I thought I’d do a series of posts on ketogenic eating and eating disorders. I use the term “eating disorder” both in the clinical sense – referring to anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating syndrome and other diagnoses – and in the more colloquial and political sense, referring to the constant dieting, binge eating, skewed body image and self loathing that many women, and growing numbers of people of all genders, suffer from to some degree. Few people in a society obsessed with physical appearance and lean, fit bodies will be completely free of body- and food related anxieties. In the broader sense of the word many of us – myself included – have some semblance of an eating disorder. I’m not getting closer into specific eating disorders and how to heal from them – which may require the help of professionals – but instead will focus on the benefits of ketogenic food for anyone struggling with issues related to body image, food and constant dieting.
These are topics I may expand on, starting from the top:
- Strict, ketogenic food as a counterweight to commercialised and mythologised eating in a society of abundance and mixed messages.
- Ketogenic food as the antithesis of counting calories, weighing, measuring, or in any way restricting, the amount of food you eat.
- Learning how to experience hunger, saturation and satisfaction.
- Why keto eating puts an end to bloating and weight fluctuations that may trigger eating disorders or constant dieting.
- How keto eating leads to a level energy level throughout the day, lessening cravings and the need to eat unhealthy foods, which may trigger a vicious circle of deprivation, guilt and shame.
- Why you should never try to compensate eating too much by eating too little or working out – apropos the myth of caloric intake and outlet.
Eating Freely is Unrealistic
So, let me initiate the series with some comments on how strict, ketogenic food may serve as a counterweight to commercialised and mythologised eating, in a society of abundance and mixed messages.
There are a number of myths surrounding what constitutes healthy eating habits and the absence of eating disorders. One of the myths is that it’s healthy to eat freely from all kinds of food available in modern society. In an aggressively commercialised society of extreme abundance, where market forces go to war on convincing you of buying what they’re selling, thriving off of your shame, guilt and desire to adhere to sadistic beauty standards, there is no such thing as intuitive, free eating – lest you be uniquely and luckily unaffected by norms and propaganda. Let’s be clear and honest about that.
The food items, or shall I say food-like items, most forcefully advertised are generally light products, low in fat and packed with carbs, sweeteners, artificial flavouring and other cheap, low quality ingredients. They tend to focus on having a low caloric content, which is supposed to keep or make you thin. This message is inherently false and, frankly, quite cruel. The logic behind it all is that you should be so disciplined as to get by on fewer calories than you need. And if you’re not, then you’re the problem.
You only need stronger discipline. Or, do you?
“A snack that lets you live a little, and love yourself for it” – are you fucking kidding me?
The real twist here is that if you eat high carb-low fat products, you’ll just get hungrier. Carby products devoid of fat and nutrients will inevitably affect your glucose levels, spike the storage of body fat and fuck up your insulin response. It is not, as the add says, “a snack that lets you live a little”, but a snack that sends you on a biochemical journey of storing water and body fat, forcing you to adhere to a strict, low calorie diet in order not to put on weight. If you aim at qualifying as a “Skinnygirl”, you’ll need to ignore the rampant hunger caused by low quality carbohydrates. These kinds of products and their proponents, be it Skinnygirl or any other low fat brand, do the following:
- Tell you you’re not skinny enough.
- Sell you high carb-products that increase your hunger and body fat storage.
- Make you believe that you’re the problem if you put on weight, even though it’s a biochemical reality having nothing to do with you or your level of discipline.
- Convince you to go on an even stricter diet should you fail to reach the absurd beauty ideals – relying on their products, of course.
- Reinforce a vicious circle of aggressive dieting, border line starvation, guilt-laden binge eating when you can take it no longer, and, for many people – the subsequent development of eating disorders.
Ketogenic Eating Allows Free and Intuitive Eating
Eating strict and clean ketogenic food – real food like saturated fat, meat, fish, poultry, eggs and vegetables – does the opposite. It is truly nourishing, keeps your metabolism high, improves your insulin response and allows you to eat as much as you need; and, since your insulin response will normalise if you stay away from sugar, fruit, carbs and artificial crap, you’ll actually know what you need. You’ll get hungry when you need to eat and you’ll stop eating when you get full. No discipline needed.
The biochemical logic behind keto eating is that once you go into ketosis, your body will run on ketones and its own fat storage instead of glucose. This is the way the bodies of our ancestors used to function, and it’s what’s still engraved into our genetic code. Eating in line with your genes, and improving your genetic functionality, means you’ll lose body fat if you have an excess of it; you may also put on some fat and/or muscle mass, should you need it. Once your fat percentage and weight reach healthy levels, they’ll stay surprisingly stable over time. It won’t matter if you skip a few workouts or eat excessively, as long as you’re strictly keto. It’s a very forgiving way of eating.
Here is a good explanation from the Swedish physician Andreas Eenfelt, also known as Diet Doctor (whose page is an excellent resource if you want to know more, find recipes and scientific data):
The irony, then, is that if you keep to a clean, strict ketogenic way of eating, you’ll need no discipline – apart from staying far away from sugar and carbs in all forms, including fruit, root vegetables, potatoes, rice, pasta, legumes, lentils, beans, grain, and most dairy products. The reason for excluding grain and low quality dairy is mainly that they drive inflammation in the body, and, secondarily, that they contain too many carbs. Most people on clean keto – myself included – will also stay clear of most vegetable and seed oils, all kinds of trans fat, processed meats and too much alcohol. Here’s an article with some scientific links explaining why these food items drive inflammation.
For most people, the adjustment period of switching from running on glucose to running on ketones is ghastly and takes a few weeks. It’s known as keto flu, because you’ll feel like absolute shit; no need to sugar coat it. The initial weeks of adjustment is the only period of time when you’ll need discipline – and massive amounts of it, too. After reaching a nice and deep ketosis (some claim it takes at least six months of quite strict eating) you can probably allow yourself the odd stray, eating something sweet or carby once in a while. It’s natural to fall into glucose drive for short periods of time; compare it, if you will, to our ancestors stumbling upon some pre-domesticated fruit once in a while.
If you consider modern fruit healthy or “natural”, please read this. It explains why domesticated fruit contains amounts of sugar incomparable to those of pre-domesticated fruit; why buying a kilo of bananas in the store is nothing like climbing a banana palm for a few small fruits consisting mostly of seeds.
Some would claim that the way to overcome eating disorders is learning how to eat freely, without restrictions, according to the food norms of your society: that is, eating what most people eat. I don’t believe this to be true, for the simple reason that many foods readily available to us – starchy, carby, sweet and heavily processed foods; the cornerstones of Standard American Diet (SAD), spreading across the globe, outcompeting healthy, traditional food – are undoubtedly bad for us. What most people eat is no good. If you’ve suffered from eating disorders, it can be very triggering trying to eat food that makes your glucose levels go apeshit, destroys your ability to feel saturation and leaves you bloated and unstable for the following days. And then, as many would testify, trying to compensate the bloating with eating too little or exercising too much – depriving your body of valuable nutrients. It’s a downward spiral.
Personally, I can’t handle sweets at all. Since childhood, carby foods make me lose all sense of proportion. I eat none at all or way too much. And that’s fine. I’m not buying into the discourse of “learning” to eat moderate amounts of fast food or sugar, because I now understand how they affect our hormones; they’re designed to make us crave more and more, outmaneuvering the process of saturation. It has nothing to do with discipline or personality traits: it’s biochemistry. This realisation may help with some of the guilt and shame associated with overeating; I certainly think so.
So, ketogenic eating is, indeed, restrictive. It’s restricted to food that our bodies and their ancient genes can actually handle; that’s why it’s also known as “primal eating”. The good news to anyone struggling with an eating disorder is that strict keto makes it possible to eat freely and intuitively, because it creates a healthy balance between hunger, food intake and saturation. You’ll rarely feel bloated, hangry or crave sweets. Your weight will level out and remain stable once it’s healthy. Therefore, it is a counterweight to commercialised and mythologised eating in a society of abundance: you can not, in fact, eat everything that’s available, but you can – and should – eat as much as you need.