I’m a hacker, and I love to build stuff for the Web.
Monday 21st January, 2013
It’s been two and a half years since I first wrote about nutrition on this blog. I still agree with a lot of what I said. But my understanding of human nutrition has expanded hugely—and I’ve become acutely aware of how much I don’t know, and even how much science doesn’t quite grok yet.
N.B.: This post, unlike its predecessor, describes facts. This is what my diet looks like today.
I’ve fully bought into the principles of the Paleo diet, albeit synthesizing various pieces of information from Robb Wolf, Gary Taubes of NuSI, Loren Cordain, Sally Fallon Morell of the Weston A. Price Foundation, and the /r/paleo community.
This means I don’t eat grains or legumes of any kind. I typically don’t eat fruits or starches due to the carb content, but occasionally eat berries. I love sauerkraut and most fermented foods. I don’t drink milk (although until recently I used to have heavy cream with my coffee), and am trying to eliminate fresher cheeses. When I have chocolate, it’s Lindt Excellence 90%—this stuff is hardcore but tasty in small amounts.
In fact, most of my diet now consists of meat with various herbs and spices, grilled or fried in saturated animal fats (mainly lard and beef dripping, sometimes ghee). I also love fried eggs, mayonnaise, sausages, burgers and espressi.
The next big feature of my diet is that it is almost bereft of carbohydrates—I’m in full ketosis, a state in which my primary carb stores (blood glucose, liver & muscle glycogen) are depleted, so most of the cells in my body have switched to fatty acid metabolism for energy. However, fatty acids can’t cross the blood-brain barrier, so my liver makes small molecules called ketones from fats which can be used for energy by my brain cells. It’s these ketone bodies which can be tested for using Ketostix, but these days I don’t really need to do that, because I can feel when I’m in ketosis. The /r/keto community was really helpful to me when starting a low-carb diet, and I still take inspiration from the progress pics posted there and on /r/theketodiet.
I first entered ketosis in August 2012, and I’ve more or less kept it up since (except over Christmas & New Year’s Day, where I dropped out of it for a couple of days). The main benefit to me has been the ability to eat large quantities of meat and still lose weight, but I’ve noticed several improvements in terms of mental clarity, sleep continuity, bowel behavior (I’m being candid here), lack of cravings, and consistent daily energy levels. Whilst I see other people slumped over their desks (or reaching for cookies, snacks or coffee) at 3PM, I feel great.
In November 2012 I made the difficult decision to cut out all artificial sweeteners (including Stevia, which is rare in the UK anyway). There are reasons to believe that they have harmful effects on the gut microbiome, which is a fragile and important part of the human body. Quitting sweet stuff has been hard, but I just replaced my normal Coke Zero with sparkling water and dealt with it (and I used to drink liters of Coke Zero on a daily basis).
I lift weights regularly now, and I’m following an improvised Starting Strength-style program (i.e. mostly free weight work, lots of squats). Ketosis does adversely affect exercise performance, so I take a waxy maize starch supplement pre- and post-workout to give me a small baseline glucose level over a couple of hours. This use-case is backed up by science, it seems—WMS is often sold as a ‘fast-acting carb’, but the reason I use it is because it is actually a ‘slow carb’. Sometimes I’ll take 30g pre-workout and 20g afterwards, and within an hour I’m back in ketosis.
I have a strong bias against Paleo and low-carb imitation food (e.g. ‘Paleo’ bread, cheesecake, cookies, etc.). I adhere to this diet because I believe those foods are fundamentally harmful, and just because you make them without gluten does not stop them being dense acellular carbohydrates, or otherwise abnormally concentrated sources of nutrients, good or bad. Following the Weston A. Price Foundation and other scientific sources has taught me how important the gut microbiome is in chronic inflammation, and it’s not just one’s ‘macros’ (protein/carb/fat ratios) which matter in a diet.
Sleep is often a forgotten component in any weight-loss or health program. Whilst it’s not strictly diet-related, it’s worth talking about. The fact is that you will not lose fat if you don’t sleep well. ‘Well’ means getting a solid 8-hour sleep, or two solid 4-hour chunks. Human Growth Hormone levels are highest when you’re asleep, and require deep sleep to peak. Better sleep quality is associated with increased fat loss, and bad sleep quality undermines fat loss.
A number of nutrient deficiencies can lead to bad sleep patterns; magnesium is the lowest-hanging fruit for this. I take a small magnesium supplement, and try not to be exposed to any bright, artificial light for an hour or so before sleeping. I also don’t drink coffee in the afternoon any more—just a morning espresso to jump-start my brain.
I haven’t seen overnight dramatic weight loss. Instead I’ve seen steady (but cumulatively big) changes in my overall wellbeing, fat mass, bodily functions and mental acuity. I believe I’ve been naturally ‘designed’ to eat animals and carry heavy things, and that living up to my evolutionary heritage is the best way for me to be healthy and happy.
Life in all its fullness is mother nature obeyed.
— Weston A. Price