Carbs are like Cats

* disclaimer: I HAVE DONE TONS OF RESEARCH AND READING ABOUT KETOSIS AND AM NOT JUST PLAYING AROUND WITH IT. This is a long-term commitment that I've made. I would NOT suggest trying to get into ketosis for a short time, then come out, then go back in, etc...Ketosis is NOT NECESSARY, just something that I personally wanted to try for myself using, what I believe, are safe and effective methods of discovery and research. *

Stay with me here...let me explain the title of this article. And this is me spewing forth only a few months worth of research -- I do not consider myself an expert on this, or any other, subject for that matter. But I HAVE done my homework.

Nobody NEEDS cats. Some people might think they need cats. You know, like old spinsters, Sigfreid and/or Roy ("magicians of the century" as per their website), Dr. Evil. But they are not necessary for life on earth. If cats were gone tomorrow, no one would be in any physical harm.

Cats aren't evil. They're fine to have around. They don't have to be avoided at all costs in every situation -- but whether or not they can or will be tolerated has to do with the environment they appear in.

For instance, you would NOT want to put a cat into a small cage with someone like my brother, Jeff, who is so allergic to cats that his throat starts swelling up if he enters a house that housed a cat at some point in the past...any a year or more. It's crazy...he's so jacked up.

But a cat would be fine to throw into a room with an old lady whose beloved cat was just smeared on the pavement in front of her house by a Cadillac Escalade. She would actually be very grateful for the new companion.  

Make sense?  

Cats aren't bad -- but they can have positive or negative effects on their surroundings based on what those surroundings are, and life on planet Earth does not depend on their existence.

But wait -- if we say the same thing about carbs, doesn't the brain need glucose from carbohydrate to function? A common belief. But what I've come to find out is that in the absence of dietary carbohydrate, your body will convert fatty acids and glycerol (fat) and protein (amino acids) to things that the brain can use for energy -- and, from what it looks like to me, would PREFER to use for energy. 

There are essential fatty acids, essential amino acids (protein) but no molecule within carbohydrate is essential. 

So back to the cats -- if you like cats, and cats like you, and you can live happily with cats? Then go crazy with cats. Have fun. Live mouse free and with balls of yarn hanging from every door frame. Have litter boxes in every room and new kittens springing up between your walls every few months... 

In our analogy, the people who can do that are what we call 'insulin sensitive' and everybody knows them and hates them. Those are the people who can eat whatever they want and never gain weight. Those people are wired to take all the energy they consume in the form of Calories and put it directly into muscles and other areas for immediate energy use.  

Stop right now and think of those people in your life...they're infuriating. If you're one of those people? I hate you. 

Those people - that we all hate - seem to have lots of energy don't they? They're the marathon runners or super moms that seem to be able to go all day on no sleep and are rail thin. So are they lean and mean because they're super energetic? Or are they super energetic because of how their bodies process nutrients and hormones they have tons of energy to burn? Interesting question...and one that I had never thought of before.

The rest of us earthlings aren't like that. I know I'm not. I eat a banana and gain 5 pounds. That means I am insulin resistant and that my blood sugar (and therefore insulin level) is prone to roller coaster swings if I'm not very careful about what I put in my mouth.

And what I've come to believe is that insulin is the key to maintaining a lean body mass. Not exercise. Not veganism. Not vegetarianism. Not Atkins. Not Paleo. Insulin. If you can maintain your insulin levels on nothing but plants? Great! If Paleo works for your specific system...go for it. But, in my opinion, there is no one right answer.

There are a few "food truths" that I believe are universal and should be followed by everyone -- like only eat whole foods, keep chemicals and preservatives away from your mouth, go grass fed and organic whenever humanly possible, etc... -- but that's a whole different article.  

In my cat analogy, I am my brother or anyone else who is super allergic to cats or who hates cats because a cat killed their uncle or something. Most of us are the kinds of people that can't tolerate an abundance of cats -- but all to varying degrees.  

Some may be able to only have one cat around (or have a very high insulin resistance meaning they need to limit carbs). Some may be able to swim in pools of cats (our 'insulin sensitive' villains). Some may be somewhere in between -- you know, like they can have five cats or they have cat hair in their blanket for extra softness.

So my theory (and what I've seen work for me so far) is that I can be around cats but it has to be in a controlled environment like in a zoo or while I'm wearing a haz-mat suit. I "control" my "cat" exposure by keeping my carbohydrate intake at or below 50g per day (or around 200 kcal). 

I have done hours of research on nutritional ketosis and (if you've read the front page of this blog) am doing a 10-day very low calorie ketogenic diet experiment (click here for details). I have been in ketosis for about 2 months and have only come out of that state a few times -- and plan to stay in for a while. Based on my ketone blood levels this morning, I am in ketosis all the way (whereas I was just "barely" in before). For a good explanation of nutritional ketosis, read this then this.

I will be testing my ketone and glucose levels via a Precision Xtra ketone and glucose monitor so that I will know exactly what takes me out of or to the fringe of ketosis so I know what that feels like and to try and avoid it -- then I will stop pricking my finger.

I have an abundance of glucose test strips and find it incredibly interesting to test throughout the day to see what causes my blood sugar to rise, when it's low, and what keeps it low. But that's just me -- not saying you have to go out and do that.  

Dietary carbohydrate drives insulin production, which drives fat storage and heart disease (among many other negative things) and compromises immune and digestive function while promoting inflammation.

For anyone confused as to why I've made an apparent "turnaround" from the vegan experiment -- I thoroughly enjoyed my 18-month vegan experiment. I learned a lot and felt great. But there were some things that didn't flow right for me specifically (for details -- call or email me) so I began looking around for another experiment to try and find that sustainable strategy for me.

I'm hoping this nutrition strategy is one that will be my final destination, but I don't think anyone ever arrives at the "perfect" nutrition destination. It's always a work in progress. There's ALWAYS new information out there to learn from and experiment with.  

My advice is to understand how insulin works in your body. Whether it's through glucose blood tests or tracking weight or tracking how you feel, bowel movements etc...It's not hard to determine. If you have lots of excess body fat and eat lots of grains, sugars, and high glycemic fruits and veggies (carrots, bananas, oranges, etc...), then I would guess you are on the insulin resistant side of the equation.

And I'm purposely ignoring detailing many facts like clearly defining insulin resistance, insulin sensitivity, ketosis, and glycemic because those are topics for another post or for a conversation with me directly. This is just a summary.

In a nutshell, it's another nutrition experiment for me to dabble in and hopefully find the combination of strategies that work best for me personally. It also helped that using primarily fat for fuel in a Half Ironman I completed on April 7, I ran the fastest run split of any race I've done that distance...with hardly any calories on the run. That tells me that lipolysis (using fat for fuel) works. 

I will say this again -- I HAVE DONE TONS OF RESEARCH AND READING AND AM NOT JUST PLAYING AROUND WITH KETOSIS. This is a long-term commitment that I've made. I would NOT suggest trying to get into ketosis for a short time, then come out, then go back in, etc...Ketosis is NOT NECESSARY, just something that I personally wanted to try for myself using, what I believe, are safe and effective methods of discovery and research. 

And cats aren't bad. You just have to know what the surroundings are before you release them to either create havoc or live peacefully...and for the majority of us, they're creating havoc.

So knowing that I am insulin resistant, here's what I'm planning to do AFTER my 10-day experiment (for details of that click here):

My Plan

Since November I have been eating no sugars and no grains (the last grain I had was the first weekend in February and before that I had had some flour tortillas in early January -- I've had a few very dark chocolate bars since January 1, too). But I think I may have been overdoing it on protein and overall calories -- although calories in-calories out is a myth (read Why We Get Fat) you will still gain weight if you eat WAY too many calories just like you'll lose weight if you starve yourself.

Moving forward after the 10-day experiment I will keep protein to around 0.6-0.7 grams per pound which for me will be around 100 grams of protein. 1 ounce of meat or raw cheese and 1 egg has about 7 grams of protein in it which means roughly 14 of those blocks will get me to my protein goals. It's easier for me to think of it like that than to actually count calories which is a pain and, in my opinion, not necessary over the long haul.

Controlling protein intake is key since too much protein will elicit an insulin response just like carbohydrate will.  

Around the protein I will keep my carbohydrate sources limited to green vegetables (kale, spinach, romaine, celery, broccoli, peppers, etc...), mushrooms and other low-glycemic veggies (no carrots or potatoes). I will limit fruits to berries only (if any) except on Sundays. I will cut out all nuts and seeds except on Sundays, too. And I will eat fat until sated -- good fats like coconut oil, MCT oil, organic heavy whipping cream, organic butter, other grass fed animal sources (cheese, meats, etc...), avocado, olives, and extra virgin olive oil. I recommend this oil. Fat (unsaturated and saturated) has gotten a bad wrap. Gary Taubes' book "Good Calories, Bad Calories" does an amazing job at debunking the fat-heart disease hypothesis if you care to read more about it. There is really no link between cholesterol, saturated fat, and heart disease -- sounds crazy right? Do some research...

About cutting out nuts -- I don't think nuts are bad, I just can't handle them in limited quantities. I'll eat a whole bag of cashews or macadamia nuts at one time which is just way too much protein and carbs in the course of a typical day. I have cut out nuts and seeds for about 2 weeks and don't miss them at all.  

A typical day for me will look like this:

6 oz raw Swiss cheese

2 eggs

6 ounces grass  fed meat source or wild caught fish

MCT oil or coconut oil in coffee

4 tbsp heavy whipping cream

2-3 ounces of kale

2 ounces tomato

1 cube veggie bouillon (for sodium level stability -- sodium is excreted more vigorously in the absence of excess carbohydrate) 

Something like that.....and there are limitless combinations of foods, recipes and meals that can be drawn from these foods.  

I won't count carbs once I establish my baseline carb figures either. 

Great books to read for more info on these topics --

Why We get Fat and What to do About it -- Gary Taubes

Good Calories, Bad Calories -- Gary Taubes

Art and Science of Low Carb  Living & Art and Science of Low Carb Performance (both by Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney) 

Email me with any further questions about my experiment, ketosis, blood monitors, or anything else nutrition/training related.