Nothing in this post should be considered advice. I am comfortable running personal experiments on myself and in my life and acknowledge the increased risk that this implies. You are responsible for making your own decisions and you should seek appropriate advice for any changes you’re seeking to make. This post is predominately to document my own experiences and rationale
This post is a continual work in progress, it may change at any time, if it does I’ll aim to keep a changelog up to date, I won’t update the changelog for inclusion of additional data in the results section or additions to the result log.
Table of Contents
- How does a Low Carb diet work?
- Measuring Results
- Body Composition
- Physical Performance
- Mental Performance
- Conclusion and Recommendations
- Eight Week Summary
- Experiment Log
- 2021-11-02: Initial writing and publication
- 2021-11-16: Weekly result summaries and updating results
- 2021-12-10: Eight week summary of the results added
- 2022-02-04: Shifted plots to use an Exponentially Weighted Moving Average (EWMA) with a 20D span. Updated log with
- Increase physical and mental performance through the adoption of a low carbohydrate diet.
- Improve aesthetic appearance through retaining muscle at leaner (lower fat) body weight
- Increase mental clarity and overall mental health
- Reduce stomach issues relating to food choices (bloating, stomach pain etc)
I’ve been getting fatter over time. It kind of sucks? The more I weigh the harder it is to do some of the things that I actually like to do. I’ve also been feeling fairly poor about my overall physical appearance and my clothes have been starting to fit more poorly over time. So, it’s probably time to make some sort of change before this becomes too late.
This long term trend was exacerbated during the 5th/6th Melbourne lockdown which ran from the 15th July to around 30th October as per Lockdown Stats Melbourne. Throughout this period, to maintain some semblance of mental health I basically removed all dietary restrictions and have been eating whatever/whenever I feel like along with a lot of carbohydrate based food and in particular baked goods. Pastries are delicious, who would have thought.
Throughout this period I also put on ~5-7kg (ideal weight of ~80-82kg) to reach about 87-88kg on average subject to day to day fluctuations. Weight peaked at about 90kg. Throughout this period, the closure of almost all physical activities (such as gyms) and imposition of a curfew (9pm) and a lockdown radius (5km) led to a substantial decline in physical activity and perceived loss of muscle mass as well. As such, my working assumption is that I likely put on more than 5-7kg of fat and lost some muscle along the way as well. Conservatively, I’d put this at about 2-3kg of muscle lost which brings the fat gain to 7-10kg in this case. Less than ideal and it’s going to be a bit of a slog to get rid of it and rebuild the muscle.
I have always been interested in body experimentation, I want to know what makes me feel better and helps me to perform well. To understand this, I need data. Subjective feelings are always momentary and making decisions on the basis of how I feel at a moment in time is filled with error.
I’ve noticed that I’m typically more ambitious, more extroverted and in better physical condition when I’m leaner. I’ve been on lower carb diets in the past but I’ve never really embraced them as a lifestyle, they were always something temporary for me, a means to an end as a “diet” as opposed to a conscious decision as to how I want to live my life.
This time, I’m looking for something which I can maintain a bit more permanently, something which I can simply incorporate into my life and not something I’d view as a diet. I have a dim view of the idea of the concept of “longing” for a change. If I’m longing for something then my current trajectory is likely to be unsustainable. Willpower is finite. As such, it would be a failure if I was to place myself in a continual state of restriction.
If I look at society in general most people are pretty fat. What we’re eating and doing seems to be causing it and the health advice doesn’t really seem to work here? We’ve had decades of conflicting information about fat, sugar, salt, refined carbs, processed food, meat, protein all coming out of the nutrition establishment. As an institution, they haven’t conducted themselves well at all in this regard. They’ve been quick to pronounce “the one true way” on the basis of limited study data and inadequate theory and information. The science is always changing, which is good, science should be always adapting, but, as an institution, prominent people have been quick to rush to judgements that have later proven false.
Reading the works of Gary Taubes (Why We Get Fat, Good Calories Bad Calories, The Case Against Sugar), Michael Moss (Salt, Sugar, Fat), Scott Carney (What doesn’t kill us), Josh Waitzkin (The Art of Learning), Naomi Oreskes (Merchants of Doubt), Steven Kotker (The Rise of Superman), Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene), Taleb (Antifragile, Fooled by Randomness), Donella Meadows (Thinking in Systems), Dan John (Never Let Go), Jeff Volek (The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance) and I’m sure many others that are too many to list has given me an appreciation for:
- Questioning sweeping generalisations
- Self exploration and experimentation to determine what works with regards to diet
- The effect of the environment on us
- The relative ineffectiveness of the energy balance hypothesis to explaining overall health outcomes
- The poor practice of applying societal metrics of health to an individual (such as BMI)
- The effect of hormonal imbalances on the human body
- The role that our genetic make up plays
At the moment I’m pretty fascinated with how different, performance oriented, sub groups are able to achieve differing levels of performance. I’ve become sceptical of the longer term effects of remaining in a long term high energy availability state induced by frequent feeding of carbohydrate into the body. Fasting appears to be positively linked to longevity and I typically drift towards the 16-8/leangains protocols as popularised by Martin Berkhan. I appreciate that these approaches are not for everyone but it’s my body and my life and I can experiment with the net effect on the body.
This will not be a fully controlled randomised trial. It can’t be. I am making an in situ lifestyle change and I am both the subject and the researcher. I cannot disentangle myself from the results or the process along the way. That being said I have been thinking a lot about how to actually measure the results along the way.
One of the most challenging elements when undertaking a body experiment is how to know that it’s working. Feelings are always inherently subjective, you might be experiencing a positive overall gain in your physical health but the mental toll that it’s taking might be leading to the subjective feeling of misery. When we think about the efforts we’ve been putting in it is the mental distress that comes to mind first and foremost. We don’t even think about the results at all, we just remember how we feel.
The implication here is that maintaining our mental sanity first and foremost is crucial to long term success. In my view this is the number one reason why lifestyle changes never seem to stick. We’re all just remembering our feelings towards a particular subject. How are we able to understand the actual objective results?
To do this I think that actual data is required to supplement the temporary emotional feelings that are being experienced. The emotional experiences are important, life is a series of emotional experiences but in this case I want to work with real data. The challenge, is that collecting data is expensive. Not just in financial terms but also in terms of the time taken to collect the information itself and then analyse it. Data acquisition is something that should be entered into sparingly and chosen appropriately.
Key criteria for me are:
- How easy is the data to collect?
- How reliable is the measurement? Is it accurate? Is it noisy?
- How easy is the data to analyse and extract meaningful insights from?
- How much time will be spent analysing the data?
- Can data collection be automated?
Results should also be measured across a number of areas. I am interested in:
- Body Composition - Amount of body weight I’m currently holding and the various compositions of that weight. Subjective view of appearance, aesthetics etc
- Biomarkers - Various blood tests etc such as ketones
- Physical Performance - Strength, cardiovascular performance, endurance
- Mental Performance - Ability to concentrate for long periods of time and achieve complex tasks
- Inputs - Measuring what I’m putting into my body/time spent doing various activities
The thing I most want to avoid is the quantified self dilemma. I don’t want to be recording a ton of information and then not use it to adjust what I’m doing. This is outlined by Gwern in his Zeo sleep experiments as the following loop:
- Have an idea
- Gather data
- Test the data
- Make a change; GOTO 1
Most people never do 4). I would also posit that most people never do 1) either. Most people following this are stuck in the cycle of gathering and testing data without any additional context.
The options available to me as a home practitioner are:
Measure your body weight. Care needs to be taken to ensure this is always done under equivalent conditions to ensure accuracy. There’s no point weighing yourself at different times of day and different conditions. The data will be too noisy. I recommend first thing in the morning after you’ve taken a piss.
Weighing yourself is good as you can catch trends relatively quickly but it can also be a psychological trap if the number isn’t going in the direction that you want it to. This can create a self defeating psychological trap where the number is the only thing that matters whereas the number is usually a side effect of what you want.
Conclusion: Recommend daily with caveats around not reading too much into the data.
Take measurements of different parts of the body using a tape measure. This can then be compared against a look up table or an “idealised” set of measurements to see how you’re tracking. It’s a low cost methodology that needs a small amount of skill to apply (you need to be able to measure in the same place each time).
Overall, it’s a simple and effective measurement of the human body which will correlate directly to what you’re trying to achieve (e.g. bigger chest, smaller waist, bigger biceps etc).
Conclusion: Recommend at a weekly or a monthly duration
One of the most popular methods on the internet. So popular that there’s now a subclass of people who try to fake these photos through water/salt manipulation to do their before and after bodies. The technique, done properly, is simple. Take photos from a series of angles over times in repeatable conditions to minimise the variation caused by exogenous factors.
Ultimately, this will provide a subjective measure of you’re overall aesthetics and as this directly correlates with what most people are trying to achieve taking progress photos is often an excellent idea.
Conclusion: Recommend at a weekly or a monthly duration
Skin Fold Measurements
This is a tried and tested method that has been around for decades (if not centuries). The concept is simple, a number of skin fold tests are made with callipers at key sites around the body. These measurements are then compared against a pre-calibrated look up table to determine the subjects body fat percentage. The most common methodology is the Jackson and Pollock 3 site test. In males, you measure three sites around the pec, abdomen and thigh to determine the result. This is then run through a formula (which is in essence a calibrated data fit) to determine the body fat percentage.
The downside is that you have to know how to take the measurements and the measurements are best taken by somebody else. You can do it but it’s a bid fiddly. You’ll also need the lookup tables and some callipers.
Ultimately a reasonable solution if you’re looking to get an indicative look at body fat. Recommend getting a decent set of callipers though.
Conclusion: Recommend at a monthly duration only if you’re comfortable taking repeated measurements
Scans (DEXA and mfBIA)
You can get professional scans done, the “gold standard” being DEXA which isn’t available to me due to government regulations (I know). The alternative that they offer is something called multi-frequency Biological Impedance Analysis. In essence, they run small electrical currents through your body and measure the resistance. The amount of water in your body impacts the current flowing through your body and this information is used to determine a patients body fat.
The theory is that body fat doesn’t contain water whereas muscle/lean mass does. The more fat you have the more the current is impeded essentially.
The challenge of this type of analysis is how do you convert it to a body fat measurements? The answer, calibration against a DEXA machine. The problem, is that the mfBIA machines appear to be calibrated against the average population and not the athletic population. A quick pubmed search indicates that mfBIA just doesn’t seem to work \for athletes but that it’s good enough for the average population. In particular, it seems to underestimate body fat consistently.
Conclusion: Recommend DEXA, don’t recommend mfBIA style measurements for the athletic population. Cost is a concern.
These are devices available for the home that use the same technology as the BIA scan above. A small electrical impulse is sent through the body and is used to determine how much muscle and fat that a person has. One of the leading brands is Tanita and they’ve provided a nifty explanation as to how the technology works here.
Some precursory analysis indicate that the scales themselves are actually reasonably accurate. However, some studies indicate that it may not be accurate for assessing highly trained (and presumably lower fat?) Judo Athletes.
As these scales typically run for around $300-$800 AUD for one of the Tanita one and I have concerns about the efficacy of their measurements in athlete populations I’m not going down this path.
Conclusion: Don’t recommend due to cost and concerns about accuracy, particularly in athletic populations.
It’s possible to measure ketones accurately through a blood test, in fact, this is required for many people who have diabetes. Nutritional ketosis is defined as having a blood ketone range >0.5mmol/L in the blood.
The tests themselves are simple. Lance your finger, put a keto strip in the device and take the blood measurement to see the result. Record the data. Done.
I use the Freestyle Optimum Neo which is a device predominately for diabetes but it’s simple to get the data out for other purposes. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any “non invasive” methods of measuring blood ketones outside of the blood tests.
As blood ketone measurement is a key component of understanding whether you’re in nutritional ketosis and takes a lot of the guess work away I’d strongly recommend measuring it.
Conclusion: Recommend every 1-2 days dependent on your comfort with doing blood tests. Cost of this approach is ~$1/day ongoing.
Similar to the blood test but a less invasive measure. Keto Stix are the brand name of a urine based reactive test. If you’ve ever done a litmus test in high school chemistry the concept is simple. A special reagent strip that will react to different amounts depending upon the level of ketones in your urine is used.
You piss on the stick and then assess it against a calibration chart by the colour that it turns.
Conclusion: Recommend if not comfortable doing blood tests
Sleep tracking is actually really really hard to do well. In fact, I can’t actually find any consumer versions of sleep tracking behind the popularised fitness watches which mostly work off movement through accelerometers. It turns out, that it’s actually really hard to work out whether you’re asleep or not unless you actually strap electrodes to your brain.
The sleep metrics popularised by devices such as the Apple Watch or Fitbit are just tracking how much you’re moving and seeking to infer whether you’re sleeping or not or what phase of sleep you’re in. They’re really inaccurate and you’re probably better off keeping a sleep journal instead to get more interesting information. You can find examples all over the internet but I’d recommend printing one out and having it beside your bedside table. This looks relatively in depth if you need somewhere to start from. I’d probably recommend developing your own as some of the questions just won’t be relative to you (e.g. I’m a non smoker who doesn’t drink).
Sleep tracking has the potential to be fantastic. Sleep is such a core part of human health that improving it is an absolute no brainer for the population. I wish there was more development in this space.
Conclusion: If desired, use a sleep journal and practice be diligent about the measurements. This is something that I think I’d look at in a different experiment, not part of this one.
The best method of tracking strength over time is to keep detailed training logs and create like for like comparisons of “rep maxes”. From here, you can try to calculate some form of overall “fitness metric” but as optimal fitness is entirely dependent upon your goals this won’t really work. An endurance athletes will have a different definition of fitness to a power lifter.
The key with training logs is to make it easy to record data first and foremost. It shouldn’t be complex to keep a record of what you’re doing. If it is, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Conclusion: Should do for every workout
VO2 Max sounds complex but it refers to the maximum rate at which your body can use oxygen during exercise. Higher VO2 Max = more oxygen = better ability to maintain a high level of cardiovascular performance. VO2 max is a good measure of your aerobic system but isn’t really applicable for strength based sports.
There’s a lot of smart devices that claim to test VO2 max. I’m currently unsure of the accuracy of these devices. I wouldn’t consider them to be hugely accurate as the standard laboratory test for VO2 max testing involves a face mask, heart rate monitoring and exercising the subject to exhaustion.
Conclusion: Difficult to test, likely better off by comparing against other meaningful benchmarks such
Experience Sampling Methodology
A method popularised by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his pioneering studies on Flow. You carry a notebook and a pager (or equivalent). Each time the pager goes off you fill out a predetermined set of questions about what you’re doing and how you’re feeling in the moment itself. The methodology is effective but involved. A lot of the responses are fuzzy and require a lot of labour to understand. You need to transcribe results etc.
Platforms like Samply may make this simpler. There are also commercial alternatives as well but getting them set up is beyond the scope of what I’m looking at here. Something I might consider in the future.
Conclusion: Could be effective but too involved to set up at this stage. Potentially look at later.
Deep Work Tracking
Using Deep Work in the guise that’s been popularised by Cal Newport you can track the amount of time each day that you’re spending on the high impact activities that make your life more meaningful and your at high productivity.
Conclusion: Could be effective but not meaningful to the experiment itself
Calorie and Macronutrient Records
Keeping a detailed food diary and computing the calorie and macronutrient contents of the food is the traditional method of adjusting body composition. The theory is simple, by understanding what the inputs to the body are it should be possible to work towards a predetermined output.
Fundamentally, this rests upon the assumption of an energy balance in the human body which is consistent with thermodynamics. Adherents to this approach will typically apply a “Calories In vs Calories Out” (CICO) approach to dieting.
Personally, I find calorie and macro counting to be an effective but tedious way of gathering data. It is very difficult to keep detailed records of everything that you eat and you will need to weigh everything that you’re eating. I have also found the sheer act of measurement to lead to a poor relationship with food as I try to “juggle” what I can fit into a calorie “budget”.
Conclusion: It works but it’s annoying, most beneficial when trying to construct a baseline of your macro intake using a typical days eating with no judgement. I suspect there would be a lot more benefit for me personally with a random sampling method as opposed to a consistent journal. Keep it as a tool in the arsenal.
Energy Levels (Subjective)
The concept of energy levels has been hugely popularised in the diet and exercise industries. People tend to rave about their “increased” energy but there doesn’t really exist any real definition as to what this actually means.
I would loosely define this as “the motivation and willingness to do things” and suspect that the purported increase may be both temporary and a result of the participant deciding to take more control over their life.
Conclusion: Impossible to measure
Conclusion and Final Recommendations
Ultimately, when measuring something it’s important to understand how the measurement relates to the overall objective. Measuring something for the sake of measurement itself won’t really provide any clarity at all and will likely just confuse me. I want my measurements to have a high degree of correlation and predictive power with respect to the things that I’m interested in.
My key interests are:
- Body Composition
- Physical Performance
- Mental Performance
For body composition the easiest to measure are weight and tape measurements of the various limbs and body parts. Weight is useful as it can be done daily with tape measurements weekly. Progress photos can be taken weekly, no real need to see the day to day fluctuations but the resolution needs to be high enough to keep the motivation levels high. Skinfold measurements are too annoying for me to make, they’re hard and fiddly to get right. mfBIA is another option, it has a higher cost but it does give the benefit of some “raw” numbers to look at which is often quite nice.
As such, the priority would be:
- Daily - Weight
- Weekly - Progress Photos + Tape Measurements
- Monthly - Skinfold Measurements?
For Physical Performance the best thing to measure is my actual physical performance. Unfortunately, I’ve always had a bit of a dislike of tracking workouts on spreadsheets and the like but I might have to suck this up and get some decent records for awhile to see how this shakes out. Complicating the problem is that I’m coming off a COVID lockdown induced lethargy so I’m starting at a low base. A lot of the initial results are likely to just be recovery gains.
- Intermittent Fasting for ~16-18h per day (this isn’t part of ketosis, it’s just what I’m used to)
- Non strict Paleo(ish) low carbohydrate diet seeking to retain under <50g carbohydrate content in the diet each day
- Mostly non-processed food, non strict
- As much non-starchy vegetable as I want. Rule of thumb is “could I eat this raw” basically.
- No calorie counting (I find it tedious and I’m looking for something longer term)
- Don’t consciously try to restrict calories at all
- Don’t be a dick about gifts and special occasions
Measurements to take
- Weight -> Daily
- Blood Ketones -> Daily
- Tape Measure -> Weekly
- Progress Photos -> Weekly
This section contains aggregate analysed results as I develop them. For a running commentary throughout the experiment with my thoughts along the way you’re likely looking for the Experiment Log section. For data analysis at the moment I’m currently using the scientific python stack to analyse the data that’s been stored in CSV files. Most data recording is currently manual in a journal currently.
Weight measured daily and plotted using rolling average/min/max to showcase the range the body is going through over the past week or so. Individual days are plotted as dots without connecting lines to reduce visual clutter.
Serum blood ketones measured using an Optimum Neo Freestyle device and ketone strips. Am trying to consistently measure in the morning but am likely to miss days here and there. Nutritional ketosis is around the 0.5 to 1.0 mmol levels with moderate ketosis being the 1.0 to 3.0mmol levels. All measurements are done immediately upon waking in a fasted state.
Tape Measure Results
Eight Week Summary
After 8 weeks following a low carb diet the high level results are:
- Low carb feels like a super power
- I’m in the some of the best shape of the past five years even though I have suffered numerous setbacks including long working hours and a recurring rib injury.
- I have decreased between 6-8kg (13-17 pounds) from my peak and managed to consistently lean out.
- Blood ketones have been stable at ~0.3mmol/L, I do not seem to go higher than this on my current diet which might be something to tweak in the future.
- I haven’t experienced much diet driven fatigue beyond normal conditions where poor sleep has occurred.
- Mentally, energy levels are fairly consistent without any major swings.
- Am able to fast for long periods of time effortlessly, don’t think about food as much.
- Stomach bloating/pain has almost completely disappeared, some foods still exacerbate it but it’s basically a solved issue for me.
- Occasional drops in mental energy, seems to be driven by lack of sleep/too much stress more than anything.
- Mental health has remained high though, haven’t experienced any major depressive episodes over the past 8 weeks.
- Confidence is higher and I feel a lot better about my body.
- My cardio has improved and in particular my ability to go on long runs has sky rocketed. With very little training my distance has essentially doubled.
- My handbalancing has improved including regaining a handstand pushup, handstand press and hitting my best ever 1 arm handstand
- Strength has remained high, I haven’t seen a major drop off in any of the weight that I’ve been able to lift.
- Bodyweight exercises are almost effortless now
Aesthetics and Appearance
- ~5-6cm has dropped off my waist measurement whilst retaining size on legs/arms/chest.
- Visual aesthetics have improved, noticeable V-Taper, clothing now fits better and I’m starting to see definition in the obliques and “all day” abs as opposed to just seeing them in the morning.
- Will need to tailor all of my clothes again as they’re almost too loose now which is a good problem to have
- Have still gone to various events both work and personally
- Food options are very limited at most events
- Have taken a “forest not the trees” approach and recognised that these won’t be perfect
- It’s interesting but most restaurants revolve around creative ways to present and prepare carbohydrate
Week One: 17th October to 23rd October
- Weight Changes: Started ~87kg, finished ~85kg
- High Level Summary: Starting the process initial gains experienced
Dropped off a substantial amount of water weight in the first week, about 2kg in total.
The body shed a lot of the water it was holding relatively quickly whilst I just tried to embed habits in and keep fluids up. Have noticed a reduction in stomach issues as well, I am experiencing less bloating and less flatulence as well which has been a positive change.
Mental performance has been fine, still able to concentrate fully and if anything I’ve been slightly more motivated than usual.
Physical performance has been good as well, performance highest in mornings when fasted (no loss in strength etc here) and has been declining into the evening.
Largest change has been an impact on my sleeping habits. I’m finding it a lot easier to wake up and get out of bed in the morning. Previously I was struggling to get out of bed prior to 8-8.30am each day whereas I’m now bouncing out of bed at around 7am without an alarm.
Diet wise I have shifted to eating mostly grilled/BBQ meat with salad style vegetables and supplemented by higher fat cheeses (because cheese is delicious). Haven’t tracked any calories at all, have purchased some more blood ketone monitoring strips for the Optimum Neo which I’m waiting to arrive. Key challenge at the moment seems to be getting enough calories as the food I’ve been eating is naturally more satiating and lower caloric density than carbs tend to be.
Was trying to drink as much electrolytes as I could to ensure my salts were staying high. Low carb diets typically suck initially not from the calorie deprivation but from the electrolyte loss associated with losing water. There’s some evidence out there that a lot of the “keto/low carb flu” is driven by a lack of salt. Robb Wolf has documents this more extensively here and here. The science here seems to be a bit more unsettled, a lot of the research seems to point to this paper which examined different health outcomes and showed that medium salt is better than low or high salt for overall health outcomes. Still more research required.
From O’Donnell et al, Urinary sodium and potassium excretion and risk of cardiovascular events. It’s key to beware the man of one study here though.
Week Two: 24th October to 30th October
- Weight Changes: Started ~85kg, finished ~84kg
- High Level Summary: Body beginning to adapt to the changes, seeking to embed in processes and manage residual cravings.
Am seeking to embed the habits now and maintain over a longer term. Weight has dropped down to about 84kg on a sustaining basis (day to day fluctuations are common still). I’m still seeking to fine tune the water/electrolyte balance at the moment. Overall pretty good but water retention is still (visibly) changing each day.
Adherence is still pretty easy at the moment. I’ve been relying upon nuts (Almond/Pecan/Walnut) and eggs as my predominant snack of choice at the moment. I’m still intermittent fasting as well which makes it a lot easier as I’m getting most of my food in a limited window which helps with hunger management etc.
Weight has fluctuated a lot more but appears to be stabilising between 84 and 84.5kg at the moment which would imply ~500g of weight loss here.
Physical performance still strong, able to snatch a 20kg kettlebell easily and efficiently for reps and time. No issue walking/cycling in terms of losing energy or extreme fatigue either.
On a more macro level, the Melbourne lockdown finally started to lift on the 30th October with gyms and other activities starting to re-open. It will be interesting to see how my strength levels are again. Am going to be focussing mostly on gymnastics/strength activities again which will be a transition from the mostly kettlebell work I’ve been able to do at home.
Have also been researching low carb social/restaurant alternatives as well as this can often be toxic to maintaining something longer term.
Week Three: 31st October to 6th November
- Weight Changes: Started ~84kg, finished 83.3kg
- High Level Summary: Feeling good, seeing real visible results, energy levels feel fine
Had my first few gym sessions this week which was good. Getting back into working on barbell overhead presses, squats, rows as well as front levers and pull ups again. It’s nice being back in the gym but the DOMS is pretty bad.
Also starting to see some more visible results and the weight started ticking down again into the 83.x kg range which was interesting to see. On a subjective level, I’ve found the fasting incredibly easy to do lately, easily able to go until 1-2pm in the afternoon without feeling the need for food at all. I’m unsure as to the phenomenon here but suspect it’s due to blood sugar stabilising so my body isn’t sending any crazy hunger signals. If anything, I’m barely hungry at all and I probably need to convince myself to eat more.
Blood ketosis measurements indicated that I ticked into nutritional ketosis on the 5th/6th November at 0.5 and 0.6 mmol/L respectively. Weight has also finished the week at ~83.3kg and am starting to visibly lean out. In the progress photos which I’ll eventually work out a format for posting the definition in the back in particular is starting to come back. Tape measurements indicate that I’ve dropped about an inch on the waist which is a good outcome.
Mentally, haven’t experienced any decline. Brain fog is completely gone and I’m able to concentrate for long periods of time. No issues meditating. Sleep is still a little bit wonky though, I think this is more due to other lifestyle factors but it could be diet.
Socially, have been out to a couple work events this week. Coke No Sugar is a wonderful drink and is usually the best option albeit I think the caffeine wrecks my sleep a bit. I do need to get a better cover story for conversation as to why I’m not drinking or eating chips.
Overall, happy with how the week has gone diet wise and the results are beginning to show through. Looking forward to seeing how this progresses.
Week Four: 7th November to 13th November
- Weight Changes: Started ~83.3kg, bounced around a bit, finished at 83.5kg
- High Level Summary: Ended the week feeling a little sluggish, visible results starting, weight bouncing around.
Dropped out of ketosis and put a bunch of water weight on at the start of the week. I haven’t really been able to work out a major reason why at this stage in the process. Diet wasn’t great but nor was it terrible as well, probably not enough to explain such a drop after the week of solid progress.
Had my first week back fully in the gym running through full sessions at probably 80-90% capacity. The surprising thing about this is even though I had been awake at 6am, had only eaten a small lunch and it was 6pm at night when I started training I felt fantastic. Strength was good, endurance was good, motivation was good. I didn’t feel foggy or lethargic at all in the gym.
In the latter part of the week I started to feel a bit more fatigue in general, I’m attributing this to a lack of sleep if I’m being honest. Weight dipped down to 83.0kg at the low point for the week and blood ketones at 0.6 on the day. Continually seem to be just entering the nutritional ketosis point before leaving it again.
No significant measurements on waist/hips/chest measurements at all and progress photos were inconclusive. There’s still a degree of fat around the lower abdomen/back that’s the most visible. Albeit some of this may be due to a degree of bloating.
Mentally, still okay, I’m a bit sluggish in the mornings at times but at work it has felt fine. No real brain fog at all. The morning sluggishness I’d just put down to my caffeine addiction and general poor sleeping habits versus anything diet related.
Week Five: 14th November to 20th November
- Weight Changes: Hovering in the low 31s
- High Level Summary: Kind of cracked it a little bit with electrolyte depletion it seems.
The most surprising and pleasing development this week was the return of my ability to handstand press as well as baby one arms. Being a bit lighter causes less impact on my wrists and lets me enter into the moves a bit more deeply. I haven’t really done any major training outside of timed holds for my handstand so I’m attributing this to the reduction in body weight at the moment as most of the other variables have remained fairly constant.
Have tapered off the electrolytes recently (due to running out) and I’m unsure if that was a good idea. Have put in an order for some Ultima Replenisher to see if that helps. It has good reviews from various sources so it’s going to be interesting to see if I feel a change. Will report back on this one.
Weight wise I had the first day below 83.0 kg this week. Likely due to shedding some water but progress is progress. The rough “walking around weight” that I’m aiming for is ~80.0-81.0kg at the moment which should leave me relatively lean. This is in line with set point theory which I need to do some more research into. My broad aim is to hold the body there for a period of time in order to see if I can create a new set point at a leaner level.
Week Six: 21st November to 27th November
- Weight Changes: Hovering in the 82.x kg range
- High Level Summary: Fixed the Electrolytes, hit lowest weight in years, hitting goals
Turns out the Electrolytes really are key when dropping into a low carb situation. Have added back in a couple servings of either Hydralite or the Ultima Refresher each day and noticing some really good results.
This week I also wrote out a gym plan and started executing on it according to the plan. In the good news I hit:
- My best ever one arm handstand hold, getting to 3s on my right side
- Multiple solid handstand presses
- HSPU’s for doubles
- Restored my L-Sit to 15s
- Straddle Front Lever coming back
- Overhead Press at 75kg for reps
- 5km run (slow speed)
All in all I can comfortably say that I haven’t had any strength or endurance related issues. I have noticed a bit of drop off in sustained power output, e.g. if I want to go for a fast run I would bonk around the 3km mark.
Unfortunately, in one of my sessions I also exacerbated a slipped rib (yes, I did get this diagnosed by a real doctor not an in person doctor) so I’ve been resting and hitting anti-inflammatories in order to calm it down. Looking to get back into training soon.
Of note, I haven’t technically got into nutritional ketosis (0.5mmol+) in awhile. I’m putting this down to the high protein content of my diet which I’ve been maintaining to help protect against muscle loss whilst my weight has been dropping down. This was interesting to me as it looks as though there’s a protein + carbohydrate limit in terms of nutritional ketosis versus just a carbohydrate limit, at least to me. An alternative explanation is that I’m able to get all of the benefits, energetically, at a much lower blood ketone level of 0.3-0.4mmol. I also had a ton of issue drawing enough blood for the test as well the last few days which has been irritating.
As I technically feel fine if my electrolytes are high I’m not too concerned about this but it might be worthwhile looking into dropping the protein back for a week to a lower level (and increasing the fats as well) in order to see if dropping into a deeper ketosis has a larger impact.
The plan for Week 7 is likely to be a bit more disrupted. I have a number of functions coming up at some very nice restaurants where I won’t be as strict on the diet. I find that it detracts from the experience and as I’m committing to this for the longer term it’s important to be able to still go to social events without being the odd one out. There’s more to life than just a diet.
As such, my goals for the next week are to; recover from the slipped rib, get as many training sessions in as this recovery permits, maintain electrolytes at a high level, don’t overeat at the functions (especially any desserts that might be there). Basically, keep the progress going again.
Week Seven: 28th November to 4th December
- Weight Changes: Bouncing between 82kg and 83kg
- High Level Summary: Rib injury prevented training for the week until Saturday morning, had a number of work social events with less than optimal diet and poor sleep
A bit of a “stay in place” week I’m afraid. Didn’t really bother to measure ketones or try to push anything too far. Mostly just tried to get through the social events successfully.
Not really a lot to report other than the slipped rib is feeling a lot better. Finished a training session and feel so much better mentally for it.
Week Eight: 5th December to 11th December
- Weight Changes: Weight stabilising in the low 82kg range. Dropped below 82kg for the first time
- High Level Summary: Hit a PB run (distance) of 6.2km, returned to exercise but exacerbated slipped rib which causes a set back. Tried to focus on remaining consistent on the diet.
From a training perspective this week had highs and lows. I managed to pull off a 6.2km run which, from checking my records, is my longest run in the past 8 years at least. Pretty interesting that it was relatively effortless to do as well which was pleasing. So long as I maintained the pacing in the right area it felt as if I could run for hours without too much strain.
In other training I slipped the rib again which was disappointing as I was looking forward to getting back into it. I’m trying to stretch and mobilise the area as well as look at how to strengthen the surrounding musculature a bit more.
Aesthetically speaking, I now have a nice V-Taper back and I’m starting to see definition in the obliques, the abs are also leaning out and becoming more defined as well. Face has also lost some of the extra weight which is making me look a little bit younger. Overall, I’d say it’s all looking good. Interestingly from a BMI perspective I’m still considered “overweight” even though I have a 81cm, 32 inch waist which goes to show the impact of the muscle that I’m carrying on my frame. I wish I could get a DEXA scan in my country still in order to be able to see the actual body fat results.
Mentally, maintaining a majority low carb diet isn’t really a strain any more. Of note, I don’t seem to go into moderate ketosis at all and instead hover at around 0.3mmol/L. This seems to be driven by the high protein content of the diet that I’ve adopted which may be just keeping me out of ketosis. As such, since I seem to be relatively consistent here in terms of day to day fluctuations I’ve dropped the ketone measurement down to twice per week from every day. The strips themselves cost money and the daily resolution on the blood ketones isn’t giving any relevant data.
Regardless, the results seem to be working for me. The days themselves are fairly consistent food wise, fasting until noon (with longer fasts being easy if desired) and then eating predominately greens/fatty meat and cheese like chicken thighs, lamb shoulder, salmon, steaks and feta cheese etc. I have eggs/bacon/nuts when I feel hungry and want some extra calories.
I’ve also been researching into various wearable devices, in particular to track sleep and heart rate variability (HRV). I’m looking for a general purpose metric of my recovery first and foremost to give myself a guide as to when to push/when to back off. The main players in this space seem to be the Whoop Band, Oura Ring and Fitbit. Unfortunately, they’re all pushing hard on the subscription model space which makes them less attractive. Fitbit is also now owned by Google which is unpleasant.
The Whoop Band is the most attractive to me in terms of design and functionality, I would like the Oura Ring but as most of my training is grip based I wouldn’t be able to wear it during exercise. As these devices use simplified metrics for calculating their recovery/strain this would throw off the accuracy too much. The Whoop Band is incredibly expensive though, in Australia it works out to between $24-$44/month for their subscription and if you stop subscribing it’s useless to you. The other option is to pick up the Withings Sleep Analyser mat as well as a Polar H10 and the EliteHRV app to track HRV and then try to work it out from there.
The other, more simplistic, option is just to keep more detailed notes of my recovery which is probably better overall and more nuanced than trying to fit everything into a single number. More effort though.
Week Nine: 12th December to 18th December
- Weight Changes: Weight stabilising at 82kg
- High Level Summary: Poor diet with social events on the lead into Christmas, couldn’t really call it low carb. Started training again, got a 6.6km run in.
Start training again after the rib injury. Have been able to get a couple long runs in as well as some handstands. Diet has deteriorated in the run up to Christmas with continual social events so this was pretty hit and miss on the diet front on this one.
Weight oscillated around the 82kg mark with some regularity. To be expected that no gains would be made here. What was a bit more disappointing was the amount of bloating/puffiness/fatigue that I experiences. As I let the diet go to shit the body seems to be reverting a touch. More work needed here.
Ended up going with the Polar H10 and the Withings Sleep Analyser versus the various bands/rings etc that are available. I’m just interested in sleep as well as heart rate variability and they both provide easy to consume and track scores that I can use. More testing required here.
Week Ten: 19th December to 25th December
Bad start to the week so far leading into Christmas. Now that I’ve had a few carbs in my diet again it seems like I’ve popped out of ketosis or something as I’m getting all of the cravings for sugar/caffeine/bread/everything at the moment. It’s not a good feeling at all right now and with Christmas and the holidays coming up this might deteriorate further.
Blood ketones measurement is low, almost nervous to check more.
Have also started keeping a record of the HRV score from the EliteHRV app as well as the sleep score from Withings. Going to use these as a general guide for how hard to push on the day. Might need some form of a system. Right now (22nd), they’re telling me to back off and just survive the day at the moment. Don’t stress about trying to do a ton. I will add some charts on these once I get some meaningful data on them that’s usable. With only a few days so far there’s not a lot of point displaying it.
On the running side I completed my longest ever run (7.4km) in a bit over 40 minutes which was awesome. I’m also going to try and do a one hour run on Christmas Day in the morning, just to see if I can break the one hour barrier at the moment.
On the Handstand front, my max handstand seems stuck at around 54s right now. Haven’t been able to get over the one minute barrier yet but I’m hopeful of achieving this soon.
Week Eleven: 26th December to 2nd January
- Weight Changes: Weight increased to mid 83kgs, assume water weight
- High level summary: Injured toe, christmas/new years shutdown and disruption of routine has impacted diet and training heavily. Need to reset and get back into it.
Have taken the week off from both training and dieting over the past week or so. There’s been a lot of icecream, some takeaway and very limited training. The chart itself showcases the damage on the rolling 7 day average which has started to reverse and is back to where it was at the beginning of December. Just goes to show how important consistency is on this one.
On a subjective level, I’ve felt more sluggish and unhealthy after letting the diet deteriorate which should probably tell me something. I can choose either the pain of discipline and doing the right thing or I can have pain forced upon me by my body feeling like shit/ The choice of discipline is probably a better one to experience at the moment.
Complicating this has been a toe injury, I kicked a door with my pinky toe, which has been quite painful. Potentially might even be broken and I’ll need to keep monitoring it, might need to go get it checked out if it doesn’t heal. I still have mobility in it but it feels quite tender to the touch which isn’t the best feeling in the world.
My goal for the next week or so is to get back into a semblance of training so that I can get back into the healthy habits. I need to get the diet back on track as soon as I can and get the routine back and running.
This has been coupled with a general feeling of being unproductive at the moment. I haven’t felt the desire to work at any of my hobbies or my job at all, probably the christmas slowdown hasn’t helped here but it’s something I’ll need to think about a bit more.
Weeks Twelve to Sixteen: 3rd January to 5th February
A lot has changed over the past month or so. I’ve really let the consistency down and starting to see the impact as a result. That slow, steady and insiduous weight gain of which so many of us are aware of. It started with Christmas, a very disrupted day due to COVID issues and continued into a pinky toe injury and a neck injury I incurred while riding my bike. This really set my running in particular back but also led to a lot of pain related motivational elements. It turns out when I’m in pain or feeling some form of mental distress that I tend to eat a lot more and drift towards easy, convenient carbohydrates. This is a mental thing rather than a physical thing. An emotional one.
The net result is that I weighed in this morning with a single (very noisy) measurement at 84.7kg. This is the highest that morning weight has been since October 2021 which isn’t a great feeling. I also haven’t measured any blood ketones since late December (as I wasn’t following a low carb diet I didn’t really see the point in confirming something that I already knew). Finally, I wasn’t updating the trend charts or the measurements at all, otherwise I would have seen the warning signs earlier.
Looking at the chart now it’s clear that there was a slow creep on the trend from early January, it’s been slowly creeping up and up, more days above the line than below the line and in an increasing fashion.
The good news is that I don’t think all of the gain has been pure fat. I’ve been very consistent with the training lately and have been putting up some very solid lifts again in the gym, particularly lower body lifts like squats and deadlifts. I know that if I can keep up the heavy training then I’m likely to come out a bit leaner.
I think I’ve been focussing a bit too much on handbalancing and in particular just working on holds. This doesn’t seem to be the most productive use of my time in this area and I likely need to focus on a more targetted training plan to work on my weak points (line work and endurance in particular). This means that I’m going to need to get back on the wall and put in some serious work here I think.
Ultimately, this is a good opportunity to reflect on what went wrong and what has been going right, to try to do a little less of the wrong and a little more of the right.
- Keep updating the trend line and the measurements frequently, I need visual feedback frequently
- Start to track calories again, I’m concerned that I’m not getting enough food when I’m on the diet which means I’m having to force through some low energy days which saps the willpower
- Keep being consistent in the training plan, work on making sure that I’m not getting injured at all.
- Start running once per week again at the long slow pace
- If I’m going to work on handbalancing then I need a consistent plan as to how to achieve the objectives
- Heavy lifts make me feel a lot better than bodyweight lifts, there’s more mental relief from a heavy deadlift than from a front lever.
- The main change I want to make this time is to track all of the calories using Cronometer to get everything in one place. I want to know when I’m hitting the carbohydrate targets and when I’m not getting enough calories in. It’s important to me to get this right otherwise I’m likely to continue feeling a bit emaciated here.
- Achieve this by planning out meals at the beginning of the week and adhering to the plan, aim to be a lot stricter on the low carb side of the equation here.
- Train heavily, aim for daily training here (reduced volume so I’m not crushing myself)
- Run once per week, nice and slow, seeking to go for extended time periods more than anything else, I need to keep myself in that nice fat burning zone
- Update this blog once per week with the results of my labours
- Start tracking ketones again once I’ve had 2-3 days consistently on the diet. Aim for every day, it’s more annoying but it helps to build a stronger habit and give more consistent feedback.