I just measured my beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) levels at 7.6 -- way higher than anything I’ve ever seen before. But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, ketones like BHB go up when you burn a lot of fat, and for the last six days I’ve been eating nothing but saturated fat, in the form of butter and MCT oil. I’ve been doing the Bulletproof Rapid Fat Loss Protocol. Partly because my weight loss efforts had been flat-lining for the last few months, but mainly because I was curious. Here’s how it went, and what I learned.
First, the good news. In the last six days I’ve lost 4.5 kg and my body fat percentage has dropped about 2%. I’m still a few kilos outside the healthy weight range for my height, and about 12 kilos over my ideal weight, but my confidence that I can get there eventually has been restored.
It’s been a bumpy ride. I never felt faint or ill, but my focus and concentration was fairly scattered, especially early on. I could cope easily with regular everyday tasks, but I struggled with higher level thinking processes. For example, I’m working on research project looking at how depression is related to nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and particular amino acids, such as tyrosine and tryptophan. I could read and absorb fairly complex scientific papers without any difficulty, but I had trouble with things like deciding what to investigate next or putting it all together into a report.
And I was hungry. This is probably not surprising on a diet where you eat nothing until evening, and then only eat butter. I love butter, but I found that I fairly quickly reached a point where I couldn’t face the idea of even one more bite. High fat meals make your liver release bile to help emulsify all the fat, and I felt like the bile was making me a bit nauseous, especially without any protein or fibre to buffer it.
This meant I only ate a little bit of butter, which left me feeling pretty hungry a couple of hours later on. The protocol places no limits on how many calories you can eat, and I didn’t measure exactly how much butter I ate in the evenings, but I’m pretty sure in total I consumed somewhere between 1200 and 1500 calories each day, which is well under maintenance levels for a guy my size. That probably explains a lot of the weight loss, but I think there’s more to it, as we’ll get to in a moment.
Luckily Day 1 and Day 2 were part of a long weekend, so I didn’t have to do anything more challenging than take the kids to the beach. But I wasn’t really set up to make Bulletproof Coffee at work when I went back on Tuesday, so on Day 3 and Day 4 I ended up going home around 2 pm for a late “lunch”, which turned into a 15 minute coffee nap (drink coffee, take a nap, and wake up 15 minutes later when the caffeine kicks in). I felt a lot more human after that, but I still wasn’t particularly productive. The lesson from this is to get organised.
On Day 5, I bought a vacuum flask with a good seal, and stocked up my desk with organic grass feed butter. I was able to work at home until about 11 o’clock, so I had two Bulletproof coffees before I left and this carried me through until about 3 o’clock, after which I really started to fade. The BCAA supplement carried me through until evening and I was feeling a lot better, but I was still a long way short of the “rock star” feeling that Dave Asprey describes.
Part of the reason I was feeling better – apart from my body adjusting to the shock of the new pattern of eating – was that I was getting better at tweaking my salt intake. A lot of people balk at the idea of taking lots of salt almost as much as they balk at the idea of eating loads of butter. But the way that your body processes minerals like sodium and potassium changes drastically when you’re in a state of ketosis. If you eat a “normal” amount of carbohydrates, then your levels of ketone bodies (like the BHB that I measured earlier) are going to be roughly zero. In this situation, you will retain sodium and this will make your blood pressure go up if you eat too much salt.
On the other hand, if you severely limit your carbs then your ketones will increase and some of them will be excreted in your urine. The trouble is that the two main ketone bodies are negatively charged, so you end up excreting a lot of (positively charged) sodium to maintain electrolyte balance. This might sound like a good thing if you’ve been brought up to believe that sodium is evil, but sodium is actually crucial to the functioning of just about every cell in your body. So is potassium, and your cells maintain a careful balance between potassium (mainly inside cells) and sodium (mainly outside cells). If you start losing heaps of sodium, then you will start losing potassium too, and that’s bad news. Keeping sodium levels up helps avoid or at least minimize potassium loss. It’s also energizing and hydrating, so you’re more likely to absorb the water that you’re drinking. It’s probably impossible to completely avoid losing at least some potassium on this kind of protocol, and so that’s why the potassium supplementation is also essential.
A lot of the crummy feelings that people sometimes get when they experiment with ketosis (and protocols like the one I’m trying) are due to loss of sodium and potassium.
I didn’t know this when I first started a ketogenic diet about six months ago. Then I tried bone broth and it sorted me out instantly. Later I learned that I could get more or less the same result by adding a pinch of salt to a glass of water. However, on the Rapid Fat Loss Protocol I found that my need for salt was even higher again, so I tried two pinches of salt, and then three. I tried higher doses too, but too much made my gut a bit delicate, so this needs some customization. I also found that adding some salt helped some of the other supplements go down easier.
The protocol includes daily doses of Glutathione and branched chain amino acids (BCAA), neither of which taste very good on their own. Washing the Glutathione down with half a teaspoon of (pink Himalayan) salt in a glass of water took the taste away quickly. (Dave recommends up to a teaspoon if you can handle it.) For the first few days I measured my BCAAs incorrectly, only taking about 2.5 grams at a time instead of 5 grams. It didn’t taste too bad, especially with a bit of salt, but when I realized my mistake and add 5 grams I nearly gagged. I found the answer was to divide the dose into two glasses of water (plus some salt) and sip slowly over the course of an hour or so. This probably minimized any small insulin spike that might have been triggered by the two glucogenic BCAAs (valine and isoleucine). “Glucogenic” means that they can be converted to glucose, which is not a bad thing when you are eating basically zero carbs. But insulin is not your friend on this kind of protocol, because it can lower your (already very low) blood sugar more than is really comfortable.
Keeping insulin super low is another reason why I’ve lost so much weight so quickly. Insulin does a lot of things, but basically you can think of it as the “storage” hormone.
When insulin goes up, glucose and fatty acids in your blood get shunted into storage, mainly in your muscles, fat and liver. There is only so much glucose you can store in your liver and muscles (even if you exercise a lot), so any extra glucose gets turned into fat and stored in that form. But if insulin is low then no matter how much fat you eat your body will attempt to burn the fat rather than store it. If there is a lot of fat coming in, as in a high fat/low carb diet, or if you are starving (and relying on stored body fat for energy) then you might have trouble using all the available energy, so your body’s solution is partially “burn” (oxidize) some of the fat and convert it into ketones. Unlike fat, ketones are water soluble, so you can store huge amounts in your blood, as you can see from the 7.6 mmol reading I got on my BHB test. (Actually, once ketones get this high they trigger insulin release to slow down ketone production.) This means that the energy stored in ketones is more readily available if you need it in a hurry (more available, it turns out, than glucose) and that ketones can cross the blood brain barrier and power your brain.
I was hoping that by the time my ketones got really high I’d be getting that super-focused brain energy that I’ve come to associate with being in ketosis. This finally happened today, on Day 6 of the protocol. But for the first few days I was feeling pretty crummy a lot of the time. I suspect that a lot of that was due to the toxins stored in my fat, and that these toxins were also the barrier that had been slowing my weight loss to a crawl before I started this protocol. I don’t have any objective way of confirming this, but next time I try this I’m going to experiment with how many tablets of Activated Charcoal I take. This time I took three, twice a day, but I suspect I could handle a few more, and that might help get rid of toxins faster. I might also think about other ways of taking the stress out of the detox process, like maybe more Glutathione. I only took four grams rather than the recommended 5 to 15 grams, although I also added NAC and Acetyl-L-Carnitine, the poor man’s substitutes. I suspect a bit more Glutathione would make a difference.
So, by Day 6 I was finally feeling pretty good. I had another morning at home, and two BP coffees before I left at 11 o’clock (the second one half strength). By now I was set up for a Bulletproof Hot Chocolate in the early afternoon and that, together with the late afternoon BCAAs, kept me going until my next Bulletproof Hot Chocolate at 8:30pm, which has kept me powering until now – 1:00 am the next day.
I’m going to bed now. Not because I’m tired, but because I’ve got things I need to do early tomorrow morning. I’m looking forward to eating tomorrow, but the hunger that was plaguing me a couple of days ago has gone completely, so I don’t think food will get the better of me. I’ve decided to go back to regular Bulletproof eating and intermittent fasting for the next couple of weeks, because I have exams and deadlines coming up and I’m not prepared to risk a possible performance hit. I also really miss vegetables.
Note: This is a report of my experiences, not a recommendation. If you are going to try this, read the cautions in the protocol explanation and consult your doctor, especially if you have any pre-existing medical issues.