Nutritional Ketosis: My own experiment with a Low Carb diet
Inspired by the Art and Science of Low-Carb Performance and Jimmy Moore’s N=1 experiment, I decided to see what would happen if I made a serious attempt at a low-carb diet. My starting weight on 10/16/2012 was 231.9 lbs. I ate less than 60g carbs per day until 11/19/2012, with only 3 days over 50g in the timespan. In this month I lost 15.1 lbs taking me to 216.8 lbs. After a few days of normal eating I was back up to 225.4 lbs so I estimate an actual weight loss of 6.5 lbs in 5 weeks.
I continued my low-carb diet in the next month, although with less enthusiasm. From 10/16/2012 to 12/15/2012 I ate <50g carbs on 80% of days and <60g on 90% of days. On days where I was not compliant, my average intake was 112g of carbs, so even when not compliant I was still eating a very low to moderate carb diet. My total weight loss for the two month period was 11.8 lbs adjusting for water weight gained after a final reefed or about 1.5 lbs per week. I also lost 2” off my waist. Because my results were as good in the second month as in the first month, I did not see any benefit in attempting full “nutritional ketosis” vs occasional refeeds. I did not bother measuring blood or urine ketone levels.
Some thoughts on calories-in calories-out: If I lost 11.8 lbs in 61 days, then my average deficit was 677 calories/day. Since I ate an average of 1745 calories/day, my average metabolic rate (considering my average activity level) would be is 2422 calories/day.
From my post on 11/30/2012:
The generic Harris-Benedict BMR formula gives me that 2500 calories/day number. The more specific Katch-McArdle formula using lean body mass gives 2300 calories/day.
Pretty close! I will be interested to see similar calculations after spending January outside of ketosis at closer to 2000 calories/day. Many proponents of low-carb diets might claim that I could have consumed more calories per day and still achieved weight loss. Unless this would have improved my performance and recovery, I’m not sure why it would have been helpful. If I were better at math I’d look for some trends in the daily numbers to see if there are any relationships between daily consumptions and weight loss.
A little more about my diet during these two months. I averaged 10% calories from carbs, 67% from fat, and 23% from protein. Average consumption by macro was 42g carbs, 130g fat, and 97g protein. I ate a lot of butter, coconut oil, fatty meats, eggs, and cheese.
During these two months, I was committed to martial arts training twice per week and weightlifting once or twice per week. Keeping up with these commitments was not easy. My back and shoulders seem to bear the brunt of training under calorie restriction and towards the end I required more frequent refeeds.
There was a lot of buzz about Robb Wolf’s series about low carb: part1, part2, and part3. After reading the first two segments, I was a little taken aback. How could a person who has so frequently endorsed Low Carb diets speak so negatively about them? Perhaps after reading a few too many LC books and listening to Jimmy Moore, I had been brainwashed myself! In the third article, Robb says:
I DO think that dropping into ketosis (via a cyclic low carb diet) or occasional 16-18 hour fasting is a great way to maintain metabolic flexibility and perhaps forestall some cellular aging. My problem in saying this however, is the people who should do it (reasonably sedentary desk-jockeys with low stress) will not be the folks doing this.
As a “sedentary desk-jockey,” finally I see the disconnect. Of course I am not sure how to define “low stress.” If LC only works for people under “low stress,” but all obese people are under stress just from being obese, then LC is not the answer or even an appropriate tool. Since I failed to baseline by hormonal/adrenal status prior to starting, it’s hard for me to really answer this question. I’m not a performance athlete who needs massive amounts of carbs, but I also don’t know that healthy enough yet for ketosis or intermittent fasting. Open questions remain. Does the end result of weight loss from ketosis justify the hormetic journey? Is calorie restriction in ketosis more or less hormetic than calorie restriction without ketosis?
My primary concern is that this long period of ketosis caused or aggravated a less than ideal hormonal state and less than ideal cortisol test results. It is impossible to know what caused these problems. Taking these tests at the end of a 2 month diet without a baseline was a terrible idea. On the positive side, I retained the weight loss for another month after completing the experiment. If I can achieve weight loss results of 1lbs or 1.5lbs per week without such stressful measures, then I would be much better off without them. If I cannot, then I will certainly include at one or two refeeds per week into my planning.