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Photo credit: Alex Munsell
Photo credit: Alex Munsell

The beginners guide to ketosis

Diet is a really touchy subject and people love getting worked up about it.

In this article I’m going to cover why the diet you follow doesn’t really matter that much, it’s about what you are trying to achieve. The reasons I follow this eating plan, from family cancer scares to increased energy and mental clarity. I also share some of the products and tools I use to make this as easy as possible. 

I’m going to get this out of the way right at the start here. I am not a doctor and I do not pretend to be one (except for Halloween 2 years ago). All of this is based on my own research and experiences.

Ok so now we can get to the fun stuff!!

This article is structured around questions I asked a lot and get asked a lot. So you can jump straight to the section that interests you:

What is Ketosis?

Why do you do it?

How do you get into Ketosis?

How do you know if you are in Ketosis?

What is the difference between Keto/Paleo/Atkins/whatever other diet they will come up with next….

What can/ can’t I eat?

How do you afford a Ketogenic eating plan?

Do you cheat/ drink Alcohol at all?

Is Ketosis dangerous?

What is Ketosis?

This is probably the question I get asked most. It usually goes with a bit of a confused look and a why the f@ck would you want to do that expression (we’ll get to that in the 2nd question).

To put it really simply, ketosis is changing the fuel source your body runs on. Your body is normally running in glycolysis, or a state where it gets it’s energy from blood glucose. When you go into ketosis you change that fuel source from glycogen to ketone bodies (fat).  

This means that the quantity of ketone bodies in the blood reached higher than normal levels(to be exact over 0.5 mM). When the body is in a ketogenic state, it will start breaking down your own body fat to fuel the body’s normal, everyday functions.

(Yes ladies you read that correctly, your body will burn fat for you)

To put that a little different you will be using fat as fuel and not carbohydrates/sugar. I don’t know if you have heard, but sugar is REALLY bad for you. The sugar industry actually paid Harvard researchers to play down the link between sugar and heart disease and place the blame on fats.

Why do you do it?

The why is the really important part. For me it’s a very personal link around cancer and  also feeling as good as possible.

The first part starts with a personal story. In 2015 my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It was a big scare and really not a fun experience. After doing a biopsy the doctors decided to operate, but before they could do that they checked out his heart to make sure he could handle the surgery. When they did this, they found that he needed a quintuple bypass surgery. Suffice to say a dark time for our family.

After the heart surgery, he was not strong enough to undergo the cancer surgery and we started looking at alternative ways of treatment. One of these ways was metabolic therapy, or in plain English, controlling what you eat. There are a number of studies that suggest that a ketogenic diet weakens cancer cells.

If you are really interested in finding out more about this and you don’t want to read hundreds of articles. I suggest you listen to all 3 episodes of Tim Ferriss’ podcast with Dr. Dominic “Dom” D’Agostino. The fact that a guy like Ferriss interviewed him 3 times should already tell you something about what he has to say:

Dom D’Agostino on Fasting, Ketosis, and the End of Cancer (his first appearance on the show)

Dom D’Agostino — The Power of the Ketogenic Diet (his second appearance on the show)

Dom D’Agostino Disease Prevention, Cancer, and Living Longer (his third appearance on the show)

Getting back to my father’s story. After his heart surgery he went on to a strict ketogenic eating plan. And I mean REALLY strict, he did not cheat at all (which you kind of understand given the cancer).

Six months after the heart surgery he went back to the Urologist to get tested again and they told him that his PSA count had decreased to a level where it was no longer necessary to operate. It had almost halved.

The doctor’s exact words to him were: “Oh I see the medication I gave you has been working” to which he replied “You didn’t give me anything, I just changed my diet”.

The doctor did not want to accept this as an explanation for the decrease in the cancer. But that is a conversation for a different article about changing people’s preconceived ideas around diet.

Suffice to say that a very personal experience like that is enough to motivate anyone to give something like Ketosis a try.

This is however not the only reason to follow a ketogenic eating plan. When you start reading up about ketosis you will find that it has many other benefits and there are lots of well known people who use it. Here are just a few of the main benefits:

  1. Ketosis leads to more energy – Fat and protein burn slowly and allow a steady stream of energy; your energy levels won’t soon crash because your body can’t get rid of it near as fast as carbohydrates.
  2. Ketosis improves brain function (aka you just feel better) – Ok that’s a big claim to make but it’s been proven that MCT oil (specifically the C8 chain) improves brain function. Ketones readily cross the blood brain barrier and area more efficient than glucose. Even the navy seals use it to improve performance.
  3. You will have more energy – The Ketogenic eating plan also increases mitochondrial biogenesis – the process by which new mitochondria are formed inside of cells. So you have a more efficient fuel, producing more energy and stimulating the growth of even more fuel engines (the mitochondria).
  4. Ketosis decreases hunger – One of the main complaints on any diet is that people feel hungry. You will never get that with a Ketogenic eating plan. Because of the efficient fuel consumption you will actually find you feel less hungry. It also doesn’t have any caloric counting or crap like that. (Believe me I’m too lazy to count calories)
  5. Ketosis leads to more weight loss – I know all the guys reading this are saying to themselves “I don’t care about that” but it also means that you cut much quicker and your muscles will look more defined.

If you are not convinced yet, just google and see what pops up. There are lots of great articles out there.

How do you get into Ketosis?

This is also something lots of people ask. I think they are trying to gauge how easy this is to do.

Getting into ketosis has a few facets to it. Firstly you have to get yourself off of carbs/ glycogen. This can be achieved through a low carb high fat diet (more on all these different diets later on). If you want to give yourself a jump start into ketosis, fasting is a very easy way to use up your stored glycogen and get your body to move over to using its fat stores for energy.

Lastly, you can do it through adding artificial ketones in to your diet. This can be through Keto salts like KetoCana, or through MCT oils like Brain Octane or Ketoforce. Good old coconut oil also works great.

These are some of the things I have in my cupboard at the moment:

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How do you know if you are in Ketosis?

This is a question I struggled with myself. You’ve decided to follow this way of eating. You’ve read up on all the research and people who are using it and you’re convinced.

But now how do you know if you’re doing it right…

There are 3 ways to measure your ketosis level:

1. Urine strips – Yes you read that correctly. You have to pee on a stick. Urine strips check for the presence of one type of ketone, called acetoacetic acid.

(This is not too expensive but might be inaccurate as there is a delay in when ketones will show up in urine.)

2. Blood ketone level – This is similar to what you would have seen diabetics use. You prick your finger and put a drop of blood on a strip that you connect to a blood glucose monitor. This measures the beta-hydroxybutyrate in your blood.

(This is the most precise method of measurement, but can become expensive as you can’t reuse strips)

3. Breath acetone level – This measures the acetone in your breath. You blow into it to measure acetone levels.

(This is reusable and doesn’t require stabbing yourself daily.)

I use a Ketonix:

Ketosis    ketonix    Ketosis

 As you can see from the pictures it’s just a little tube that you blow in to, it shows you your level of Ketosis and you can save your data and monitor your performance. 

The other thing with ketosis is that after a while you can easily tell whether you are in ketosis or not. When I eat carbs and do not exercise I feel sluggish and my mind feels foggy.  This might just be me being delusional, but it works. So even if it is a placebo, who cares.

What is the difference between Keto/Paleo/Atkins/whatever other diet they will come up with next….

Ok, this is a fun question that someone once asked me and the answer is even more fun.

I’m probably going to ruffle a few feathers here because the evangelists of each specific diet believe that they are right and everyone else is wrong.

Let’s just look at a few basics here:

Paleo –  The paleo diet typically includes lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds

Atkins – The Atkins Diet restricts carbs (carbohydrates) while emphasizing protein and fats.

Banting – Banting is a low-carbohydrate, high-fat (LCHF) diet.

There are lots of differences between these diets, but let’s look at some of the similarities.

All these diets limit carbohydrate intake. So no pasta, bread or any kind of sweets.

Atkins and Banting both promote the intake of healthy fats. Paleo doesn’t specifically promote increased fat intake, but in its core that is where you get a lot of your fuel from in meats, nuts etc.

So although people love to fight about which diet is better, they all reach the same basic end.

You are going to end up in some level of ketosis. When you realize this, you start looking at the whole argument differently. They are all just different routes to the same destination. A destination we have established to be a fairly good place to get to.

What can/ can’t  I eat?

This question is also very popular because people love to look at you and say “Oh I could never do that, I love …… too much!!” So I’m going to list all the things that you can eat here. NO point in focusing on the things you can’t eat.

So what can you eat:

  • Meats: Beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, pork and others.
  • Fish and Seafood: Salmon, trout, haddock, shrimp, shellfish, etc. Choose wild-caught if you can.
  • Eggs: Choose free-range, pastured or omega-3 enriched eggs.
  • Vegetables: Broccoli, kale, peppers, onions, carrots, tomatoes, etc.
  • Fruits: Apples, bananas, oranges, pears, avocados, strawberries, blueberries and more.
  • Tubers: Sweet potatoes, yams, turnips, etc.
  • Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, macadamia nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and more.
  • Healthy Fats and Oils: Lard, tallow, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil and others.
  • Salt and Spices: Sea salt, Himalayan salt, garlic, turmeric, rosemary, etc.

That is a pretty good list of things you can eat. The really cool thing is that  Paleo, Banting and LCHF are also pretty good for getting into ketosis. So you have entire Paleo, Banting and LCHF communities out there coming up with new recipes every single day….. This actually makes it really easy to stick to this eating plan. Whenever you run out of ideas, you can just go have a look at one of those communities.

How do you afford a Ketogenic eating plan?

why-fat

This is a good question because many diets can get very expensive very quickly. The nice thing about not following an eating plan that specifies what brands you may and may not eat is that you get to pick what works for you. What you are going to have to do is start reading some labels and seeing what is actually in your food. Remember that 5g of sugar = 1 teaspoon. So that can of coke = 8 teaspoons of sugar.

The sad fact remains that un-nutritional food, that is high in sugar is cheap. So yes, your grocery bill is probably going to go up a bit. You are going to be buying more vegetables, fruits and meats. The way I look at it the benefits far outweigh the costs. On Keto, you feel much more awake and never hit those mid morning or afternoon slumps. It also has that small benefit of maybe avoiding serious illness…. I’m willing to pay a little extra for those.

Do you cheat/ drink Alcohol at all?

The short answer. Yes.

You can cheat and drink alcohol. This is probably going to knock you out of ketosis, but that is good every now and again.

Let’s face it, when you are too strict on yourself it takes the fun out of life. You seriously have to try that amazing dessert every now and again. And here is the kicker, you are going to enjoy that desert 1000X more because it is your cheat vs. if you just ate normally.

So yes I cheat. I plan my cheat days out and stuff my face. They are a necessary reset for your body and rest for your willpower and soul. After cheat days I knock myself back into ketosis quite quickly by fasting.

One of the benefits of following a ketogenic eating plan for a while is, you become what is known as keto adapted. This means that your body has accepted ketones as its preferred food and you will get back into ketosis quicker vs. someone who is not keto adapted.

The other trick I use to get myself back into ketosis is fasting. A 16 to 24 hours fast or fat fast, where you only take in fat and no food (usually in the form of a bulletproof coffee with some coconut oil and MCT oil) is one of the quickest ways to get yourself back into ketosis.

There are also some alcohols that will not have such a big impact on your ketosis if you decide to drink. You want to be going for the Vodka, Gin and Whiskey when you pick your drinks and want to avoid the wine, beers and fancy colored drinks.

Now if you love wine like I do, that’s not really an option. But as I mentioned it makes the wine taste so much better, because those forbidden pleasures always taste better (I might be a little weird, I know).

Dave Asprey has a good info graphic on alcohol if you are curious, as always promoting his products as the answer to it all (but you can just ignore that part) the facts are still solid.

Is Ketosis dangerous?

This is always a good question to ask with anything you try.

Lots of people confuse nutritional ketosis with ketoacidosis. Ketoacidosis is a condition most commonly associated with type 1 diabetes and can be life threatening. It is important however to point out that any normal human being is at low risk or reaching this state. Ketoacidosis occurs at levels of 15 – 25 mmol/l where we are aiming for a level of 0.5 mmol/l to reach nutritional ketosis. Your ketosis levels fall approximately in the following ranges:

blood concentration (millimolar) Condition
< 0.2 not in ketosis
0.2 – 0.5 slight/mild ketosis
0.5 – 3.0 induced/nutritional ketosis
2.5 – 3.5 post-exercise ketosis
3.0 – 6.0 starvation ketosis
15 – 25 ketoacidosis

There are a few side effects to ketosis which I should mention to make the article representative of the reality. However I see the benefits as outweighing these by far.

Being in ketosis can cause:

Keto flu – people get symptoms very similar to the flu when they first move from a carb-based diet to a ketosis eating plan.

Leg cramps – I’ve had these myself and found that drinking magnesium citrate and eating bananas cured it completely.

Constipation – Especially for women this seems to be an issue. A good solution is to have a carb day once a week. This usually results in the desired bowel movement and might give you much more control over this process than previously.

Bad breath – This occurs due to acetone which is produced in the ketosis process.

Additional note: As one of my dietitian friends pointed out after I published this there are additional things to note for women. Ladies low carbs diets may have effects like lowering thyroid function and slowing metabolism. I apologize, but as a guy I didn’t do too much research in to effects on women.

To summarize:

That is it. This should give you a fairly good idea of what Ketosis is and why lots of people are freaking out about it.

Judge for yourself whether you think it is worth it for you. Personally I definitely notice a difference in how I feel and perform. No mid afternoon slums or 11am “I’m starving, I’m going to die” hunger spurts.

Remember to look at this as a way of life. It’s not just some quick diet you follow to lose weight (although it is REALLY good for that). You are actually changing the fuel source your body uses. It’s going to take a while and it will suck sometimes, but this is the long game. You are playing for the long term benefits not just quick instant gratification from that juicy doughnut.

If you want to give it a try sign up to the email list I’ve included one of my favorite Keto recipes……………..

Try it, I guarantee you don’t even notice it doesn’t have any carbs or sugar in it……….

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