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Ground Zero for Ketogenic Diet Posts

first of many posts on this

Ground Zero for Ketogenic Diet Posts

A strict ketogenic diet has taken me:
From a near-constant state of brain pain and agitation (ranging from irritability/anxiety to outright psychosis, from suicidal depression to suicidal mania) to ambient calm and peacefulness.
From a near-constant state of severe gut pain to occasional lower levels of pain, and still improving.
From a near-constant obsessive preoccupation with food, calories, diet, body image to conviction that I know what I need to do and can focus on more important things.

How, how, HOW?! (lots to say about this in posts to come)
And--how ironic that food obsession has been cured by what really is a strict diet, given that most eating-disorder treatment focuses on getting patients to give up strict rules. When I explain why/how the ketogenic diet is working, you’ll see the beauty of this: it’s likely that even the anorexia, as destructive as it has undoubtedly been, was a subconscious effort at self-regulation and healing. Nothing has been wasted…

First, some disclaimers.

  • I do not and will not claim that a ketogenic diet will work for any/everyone who hosts the “abc” combination (anorexia/bipolar/celiac).
  • And all the more so (I so want to say a fortiori) I do not and will not claim that a ketogenic diet will work "for any/everyone, period." There are many people, including the majority of people for whom I’ve done nutritional counseling so far, for whom I don’t consider it the front line. I believe the fact that I’ve been able to get this to work for myself is helping me to help others in the uniqueness of each individual. As a chef and medicine-maker, I’ve been making foods and remedies I can’t consume myself all my life, and the same principle of uniqueness goes for nutritional counseling.
  • (Two more): I am not claiming that the ketogenic diet was a miracle cure all by itself. There have been many other things that have been crucial helpers, although I do see this as the biggest changemaker. I also discovered plenty of ways to do a ketogenic diet incorrectly (for me), including things that prevent it from working if done at the same time--I will write more about this in due course.
  • And, I am also not claiming, as some do, that the ketogenic diet was “man’s natural primordial diet.” I think it’s hilarious that ten years ago I was eating the essentially fruitarian 80-10-10 (in favor of fruit-sourced carbohydrate) diet (and was neurotic, psychotic, and perpetually hungry), which has the full force of the Garden of Eden and mistaken ideas about bonobos to back it up as man’s natural primordial diet, and now I’m eating ~85-15-5 (in favor of fat, no fruit at all) (and feeling the best I’ve ever felt), which has the Inuit of urban legend (well, and actually much more than that) to back it up as man’s natural primordial diet. When I was a fruitarian, I also never claimed “naturalness” as a good reason for doing it; in fact, I always knew it was a bad idea and advised others against it, just thought I was exempt.
    • In fact, I don’t think “natural and primordial” is a good argument for a choice of meal plan. While it may be true that modern diets have been around for an infinitesimal fraction of our history, evolution happens at exponential rates too, and some people adapt faster than others. What is true of our human bodies, in symbiosis with all the remarkable unseen beings living inside of us, and guided consciously or subconsciously by our superpowerful minds, is that we are capable of living on an immense variety of potential nutritional inputs.
    • There is so much that is food to us.
    • Versatility, resilience, flexibility are signs of health. Balance is not an end-state to be achieved; it is a balancing act with continual adjustments.
    • For most people, I think metabolic flexibility is a great thing to cultivate--the ability not just to live on a variety of foods and macronutrient ratios, but to thrive on them.
    • For some people, though, myself among them, staying on the ketogenic side is a therapeutic intervention that--for me at least--has turned out to be more powerful than medication and, with other good practices in place too, to be able to replace medication.

I realize that I’ve just put about five carts before the horse. I haven’t explained what a ketogenic diet is (beyond the very lapidary 85-15-5, and there’s far more to it than that). I haven’t explained why I thought it would help, why my initial attempts with it helped a little but not much, and--perhaps the big elephant in the room for those concerned about my eating-disorder history and schooled in the “let go of strict diets” concept of therapy--how I can maintain that what probably appears an extreme diet has cured an eating disorder.

If this is five carts before the horse, it’s material for at least that many blog posts. I will deliver. One kiss of the elephant at a time, right?
But I’ll start with that elephant in the room, as it really is one of those cases where a great, dark shadow turns out to be the penumbra around the light.

Bipolar disorder in the brain and celiac disease in the gut are two labels that often go together. We’re understanding more and more nowadays about the intimate connection between brain and gut, and it makes sense that such a serious malfunction in the gut could impact brain chemistry. And/or, it makes sense that some sort of misfiring within the brain could impact gut function. Both-and.

Leaving aside all the emotional/traumatic backgrounds for an eating disorder, which of course are part of the picture too, let me tell you that when your guts are dysfunctional, it’s likely to dissuade you from eating and to evolve fears around food, because the act of eating often exacerbates symptoms. (And, far enough down the road, this can end in the binge-purge.) And let me tell you in addition that when your brain has a misfiring/hyperexcitability situation, it’s also likely to dissuade you from eating and to evolve fears around food, because the act of eating often exacerbates symptoms.

Sometimes, the two very clearly coincide. For example, like about 50% of people with celiac, I am allergic to dairy as well as gluten. Several years ago I had a couple of episodes where I ingested some whey protein (once on purpose, once accidentally). Both times, even before the physical allergic symptoms hit me, I was swept away on a tide/tirade of bipolar rage/rampage. I was so out of control, I couldn’t even stop to analyse that my brain felt like it was receiving electric shocks from a cattle prod. It was unpleasant for everyone around me and scary for me too.

As it turns out, the one condition for which the ketogenic diet has the longest history of approved and proved use and efficacy is drug-resistant seizures. I’ve written before about the close relationship/continuum between conditions from migraines through epilepsy and bipolar through schizophrenia. Some psychiatrists believe that bipolar and schizophrenia are basically seizure disorders; these conditions are routinely treated with very much the same medications (bipolar and schizophrenia gets treated with antiseizure meds just as often as antipsychotics, and migraines and epilepsy get treated with antipsychotics). Again, these are all labels, and not all cases are the same, but my brain symptoms are definitely seizure like (including being triggered by certain light and sound frequencies, flickers and loops, and even smells and colors, to the point of being afraid to go out).

Now, here’s where we really shake hands with the elephant. The ketogenic diet had been used to treat seizures all the way back to the time of Hippocrates… but ketosis was induced by fasting. The very-high-fat diet we’re talking about here was developed in the 1920s as a way of eating that would control brain overexcitation/seizures without having to fast forever. I’ll go into this more in a later post, but an element of caloric restriction and certainly of less-frequent eating is also desirable as part of a therapeutic ketogenic diet for these purposes (and is easy and sustainable to do on this way of eating, I might add).

Now can you see why I might have developed anorexia out of self-preservation? Isn’t that awesome?
Starting with that big one, here are the reasons I believe a ketogenic diet has been a gamechanger for me: It

  • Controls seizure-like activity in brain
    • Reduces glutamate in the brain
  • Reduces oxidative stress
  • Improved mitochondrial efficiency/ATP production
  • Eliminates blood sugar fluctuations
  • Creates hostile environment for candida infections (this study found that, for men at least, bipolar and schizophrenia was associated with candida infection, and I have an extreme history of it myself)
  • Feeds beneficial gut bacteria
  • Encourages appropriate use of protein (this is a long and complicated story of its own)
  • Highly absorbable food consumed with ample time in between takes a lot of stress off the gut (another major area of trial and error)

I will write more about all of these in due course. Please let me know if there are other reasons I should consider too. Since this post is ground zero for what’s going to be quite an elaborated discussion on this, I’ll conclude with a few things that the ketogenic diet is not.

  • The therapeutic ketogenic diet is not a low-carb diet--it’s a very low- (and for some people zero-) carb diet.
  • It is very much not a high-protein diet.
  • It is not an “eat whatever you want and cover up your sins with MCT oil and ester salts” diet (and if that sounds like gobbldeygook, I’ll explain in a later post).
  • It is not the Paleo diet.
  • It is not the Eskimo/Inuit diet.
  • It is not a bacon and butter diet.
  • (If you’re doing it to control neurological issues), it’s not an eat-as-much-as-you-can diet.
  • It is not only about macronutrients.
  • It will not save you from the ill effects of non-food-related inputs or allergenic foods. Dairy will still make me crazy even on this diet, as will aspartame and other neurotoxins.
  • It does not have to be a meat-based diet; in fact, it’s arguably easier to do as a mostly vegetarian diet.
  • It is not a rapid-weight-loss diet. Although it wasn’t primarily responsible for my weight gain, I’m maintaining; and there are many reports of it supporting weight gain in the severely underweight. On the other hand, it’s too low in protein by macronutrient ratio to be the ideal weight-loss diet for someone with a lot of excess body fat. Such a person would do better eating a higher percentage of protein. At which point, they would be burning the fat on their body and would thus effectively be consuming a ketogenic diet, but much of the fat would be coming from within.
  • Even though fat is twice as dense as protein and carbohydrate, sufficient fat for this ratio isn’t going to happen on a plate without some attention to detail.
  • Even though fat is twice as dense as protein and carbohydrate, sufficient fat for this ratio isn’t going to happen on a plate without some attention to detail.
  • But, although it requires attention and perseverance, this diet absolutely does not feel like a straitjacket. In fact, it is so liberating in so many respects, it absolutely is worth the effort.

Well, there’s a start. I feel like I could write about this forever, and there are many other things I want to write about as well. Please let me know if anything is unclear or if there are other aspects I’m neglecting that should be up here too.

About the Author

Ela Harrison

Ela is a wordsmith and herb lover who has lived in many places and currently resides in Tucson, AZ.

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