The 2014 Diet: The Mental State of Ketosis on Day 8

At the time of writing this I am starting day 8 of my own version of ‘Atkins Induction’ or ‘Ketogenic Dieting’. To briefly recap, I’ve stopped counting calories and just focus on what I feel, for me, are the ‘right’ foods: unsweetened yogurts and cheeses, eggs, meat, and non-starchy veggies have been the basis.

I’ve been doing low carb for a long time so I have a pretty good feel for carb counts. I’d say I’ve been below 50 grams per day pretty solidly. Even the bad days where there have been some cheats, I can’t imagine that the carb count went much above 50.

I went into Ketosis on day 5. I was at work and knew something was up. A first-time low carber might be a little freaked by the symptoms – mild headache, a kind of listlessness and a feeling of not thinking clear. It sounds awful – but I know what lies on the other side of this – at least in my case.

It happened the evening of day 6. Usually I come home from work exhausted, mentally and physically. This evening the energy came. My mind had cleared, my mood had brightened, and since then I have been feeling better both emotionally and physically.

Please note that I have essentially lost no more weight than since my last post so it isn’t a ‘scale high’ a dieter gets when they see a drop on the scale number. I haven’t gotten that scale rush in days – but I still feel better.

I’m paying more attention to this mental effect this time around because of the book ‘Grain Brain‘. I don’t want to go into too much detail on it at the moment (no time) but its premise is that ketones are a superior fuel for the brain and a very low carb diet is good for you mentally.

It kind of spins the whole ‘diet thing’ on it’s head if this is true: go on a low carb diet as a possible mind-enhancer and mood enhancer – oh, and you might lose weight while you’re at it.

It was rough going to get here – even for an old pro like me. Living with people who drink wine and can eat carbs does not allow me to ‘clear my pantry’ of the foods I try not to eat. The first 24-48 hours of a cutover from my body cutting over from burning glucose to burning ketones makes me feel ill.

But I find the me on the other side of this has energy, clarity, and calm. I tend to take the bumps and bruises of life with more grace and humor. I am probably a more pleasant person to be around.

This might or might not be an actual effect – but if I am deluding myself, what harm is there in it if it helps me adhere to my diet because I attribute positive mental effects to it?

I do want to state again that there is some research that supports a mental effect, and I have noticed it myself in the past and when I read about this effect in ‘Grain Brain’ I put two and two together. I am being very careful in writing this to be sure I don’t come off as if I am certain there is a direct cause and effect between ketosis or ketogenic diets and a positive mental state, but is something I personally have noticed time and again and find it a wonderful side effect.

The 2014 Diet: The First Few Days

On January 1, at 225, a set a somewhat simple goal – at least for me: just stick to what *I* consider ‘acceptable foods’ and that’s about it – not portion control, calorie-counting, exercise,  nor worrying about net carbs, fat percentage or protein. This point of this being only to work on one ‘willpower challenge’ at a time – the first being my food choices – and once I had a handle on this, then move on to other challenges.

The last few months were ones where I let myself reacquire a number of bad food habits – mostly too many carbs. I love the things, really – I just can’t eat them and feel good, nor keep off weight.

So, instead of plunging headlong into some strict, self-punishing diet, I wanted to start slow and ease myself in to a change of eating habits that focuses on the pleasure of the foods I can eat rather than the feelings of deprivation from the ones I can’t.

So how have my first few days gone?

Well, following the above approach I am 220 lbs. as of this morning. I don’t see this as any amazing feat as this is most likely water weight,. nor was the number on the scale my focus so far (though it’s nice seeing it move in the right direction): my focus was on food choices.

Despite a few bumps in the road, I think I did OK.

  1. Coffee, either black, with cream, or coconut oil was part of my daily routine already and little changed here. By any measure I drink too much of the stuff, but a reduction here is a challenge for another day.
  2. For New Year’s I cooked a (slightly modified) recipe from a Jamie Oliver cookbook: leg of lamb covered in rosemary with roasted eggplant and red onions which were then put into a from-scratch pasta sauce with parsley, oregano, balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, and some chili powder. This was a winner of a recipe and the sauce might become a staple – I’ll have to play with this one more.
  3. Eggs, either fried or nuked: with a few minutes before a conference call I nuked an egg with some cheese in the microwave for a minute, gave it a stir, then nuked again for a minute, then put on salt, pepper and Tabasco sauce. That was not bad at all – I’ll have to remember that trick.
  4. I made a batch of eggplant pasta sauce with strained tomatoes, leftover eggplant, parsley flakes, oregano, onion, minced garlic, chili powder, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil for my daughters to have with pasta. It was so good I took some the next day, put maybe 2 ounces of cheese on top, microwaved for 2 minutes and stirred in the melted cheese and used it as a dip with pork rinds, then had another bowl I ate like a thick soup. Another trick to remember.
  5. My wife had made a stir fry from some of the lamb along with celery and tofu and I had maybe 2 cups of that.
  6. Last night was sashimi night and I had raw tuna and scallops, as well as shrimp and two stir-fried dishes with chicken: one with zucchini and one with lotus root. There was also a miso soup with chicken, tofu and Chinese cabbage
  7. Along the way I have been drinking unsweetened almond milk with a few drops of EZ-Sweetz (pure sucralose) as a means to eliminate my milk-drinking habit and it has done the trick – I love the stuff. It also works to satisfy the sweet tooth and I find the stuff surprisingly filling – I might try a habit of having a cup before eating and seeing if it helps with portion control in the future..
  8. There was also some Greek yogurt, dark chocolate, macadamia nuts, and breakfast sausage along the way.

The above did not feel like deprivation and all the ingredients were acceptable, though I tend to steer clear of tofu and the soy sauce might have had some gluten in it, neither indulgence is the end of the world.

My failures both happened at night, fatigued and stressed.

  1. As I was putting away the pasta I made for the kids, I had a bowl. It was late, I was cleaning up, and it happened before I knew it. Not much thinking was going on at this point: my prefrontal cortex had already gone to bed.
  2. A similar situation on another evening caused the disappearance of some Lindt Chocolate balls and a Xmas cookie from a batch sent by a friend that arrived in the mail that day.

I’d say on the whole I did OK. The only thing to do about the failures is to keep practicing to stick to the acceptable food list and when the habit becomes ingrained I won’t need my prefrontal cortex to navigate around these hazards.

As to the mental techniques of ‘surfing the urge’ and ‘in 10 minutes’, I used the first a lot and the second a few times as well. Perhaps because I had a long list of forbidden items I was avoiding and the New Year’s started with the stress of a broken washing machine, a 9-day wait to fix, and frenzied attempts by my wife and I to diagnose the problem and fix it ourselves to avoid a rapacious bill and have clean clothes, my primary cravings were for wine and, oddly, cigarettes – since I have not smoked in more than 6 months (I took it up briefly after quitting for 14 years). It’s as if the cravings for the recently prohibited goodies brought to the surface other prohibited goodies that I’ve been abstaining from. I found myself planning the route to the store with the cigarettes, then to Trader Joe’s for the wine, but the craving passed and I went on with my life without ciggies and wine.

It’s only been 4 days so I think I’ll continue with the current approach a bit longer before I move on to the next challenge.

 

The 2014 Diet – Week 1: Surfing the Urge

From years of personal experience, I think one of the best ways to sabotage a new diet is try to do too much too fast. Instead, for the first week of the new year I am only focused on one goal: eating only the allowable foods for my personal low carb plan, which are:

  1. Meats, eggs, and dairy products full of what I consider ‘good fats’
  2. Butter, extra-virgin olive oil and coconut oil
  3. Nuts and nut products from only almonds and macadamia nuts
  4. Non-starchy vegetables
  5. 70% or more dark chocolate and pure sucralose (EZ-Sweetz) to calm any sweet tooth

That’s pretty broad. There’s no calorie-counting, tallying macronutrients, exercise requirements or even the slightest bit of portion control. Many might not agree with the allowing of artificial sweeteners, but to me the point isn’t to punish myself for past food transgressions nor is it to attain instant nutritional/moral perfection – the point is to just get myself acclimated to eating to a workable plan. I can always fine-tune it later.

While the above list includes a lot of tasty foods, it removes a lot as well:

  1. Any wheat products – I’m experimenting with a gluten-free diet.
  2. Any sugar except for the tiny amount in the dark chocolate
  3. Any fruit except berries
  4. Starchy vegetables like potatoes

Removing just those 4 items from my list has made my grocery store a much smaller place. As you’ve surely heard, all those inner aisles are pretty much made from those 4 items.

Too bad I like all those things.

To deal with any feelings of deprivation after a few months of indulgence in anything I wanted that I need to get unused to, I am going to try practicing a few techniques I came across in ‘The Willpower Instinct’. I highly recommend the book because while I have already played with many of the techniques mentioned, the book is structured in a way that presents them to maximum effect – way better than you’ll read here.

So here’s the two techniques I’m focusing on this week – one is the primary and one is the backup.

‘Surfing the Urge’ – here’s an amazing realization that seems to me might be the key to all dieting success:

All strong food cravings eventually go away whether or not you satisfy them.

Think about it: cravings have an ebb and flow to them. Whether it’s drinking, smoking, cupcakes or a loaf of crunchy Italian bread, the craving is sometimes stronger than other times. Instead of resisting the urge, don’t give into it but rather go into it: explore how it feels, maybe like getting stuck in a rainstorm and getting so wet and being so far from shelter that you go beyond the point of even caring. It is what it is, you deal with it, and feel the feelings you feel almost as if you are watching yourself, and eventually their power will lessen and your mind will move on to other things – and eventually you’ll be able to change out of those rain-soaked clothes.

Usually my feelings are of feeling sorry for myself. I don’t resist the feelings, nor intellectualize them, nor shame myself for having them: I just let them run their course. If I’m genuinely hungry, I have plenty to choose from that I can eat instead of the prohibited foods, so it’s not like I’m punishing myself (though that’s what the whiny inner child thinks). Eventually the feelings lessen – perhaps they grow tired of themselves, like someone never given a chance to speak that is suddenly given the floor and, with their newfound freedom, find they have nothing to say.

There’s a second technique as a backup to Surfing the Urge, when the feelings feel unbearable and you can’t bear the feeling anymore.

‘In 10 minutes’ – If surfing the urge isn’t cutting it for me, I promise myself I’ll give in – in 10 minutes. somehow, this stupid trick you play on yourself can actually work. Whatever primeval aspect of ourselves this connects with can actually be fooled by this. Again, imagining that you are talking to a child is the best analogy because this part of you *IS* still a child in a sense. Telling yourself: “in 10 minutes” can calm this aspect of yourself – and there’s no reason why the next time the urge comes back you can’t say ‘in 10 minutes’ again – you can keep this game going as long as it works for you.

These 2 techniques will not guarantee perfection – don’t think they do and discard them the first time they fail you – but if they get you 50% of where you want to be, you’re half the way there.

Let’s see what a week of this brings.

Low Carb Confidential for 2014

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When Dr. Oz, Cameron Diaz, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kim Kadashian all talk up low carb diets, you know that low carb has gone mainstream – again. It did so a decade ago but I think things are different now. In the past decade a lot of new research seems to show that, at the very least, low carb is not the ‘killer diet’ naysayers warned about 10 years ago and a ‘well-managed’ low carb diet might possibly be good for some of us.

For the sciency folks, 2013 brought this viewpoint published in the Journal of the American Medical Association: A Call for the End of the Diet Debates. The central point I take away from this is there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ diet and divergent diets such as low carb, high protein, veganism, paleo, and even old-fashioned calorie-counting, will work for some subgroup of people based on their age, predisposition, genetics and current medical conditions. It is not the diet itself as much as it is how the person responds to the diet and how well they can manage living on it long-term that matter.

Your doctor might try you on a half-dozen different medications to treat a given condition until you both find one that works – why would we have ever suspected that our diets would be any different?

Yes – the diet wars will continue I am sure. There are a lot of people who believe there is one right way to do things – usually theirs – and will argue endlessly for the self-validating honor of ‘being right’.

Meh. I’ve come to find this excruciatingly boring – except for the blogs of Anthony Colpo and Adele Hite, both of whom argue their (very different) positions with such passion and rapier wit (as well as some well-played cheap shots) that I can’t help but to enjoy their posts.

Me? I do what I do and have little desire to convince anyone of anything. I also don’t recommend you thinking anything I write is ‘advice’ – I’m in no position to advise anyone on anything. I’m just a crazy anonymous blogger who likes to string words together for his own amusement and post them on the Internet for the amusement of others and to clutter up search engines.

Low carb is my plan, and I will continue to play with the finer points, but this past year I have found myself looking at a lot of things in a new light – partly because it’s been an awful year for me from a diet perspective.

For the past few months I wasn’t even trying.

A year ago today I was 210. This morning, January 1, 2013, I am 225. 15 pounds is not all that much, but this minor fender-bender of a year is going to turn into a major car-wreck if I don’t break the current pattern.

In October I wrote that I was taking a break until my weight got under 200 – then promptly dropped all but the most superficial pretense of low carb dieting and here I am on the eve of 2014 – fatter than I’ve been in a while.

Meanwhile, this year, perhaps more than in others, I’ve read less and less on the science of low carb itself and more on the history of diets, the psychological and social aspects of food and nutrition, as well as the nature of science itself. Among the books and lectures I have read and listened to – and sometimes struggled to understand – are:

So – yeah – the diet part, the science stuff with all the molecules and compounds, micronutrients, macronutrients and the like have not ceased to be important, but even if you full well knew with 100% certainty what to do in order to lose the weight, slay the dragon, get the girl (or guy), and bring about world peace, it doesn’t matter if you’re still eating Cool Whip Frosting out of the container with a spoon. (Which I did last night – I was amazed how this nightmare of partially-hydrogenated oils and sugars bound together with a panoply of other multisyllabic ingredients was able to produce something that tasted so real – it was devilishly good.)

All this research has led me in new and interesting directions. It’s not just the diet, stupid – it’s how you diet – aside from the food – that has intrigued me the most this past year. Just a few of the things, to be specific, are:

  • The mind game that surrounds dieting. This mind game is played by us as we think we know what a diet is, as well as the mind game played upon us by a society that – especially in the US – worships indulgence and excess while promoting a body type that can only be attained by waifish teenagers and photoshopped celebrities. Where did this paradox come from?
  • What different diets do to the brain. I myself noted a mental change when I did a prolonged bout of ketogenic low carb – what’s up with that? I did some research on that subject and while the science is new, it is intriguing.
  • I have also been researching human disgust. Yes – this is actually a branch of science. Disgust is a fascinating human emotion because while it is universal like fear or anger, each culture defines it differently so foods that elicit a ‘yum’ in one part of the world elicit a ‘yuck’ in another. What this has to do with diets is that often you need to abandon certain foods and try new ones to make a diet work but some people find the notion of new foods truly puke-inducing to even think about. Their choices then narrowed to only a few items, their diet becomes unsustainable and they fail. Why is one person’s delicacy another’s food dare – and can we change this about ourselves or is it fixed and immutable? And another thing: why CAN some of us eat the same thing over and over and not be bothered by it?
  • Habit and willpower. How do we quash old habits and replace them with new ones? How do we stick to our plan when fatigued, stressed or distracted? What exactly *IS* ‘willpower’, where does it come from and how can we make more of it?
  • Exercise. I’ve long-held that exercise is useless and counterproductive for weight loss because it burns such a tiny amount of calories that you would have to spend hour after hour exercising to lose weight. I still believe this, but what if ‘burning calories’ isn’t the point of exercise as part of a weight loss program at all? What if the last thing you ever want to do is try to count the calories burned after exercise but you still should consider it because of other properties it has to promote weight loss?

My hope is that in 2014 I will tackle some of these interesting aspects in more detail and make some sense of them – at least to me – and get to my goal weight of 185 partly because of low carb and partly because I intend to apply some of this new thinking.