My Search for the Best Way to Eat
In late August 2016 my family took a trip South to visit my people. Though I’m generally the one behind the camera, I did end up in a few shots and was frankly shocked at the size of my gut showing through my shirt. Shocked because for a few months I had been religiously using the nutri-bullet and had increased my exercise regimen. I did not weigh myself prior to seeing the pictures, relying on the fact that I was following a “healthy” diet and exercising an hour a day 5 – 6 days a week. I had even started running again, though I was only up to a few miles a couple of times a week. I had started to feel on the shitty side before the vacation, but just chalked it up to stress. But, after seeing the pictures, I stepped onto a scale and nearly fell over – 227 lbs, the most I had ever weighed! My maximum weight before had been 220 lbs. Again, I was shocked. Losing weight has always been difficult, a fact I attributed to life style issues like working 12 hour night shifts 5 and 6 nights a week in a semi-stressful job and generally getting only 4 – 6 hours of sleep a day.
I have always avoided outright dieting, preferring to increase my exercise and calorie burn with an avoidance of fat and cookies when I tried to lose weight. None of this had been working and I’m still limited to the amount of cardio I can do secondary to my right ankle break in March of 2015, so my normal routine of starving myself and adding miles to my run was not an option, and frankly that had not delivered anything close to results that matched the level of effort involved.
Years ago a coworker had gone on the Atkins diet and lost a decent amount of weight, but I had never really given the idea much credence because I thought it just involved eating a bunch of red meat and having foul smelling urine. I knew the results were there, but given the fact that he lived on hamburgers and bacon I did not see it as anything sustainable. I decided to look into it, however, and ended up on the fantastic Diet Doctor website. I quickly started to see the possible benefits of a LCHF – low carb/ high fat – diet, especially with an emphasis on replacing carbohydrates with vegetables and dairy and not a complete emphasis meat (though the diet can be very meat-centric). The more I read about dietary ketogenesis, the more convinced I was that this could work for me. The meal plans provided by Diet Doctor were very simple as well. I do know my way around the kitchen though I did not prepare much food regularly before beginning this new way of eating.
So I began following the plan at the beginning of September, 2016. The results after 14 weeks are, in my opinion, pretty dramatic:
I modified my workout as well but I’ve worked out for years with weights using similar programs in addition to running and never had this sort of weight reduction/ body recomposition.
I followed their diet plan for a couple of weeks then started tracking carbs on my own. Initially I stayed below 20 grams per day but have now allowed 30 grams per day. For the first 8 or 10 weeks I stopped taking any protein supplements and was careful about how much meat I ate so that an excess of protein wouldn’t take me out of ketosis and I was fully concentrated on weight loss. At around 10 weeks, once I had dropped almost 25 pounds, I began supplementing protein and shifting my emphasis toward increasing lean muscle mass along with fat loss, not concerning myself so much with the changes on the scale.
Another incredibly important and influential resource over the past few months has been Tim Ferris in the form of his podcast and the people he’s interviewed like Peter Attia and Dr Dom D’Agostino, as well as his book The 4 Hour Body, which focuses more on the slow-carb diet but introduces a mountain of useful ideas and principles, like eating more when my fat loss slowed instead of less (which worked – I started counting calories so I could increase caloric intake and started immediately losing again) and drinking a shake with 30g of protein within 30 minutes of waking.
Most notable has been the idea of the importance of insulin sensitivity and fat storage. I have been prone to hypoglycemia at seemingly random and inopportune times my whole life. Especially if I went too long without a meal, I risked going down a hole where I ended up, at worst, looking and feeling like a heroin junky in need of a fix, or at best just feeling like shit with shaky hands (not cool for someone who draws blood as part of their job) and confused thinking (again not good for someone who deals with emergency situations). It would generally happen at work when it was busy and stressful and I would have to run to the kitchen and down a milk with 3 sugars to get back to a place I could feel functional.
The nutri-bullet was the primary culprit in my most recent weight gain – or I should say my mis-use of it. I was making a bullet with 1/2 vegetables and 1/2 fruit every day – essentially taking in an assload of fructose and giving it a direct route from mouth to bloodstream. Looking back it seems assinine but at the time I really thought I was being healthy. I was considering fasting at the time but couldn’t fathom the possibility given how awful I felt if I went too far between meals.
Working nights with an irregular sleep schedule also reeks havoc on insulin sensitivity, and even without that knowledge, I knew that these were key factors in screwing with my hormones and keeping me from losing a significant amount of weight. I had resigned myself to the fact that I would never have ‘abs’ while I was working these kind of hours – which is going to be for a while still.
Switching to a ketogenic diet has changed all of that. I’ve lost over 30 pounds and I’m quite sure I’ve lost a lot more than that of fat. Hunger is not something I fear as an indicator that I’m about to crash and burn, though I guard against it for other reasons (like above). I have no doubt that I will be able to make it to my goal of 10% body fat by my next birthday in April, 2017.
Keeping to this new way of eating hasn’t been all that difficult mainly because I’ve found real pleasure in preparing my food every day. It generally takes 45 minutes or so and I eat some variation of a large salad, a meat, and sautéed vegetables for my primary meal, an egg dish for my morning meal, and unflavored greek yogurt or a cheese stick or sardines as snacks. I’ve never needed or desired a huge variety in my diet.
Initially I did have very intense cravings for sugar and carbohydrates, especially on my nights off when I was used to drinking and then binging on cookies or breakfast bars. My kids would joke about how they would wake up after my nights off and the house would be cleaned out of cookies. I’ve never been a fan of soft foods like bread, donuts, or similar baked goods, but I do miss bagels. And chocolate chip cookies. There are 4 other people in my house who aren’t on the diet, so food I ‘can’t’ eat is always around, but I’ve never given in to that temptation.
I think one major part of the success of this diet has been the commitment involved in actually changing my body’s chemistry, my physiology, from the burning of glucose for fuel to ketones. Once you ‘cross over’ the choice to screw that up is not as easy as just saying I won’t eat cookies for a while and then having a couple. It’s like you’ve crossed a line into different territory and you don’t want to go back and start over again. The other side of that coin is that, in terms of weight loss, my body my fully adapt despite other measures to kick my metabolism in the ass and hormonally start shifting back to night shift norms. I may start working in ‘cheat days’ at that point, which from what I’m reading will probably be about six months in. I’m also going to start fasting next year.
The fact that I feel so much better is a big part of it as well. I feel like I’ve found something that really helps me balance the terrible effects of shift work and little sleep. I really do feel like anyone working nights or doing this kind of shift work should be on a ketogenic diet, or at least a carb restricted diet.
Next month I’ll also answer the inevitable question – what about your blood-work? (cholesterol, etc.) I haven’t even checked my blood pressure since losing all this weight so I am interested to see how my next physical goes. Stay tuned!!