Tuesday 13 November 2012

Diary of a wanna-be fat burner: Days 1-4

I'm going to try and train my body to burn fat as a sustainable fuel source rather than carbs. I'll talk about the science in a later post, but for now here is my experience over the first four days.

Day 1: Saturday 10th November

Obviously there isn't much to report in the way of changes today - you can eat whatever you want (within reason) for a day and bounce back happily. What felt a bit weird was what I was eating - high fat, as low carb as possible (maximum 50g/day), and minimal protein. Bacon, eggs, cheese, mayonnaise, bring it on - and then plenty of dark green leafed things to top up iron and vitamin C.

parkrun was very frustrating as my knee pain returned (see my previous post). I resolved to Get Something Done About It, but there was nothing I could do at the weekend. As a result I was in a fair bit of pain during the afternoon. The novelty of lots of butter and cheese was fun though :)

Dinner was fillet steak with lettuce, walnut, and sauce (can't remember what went into it)

We bought a bottle of champagne to celebrate yesterday's news of my acceptance onto the Unogwaja Challenge. We both found we got giggly-drunk really very quickly! I sobered up equally fast, Mrs stayed tipsy until she fell asleep (which explains why she had a hangover the next day and I didn't) - we agreed it was more like we'd had the whole bottle each than just half.

With this nutrition profile you can drink alcohol but it needs to have as little sugar in it as possible - the driest white wine you can find, or purest spirit (whisk(e)y, vodka, gin all fine). Remember you might be taking low-carb drinks, but there are still calories to consider - and if you need a mixer go for something sugar free like diet coke or soda/mineral water. It didn't get that out of control, we'll save that level of craziness for another time.

Day 2: Sunday 11th November

It all felt a bit restrictive today. I spent a lot of the day feeling negative, "I can't eat bread, I can't eat cereal, I can't eat bloody anything" - and you can't get much more negative than "I can't". I felt a bit frustrated as a result, but tried to think about the good things. Bacon and scrambled eggs for breakfast with full fat cream in the egg was gorgeous.

Breakfast - and yes, it looks like I eat tomatoes now

Constrained to the sofa I felt very lethargic and my still painful knee was depressing me. Mrs went out for a run and I wanted nothing more than to go with her.

I cracked at about 16:30 and went for a session on the spin bike at the gym. I managed about 40 minutes before giving in. 10 minutes warm up, 10 minutes at +20 cadence, 10 at -20, then a 10 minute cool down that I got bored during so did some distinctly non-cool-down-esque 30 second sprints. Felt better for sweating a bit. Resolved to continue the experiment. Onwards and upwards!

I bought "Why We Get Fat (And What To Do About It) by Gary Taubes" on Kindle. This is the book Mrs has been reading, and, alongside my chattering about various excellent nutrition interviews on the Marathon Talk (iTunes) and Talk Ultra (iTunes) podcasts, inspired her to give this a go (she's three days ahead of me). This book is relatively light, there's a deeper one she's working through that goes a lot further into the biochemistry "The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living: An Expert Guide to Making the Life-Saving Benefits of Carbohydrate Restriction Sustainable and Enjoyable, by Stephen Phinney and Jeff Volek" and one neither of us have got to yet, "The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance by RD, Jeff S. Volek PhD and PhD, Stephen D. Phinney MD". I'll write something on these books when I've read them.

Mrs served a perfectly roasted chicken for dinner - life is good! As a bit of an evening snack experiment we tried mashing some peanut butter in cocoa powder, and rolling it in desiccated coconut - dab it in some xylitol and: Yum! Peanut Butter Balls! Mrs vowed to experiment further.

Day 3: Monday 12th November

Feeling a bit zombiefied at work all day, oddly easier to focus than it has been in the past though. Saw Skyfall (amazing, go see it NOW!) in the evening and felt fully alert all the way through. Conventionally, I usually have a slump during movies, usually in the crap slow middle bit, but not today. Of course, I also usually have popcorn, some sweets, or something high-carb like beer before hand. We had some peanut butter and celery as a snack, that was amusing. When we got home I still wasn't hungry, so I just had a couple of strips of some new streaky bacon we got, and a boiled egg and a touch of mayonnaise.

In general, I felt slow today, and easily outmanoeuvred in conversation (not my usual position). There were no highs or lows though. I didn't do any training today, probably for the best.

Day 4: Tuesday 13th November

I slept amazingly well last night - I actually felt like I had buckets of energy when I woke up, and I haven't felt that for a while. There are various reasons for this, I'm not sure that any one is specifically to blame.  Now the mornings are dark it's always harder to get going, plus with Mrs off work at the moment she isn't in a hurry to get up either, and I've had a few more beers in the last week or two than I have recently.

Breakfast was my first day on Bulletproof Coffee. This is simply a large mug of black filter coffee with 50g of unsalted butter dissolved into it, and then blended. Yup, you heard it - butter in coffee. It felt weird knowing what I was drinking, but tasted lovely - like a buttery milkshake.

First day commuting on the bike this week and I was expecting to feel weak, but felt fine, totally normal. I powered up Charing Cross Road (medium length gentle incline) with no problems. Into work and straight into a 2 hour meeting and... I didn't get hungry at all. I had a coffee at about 9:30, but that was it. Normally I'm crying out for "second breakfast" by now. I finally had a small snack at about 11am - the first solid food of the day.

I feel sharper today, more on the ball, quicker to think. In fact, I'm feeling a bit hyper! I'm getting some good work done, including some annoying jobs I'd been putting off.

I felt a bit peckish in the afternoon so ate 40g of cheese dipped in marmite - it feels mentally very disconcerting for that to be an OK thing to snack on, it's hard to let go of the messages that have been drummed into you all your life - eat more fruit; fat is bad; cheese is fatty - avoid; you need carbs, protein and some fat in every meal.

I really wish I could run - I'd be very interested to know if all this energy I'm feeling is real and accessible. As it was I put the hammer down on the ride home. It felt like I was a little sluggish to spin up my legs but once I was there I didn't experience any shortage of power, and I felt like I could have gone on for significantly longer than the 45 minutes it took me to get home.

Dinner - salmon fillet with courgettes in a carbonara style sauce of cheese, egg, bacon, and cream

Whatsmore, Mrs had made some more amazing balls - this time with whiskey in! Double Yum!

I'll update with the rest of the week's experiences at the weekend...


  1. My wife received the following comment on her blog (note, I've since relaxed the requirements for posting, I didn't realise they were so stringent, so thanks very much for pointing that out, whoever you are :)

    "This is an interesting post about the change in your diet, basically you are eating like Atkins - reducing carbs and eating mostly high fat and high protein? I do understand the theory of getting ones body to burn fat as fuel but I assumed that you would still rely on carbs as your main source and train your body to use fat when the primary source of carbs was depleted. I'm not sure that this is the right way to do it as sending the body into ketosis (although a remarkable experiment)is usually detrimental to ones mental and physical state when carbs are reintroduced, or so I thought? I look forward to your future posts as personally I reckon you'll still need quite a few carbs with perhaps some fasted workouts, in the morning maybe to kick start the fat burning? I can remember some US friends eating high protein and fat years ago and I read quite a bit about it and decided myself to try it. I felt very satiated and my digestion + constitution was much improved. My skin was glowing, my teeth sparkly 24/7 but the downsides were bad breath, low energy and often I just felt glum which is not like me. My experiment proved to me that low fat is not the answer though. Good luck, we will be reading and following with interest."

    1. Hi, it is basically like Atkins, but not so much towards high protein (I'll up the protein via shakes after gym workouts when I re-integrate those back into my routine). The point, as I understand it (and i"m very much a beginner) is that you're training your body to use fat in preference to carbs - so it's not a case of burning out your carbs then moving on. My coach is a fan of fasted sessions as part of a "normal" nutrition/training plan, but this is to promote a kind of "dual fuel" capability rather than to switch what you're using for energy preferentially.

      Your comment about mental state is very interesting - that was an utterly unexpected side effect (see following post) - but I have had exactly the opposite effect.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, I too am very interested to see where this goes. I won't b posting a diary format every day, but after the first week I'll update with progress regularly.

      Thanks, Norm.