I’ve been slightly overweight most of my life. It was first mentioned to me when I was about 13 by my family doctor. He suggested I sign up for an after school sport, so naturally I joined the speech and debate club when I got to high school.
In my twenties, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and put on medication. In my thirties, statins were added. In between, I starting getting gouty attacks so started on medication to prevent that. Over the years various doctors mentioned diet and life style changes. I’ve never been big on diets or dieting, but I’ve made a few changes over the years and these days I don’t eat the steady stream of junk that I did in my younger days.
In 2009 I found myself in the emergency room having a gallbladder attack. The ER doctor ordered morphine and called in the surgical team who removed the offending organ. Post surgery I found it difficult to tolerate fats in my diet so went on an extremely low fat diet. Generally I replaced fats with carbs. Over time I let the fat content in my diet increase slightly, but I’ve maintained a low fat, moderate calorie diet since. I have fruit with cereal for breakfast, salad and yogurt for lunch with a reasonably balanced dinner.
Since 2009 I’ve gained nearly 35 pounds.
A few months ago I got more serious about exercise and now do 45-60 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week – some walking, some exercise bit. I’ve lost a pound or two and my blood tests show some improvement. When I saw my doctor to complain about my foot and other problems she noted that a number of the health problems would be improved by weight loss.
“I exercise nearly everyday, barely eat, and still don’t lose weight. Suggestions?” Was my polite, but annoyed response.
The appointment ended with my doctor referring me to a dietitian. In later email exchanges, she started suggesting diet plans I might follow. Most of these didn’t seem much better than what I was doing and most involved large quantities of broccoli – I hate broccoli. I am one of the 25% of the population with the “broccoli tastes horrible” gene.
I suspect out of desperation, my doctor suggested I checkout the Keto diet (a low carbohydrate, high fat diet) which has been shown to be effective for people with certain conditions like metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, epilepsy and other conditions. She sent me a bunch of links to various studies, websites, TedTalks, and talks done by doctors and medical researchers at a conference about the diet. Guess she was listening when I told her I was an engineer.
I went over everything she sent and decided to do a bit of additional research. I’ve included these links and a bunch more I found at the end of this post as a kind of bibliography for this essay. This isn’t a formal research paper, but I’ll at least cite my sources.
Before I started reading anything about Keto, my attitude was, “great, another fad diet.” I could have rejected the whole thing right there, but growth and improvement only happens when we open ourselves to new ideas. After the first couple of videos and reading one the studies my attitude changed to, “wow, this has real possibilities and the science is looking sound.”
After all this research I’ve concluded that the LCHF (low carb high fat) diet is something I should try. There is enough evidence to suggest that it could effectively improve my overall health and as a side effect weight loss. I’’ll emphasize that my primary goal is to improve health and feel better. Weight loss aids that goal.
I’m not a biochemist so I won’t dive into great detail on the diet.
The premise of the diet is that lowering your carbohydrate intake reduces the amount of fat that gets stored in you body and forces the body to buy fat for energy. You body has two fuels it can use, carbohydrates that get converted to glucose, and fat that is stored in the body. The carbs in our diet include refined sugars and grains like wheat and rice. Fats in our diet come from sources like meats, butter, oils and some vegetables. How the body treats these inputs are different.
When you eat a carb, your blood sugar rises and the body releases insulin to convert it. Some of the carb is burned as fuel, while the excess is converted to fat stored for later use. This has the effect of lowering your blood sugar and making you feel hungry, so it’s off to kitchen for more food. This system can go a bit wacky as higher levels of insulin require more sugars and more sugar stimulates more insulin production. In the long run you end up consuming more carbs and build up more fat in the body. Since this process produces all the glucose your body needs, you never burn the stored fat. Over time you gain weight, blood sugars rise, triglycerides and cholesterol also rise. The long term effect can trigger type II diabetes, heart issues and a thing known as “metabolic syndrome.”
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of problems including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, abnormal cholesterol, high triglycerides, and excess body fat – especially around the waist. I think I have all of those. This condition puts you at higher risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Charming.
The Keto diet plan is intended to switch your body from primarily using carbs as fuel to fats as fuel. When you reduce your carb intake, your body switches to using fats through a process known as ketosis where fats are broken into fuel and ketones are produced (which is where the name comes from).
Under the diet, carbs are avoided and replaced with non-starchy vegetables, healthy fats, and proteins. On the no list are refined sugars, grains such as wheat and rice, and starchy plants like potatoes and bananas. On the allowed list are things like fish, vegetables, cheese, meat, poultry, eggs, Greek yogurt, and certain healthy fats. The fats include things like butter, lard, coconut oil, olive oil and other saturated fats.
This isn’t exactly an Atkins diet, but the two share some similarities including that they restrict carbs. They differ in other details such as how much protein to consume.
The Keto diet has its critics, but there is a growing number of medical professionals using the diet to treat conditions like type II diabetes, epilepsy, metabolic syndrome, and I even found some doctors using this for some brain cancers.
It’s the research that’s drawn me to this method. Study after study is knocking over so many long held diet beliefs, such as saturated fat causes heart disease. For example, this study: Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease and others has shown there is no evidence that consumption of saturated fat is a factor in increased risk for heart disease. Based on what I’m seeing in the research and my own personal experience, I’ve come to the conclusion that the low fat calorie restricted diet simply doesn’t work and that I need to do something different.
I don’t approach this lightly – it’s serious stuff. Keto is a major change, an extreme change, and comes with difficulties. Will I be able to stick to the diet? Will it work? There are known issues in the early stages of the diet that have to be managed. I’m looking at this whole thing as a medical treatment, after all I’m only considering this because of health issues. I plan to fully engage my doctor in this and get whatever medical monitoring might be needed.
Naturally I am motived and should start right away, so I’ve decided to start in August. Yup, two months from now, I am going to jump on the wagon. There are a number of reasons for the delay, upcoming vacation, grandkids coming out, and a date with the oral surgeon in July. I am not really the kind to rush into things or make radical changes. My plan is to start a plan of gradually shifting by not eating sugary foods, reduce the grains I eat and start adding a bit more heathy fat into my diet. Once I’ve healed from the oral surgery, I’ll try the more extreme version and move to ketosis for a while.
It’s all a bit experimental and figure this will be my science project for the year.
Does anyone know the dates for the science fair?
I’ve not read all of these, but the authors are of interest. I do have the Dr. Feinman book which is what I’ll read first.
Jeff S. Volek, The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance, Beynold Obesity LLC, 2012
Eric C Westman, Adapt Program: A Low Carbohydrate, Ketogenic Diet Manual, CreateSpace, 2015
Richard David Feinman, The World Turned Upside Down: The Second Low-Carbohydrate Revolution, NMS Press-Duck-in-a-Boat LLC, December 12, 2014
Mary T. Newport, The Coconut Oil and Low-Carb Solution for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Other Diseases: A Guide to Using Diet and a High-Energy Food to Protect and Nourish the Brain, Basic Health Publications, 2015
Leanne Vogel, The Keto Diet: The Complete Guide to a High-Fat Diet, with More Than 125 Delectable Recipes and 5 Meal Plans to Shed Weight, Heal Your Body, and Regain Confidence, Victory Belt Publishing, 2017
I’ve not watched everything here, but these channels (in this order) are the ones I found to be the best. Note that the Epigenix Foundation was a recommended by my doctor. Good basic research there.
Epigenix Foundation: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkUl8S70DCT66YJ30w75d6A
The Keto Advocate: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQCsL9_c0DwCxhSfctDN5tg/feed
Dr Ken Berry: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIma2WOQs1Mz2AuOt6wRSUw
Leanne Vogel, Healthful Pursuit: https://www.youtube.com/user/healthfulpursuit
Dr. Eric Berg, DC, https://youtu.be/_434ERRbkj8
These are some individual videos I found interesting. Some recommended by my doctor. All of these lead me to the channels above.
Eric Westman MD, Duke University: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WendvONj5O0
Jeff Volek PhD, RD, Ohio State University: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4cokbiVp3Mg
Keith Runyan, MD, Nephrologist with DM1, following KD, completed Ironman while in ketosis, blogger: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qs71l7Dk7u8
Sarah Halberg: www.youtube.com/watch?v=da1vvigy5tQ
Papers and Articles:
Most of these I found while doing follow up research on the above or while reading articles my doctor provided.
Note on Healthline: All of there articles include references to studies, medical journal articles or similar. I found these to be helpful and many of the items list below I found here.