Before I start, let me just tell you a little bit about myself, My name is Andy Griffiths, I’m a Personal Trainer based in Total Fitness Chester. I come from a military background were I spent five and a half years in the Royal Welsh Infantry, I’ve been to places such as Afghan, Canada, Cyprus and Kenya. In the Army I was an All Arms Physical Training Instructor, so it was my job to make sure the Battalion was peak level ready for operations. I left the Army and continued to pursue my passion for health and fitness, I’ve done numerous seminars, YouTube and Facebook videos helping educate as many people as possible and debugging any myths out there. I give everyday busy people simplistic strategies to help transform their body composition and life. I make sure people get the results they have always wanted yet struggled to achieve. I do this by reducing stress levels, optimising hormones, improving biomechanics (movement patterns), building lean muscle tissue and changing lifestyle habits whilst making the journey fun and maintainable.
So, let me start by saying that there is no one diet that is perfect for everyone, everyone is different and we need to have a diet that we can stick to, optimises health markers and encourages good habits, replacing meals with so called healthy shakes is not a diet that encourages good habits and its not one that I would recommend.
The type of diet I will be talking about today is a Ketogenic diet.
What is a ketogenic diet?
A ketogenic diet is where you reduce your carbs (carbohydrates) to the point where your body stops using glucose/sugar (the break down of carbohydrates) as its main fuel source.
Normally, the carbohydrates in food are converted into glucose, which is then used to power the body and brain by circulating through the bloodstream and providing energy to cells. However, if the body is in ketosis, the liver converts fats into fatty acids and ketone bodies to be used for the same purpose, your body is now utilising the fat from your diet and your body as energy. Amazing yes!?
Now…… you might say that reducing one of your bodies macronutrients (carbs/fats and protein) could result in you having some big problems, however this is simply not the case. Our bodies are capable of reforming the amino acids from protein into glucose, so if you are eating enough food, even if the calories are mostly from fats or proteins, you can still satisfy the glucose needs of the brain, blood cells and maintain blood glucose at a normal level.
Let's get a little bit scientific, when you eat carbohydrates, your body will release a hormone called insulin. When you eat and digest food, your blood sugar naturally rises, due to the increase of glucose/sugar in the blood. Insulin is secreted by the pancreas (which sits just behind your stomach) to regulate the amount of glucose in the blood. That glucose is then either stored in your muscles (as glycogen) or as fat. The more carbs you digest the more likely you are to store this energy as fat, also if you have low muscle mass, you are also more likely to store this energy as fat, this is why resistance training (lifting weights) is important and recommended!
The problem we have is far too many people base their diets around eating carbs (bread, pasta, potato etc), if this makes up the majority of your diet there will be far too much sugar in the blood, your body will secret far too much insulin and you will then start to gain far too much body fat. Saying all that, I would still recommend having carbohydrates such as green veg and fruit in your diet, green veg is extremely nutrient dense and has a very low glycemic index. Generally, carbs are not the enemy, it's just the sheer quantity of carbs that is the problem, and once your body gets a taste of that sweet, sweet glucose/sugar it just wants more and more. The main reason people feel up and down all day is because their blood sugar goes up when they eat carbs and they feel great, but then drops so fast they start to crash around 1pm and they still have 4 hours still in work, that's when the vending machine starts looking like their best friend.
Some studies also suggest that insulin blocks a hormone called leptin (appetite hormone) at the brain, this makes it harder for you to feel full. This is why people can easily consume 800 calories of pasta, but if your tried to eat 800 calories worth of lean steak, you probably are not going to get very far.
OK, so don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that drastically reducing your carbohydrates to the point that your body then starts breaking down ketones (the breakdown of fat), is hard work, and maybe even unrealistic, but you don’t have to be in ketosis to lose fat. If you start eating more healthy fats, protein and reducing your carbohydrates then the health benefits are amazing, you might not be “in ketosis” (let's say fat burning mode) but you will still feel great. Think about it, you take away bread, pasta, potatoes, what will you then be left with? You are now left with some seriously nutrient dense foods to make the bulk of your diet. You have fish, and we all know the benefits of fish and having plenty of omega 3 in your diet. You then have foods such as avocado, steak, eggs, coconut oil, chicken etc. To be honest, if it runs, swims, blinks or even grows, then you can’t go far wrong.
So if we take out carbs, that means we have taken out chocolate, sweets, most processed foods and foods containing a large amount of gluten. It doesn’t take a nutritionist to work out that’s a good thing. With doing this you’re reducing your chances of obesity and all the negative health issues that then come from that.
Here are just some of the benefits of a ketogenic type diet:
• Increase in HDL Cholesterol
• Mood stabilisation
• Reduce inflammation and heart disease risk
• Increased energy (after two weeks)
• Decrease in stiffness and joint pain
• Fat loss
• Improved digestion and gut health
• A drop in triglycerides
Calories in vs calories out, is that not the bigger picture?
Okay so we do need to take the first Law of Thermodynamics into consideration, but from a health point of view this should not be the main focus as it will inevitably lead you to reducing your calories more and more until your cells start to de-regulate, this is if you have the will power to go against human instincts, whereby the body WILL want energy when starving. If you instead focus on healthy, nourishing and wholesome food, it is then much easier to maintain a diet, and isn’t the main goal to be healthy, happy and feel awesome?
As much as being in a slight calorie deficit is needed, the focus should not be on that, the focus should be on feeling awesome! When on a diet you should always ask yourself:
(1) “How does this diet make me feel day to day?”
(2) “Do I get angry easily?”
(3) “What’s my skin been like since I started eating this way?”
(4) “What’s my sex drive like?”
If the answer isn’t…….. (1) AWESOME!, (2) WHAT’S THEIR TO BE ANGRY ABOUT?, (3) LIKE A BABIES BOTTOM, (4) THROUGH THE ROOF!!……. Then maybe that chosen diet is not for you. If I take my clients for example, I can only really get consistently good results if they’re mentally and emotionally in the right place.
The big question is…….. “Is this a long term sustainable diet?” The answers is “yes”, like I said it doesn't have to be so strict that you’re always in ketosis, but if you’re reducing your carbohydrates and eating clean food, you’re going to feel amazing. Maybe not straight away, if you’re used to eating plenty of carbs, but once you’ve passed the transition phase (about two weeks) you should start to feel a lot better, awesome in fact.
This is a great diet that works with most people, especially if they have hormonal issues. Not every diet is for everyone and maybe this one isn’t for you, however I do recommend that everyone bases 90% of their diet around single ingredient foods, remember if it’s packed, you put it back!
Try this diet out for one month and see how you feel, you have nothing to lose excepts maybe a couple of pounds.