Tag Archives: fasting

how to use your bathroom scale as a fuel gauge

“Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.”

St Augustine

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This article is a follow up to the “How to use your glucose metre as a fuel gauge” article, which has been quite popular, with lots of people reporting success in lowering their blood glucose and recalibrating their hunger signals by using the numbers they see on their glucose metre.

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To recap, the process revolves around the idea that, perhaps even better than calorie counting or carbohydrate counting, the numbers you see on your blood glucose metre are a good indication of whether you are running low on fuel and need to eat or whether you are just eating out of habit, routine, social boredom or for entertainment.

While eating for pleasure occasionally or as part of a celebration is fine and part of enjoying life, in the long run most of us need to find a way to obtain the nutrients we need with less energy if we want to avoid obesity, diabetes and all the associated negative consequences.

If we eat highly insulinogenic low nutrient density foods regularly our insulin levels stay high and our fat stays locked in storage and hunger drives us to eat more frequently.  However, if we reverse this cycle to lower our glucose and insulin to normal levels we start to eat less frequently and we allow our stored energy to flow out of our fat cells, our appetite decrease and there is a good chance we will lose weight and gain health.

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The table below shows the simple process whereby someone could decide if they really need to eat.  Using this process would ensure that their blood glucose levels continue to trend down as their excess energy in their bloodstream and vital organs (pancreas, liver etc) flows out of storage.

blood glucose action
>  7 day average, well slept and low stress delay eating and / or exercise and wait for blood glucose to come down
< 7 day average if hungry, enjoy nutrient dense foods that align with your insulin sensitivity
< 73mg/dL or 4.0 mmol/L if hungry, eat higher insulin load foods and delay exercise

Using numerical outputs to guide our decision making

There is no end of debate as to whether a calorie is a calorie or whether calories matter.   Rather than tracking estimates of inputs like calories eaten or calories burned in exercise, there is nothing like tracking outputs such as your blood glucose levels, waist or weight to understand what your body is doing with the food you are eating and whether you are eating too much or too little.

If your glucose levels, insulin, waist or weight are increasing then chances are you’re eating too much, too often or the wrong type of food.

The plot below is a stark reminder that our chances of living longer improve if we have lower body fat levels or a waist to height ratio close to 0.5.

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The problem with tracking glucose levels

The ‘problem’ with tracking blood glucose levels is that, in time, with regular fasting, our glucose levels will normalise to healthy levels but we may still be left with excess weight.  So where do we turn once our blood glucose levels are optimal but our body fat levels are still above optimal?

This brings us to the star of this article, Rebecca Latham, who is a great example of how you can use your body measurements to guide your feast / fast cycle to achieve your long-term goals.

Rebecca has been following a low carb diet since the start of February 2009.  She was featured in the 2010 New Atkins for a New You[1]  as well as on the Atkins site as an example success story.[2]  She was a guest on Episode 404 of Jimmy Moore’s Livin’ La Vida Low Carb podcast.

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After a stressful time towards the end of 2015 Rebecca Latham decided she needed to make a focused effort to her lose some extra weight that had crept on.  Rebecca is also particularly motivated by her family history of ALS, Parkinson’s Disease, dementia and cancer and her own ongoing battle with Type 2 Diabetes.

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Rebecca’s Protocol

On 1 January 2016 Rebecca set an initial goal to lose 0.2 pounds per day over three months.      Rebecca was also eager to reduce her fasting blood glucose levels from the 100mg/dL back to the 70mg/dL that they had been at before she regained her weight.

Part of Rebecca’s inspiration comes from her uncle, Buell Carlton Cole.

He was general surgeon to the President of the United States, who would control his weight by simply not eating until he returned to his goal weight.  I initially thought this was an unhealthy approach until I read up a more about intermittent fasting.

Rather than simply not eating until she achieved her goal weight, Rebecca’s system involved not eating on days when her weight in the morning was above her target weight.  Her only exception was to be special occasions and celebrations.

Here are Rebecca’s weight loss results during her initial 90-day challenge.  Initial weight loss can be quite quick as the insulin levels drop and the body releases water.  However, it gets a bit harder to continue with straight line weight loss as time goes on as you can see towards the end.

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After the reached her initial goal, Rebecca had some issues that she needed to look after and ended up regaining some of the weight as you can see in the plot below of her weight over the past year.  However, once these challenges were behind her she got back on her program.  For the final part leading up to the end of the year she has dropped her goal weight loss back to 0.06lbs per day to hit her goal on 31 December 2016.   See if you can spot the few ‘blips’ around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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This chart shows that she needed to fast for about one day in three through the year to lose nearly a quarter of her body weight over the year!

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Reflecting on her journey, Rebecca says:

I reached my highest lifetime weight in February 2009, when I weighed in at 158 pounds, with a body fat percentage of 43.7%. This is my scale weight chart for this past almost eight years, since I started eating low carb high fat (LCHF) and nutritional ketosis.

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Each time I lost weight and stopped tracking and weighing myself, I gradually put most of the weight back on again. As you can see by the chart, this happened several times, and the last few times it happened, my weight was going up a little higher each time.

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On January 1, 2016, I developed and started using my Protocol. Since starting the Protocol, I took two breaks, once in May 2016 when my husband had a heart attack and I was too concerned with his health to care about my own, but I got back on the Protocol within a couple of weeks and started seeing success again.

The next time I took a break was in July 2016, when I had to eat high carb and not fast for a week in preparation for some metabolic testing. As soon as the testing was over, I was back on the Protocol and started losing again. I have been going strong ever since, with small gains here and there brought on by restaurant meals and Thanksgiving.

I have now I reached my ultimate goal for scale weight, weighing in at 122.4 pounds with a body fat percentage of 25.7%, which means that I have lost approximately 37.5 pounds of body fat. The Protocol is the only thing that has brought me sustained weight loss, and I plan to follow it for the rest of my life!

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Many people have a love / hate or even just a hate / hate relationship with their bathroom scale.  It would be nice if low carb or nutrient dense achieved optimal health outcomes without any restriction for everyone.  However, unfortunately, sustaining weight loss in the long term often takes discipline, some form of accountability and some level of restriction for most of us.

While weighing yourself every day isn’t much fun, the national weight control registry data indicates that people who have successfully lost weight and kept it off weigh themselves regularly.[3] [4]  [5] Rebecca’s intended long term maintenance plan will likely be to weigh herself regularly and fast again once her weight goes outside her target range.

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Better than calorie counting?

Some people who first try low carb or keto find that they initially lose a lot of weight eating to satiety as their blood glucose and insulin levels drop to healthier levels.  However, in the long term many people find that they need to be more disciplined and mindful of how much and / or how often they are eating to reach their optimal level of body composition.

The great thing about combining fasting with working to a goal like this is that it makes sure you don’t overdo the feasting days.  I’ve found personally that it can be hard to know how much to eat after a fast.  A quantitative system like this helps to manage and calibrate your appetite when you’re feasting.

If you eat to satiety, and not beyond, then you won’t have to fast again as soon as compared to if you binge after your fast.  Eating to satiety on a regular basis means that your body’s metabolism doesn’t slow and adjust in the same way that it would if you maintained a constant caloric restriction.[6]

Life extension benefits

There are a number of benefits to fasting:

  • You can reduce your insulin levels more than if eating small but regular meals which keeps your insulin levels consistently elevated.
  • Fasting gives your body a chance to repair through a process called autophagy which is where the old cells are cleaned up which allow space for the fresh new cells to grow.
  • Fasting trains your body to become ‘metabolically flexible’ so you can use your body fat stores for and your food for fuel.
  • There is less need to focus on the quantity of food eaten at every single meal.
  • It’s not ideal to always be in growth mode with mTOR switched on. Alternating periods of growth and repair appear to be more beneficial in the long term.[7]
  • Fasting makes sense from an ancestral point of view when we wouldn’t have had constant access to plentiful food the way we do now. Periods of intentional restriction mimic what we have become adapted to and follow the seasons of the past.

Fasting also seems to have some special anti-aging effects.  When food is scarce your body senses an emergency, and sends out sirtuin proteins to maximise the health of our mitochondria to increase the chance that you will survive the famine and have the best chance of living to a time when food is more plentiful and you can reproduce and pass on your genes.  Unfortunately, this emergency repair function doesn’t happen when food is plentiful.

Fasting and blood glucose levels

During the first three months following her Protocol Rebecca added a blood glucose target to also bring her blood sugar down by 0.25 mg/dL per day.  As you can see in the chart below her blood glucose levels have dropped pretty much in parallel with her weight loss during this time.

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More recently, she tested her blood glucose levels and found that they were consistently great so she ended up discontinuing the testing because it was becoming monotonous and not helping her make useful decisions.

While it’s useful to track a few things, it can be overwhelming and time consuming to keep track of too many things at once and lead to analysis paralysis.  It’s good to find a handful of things to track that will help you make useful decisions.

Do we lose fat or muscle during fasting?

One hot topic of discussion is the amount of lean mass (i.e. or muscle) that one may lose in long term fasting.

The reality is that any weight loss is going to consist of a combination of water, fat and muscle (or lean muscle mass).  The chart below from Kevin Hall’s model shows that we initially lose a lot of carbohydrate (glycogen) and with it a lot of water.

Protein / muscle loss is the smallest component of loss from the body and this decreases as we adapt more to using fat and ketones rather than relying on glucose.  It takes a few days to adapt to using fat and ketones, but in the long run they are by far the greatest proportion of energy used during fasting.

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Rebecca’s experience aligns with this.  She didn’t get a DEXA scan, but she does take regular body measurements which she uses to calculate her body fat percentage (see US Navy Circumference Method).  Based on these measurements she lost 28.6 lbs of fat and 3.0 lbs of lean mass.   So, more than 90% of her weight loss over the past year was fat.

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“Problems” with fasting

Jason Fung has recently popularised the concept of fasting in the low carb community via his blog and videos and published The Complete Guide to Fasting.  There is a ton of convincing evidence on the benefits of fasting which is an age old practice for a variety of reasons.

However, Dr Steve Phinney has come out highlighting his concerns with long term fasting with respect to loss of lean tissues as well as vitamins and minerals.    A number of others have expressed concerns that fasting without due care and attention to refeeding will not be beneficial in the long term.

One way to reconcile the differences is to see these concerns as two ends of the spectrum.  Jason’s focus is very sick people who come to him with major kidney issues due to their advanced Type 2 Diabetes, while Steve’s focus is more around maximising athletic performance for those whom maintaining muscle mass is critical to performance.

As you can see in the chart below from Differences in fat, carbohydrate, and protein metabolism between lean and obese subjects undergoing total starvation the proportion of energy from lean body mass increases as our level of available level of body fat decreases.

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Also, if you are more fat adapted your body will be able to more easily draw energy from stored body fat rather than requiring glucose which can be drawn from the protein in your body via gluconeogenesis.

Most people don’t fit neatly into either of the extremes, so how do you refine the approach to suit your current situation?   That is where optimising your food choices to suit your current situation comes in.

How much to eat after your fast?

Personally, one challenge I find with fasting is that it’s easy to overdo it when you get to eat again.  I think some people experience this more than others.  Dr Phinney made the analogy that telling someone not to binge at the end of a fast is like telling someone to hold their breath but then not to take too big a breath when they come up for air.

While some people can eat normally the next day after a fast, personally I find that it’s easy to reach for the energy dense lower nutrient dense foods or to give yourself liberty to eat foods that you may not normally eat if you were being disciplined all the time.   By doing this, I’ve found it’s still possible to maintain or gain weight when fasting more days that you eat if you’re not disciplined with what you eat on your feasting days.

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If you find yourself reaching for energy dense low nutrient density foods like processed carbs, a block of chocolate or litre of cream after your fast then you could take that as a sign that you need to revert to shorter fasting periods until you’re more fat adapted.

Another challenge with fasting is that it will deplete your system of vital nutrients in the long term meaning that you may be more inclined to binge when you do eat unless you’ve focusing on maximising nutrient density in your feasting periods.[8]

What to eat after you fast

One of the unique things about fasting is that it forces your body into the cleansing process of autophagy and primes the body to rebuild.  Hence, it’s especially important to feed the parts of the body you want to grow (lean muscle mass is critical for long term health[9]) and maximise the nutrient density during the initial refeed.

In some ways, a fast is only as good as the feast afterwards that your body is highly primed to absorb.  For me that means trying to plan some nutrient dense greens and a solid amount of protein for my first meal so I don’t end up reaching for the energy dense cream, butter or peanut butter or indulge in some junk carbage because I feel like I’ve earned it.

If your goal is to lose fat during the fast then it’s important to build back the essential vitamins, minerals and amino acids during the feeding period.   The body will fight to get what it needs in the long run and I think you’ll have a better chance of avoiding cravings and involuntary binging if you maximise the essential nutrients of your food when you do this.  And if you are using fasting to achieve long term weight loss I think it makes sense to try to get the maximum number of nutrients with the least amount of energy (a.k.a.  avoiding empty calories and maximising nutrient density).

People looking to use fasting for long term weight loss may benefit from starting out with a higher fat dietary approach if they are very insulin resistant.  However, as blood glucose levels progressively improve you should be able to transition to a more nutrient dense nutritional approach which will allow you to get your required nutrients with less energy.

I see a lot of arguments online regarding whether high fat keto or high protein is optimal. I think these arguments come down to context.  The table below gives some guidance as to which approach might be right for you initially based on:

  1. your blood glucose levels (if your glucose levels are high you will likely benefit from a higher fat keto approach, at least initially until your glucose levels start to normalise),
  2. ketones (some is better than none, but there’s no need to chase high ketones with heaps of extra dietary fat, especially if you are trying to lose body fat), and
  3. waist to height ratio (this is going to be more useful than BMI to tell you if you still need to lose a bit of weight).
approach average glucose ketones (mmol/L) waist : height
(mg/dL) (mmol/L)
therapeutic ketosis > 140 > 7.8 < 0.3
diabetes and nutritional ketosis 108 to 140 6.0 to 7.8 < 0.3
weight loss (insulin resistant) 97 to 108 5.4 to 6.0 < 0.3 > 0.5
weight loss (insulin sensitive) < 97 < 5.4 > 0.2 > 0.5
nutrient dense maintenance < 97 < 5.4 > 0.2 < 0.5

This graphic from Dr Ted Naiman demonstrates how foods are all somewhere on the sliding scale between maximum energy density and maximum nutrient density.  If we are aiming for long term weight loss, we want to maximise nutrient density as much as we can while keeping blood glucose levels and insulin levels low. Then as we improve blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity we will be able continue to move towards the right to more nutrient dense approaches which will help to provide satiety and adequate nutrition with less energy.[10]

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If / when we reach our ideal weight or level of body fat, we can afford to add back in some more energy dense foods because we are no longer trying to use the glucose in our liver (glycogen) and body fat from our belly.[11] [12]

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Rebecca says:

I originally started eating ketogenically a few years ago by eating very high fat, lower protein, and very low (sometimes zero) carbs. That worked for a while, and I lost weight, but as time went on, I found that I was eating so much fat and so little protein that I was getting hungry all the time.

I now get plenty of protein on my eating days. I am 5’3″ and eat 125g on the days that I feast.  I find with this approach I am less hungry and my Protocol requires me to fast less often.[13] [14]

Losing lean muscle mass is bad news whether you’re a bodybuilder, a diabetic or an older person battling sarcopenia.[15]   Not only will losing muscle decrease your metabolic health, glucose disposal and metabolic rate, your body will also increase appetite to regain the muscle, making it harder to keep on losing the fat.[16]

It’s not just about looking buff and building muscles, amino acids are critical to fueling mitochondrial function and creating neurotransmitters that assist in staying happy and sleeping well.  For example, the amino acid tryptophan produces serotonin which makes us happy and melatonin which helps us sleep.[17]

For reference, Rebecca’s 125g of protein per day ends up being 3g/kg LMB.  This equates to 2g/kg LBM per day on average if you factor in the fact that she fasts every third day.   This aligns with Volek and Phinney’s recommendations in the Art and Science of Low Carb Living (i.e. 1.5 – 2g/kg reference body weight) which equates to 1.7 to 2.2g/kg LBM .  In Lyle McDondald’s Rapid Fat Loss Handbook he recommends between 1.8 to 4.4g/kg LBM protein, with higher level of protein if you are lean and more active, and less if you are obese and inactive, to prevent muscle loss during a protein sparing modified fast.

The optimal food lists have been designed to help maximise nutrient density (including ensuring adequate amino acids) ideally without needing to rely on tracking calories.  Rebecca does track what she eats, but mainly to make sure she is getting adequate protein on her feasting days.

The Protocol does not *require* tracking food intake, but I strongly recommend it. I found, for myself, that if I did not track on feast days, I ate too much fat and not enough protein, and I was having to fast a lot more to make my daily goals. Starting in April, I did start using the OKL macros and recommending the same to others.[18]

Rebecca also practices early time restricted feeding (eTRF) which means she eats earlier in the day due to better insulin sensitivity which seems to be producing good results for a lot of people.  I have heard a lot of reports from people that have found that eating earlier rather than later helps with sleep, appetite and blood sugar.

Variations

I encourage you to check out Rebecca’s Facebook group where she has documented her daily progress and learnings and supports others using the Protocol.  You can download a spreadsheet and start tracking and sharing your own progress.  Public accountability and a supportive community are always going to be helpful in achieving such a long-term goal.

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Rebecca has ‘stacked’ several different techniques from her learnings to ensure her long term success this time around to fight her genetics and tendency to regain her weight.

Before launching in, there are several considerations to tailor Rebecca’s approach to suit your situation and goals such as:

  • Target rate of weight loss. Rebecca recommends that people aim for a maximum weight loss of 0.2lbs or 0.1kg per day.  Anything more is typically hard to sustain in the long term.  You might be feeling ambitious and this level might be easy to achieve when things are going well but it may be hard to sustain in the longer term, especially if you have a few social gatherings or parties that leave you with some catching up to do.  As you approach your goal weight you may be glad you chose a less aggressive goal as the weight loss becomes a little harder to achieve.

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  • Social context. This type of approach can be hard to work around family or social commitments.  I like to enjoy good food with my family on the weekends and save my fasting for work days when it’s easier to skip food.  When I’ve followed this protocol, it leaves me fasting Monday and Tuesday and eating dinner Tuesday night with the family or ideally a hearty breakfast Wednesday morning.  Based on my scale weight I may end up fasting another day or two on Thursday and / or Friday.
  • What’s your maximum fasting tolerance? Fasting gets easier with practice.  You might want to start with just skipping a couple of meals, then going for 36 hours, then a couple of days.  If you find your cravings are leading you to binge or sacrifice food quality, then you may want to stick with shorter fasting periods or aim for a less aggressive target rate of weight loss.
  • What else do you want to measure? The good thing about measuring weight is that it’s easy.  It can however be problematic in that there are a ton of things that influence your weight other than fat gain or loss (e.g. muscle, water, how full is your gut, whne did you go to the toilet etc); it’s an easy way to measure your progress day to day.  In the long term, you want to see a trend in the right direction.  If you have diabetes, then you may also want to track your glucose and even your ketone levels.  It will also be useful to track your waist measurement periodically to see whether you’re getting closer to your optimum waist to height ratio of 0.5, particularly if you are building muscle and hence the BMI categories won’t mean much for you.  For reference, during 2016 Rebecca’s waist to height ratio went from 0.54 to 0.44.

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How full is your stress bucket?

A word of warning, again from personal experience, is that this approach is simple, but it’s not necessarily easy.  Wondering what number you will see on the scale each day can be exciting but a bit stressful.  It can be frustrating when you see the number going in the wrong direction or not keeping up with your target rate of weight loss.

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Chris Masterjohn recently did an excellent podcast How I Lost 30 Pounds in Four Months and How I Knew It Was Time which I highly recommend if you’re hoping to lose some serious weight.

A regular fasting routine is another thing that you will add to your “stress bucket” and if you don’t already have your sleep, nutrition, relationships, stress, circadian rhythm and regular activity in check then the cortisol and related insulin spikes may make achieving long term success with this approach harder than it would otherwise be.

If you do have these things ticked off and you’re feeling relaxed after a Christmas holidays but may have overdone the celebratory food then you can download a copy of the spreadsheet from My Low Carb Road – Fasting Support and give it a go.

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references

[1] http://www.why-low-carb-diets-work.com/atkins-forum.html

[2] https://www.carbsmart.com/low-carb-success-story-rebecca-latham.html

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24355667

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18198319

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14668267

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20921964

[7] https://optimisingnutrition.com/2016/10/29/the-complete-guide-to-fasting-book-review/

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2988700/

[9] https://optimisingnutrition.com/2016/03/21/wanna-live-forever/

[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2988700/

[11] http://livinlavidalowcarb.com/blog/the-llvlc-show-episode-1161-qa-medical-panel-2016-low-carb-cruise/26797

[12] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KYYnEAYCGk

[13] http://www.artandscienceoflowcarb.com/

[14] http://www.ketoisland.com/blog/is-keto-high-fat-or-low-fat/

[15] https://optimisingnutrition.com/2016/03/21/wanna-live-forever/

[16] http://www.nature.com/ejcn/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/ejcn2016256a.html?platform=hootsuite

[17]  https://optimisingnutrition.com/2016/12/03/finding-your-optimal-insulin-load/

[18] https://www.facebook.com/groups/MyLowCarbRoadFastingSupport/permalink/147072942381538/

 

optimising blood sugars with RD Dikeman

It has been a transformational journey for RD Dikeman since his son Dave was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, both as a parent and for himself as he has implemented a regimen of what he likes to call “meal skipping” (a.k.a. intermittent fasting) guided by his own blood glucose levels.

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I came across Dave Dikeman, a young man with Type 1 Diabetes, in Episode 831 of Jimmy Moore’s LLVLC Show.  I still remember ten year old Dave saying “finger pricks now or amputations later, the choice is pretty simple”.   Dave’s pragmatic attitude to his condition was another light bulb moment in our family’s journey to learning to manage diabetes.

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It has also been quite a journey for RD Dikeman, Dave’s dad, who recently posted a few comments on the Optimising Nutrition Facebook Group that I thought were worth capturing.

I’ll tell you a quick story about how this whole low carb thing started.

Dave is near death, in the hospital, diagnosed with T1. The doctor rolls in to meet us. A kindly doctor – no Bernstein – but a very kindly man (he took an injection of insulin to show Dave not to be afraid).

So the doctor is talking to Dave and finds out they both went to the same school. So there’s some kinship.  And the doctor recognizes that Dave is a pretty sharp guy and Dave starts asking questions ‘will I die young?’ And Doc is brutally honest ‘you have to control your blood sugars – amputations, blindness and those things are on the table’.  And doc starts to give us a lecture on how to do that.

He has an easel and a sharpie. Anyway, he draws a rollercoaster blood sugar graph and he says ‘carbo makes blood sugar go up and insulin go down and you want to be between 80 and 180 (sigh) mg/dL.’

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And Dave goes ‘I just won’t eat carbo’.  TRUE STORY.!

And ME!! I interrupt and say (throw me down and kerb stomp me everyone) ‘You need carbo for… ENERGY’. LOL!

So I spent the next month force feeding Dave oatmeal. I am heckled daily for this. Every time there is oatmeal. Oatmeal on a TV commercial.  Oatmeal at restaurant.  Heckled!

About a month later guess who discovered ‘The Bernstein Book‘!!! NOT ME!! It was Roxanne (my wife).  So that is two fails for me.

I will say the happiest moment of my life was reading Bernstein’s ‘law of small numbers’. I knew then that we had a way out of this mess.

Being 100% wrong never felt so good.  I have a good leader. The whole thing was his idea.

Since then, RD has become passionate about the low carb way of eating and helping other people learn more about diabetes.  He is an admin on the Type One Grit Facebook Page which is a great source of support and inspiration for people with Type One Diabetes.  He and Dave also produce Dr Bernstein’s Diabetes University which captures nuggets from Dr B on YouTube.

RD lives low carb theory…

I don’t eat any carbohydrate-glucose foods. No sugar, manipulated sugar fruits, grains or starch. Ever. Carbs are only from fibrous veggies and nuts.

and it seems to be working.

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Dr Bernstein’s recommended target blood glucose is 83mg/dL (or 4.6mmol/L) with a recommendation that people with Type 1 Diabetes actively work to keep within a ten point range of this target number (i.e. 73 to 93mg/dL or 4.0 to 5.2mmol/L).

Dr B tells the story of how, back in the day, blood glucose meter sales reps would come to his office.  He would get them to demonstrate how it worked by testing it on themselves so he could see their blood glucose number.  Sure enough, the blood glucose levels of these healthy young non-diabetic sales reps was always around 83mg/dL.

Since then there has been  plenty of research that showing the benefits of having an average blood glucose level of around 83mg/dL including reducing your risk of cancer, obesity, heart disease and a range of other metabolic issues.

Some people operate happily at the lower end of this range, particularly if they are younger and / or insulin sensitive and producing ketones.  Generally though, the body of someone with a healthy metabolism will bring them back to a blood sugar of around 83mg/dL (or 4.6mmol/L).

Not too high.  Not too low.  Just right.

The table below shows a generalised relationship between blood glucose, ketones, HbA1c and the glucose : ketone ratio (GKI).  There’s no perfect number for everyone, however typically the lower your HbA1c, without using blood glucose lowering medications, the lower your risk of metabolic syndrome and related diseases (see the Diabetes 102 article for more details).

ketone BG (mmol/L) BG (mg/dL) GKI HbA1c Comment
0.20 5.9 106 29.5 5.32 good
0.50 5.3 95 10.6 4.93 high normal
0.60 5.2 93 8.6 4.85 high normal
0.70 5.1 91 7.2 4.79 high normal
0.80 5.0 90 6.2 4.74 high normal
0.90 4.9 88 5.5 4.69 high normal
1.00 4.8 87 4.8 4.66 high normal
1.50 4.6 83 3.1 4.51 optimal
2.00 4.5 80 2.2 4.41 low normal
2.50 4.3 78 1.7 4.33 low normal
3.00 4.2 76 1.4 4.27 low normal
3.50 4.2 75 1.2 4.22 low normal
4.00 4.1 74 1.0 4.18 low normal

RD is not technically diabetic himself however he understands the dangers of high blood glucose levels.  RD found that the low carb way of eating helped him lower his own blood glucose, however he still wasn’t consistently achieving Dr Bernstein’s target blood glucose level of 83mg/dL.

What he did find was that when he waited to eat his blood glucose would come down as the body used up the glucose in his blood.  Over time RD developed a practice of meal timing guided by his glucose meter that finally enabled him to optimize his own blood glucose levels.

My blood sugar tells me when it’s time to get some insulin sensitizing exercise at the gym also.

I would say if blood sugar is above normal (83 mg/dL) then beta cells are ‘on’ and insulin is a fat storage hormone (obviously other functions).

It’s your table exactly Marty Kendall!

This is the table that RD is excited about (from the using your glucose meter as a fuel gauge article).

blood glucose action
>  7 day average, well slept and low stress consider delaying eating and / or exercising
< 7 day average if hungry, enjoy nutrient dense foods that align with your insulin sensitivity
< 73mg/dL (4.0 mmol/L) if hungry, eat higher insulin load foods and delay exercise

If your glucose is higher than YOUR average then you may not need to eat right now.

If you are insulin resistant, when you do eat, you should focus on foods that won’t spike your blood glucose levels.

Eating when your blood glucose is less than YOUR current average will allow you to progressively lower your blood glucose.

Decreasing average blood glucose = winning!

For most people it will take some time before they can get their blood glucose down to Dr B’s target of 83mg/dL.  Using this method RD has been able to decrease his HbA1c from 5.3% to 4.8%.

If your blood glucose is below 73mg/dL (4.0mmol/L) then you may benefit from foods with a higher insulin load to replenish glycogen stores.

The continuous glucose meter plot below shows RD’s blood glucose levels after a few years of implementing Dr Bernstein’s advice in his family.  Not bad!

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I am able to lower my HbAc1 about 0.1% every six months. It’s not easy.

If you aren’t at mid 4s, look to belly fat and/or treating your body like an amusement park in younger days (guilty!)

One big takeaway from the journey has been how long it takes to heal the metabolism…. not a surprise if you’ve been sabotaging it for decades, I guess.

RD says it’s more than just the exercise.  It’s the food and the fasting too.

I worked out plenty in 2006.  Same gym.

RD understands that it is important for his long term health to do whatever he can to strip the fat from his body, particularly from his organs.

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As we reverse fatty liver and fatty pancreas  normal insulin sensitivity can be restored which in turn leads to normal blood glucose levels and normal body weight.

RD doesn’t use the scale to track his health, but rather his blood glucose meter.

I know if I eat too much food or if I stop working out, my blood sugar starts rising and I start to put on weight.  This happens even with a low carb diet.

If I fast and work out, my blood sugar returns to normal.  I feel better.

So really, I don’t use the (weight) scale, I can use my blood sugar meter instead.

Fixing your metabolism by learning how to eat and losing weight after years of eating the standard…  well it takes some time…  a few years in my case.

I’m still seeing improvement and motivated.  I’m definitely not going back.

Congrats RD!

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For more details on how to use your blood glucose meter as a fuel gauge check out this article.

how to use your glucose meter as a fuel gauge

  • While reducing carbohydrates is the first priority, high blood glucose levels and insulin resistance can also be a sign that you are eating too much and / or too often.
  • You can use your blood glucose meter as a fuel gauge to help you understand whether your hunger is real and refine your meal timing.
  • Delaying your next meal allows your body to use up the glucose in your blood.
  • Intermittent fasting will allow your the glucose in your blood stream to be replenished from the glycogen stores in your liver and muscle and allow energy to flow from your fat stores.
blood glucose action
>  7 day average, well slept and low stress delay eating and / or exercise
< 7 day average if hungry, enjoy nutrient dense foods that align with your insulin sensitivity
< 73mg/dL (4.0 mmol/L) if hungry, eat higher insulin load foods and delay exercise

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This approach is NOT intended for people who do not produce enough insulin (i.e. type 1 diabetes, type 1.5, LADA and MODY) but rather for people who are insulin resistant and produce large amounts of insulin but still have high blood glucose levels (i.e. type 2 diabetes, hyperinsulinemia and most people who are obese).

reducing insulin

Eating frequently will keep your insulin and blood glucose levels high, particularly if you eat high carbohydrate foods with a high insulin load.

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Reducing meal frequency enables blood glucose and and insulin levels to decrease.

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Insulin keeps fat stores locked in storage.  Reducing insulin levels allows body fat to be released for fuel.[1]

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Decreasing body fat, particularly from the liver, pancreas and kidneys leads to improved insulin sensitivity and normalised blood glucose.[2] [3]

Eating larger meals with more carbohydrate causes your blood glucose to stay higher for longer.   Conversely, having smaller meals with a lower insulin load allows your blood glucose levels will return to baseline faster, and if you’re following this protocol, you’ll be able to eat again sooner.

when to eat

You can use your blood glucose meter to help you know whether your hunger is real and whether or not to skip a meal or two or not eat for the day.

If you have some level of insulin resistance then chances are your blood glucose levels will be higher in the morning due to glycogen being released into the bloodstream as your body prepares for the day (a.k.a. Dawn Phenomenon).  If you are insulin resistant the insulin secreted by your pancreas doesn’t keep up with the release of glucose into the blood stream and hence your blood glucose will be high.

Dr Jason Fung says that the Dawn Phenomenon is your body’s way of purging excess energy.

The Dawn Phenomenon is simply moving sugar from body stores (liver) into the blood. That’s it. If your body stores are filled to bursting, then you will expel as much of that sugar as possible.

By itself it is neither good nor bad. It is simply a marker that your body has too much sugar. Solution? Simple. Either don’t put any sugar in (LCHF) or burn it off (fasting). Even better? LCHF + IF.[4]

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If you test your blood glucose in the morning and it’s higher than your current average then you might want to delay eating until your blood glucose comes back down.  This may mean eating your first meal early afternoon followed by an early dinner (e.g. 16:8 intermittent fasting).   Alternatively, you could skip dinner which would help to lower morning blood glucose and then eat breakfast and lunch.

Other people find it simplest to not eat for the whole day or even two days at a time and then resume normal eating to satiety the rest of the time.  As you get used to it you may want to try longer fasts which will accelerate the healing process.  Over time you’ll find a routine that suits you and be able to calibrate your feeling of hunger and reduce the frequency of testing.

tailored just for you

Many people agree that intermittent fasting is a good idea, but how do you whether you should be doing Michael Mosely’s 5:2 diet, Hugh Jackman’s 6:8, Kiefer’s Carb Back Loading and Carb Nite, Lyle McDonald’s TKD and CKD, Bert Herring’s Fast Five, Ori Hofmekler’s Warrior Diet, or Martin Berham’s Lean Gains?

It can be confusing when there are so many options out there!  How do you know which one is right for you and then how do you know if it’s working?  How can you refine and tweak to to reach your goals?  What if you just really feel hungry!?!?

The advantage of using your blood glucose level as a guide versus a regimented intermittent fasting protocol or a fixed calorie intake is that it accounts for your activity as well as your food intake.

Eating is not bad.  In the end it is about balancing your intake with your expenditure which is a challenge with abundant constant hyperpalatable food choices.

This approach helps you to fine tune when and how much you eat to your actual requirements right now.  Not so much that you’ll store fat, but not so little that you’ll down regulate your metabolism.

Your blood glucose meter can help you understand whether your hunger is real and re-calibrate your appetite signals.  If your blood glucose levels are lower than your average then your insulin levels will be decreasing and you’ll be using body fat.  If your blood glucose levels are increasing then you’re likely eating too much, your insulin levels are high and you’ll be storing the excess energy as fat on your body.

When using this approach you’re able to eat to eat to satiety  while keeping in mind that when you eat next will be influenced by whether or not your binge at this meal.  You could even use this approach to make sure you don’t overdo the refueling and keep the insulin load of your meals such that your blood glucose doesn’t go over say 120mg/dL (or 6.7mmol/L).  A blood glucose level over this is a sure sign that your glycogen stores are full and well and truly spilling over into your blood stream.

Many people find that they are able to eat less overall when intermittent fasting compared to trying to eat numerous ‘small’ meals.  Saint Augustine wisely said

“Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.”

I think this also applies to our meal timing and portion sizing.

By choosing to eat only when your blood glucose is below YOUR average blood glucose level you can tailor the approach to your current situation and metabolic health.

Waiting until your blood glucose reaches optimal levels is not going to be realistic for most people.  It’s best to start from where you are now and work towards optimal.

In the study Adherence to hunger training using blood glucose monitoring: a feasibility study[5] the researchers found that participants did much better when they set their own personalised blood glucose target rather than waiting until their blood glucose levels reached some optimal target before eating.  The other noteworthy observation from this study was that people who were obese lost a significant amount of weight!

Overweight participants achieved significant weight loss over the two-week period, with an average loss of 1.5 kg (95 % CI 2.2, 0.9) and a corresponding reduction in BMI of 0.6 kg/m2 (95 % CI 0.3, 0.8), p < 0.001). By contrast, lean participants maintained their weight.

the end game

The long term goal is to achieve an optimal HbA1c of 4.5% which equates to an average blood glucose level of 83mg/dL (or 4.6mmol/L).  There are lots of really good reasons to keep your blood glucose and insulin levels in check such as reducing your risk for cancer…[6]

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…heart attack, stroke[7] and a whole range of western diseases.[8]

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People with Type 1 Diabetes following Dr Bernstein’s protocol try to keep their blood glucose within ten points of the optimal target level of 83mg/dL (4.6 mmol/l).  This means that they will dose with insulin when their blood glucose rises above 93mg/dL (or 5.2 mmol/l) and then eat to bring their glucose levels back up when they drop below 73mg/dL (or 4.0mmol/L).

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Someone who has a functioning pancreas but is struggling with insulin resistance, hyperinsulinemia and / or obesity can use a similar process to manage their blood glucose and insulin levels.  But rather than dosing with insulin to bring their blood glucose down (they typically already have more than enough insulin!) they simply delay eating until they burn through the excess blood glucose.

Waiting to eat until your blood glucose levels are below your recent average will ensure that they decrease over time.  Most glucose meters will display the average glucose level for the last seven, fourteen and thirty days so it is easy to tell what your current target is.

If you’re really eager you could go to the trouble of graphing your blood glucose numbers, but in the end if your seven day average is less than your fourteen day average then you’re moving in the right direction.  Over time you want to see your average blood glucose levels coming down, so if you see them drifting up then you it’s a sign that you need to intensify your fasting somehow.

Normalising blood glucose and insulin will often lead to optimal weight, particularly if you’re insulin resistant.  However some people will still need to pay attention to cutting calories once blood sugar and insulin is normalised.

when not to use this approach

Exercise may raise your blood glucose in the short term due to the body dumping glycogen from your liver into the bloodstream to fuel the exercise.  If you don’t eat as much after exercise your body will have to replenish the glycogen stores from the energy stores on your body.

There will be times when you’re really hungry or it will be appropriate to eat for social reasons such as a party, family gathering etc.  Periodic feasting is a normal part of our culture.  This system would help you to get back on track and work around these times.

You should also keep in mind that there are other things that affect blood glucose including stress, sleep, sickness, hormones and exercise that you will need to manage and be mindful of when deciding whether to delay a meal due to your blood glucose being high.

Fasting may not be ideal if you’re already stressed, sick, not sleeping well and / or are pushing the exercise envelope.  During these times it maybe better to focus on life maintenance and listen to your appetite.

Dr Jason Fung pointed out:

Medications and insulin obviously would gum up the entire system. The other thing would be stress (cortisol) also increases blood sugars. 

If you could control for those two things, then this would definitely be an idea worth testing.   

I like the idea of varying the fasting period.   I think that intermittency is a key component to success.

So if you are taking insulin or other blood glucose lowering medications you will need to make sure they are reduced so you are not having to eat to raise your blood glucose because of the medication.

The problem with injected insulin or many other diabetes medications is that, while it may help to reduce blood glucose levels, it also drives the energy back into the cells rather than allowing the stored energy to flow out of storage.  The more you reduce insulin (injected or produced from your own pancreas) the quicker the healing can occur.  However the same time it would be prudent to reduce medications progressively to prevent your blood glucose levels from going too high.[10]

High blood glucose levels can be a sign that you’re stressed, exhausted or your hormones are out of whack (including time of the month for females), all of which will lead to insulin resistance.  You can use Heart Rate Variability to track your stress and exhaustion with an app such as Elite HRV which enables you to see when you’re exhausted and need to back off and rest.

If you just don’t feel like fasting and your blood glucose levels are high it’s probably a sign that you need to rest, relax, sleep, meditate, see some real sunlight during the day and stop gazing into the iPad before you go to bed.   Using f.lux on your computer or blue blocking glasses after sunset is worth considering.

While longer therapeutic fasts can be beneficial, a shorter feast / fast cycle that brings your blood glucose level down to below your average is likely to be more useful to improve your metabolism while reducing the extreme swings in water weight or any concerns that you’re not getting adequate protein to support lean body mass.

ketones and the glucose: ketone index (GKI)

The simplest approach is just to measure your blood glucose levels when you feel hungry and not eat until they drop below your target level.  You could still use this approach even once you have improved your insulin sensitivity to lose weight by targeting even lower blood glucose levels before eating.

Monitoring your blood glucose will work whether you are insulin sensitive or insulin resistant, obese or normal weight.  The body does an amazing job of replenishing your glycogen stores and stabilising your blood glucose whether it be from carbohydrates, gluconeogenesis from amino acids or even gluconeogenesis of fat once you are highly insulin sensitive.

Once you are starting to get your blood glucose levels under control you could start to track your ketones or the glucose: ketone index (GKI).  Decreasing glucose along with rising ketones is a sign that your glycogen stores are being depleted and you your hunger is legitimate.[11]

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If your average glucose is under 90mg/dL (5.0mmol/L) then you could even start tracking the ratio between your glucose and ketones (GKI)[12] and delay eating until your GKI is under a certain level.

Alternatively you could simply not eat until your ketone levels were greater than a certain level.  You could start with a target ketone level of 0.4mmol/L and keep winding that up till you achieve your desired results.  However testing blood ketones every time you feel hungry could be a costly exercise.

While all these things are important and useful, make sure to use them as tools to help you live life rather than taking over your life and stressing you out.  Your goals need to be realistic and tailored to your situation.  Hopefully in time this ‘hunger training’ approach will help you build new habits around eating which will mean you won’t need to rely as much on the testing.

fast well, feast well

Keep in mind If you are eating less food less often you will need to maximise nutrient density when you do eat, including ensuring that you are getting adequate protein to maintain lean muscle mass over the long term.

Best of luck if you chose to try this approach.  I look forward to hearing how you go.  Be sure to share your experience in the comments below.

 

references

[1] http://bja.oxfordjournals.org/content/85/1/69.long

[2] https://intensivedietarymanagement.com/fatty-pancreas-t2d-9/

[3] http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/early/2015/11/29/dc15-0750?patientinform-links=yes&legid=diacare;dc15-0750v1

[4] https://intensivedietarymanagement.com/dawn-phenomenon-t2d-8/

[5] http://nutritionandmetabolism.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12986-015-0017-2

[6] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ijc.29917/epdf

[7] http://cardiab.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2840-12-164

[8] http://diabesity.ejournals.ca/index.php/diabesity/article/view/19

[9] http://lowcarbbetterhealth.blogspot.com.au/2016/02/day-37-2016-weight-loss-and-blood.html

[10] https://optimisingnutrition.com/2015/08/17/balancing-diet-and-diabetes-medications/

[11] http://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms10580.epdf?shared_access_token=MUKioJXu6KVY753YIDoPVNRgN0jAjWel9jnR3ZoTv0NZFUsLxRRWAKMsrNHEbSj2q0khGxVdwhqgBvlELqp6rtnjRj5ppdqpqF9VFYO_6UzYPSf3Z5ZW4kFdG4GQIZ71IGlh7tQHXrGHJ2Nz7rN5iw-9csWuhb9uHxuz_-28FyOP6Tcmjd1H9Uxq9OwlIQTy

[12] https://optimisingnutrition.com/2015/07/20/the-glucose-ketone-relationship/