Ever wanted someone to stage an experiment for you and find out how to shed unwanted holiday pounds while not being miserably hungry and spending hours in a gym? Well, despair not. I am your guy.
I planned this experiment from November of 2017, tweaking its idea and design throughout the whole December. There are several concepts converging in it and several questions I wanted answered. The concepts in no particular order:
- We can’t rely on our hunger and satiety signalling while insulin- and leptin-resistant and when eat artificially engineered foods that do not match our “primal blueprint.” However, when hormonal balance and sensitivity are restored and when eat actual food, our body will give proper signals when it needs or need no more food.
- Relatively small (say 10-20 pounds?) weight gain caused by short-term sub-optimal conditions and behavior (namely, eating too much and wrong stuff) can be reversed quickly and, most importantly, without going hungry or limiting your choices too strictly by following that “primal blueprint.” Such regimen can be easy to implement and very intuitive thanks to signalling mentioned in previous point.
- Metabolic flexibility is a good thing for our health; short-term dashes into ketogenic territory train body for such flexibility and at the same time fit perfectly into the idea of a previous point.
- This one comes from Dr. Jack Kruse, whose work I study lately, as you no doubt noticed. While the idea of eating accordingly to a seasonal and local availability is relatively well known in Paleo circles, his particular twist on it which I intend to apply comes to this: consumption of carbohydrates should linked to light and temperature. This link dictates that their share in our diet should slowly ramp up in the spring, peak up in summer, and diminish through the fall, going to a minimum in the winter. Eating sweet and starchy stuff during winter season (including fruit that unless you live in tropics isn’t available locally) is the reason for our winter weight gain, while wild mammals are at their leanest at that time.
The questions I wanted answered:
- How much and how often will I eat if I eat right stuff till satiated, not going hungry and not forcing myself to withhold food?
- What my macros will be if I eat what I like (within parameters described above) without trying to hit certain ratios?
- Will I miss the foods I exclude? Which ones if any?
- What changes in my weight and body composition can be achieved in easy to handle intervention time – say, two weeks?
- Will the whole thing be pleasant adventure, desirable to repeat periodically? Or will it be torturous experience to forget and never return to?
With all this in mind, I designed my experiment the following way.
- For the month of December, I made myself to eat in a way that was natural for me way before but felt quite foreign now – a lot of sweets, going obviously overboard with fruit, and otherwise intentionally fattening myself. In a way, I was imitating a situation with a vacation, cruise, family reunion or a holiday season when you just don’t want to think of any good choices or stand out and attract attention and questions. It worked to a degree – without going into stratosphere, I still removed myself from my target weight far enough to warrant intervention. Oh the sacrifice you make for the science.
- For two weeks following the holiday season I decided to eat: meat, eggs, bacon, fish, some rendered fat, some leafy greens, some broccoli, some kefir. To give you a more exact list of foodstuff in my menu: pork shoulder, beef, beef and chicken liver, some cheese, sardines, mackerel, salmon, eggs fried on bacon grease or mixed with chicken fat with added fried chicken skins. Greens (fantastic ones, courtesy of local farmer and friend Tamara Knott of Bright Greens Canada) were mixed as a salad with dressing of olive oil or kefir; kefir was fermented twice as long to minimize the carbs in it. A forkful or two of a fermented sauerkraut. No sweets or root vegetables, no fruit or seeds, no nuts or legumes, no starches or flours of any kind.
- I wanted to let my body tell me what, when and how much I should eat without imposing any conscious limits. At the same time, for curiosity sake, I wanted to know how many calories I consumed. To solve this I decided to log my food but not to look up the calorie content until the end of the experiment. A lot of things I ate were quite counter-intuitive in this regard, so I minimized the risk of limiting my food intake by considering the calories. For instance, and to give you an idea just how unexpected some of the numbers can be – 100 g of mackerel turned out to carry 300 calories, 100 g chicken skins – 350. And of course, 100 g of chicken fat is 900 calories – being pure fat it shouldn’t be surprising but it’s still quite shocking when you see it. Nor did I want to know in advance all the macro ratios, finding out after the fact how they worked out instead. This part was even easier – I mean, do you know exactly how much fat and protein in pork shoulder and sardines is, in grams and calories? I for one don’t, not without looking it up.
- I made absolutely no modifications to my exercise regimen either way. Three sessions of HIIT workout a week, 4 minutes each; body weight resistance training six times a week, alternating days between lower and upper body, about 10 minutes per session, each exercise till muscle failure.
Observations during two weeks and calculations at the end of two weeks:
- I ate twice a day for 12 days out of 14.
- My feeding window for the most part fell into 4-6 hours, leaving 18-20 hours for unplanned intermittent fasting. It happened by itself simply by following my appetite, without any conscious attempt to fast. Last meal occurred at around 3-4 pm. Each day started with black coffee, and breakfast followed at 10-12 am. I suspect that light modifications described in my previous post played a role here, but this fits perfectly into an idea of healthy lifestyle being a conglomerate of many various angles.
- Twice I had one meal a day and didn’t want to shove any more food in myself.
- Now for the nerd fun part. While calorie count fluctuated from day to day, it never went above 2200 – notice that according to TDEE I should be around 2400 and that I haven’t felt hungry any single minute. The lowest on the days with two meals was 1800. Now, on two days when I had just one meal calorie count came to about 1000.
- Another tidbit for the nutrition nerds (I am one on occasion although for me this math game gets old quickly and, frankly, serves little purpose). On average and on a typical day, my macros came to the following ratio: 70% calories from fat, 24% from protein and 6% from carbs. Considering the wide range of recommendations in various keto camps, it may be a tad too high in protein for some of them and just right for others. With this percentage of carbs, ranging from about 30 to 13 net gram on a day with most and least food correspondingly, it’s firmly in ketogenic territory. Remember that it worked itself out without any conscious effort on my part, simply by eating stuff I liked.
- I don’t measure ketones but by all subjective signs well familiar to many, I was in ketosis for the entire two weeks. No wonder, with this composition of food and such intervals between meals.
- There were two things I missed. One was a dark (85-95%) chocolate before my morning coffee. Another – my favorite bread made from fermented buckwheat. It’s just too good with cultured butter on top. I also wouldn’t mind some nuts and seeds in my salad, and occasional handful of hazelnuts. Surprisingly, no craving for fruit whatsoever.
- Finally, how pleasant it was? On a scale from 1 to 10, I’ll give it a 9. Remaining point reflects lack of things listed in previous point. Zero doubt in my mind that I’ll have no hesitation to repeat it if and when needed, or just on a whim.
Results. Come on, admit it – you skimmed through all that stuff above, waiting for this, didn’t you? Well, I am not disappointed.
- I shed 8 pounds in these weeks.
- My waist narrowed down by a full inch.
I am happy. It worked like a charm; it was easy; it was pleasant. My December self-sacrifice caused no damage. Far from injecting myself with some deadly bacteria to test a cure, but heck, I expect no Nobel prize either. Another weapon in my arsenal, and another thing to recommend those who encounters a problem similar the one I modeled.
Last comment here: this N=1 was actually N=2 again, as my wife joined me on two weeks of keto, with 4 pounds and 2/3 of an inch shed. She was much closer to her ideal weight though, so it was expected that her numbers were to be smaller. She also didn’t indulge during December as much as I have. I carried the burden of self-sacrifice alone.
Where to from here?
Well, first step is obvious. A square of dark chocolate with my coffee is being added back. My fermented buckwheat bread follows. Some almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts; sunflower and pumpkin seeds make it back to the menu as well. Occasional fermented whipping cream and home-made yogurt, sure. That’s how it stays till mid-spring, when I start adding some fruit and berries, with overall carbs peaking at the height of the summer and winding down from there, coming to the present level by December. I also intend to do occasional “pulses” of going keto for a week or so, to maintain that metabolic flexibility and train my body to switch fuels on the fly. That’s the plan at this point. Modifications can be made, of course, in which case I’ll do an update.
There you go. Off to have my coffee with, you guessed it, chocolate.