I continue to be amazed by my progress at losing weight, my body composition improvement, and at cognition improvement. Setbacks (and there are some; you’ll see them in the graph) are short, and (thinking back on it) triggered by poorer-than-usual sleep.
Not that I haven’t had an excellent excuse for poor sleep over the past two weeks—we’re having two bathrooms remodelled. I need to be up, dressed, and out of my room at an ungodly hour (0730), as mine is one of the bathrooms under construction. There is no access to it except through my bedroom.
The good news is that all should be finished by tomorrow evening, and I can return to my night-owl habits.
KETO TIP: Believe it or not, it IS possible to have a Keto lunch at Starbucks, without paying for carbs you’ll throw away. Options to consider: the avocado spread, a packet of plain almonds, string cheese, and the Felino cheese and salami snacks. Moon cheese is good, too—though at 4.5 servings per package, it’s a challenge for me to limit myself to 1 serving v. 1 package. But even if I eat the whole package, I’ll stay in ketosis.
For anyone new to this blog, I am diagnosed with adult ADHD. Though it’s called “attention deficit,” it’s more like “attention excess.” I either can’t stop paying attention to everything, (“Oh, look! A lizard! And there’s a hummingbird! Your hat’s on crooked…”) or I can’t stop paying attention to something. (Passerby in a parking lot: “Hey, lady! LADY! STOP READING YOUR DAMNED BOOK! YOUR CAR’S ON FIRE! LADY!…”) The first is a distracted state, the second is hyperfocused. I seldom experience any state in between.
I once took biofeedback treatments for ADHD. It worked—sort of. But as it is always a conscious decision to use my hard-won discipline, I rarely remember to invoke it, until the situation in which I really needed it is past. And rather by definition, if I’ve become hyperfocused I won’t remember to use it to get out of hyperfocus…
The internet and a smartphone are godsends for me. I never miss a payment any more because they’re all set up automatically. I seldom miss an appointment, because alerts will go off—loudly and repeatedly—until I turn them off because I’m on my way.
But it’s not foolproof. As in the example above, I literally do not hear things if I am hyperfocused. So I have flashy things on my devices. My Fitbit wristband may vibrate. And there are situations that aren’t covered. I go out of my way to make sure that each of the things I might normally choose to carry my stuff on an outing (wallet, backpack, travelling purse, the mid-sized bag I use when I want to write with my iPad, etc.) contains at least a pen, a cheap capacitative stylus, a (tiny) pad of paper, etc. I described the absurdly long list of electronics in my backpack in my post “Back to Basics Writing Gear,” but part of the reason for that long list is the very real fear that I may get to my destination and be unable to write because I’ve forgotten some tool.
I’ve been afraid to start a writing session if there was anything on my calendar for afterwards. Either I’d be coping with distractedness and my pace would be snail-like, requiring a long time block to achieve any goal (such as the daily word count for NaNoWriMo), or I’d become hyperfocused and any obligation besides writing would slip off my brain. (“WHAT anniversary dinner?”)
What does all this have to do with a ketogenic diet?
Since my brain started running on ketones, my track record on remembering stuff is much better. I can get chores done in only twice the amount of time I think I ought to take, instead of four times the amount of time. I can start working on whatever writing project I’m on without fear, as breaking hyperfocus comes easier, and I seem at last to be able to pick up my writing within… well, within an hour of when I intend to start writing. Believe me, this is an improvement.
Moreover, it’s easier to decide to get some sleep, and I’m seldom hungry. I don’t experience carbohydrate cravings. (I’ve withdrawn from alcohol, and I’ve withdrawn from excess carbs. Craving carbs is somewhat less intense than craving booze, but it’s the same feeling.)
This falters if I’m short on sleep, or if I miscalculate and consume too many carbs in too short a time frame (more than 25 net grams of carbohydrates in 24 hours, for me). Even though I’m nominally in ketosis (about 0.2 to 0.5 mmol/L) the wild swings in focus start happening. Small objects start hiding from me. The excess focus on everything (or on somthing) makes it harder to get to sleep, and I start craving carbs again. Not to put too fine a point on it, this sucks.
I’m reluctant to say that I will never want to leave ketosis—having a bit of fruit now and then sounds good. But at what cost? Besides, given my reaction above, would I actually be able to have a bit of fruit without having to claw my way past cravings into ketosis again? I’m not at all sure that I want to experiment with my brain in order to find out. Certainly not today.
Some days—days like two days ago—are easy. The scale is cooperative, the blood ketones are high, the brain seems to focus easily the way other folks’ are reputed to do. This Keto Diet is easy! Why didn’t I do this years ago?
Other days, like yesterday, are just meh. Yes, I had fun and I got some work done, but I over-exerted myself. My feet and knees were aching by the end of the day, and I pushed the limit of the carbs I can eat and not leave ketosis.
Days like today just suck. Old injuries and accumulated arthritic joint damage make it excruciating to move. That means I don’t get out of the house and the lack of light (our house gets very little natural light inside) starts my depressive cycle. And an unmoving scale doesn’t help keep my brain from starting the old self-sabotage.
I didn’t want to write, or move, or eat what I intellectually knew was healthy, sustaining, and darned tasty today. I just wanted to lie around the house playing video/phone/computer games, and nothing I had in the house to eat was appetising.
I had days like this when I was recovering from alcoholism, too. Those were the days when I had to move, even if I didn’t want to move, and get myself away from a dangerous environment. Because my life depended on it.
So at last, today, I got up. I packed a small bag with my minimum writing electronics—phone, Bluetooth keyboard, chargers. I rubbed liniment on all the aches, and took some aspirin. I trudged out the door and walked the mile to my local Starbucks, before the sun completely disappeared from the sky. I exercised. I got some sun. Because my life depends on it.
And here I am, in Starbucks, not eating the goodies but instead nursing a decaf Americano. I’m writing a freaking blog post, and I’m shortly going to leave, walk that same mile back home, and prepare a delicious low-carb meal of salmon patties made with coconut flour and eggs, plus a green salad with tomato and guacamole. Then I’m going to get a good night’s sleep.
I started July 2018 Camp NaNoWriMo full of hope, and with a goal of 50,000 words. Sadly, I did not start Camp NaNoWriMo full of carbohydrates—instead 1 July 2018 was the day I started a ketogenic diet. Carb withdrawal kicked the [CENSORED] out of my plans.
In the past, I might have given up and had a donut. (Wait, who am I kidding? It would have been lots of donuts. Many, many donuts. I would have moved into the nice all-night donut shop with all the power outlets so as to finish my 50K words…) But this time I decided my health was more important.
(Oh, yes, in the middle of this was my birthday.)
As the month moved on, two things happened:
Carb withdrawal is not forever, it just seems like it while you’re in it. It was over in two and a half weeks.
The final two rounds of editing for my short story arrived with very tight deadlines.
I needed a boost to get me writing, and hey! Camp NaNoWriMo kept sending these nice emails saying it wasn’t too late. I could still start and revise my goal. So I went back to Camp, revised my goal downwards, and counted both my editing time (at 1,000 words per hour) and actual words added to my novel. And I won. More importantly, I met my editor’s deadline.
(Oh, yes, my birthday celebration was wonderful without cake.)
It would have been easy to feel sorry for myself last month. I didn’t get to finish my original goal. My birthday candles were stuck onto a banana, and I didn’t even get to eat the banana. Some of my other goals were derailed. It’s this stupid keto diet’s fault. Poor me! Poor me! Pour me a double chocolate malted.
I didn’t go that way, though. What’s that about?
What it’s about is actually taking care of myself. Treating myself with the care and affection and gentle discipline I would lavish on a dog. Treating myself with the kindness I would happily show a sick friend. Would I insist that a friend abandon a food plan that might save her life for the sake of a 50K word count? Or a birthday party?
If I would, I would be one crappy friend.
This is not the first time I have been through substance withdrawal. The first time was withdrawal from alcohol addiction—I got sober in June, 1978. I haven’t had a drink since. Thanks to my forty years of sobriety, I have a few harsh words for those who need to use a ketogenic diet—who are facing the very real and life-threatening conditions which a keto diet can treat or aid in treating—but find it just too hard.
Learn to hurt, baby.
Learn that your life is more important than whether your Mom takes your refusal to eat her famous pasta dish personally. Yes, it hurts when she gets ticked off or bursts into tears. Learn to hurt.
Learn that your life is more important than the “treats” in the office break room. Yes, it hurts when you see others eating what you’d like to, and doing so with no apparent ill-effects. You’re comparing your insides to their outsides. Learn to hurt.
Learn that your life is more important than a freaking piece of birthday cake. That it’s more important that the latest dessert at your favourite restaurant. That’s it’s more important that eating what everyone else is eating. That it’s more important than what other people think of you.
Yes, having that refined carbohydrate goodie would ease the pain, take away the social disapproval, satisfy your curiosity, mollify your mom. It would also mean that you would be refunded ALL the misery that you started the ketogenic diet to avoid.
I’ve been alcohol-free, one day at a time, for forty years. I’ve been refined carbohydrate-free thirty days, one day at a time.
I can do anything for one day. Anything. I’ll bet you can, too. Learn to live through today’s hurt to find the joy of healing.
A year ago I got a diagnosis of pre-diabetes and obesity. No problem, I thought; I can just go back on a strict Paleo diet and all those troublesome blood test results, and the blood pressure that is stubbornly on the edge of low-grade hypertension will wind back down as they did the last time I cleaned up my food.
Fast-forward to June (last month). I was having blurred vision, and phantom pain in my feet. My rheumatoid arthritis was out of control. I was afraid to check my blood pressure because I knew damned well what I would find. And the scale was not my friend.
Obviously, what I was doing wasn’t working. And I wasn’t on a Paleo (or more correctly, an ancestral) food regime. I’d start, but I’d find some trivial excuse to have “just one serving” of rice. Or cake. Or French fries. Or donuts… (Yes, plural. There is no such thing as one donut. It’s a complete myth.)
I refuse to take up the crown of the Queen of Denial (that was my mother), but I certainly deserve the title Silver Dragon, Princess of Denial.
Toward the end of last month, Younger Son told me that he was starting a ketogenic diet. He and I had not been diet buddies, really, since we had both gradually abandoned ancestral eating. (I had tried to be diet buddies with Hubby, but… it’s weird. He’s lost more than 100 pounds, but he can have a cookie. Singular. I’ve seen him do it. I’m convinced that trying to be diet buddies with Hubby is a Bad Move.)
So at the end of June I started a ketogenic diet, based on the guidelines I found at Nerdfitness. The idea is to deliberately put your body into ketosis, a state in which it runs using fat rather than glucose as its primary fuel. 30 net grams of carbohydrate (carbs), tops. 70+ grams of protein a day, add fats to reach target calories per day. I eliminated gluten. I eliminated grains. No starchy stuff, not even yams. No fruit—the carbs are all veggies. The one thing that keeps my current food from being ancestral is cow milk products, and I’m working on getting those out of my foods as well.
Objective Results after one month:
9.4 pounds lost
Blood pressure normal (checked at the doctor’s office today)
Coffee down from an entire 12-cup-pot per day habit to one cup in the morning—without trying
Average sleep per night increased from 6 to 7 hours per night
Arthritis is noticeably less painful—I no longer need NSAIDs for pain control
This came at a cost; for the first two days I was sick with diarrhea, and I spent the subsequent two weeks in the notorious Keto Brain Fog, also known as carbohydrate withdrawal. Yes, it’s a thing. Blogging under those conditions proved impractical; I have two half-finished posts in the queue. They will remain half-finished, because they are as foggy as my brain was.
But not only do I now have the above objective benefits, I also have these…
Subjective Benefits After One Month:
Blurred vision and phantom extremity pain gone
Lots of energy, especially in the mornings. Only late at night do I now feel dragged out (which, when you think about it, is a good thing.)
I am almost never hungry. (Many days I have to force myself to meet my carb and protein goals, and eat enough fats to meet the MyFitnessPal minimum calorie goal.)
My ADHD is noticeably less troublesome. (Despite two weeks lost to brain fog, I completed two rounds of editing for my short story, corrected significant structural problems in my novel-in-progress, and started making the word count go up again.)
I’ve accepted that it’s likely that I will be on a ketogenic Paleo diet indefinitely. This is not a hardship. Going back to the symptoms above—that would be a hardship. Further, moderation and I do not seem to get along. Once I start expanding what I can eat, I don’t seem to be able to stop. I can live with that.
Your Mileage May Vary.
I don’t want to get into religious wars about this. Not everyone wants to even try a ketogenic diet. Others will be convinced that I (or they) would be better off with a less-restrictive food plan. I’m certainly not trying to convert anyone! It’s just my experience. Apply it to yourself at your own risk.
Useful Ketogenic Diet Texts and Tools
(N.B.: I am not in any affiliate program. I receive no financial benefit should you purchase any item or service I mention in my blog, other than from my own writing.)
The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf.
The original text I used to switch to an ancestral way of eating four years ago. Details of how to eat ancestrally without being dogmatic, and a lot of nutrition research references.
Wired to Eat by Robb Wolf.
Robb adjusts his recommendations (!) based on ten years of new research in the nutrition field. He has an entirely new chapter on why, how, and whether to start a ketogenic ancestral diet. Again, research references abound.
Site owner Steve Kamb provides a lot of information on diet and exercise. He also discusses ancestral and ketogenic diets (which are NOT mutually exclusive) in an easy-to-understand and humorous way.
I don’t know about you, but none of this works for me without actually keeping track of what I eat. All of it. You can do it with pencil and paper, but why? MFP, despite the obnoxious ads, is the service that will connect with the most other services, has apps on all the devices, and a huge nutritional database. My warning: be careful which version of, oh, onions (for example) you log. Some have fiber grams listed and some don’t. In order to know your net carbs, you have to know the fiber content.
On the minus side: I fell behind in my NaNoWriMo word count yesterday 😦
On the plus side: overtime and inconvenience comps meant yesterday was quite lucrative, as non-union background gigs go. While breakfast on the set was a bust, lunch was a win, with several yummy and Paleo-friendly dishes; curried carrots (I have got to try cooking that one myself), grilled beef and grilled mahi-mahi. And at my next NaNoWriMo write-in I will get to claim a sticker for writing in an exotic locale — a live movie set!
Got a call last night at 8:10 to be on set today at 6 am so must hustle my behind down to Downtown Los Angeles with luggage in tow. No, I can’t tell you details of the project, nor can I blog from the set, nor yet again can I post any pictures, so don’t ask.
I hope there’s something to eat that isn’t either vegan or smothered in cheese or breaded.
Fats from above sources (coconut, olive, and avocado oils, primarily)
A typical day’s menu for me would be:
Breakfast: Bacon, eggs scrambled in the bacon fat, fresh fruit
Lunch: Burger patty on salad greens topped with guacamole
Dinner: Jambalaya (pretty standard recipe except for cauliflower instead of rice)
I get delicious curries, chili, and stews; yummy salads, fruit and nut snacks. I get “pasta” as spaghetti squash or sweet potato noodles.
What do I miss? Oatmeal, for one. It’s hard to simulate that gloppy sweetened goodness. But for most everything else, if I get a craving, someone out there has come up with a Paleo substitute. For birthdays and holidays I will do a Paleo almond cake or stuffing-seasoned vegetable-almond meal mix. I make Paleo pancakes as an occasional breakfast treat and to use to make sandwiches. If I want cocoa, well, there’s coconut milk, honey, and, yes, cocoa.
I do NOT miss bread, nor white potatoes. Honestly, I now find them bland and unappetizing. Nor are beans/peas/lentils/soy a big loss. While I don’t really miss the stuff, milk products are the hardest to avoid, especially when eating out. Restaurants can get the no grains thing (think gluten-free), and beans etc. can be left off most stuff, but dang if cheese and milk aren’t integral to almost everything, it seems. Sauces, salads, salad dressings, soups… The list is almost infinite. [sighs]
In fact, the biggest problem with eating Paleo is eating out. There are no ingredient lists to inspect, and menu descriptions are often incomplete. I welcome any tips.
One of the more important changes in my life, one that started over two years ago, has been a profound change in my eating habits. I now follow the Paleo diet , more or less as described in Robb Wolf’s book The Paleo Solution.
A simple description: No grains. No legumes. No milk products. No kidding.
Why in the world would I choose such a discipline? The answer lies in our trip to Australia/New Zealand in August of 2010. (Oh, wait. I haven’t blogged about that. OK, photos tomorrow.) During that trip I had arthritis so bad that I could barely hobble from transportation to the sight we were about to inspect. I used a cane. In one of the world’s most beautiful wilderness parks I was unable to hike. At all. The opportunity of a lifetime, wasted.
When I came back, I was ready to do anything. I was considering starting the process of getting a rheumatology referral when a blog post about The Paleo Solution crossed my screen. I was intrigued. I went to the bookstore, browsed the book, and bought it.
What convinced me to give it a try was the description and scientific explanation of dramatically reduced inflammation. And indeed, after thirty days on Paleo, I put away my cane. I haven’t had to pick it up since.
Losing fifty pounds was just an added bonus. (For those who think that the joint relief was just weight loss, the pain was gone before I’d lost ten pounds.)
I won’t lie and say I’ve been perfect at it. But slips are self-correcting as my knees become painful, the scale creeps up, and my gut complains. Oh, yeah, time to get back on the straight and narrow.
The hardest thing to do is to stay clean when working on a movie set. Studio catering hasn’t yet twigged to Paleo; they’re still trying to mollify the militant vegans.