Sunday, March 26, 2017

Ketogenic Update, and Fasting for Five Days

uncured bacon, avocado, and eggs
At the end of November, 2016, I set out to follow the ketogenic diet for three months.

And guess what?  I did.

I took a couple breaks as planned (though fewer cheat days than I was allowed), but otherwise stuck to it.

At the end of 3 months, I had lost 15 pounds (roughly going from 193 pounds to 178, though I've weighed in as low as about 174) and my clothes were fitting noticeably more loosely.  Multiple people commented on the thinner appearance of my face and body.

While on the diet, I ate a lot of:  Avocados, coconut oil, olive oil, non-starchy vegetables, nuts, nut butter, eggs, cheese, and fatty meats (salami, pepperoni, bacon, sausage).  I supplemented my fat intake at times with plain cream cheese, sour cream, and whipping cream, as well as MCT oil.

I also ate in moderation:  chicken, beef, salmon, sardines, and berries.

This is not a comprehensive list of what I ate, but it probably hits all the staples.  

I've included photos of some representative meals, mainly at the bottom of the post.

While on the diet, I didn't eat any:  Bread, pasta, rice, tortillas, potatoes, cereal, processed sugar, or any other blatantly significant source of carbohydrates.

I checked my ketone levels multiple times every day using urine ketone strips.

I took a one-week break from the diet at Christmas, and took one additional cheat day on Superbowl Sunday.

When my three months were over at the end of February....I didn't feel like stopping the diet so I kept it up for about three more weeks.  I continued in steady ketosis until late March, and finally took another cheat day on March 24th while visiting Ohio for a medical course.  That was only the 2nd day in 2017 on which I'd eaten any sweets or grains (other than tiny quantities in foods prepared by other people).

As I write this, I'm back on the diet, and plan to continue for at least eight more days (until a certification test I'm taking on April 3rd, as ketosis makes mental focus more predictable).

I suppose my desire to extend the diet past the original 3-month commitment stems from a few things:

  • The obvious benefits:  It's a simpler menu and shopping list, I'm less binge-prone, there's still plenty of enjoyable food to eat, and my energy levels don't fluctuate as much.  I can go without food for extended periods of time without much difficulty, and mental focus is generally improved.
  • It's easier to stay in ketosis than to get back into it (takes 3-5 days on average to get into solid ketosis), which makes cheat days or other breaks undesirable.  
  • I've adhered to this "diet plan" more easily than any other I've tried over the past few years, which makes me want to stick with it even more.  
I certainly don't plan to eat this way forever.  But I'll probably use the ketogenic diet intermittently (perhaps a few months at a time) for the rest of my life.  

Speaking of going without food more easily...

Fasting for five days

At the end of January, I decided to "fast" for five days.  I put quotation marks because it wasn't a complete fast, I was still drinking water and I ingested about 200 calories per day.

As was the case with my ketogenic experiment, my main goal wasn't to lose weight.   I did it moreso for the myriad other proposed or documented health benefits, including but not limited to the body recycling many old, worn out proteins and undergoing a general "renewal" as a result.

Another prominent benefit that is supported by existing literature (and also intuitively logical) is a reduction in cancer risk by purging damaged cells or "pre-cancers".  One proposed mechanism is that cancerous cells typically rely on glucose for energy, and depriving them of sugar weakens the cancer cells, which allows the body's own immune system to eliminate them more effectively.  

I lost about seven pounds while fasting for five days, and about half of that stayed off when I started eating again (my Superbowl binge was only a few days later, but it all evened out within a few more days).

Muscle wasting, a common concern in the context of prolonged fasting, didn't seem to be an issue (though I didn't do any DEXA scans to confirm or anything).  I did consume protein every day, including a BCAA supplement which has very few calories but tends to promote muscle building, and this likely helped mitigate any atrophy.  On the other hand, if I did lose some muscle mass, that may be a good thing in the context of the "autophagy" effect discussed at the link above, and certainly some (or all) of that can be regained upon refeeding.

For fun, I measured my blood sugar frequently while fasting, and after the first day or two it was consistently in the 50's and 60's (70-100 is "normal" upon waking when not on a prolonged fast) without causing any adverse effects.  My ketones were also quite high throughout the fast, which probably explains why I could function just fine with "abnormally" low blood sugar.

My overall energy level felt about 20% lower while fasting, but otherwise I didn't notice any adverse effects.  I also went to the gym every day but one.

If you've considered fasting or simply want to learn more about it, check out this podcast to hear about people who've fasted 3-4 weeks at a time and dramatically improved their health.  The Complete Guide to Fasting is from the same authors who run the podcast, and though I haven't read the book I would still recommend it based on my familiarity with their other work, and the reviews on Amazon.  

My "takeaways" from the ketogenic diet

veggies and eggs cooked in coconut oil and amply seasoned
In general, the ketogenic diet is remarkable for smoothing out energy fluctuations and promoting steady weight loss in people who are overweight.  The weight loss doesn't happen magically, but it's certainly easier to modulate energy intake, thanks at least in part to the appetite suppressing effect of ketones.

The diet also helps with mental focus, presumably due to the more consistent (low) blood sugar levels as well secondary effects of ketones on the brain.  (By way of indirect illustration, elevated ketones reduce the likelihood of seizures, and generally reduce anxiety, both of which are central nervous system effects.  It follows logically that ketones have other beneficial effects on brain function as well, and this has been anecdotally observed by myself and others).

The diet is also both inconvenient (harder to eat out or eat at other people's homes) and convenient (I can easily skip a meal or two and function just fine, and my shopping list is about the same every week).

And beyond those observable effects, it has many probable benefits that are less easily measured:  reduced risk of cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and so on.  See my prior blog post for several links that delve into the known and proposed health benefits.


As public consciousness drifts away from the vilification of fat in our diets with tortoise-like velocity, the ketogenic diet is a remarkable tool that is becoming gradually more accepted and understood, and can have a dramatic impact on the health of many people, obese or not.

While fasting (intermittent or otherwise) is still vilified and largely misunderstood, the "three meals a day" routine that we are all familiar with appears to be more of a product of modern culture and economic revolutions (agricultural, industrial...) than of any actual benefit to frequent meals or consistent eating patterns.

If you're obese, overweight, or trending towards diabetes, give the ketogenic diet a try for 1-3 months, and consider a trial of fasting.  It may just change (or save) your life.  And even if you're not overweight or suffering from insulin resistance, you'll likely benefit as well, whether the benefits are immediately obvious or not (e.g. reducing cancer risk).

Note:  This blog post is a merely a brief summary of my experience with the ketogenic diet and fasting over the past four months.  If you want to learn more, visit the resources I've linked to, and feel free to contact me with any questions.  

More Ketogenic Meals

chicken and veggies, both cooked in coconut or olive oil and amply seasoned

Keto pizza!  I only made this once, it was pretty good.  

Plenty of salads

A random keto meal from the doctor's lounge

An experimental meal when I first started the diet - notice the salami, and sour cream added to the salad.
Eggs & veggies cooked in oil and amply seasoned, avocado, and broccoli with cheese

And just for fun...the pizza I ate on my cheat day in March


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