50 Days to Nutritional Ketosis

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[Thank you to Danny Albers up at the Primal North 
blog for the honour of featuring this as a guest post.]

I began practicing Nutritional Ketosis (NK) 50 days ago. It has been an enlightening experience. My goal was to get my blood ketones up to between 1.5 and 3 mmol/L. I wanted to be fueled by fat as opposed to just eating low carb. In these 50 days, there were mistakes and challenges but by the last day, my health and body composition had improved immensely.


When I saw last summer that Dr.Eenfeldt had a toy for measuring blood ketones I knew I had to have one. I was also watching how Jimmy Moore was having great success from “testing blood ketones as a means for attaining the proper level of nutritional ketosis”.  After a year and a half of eating low carb, and getting my weight down from 184lbs to 154lbs, I loved the idea of having a tangible measurement of how “fat adapted” I was. I also saw this as a way to address my frustration with long stalls in my weight loss.

The first time I measured my blood ketones it was heart breaking to see it was only 0.1. I could not believe that I, a person who read all the books, listened to all the podcasts and who was eating very low carb and high fat, was not producing ketones.  I started tracking my food on My Fitness Pal (MFP).  This was the first time I had measured the macronutrient composition of my diet. Lowering carbs and protein while increasing dietary fat would be key to achieving NK.

First I tracked what I ate after it was eaten, only to regret the 1/3 of a cup of tomato sauce or the one single bite of sweet potato (each having about 11 carbs).    Before starting this experiment I believed I have been eating less than 100g or less of carbs a day – boy I must have been way off.  Then I began tracking the food before I ate it, to plan my intake more precisely. MPF is not perfect as it doesn’t know how much fat is in my homemade grass fed sausage but obviously it is far better at estimating than I am. 

My other big lesson from tracking my food was seeing just how much protein I was eating (sometimes over 130g a day).   My favorite word is “Gluconeogenesis”.  I love it; I make my kids say it, like they are on Romper Room.  I knew it was the process whereby your body converts protein to glucose and I thought I knew better than to let that happen to me. My glucose and ketone levels were showing me that that was exactly what was going on with my body.   Before I went low carb (a year and a half prior) I hardly ate any protein. I had since put a lot of conscious effort into upping my protein. So my greatest challenge in achieving NK was re adjusting my protein intake, coming up with different food ideas.  

I took my blood glucose and blood ketones every morning before breakfast and every evening at least two hours after supper.  For the first two weeks my glucose was still occasionally going up as high as 9 and my ketones had yet to surpass 1.1. By day 16 I had gotten my carb/fat/protein ratios to an average of 20/60/20.  I asked Danny of Primal North and Jimmy for their advice on getting my ketones up and both pointed out that I needed to reduce my carbs (to about 5%) and my protein (down to 15%). Great advice. I am aiming for it, but as you can see from my chart, I have yet to master it.  


Day
 Date
Carbs
Fat
Protein
total
am glucose
mg/dl
am ketone
pm glucose
mg/dl
pm ketone
34
Oct 24
31
166
56
253
7.2
130
1.6
5.8
104
2.2


12%
66%
22%



















35
Oct 25
44
99
54
197
5.8
104
1.3
5.3
95
2.8


22%
50%
27%



















36
Oct 26
29
221
60
310
6.0
108
1.4
5.0
90
3.5


9%
71%
19%



















37
Oct 27
27
161
48
236
5.4
97
2.8
5.2
94
2.2


11%
68%
20%



















38
Oct 28
33
183
62
278
5.4
97
1.5
5.4
97
3.6


12%
66%
22%








Around day 30, after another two weeks, my glucose leveled out and my ketones finally went up.  Here is an excerpt of my daily chart from day 34 to day 38.  The grams of carbs/fat/protein were copy and pasted from MFP in order to calculate the ratios. I watched and compared each day’s diet with the next day’s blood test results. 

Along the way my beliefs and perspectives about losing weight completely changed.

I lost 5 pounds in 50 days. A good thing, but far from what I had hoped for. One day I caught myself in a pity party over the fact that the scale had not gone down and thought, of course it didn’t. The numbers don’t lie. The higher my fat intake ratio, the higher the ketones, the less I weigh. (I was weighing myself every day.)   Then there was a two week period when the scale didn’t budge more than a half a pound, eventhough the ketones were as they appear in this chart. But it was evident that my body was still changing drastically as the pants that I had just bought two weeks earlier which were quite snug at the time were now very loose.   For the first time in my life, despite losing 30 pounds the year prior, I felt like it was not magic or just bad luck, but that there was some reasonable cause and effect to this and that the scale was no longer the authority on my body composition.    

I also got stronger, I don’t know how this is possible but after doing slow burn for 20 minutes twice a week for the last 6 months, I was able during these 50 days of NK to put the weights up twice. I felt stronger than ever and was able to lift more. My energy increased as well. My energy improved immensely when I went low carb but it wasn’t until I was in NK that I FELT LIKE running or doing a little sprinting. (I used to refer to myself as the laziest person I know, so it is crazy that I actually tried sprinting and liked it.)

So I lost a little weight, gained energy and got stronger and leaner. Which was great, but I was much much more thrilled with the improvement of my sinuses. I have had chronic sinusitis and allergic rhinitis for years and not being able to breathe fully through both my nostrils drives me crazy. So I was amazed that my inflammation had reduced so much that I could breathe increasingly better as the experiment progressed. I was thrilled.

On Halloween I carbed out, fell off the wagon, not for candy, but some almond apple crisp, and a shrimp/mango rice dish - ten times my usual carbs. The ketones tanked, and the stuffy nose returned.  I quickly learned that the more ketones I produced, the better I could breathe, the less ketones, the more stuffy I was.   

Another benefit I experienced was in my mood. I felt happier, level headed and smarter when my ketones were at their highest. The day after Halloween, I got really annoyed and realized I hadn’t felt that way recently.  In the days after Halloween, as I recovered and got the ketones back up I observed that while I wouldn’t say that I had previously been an anxious person, that I was a much more calm and relaxed person. I like being in NK because of the way it changes my perspective of the world.  

The cravings and hunger are gone. Which is crazy for me. I was biggest sugar addict. Going low carb improved the constant hunger but going into NK was the first time my cravings were under control. Plus, to my complete shock, one day at work I realized I had forgotten to eat breakfast before I left home. That had never happened to me.  I was stunned.  I used to eat because my hands were shaking and I couldn’t think. Now I am triggered to eat because I think I should or I hear my stomach growl.  I ate 2000 to 2500 calories a day, but over time that decreased a bit as. I just wasn't as hungry. 

There were challenges, the first week I felt crappy, just like I did the first time I cut back carbs. I was tired, had headaches and flu like symptoms. I ate tons of salt and thankfully it was gone in a few days.  I was also surprised to see how high my glucose was even when my carb intake was very low. It gave me a sense of how messed up my insulin receptors must have been before going low carb. It also sucked that after my one slip up on Halloween, it took almost 5 days to get my ketones and blood sugar back to the same levels. I didn’t realize when I “carbed out” that it would take so long to recover the ketones. 

The other challenge was the eating. It is not that I don’t love the food I eat now. I prefer it over any other diet and it is not difficult to buy or prepare. (It would be even easier if I was not lactose intolerant and could have heavy cream and cheese.)  I tried Whole30 twice (eating strictly paleo), but only made it to the 20th day both times. In comparison NK was 10 times easier and much better for  me and my psyche. I did not feel the least bit hungry, deprived or restricted. 

Eating such a different diet than my friends and family and  having my kind of food when I am away from home presents a challenge as well.   My solution is to always have a lunch bag, a nice one,  even if I am only heading out for a few hours (as you never know what could happen).  It is permanently stocked with; herbal tea bags and coconut oil, macadamia nuts and pumpkin seeds (a last resort), cutlery, and sea salt.  I add fresh food when I head out, depending up on how long I will be gone.   I worried about hurting feelings when I decline people’s food, but now that I feel so much better, it is not worth it to change my diet for others. I consider it a health issue. They wouldn't want me to feel crappy anyway. 

Now that the 50 days are complete I am no longer tracking my food (although it was enlightening, I have no interested in doing it long term), but I am still measuring my glucose and ketones every few days (because I love having immediate and measurable feedback on how well I am doing). 

I know everyone is not as sensitive to carbs as I am (many are and don't know it), but I think everyone should try tracking their food to see what you are really eating and try measuring your glucose and ketones to see how sensitive you are and how much it could improve your health and performance.

It is cool to really know your body and how it reacts to glucose.  I see myself eating like this forever, and I plan  to increase my ketones. It gets easier every day. 


"Ketosis is one of life’s charmed gifts. It’s as delightful as sex and sunshine,
 and it has fewer drawbacks than either of them. (Dr. Robert Atkins)
 

7 comments :

  1. This is a fantastic post! I'm currently on day 37 of my own n=1 nutritional ketosis experiment. I hope I get the same results as you do!

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  2. thanks bjjcaveman. It takes time to get the ketones up but it is definitely worth it. I'm sure you won't regret it, good luck.

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  3. I'm currently a member of the lowcarbfriends forums where they have a nutritional ketosis section. Would you mind if I shared your blog there? I think there's valuable information here and it'd be helpful for a lot of the folks over there.

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  4. You certainly may share it.
    I am happy to contribute if someone can benefit from what I learned, or in this case, from my mistakes.
    I am on day three of testing my blood again and being more strict than I was in December about my food choices (without tracking food) and my ketones are going up much faster this time around. Hopefully it will take about a week, instead of a month.

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  5. Thanks for sharing your story, very similar to my own. I too "stalled out" on a low carb diet (after losing 60 pounds), then read Jimmy Moore's blog on nutritional ketosis and started testing for ketons as well as blood sugar. My own personal tolerance level for carbs (if I want to stay in reasonable ketosis) turns out to be less than 20 g/day. I would just like to point out that your initial fasting blood sugar of 7.2 is actually in the range for having type 2 diabetes. It might be worthwhile to be properly tested with a glucose tolerance test to see if you qualify for Metformin. Metformin reduces insulin resistance, which then lets your body lower blood insulin levels, permitting increased fat burning and weight loss. Good luck!

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  6. Thank you for your feedback.
    Actually I have been known to be around 8 often - before I really lowered the carbs, so I will ask my doctor. When I first go the test a year or so ago, it was as high as 14 but that was just after eating and 3 days into low carb from SAD.
    I think many of us metabolically broken folks stall after a while but reducing carbs seems to help.
    best of luck and good health to you.

    ReplyDelete