My inspiration for the Ketogenic diet came from a dinner with a friend in SF about a year ago. He was telling me how energized and great he feels and attributed it to the lifestyle and diet he’s acquired over that past year. This consists of a very low-carb, high-fat diet with intermittent fasting and caloric restriction. He often eats 1500 calories a day or less! His typical breakfast consists of a hard-boiled egg, watermelon or cantaloupe, and bulletproof coffee. He’ll have a salad with fish for lunch, nuts for snacks, and a small protein-focused meal in the evening. He’ll allow for a 14 hour fast a day, i.e. he stops eating around 6 pm and eats breakfast the next day around 8 am. His motivations stem from both immediate and long-term optimization. Immediate: he gets increased energy and focus and feels healthier overall. Long-term: these methods have been directly linked to longevity, reduced risk for Alzheimer's, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and chronic pain.
The reason this came up is because I was relaying my recent bouts of low energy and afternoon slumps. I knew my diet and exercise routine were extreme, and that I concocted it myself from miscellaneous research, assumptions, and trial and error. Given that I have no formal education in nutrition science, I knew there were likely multiple things I could do to improve my energy levels and overall health. I assumed I was eating healthy—all natural foods, no meat or dairy, no processed food, tons of fruits and veggies. But I knew I wasn’t feeling the best I could, so I was open to advice from someone who reported feeling awesome. Plus, one of my obsessions is optimizing for longevity (long lifespan and healthspan) so that was a big driver as well.
I bypassed the part about the caloric restriction. Number 1, I like to eat. Number 2, my workouts are pretty intense and strenuous, I don’t think I’d last long without an ample refuel. Everyone's biology is customized and unique, if he feels good on that number of calories then that may work for him, but I’ve always needed a standard (2000-2300 calories depending on my day’s activity level) amount of sustenance to feel satisfied in a day. But what I did take away from the conversation was the low-carb, high-fat approach. I had heard a lot about this from the Tim Ferriss and Ben Greenfield podcasts that I’m always listening to (check out Tim’s Dom D’Agostino and Peter Attia episodes). They’re big advocates of the Ketogenic diet for vitality, preventing and reversing chronic illnesses, and overall health. So this idea was already seeded in my brain, as yet overlooked because of the notion that had been embedded in my mind that fat is bad and leads to high cholesterol—one of the great misconceptions derived from the packaged food industry’s monopoly on nutrition research (e.g. the USDA’s food pyramid is upside down). I had an aversion to fats to an extreme extent. Essentially, the only fat I was getting in a day was about 2 tablespoons of peanut butter with my morning oatmeal and afternoon protein shake. Otherwise, I was eating salad with lime juice instead of dressing, fruits and veggies for snacks, lean fish, and all natural protein bars/powders. This fat aversion came from my own incorrect assumptions on nutrition, developed from all the unsupported or biased inputs from society and the media (look up Ancel Keys). So this would need to be a big paradigm shift for me, but I was willing to give it a shot considering I kept hearing of its value.
This was 1 year ago. I am now full-on Ketogenic, eating 75% fat, 15% protein, 10% carbs per day and am in ketosis 24/7. That ends up being about 20-30 grams of net carbs per day. To put that in perspective, 1 banana contains about 27 grams of carbs! The biggest adjustment for me was going from eating 6-7 servings of fruit a day or more, to 0. This is the primary concern I hear from people, ‘I couldn’t give up fruit’. Trust me, I thought the same thing. Some days I was borderline Steve Jobs fruitarian level—snacking on a whole bag of grapes or cherries throughout a work day instead of meals. My mom always had to do a massive grocery run whenever I was visiting to make sure there was enough fresh produce. If I can give it up, I’m confident any human can. The most fascinating part of the keto diet is the shift in cravings to that of what will best support your new energy source. After about 5 days of eating keto, if done correctly, you enter ketosis. I.e. your body starts utilizing ketones for energy (fat) instead of glucose (sugar). At this point, you can let your body do the work—avocados, nuts, and oils sound delicious, while fruits, artificial sugars, grains are unappealing. But it wasn’t the smoothest transition for me, here’s a peek into my experience:
Keto Attempt #1, 2017
After that dinner and making the decision to try keto myself, I started by ordering foods on Amazon to kick off this new extreme macronutrient profile. I bought egg white protein, wild sardines in olive oil (recommended by Tim), macadamia nuts, MCT oil, and coconut oil. I ordered from Instacart a truckload of avocados, salmon, eggs, coconut milk, and nut butters. I hate tracking food and macros, I think it’s a consuming and neurotic activity that negatively affects simply living your life. But I had to start getting a feel for what macros were in what foods. I used MyFitnessPal to enter in foods I was previously eating in a day to get a feel for what I needed to change. I realized my diet of low-fat, primarily fruits and veggies was taking in at least 200 carbs a day! I couldn’t believe it. My macros were so incredibly skewed to carbs. In my attempt to eat close to nature and maintain a ‘healthy’, whole food diet, I wasn’t getting a full nutrient profile by any means. My favorite fruits were pineapple, bananas, apples, and grapes—some of the highest carb fruits out there. I also ate oats, high-carb veggies, rice crackers, and high-carb protein bars. All of this was about to change.
As soon as my new keto goods arrived, it was kick-off time. Aaaand the first day was rough. I did a head-first dive into the ketogenic diet (no more than 25 g of carbs a day). I cut out 90% of the fruits I was eating and over 60% of the veggies I was eating in order to reach the 10% of carbs a day. These were foods I was previously snacking on incessantly—bags of grapes, carrots, blueberries, bananas, a Tupperware full of pineapple. That first day I felt really off. It was way too big of a change for my body. I had a terrible taste in my mouth, my mouth kept watering, I felt uncomfortably full and borderline ill—what I now know was a bad case of Keto Flu. It takes a week or two for the body to get accustomed to the low-carb diet after coming from a high-carb diet, and it can take even longer to enter into ketosis. I quickly learned that I needed to ease into the diet and supplement the right way. It was after this struggle day that I reduced the extremity a bit and began incrementally reducing my daily carb intake rather than drastically cutting it. I wouldn’t return to full-on keto for a few months, after slowly reducing carbs and doing some more research. The second time around, I did it right. Hence why I’m still keto thriving today. A couple of right things I introduced: I supplement with electrolytes, magnesium, extra salt, plenty of water, vitamin D, a multivitamin, and vitamin C, I added more calories from healthy fats, and I incorporated more low-carb greens like spinach, broccoli, and asparagus.
What I Learned
I tell people who want to try keto the following —
Go at least 2 weeks on a low-carb diet (<30% carbs) before launching into full keto macros
Have someone who is experienced with ketosis guide you through the process. There is a right way to do keto and a wrong way to do keto, and it’s very easy to do it the wrong way. And doing it the wrong way will lead to feeling awful and making you never want to try again.
Supplement correctly, see 2.
Have patience and perseverance. It’s not going to feel great for the first 5-7 days, especially if your body is used to high-carb.
Since going full keto, my mood, productivity, focus, energy, and sleep have all drastically improved. My moods are much more stable and nonreactive, I’m hyper-motivated and focused with work, I no longer have mid-day energy crashes, and I need about 2 hours less of sleep to full rejuvenated. Not to mention the fun in the diet itself. So yum. I wake up to fat-filled Bulletproof coffee, I douse salads and fish with oil, I eat big spoons of nut butter and handfuls of hearty macadamia nuts for snacks, I crush a big bowl of salmon coconut curry for lunch, and I’m continually discovering new keto-friendly recipes that taste like I’m cheating. And what comes as a surprise to people is that I spend LESS money on food and have to order it less. Keep in mind I used to survive on produce, items that would go bad after a couple of days. So I was always ordering fruits and veggies and going to farmers markets. Now, a lot of what I eat comes in containers that last or can be frozen. Coconut oil, MCT oil, coconut milk, nuts, almond milk, nut butters, salmon (frozen), broccoli (frozen florets), olive oil, sardines, eggs, etc. The only perishable items I have to worry about are avocados and some greens like asparagus and spinach, but even those last far longer than the organic strawberries I used to buy and have to pick out moldy ones within a couple of days.
In the short time I’ve been in ketosis, I have been so in awe of its effects that I’ve been reading constantly trying to better understand the physical changes and how I can further optimize them. I’ve accumulated both personal experience and research knowledge that I’ll continue sharing on this blog. My biggest takeaway thus far has been the incredible revelation that food truly is medicine. Any problem you are having—headaches, nausea, anxiety, depression, pain, insomnia, fogginess—can and should be addressed with food first. Food is our fuel. It is the primary input we can 100% control, why don’t we acknowledge the gravity of that power and harness it for our immediate and long-term health?