The answer to healthy eating, losing weight and feeling better is… wait for it… Stop eating processed sugar and grains. That’s it, you can stop reading now. Easy, right? Well, you won’t believe how much time I’ve spent explaining what sugar and grains are, how your body reacts to them, why sugar and grains are bad for you, and how you will live a healthier life by limiting them.
I started my journey following the guidance of Vinnie Tortorich and his No Sugar No Grain (NSNG) approach. Vinnie is a world famous trainer, podcaster, best-selling author, and someone I deeply admire and respect. If you listen to his podcast or visit his website he will tell you, for free, what you SHOULD be doing. Of course everyone still asks what book they should read or where they can find a how-to or cheat sheet.
Unfortunately, Vinnie hasn’t written a diet book (yet) and I haven’t been able to find a good NSNG primer, how-to or cheat sheet to refer people to. So after many hours of listening to Vinnie and doing my own research, I’ve complied this blog to get my friends and family started on their own journey.
It’s a lifestyle, not a diet
I know it may seem cliche, but NSNG is a healthy lifestyle choice, it is not a diet. If you approach NSNG as a diet you will eventually be fat again. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your overweight life.
After losing over 100 lbs I can’t tell you how many people asked me if I was “done with my diet”. I explain that I’m not on a diet, and that I quit eating processed sugar and grain because I know they are bad for me. At this point I usually get a puzzled look followed by “so when are you going to start eating normal again?”. For a time I didn’t know how to respond, but now I explain that if someone quits smoking you wouldn’t ask “are you done” or “when are you going to start smoking again?”. This is the same thing. Processed sugar is
as bad worse than smoking. It will kill you, so you need to quit.
Ketosis vs. Fat Adapted
First, let me describe ketosis and ketones. Ketosis is a natural metabolic process in which your body breaks down fat into free fatty acids (FFA’s) and ketones to use for energy. Dietary ketosis occurs when you restrict carbohydrates to such a low level that our bodies are forced to create more ketones which in turn act as an energy source for our bodies and our brains. In and of itself, this is not bad, as our brain loves to run on ketones, and so does our body.
Our body can always use FFA’s and ketones for energy (ketosis), just like it can always use glucose, fructose or alcohol for energy (glycolysis). Your body will burn whichever fuel is present, but it prioritizes the use of alcohol and glucose because if they were left in the blood stream they would kill you. In addition to helping your burn body fat, ketosis can make you feel less hungry and help maintain muscle.
For healthy people who don’t have diabetes, ketosis usually kicks in after 3 or 4 days of eating less than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day. That’s about 3 slices of bread, a cup of low-fat fruit yogurt, or two small bananas. You can start ketosis by fasting, too.
So should you go into dietary ketosis? Probably not in the long run.
The biggest problem I see is sustainability. Dietary ketosis requires such a regimented way of eating that it becomes “diet-like.” Also, being in dietary ketosis does not guarantee weight loss. You can literally be in dietary ketosis and GAIN weight, if your fat consumption is too high (although it’s more difficult to gain weight on a ketogenic diet than from a high carbohydrate diet). The other problem with being in dietary ketosis is that for some people, they have to cut out too many of their vegetables.
Vinnie recommends that his clients become “fat adapted”. To become fat adapted, you simply have to lower your carbohydrates enough for your body to use fat as energy. Of course, everyone wants to know how many carbs per day that is. Unfortunately, the best answer is “it depends.” Why? A person who does little or no exercise may have to be between 40 and 60 grams of carbohydrates a day to be fat adapted. Whereas a person who is getting ready for a marathon may do just fine at 100+ grams of carbs per day. In either case, you should have those carbs coming mainly from vegetables, and when choosing fruit, shoot for berries over other varieties (berries size and fiber content make the preferable).
All of the above is why I put my focus on fat adaptation rather than dietary ketosis, and urge people to watch their diets, and see how they feel with varying levels of carb consumption from vegetables and low-glycemic fruits. Your body can tell you more about the balance that’s right for you than I can.
Yes Virginia, Calories Do Matter
Many people that are fat adapted (or in ketosis) notice that they are generally less hungry. This is due to more consistent blood sugar levels, higher levels of leptin, and the higher amount of energy found in fat. Many people living NSNG only eat when they are hungry and only enough to satisfy them (not over eating or eating until they are “full”) so they have no problems losing weight.
It’s true that you won’t crave food like you do now. BUT, being in ketosis is not a magic trick for weight loss. Before your body burns stored energy it either uses or stores what you take in from your diet. Energy balance is more complex than a Math formula and biology works like biology. Being aware of how much you eat is important for weight loss because while it is nearly impossible to know exactly how much energy you are using, if your body is getting all of it’s energy from your diet, there is no need to break down stored fat. Being aware of what you eat will help you make sure you’re staying close to your targets and getting proper nutrition.
Great, so What Do I Eat?
There is no set meal plan for NSNG and there are a lot of NSNG and Keto recipes with almost endless possibilities of food combinations. The easiest way to know if you’re eating “good” is to look up the nutritional info. However, I know a lot of people are overwhelmed when they are starting, so here is a quick guide:
Do Not Eat:
- Sugar – honey, maple syrup, agave, fruit high on glycemic index
- Grains – wheat, corn, rice, oats etc. (this stuff looks like sugar to your liver)
- Tubers – potato, yams, etc (this stuff looks like sugar to your liver too)
- Leafy Greens – spinach, kale etc.
- Above ground vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber etc.
- Meats – fish, beef, lamb, poultry, eggs, whey protein powder
- High Fat Dairy – hard cheeses, high fat cream, butter
- Nuts and seeds – sunflower seeds, almonds, pistachios etc.
- NOTE: Peanuts are a legume (grain), so lay off.
- Avacado and berries – both fruit, but they are high in fiber and low on the glycemic index (meaning they have little effect on blood sugar)
- Other fats – mayo, high fat salad dressing, cream cheese and coconut oil are all generally ok, so long as you check the nutrition label.
Keep in mind that your body needs adequate protein for cellular repair and growth, low carbs (generally between 20 and 35g depending on activity level) and the rest of your calories should come from healthy fats (I need to explain this in another post). Having a high calorie deficit may seem like the trick for losing weight fast, but it can lead to hunger, cravings, and having a harder time sticking to the diet.
Ketosis is generally diuretic, so it’s also important to keep hydrated when you start. Water is the best and remember that coffee, tea, and diet drinks with high caffeine and salt content are also diuretics and could further dehydrate you.
Also, passing more water can cause a temporary electrolyte imbalance, so foods like celery, spinach and bone broth can be helpful. Some also find it useful to supplement with Lite Salt to get extra potassium.
Getting Started (Keto Flu)
To begin NSNG I strongly recommend being strict for 2-3 weeks so that your body can become fat adapted. You may not realize it now, but you are likely addicted and dependent on sugar. Many people (not everyone!) who start NSNG get what’s called the “keto flu” or the “induction flu” in the first few days while the body is adapting to burning ketones instead of glucose. Some symptoms may include:
- upset stomach
- Lack of mental clarity (brain fog)
It’s called the “keto flu” for a reason: you feel sick. I’ve gone through it and it wasn’t fun. Fortunately it only lasted a few days (one of them was pretty bad) but then suddenly I woke up feeling much better, less hungry and my energy level was really high and consistent throughout the day! At one point, day three or four, I remember thinking “what the F am I doing? I’m going to die!” but I plowed through it and when it was over I didn’t regret a thing because what I gained mentally and physically was 100% worth it. Here are some recommendations to help if you get Keto Flu
- Drink Plenty of Water
- Watch your electrolytes. When the body is getting rid of excess insulin from your former carb-crazy diet you´ll lose lots of fluids that have been retained in your body. This causes the rapid weight loss most people see in their first few days of ketosis, it’s mostly water, sorry. When you lose all the retained water you also lose electrolytes like sodium, magnesium and potassium. When you’re lacking them you´ll feel like crap so when you’re feeling really ill on the keto flu try things like chicken/beef broth and look for foods rich in these minerals. Take a multi-vitamin and a multi-mineral.
- Eat more healthy fat. I know you’ve been told that fat was the enemy for the past 30 years, but that is simply misinformation (need a post on good fat here). Eat healthy fats and it will speed up the transition.
This is a work in progress, so more to come…