This is a summary of what I learnt from September to December 2018, when I lost 15kg (30 pounds) of mostly fat. It has been noticeable enough to my appearance that many people asked me about my diet, whether it was healthy, and how to implement it. I learnt most things through youtube videos, forums and books, and I could not easily direct them to a single article that had all the knowledge I had gathered, so I decided to write it myself. I am not a doctor, some things I write here might be wrong or misunderstood, or overly summarized. This is not a diet recommendation for anyone. This is just what I did.
I am 36, entrepreneur in science fields. I used to do a lot of sports, but after I broke my knee I did less and less exercise. As an entrepreneur I dedicated more and more time to blogging, attending science conferences, dinners, airport snacks, and I gained 14kg, to a point where I felt embarrassed to give public talks. Last year I got married and this year we decided we wanted to have children. I learnt that your spermatozoids do not only pass genetic material but also epigenetic. This meant that if I was fat I was more likely to have children who would also be more prone to gain weight. Also, being fat is bad for testosterone and fertility. I felt this was the right wakeup call to not fail at my next diet.
I have tried other diets in the past. The first "diet", several years ago, was to move from Coke to Coke Zero. This easily reduced my caloric intake by about 1500 calories per week, but that's hardly a lifestyle change. Other diets I tried included not eating chocolates or snacks, and try to "eat healthy", and maybe have cheat meals on weekends. I might lose 2–3kg, then relax, then regain them.
My main problem with diets was the protocol. It's too difficult to follow most protocols. When I read about eating 5 small meals, I would end up eating 5 average meals, and still feel hungry after each of them. I never felt satisfied and eventually gave up. Other protocols are just impossible to follow for people who travel, where they assume you can always measure all ingredients and cook your own meals.
Learning about insulin first:
Before we can speak about diets, let's learn something about our bodies first. For my dietary plan, I think I spent more time learning about mitochondria than food. Let's begin:
Your cells use energy to sustain themselves and for all your activities. They do this by burning food (glucose (sugars, starches), aminoacids (protein) or fatty acids (fats)) inside your mitochondria. Your mitochondria are energy plants inside your cells. You can have more than 1 mitochondria per cell. Some energy plants are bigger than others. Some are more efficient than others. You want to have many large well-functioning mitochondria to give energy to your body efficiently when it needs it (We'll get there).
Your body usually prefers to break down glucose. It is easier. It will only break down fatty acids in the absence of glucose. Glucose gives you 4 calories per gram. Fats give you 9 calories per gram. If you have 11 kilograms of body fat, it basically means that you have 100,000 calories stored in your body, available to be burned. You probably burn between 1800 and 2500 calories per day. So basically you have energy for 50 days without eating anything. So why are we hungry?
Hormones. Amongst them, insulin. Insulin is released by the pancreas when we eat carbs to reduce the amount of sugar in blood. Insulin opens cells membranes to accept sugars that will either be burned for energy in mitochondria or converted into fat and stored in fat cells. While there is insulin in our bodies, our bodies simply won't burn fats. Insulin levels takes about 2–4 hours to go down after eating carbs. So basically, if we eat every few hours, our insulin levels are always high. And we simply cannot lose any fat. No gram of fat. Nothing. So those diets of eat 5–6 times a day, small meals, are the worst. Those "detox juices" mid-day made of fruits (fructose) are just skyrocketing your insulin. If you are eating at just any time of the day, you only have low levels of insulin at night while you sleep.
It gets worse. When we eat sugars, we release insulin to reduce the amount of sugar in blood. Because the amount of sugars in many of our foods is monstrous, the pancreas releases a lot of insulin very quickly. This reduces the sugar amount in blood below healthy levels, and so we start to break muscle to create sugars to stabilize. You also have low energy, feel hungry and “need a shot of sugar”, in a hormonal rollercoaster. Eating sugar makes you want to eat more sugar.
Storing and Burning energy:
We store energy in the form of fat cells (if you have 10kg of fat, you are storing 90,000 calories there, if you have 20kg of fat, you are storing 180,000 calories). This is the freezer room, and it has a large capacity. Your fat cells can always grow bigger to store more energy in case you need it in the future.
However, when we burn energy, we don't go to the freezer. We go first to the fridge and see what's inside. Only when it's empty, we might check what's inside the freezer. Our fridge is call Glycogen. We store about 250 grams of it in our liver and about 150 grams of it in our muscles. Glycogen is just big molecules of sugar combined. So those 400 grams of sugar would give us about 1600 calories worth of energy. When the fridge is empty and we eat, we fill it up. When it's full, that's when we store the incoming food as fat. When you do exercise, you start to burn glycogen. When you do heavy exercise and all of a sudden you feel tired, your muscles have simply run out of glycogen and needed to break other less readily available energy. 1600 calories is the basal metabolic rate of a normal person (what your body needs to function if you sleep a whole day). So basically, if you don't eat anything for a full day, you will not have burnt even a molecule of fat. You will have just gone through your glycogen, your energy fridge.
Because glycogen molecules are large and they need to travel to the cells that demand energy, they are surrounded by molecules of water. Every 1 gram of glycogen is going to be surrounded by about 3 grams of water. So basically we have 400 grams of Glycogen and 1200 grams of Water: Total about 2 kg…You know the feeling of starting a random lemon diet and then you lose 2 kg and you think this diet is great, and then it gets harder to lose weight, and you end up giving up on it, and you gain the 2 kg back? That was just glycogen. You did not lose a single gram of fat there. You only emptied the fridge, and filled it back. Almost any diet you start will get rid of glycogen easily, and it will have mostly been water. So going forwards, when you start a diet, remember the first 2kg almost don't count. You have depleted the glycogen. The real work starts later.
When we spend more than 4 hours without eating (most often at night), insulin levels go down, blood sugar stabilizes, and we release another hormone, Glucagon. Glucagon is the opposite of insulin. Where insulin stores sugars into cells as fats, glucagon takes fat from cells to be used as energy. Glucagon is your friend. After you deplete the glycogen, your job for a serious diet is to be "on glucagon". Now we have the start of a "real science" that we can turn into a diet, without discussing any foods. We want to optimize for glucagon state.
The only way to stop the insulin rollercoaster and go glucagon, is to:
I did both at the same time.
Fasting is basically not eating for a certain amount of time. There are many protocols.
When I told my friends I was fasting OMAD, their first reaction was that this could not be healthy, and that "breakfast is the most important meal of the day", and that I would go into starvation, and I don't know how many other things that their mothers must have told them, because no-one gave me a single piece of scientific research to those arguments. We have been educated to eat many times a day, but history tells us that most humans simply have not had the resources to eat more than once a day, and breakfast was only common after the 18th century. Of course there is the argument that "people died at a younger age in the past", which is true, but they died of disease we can cure today, not diabetes.
Instead, the benefits of fasting are:
You should want to enjoy the benefits of fasting every so often, even if you don't want to lose weight.
Keto is about reducing the amount of carb intake, in order to reduce insulin release. Instead of carbs, you eat protein and fats. In fact, mostly fats, about 70%. Fats don't release insulin. When you start to eat only fats and protein, insulin is not released and so your glucagon hormone starts to enable fatty acids from fat cells to be released and used by mitochondria. Keto comes from ketons, which are some form of macronutrient that your cells can use which are released from the breaking of those fatty acids.
So now your mitochondria turn to fats for energy. This is not something your mitochondria are used to do, so they need to adapt. This is called Keto Adaptation, and it's a bit of a pain. It can take 5–7 days before your mitochondria get used to the new input for energy. Those days you might feel more tired, irritable, even angry.
The benefits of being keto adapted is that, after you are, you can tap into the 100,000 calories worth of energy you have stored. So instead of a rollercoaster of feeling tired or hungry after you run out of blood sugar, you have access to infinite high quality energy supply (1 gram of fat gives you 9 calories or energy, whereas 1 gram of sugar gives you only 4 calories).
The pain of Keto Adaptation is that it is too easy to lose it. With Keto, there are no "cheat days". If you eat carbs one day, your body turns to carbs. And you need to readapt to fats. Over time, this adaptation takes less time, but still a pain.
About eating fats:
Fats became the enemy of the public in the 60s, when an American doctor released a flawed study that suggested that fats were the main reason for heart disease. Together with a strong lobby by the cereal industry, the food pyramid was released, with wheat, corn and potatoes at the base. Corn is very cheap to grow, and a lot of canned food will be made with some form of corn. Cattle are given corn too. This is the biggest lie we have eaten in the last 50 years.
Fats don't make you fat. Sugar makes you fat. Even if you don't do keto, stop worrying about "0% fat". Eat as much as fat as you want, and start to look for foods with no sugars (which is different from "no sugars added").
About Feeling Hungry:
Leptin and ghrelin are hormones that control hunger. When you feel hungry, it's your ghrelin telling you to eat.
I decided to go all in with Keto One Meal a Day from day one of my diet. I decided to go with OMAD because the protocol was easier to follow. I did not have to think about how many times or at what times to eat, or what to eat in each meal and what not, and I did not have to count calories. I would eat as much as I wanted one time a day. I would feel satisfied, full, until the point where I did not want to eat more. It's difficult to eat more than 1600 calories in one go, so in the worst case I would be saving 500–700 calories per day before doing exercise. It's also easier for people who travel, because skipping dinner while sleeping in a hotel is easier than finding a place that will have the kind of food you need for your diet.
My one meal was at 1pm every day. After I finished eating, towards 1.30pm, I would not eat anything until the following day.
I drank about 2.5 liters of water per day, to fill up the stomach when I felt some hunger. In particular, I drank Vichy Catalan sparkling water, which is a very heavy mineral water and highly satisfying.
On weekends, I would maintain Keto but I would also have dinner so that I could have a normal social life with friends, so I did about 5 days of OMAD per week.
I eliminated Coke Zero too. I turned everything to sparkling water. There is not much research in this regard, but apparently, even if Coke Zero has no sugars, the sweet taste also releases some response from the pancreas in the form of insulin, and because there is no actual sugar to grab, then the insulin remains in your body even longer than it should. I don't know whether this is true or not, but the point is that I eliminated it.
I started some muscle building exercise to avoid losing muscle weight. I did about 7–8 minutes per day of either squats or push ups with a $20 TRX. Nothing else. No running, no elliptical, no cardio. I did everything at home.
I bought a $30 second hand Fitbit Charge 2. I wanted to measure heart rates, sleeping patterns (apparently keto and fasting help you sleep better too), log my food and my weight.
I weighted myself every morning after peeing. I even took a small scale to hotels when I did a trip longer than 4 days.
The protocol was easy to follow because it was clear. I could eat once. Then nothing. That's it.
I never felt hungry because I trained my ghrelin to eat once a day. I must say, at 12:30, 30 minutes before my one meal, I get really really hungry. So yes, you can train yourself to control your hunger.
If for any reason I had an absolute need to eat, I would turn to olives as a snack.
To summarize, look at my modified pyramid.
I completely eliminated bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, cereals, cookies, etc.
I ate a ton of salmon, tuna, olives, avocados, spinach, shellfish and cheese.
A ton means that my normal meal would be 400 grams of Salmon, fried (that's a lot of salmon, but I wanted to feel satisfied). 120 grams of spinach (that's a ton of spinach too). A lot of olives (easily 150 grams of olives) or 1 avocado. Cheese to give flavor to my salmon salad. And olive oil, around a large spoon (a spoon is 15 grams, so that's 140 calories in olive oil alone).
So basically, my only source of carbs was spinach. I barely ate fruits either. Bananas and pineapples have a lot of sugar. However I did eat blueberries some times (they have the lowest sugar %).
Again, I would eat so much of this stuff that I could simply not eat any more.