Ketosis and Fasting

With so many diets coming to the fore as 'trendy' or popular, I decided to try out a couple of extreme approaches to nutrition in order to gauge how effective they are and find out whether they're worth doing.

I have now followed the ketogenic diet plan a couple of times. This is because I found there were a lot of positives to take from it.

I started following the diet because I was extremely uncertain as to whether it could genuinely be a good guide to follow. Surely eating 80% fat and very little carbs would leave you feeling groggy and tired, especially as a trainer. Not to mention the adverse effects of eating limited vegetables and a fair bit of saturated fat.

I was genuinely surprised. Adapting to the foods takes a bit of getting used to and it's very important to log exactly what you're eating to make sure you get enough fats and you're keeping your carbs under 20g a day. However, pretty quickly I noticed some very positive changes. After just a few days of 'keto flu' (waking up, feeling a bit like you're hung over - a sign of your body adapting to the dietary change), I noticed serious mental clarity. I felt as if I was positively buzzing. It was almost like I was on a social drug!

In addition, my digestive system seemed to be much happier. I was less bloated, more regular and as such I felt very positive. My weight began to drop, my appetite reduced (as seen by my inability to finish plates of food, something that's never happened before) and I genuinely felt as if I was enjoying life more. This also gave me valuable insight into a possible main cause for digestive issues in the past - I clearly don't get on well with carbohydrates, specifically starches. With them gone, my intestines performed like a well oiled machine.

But could this last? Sadly, in my case, no. I believe this is a diet that's well suited to people who have an addictive nature and for those whom extreme measures aren't a problem, but it's still not viable long term. I am a man of extremes and I actually began to really enjoy some of the strange habits that had become second nature to me. I would regularly drink double cream in the morning and smother everything in butter. I would even compare the ever present empty butter wrappers in the kitchen with the foil remains left by a heroin addict. However, the necessities of the diet meant I basically couldn't see anyone. There's very few places you can go to eat, you can't drink alcohol except straight spirits and you end up feeling very deprived. Not only that but I noticed that after a few weeks of feeling great and not needing to eat much, my appetite suddenly increased and the 'feel good factor' subsided.

What surprised me with keto was my ability to still train hard. I was still gaining strength despite cutting out carbs. I was worried that my love for heavy lifting would take a hit but it really didn't. However, after a couple of weeks I just started to feel knackered, worn down and irritable.

I decided to stop the diet after 4 weeks as I was getting really fed up with it. I had managed to lose 4kg but it was really beginning to feel like hard work. Those 4kg were really lost in the second week. My appetite had reduced quite significantly. Following that I was feeling far more peckish more frequently and I realised I was eating more in weeks 3 and 4. It is worth pointing out that just because you've entered a state of ketosis it doesn't mean that you'll lose weight. Energy in vs Energy out is still an important factor. Fat contains 9kcal per gram of energy, far more than carbs or protein (both 4kcal per gram). As such, it doesn't take much for these calories to stack up. Before you know it you're overeating.

Funnily enough, when I went back to eating carbohydrates, I felt sluggish, tired, irritable and my guts were all over the place. Despite this, I suddenly found myself on a bit of a carb-binge. I couldn't stop eating them! The weight came back on and my digestion was crap again. However, I did feel re-energised and it helped with my gym training. As such, for a time I cycled the keto diet with a high carb diet - essentially 'cutting' and 'bulking'. I've now done the ketogenic diet 3 times and each time my experience was a little different. Most recently it took me 2 weeks to get the 'mental clarity' and it only lasted a day. Also, at no point did my appetite subside. It stopped giving me results and eventually I stopped. Genuinely it is worth trying to find an approach to nutrition that you can stick to. For me, it's moderate carbs, with a good amount of fats and protein. Just carbohydrates before and after training.

Currently, I am in day 3 of a 5 day fast. This is my latest experiment on myself. Following a great deal of research, a 5 day fast appears the optimal time for the body to rid itself of anything that might be causing inflammation. As such, following the fast it will be possible to re-introduce foods slowly and carefully in order to find out which ones can be processed best and which foods cause irritation, thereby being able to make a solid plan of action regarding nutrition.

Day 1 and 2 were utterly horrendous, I felt like seriously hurting people because I was starving and lethargic. Into today and I feel more in control. My mind is more settled. There's no doubt I still feel hungry but I'm less concerned about it. My legs do feel drained when I walk the dog though and I feel quite sleepy and faint. I have literally had a couple of green teas, black coffee and water over these last 3 days. Sometimes the hunger pangs are really uncomfortable. Drinking more water is my only solution at the moment. 

Though this approach is extreme I'm certain it will give me a greater insight into what my body needs and how vital diet is for anybody. I can train myself to death but if I'm not eating the correct foods then no positive changes will be seen in my body, often I'll even gain fat. Having been in a fasted state for 3 days I've already lost 5kg and I look trim. It really goes to show how diet accounts for a good 80% of a healthy lifestyle and exercise just 20%.

Ben Savin