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Along the way
Posted : 2019-05-03 16:38
Updated : 2019-05-03 16:38
By Michael P. Downey
Early in 2018 I knew I had to do something. I was steadily gaining weight and had been for some time. My winter clothes were reaching the point where I would soon have to buy larger sizes and these were my “fat” ones. Absolutely something had to be done. If I had to buy new clothes I was determined to buy smaller sizes not larger.
I had lost a lot of weight about six years ago, became complacent, and had slipped back into my old ways. It’s real easy to do, believe me. It took a couple of months to get my determination together and make a new plan. I spent some time with “Dr. YouTube” and on April 19, 2018, I jumped off.
I had already quit drinking for 3, 7, 21, and 40 days consecutively so I was ready. I began intermittent fasting, that is I ate nothing for at least 16 hours a day. In addition I severely restricted carbohydrates. The goal was to deplete all glucose in the blood and begin burning ketones for energy.
This strategy was based on the cutting-edge science of weight gain and loss by controlling insulin. The key hormone involved in storing energy as body fat is insulin. The reason I was fat is because I had excess insulin that was storing up fat and not allowing me to burn it as energy.
The reason my insulin was high was because I had become insulin resistant, that is my liver had to release more and more insulin to deal with my blood sugar. Blood sugar became higher and insulin levels rose even higher. The result was I couldn’t burn stored fat but could only store up more.
In the beginning, the new eating protocol was a challenge. I knew for a fact that carbohydrates were a big problem for me. By severely restricting them (ideally 20-30 grams a day) the goal was to induce the production of ketones and burn them for energy instead of blood glucose.
Easier said than done. It requires the body to adapt to a new energy source and that takes some time. In the meantime there were the side effects including some weakness, dizziness, mental confusion, and flu-like symptoms known as “the keto flu.” I experienced most of theses for a period of three or four weeks but over time they gradually subsided. It’s important not to give up.
I was also fasting for 16 or more hours every day at the same time as I was adapting to ketosis so it was difficult to sort out which symptoms were associated with each. I just said the hell with it and considered it as one thing.
Ketosis is a tough thing to measure in South Korea since the urine strips that are used to check the levels are not available here. Why I can only guess but I spent a lot of time searching for them at pharmacies with no luck. Even Amazon declined to ship them here. Only thing I could do was to estimate my condition based on carb intake and the color of my urine; the darker the better.
Today I say I’m following a modified keto diet. I do my best to hit the 20-30 grams a day of carb intake but I’m sure I seldom do it. I never eat rice, bread, noodles, potatoes, or other carb staples. I do eat most vegetables including salad and cabbage including kimchi; after all this is Korea. Of course, I eat no sweets including cookies, cake, or candy. I never ever drink soda.
A true practicing keto person will get 80 percent of daily calories from fat. I’ve found it next to impossible to find and consume that much fat. I do eat protein in the form of meat, eggs, nuts, and other sources. This is why I have to say I’m on a modified keto diet and I restrict carbohydrates.
The one two punch of intermittent fasting and restricting carbohydrates has been working well for me. After some struggling and trial and error, I’ve pretty much adapted to a protocol that fits my lifestyle. A key point for me is to be able to continue for a long time. In order to do that I am flexible up to a point.
For one year I’ve fasted for 16-24 hours almost every day. On the rare occasion when I have to do lunch I’ll eat earlier with some regret. I also sometimes eat things that I know I shouldn’t like hot dogs, breaded chicken, and other processed meat; I love spam and eggs.
After a year I’m satisfied with both the results and my potential to continue. I’ve lost 32 kilos but intend to drop at least 10 more. In addition I’ve stopped all diabetes medications and my fasting glucose levels are consistently 5.5-5.0. I have in effect reversed my diabetes.
Along the way I’ve encountered benefits to intermittent fasting and carbohydrates restriction that may go far beyond weight loss. Autophagy is the body’s natural way to renew the cells and dispose of the accumulated waste that leads to premature aging and disease. Autophagy is boosted by fasting, exercise, and restricting carbs. This is a relatively new field of research and folks will be hearing more good things about autophagy for health in the near future.
Another benefit to fasting is it frees up funds that might have been spent on donuts, toast, and waffles. I figured it might come to about 10 bucks a day or $70 a week. I got the concept that I would donate this money to my favorite NGO, TNKR (Teach North Korean Refugees co-founded by Casey Lartigue and Eunkoo Lee).
Every Friday I am able to send TNKR 70,000 won for their work in helping refugees to learn English and tell their story. Connecting to this kind of higher purpose helped me a lot whenever my determination waivered.
To be honest I’ve done all this without the help and even with the opposition of my doctors. So far they seem to be locked in to the old model of weight control and diabetes treatment that they learned decades ago in medical school.
Eight years ago my doctor told me “you have type ll diabetes and you will have it the rest of your life.” I refused to believe him and went into the confusing world of “Dr. YouTube” for a second opinion. In the end it is only me who is responsible for my life.
I’m probably not going to live forever but I may have extended my life for a while. I better go and buy some new duds.
Michael P. Downey (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an author and teacher living in South Korea. In his free time he is a human rights activist primarily working with refugees from North Korea. As a volunteer English teacher and speech coach (with Teach North Korean Refugees) he is endeavoring to give them a voice by assisting them in telling their stories.