It’s the start of a brand new year which translates for most people into making a resolution to do something positive for yourself to become a better person overall. For many, that means dedicating themselves to a new diet and exercise routine that will bring about the desired improvements in their weight, health and fitness. In fact, it was my New Year’s resolution nine years ago on January 1, 2004 to lose weight after stepping on the scale and seeing that I weighed in at a (SHOCKING!) whopping 410 pounds on my 6’3″ body, wearing size 62-inch waist pants and 5XL shirts, taking three prescription medications for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and breathing issues–I was a total mess! But thanks to my dear mother-in-law who had fortuitously given me a copy of Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution for Christmas in 2003, I was able embrace the message of that game-changing book written by the late, great Dr. Robert C. Atkins to drop weight off of my body very quickly and go on to lose 180 pounds by the end of that year. It was a profoundly life-altering experience for me in more ways that I could have even imagined at the time and what set me out on this journey to discover even more about health and nutrition ever since. These days I am continuing to learn more about the role of diet, food quality (thanks to my wonderful friends in the Paleo community!), hormones and everything I can get my hands on about living optimally healthy. As a means of paying it forward for the miracle that has happened in my life, I remain passionate about consistently educating, encouraging and inspiring people through this blog, my podcasts and everything else that I do. That is one thing you can always count on from me day in and day out.
Regular readers of the “Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb” blog already know about some of the struggles I’ve experienced in the years that have followed since my 180-pound weight loss in 2004 as I’ve documented them quite often here on my blog. There’s this mistaken notion that once you lose weight that it somehow just magically stays off for the rest of your life. But that’s just not reality for so many of us who have been morbidly obese at some point in our lives. I sincerely believe that our bodies will fight us tooth and nail to be back at that heavier weight again if we aren’t as vigilant about discovering what individualized steps are needed to prevent it from happening. I’ve seen that very thing unfold in my own life since 2006 when I started putting back on a few pounds annually (for a variety of reasons) to the point that I got back up over 300 pounds again in early 2012 even while eating a low-carb diet. Bear in mind that even with this weight gain of about 75 pounds, I was still over 100 pounds less than I was at my heaviest weight in 2004. Needless to say, though, I wasn’t happy about it at all. Real action needed to be taken.
But I didn’t wait until January 1, 2013 to start taking pro-active steps to try to grab back control of my weight again. Since mid-May 2012 after getting back from The Low-Carb Cruise, I’ve been doing an open n=1 self-experiment of a concept called “nutritional ketosis” which I first learned about after reading the breakout health book of 2012 called The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance by low-carb diet researchers Dr. Stephen Phinney and Dr. Jeff Volek. I quickly realized I was making some key mistakes in my low-carb lifestyle including neglecting the important role of adding in more high-fat foods into my diet. There’s been a heated debate online from people questioning whether it’s the ketones or the calories that are responsible for the improvements in my weight and health since I started doing this. The bottom line is IT’S WORKING for me and that’s all that really matters in my eyes regardless of the mechanism that helped make it happen. I’ll let the really smart people debate the why while I continue to reap the benefits of the what. I’ve been providing regular updates of my progress on this n=1 experiment every 30 days if you want to see how this has gone for me so far: Day 1-30, Day 31-60, Day 61-90, Day 91-120, Day 121-150, 151-180 and Day 181-210. And don’t miss the video of my 6-month update lecture during the “Low Carb Down Under” tour in November 2012.
What’s been most gratifying to me about doing this experiment is how it has inspired so many of YOU to go out and get yourself a blood ketone meter and blood sugar meter to see how you are doing on your high-fat, moderate protein, low-carb plan. It’s one thing to assume you are in nutritional ketosis simply because you’re cutting carbs and eating fat in your diet. But it’s an entirely different set of circumstances to actually quantify how you are doing by getting instant feedback from testing your blood ketones and making the appropriate adjustments to make it work well for you. Here are some testimonials from your fellow readers who have putting this NK concept to the test for themselves in recent months:
I don’t quite understand why it erases appetite so much, it is almost scary…I think that the ketones give me a deeper satisfaction from the foods I eat…my stomach is always giving me signals not to eat. It always feels full. So, now that I am more bold about using more fat and cutting back the carbs in my diet, there are no more dizzy spells.
I have been on every known diet to modern man and then some. This way of eating feels intuitively right for me. I would not have considered it without your sharing and posting. It is kind of you to share with others what you find works for you on your personal journey.
Thanks to you I’ve had a light-bulb moment…I got stuck on my low-carb Paleo plan and didn’t know why. It was so frustrating. I thought I was in ketosis because I was using the urine ketone testing sticks but I gave up after I’ve gained back some weight. I just watched your YouTube video lecture from Australia and can’t wait to do this the right way. You are so warm, engaging, helpful and supportive! Thank you for sharing about nutritional ketosis.
Most recently, inspired by your n=1 experiment, I decided to embark on my own n=1 by tweaking what foods work best FOR ME and seeing how my athletic performance is impacted by those PERSONAL choices. My n=1 is centered around the interplay of a low-carb diet consisting of < 50 g carbs/day and training for an ultra-marathon (50k distance). Race day is coming up on February 16, 2013 and my training consists of running (4.5 to 9.5 hrs/wk) and doing CrossFit 3x/week. I'd love to be the lab rat for any of your research friends who would be interested.
After being plateaued at a specific, aggravating weight for several weeks, I moved my main meal to the morning and didn’t eat again until dinner. Did it help? You bet! My blood ketone numbers have been consistently higher (more like 1.5-2.5 range, rather than 0.5-1.5 prior), hunger has been a non-issue and my mind has been sharper than ever. So what changed? Really not much– mainly just adding in that time of fasting between breakfast and dinner. I wrote everything down this week and ate very similar macronutrient ratios and calories to what I was doing before. I just wanted to thank you for the suggestion as it seemed to be the little tweak I needed to get burning again. And to think I was about ready to go back to a starvation diet.
This is just a small sample of the kind of e-mails I’ve been seeing from so many of you who have shared how adding in testing for nutritional ketosis has helped you experience weight loss, health improvements and optimized exercise performance. I’d love to hear from more of you who are doing your own n=1 NK testing, so send me an e-mail with your story anytime to email@example.com. It’s gratifying to know how something so simple like testing for blood ketones is empowering people who were frustrated like I was in my low-carb lifestyle to get back on the right track again. To everyone who is doing this, KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK!
Now let’s take a look at my latest test results for Day 211-240 and you could say I was holding on for dear life as depicted by the picture at the top of this blog post. This was probably the most illuminating 30-day cycle in my eight months of testing because it happened right after returning from my trip to Australia and smack dab in the midst of the Christmas holidays. One thing I wanted to observe was what would happen to my blood ketones, blood sugar and weight changes as a result of all of this traveling, less sleep than normal, the lack of access and time for my regular workouts and other such factors that could play a detrimental role in continuing the great results I’ve been seeing on this experiment. I’ll share all of my typical data in just a moment, but first let’s take a look at the DXA scan results that I obtained after coming home from Australia.
I got some interesting data on this front when I returned to see Dr. Jeffrey Galvin at the Vitality Medical Wellness Institute in Concord, North Carolina on December 17, 2012. You’ll recall my previous DXA scan on November 12, 2012 on the day before my international flight to the land of Oz showed an amazing 6-pound muscle gain with a 16-pound fat loss over two months. Pretty awesome stuff! But after doing 11 flights in 20 days in November with just two weight lifting workouts between DXA scans in those five weeks, the results I saw were all very predictable to Dr. Galvin: a 3.5-pound muscle loss along with losing another 2 pounds of body fat. Eeeeek! No, it wasn’t the best news in the world, but I’ll take it all things considered. Since coming back home and getting back into my regular routine again after spending the Christmas holidays with family in Virginia, I’ve been back to my resistance training twice a week along with adding in interval sprints a couple of times a week on the advice of my friend Mark Sisson. I’m confident that body composition improvements in both fat loss and muscle gain will continue as I continue this n=1 experiment into 2013.
Let’s see how my AM blood ketone levels were in Day 211-240:
As you can see, I’ve been having difficulty getting them back up to the 2.0 millimolar level they were regularly at prior to my trip to Australia. Keep in mind that your morning blood ketone levels will tend to be your lowest of the entire day. I averaged around .5 for my AM blood ketone levels during this 30-day period which is right on the nose of the lower end of nutritional ketosis. And you’ll notice in the graph above that several days I was well below this coveted level with readings as low as .2 millimolar. YIKES! Some of this had to do with being away from my normal foods during the holidays (I didn’t have any carbage indulgences even once…just not the typical foods I would be eating if I were at home), but it’s even continued since being back home again and getting back to doing the same things I was doing with my diet before.
I have a theory that these blood ketones are being used as some sort of repair mechanism overnight which results in them being lower in the morning time. The good news is despite these lower blood ketone readings in the morning, I’m still feeling the positive impact on my satiety, mental clarity and energy levels. This has enabled me to continue to spontaneously intermittent fast and I’m confident the ketones will get back to where they need to be in due course. Maybe I’ve become so well-adapted to using fat for fuel that these lower readings aren’t as significant at the start of the day as they would be if they were this low at the end of the day. I’ll keep observing what happens and let you know how it goes in my update next month.
Now let’s look at my PM blood ketone levels for Day 211-240:
While my morning blood ketone levels have been on the lower end of nutritional ketosis, the good news is my night blood ketone levels are doing pretty well averaging around 1.8 millimolar during this 30-day cycle. That’s still much lower than the 4.0 millimolar level I was seeing for my PM readings before my overseas trip, but this is well into nutritional ketosis. As I continue to fall back into my normal routine again in the next couple of months, I have every confidence that the blood ketone levels will settle in at the level that is right for me. I’m not really worried so much about my blood ketones being higher necessarily, but that they provide me the same benefits that I’ve been seeing during the first seven months of this experiment. Nothing has really changed about what I was doing a couple of months ago and what I’m currently doing, so I’ll keep plugging away at it doing the things I need to do.
It’s probably predictable what happened to my weight in Day 211-240:
Fun graph huh? All of that up and down action for an eye-popping (NOT!) .6-pound weight loss. Yippee! I suppose it could have been a LOT worse considering my weight was up about six pounds in the week after Christmas before falling back down again once I got home. What’s funny is I didn’t eat horribly while visiting family over the holidays. If I had to pinpoint why the weight gain happened, it came down to consuming too much protein and probably too much food overall compared to what I normally eat. This brought blood ketones down to a level where fat-burning would not take place and thus the weight gain. Nevertheless, getting through the holidays and still losing weight is always a GREAT thing in my book. I’ll take it! Here’s an updated graph of what my weight loss progress has been for Day 0-240:
It’s still a downward trend and I’ve now seen a TOTAL WEIGHT LOSS OF 61.0 POUNDS in eight months. Had you told me back in May when I started doing this that I’d be down in weight that much at this point, I would have been ecstatic. And I am. Although this month’s weight loss was less than spectacular, I know I’m on the right path for me doing this and look forward to continuing the progress I have made shedding fat off of my body. I’m fitting into clothes I wore after my original 180-pound weight loss in 2004 when I hit 230 pounds–and I’m 245 pounds! Hmmmm, seems like this nutritional ketosis is doing a fabulous job of getting rid of the visceral fat in my mid-section that has plagued me for years. I’ll keep working at it and the weight loss will follow.
Let’s take a look at my AM blood sugar levels in Day 211-240:
Stabilizing my blood sugar since returning from Australia has been a huge challenge for me. For some reason or another, it just has not fallen back into that upper 70s/lower 80s level on a consistent basis again. The week of Christmas was especially bad (again, I wasn’t eating any carb-rich foods that would make my fasting levels soar) with readings back in the triple digits again. GRRRR! As a result, I went to see my friend Dr. Spencer Nadolsky from Leaner Living while I was in Virginia and started taking some more of that Glycosolve supplement (with the active ingredient berberine) again on my 41st birthday on December 27, 2012 to help me control my blood sugar. I was hopeful I could keep my blood sugar levels where I wanted them with nutritional ketosis alone (and I didn’t do too poorly this month averaging around 90), but it looks like for me I still need it. We’ll see how I do in the next 30 days getting this supplement back into my body after being off of it for a couple of months.
Now let’s see what happened to my PM blood sugar levels in Day 211-240:
My night readings have been pretty decent averaging around 88. But I would love to get this back down to the upper 70s/lower 80s it was at before. Being in normal mode with my diet, exercise and sleeping patterns at home will help with all of this. Bringing blood sugar levels down will raise my blood ketones enabling me to burn more stored body fat to produce the fat loss that I’m looking for. It’s all inter-related and I will get it dialed in as this n=1 moves forward.
Last month I invited YOU to personally participate in my nutritional ketosis experiment by recommending what health tests you would like for me to run on myself and so many of you made some outstanding suggestions. Since I am paying for all of these tests out of my own pocket (no health insurance), I appreciate those of you who have contributed towards this effort by making a contribution through PayPal:
Or CLICK HERE to donate!
I don’t have enough funds raised to do many of the tests you’ve requested yet, but I was able to do a pretty comprehensive set of blood and urine tests on December 14, 2012 to share with you in this update:
Here are some of the areas of concern and what I’m doing to address them:
It wasn’t all bad news, though. Here are the highlights from these tests:
I’ll keep an eye on all of these things as I continue forward with my experiment in the coming months. I’d like to have another heart scan done as well as the carotid artery IMT ultrasound that Dr. Thomas Dayspring recommended in my “Encore Week” 2013 interview. Additionally, it would be cool to do a one-week test where I measure blood sugar and blood ketone levels every hour on the hour to see what happens (my poor fingers–OUCH!). I hope to do this prior to my next update for you in February 2013. If there’s anything else you’d like for me to have tested, please e-mail me those suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll do my best to have them done.
What is your reaction to what happened in Day 211-240 of my n=1 NK experiment? I always appreciate your input and look forward to sharing more from my testing in these final few months. Your feedback is welcomed in the comments section below.