101 years ago, a bumbling, goofy and rebellious German PHD student, who had previously never amounted to anything in his life, wrote four papers. The first got him the Nobel prize and started the mind-bending branch of physics we now call Quantum Physics. The second proved the existence of atoms, ending a millennia-old debate. The third used insane out-of-the-box thinking to show that time itself is a variable, uprooting the gold standard of physics for the previous 200 years. The fourth produced quite possibly the most famous equation in history. These 4 mostly unrelated papers were written in a 6-month span. This man’s year was seen as so remarkable it was given a name: Annus Mirabilis, latin for Miracle Year. What if I could do something similar? Of course genetics play a huge role but what if I could engineer conditions to make something similar happen on a smaller scale. A personal Miracle Month. My very own Mensis Mirabilis.
Let’s face it, I’ve been quite a bit overdue for another wild and wacky extreme diet experiment. Despite being such a keto evangelist, I’ve never actually experienced long term ketosis. The most I’ve done was 2 weeks and only because I had a job that required me to work 10 hour days, 14 days straight. As it turns out, trying to do one thing every single day is very easy if you are already doing everything the same everyday anyways. It becomes routine. But as soon as plans change you have to adapt, which means thinking on your feet, which is difficult, so you just end up abandoning your project and taking the easier route. And so on the 15th day I proclaimed “LET THERE BE CARBS!”, and the beer flowed, the blood sugar rose, ketones dropped and my belt buckle tightened. My current situation makes it much harder to develop a routine. I live in close proximity to food, friends and a fast lifestyle, the perfect storm for terrible diet choices. Of course most people in my situation would counteract the horrible dieting with some good ‘ol fashioned exercise but my knee and shoulder injuries keep me from doing the weight lifting and cardio activities I used to enjoy. I feel that alcohol is the key culprit in all this. A night of drinking almost always leads to an unnecessary late night gorging and the following day tends to consist mainly of anti-productive dopamine binging activities.
In an effort to counteract the unproductive days I’ve been experimenting on ways to improve my focus and creativity. For the last couple months I’ve been assigning qualitative values to my alertness, how creative I feel, how antsy I am, how lazy I am, how heavy my eyelids feel, and how heavy my head feels, which are all surprisingly unrelated. One by one I’ve been trying to isolate variables in an effort to control my mental state and boy have I made some breakthroughs! Most notably, I noticed that I get very tired about an hour or two after eating carbs. I have a feeling that because I’ve been experimenting with low carb diets for so long I have become extremely sensitive to insulin, and so my body actually overshoots the insulin flush and I end up with even lower blood sugar than when I started. It’s just a theory and I haven’t tested it rigorously. It could very well be the gluten that everyone’s apparently allergic to. Cause aside, the effect is very real and seems to scale proportionally with glycemic load. It will be interesting to see how my mental faculties fare while cutting out carbs completely.
Extreme diets like this, however successful, often wreak havoc on a person psychologically. In a typical high exercise low calorie diet, at least initially, people feel terrible. Your body was in homeostasis at your previous calorie intake and now you’ve ruined everything by reducing it. You’ll feel tired because your body has not started burning fat yet to supplement the deficit. You’ll have cravings because your body is trying to force you to eat more because it thinks you might die. You will feel unsatisfied after a meal because your hunger signalling hormones are so used to giving a full signal for a larger meal. Sure you could use some tried and tested Will Power™ to get you through this, and perhaps even watch some inspirational videos to generate new will power, but you’ll soon find that a majority of your will power is spent forcing yourself to exercise or avoiding the seductive gaze of a jelly filled donut. This is mentally draining. Do you think this person is working on their screenplay during this time? Do you think this person is going to start learning Spanish like they always wanted? No they are not. They are going to sit on the couch and watch reality TV because that is all their brain is capable of at the moment. I think how focused and creative you feel should be taken into account when evaluating your new diet. And so, not only am I going to try to lose as much weight as I’ve ever lost in my life in a one month span, I’m going to do it with high energy and high focus. I want to be Bradley Cooper from Limitless. Perhaps a lofty goal but you know what they say, shoot for the a-list stars and you’ll end up moonlighting as Dave Franco’s chauffeur… or something like that.
Anyway, I have about 3 or 4 creative projects I’m working on right now. Some require more creativity, others more focus, but none of them can be accomplished while I’m feeling lazy and/or tired. So here’s the goal: In one month, lose as much weight as possible while also being as productive as possible with minimal use of will power. Sounds impossible? Perhaps, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve.
Keys to success
Salmon for breakfast
Apart from providing me with 50g of protein right off the bat, a 355ml can of salmon packs a whopping 3.1g of omega-3, the equivalent of taking 8 Kirkland fish oil pills. The omega-3 in fish oil is the holy grail of nutritional supplements. Just check out this Examine page that summarizes all the scientific research done on fish oil. There is high scientific consensus about fish oils effect on fat loss, mood and focus. Spoiler alert, I’ve already been having salmon breakfast for over a month and the effects, have been mind-blowing. My dreams have become insanely vivid and I remember minute details, such as fictional people’s faces and even names, several hours after. I am able to focus easily. I used to come home from work all tired and lazy and just spend my night watching stupid Youtube videos and dumb TV shows. Now I spend 3 hours every day learning programming, without coffee, and I’m not bored or distracted at all. Joe Rogan can keep his Alpha Brain, I’ll just have some salmon.
A Medium Chain Triglyceride is a fat molecule that your body doesn’t know what to do with. Initially, it will try to flush it out but if you keep ingesting it, your body will slowly adapt and learn to burn it for fuel instead. Because your body lacks the mechanism of storing it, it burns it instantly. Of course this is a moot point on a ketogenic diet where ALL fats should have a similar effect but it’s the only omega-6 free liquid oil I have at my disposal since this weather has turned my tub of coconut oil into a solid white block. In previous experiments I’ve been able to take as much as 2-3 tsbp at a time without running to the bathroom, and curiously, more after taking probiotics, despite not experiencing an increase in energy levels. I have a feeling that my gut bacteria is actually feasting on this oil rather than me, reducing my actual cal intake while technically eating more, and thus proving another fault in basic calorie counting methods. In fact this recently published study verifies my hypothesis. Either way, I have found that the volume-energy relationship of MCT does scale proportionally while having it with my morning salmon, but I’m not sure if it’s the fact that I’m having salmon, protein or just food in general that’s making the difference.
Yes, I will be taking a cold shower every day for a month in the middle of a Canadian winter. Besides well documented effects related to mood, hormone regulation, muscle therapy and your hair, cold exposure has been shown to have a significant effect on fat loss, and I’m not just talking about calories burned while shivering. Recently, we’ve discovered a hormone called Irisin that gets produced during exercise. This hormone converts your static White Fat to a more active and burnable, brown colored fat with a creative name: Brown Fat. You know what else produces irisin? Cold exposure. A cold shower in the morning could theoretically prepare my fat to be burned more efficiently throughout the day. I know what you’re thinking, and yes this will be a horrible, painful experience, but perhaps I can circumvent the pain using techniques discovered by Wim Hof. Wim discovered a breathing method that supersaturates your body with oxygen, which increases the ph of your blood to a level at which your pain receptors stop working. He also claims with enough practice with his breathing method he can control subconscious processes such as his metabolism and his immune system. The reason why my quack meter didn’t explode is because he backs up these claims with scientific studies, most notably one where he taught a group of 12 people in just 2 weeks to control their immune system and fend off an infection. Oh yeah, he’s also climbed Mt. Everest in his shorts, so there’s that too. Though controlling your metabolism is something that would definitely help me, I feel like that might take a while to learn. For now I’ll breathe a few times and hopefully I can get through these cold showers pain free.
A 20 minute power nap has made the most significant improvement on my mental state and the explanation of why it works is probably the most interesting thing I’ve learned all year. Have you ever wondered why you feel refreshed after a nap? It’s as if your brain was filled with gunk and then took a bath and is now shiny and clean. Well it turns out this is not an analogy, this is exactly what happens and you probably have never heard about it because it was only discovered a couple years ago. The Glymphatic system is responsible for clearing metabolic waste from your brain and is activated during a nap. I was ecstatic when I first heard of this because it was completely congruent with my experience and explained why I could feel completely alert but have no problem falling asleep for a nap. This also explained why I sometimes felt that my head was “heavy” and mind was “cloudy” even though I did not feel tired. This flush only takes 10 minutes (after the 10 minutes it takes to fall asleep) and I feel this cloudiness melt away upon waking. It’s wonderful, I have a clear head and I’m able to focus for hours after without coffee.
Protein Fasting at Night
You can think of the protein in your body as origami, folded in different ways to produced different shapes for different purposes. Sometimes you eat a protein that never went through the folding process and just looks like a flat piece of paper. The body doesn’t have time to deal with this so it just tosses it to the side. Eventually you can get to a point where you have these scrap pieces of paper lying around everywhere. Fortunately, your body has a recycling process known autophagy that takes these abandoned unfolded pieces of paper and turns them into beautiful towering construction equipment. To initiate this autophagy process you need to not eat protein for several hours. I find the best way to do this is to just avoid it at night which works out well because I often get too hot and restless to sleep when eating lots of protein before bed, possibly due to the thermogenic response during metabolism.
I’ve built a spreadsheet (and working on a website) that calculates the total vitamin and mineral content of your daily diet (with the help of USDA databases) and flags any nutritional deficiencies in it. I’ve noticed a few interesting things, mainly the importance of taking multivitamins of a low calorie diet. When you take in less food, though you take in less calories, you also take in less nutrients, the very thing that makes your body work properly. Like your car, your body also needs regular maintenance for your microscopic functions to work efficiently. For example, I noticed a very strong correlation between taking a multivitamin or two before sleeping and waking up feeling absolutely fantastic. This means waking up and feeling groggy has to be due to some sort of nutrient deficiency, though I’m not sure which in particular so I’ll just make sure all my deficiencies are low so that I cover all my bases, not just to improve wake up energy but all other daily processes as well. Furthermore, a common mistake of low carbers is to underestimate the amount magnesium, potassium and sodium they need and so they develop what is known as “keto flu” which often leads to them giving up the diet. Extra sodium is quite easy to take in and handful of flax seeds will give you your daily intake of magnesium but potassium, however, is very hard to supplement. Multivatims and even specialized supplements usually only provide up to 2% of your daily needs of potassium, capped by law because overdosing is extremely dangerous. Even the highly praised potassium god: The All Glorious Banana will only provide you with 25% of you daily intake. And to avoid coming down with keto flu I might need to eat 25% more. Now as much as you may enjoy the thought of me downing 5 bananas every day I might have to go with alternate routes, like shooting a solution of water and cream of tartar (potassium bicarbonate) or using low sodium salt (potassium chloride) in my cooking.
Avoiding Dopamine Binging
Instant gratification corrodes the mind. They call an addiction to dumb memes and social media a novel pixel addiction. After a while, my brain starts to deteriorate and I seek out anything that would move the corner of lips outward by a couple nanometers. I suspect this also contributes to the brain gunk I was talking about earlier because it physically manifests as a feeling of your brain getting “heavy”, although the term “brain fog” is probably more used in academia. This is the feeling that goes from 100 to 0 real quick after taking a nap. Just like any other addiction, the more you indulge this small dopamine spike the more you need to achieve the same high. The best way to avoid this downward spiral is to avoid dopamine binging all together. Since I can pretty much reset these dopamine levels after sleeping I will restrict any social media/memeing activity to right before napping or sleeping and try to keep my mornings free of any activities that last less than an hour.
An Average Day
Though I do anticipate some hiccups, I will try to roughly stick to this schedule for the whole 30 days:
- 7:00 am:
- Measure glucose
- Measure ketones (first two weeks)
- Measure weight
- Measure waist circumference
- Wim Hof breathing exercises
- Cold shower
- Can of salmon with MCT oil and Chimmichurri sauce
- Roughly 30g-40g protein (i.e. 200g ground beef)
- Roughly 2:1 Fat/Protein ratio by calories, 1:1 by weight
- This will be something different every week and made in bulk on Sunday
- Salad with high fat dressing (Caesar)
- Power Nap
- Hot shower (I feel way more creative after a hot shower, and apparently so do a lot of people)
- Measure glucose
- Measure ketones (first two weeks)
- Mixed leaves
- Ground flax seeds
- Olive oil dressing
- 12:30 am:
For snacks I’ll either have nuts, porkrinds or processed meats as directed by my cravings.
From this, my diet breakdown (sans snacks) should roughly be the following:
- Calories: 1300
- Fat: 102g (71%)
- Carbs: 6g (2%)
- Protein: 90g (28%)
- Omega-3 to Omega-6 Ratio: 2.1
Obviously the snacking will ruin all of this but hopefully I’ll get to a point where I won’t get any cravings because my body will be snacking on it’s own reserves.
Apart from the full body workout in a couple days to deplete my glycogen reserves, I won’t be going to the gym until the end of the month. This is mostly because I want to study the effects of muscle loss on a ketogenic diet. If I’m not providing my body with glucose and it doesn’t want to dip into it’s starvation supply (my belly) it can always convert my muscles into glucose. Initially this will be the go-to glucose source for my body and slowly it will taper off to preserve muscle tissue, but the question is when. Since I’m already avoiding protein at night, this is a good opportunity to test my hypothesis that GNG (gluconeogenesis AKA the process that converts protein into glucose) can be measured indirectly by taking Fasting Blood Sugar measurements in the morning. If my FBS is high even after depleting my glycogen it means that GNG is underway to make up the glucose deficit. If my FBS is very low and I don’t feel like dying it means that my own body fat is making up the deficit. At the end of the month, I’ll try to do the exact same workout, using the exact same equipment in the same order to document how much muscle was lost… or gained? No but really it’ll probably be a loss.
I’ve built a tasker app that prompts me every hour on the hour to evaluate 5 aspects of my mental state:
- Focus: How easy would it be to write or read something for an hour right now
- Restlessness: Sometimes I feel the need to bounce my legs or twirl pens as if my body is reaching max capacity of energy and it’s desperately trying to get rid of it. How antsy do I feel right now?
- Eyelid Heaviness: How badly do I want to sleep right now?
- Head Heaviness: How cloudy and heavy does my head feel?
- Cravings: How bad do I have the munchies? This value should give me a good indication of how low I am on calories. Note, this is purely for high fat, salty, crunchy things. I’m not monitoring my sweet tooth because frankly I’ve never had a sweet tooth, before or after I started low carb dieting, and I doubt I’ll have one now even after completely cutting out carbs. I’ll make sure to make a note of it however if I do.
These values will be uploaded and plotted in real time to a graph on google docs. Since I am undergoing such a distinct change in diet I wanted to monitor my mind on a micro level. I do foresee this being very annoying however so I may just keep this for the first two weeks, which should be ok because it should only take a couple weeks for my mental state to stabilize.
- Fasting blood sugar in morning and again in evening
- Fasting blood ketones in morning and again in evening (first two weeks only because the test strips ain’t cheap)
- Weight and waist circumference in the morning
- Weekly totals
- Weekly averages
- Money spent/saved
- Creative project updates
- General Notes
Hype is a dangerous thing. In an effort to curb confirmation bias, I’ll try to be extra precise when comparing before and after pictures. Because it’s so easy to just suck in your gut and say you’ve lost weight I’ll control that variable by comparing the extremes: One picture with my gut pushed out and one with my gut sucked all the way in. Also, because clothing tightness changes the perception of someones body fat composition I’ll be using the same white compression shirt for my before and after pictures. And of course, I’ll try to duplicate the lighting and setting as well.
Obviously It would be disingenuous to take before pics on new years day so I’ll give myself a couple days to return to baseline. I’ll take initial conditions on the 2nd officially start on the 3rd with a full day fast and full body workout. Should be fun.
So there it is, no alcohol, no carbs, all work for one month. If my preschool calculations are correct, this should render me a dull boy. I’ll be posting updates every week so follow this blog if you’re interested in my progress/regression down several levels of hell. Or just come come back here in a month. I promise I’ll have some juicy graphs for you to satisfy your geeky urges. I’m very interested in how well this is all going to work. I’ve tried all the previously mentioned hacks with positive results, albeit individually and within short durations. If they all work synergistically like I’m hoping for I might have to continue this diet for another month, or perhaps indefinitely.