The toughest time

TW; This post focuses on mental illness. It is personal but I’ve wanted to write it forever.

My brain makes me feel sad, apathetic, and numb when there is no external cause for those feelings. Then, at other times, I’m jubilant and racing with energy. Often been called moody and those difficult-to-control moods negatively affect my life.

It’s something I can’t quite explain though I’ve tried many times. I’ve tried to explain the way my brain works to myself, to friends and family, to doctors, to counselors, and it feels like I’ve never been able to get it right. The closest I’ve come to explaining myself is when I say I have depression and anxiety. But even then I’m not sure that captures it. My symptoms don’t present as typical depression symptoms like crying or feeling worthless. I’ve been tested for mood disorders but came up clean. Maybe cyclothymic disorder or maybe I’m just melodramatic and whiney (at least that’s what the unwanted negative voice in my head sometimes says).

So far I haven’t taken this laying down even though I’ve had plenty of days when I don’t want to get out of bed. This sickness is something that’s part of me and I try to deal with it head on. And I’m learning to have more patience wit myself and others.

The message to reach out for help has come across loud and clear. End the stigma and everyone has mental health, and all that. But there hasn’t been much education or discussion about what the receivers or listeners can do to help. I’ve reached out countless times only to be told everyone has ups and downs, that lots are fighting battles behind closed doors, it’s normal to feel anxious, etc. Conflicting messages around mental health are confusing at the best of times. When I’m in a dark place they’re too much to handle. All I can think is if everyone feels like I do then the world is seriously screwed up. We shouldn’t be indignant or competitive. Shouldn’t we be searching for answers to why we’re all fighting with our own minds?

There are theories about modern society and stress affecting mental health. There’s also a growing concern that sugar negatively impacts our brains. I believe that!

My reality is that I look like a ‘normal’ well-functioning adult. I have a full-time office job, I’m a mother and a partner, I have interests, and I feel OK half the time. But the rest of the time knocks me down and leaves me feeling helpless and weak. My mind relapses to unwanted negativity and feeling inadequate. I grab supports like my CBT training, family, movement, and slowly try to haul myself out of the hole. Even when I’m feeling good, I know there’s a part of me that’s uneasy with expectation that I’ll trip or fall down again. It truly feels like I’m taking one step forward and two back with everything.

It’s a recognition that that there are a million ideas running around my head but I feel paralyzed to act on them. Or I’m discouraged by the false starts and lack of confidence. I swing from wanting to take over the world to hardly having the confidence to function. I have missed opportunities because my brain tells me I’m not good enough. I’ve not applied for jobs (even ones I’ve been sought out for), cancelled interviews, and given up on endless good ideas. My depression and anxiety rob me of confidence and energy, and trying to help myself with all sorts of interventions is so tiring. My mental health is my main hobby.

This is a post about how a difficult time in your life can be called the toughest time – not because of how hard it is but because of how tough you are. Or how tough you have to be. This may seem idealist or trite but I’m going to put it out there anyway because I think it’s true: we are all more capable and have more endurance than we think. Find the strength to change the narrative in your head and spin your situation into a positive light. It’s easier said than done but so worth it. And each time your flip your perspective is practice for the next time. So each time gets a tiny bit easier, faster, you retain that muscle memory, and that’s how habits are formed.

It all starts with recognition of a negative thought process or bad feeling. Identifying it is the key to turning it around. I have found mindfulness meditation and CBT beneficial but, like most good things, they took time to develop and grow to something intuitive and useful for me. I’m still learning and adjusting.

Following a ketogenic lifestyle has also helped tremendously. There are clear links between keto, fasting, and improved cognitive function. I also struggle with disordered eating so keto has been a powerful tool to help with that, too.

After the struggle and work, it’s far too easy for me to get complacent when things are okay, or give up when they’re bad. Rerouting thought pathways can work wonders but it’s a constant battle. I know when I let my guard down during a good streak, or find myself suffering in a dark time, I need to put in the work. You too may need to work harder or differently to not fall into that hole, or to pull yourself out. It’s in the dark times that I need to stay the course with my ketogenic lifestyle, self care, and health practices. When it feels easy to give up is exactly when I (and you) need to keep going.

If you’re struggling, I encourage you to check out a group that’s helped me: Sick Not Weak or find your own support to get through the toughest times.

What is keto?

I figured the best place to start this site is at the beginning. I think it’s important to know some of the foundation info and history before starting a ketogenic lifestyle. Success and longevity for me is supported by knowing the ins and outs of what is actually happening in my body. I’ve become interested in nutrition and how keto works. Researching is a hobby and I now have many YouTube videos, TedTalks, articles, books, and postcasts about nutrition under my belt. I encourage you to do your own research but please be wary of the source and info quality.

Strap in for a long read. Yes, it will be detailed and scientific but that, in my opinion, is what makes keto so special and amazing. Disclaimer: I am not a scientist or doctor, and am recounting facts here from my own research and experience.

Keto basics
The term keto is short for ketosis which is a metabolic state of burning ketones for fuel or energy instead of carbohydrates. There are only three macro nutrients making up our nutritional pie chart – carbohydrates, proteins, fats – so when the amount of one macro is altered then the other two need to compensate. The keto diet promotes consuming very little carbs, high fats, and moderate or adequate protein. Typically, a keto diet is viewed as one which is derives about 5-10% of your daily macros from carbohydrates and and about 70-75% from fat. But there is a saying in the keto community: if it fits your macros. Everyone has different nutrition needs and you can do some experimentation and search online for a macro calculator to find your ideal nutritional ratios. Also, your ideal ratios will change if you gain or loose weight so you may need to re-calculate from time to time. Each person may have different macro needs or ratios. This is why it sometimes bothers me when I see something advertised as ‘keto’ as technically there is no real way to define if a food or recipe is or is not ‘keto’. Ketosis is a metabolic state and no foods are off limits as long as you can fit it in your daily macro limits. Perhaps the better phrase is ‘keto-friendly’? But for many people, counting daily ratios and nutrients is cumbersome and not realistically sustainable hence the generally understood principle is that ‘keto’ means a diet high in fat and very low in carbohydrates (and moderate protein – I’ll get into that later). This will promote the body to produce more ketones and use them for fuel.

Ketones
Ketone bodies are molecules produced by the liver from fatty acids when there is a restricted diet (fasting states, low-carb diets, after prolonged exercise, or starvation). The body produces ketones when there isn’t enough insulin to turn glucose (sugar) into energy. The keto diet essentially shuts off, or at least extremely limits, insulin responses in the body. Ketones are the body’s backup energy source and allows it to burn fat as fuel. With a keto diet, you can eat (ie. not starve!) to promote ketone production by limiting carbohydrates and consuming much more fat than the typical North American. The benefits of switching your body to this alternative source of fuel are many and I’ll get into those in future posts.

There are three types of ketones: beta-hydroxybutyric (BHB); acetoacetate (AcAc); acetone. The first two, BHB and AcAc, transport energy from the liver all over the body. Acetone is the least used ketone and is created as a by-product of AcAc. It typically isn’t needed for energy and breaks down and is removed from the body as waste. However, it’s presence is a tell-tale sign someone is in ketosis because acetone is the culprit for ‘keto breath’ or fruity breath of those in ketosis, as well as sometimes smelly urine.

Once the body is ‘fat adapted’ it will produce and burn ketones for energy. Ketones are a constant source of energy for the brain and rest of the body. Many find not relying on the standard energy source, glucose, freeing as they do not need to eat as frequently, stay fuller longer, and have that steady supply of energy which often translates to being more alert and efficient. Personally, I am more energetic and organized when in ketosis, and notice a less cravings for sugar. I sleep better, am in a better mood, and retain information better when in ketosis.

A carb is not just a carb
Just try to eliminate carbohydrates from your diet. You can’t. Carbs are in everything so even when you attempt to severely restrict carbs you will still inevitably consume some and that’s okay as long as it fits your macros. Additionally, the body makes glucose for any cells that need it all by itself. The liver converts amino acids (from protein) and glycerol (from fatty acids) into glucose by the process gluconeogenesis. Later in this post, this process will come up again with regard to over-consuming protein.

Many following a keto diet count ‘net carbs’ instead of total carbs when figuring out their macro ratios for daily nutrition. Net carbs are the total amount of carbohydrates in a food minus the fiber. Fiber isn’t digested and absorbed the same as other parts of carbs. The body’s gut bacteria breaks down fiber into fatty acids. Some individuals also back out any sugar alcohol as they find those don’t affect their blood sugar. Others avoid sugar alcohols altogether and I hope to write a post on sugar alternatives soon.

There are two types of carbohydrates: starches (complex carbs) and sugars (simple carbs). Starches are long chains of individual glucose or sugar units linked together. Though they take a little longer to digest in your system, starches are absorbed into the bloodstream the same as pure sugar. Sugar itself consists of much shorter chains and sometimes are just a single molecule. An example of a sugar short chain is lactose (glucose and galactose) and an example of a single molecule is just fructose by itself. These shorter chains or individual molecules metabolize very quickly in the body and are responsible for that sugar high and inevitable sugar crash after eating sweets.

Starches and multi-unit sugars are too big to be absorbed into the body so enzymes are produced to help break them down into single-unit sugars. Single-unit sugars are handled differently in the body depending on the type. I know! I didn’t know this until recently either. Glucose causes blood sugar levels to rise immediately and the pancreas produces the hormone insulin to deal with that and get it out of your bloodstream. Fructose goes straight to the liver which converts it to glycogen for storage. Small amounts of fructose found in real, whole food (eg. fruit) are typically handled well by the body. But consuming high amounts of fructose can be detrimental to the liver even though they may not spike blood sugar levels, such as in fruit juice, agave sweetener, soda, some salad dressings, etc.

What about protein?
If you recall, I mentioned that a keto diet consists of consuming moderate or adequate protein. This is because if you consume too much for your macro allowance then the body can convert the amino acids in that protein into glucose. This derails your efforts to get into ketosis. The body has a process called gluconegenesis whereby it turns non-sugar sources into sugar. So if the body is flooded with these amino acids, the gluconegensis process is triggered and starts providing glucose energy for the body instead of ketones. Protein also triggers insulin release which tells the body’s cells they don’t have to burn fat or produce ketones. So you can see why consuming more than an adequate amount of protein can derail your keto diet efforts.

A little history
Our bodies were built with the system for ketosis and our ancestors likely used it frequently when food sources were scarce. Even with food security, our typical North American diet didn’t consist of the same abundance and carbohydrate rich foods we see today. In a relatively short period of time in mankind’s history our food sources and culture has dramatically changed. Our diet has changed drastically over a relatively short period of time and our bodies adapted to the changes. Our livers took in more toxins, produced more insulin, and got fattier. Doctors started seeing increased mortality rates from diet-related illnesses as people’s bodies just couldn’t deal with the large amounts of new food that quickly became standard.

A ketogenic diet has been regularly used to help those with brain diseases such as epilepsy since the 1920s. Possible applications have been studied for other ailments such as Alzheimer’s disease, autism, brain cancer, Parkinson’s disease, even sleep disorders. Further, since keto first restricts a person’s sugar consumption, it has also been suggested for those fighting cancer or wishing to prevent it as cancer cells feed on sugar. Restricting carbohydrates can lead to healing the liver and pancreas for individuals who are pre-diabetic or suffering from diabetes. Many are able to manage their conditions with diet and avoid medications and complications. Finally, a low-carbohydrate diet has been found to help with some mental illnesses and I can attest to that personally. Kicking sugar and switching to a keto lifestyle has worked wonders for my own depression and anxiety symptoms. I think it’s greased the wheels to help my therapy and other interventions work more effectively. I’m going to get into that, and the link with fasting, in a future post, too.

A conspiracy
So why did our society switch to thinking fat is evil and we need so many carbs to complete daily nutritional recommendations? Canada’s food guide suggests adults eat 6-8 servings of grains each day and to limit butter and other sources of fats. And we’ve long been told to eat several small meals a day to keep a continuous supply of glucose energy and help regulate blood sugar. The body is a complicated machine and each one can differ from each other with regard to sensitivity and tolerance. Yet, we’re snacking all the time, eating low-fat Oreos, and no one is getting healthier or happier. Metabolic diseases and obesity are epidemics throughout the world.

Just sixty short years ago, a group called the Sugar Research Foundation – funded by sugar companies – published information refuting earlier claims that sugar aided heart disease. This was done without disclosing funders or motives. And the article pointed to dietary fat as the cause of our troubles. The sugar industry paid to change public discourse about their products. Blame was placed on fat and the marketing ploy worked to distract everyone from the harmful effects of sugar. Now we have low-fat everything on our grocery shelves. And if you look closely (which you will need to do if you decide to do ‘keto’) you’ll find that sugar is in everything.

There has been some debate about the sugar industry’s influence and the famous study conspiracy. But I think sugar tastes good, is addictive, and the business is a tough nut to crack. But as I stated at the beginning, if you alter one part of the macro nutrient pie chart then the other parts need to compensate. So if fat is lowered, and protein is expensive and not easy to add, then carbs need to go up. See for yourself by going to the grocery store and compare the regular and low fat versions of foods. And there’s lots to compare because low fat, no fat, and diet labels are everywhere in our society. Usually the lower fat ones have higher carb and sugar counts. And beware because there are over FIFTY different names for sugar hiding in those food nutrition labels. All the nutritional information presented above supports the idea that lowering carbohydrate (eg. sugar) consumption is beneficial and I know first-hand it’s helpful.

Looking ahead
Here are some specific topics I want to explore and write about on this site:
– Different types of keto
– Fasting
– Health worries
– Health benefits
– Supplements
– How to start (or how I started) keto
– Alcohol
– Navigating social situations while keto
– What to eat or best food options
– Insulin and glucose

I’ll add to this list as needed, and will link to each post when its created.

Thanks for reading!

Welcome

I started following a ketogenic lifestyle January 2, 2018 and haven’t looked back. There have been bumps in the road but I’m convinced this journey is right for me. Actually I’m convinced ‘keto’ is right for lots of people but know it can seem daunting. I get asked lots of questions and keep discovering so much about nutrition, supplements, health, my own body and mind, the food industry, etc. I started this site to capture and share my ongoing journey and discoveries.

The basics

The keto diet is unlike any other as it will cause your body to change the way it functions. By consuming a diet high in fat, very low in carbohydrates, and with moderate protein intake, your body produces ketones for fuel instead of burning glucose. Most people in our society eat a diet high in carbs for fuel. This is the backbone of our society including the Canadian food guide; scheduled meal breaks; what is taught to nutritionists, nurses, and doctors; and I think the source of much of our problems.

It is now known than sugar is the root of many evils, and the demonization of fat was more a marketing ploy than rooted in scientific evidence. Fat does not make you fat or sick. In fact, fat has made me less fat and healthier than I’ve been in a long time.

About me

I do want to state that I am not a nutritionist, nurse, or doctor. I am in no way related to any health field or industry. But I have tried this way of living for a year, and I’ve seen positive changes in myself and in those I know who are also keto. I’ve lost almost 40lbs, but more importantly my physical and mental health have improved tremendously. My relationship with food has been repaired. My day no longer revolves around snacking. I don’t get hangry! And though there have been unforeseen issues I can honestly say the good continues to outweigh the bad tenfold.

This site will about my own experiences and opinions. Take that as you will. But I wholeheartedly endorse a ketogenic lifestyle and hope to share my experiences, recipes, shopping hauls, challenges, triumphs, and my truth with each post to this site. Writing has always been a passion for me and I’m excited to start this next step through this medium.