The day I decided to go on a ketogenic diet was the day my recreational interest in nutrition became obsessive. I started reading books about it, researching all the latest scientific papers that showed most promising results, especially regarding health optimization and muscle recovery, and fueling my enthusiasm with the experiences I made myself by being on the diet. This was over a year ago.
Strength performance was my greatest concern, though. I didn’t need to lose weight, as I was already below 10% body fat, but I wanted to build strength. Now common bro science teaches that a man won’t grow strong without carbs. And I knew for sure that I can get stronger with carbs—because up to that point I had built all of my strength using mainly low-glycemic carbs for fuel. So since my goal was to build strength, why did I try a ketogenic diet? I wasn’t fat, I wasn’t unhealthy, I wasn’t unhappy, I wasn’t mentally slow. Why did I want to fix something that wasn’t broken?
The reason that made me try it was plain curiosity. I’ve always liked experimenting with different diets, and I’ve tried almost everything. I was curious about how the diet might affect my bodymind—my mind-body complex in its physiological, energetic, and cognitive functioning. What made me stay on the diet for over a year, however, was neither curiosity nor the diet’s positive effects. The real reason why I’m still living in a state of ketosis is freedom.
Liberate yourself from sugar addiction!
Sugar is a highly addictive substance. And a 21st-century craving for food is not a natural mechanism of your body telling you to refuel for energy and ultimately survival—no! Craving for food is a symptom of sugar addiction. If you’ve never practiced prolonged fasting, you probably don’t even know what real hunger feels like. Real hunger feels completely different from your junkie brain craving a sugar high. Real hunger happens in your whole body and motivates you to eat just about anything that’s nutritious, while food cravings are all in your head and typically motivate you to binge on sugar-dense junk.
You know what happens when your addicted brain triggers a craving. Your mind starts obsessing about what shitty foods you could stuff in your face as your willpower gets hijacked. Drugs aren’t simply bad because they damage your body. They also ruthlessly claim your attention, distract your focus, and occupy your thoughts. They lever out the power of your will, erode your discipline, and kill your productivity. (That’s, by the way, why CKD and other carb back-loading protocols usually don’t work over the long term. By periodically exposing yourself to the sugar drug, you always have to exert willpower to get back into ketosis, to get clean again. Unless you’re a professional athlete, that’s a waste of precious cognitive resources.)
Now, the most effective way to stay away from sugar and to rid yourself of the addiction is to simply eat a ketogenic diet, especially if you’re a man who needs a lot of calories. Sugar liberation is the reason why ketosis is freedom. Most importantly, sugar liberation is mind liberation. This is why I’m on a ketogenic diet.
You may argue, “But how can you say that a diet is liberating when it limits what you’re allowed to eat? How can food restriction be freedom?”—That’s simple. I am free to eat all the foods I enjoy eating most in the world: meat, eggs, vegetables, nuts, seafood, heavy cream, and 99% dark chocolate. And I am free from all the foods I used to eat not because I truly wanted them, but because my sugar addiction had me crave them.
For me personally, the highest initial hurdle of going on a ketogenic diet was the eschewal of fruit because for many years I used to eat apples, bananas, oranges, kiwis, dates, melons, and grapes on a daily basis. Surprisingly, though, this turned out to be a complete non-issue as soon as I became keto-adapted. Although I sometimes munch away on some berries, I never crave any fruits. I no longer feel a desire to eat them.
Finally, you don’t have to live a weird life, either, when you’re on a keto diet. At restaurants, you can always have a steak with salad, or cooked vegetables. This provides you with a freedom of mind because you’re not wasting thoughts (cognitive energy) on petty decision-making when food choices become too overwhelming, as they often do nowadays.
In the rare case when you literally have no low-carb food options, you can always choose to fast: drink a glass of fresh water and let your body consume its stored fat cells for fuel. For the romantic snobs among you, a glass of wine with cheese won’t reinvoke your sugar addiction. And neither will vodka or whiskey when you go out drinking with your buddies. Alcohol may bring along its own problems, but in its purer forms, it at least doesn’t impair your ketogenic freedom.
What about all the other benefits of a ketogenic diet?
“But what about the effects on your health, your mood, your energy levels, your strength, your performance?” you may ask, “Do you only care about freedom?”—Yes, I do.
I have no proof for this, but I have a hunch that all the awesome subjective experiences people make when they become keto-adapted (more energy, better mood, clearer mental life, etc.) are nothing but illusions relative to the extreme low they were in while depriving themselves of carbs and overcoming their sugar addiction.
Humans never experience absolute states. We can only experience the changing of states. For example, we cannot feel hot or cold temperatures. We can only feel the temperature changing, getting hotter or colder. Similarly, we cannot experience absolute peak energy, absolute happiness, or absolute mental clarity. Rather, we experience such states relative to lower energy, bad mood, and mind fog. When you’re in ketosis, you feel extraordinarily great not because your new diet is superior (although this might be the case for most normal people who were eating a shitty American Standard Diet before), but mainly because you were feeling like total shit during the adaptation period and now it’s changing for the better. I doubt that the subjective awesomeness of the ketogenic diet is an absolute advantage over all other diets. Who knows, it might be, but how could you find out for sure with objective evidence?
I’m also not 100% certain about the advantageous effects of ketosis on muscle recovery and strength performance. My strength has been objectively improving on a TKD (targeted ketogenic diet) and I was definitely building muscle mass during the months I raised my caloric intake to a surplus. But is the ketogenic diet optimal and superior to a low-glycemic high-carb diet in terms of gaining strength and building muscle? I don’t know.—How could I know? An n=1 experiment is entirely worthless, as are most scientific studies on the issue.
Then, of course, there are the wide-ranging health benefits of living in ketosis that scientists are currently discovering and investigating. But it’s yet too soon to draw confident conclusions from their research, not to mention that long-term health outcomes are too abstract to have a long-lasting motivational impact on most people.