil in your coffee helps move things along as well. TMI
Yep, that was it for me in terms of negative effects!
First and foremost, a PROFOUND reduction in stress and anxiety! I have dealt with some level of general anxiety my whole life and have tried many, many different things to improve the symptoms. Nothing, and I mean nothing - including powerful prescription SSRI's - comes close to the effect of being on this diet - I am as calm as I am when on vacation, even calmer, 90% of my day!
Virtually no hunger. I find I can have my morning "keto coffee" and some fat-based snacks during the day (Macadamia nuts) and not eat again until dinner and be fine. Even when you do get hungry, it is a completely different sensation than when you are on a high carb diet. When I am eating a lot of carbs, low blood sugar can cause a "need food NOW" emergency. On Keto, you are aware of the hunger sensation, but it really is not that important or pressing. I actually forget to eat sometimes!
Weight and body fat loss. I didn't do this plan to change my body comp (so I am not operating at a caloric deficit on purpose -- it probably happened organically as you are so much more full on less food) but I still dropped 7lbs and about 7% body fat in 4 weeks. One of the cool things on this plan is you do not have to eat as much protein as Ketones are Amino Acid sparing so you don't need as much protein to maintain muscle mass.
Virtually no joint pain (but this was already alleviated when I cut out gluten and dairy) - see note at the end about dairy and this.Steady energy and mood, all day - no up and down.
Improved sleep and recovery
Steady energy on long runs (I drink water only and eat bacon and nuts while doing runs over 2 hours - under 2 hours just water). No super highs after eating sugar and no crashing lows.
Blood work changes - since I was the only person in this experiment, I did a full blood workup before and after (8 weeks). Interestingly enough, even while eating up to 300g of fat per day, my Lipid profile was fine, my ratio of HDL to LDL actually improved and my Triglycerides were reduced to a very good level. Most importantly, my C-Reactive Protein level (a good measure of total body inflammation and high levels are associated with Heart Disease)- -which was low to start from being on the anti-inflammatory diet-- stayed very low. All of the most recent research points to inflammation as the real culprit in most disease, including Coronary Heart Disease.
Super easy (first diet plan ever I have had this experience with) to get back "on plan" after a cheat or off day. This is a HUGE benefit as I lean towards a "all or nothing" mentality which tends to sabotage my long term sustainability of diet plans. For instance, I once eliminated simple sugar from my diet for a year, when I fell off I think I binged on Halloween candy and ice cream for a month and have Never been able to sustain a sugar-free diet for that long again.
So, why isn't everyone doing this, why isn't it all over the news (especially with the potential to improve cancer???). Why am I not switching all of our nutrition consultation members to this plan? Because it is NOT easy.
Eating this way is not "normal" and takes some work. And keep in mind, I am someone who has always loved and felt better on a high-fat diet. I can't imagine someone who doesn't like eggs, bacon, meat, full-fat dairy, etc. Also, the lack of variety is problematic for most people, I do miss my protein shakes, my fruit, large salads (yes, I said that), etc. It is very restrictive and is probably not sustainable 100% of the time (unless, of course, my "pain" was more - i.e., some type of disease state that this could help), I also believe that metabolic flexibility is a good thing for our bodies so I will vary the breakdown for sure!
I will continue to experiment with this and find a breakdown (adding re-feed carb days, more protein post workouts to help with recovery, etc.) that is sustainable as the benefits far outweigh the downside right now. Also, I have noticed a bit of knee pain creeping back which I attribute to adding dairy back into my diet -- it has been fun as cream in my coffee and cheese were the only things I really missed (once I went on the elimination diet) and enjoyed putting back into my diet. I will be taking these back out (replacing with coconut cream) for a few weeks to see if this takes care of the pain (very minor compared to before the anti-inflammatory diet).
What I haven't done yet is do a really long and tough running effort, I have one planned in a few weeks so that will be a good test to see if my body has become more fat adapted and if this is working to solve the original goal...
Stay tuned and thanks for reading.
God bless you all!