Crossroads Conversations: Ketosis

This week on Crossroads, Alaric talked at length about the infamous keto diet. Check out the upcoming podcast episode 5.5 for a scientific take on why the diet works, which he understands and explains far better than I could hope to. Today I’m going to talk about my own experience with the diet.

Trial by Fire

I’ve always been wary of fad diets, and when Alaric introduced me to the concept of ketosis, I was extremely skeptical. I think I only ended giving it a try because he presented it as a kind of experiment, in which I’d play the lab rat. Maybe it’s weird that that would be a positive spin for me. It probably comes down to me playing and reading the Witcher franchise way too much. I have a strange affinity for running experiments on myself.

Once I started the diet, and got through the initial keto flu, I was hooked. I’m not someone who needs or wants to lose any weight. I like to be active, but I’m not trying to break any Olympic records. There doesn’t seem to be much incentive for me to stick to such an extreme diet.

The feeling is my reward.

That’s why I’ve long given up trying to sell anyone on the diet. If you’re skeptical like I once was, fear not, this post isn’t going to end with any call to action or attempt to convert you. People like Alaric with a strong grasp of science can understand why the diet is beneficial, but to a layperson, I think it’s nearly impossible to explain why it’s worth it.

It’s the feeling of being alive. I would say more alive than normal, but I don’t think that’s right. I think being in ketosis is the feeling of being alive, and the feeling you get on a typical Western diet is the feeling of being rather less alive than is normal. There are little practical benefits, like clearer thinking and higher energy levels, but it all adds up to a simple feeling of vitality.

Once and Future Diet

I first got on the diet in 2016, and maintained a very strict no carb diet for about four months. After that I moved to Mexico, and things got a little more complicated. Though I’ve got on and off it in intervals since then, I’ve never repeated that golden four months of ketosis.

Inspired by Alaric’s segment on the recent podcast, I’ve decided to make another go at it. I won’t be as strict, at least not at first, for the same reasons I’ve been off of it most of the time I’ve lived in Mexico: I want to immerse myself in the culture of Mexico, which means eating non-keto foods from time to time.

My goal for now is to establish a baseline of eating zero-carb at home. Most days, I can cook my own breakfast and dinner at home while eating lunch out somewhere with Venezia. I’ll still opt for keto options if available, but I’m not going to make things difficult by being too draconian about what we can and can’t eat.

Normally people advise against a partial keto diet, at least at first. You’ll be putting in a lot of effort for vastly reduced rewards. I’m aware of that, but it’s what works best for me right now. I have an advantage in my abnormally quick metabolism, and I can compound that advantage by increasing the frequency and intensity of my workouts. Even if I have some carbs with lunch, an intense workout should go a long ways toward burning through the glucose and getting me back into a state of ketosis before too long.

The Crucible Method

My introduction to the keto diet occurred at an interesting time for me, and played a part in shaping who I am today in ways far greater than a dietary change typically would.

The summer I first tried the diet, I also took a spontaneous, solitary road trip up the West Coast of Canada. I’ll cover the trip in great detail sometime on Low Fantasy Adventure, but it was transformative in a number of ways. While journalling at a lonely campsite somewhere in the old growth forests of British Columbia one morning, I stumbled upon an idea that I’ve been refining to this day.

The Crucible Method is what I call my own personal method of self-improvement. I don’t know if I’ll ever write too much about it–there’s plenty of self-help books already, and as much as I love learning how to improve, I’m not much good at teaching it–but it’s served me well.

Originally, I was thinking about writing a book about the keto diet with Alaric. That never went far, but I’d been trying to figure out how to coach people through the fairly trying process of becoming keto adapted. The more I thought about it, the more I realized the process of getting on keto could actually be adapted as a universal process for dealing with just about anything in life.

My major revelation was that the keto flu is a feature, not a bug. It serves as an initiation rite of sorts, marking your transformation in a very real, physiological way. Though the keto flu is easier to notice than other transition pains, you face a very similar rite of passage when becoming “productivity adapted”, i.e. replacing bad habits with good ones, or becoming “morality adapted”, or learning to think of other people before yourself.

Instead of starting small and easy, you can jump into the crucible, burning away the dross in one short, however painful, ordeal. The beauty of the keto diet is that the beginning is brutally hard and then the rest of your life is easy. I’ll probably dive into this method in more depth later, but the basic formula is this:

Set the bar high at the beginning. Set it at the limit of what you think you can do, then move it a few rungs higher. Throw yourself into the challenge, suffer well, give it everything you have, and fail spectacularly. Then lower the bar a little, and accomplish what was once difficult with ease.

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