I am not a scientist; this is anecdotal.
I’m not going to try and buck the trend of claiming that 2016 was a shit year, but in terms of my own personal growth, it was among the best. I improved most of my personal relationships, cut a huge swath through my remaining school courses, and I’m generally very happy with my own life.
Maybe most significantly, I lost more than 20% of my bodyweight with basically zero effort. I started off 2016 hovering around 245 pounds and feeling miserable. Just before thanksgiving this year, my doctor marked me down at 192 pounds, with perfect blood pressure and cholesterol, which surprised me given that I had eaten four eggs cooked in butter with a side of bacon and coffee that morning. And the morning before that. And basically every morning this year.
If you’ve ever commented on my weight loss or brought up anything about dieting to me over the course of 2016, I’m sorry. I tend to go on and on about it all in person, but I’ve been quiet about it all online. I figured this would be a good time to write about it though, since people frequently try and lose weight around this time of year.
My diet was based on the Ketogenic plan – basically an extremely low-carb diet where you eat almost no sugar, forcing your body to burn fat for energy instead. Your body needs a little sugar to function, but when you stay below 15g-35g per day (depending on your goals, and your specific body chemistry) for a week or two at a time, your body is basically burning fat nonstop, whether you’re exercising or just sitting on your ass. Instead of using a constant stream of sugar for fuel, it taps into your reserves, and I had a LOT of reserves.
Now, sugar is in a LOT of foods. About half of all food options suddenly disappear. In exchange, you get to eat whatever you want from the other half of the spectrum. Fatty meats, cheeses, eggs, oily dressings, all the good stuff. You feel bad about not eating pizza until you remember that you can just eat a plate-full of cheese and pepperoni and you’re losing weight doing it.
Now, counting carbs is boring, but you need to do it for the first week or two until you get into a good rhythm. Past that point, I suggest just breaking your food into 3 categories:
Always – meats, cheeses, green leafy plants and vegetables, eggs,
Sometimes – some fruits, peanut butter, most sauces / salsas, alcohol
Never – Bread, beer, sugar, soda, cakes, crackers, ice cream, some fruits
Now I just know what I can pig out on, what I can occasionally eat, and what I just need to totally avoid.
The first two weeks are bad. For a while, your body will be constantly asking you for sugar in the form of being hungry, maybe even when your stomach is full. Some people get kind of sick during this time, and feel very drained.
After that initial “keto-flu” stage, it’s smooth sailing. At two weeks, I was considering giving up because I was eating all the time and couldn’t possibly be losing weight. After a month I started noticing the positive changes in my appearance. At two months, other people were taking notice. About four months in, I weighed myself for the first time and saw that I dropped nearly 35 pounds.
Now, full disclaimer – you will have a little less energy overall, but your energy levels are VERY constant. Rather than having spikes related to sugar all day, you just have one smooth stream of energy. I still find that I need to eat elevated sugar levels on days when I need strong focus – competitions, etc.
This is a good time to bring up cheat days. It is way better for you to have one day every two weeks where you totally break down and eat fettuccini alfredo with cake for dessert instead of eating a LITTLE too much sugar every day. The whole purpose of this diet is to break the pattern of eating sugar every day, and if you can get to the point where you’re past those daily cravings, you’ve won.
Now, one important note in regards to fiber: eat it. Eat a lot of it. You don’t need me to tell you what happens to your digestive system if you eat nothing but meat and cheese for weeks on end. The best source of fiber here is vegetables. When we measure carbs, we actually count NET carbs, which is the total grams of carbs minus the total grams of fiber – basically the stuff your body doesn’t process that just shoots out the other end. Vegetables are great for this. Salads with no-sugar dressings are great. I endorse this one: http://www.briannas.com/products/real-french-vinaigrette/
I don’t recommend sugar substitutes. Artificial sweeteners and the like tend to give me stomach problems. Don’t try and replace sugar – just avoid it.
What does my typical daily diet look like?
Breakfast – 3-4 eggs, cooked in butter with a diced meat or vegetable thrown in, sometimes bacon or sausage, black coffee
Lunch – Two fatty chicken hindquarters covered in spices and/or a salad with chicken or cheese added depending on how hungry I am
Dinner – some meat, either chicken or two cheeseburgers with a veggie side
Snacks – pickles, almonds, peanut butter, cheeses, veggies, berries, 2-3 times per day
Eating on the run is pretty easy too. I did the Chiptopia campaign pretty effortlessly this summer, eating this 36 times in 3 months:
Salad bowl, no rice or beans, chicken, fajita veggies, spicy salsa, guac, sour cream, extra lettuce, cheese
Other meal options:
Jimmy johns – Gargantuan unwich
Mexican restaurants – Fajitas, no rice beans or tortillas, extra veggies
Steak house – lol
Culvers / any fast food – Burgers with no bun (careful with sauces)
Even subway has salads that are actually pretty decent, better than their sandwiches, anyway
Once you get into it, you’ll be hungry less often. You’ll start craving fats instead of sugars, but your body will constantly be burning more fat than you put in. Combine this with a tiny amount of exercise for great results.
I wish I could better convey how easy this was, but I also have the privilege of working at home, so food prep is easy. That said, there’s really no reason you can’t make a bunch of food in advance and bring it with you.
I think one of the reasons that no diet before this one has ever really worked out for me is that they’re all based on little substitutions that are strict downgrades, or they just want you to eat less. Obviously eating less is ideal, but it’s also super hard if you’ve been training yourself to eat for fun for 30 years. This diet makes one huge change that you have to get used to for a while, but once you do, there is no restriction on your indulgences – add an extra scoop of sour cream here, order an extra side of bacon there, and it all still works out fine.
Finally, it helps out a lot if the people around you are supportive. My wife was very skeptical at first, worried that I was either going to hurt myself, or that our quality of life would take a hit with so many food restrictions. Turns out that it’s actually really easy to have one person eat spaghetti and meatballs while the other person just eats meatballs. Once she saw I was committed, she helped me out every step of the way, often making sacrifices so that I could stick to my plan. Find people in your life who are willing to help you out.
Finally, here’s a before and after. The first picture is from last August, where I was in that 240-250 range, and the second is me a few weeks ago, somewhere around 195. Change doesn’t have to be hard if you’re willing to look long-term. Make small sacrifices, get help from your friends, see big returns.