Background and Rationale
It’s been a busy year in many, many ways. Back in July last year I decided that I weighed a little too much, when my BMI (Body Mass Index) tipped out of the ‘normal’ range (18-24 I think) into the ‘overweight’ range when I went from 24.9 to 25…This made me re-evaluate what I was doing and adjust my eating. The first things I did were to ensure the only thing I was drinking was unsweetened items (water, tea, coffee). Soda was definitely a very infrequent thing at this point. Since moving to OR, I consume less alcohol than when I was in NY, so that also helped, but wasn’t making the impact I hoped for. I cut down on my sweets consumption - less ice cream and chocolate, but I have a huge sweet tooth, so that only worked to a smaller extent.
Fast forward to Nov - December time-frame - 23andMe ran a Black Friday specicial on their kit, and so I got their ‘detailed’ analysis kit for $99, which is 50% off. The results that came back showed me some data which confirmed suspicions, and some surprising data. I had talked to two coworkers who were gluten intolerant (but not Celiac disease), and of similar generic background. One of the things they mentioned was that it potentially showed up as high triglycerides, and indeed my checkup had showed just that. So I thought perhaps removing gluten from my diet may be wise.
Around this time I visited a friend in California who happened to be on a ketogenic (or keto as everyone shortens it to) diet. He cooked me some pretty awesome food over the weekend, and also explained that for some people being in ketosis provided additional mental sharpness. Ketosis is the state when your body is burning fat, not sugar, as the primary fuel.
Given what my coworkers had told me, and the fact that the food was delicious, I thought about going on a keto diet. Another coworker was getting prepared meals delivered to his house, and all he had to do was microwave it. This same company had a keto plan that was breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So with a foolproof method to try this out, I started on January 13, 2019 on the keto journey. I did some reading that said I should take some supplements to help ease into the diet, and so I went to GNC to buy some stuff. I talked to the people there, and they had good things to say about the diet. However, both being athletic, they said they stopped the diet after 3 months or so because it was easy to lose more weight than desired (not necessarily muscle mass, but overall weight) without eating an insane amount of calories. One associate told me about Dave Asprey and his book “Head Strong”. More about that later.
Phase 1, Full-Time Ketogenic Dieting
There are more advanced ways to do keto than to just be in ketosis at all times. But, that’s not where we are starting. We are starting with the simplest form - get into ketosis and stay there. As I started, thankfully I didn’t really experience much of the ‘keto flu’ symptoms, because I was hydrating myself, and not quite as addicted to sugar as most - even though my craving for ice cream would suggest otherwise. As a result of having 21 meals a week sent to me, it was very hard to mess up - just eat what you’re given and don’t snack. Or have a single piece of cheese. Ok, that’s all doable. And it worked.
I was losing weight, and feeling better than I had in a very long time. Most of the food tasted great, and I tried things I wouldn’t otherwise. I now eat (but certainly am not craving) mushrooms in more forms than I did before. Olives, on the other hand, are still in the ‘no’ column.
As I’m eating this food from FarmToFit, I am also reading the book “Head Strong” and understanding the journey Dave Asprey took in order to fix his own life, get in better shape, and perform at his highest mental potential. If that all sounds like marketing, well, spoiler, some of it probably is. Dave stresses the importance of high quality food as being a big deal. A concern that I then had was that I couldn’t verify where the food was coming from. I was going to have to start cooking.
Phase 2, The Bulletproof Diet
In March we had a quarterly meet-up in NY, so I paused FarmToFit. I ate out every so often, so I had 3 or 4 meals that I ended up freezing. I went to NY, armed with a set of recipes from the Bulletproof Diet book to make. Mom ended up cooking it for the most part, but she said they weren’t so hard to make. A stew, baked salmon with spinach, things like that. It all tasted great, so I figured I’d try some of it.
I ended up starting to cook a few of the basic recipes, and found some others on their blog. I made use of my Instant Pot (electric pressure cooker), and I was off. I was cooking, it was kind of exciting. And I was in control of what I was eating. I switched my breakfast to only be Bulletproof Coffee. More on that later. The idea was that it would keep you satisfied until lunch time, which it did. You’ll understand why soon enough. Lunch was a slight pain, as part of the diet is also about how you cook your food, and not damaging fats and proteins, and therefore the microwave is definitely frowned upon. But I made do.
In order to try and ensure you are running at your most optimum (aka Bulletproof) level, certain things are cut out of available foods. No dairy aside from butter, no beans, no soy, and no grains. However, it’s a ‘spectrum’, so almost nobody follows it 100%. Which, I appreciate, as it makes it easier to stick with the parts that you do follow.
An aspect of the diet, which is what puts this in the Cyclical ketosis category, is that on every Saturday, you eat a good amount of carbs (like 150g worth, vs 35-50 usually), which knocks you out of ketosis. You also reduce your protein intake, and the theory is this aids in ‘cellular cleanup.’ That is an actual thing, it’s called autophagy. Not marketing, this time. It made for interesting meals - Bulletproof Coffee for breakfast, Guacamole and Cucumbers for lunch, and a sweet potato for dinner. Weird, but doable.
And so I cooked, and I ate, and I was pretty happy. Until it was time for my next physical.
The weight and body fat percentage results have been awesome:
A note about the body-fat numbers: I totally don’t believe the absolute values. There’s no way I have only 10.6% body-fat. However, I do believe in the relative numbers. In other words, I totally believe I lost body-fat. I’m quite happy with the change.
As one may have figured out, I’ve dropped a bit below my goal numbers. The fix for this is simple - start working out. I am now working out twice a week to add on some additional muscle mass and tone everything up. Overall I’m quite happy with where I am.
My health, on the other hand, is not quite as pretty of a picture. I had my yearly physical and my cholesterol numbers were not very different from last year’s, but that was not a great state to be in. My triglycerides had gone down, but there were still higher than they should have been. However, both last year’s and this year’s test were a few hours after lunch on a Friday. So that apparently can mess with your triglycerides number. Most on a keto diet have fairly low numbers, and I didn’t. This concerned me. So I ordered an independent test and had blood drawn - 10 vials worth. This was a comprehensive set of tests to determine vitamins, red blood count, white blood count, inflammation, thyroid health, etc. A baseline. A key differentiation here is that this would be in a fasted state, not eating anything for at least 12 hours prior. Therefore I would get accurate triglycerides.
The results were even more upsetting. I expected awesome triglycerides levels, as I was not taking in sugars, and eating low carb. I expected my LDL to be within range, perhaps a little elevated by most standards, but I expected my HDL to be about 50-60 which would be great.
Yeah, that didn’t happen. LDL was higher than previous tests, 146 vs 118, another marker which showed I had a lot of LDL particles, not just a high concentration of LDL. This was not good. Additionally, my HDL was 38. Bad. Ok, what’s going on here?
The ‘science’ of nutrition and more Snake Oil
As one can guess from the heading, nutritional research is all over the place. In this case here, some bad information led to some bad decisions on my part which lead to my bad cholestrol numbers.
One of the key concepts in the Bulletproof Diet is the idea of Bulletproof Intermittent Fasting, which is Dave’s ‘modified’ intermittent fasting that is supposed to be easier to get through because you start the morning off with a Bulletproof Coffee. This is coffee (Bulletproof brand of course), butter or ghee (clarified butter), and MCT oil (Bulletproof Brain Octane Oil of course).
Bulletproof branded coffee - in theory this is tested for all sorts of mold, that is ‘rampant’ across the entire coffee industry.
Butter contains butyric acid which is supposed to help with the body’s production of hormones.
Brain Octane Oil is MCT oil (Medium Chain Triglycerides) which is “100%” C8, which is basically used by the body as fuel quickly. It’s not actually 100%, it’s apparently not possible with current processes, but that’s how it’s marketed. However, on sale, it’s good for the price, and decent quality.
So you take all of that, shove it in a blender, and drink it, and it keeps you satisfied for hours. Sure it does. Quantities of the oil and butter range from 1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons depending on how long you’ve been drinking this and hunger level. Well, I was doing 2 tablespoons butter, and 2 tablespoons MCT oil. That is 38 grams of saturated fat, in my first ‘meal’ of the day. 25 grams is what the default ‘target’ value is in MyFitnessPal for the entire day. Do you see where perhaps my cholesterol problems are coming from? Immediately I cut the MCT oil to 1 tbsp, and 0.5 tbsp butter. Incidentally this tasted way better. Way too much butter.
So, my coworker suggested I try with just plain coffee, and see how my energy levels are. This is where I did additional research, and found that Dave was conflating the idea that Bulletproof Coffee would not break an Intermittent Fast, with the idea that it would not break you out of keto. Long story short - just a method to sell you more Brain Octane Oil and overpriced coffee. When I drank just plain coffee, it was very similar to what I was doing before, maybe 0.5 cups more of coffee. Not a big deal.
Research shows anything over 50 calories will definitely stop your Intermittent Fast. So, no more Bulletproof coffee. Back to eating breakfast (likely hardboiled eggs) on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I’ll do an Intermittent Fast and get the actual benefits of that (the cellular cleanup I talked about earlier – this is the real thing this time.) Saturday is going to be my day I break out of ketosis still, but beyond that I’m not sure what the plan is yet. Sunday I like to cook pancakes and eggs, so that’s definitely a breakfast eating day.
So, given the results, I’m drinking plain coffee only, and expect a much better result when I re-test in a few months. More monounsatured fats, like avocados, are definitely in my future. Saturated fats like butter are fine for cooking with, but not extra consumption just by itself like I had done.
Phase 3, Clean, Cyclical Ketogenic Dieting
This is where I am now. Basically the Bulletproof diet, removing the ‘need’ for some of the branded products. So, yeah, my coffee is just fine thank you. Incidentally, Bulletproof Coffee is private label Portland Roasting Company. Which their brand is 50% less expensive. For what amounts to me, to be the same thing.
Dave Asprey has a huge mold allergy. This kind of fueled his obsession with it. And I think that’s the key - I think he became obsessed, and turned that into a marketing lever.
Additionally, I’m not lactose intolerant, so I’ll put that back too. So at least for now, I’m back eating cheese and drinking heavy cream.
So, high quality foods, cyclical keto, avoid grains 99% of the time, minimal dairy. Protein fast every 2-4 weeks. That’s the plan.
Phase 4, ???
No idea what the future holds. Will I stay where I am? Will I transition to a low-carb, but not keto diet? This allows you to not track things as closely, but it also means more fluctuations in weight, and perhaps some more unknowns. More research is necessary.