Keto Kills Fatty

That’s a weird title. Keto? Do you mean Kato? Like Green Hornet’s sidekick played by legendary martial artist, Bruce Lee? Who is Fatty? That seems more than a little derogatory. Body shaming is not okay. Why would Bruce Lee even kill a plump person? That doesn’t make any sense. Unless the large man had a gun or was a super-villain or something. Wait. Bruce Lee died in the 70s. Are you saying the ghost of Bruce Lee is going to nunchuck this overweight fellow to death? Wouldn’t the spirit-chucks harmlessly pass through the big man’s body? He’d be like “What was that? I just got a chill. Honey, could you close the window?” No, I think Fatty would also need to be a ghost for the nunchucks to work on him. Ghost fight. Totally plausible. But in that case Bruce wouldn’t be “killing” Fatty. They would both be dead already. Is this some sort of zombie thing? Can’t be. People usually become zombies right away. Although, a zombie Jeet Kune Do master would be pretty amazing. As long as it was the I Am Legend or WWZ kind of zombie. Your run-of-the-mill walker wouldn’t have the dexterity. Plus, it’s unlikely that it would even remember the technique. Zombies can’t even remember their own names or that they don’t like brains. This is just too weird for me. I can’t read this trash. I’m leaving.

Fatty

I’m Fatty. Well, part of me is Fatty. As you might expect, the fat part. I’m roughly 50 pounds overweight. I asked The Mighty Google Machine “What weighs 50 pounds?” and was given an entertaining answer:

Examples of items or animals that weigh 50 pounds include a small bale of hay or a border collie and house cat combined, 5 medium-sized bowling balls, 5 house cats, two car tires and a large bag of sugar, a microwave oven and two bags of flour, 10 average sized table lamps and 10 Chihuahua dogs.—reference.com

As a knowledge worker (translated: a nerd who gets paid to stare at screens, type on keyboards, and have impressive things to say in meetings), I’ve spent the bulk of my career sitting. Eating too. Yep, sitting and eating. Throw in a happy marriage, a bunch of kids, and a chaotic schedule and you’ve got Fatty. (Divorce is much better for weight loss, but that’s too big a tangent to tackle right now.)

Before making some radical dietary changes mid-December, I was at my all-time heaviest: 253 pounds. In case you were wondering, that’s 36,717 tea bags, 229 kittens, or 38 billion grains of sand.

I’ve had some success with weight loss in the past. I’ve dropped the cats, bowling balls, and lamps many times. But I always eventually pick them back up. A few pizzas (“Here kitty, kitty!”), french fries (“Anyone up for some bowling?”), and cupcakes (“I could really use some more light.”) and bam! I’m back to where I started.

Keto

As much as I like where your head was at with the whole Bruce Lee ghost battle thing, keto actually refers to the ketogenic diet. It’s a high-fat, moderate protein, very low carb diet that makes your body a fat-burning machine. Eating fat to burn fat. Seriously. I’m sitting in a puddle of melted fat cells right now. Crazy.

It’s not the fat-eating that makes you burn the fat. It’s the ultra, mega, mega carb restriction. Remember when you did the Atkins Diet? You feasted on chicken wings for two months and dropped 30 pounds only to make eye contact with a french fry and gain it all back. It’s a lot like that but with more boundaries. Over gloriously carb-laden IPAs a few weeks back, my friend Warren described keto as Atkins with science.

It’s all science of course. But the keto diet does feel a bit more science’y. The discovery of ketones (think of it as liver juice because those two words together aren’t horrible at all) in 1921 led to the development of a diet by the Mayo Clinic for the treatment of epilepsy. It’s still used for that purpose today. In fact, some friends of our’s have a 5 year-old son with a rare genetic condition called glucose transporter type-1 deficiency syndrome or Glut1. The primary treatment for his condition is a very strict ketogenic diet. What we eat has a tremendous impact on our health.

Awesome medical uses aside, one side-effect of this diet is weight loss. Our bodies are normally fueled by something called glycogen. Glycogen is ultimately a byproduct of eating carbohydrates – the magical things found in bread, pasta, cake, cookies, beer, and everything else that is fun to eat. To paint a picture with words: cookie > science science science > glycogen. As it turns out, if you take away the glycogen by dramatically reducing carb intake, your body thinks that it’s starving and starts its backup generator. It actually switches fuel sources. Instead of burning glycogen, your body starts burning its fat stores. This is called ketosis. If you continue to eat tiny amounts of carbs each day you will remain in ketosis and torch that fat.

Although there are different approaches to the ketogenic diet that involve carb-cycling and other techniques for professional athletes, body builders, and other types of people that aren’t me, it’s generally accepted that going off ketosis is a bad thing. It can take a couple days for your body to switch fuel supplies and while it does, you will feel like crap. It’s often referred to as the “keto flu”. If after you’ve entered ketosis you eat a box of Twinkies, your body would shut off the generator and resume burning glycogen. This causes weight gain because every gram of glycogen is bound to 3-4 grams of water. It also slows your progress and throws you into another round of keto flu badness when you return to keto orthodoxy. It’s like a day-long hangover without all of that fun the night before.

I decided to take two meals off over the holidays – one meal on Christmas and another the day after. Horrible idea. The line chart below shows the impact of those two meals. That mogul at the bottom of my otherwise impressive ski slope was caused by my error. Off ketosis, on ketosis. And for the record, I felt miserable for two days after switching back. Still, that’s 11 pounds in a few weeks with my holiday blunder.

Eggs, meat, cheese (repeat)

There are a number of resources out there that will help you identify your nutrient macros and calorie target. The general rule of thumb is to consume calories comprised of 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbs. The optimal number of net carbs (carb grams minus fiber grams) is evidently 20g. Through far too much scrutiny and tinkering with various online calculators, I’ve been operating at 73%, 22%, 5% since I got started on December 13th. Word on the street is that most people can eat up to 50g of net carbs before getting kicked out of ketosis. After my not-so-merry Christmas mishap, I’m not going to risk it. My daily net carb consumption has been consistently in the 20-25g range.

The diet is a vegan’s nightmare – all eggs, all meat, all cheese, all the time. There are a ton of keto-friendly recipes on the Interwebs and it’s been fun experimenting with low carb meals and fat bombs. The latter are incredibly satisfying snacks that have high fat and single-digit carb content. My current favorite are rolled up balls of cream cheese with diced pepperoni and pizza sauce. Pop one or two as a snack and you’re totally content. Your brain says “Omnomnom. Fattttt. I am so happy right now!” and your hunger is immediately exorcised. This house is clean.

I’m also a coffee fanatic and do still rack up carbs each day with my beloved half-and-half. Sweet nectar of the bovine gods. Those carbs are worth it to me. But I have chopped my half-and-half intake by throwing a butter coffee into my morning mix. I’ll drop two tablespoons of Kerrygold unsalted butter in my blender, add 10oz of coffee, and a few seconds later I have rich, hot, butterfrothy goodness.

When we go out to eat my go-to meal is ribeye and asparagus. Apart from being ketolicious, the asparagus pee smell is a nice change from the daily ketone bouquet you’ll experience in ketosis. (Yes, that’s a thing.) Don’t be alarmed – the bad pees mean it’s working.

By far the most satisfying eat-out indulgence is a Five Guys cheeseburger wrapped in lettuce instead of a bun. On keto your carb-neglected taste buds operate at a completely different level. Everything has so much more flavor and this particular cheeseburger is a near-spiritual experience. Juicy double ground chuck patties, flawlessly melted American cheese… Great. I’m hungry now. Next topic.

Tracking = necessary

Using a food tracker app is not optional on this diet. There are several options out there but I settled on myfitnesspal. I religiously track everything consumed and it rewards me with a nice breakdown of my macros by week, day, and even by meal (for Premium subscribers).

The Nutrients interface also gives you some at-a-glance insight, but sadly, net carbs aren’t automatically calculated. The math is trivial but I’m doing it almost every time I open the app. What I stuff in my facehole is largely dictated by that net carb number. I’m planning to reach out to the myfitnesspeople and ask if a net carb feature is coming anytime soon. If it’s not, I might build something myself with their API. I’d love to look at the app’s main screen or better yet, my Apple watch, and instantly get that one value.

Drinking

I feel great. Beyond the weight loss, I have more energy and I feel more focused mentally. I don’t experience lulls or crashes during the day. I’m less hungry. I’m also taller, handsomer, and a better lover. Or is that liver? I think my liver is much happier because good beer is not an option and bad beer isn’t an option by principle. A glass of red wine with low residual sugar, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, is fine if you find yourself with 5g of carbs to flush at the end of the day. That doesn’t happen very often with me. If it does, I’ll usually go with a spoon-full of Skippy Natural peanut butter. Don’t judge me. You’ll understand once you’re a few weeks in.

Liquors like vodka, tequila, whisky, and the like are all zero carb. But go easy on those Tito’s and sodas, alcohol of any kind will hit you like a ton of bricks when you’re in ketosis. Plus you’ll feel extra-horrible the next day. Most importantly, it stalls weight loss because the liver will stop burning the fat to burn the alcohol.

As you might expect, the most important beverage on keto is water. Based on my weight, my target is about a gallon a day. When you’re in ketosis you will be urinating more frequently – electrolytes go bye-bye. It’s important to keep an eye on your sodium intake or you’ll find yourself with muscle cramps. Each day I drink a cup of hot chicken water a la Knorr granulated chicken bouillon. This tasty shot of sodium keeps the cramps at bay.

Caveat dietor (let the dieter beware)

I want to be clear like crystal: keto is hard. If you’ve never done the very-low-carb thing keto will be wicked-difficult for you at first. You will hate life the first few days. If you can push through The Suck and make it a couple weeks, the horribleness will fade your your results will be staggering.

However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you to talk to your doctor if you’re considering the ketogenic diet – particularly if you have any pre-existing medical conditions. I jumped right in because I’d tortured myself like this several times before (e.g., Atkins, Paleo, etc.) without any issues. But please do your homework before you get started.

Get started

If my psuedo-Latin warning didn’t discourage you from embarking upon this craziness, you should spend some time on the keto subreddit. It will give you a huge dose of encouragement and unfiltered commentary on every keto topic imaginable. I also find myself on ruled.me quite a bit. While my favorite keto calculator is the aforelinked page on ankerl.com, ruled.me provides a nice one too.

I’m definitely not an expert but I’m happy to take a stab at any questions you might have. If you would like gory day-by-day details, you’re welcome to be my pal.

Buh-bye, Fatty. Buh-bye.