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Day 20 - What the hell is Ketosis?

There was a time when I thought it was some type of crazy diet that was a recipe for a heart attack.

It was in the early days of the Atkins diet and I remember hearing that you were supposed to eat fatty meats and cheese and very few fruits and vegetables and you’d be in something called ketosis and you’d lose weight.

Sounded too crazy to be true and I just dismissed it and moved on.

I first started eating Paleo/Primal in 2012.

Yes, I needed to lose some weight. But I started out on this path after finding out that I had heart disease and I wanted to avoid getting taken out by a heart attack.

I weighed 182 when I first started (I’m about 5’8”). I did lose weight. I got down to 163 and then I’d bounce around between 165-166 without a lot of effort.

Several years into the process I decided that the stuff I’d taken for ADD for over 10 years wasn’t doing me any cardiovascular favors given it was basically speed. So, I kicked Vyvanse to the curb.

When I quit taking Vyvanse, I gained 20 pounds in less than 2 months. It was like I had slammed on the breaks of my metabolism.

And it was a very stubborn 20 pounds. But I had successfully lost it and kept it off for years before my Vyvanse divorce and I was convinced that there was a Primal/Paleo aligned strategy that would serve me this time.

I had tried keto before, but not really.

I did it for a couple of days 3 or 4 years ago and I felt like crap.

Someone told me it was the “keto flu” and that was that. No more keto for me.

Guess what? Keto works if you do it right and had I bothered to do a little research prior to jumping in the last time I could have limited or eliminated my keto flu episode.

First, Keto is not about fat bombs and drinking shots of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

There’s nothing wrong with fat bombs if you’re using them for a particular training or performance strategy, but especially early on, before your digestive system has adjusted to accommodate the extra fat, it can be a recipe for, as Robb Wolf calls it, “disaster pants.”

Here’s what keto is.

It’s a way of eating that conditions your body to be able to burn fat and ketone bodies instead of relying overwhelmingly on glucose as your fuel source.

Here’s what else it is.

It’s another example of how remarkably adaptive this incredible machine is that we walk around in every day.

We evolved to be able to survive food shortages. And part of the evolutionary process was to find a way to keep our fuel hungry brains from shutting down whenever we encountered any type of food scarcity.

When food was abundant we would over-eat and store the extra calories as body fat.

Then, when food wasn’t available and our insulin levels dropped because we weren’t eating or we were barely eating, we’d start burning that stored body fat and our liver would produce ketone bodies, which our brains thrived on.

It’s what allowed us to survive during the hunter-gatherer days when hunting and gathering wasn’t going so well. Us and keto have been pals for a couple of million years.

In fact, long before Ketosis became fodder for Instagram and Facebook pages or slammed as another food fad by some well-meaning “expert” it was used to treat epilepsy.

Fasting and other dietary regimens have been used to treat epilepsy since as early as 500 BC. And prior to antiepileptic medications being developed the keto diet was used to mimic fasting and was considered an effective treatment for epilepsy.

When pharmaceutical strategies become available to treat epilepsy, the keto diet was more complicated than just taking a pill, so it was used primarily for the treatment of drug-resistant epilepsy, especially with kids.

Then a version of it came back on the scene as the Atkins diet.

Not for epilepsy but this time for weight loss. Dr. Robert Atkins, a cardiologist, introduced the diet in the 1960s and it enjoyed a significant amount of popularity.

But over time the high carb, low-fat movement kind of drowned out the keto message. Forget the sausage, have a bagel.

Now Keto is back on the scene, but fortunately this time there’s a version that aligns with the Paleo/Primal way of eating. Real food, without funky carbs, industrial oils, or artificial ingredients.

And it’s working.

People who have struggled with weight and health issues their whole lives are seeing results with the Keto diet. And interestingly the scientific community is also looking at its impact on health and wellness.

If you search PubMed (the National Institute of Health’s library for peer-reviewed research) you’ll find thousands of studies and papers that include ones on the diet’s positive impact on epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, autism, obesity, diabetes, cancer, athletic endurance, and cardiovascular health, in addition to others.

I’m not suggesting that it’s a panacea for anything that ails you and I’m not suggesting that it’s as flexible as a Paleo or Primal diet. But it’s helped me drop the 20 pounds and it’s helped me keep it off. And I love the food and how I feel when I eat this way.

If you’re pregnant or nursing a Keto diet can present challenges because once you’re in ketosis your appetite is diminished and you run the risk of undereating.

Caution should also be exercised before any kids or adolescents undertake a Keto diet for the same reasons. You don’t want a kid that’s in a growth spurt being underfed.

And here’s that same disclaimer–I’m not a doctor. If you have any type of health issue, you should talk to your doctor before you start a new eating strategy.

I do think that most people would benefit from a 21-45 day period of a Paleo/ Primal diet followed by a 45-60 day period of a tight ketogenic diet.

Let me explain why.

If you are eating a Standard American Diet (SAD), i.e. lots of sugar and refined carbs, fast food and plenty of industrial oils you will see tremendous benefit from eating a Paleo/Primal diet.

Once you’ve adjusted to a Paleo/Primal diet, it’s a lot easier to transition to a Keto diet.

It’s possible to go from a SAD diet straight into a Keto diet, but the two-step process does a better job of setting you up for success.

When you start a Keto diet, you’re forcing your body to find another fuel source.

With carb-heavy diets, you’re relegated to burning carbs.

By significantly lowering the number of carbs that you’re eating, you’re forcing your body to develop the infrastructure to burn fats and ketone bodies for energy instead of relying on carbohydrates.

It turns out that fats and ketone bodies burn cleaner than carbohydrates. Fewer free radicals are produced and inflammation is reduced.

Lower inflammation and fewer free radicals are great, but how about being able to go for hours without eating and not being out of your mind hungry or feel like you’re about to star in a Snicker’s Hangry commercial? How about better mental clarity? And how about being to lose weight and keep it off?

Once you’ve developed your new fat burning infrastructure, you’ve got metabolic flexibility.

Here’s the great part about that.

If you’re doing a workout that requires endurance and explosiveness like Cross Fit or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu where you need carbs to fuel the glycolytic, explosive portion of the workout, you can add some extra carbs to your diet ahead of the workout and by the end of the day or the next day you can be right back in ketosis.

Your metabolic flexibility allows you to easily move in and out of ketosis.

So how do you do this keto thing?

It’s really pretty simple. You’re going to eat a high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb diet.

The general guidelines are 70% fat, 25% protein and 5% carbs.

But ratios can be misleading!

The first thing that you need to figure out is your protein requirement. And set your carbohydrate limit.

I’d suggest 25-30 grams of carbs and use the Keto Gains Macro calculator to determine your protein requirements.

Since food is made up of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, once you figure out your protein and carb targets, the app will fill in the rest of your fuel needs with fat.

Your targets will be calculated based on your goals, your activity level, the types of exercise you do and your estimation of your body fat percentage.

There’s a graphic on the Keto Gains page to help you make that determination.

Robb Wolf does a great talk about the importance of making sure that you’re getting enough protein and the misinformation that’s driving low protein recommendations.

I developed the Nutritional Profiles so they could be a resource for people on a keto diet.

There are plenty of web pages where you can search for peaches and it will tell you how many grams of carbs, protein, and fat a medium peach or a cup of peaches has.

I wanted something that was a cross-section of a variety of foods so that you could look at it and see what are some low carb options that will work in your big ass keto salad.

Here are three resources that I have found extremely helpful:

  1. Mark Sisson’s The Keto Reset Diet: The first part of the book covers what you’ve been doing in the challenge–getting processed carbs, sugars, and industrial oils out of your diet and the second half is the actual keto diet with recipes and strategies.
  2. Leanne Vogel’s The Keto Diet has different versions of keto depending upon your particular goals and health circumstances. Her health challenges have shaped her approach. She has an autoimmune disease and she’s had tremendous success dealing with that using her flavor of the keto diet
  3. Robb Wolf’s Keto Mastery Class is a multimedia resource and money well spent. It’s a combination of written and video information that does a great job of giving you the tools that you need to be successful. It doesn’t have the same number of recipes as Sisson’s or Vogel’s but the content is great.

I’ll cover in tomorrow’s post how my coaching program can support you in your health and fitness journey going forward.

For today’s assignment let’s do seafood again.  Salmon, cod, shrimp, oysters, whatever sounds appealing and is available.  Grill it, roast it in the oven, saute it, or in the case of oysters – just shuck ’em.  I’ll let you decide.

For the exercise portion of today – be sure to grab a walk and then let’s do the 7 minute push-up test today to see how you’re doing.  Record your results.

Spend 10 minutes doing some type of meditation and by all means, please get your 7-8 hours of shuteye.

Here’s to being a fuel adapted beast!

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