The best way for me to cover all the stuff I want to tell you is in simple bullet point form and that is what I am going to do. But first let me say one thing that is critical: If you are a healthy person this diet is not going to pose any serious risks to you. That said run it by your own personal health care professional before you try it. So let me start the bullet points with a few “safety issues”
- Ketosis is not Ketoacidosis. Ketosis is not dangerous. Your body can easily run on ketone bodies for a lot longer than you would think-possibly forever- as long as the nutritional makeup of your diet and the number of calories is sufficient to sustain you in healthy condition. Ketoacidosis happens to insulin dependent diabetics and in some less frequent cases to others. Most Type 2 diabetics will not have ketoacidosis but if you are a Type 2 Don’t try this without strict ongoing (like all day everyday) medical supervision from a qualified professional. Or at least get the blessing of yours before you do this!
- You have heard me mention “starvation range” when referring to ketones of 4 millimoles and higher. This is a somewhat arbitrary definition but these ranges require sever calorie restriction. Your average Ketogenic Diet will not get you to these ranges and you may not need them to “treat” certain illnesses. I chose to go Calorie Restricted to try to fill the 2 main recommendations of the CRKD for “cancer prevention” * low blood sugars and high ketones to starve cancer cells and preserve normal ones.
- Isn’t starvation unhealthy? For short periods of times no. How short? Well 7 days is no big deal and if you look at the numbers I was only “there” for about 4 days out of the total. Short term starvation may be just the thing to recycle sick mitochondria via autophagy (look it up!) and sick cells via apoptosis (you’ve heard me explain that one before too so look it up as well!).
- Isn’t hypoglycemia dangerous!!! Answer: it depends how you got there. If you took too much insulin or skipped a meal on your oral anti-diabetic meds you got there artificially and had no time to generate alternate fuels e.g. ketone bodies then it’s dangerous. If you got there the way I did with gradual calorie restriction and you are generally healthy you will not suffer any symptoms from hypoglycemia because your body will have plenty of ketones to run on alternatively. So using this diet to induce hypoglycemia is not dangerous provided you to it the way I did or follow some recommended guideline.
Ok now on to some cool observations:
*Fish oil Doses: Because there was so little food intake and specifically almost no Omega 6 fat intake there was no need to hit the fish oil hard. One to three caps every other day was plenty enough to keep the blood flowing easily for my finger stick checks of sugar and ketones.
*In Dr Seyfried’s book he recommends avoiding caffeine altogether and no strenuous exercise- just walking! I did not obey those commands for various reasons but I can tell you the amount of coffee required to wake up when you are not eating anything goes way, way down. A 6 ounce cup would be reheated several times throughout the day and still have some left when I went to bed.
You will notice my blood sugars were very low on some occasions and much closer to normal on others. Generally this is the effect of exercise which does several things that are actually shared by caffeine consumption.
First it bangs on your adrenal glands and stimulates them to release “adrenergic” (stimulant) chemicals. This drives up our blood sugar even when there is little or no sugar in your diet.
Initially this comes from stored liver glycogen but that lasts hours not days so the only other reasonable source is gluconeogenesis* This means your body is going to breakdown that hard earned muscle you put on in the gym to keep your blood sugar up! Remember how I told you weight loss was not the primary goal of this experiment? Well body building sure as heck wasn’t either!
So the further you go into ketosis the more muscle you are going to lose.
OK now some final observations:
- Mood and mental function: Although one or two people might disagree I did not notice any changes or moodiness at all. I felt great and great about myself most of the time LOL! There were moments when my brain did not want to tackle any complex tasks or mental gymnastics but this was not all the time. I found this to be more a function of high ketones than low blood sugar.
- The one kinda creepy aspect of the whole thing that really hit me during the hypoglycemia and big time ketosis periods was an eerie feeling that it was ok to keep starving. Almost like they say freezing to death is not so bad. I just felt like I could keep this up forever. Fortunately my first spoon full of high carb sugary dried fruit “healthy” granola knocked me right back into reality LOL! Yum does my body love SUGAR!!!
- I “failed” to achieve the constant low blood sugars recommended because I refused to give up my exercise routines which would be considered “intense” under the circumstances. This was personal choice and a matter of curiosity as well. I did notice I tried a little bit sooner than usual and occasionally skipped the last set or cut a kilometer off a run but in general my performances were on par and on the last gym visit better than ever!
- Caffeine and fish oil can be reduced because they will be more effective in the face of reduced calorie intake and absorption will be faster. Do take your multi vites though as you can start missing critical things quite fast.
- I needed to sleep more. Indeed I would say I slept a lot more soundly than usual easily grabbing 8-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep when possible versus my usual 7. Again reduced caffeine intake may have played a role but I am not a huge user to begin with.
- I was almost NEVER HUNGRY during this diet. I am not 100% sure but I have to assume it is the magic of ketosis as an appetite suppressant.
- I was really surprised at how little my metabolic rate changed with this diet. Even using the accurate Body Gem I was running a resting metabolic rate of just over 2000 calories when in full blown ketosis and having lost almost 10 pounds. Bottom line ketones are an effective fuel for your body and can maintain your caloric needs just fine thank you!
- I learned how much of my own eating was “habitual” just used to eating at a certain time and making certain food choices which are actually generally healthy but often high in carbs- like certain fruits.
- I learned that for me personally Carbs Are the ENEMY. They stimulate my appetite and my cravings and they pack on calories fast. I learned this 4 years ago when I was full bore Paleo for the better part of a year but even this short stint brought that message home in a big way.
- I learned that it is actually very hard to keep your carb intake below 30 grams since even high protein foods have some carbs.
- Now here is the kicker: I learned it is easier for me not to eat all together than it is to manage carb intake and “eat healthy”. I suspect like all habits the carb habit will take some time to kick and it will always be hovering around. It is harder for me to control my carb intake by eating “just the right amount” than it is to avoid them altogether. I am still processing this fact!
My final thoughts: This was far easier than I thought but you definitely need to have the right mind set and discern “boredom eating” from true hunger. I was not ever able to get to water only even for 24 hours and that will be a challenge I undertake in 3 to 6 months when I do this all again. For me there would be a huge difference between even 300 calories and a little flavoring than nothing but water especially since metabolically I was able to achieve pretty much the same thing. I cannot imagine exercising with zero calorie intake over a couple of days and I am not willing to give up exercising even for a week at this point!
I think overall the effects of this little dietary experiment were totally positive and there will be some long lasting good things from learning about what makes me eat and how certain foods control my behaviors more than others!
As a final bit of good news, by the time you read this I will either have interviewed or be about to interview Dr Thomas Seyfried himself! I can hardly wait!!!!
A thinner leaner more carb free Doc!
P.S. I waited about a month and then posted a follow-up with what has happened since completing the original ketogenic diet. Read about that here.