Keto Eating and All That

Those who follow me on the social media will know that for quite a few years now I’ve been on a health-optimising rollercoaster. The background on this I’ve detailed and you’ll find it by scrolling through the hundreds of blog posts here, but in précis it is this: 1) A life of booze, cigarettes and the usual food until past fifty. 2) Knowing I must do something upon seeing the decline of people around me of similar age or just a bit older. 3) Watching my wife die of bowel cancer.

Stopping smoking using e-cigarettes was a start because, as anyone who smokes knows, exercise is unpleasant while smoking and, along with other measures like diet, seems like a sticking plaster over the gaping wound of destroying ones lungs. Next was walking, mainly to ameliorate the psychological outfall of my wife’s death. With these my physical health improved markedly, though it took some years before the organ between my ears got back up to full function again. I lost a lot of weight and became quite fit, mainly because I couldn’t drink, wasn’t eating a great deal and was walking seven miles nearly every day. As my mind came back so did nasty habits, like drinking too much, eating crap, and like many in their fifties I wasn’t too happy with my side reflection in shop windows. Walking declined though I did other exercise like kayaking and weight training, but still the dreaded pod returned.

Phew, and now we’re up to date.

During all this time I’d started reading up a lot on ways to optimise health. In fact I was looking for ways to reverse or ameliorate 40+ years of bad choices. I’d hit a big one by stopping smoking, my exercise was good but still there was that fat. Fat is not good. Fat is hormonally active and can take you into diabetes. I won’t keep on about its many drawbacks sufficing to say that I needed to lose weight. I had always known that exercise does not cut it. There’s a perception out there that visits to the gym will take you along the course to the weight loss but it is simply not true. I’ve spent plenty of time in gyms and know that if you heave about the weights you’ll grow muscle, but every time I’ve done it the girth of my waist increased along with my biceps. And, frankly, when you sweat out twenty minutes on a cross trainer and burn only the calories of a slice of bread, you know that’s not the answer. The answer is controlling what you put in your gob.

So, over the years I tried fasting, and continue to do so. It works very well and drops off the fat at an astounding rate. However, though sometimes I would find it easy going into a fast, at other times it seemed plain impossible. I will continue doing this when I can, but find it difficult to sustain. What I needed was some method I could maintain: a change in lifestyle.

Part of that change arrived over this last year and that was knocking the booze on the head. I did 73 days and had a lapse, but now after that I’ve been six months off the hooch. There’s more about all that a few posts back here. Meanwhile, I had been reading about various diets. From what I am given to understand a ‘normal’ diet doesn’t work so well because constantly starving your body brings your base metabolic rate down. Your BMR could be 2000Kcals a day at the start of a diet, but if you go down to eating 1500Kcals a day you’ll eventually plateau with your BMR set down to that (with the side effect of feeling cold, miserable and lacking in energy) and then, when the hunger becomes too much to bear as it inevitably does, you’ll go back to eating as before and pile the weight back on, usually more than you lost. But I had also been seeing much about the ketogenic diet and thought it time to give this a try.

The theory of the keto diet is this: When you eat carbohydrates they knock up your insulin – big time if they’re simple carbs like sugar and starch. Insulin pushes one way to stick any excess you eat into fat cells and to a large degree prevents those cells releasing fat to be burned. If you can get your insulin down it is easier to burn fat. Ways of doing this are fasting ranging from those lasting 16 hours and upwards to days, or eating a diet without carbs – the ketogenic diet. Apparently you easily lose weight on this diet, so off I went.

After managing to do a fast of two days I dived in, eating main meals of just vegetables, eggs and meat, with a later plate consisting of cheese, nuts, raw veg and preserved sausage. I delightedly had cream in coffee too because eating fat is good while those bad carbs were down to 50 or 20 or sometimes zero grams per day. Hey, it’s all good stuff, fat is good, no problem! My weight, to my dismay, went up.

So no, the ketogenic diet is not as easy as some would have us believe. Delving into it all further I found that the reality is this: you do feel more full eating this fat based diet, you can lose body fat much more easily with your insulin down and hell I knew I was burning fat because my keto sticks were well into the purple and my breath meter readings were 3.0mmol/L and above, at one point even going as high as 8.00mmol/L, but the problem here is which fat am I burning, dietary or body fat? The problem here is that despite the claims of the keto fanatics, calories in and calories out still matters.

I convinced myself for a while that my weight gain was due to me putting on muscle, since I was hitting the weights regularly for an hour a day four or five days a week. I had in fact attained a body shape resembling a brick shithouse. But I was back to where I had been before while weight training with waist girth growing in consonance with biceps growth. Further investigation into the matter revealed a simple reality I had been aware of but was not admitting to myself: nutrient density. Nuts, cheese and cream are keto favourites but they are hugely calorie dense. You might not feel as hungry when you eat them, but seriously, check the number of calories in just a handful of nuts or, as had become a favourite with me, a pot of clotted cream. It was just too easy to eat too much.

I didn’t give up. I didn’t buy any more nuts or clotted cream, and reduced what I was putting in my coffee to a teaspoonful of full fat cream. The cheese went to being a rare treat rather than a staple. I was also more strict about the intermittent fasting I had introduced when my weight started climbing – not eating my first meal for 16 to 20 hours after my last meal the previous day. I did a two day fast at the start of this new course and my weight started to tumble. After a period of time I began to notice muscle definition even reaching the point where I could lose the end of a finger between the muscles on my biceps and forearm. Then I started to really feel like crap.

Now this is where it gets weeds and I don’t know what caused what. I’d also been reading about the benefits of lion’s mane mushroom and started taking the powdered version of that. It might be that I also picked up a bug – it certainly felt like that. I felt like I had a cold and then I got the roaring shits. Later reading reveals that lion’s mane can cause severe stomach problems. Or maybe I got a dose of covid. Or maybe, as seems possible, I’d over-trained. Or maybe it was a combination of all these. Whatever the reason I didn’t want to keep feeling like this, went off to the shops and bought carbs and, over the last five days stuffed myself. Almost immediately I put back on a lot of the weight I’d lost. Certainly much of that was glycogen filling up my muscles and my liver – another thing I learned is that though you will often read that glycogen weight is about a pound (500g) that is not necessarily true. It can go to two pounds and more, and this weight is multiplied three to four times by the water retained to hold it. I also stopped the gym for a week which didn’t help

Now, at the end of a week of no gym, no keto, no lion’s mane and eating carbs I feel better, but I still have no real idea what I’m feeling better from. Today, as I have done on a few occasions before, I emptied various food packets into my composter and skimmed slices of bread over the back hedge. I’m going back into keto, probably including a long fast, but certainly re-introducing the 16 to 20 hours fasts each day. I’ll return to the eggs, meat and veg and forgo the nuts and clotted cream, and I’ll be heading back to the gym. This time I won’t do anything beside that and hope no bug comes along to clobber me, then I’ll find out. If I start feeling rough again and end up spending more time on the toilet than I like I’ll know that straight keto is not for me and I need to apply some other strategy. Perhaps what is called carb cycling. . .

I’m a work in progress, as ever.

Hope this was helpful for those who are interested.


9 thoughts on “Keto Eating and All That

  1. Great that you’re making an effort to stay fit and healthy.
    It’s a neverending, but important battle – though at least I’ve always enjoyed the exercise part of it. Eating healthy and not too much is a bigger struggle, but one I’m also increasingly forced to deal with already in my mid forties.
    I have never tried a full keto diet yet, I’m still leaning towards thinking it simply makes eating fewer calories easier for some people, and that weight loss (or gain) still primarily comes down to the the old calories in-calories out. Calorie counting is what most competitive bodybuilders still do, and few other groups of people – even other athletes – are probably as adept as them at hitting exact weight and body fat targets.
    In any case, obviously keto works well for some people, so I certainly support that option. Good luck with it.

    I’m a very big fan of your work. I discovered your Agent Cormac novels around five or six years ago, and since then I’ve been through pretty much everything you’ve written. Twice. Always looking forward to your next book.

  2. Glad you are doing the hard work and reporting back. I took a few details I might incorporate. Nice one. Liam Mulkeen Dublin.

  3. I’ve been on keto for 15 yrs, now. You do everything right but on keto you lose massive amounts of essential minerals with increased urination and lost glycogen. That is why you get “keto flu”. You need to increase your salt intake dramatically. Potassium, you need 4g per day. B-complex is your friend.
    Dr. Berg has a lot of useful videos on youtube on keto, intermittent fasting and all around great health info…
    If you want to reach next level of self improvement and antiaging check the subject of biohacking. Ergogenic Health videos by Lucas Aoun on Youtube.
    Get on reddit and join r/nootropics. Massive amounts of info.

    Hang in there! We need you and your imagination to stay strong! Singularity is near!


  4. It has been really interesting reading your approach to find what works for you. As a fan of your work; perhaps it provides insight into your writing process? It certainly describes your methodical and systematic approach to dealing with obstacles in life.

    Whilst I’m here I’ll give my two pennies worth!.. sorry!

    Calories in vs calories out is always king. Two that variables you can control. It is about finding a lifestyle that suits you, and that you can sustain… extreme diets are almost always doomed to fail eventually.

    Weight training trumps cardio as you increase calories out, even when resting and not training… it’s also better for bones and joints (when done properly) as you get older. Front load your day with carbs, lots of protein for dinner as you repair when asleep… or store excess carbs as fat. Veg and fruit always. Refined carbs, as little as possible, but we’re not saints and most of all, don’t be hard on yourself.

  5. OK, I never heard of Keto six months ago, but I read a couple of books by Dr. Robert Lustig and one by researcher Gary Taube, all about the effects of sugar. So I started limiting my sugar. I found I could eat broccoli, of all things, for an evening meal every day of the week, half a 12 ox pkg of frozen broccoli well cooked fortified with some protean like wagyu burger, fish, avocado, or something. Breakfast was XL eggs, three, scrambled, with a thin slice of cheese on top, and three ounces more or less of packaged sausage. Lunch was 2 or a bit more PB&J sandwiches. After a couple of weeks my feelings of “I’m starving to death!” were long gone, though I had been snacking for years. Why? Because the new food regimin (not a diet) alowed the body chemistry to bring back the “satiation” feeling I had lost when snacking all things sugary to some extent – at least, that’s what Dr Lustig wrote and I believe him. So now six months or is it eight later I am down 263-208 = 55 lbs, almost all of it lost belly fat. My goal, if I really have one, is the 182 I weighed when I married my angel 22 yrs ago.
    Yay for me, and YMMV. Best thing is the feeling of satiation after every evening meal, which keeps me from snacking. Worst? I still put a small teaspoon of sugar in my coffee, three or four cups daily, and just that bit of sugar is enough to make hunger feelings return.

  6. Hey Niel. I’m 41 now. I’ve been exercising for 25 years pretty consistently and focused a lot on what I eat around 13 years ago. Maybe I can help a bit.

    I jog/run/sprint (mixing it up) no more than 8 miles per day, no more than 3 days a week, legs can’t take more.

    I exercise outdoors. I primarily do burpees, pull ups, handstands, dips. Prison workouts essentially.

    I go to the gym solely for deadlift variations, squats, and an exercise called bear complex with the behind the back press and squat removed. You can find youtube on it. I don’t do the behind the head stuff because it’s bad for longevity of rotator cuffs.

    If you want to work on your side reflection get an ab wheel. #1 way to trim your core.

    I also don’t strictly fast but I try to consistently more than I do not. I live a pretty spartan life but find having too rigid rules is bullshit and there is diminishing returns anyways. I drink shitloads of coffee with honey in it all day. I eat whatever I want for dinner as much as I want. I don’t count calories but I probably consume 2200-3200 on the average day. 176.5cm, 79kg average weight but can fluctuate from 78-81. I drink around 6-8 liters of water a day.

    Typical workout is run 1.5 miles to a park, do 50-100 burpees, train some hand balancing and hanging leg lifts, wipers, etc for core, run home. It usually takes no more than 1.5 hours tops. I find I can always find something to push myself to exhaustion and feel satisfied.

    I didn’t describe the burpees I do but at a most basic level I do one push up, two air squats. I mix sets up to not get bored by doing all variations of push ups and types of squats, jump rope, wall walks, you name it I throw it into a burpee rep.

    I don’t subscribe to any particular diet or supplement except whey protein and I drink that with water after working out, while I have nothing in my system but coffee, honey, water. I make sure to get my vitamins and minerals. I don’t watch my salt intake because I drink so much water I am almost always flushing my electrolytes out so doubt I need to worry.

    Last point about diet and exercise is that if I don’t enjoy it I won’t do it. I gave up sugar and processed refined foods ages ago but I vape and drink socially and will eat any form of food. I will retain my vices but no sweet tooth, no treats, no cheat days with the processed stuff. Anything else is fair game.

    I’m just tossing this into the ether since I don’t know whether you’ll find it helpful but feel free to contact me I’d be happy to share whatever I have learned or teach you.

    PS: I like your books. No shit right. 😀 Hope you stay healthy and sane out there and keep writing deep, dark, vicious, thought provoking sci fi. The main arc of Polity from Carmac to Penny Royal has been my favorite sci fi series written.

    PSS: …Maybe there is a story waiting to be written about a society destroying themselves from within and the quiet war the AI needed to kick off to organize everything so humanity could become interplanetary and survive. Feels like the only resolution in the world today is let them burn it and once we get out of Gulag Archipelago 2.0 we can actually evolve but idk.

  7. Fuck I missed one thing. I absolutely do not touch anything zero calorie except water. It fucks up my appetite immediately when I’m fasting. I feel like it does something to brain chemistry based on that but not going to bother looking into it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.