Adventures with low-carb and ketogenic nutrition

As detailed in my previous posts (“The New Pugilist”) several months ago I began a regiment of good nutrition and exercise in order to better master my body. In defiance of this initiative my weight remained static. After poking around on some weight lifting and combat sport forums I started reading up on low-carb and ketogenic diets. In ketogenic diet the customary body energy, glycogen which is converted from carbs, is shifted to ketone bodies, which convert from fat. It is a nutritional plan which calls for adequate protein, high fat and typically less than 50 grams of carbs a day.

I read amazing success stories and weight lifters and athletes who advocated for very low carb nutritional plans. I found myself in a curious situation: while I was boxing and eating right ,I was still quite fat. With nothing to lose, and seemingly no progress being made with my “textbook” nutritional plan, I switched to a ketogenic diet. While ketogenic diet is used in medicine to alleviate the symptoms of epilepsy – it also is purported to be effective for weight loss in individuals which are particularly sensitive to carbohydrates, although there is apparently some controversy surrounding the benefits and potential side effects.

Regardless, after conducting some research, reading some medical journals and speaking with successful weight lifters and fighters I made the change. The first week in which I virtually eliminated carbohydrates from my diet was hell. I had a constant head ache, feeling of dizziness, nausea and malaise. This was expected: I had read that there is an initial adjustment period in which the body shifts from glycogen to ketone bodies (known as ketosis). It did not help matters that I completely eliminated intake of carbohydrates while simultaneously cutting my caloric intake markedly. After a week of unpleasantness it seemed the worst had past, although I still felt some minor malaise and dizziness for the next two weeks to come. This was complicated by a cellulitis infection in my leg, borne from a mosquito bite I sustained while boxing outside. During those weeks I experimented with ketogenic diet – quite insufficiently, and rapidly lost water weight (stored from the carbs).

Today I have settled in with this new nutritional plan. Since June 9th when I started eating as such, I have lost 46 lbs. This is the only time in my life in which I am able to lose weight, reliably calculate what effect food will have on me and in which I have eaten completely “clean” and homemade foods. My overall caloric intake is lower, and I also combine my diet with a period of “intermittent fasting” between dinner time and breakfast. A typical day looks like this:

Hydration: 100-150 ounces of water

Supplements: complete calcium, complete multivitamin, fish oil

10 am – 12 pm Breakfast: 4 egg omelet, 2 pieces cheese, 2 slices bacon, garlic/pepper/salt/cayenne

3 pm Snack: 2 TBSP flax seed, 2 TBSP peanut butter, stevia, cinnamon – also sometimes I’ll substitute this with pork rinds and hummus, or eat assorted nuts

6 pm Dinner: chicken/beef patties with cheese, some fiber vegetable (usually broccoli, although recently I have experimented with avocado and artichoke), garlic/pepper/salt/cayenne

Intermittent fast between 6 PM and 12 PM

I average between .4 and 1 lb of fat lost a day – which is obviously very rapid. When I started this nutrition plan I did not expect any results – so it obviously came as a huge surprise when I finally figured out “the key” to my weight loss. What this process has helped me discover is that I am extremely sensitive to carbohydrates. This is probably due to genetics and my own bio chemistry and is not something I can change. I find that when I consume carbohydrates my weight loss stalls or I gain weight. As soon as I take the carbs out, the weight loss resumes. So it is not enough simply to eat “good carbs” as I had begun to do – for endomorphic individuals like myself a marked reduction in carbohydrate consumption is necessary.

I cannot explain the amount of delight I feel when I hop on the scale in the morning and see the pounds flying off. Speaking of which, this is the first time in my life I have used a scale. While I used to fear it, I now am excited to see what effect my nutrition has had on my weight. I can now reliably calculate the exact effect a meal will have. I know if I’m having a “cheat meal” of tacos or burritos that the next day my weight will either remain the same or go up. If I really cut as many carbs as possible – for instance if I don’t eat the flax seed or peanut butter (the latter of which contains sugar) and only eat enough carbs necessary to get my fiber, I will lose the maximum amount of weight. My consumption of carbs is directly proportional to my weight gain. Paradoxically ,while I was at my fattest when I began to box, my cardio health was the best it ever has been; I had the strange circumstance in which I felt great but I was still fat and maintaining or gaining weight. In retrospect I understand that it was because I was eating up to 4 slices of wholegrain bread a day, plus the occasional wholegrain pasta, and milk, which is LOADED with carbohydrates and sugar.

One of the big challenges I have faced with this new nutritional plan has been intake of fiber. While the wholegrain bread I used to eat was loaded with fiber – it is more difficult to get fiber while remaining low carb. The result is constipation, which was really bad when I first started and is still an occasional, although more rare issue now. I have recently started consuming avocado, artichoke and more non-enriched (i.e. sugar filled) broccoli to address this issue. While flax seed is high in fiber, I have read that it may cause constipation or even intestinal blockages, so I will not exceed 2 TBSP a day. Still, the palatability and difficulty of preparing both avocado and artichoke have been a challenge, although not one that I am willing to shrink from. Getting enough fiber has been the last challenge of my nutritional life. I also recently ordered 3 lbs of raw almonds, which I am going to make into almond milk for both fiber and for consumption of protein shakes, to replace the amazingly unhealthy bovine milk that I once consumed.

If someone is seriously interested in weight loss my biggest piece of advice is to invest in a good scale. If you don’t know your weight on a daily basis, and the fluctuations your food consumption causes, its as if you are a aircraft descending into thick cloud cover without an altimeter; you are blind and headed to crash. But rest easy, a good scale does not mean unaffordable. I bought the Eatsmart Precision Plus off amazon and it cost me less than $40. It is also created by a small, family run company with amazing customer service that deserves our patronage. The most useful features of the scale is a high weight tolerance, large, readable, digital display, impressive precision and a wide area to stand upon. Check it out: here.

Update

December 2nd, 2011. I have lost 102 lbs since June – more or less following the above plan.