A Guide to Minimum-Effective-Dose Fat Loss
The science-based plan I used to coach a friend to successful weight loss with minimal effort
I’ve often thought of writing a guide to fat loss since I started writing for Better Humans. The main reason I haven’t is that, frankly, I’ve never been fat. Even when I had chronic fatigue issues for two years, I lost muscle definition but I never gained weight. This propensity toward leanness is common in my family.
So despite reading a ton about fat-loss and having used many of the techniques myself (many of the best techniques for fat-loss are also great for other things, like hormone function), I have no direct experience with losing significant weight.
This all changed when I helped a very close friend of mine combat his obesity.
Keith taught me to train dogs professionally, is one of the best chefs I know, is the best martial artist I know, and is one of the only people who can keep up with me during my hardest workouts. (Throughout this article, I’ve changed my friend’s name and identifying details for privacy. All details relevant to the content of the article, however—such as training methods, starting weight, and weigh he lost—are completely factual.)
Here’s the thing with Keith: he does nearly everything right. He doesn’t sit behind a desk for work, and he has been active for most of his life. Furthermore, his cooking is borderline paleo and as a professional chef, his food is high quality and contains few processed ingredients.
Despite all of this, Keith weighed 270 lbs when I met him. He’s strong and has great energy, but he is pre-diabetic, overweight, and has mild arthritis. If he had my genetics, Keith’s lifestyle would likely keep him lean into his senior years, but Keith’s background is different.
Where I am lean and many of my family are as well, Keith’s relatives are almost all diabetic, obese, and often both.
Keith is a very close friend who has done a lot for me. He invests in other people, and so I sat down with him to make a plan for him to lose weight.
I didn’t push Keith to do this. I don’t think it’s anyone’s place or right to tell someone else what to do. Keith, however, has doggedly pursued weight loss for years. He knows how high risk he is for health problems due to his family history, and as a new father, he wants to be there to see his grandkids someday—and to interact with his kids actively as they grow up now.
Over the course of three months, using the techniques in this guide, Keith lost about 25 pounds with a fluctuating weight of 244 to 247 pounds on the last day of month 3—and he is continuing to drop weight.
The process we used borrows from multiple fields of health and fitness and combines them into a program tailored based on both research, and experience. I’ll go into details below, but it might be helpful to take a look at it in overview first
The program is made up of three fundamental parts:
- Exercise, movement, & activity
- Sleep, stress relief, & other health support
For Keith’s nutrition, we used low-carb paleo dieting that transitioned into using the ketogenic diet for nutrition, with a focus on food quality and avoiding dairy and grain.
For exercise, we focused on strength-based workouts to preserve muscle mass, which helps burn fat, and used high-intensity interval training to optimize hormone function.
We did occasional cardio, but Keith has never enjoyed it and neither do I—so it was mainly used as a recovery method.
We also focused on prioritizing Keith’s sleep quality as much as possible. During these months, there was significant focus placed on going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time every day, as well as avoiding screens right before bed.
Lastly, we used a few targeted biohacking techniques to support his health such as L. Reuteri probiotic yogurt for curbing appetite, lowering inflammation, and healing the gut microbiome. We used high-quality fish oil supplements alongside magnesium and other electrolytes to support his transition into a state of ketosis without experiencing significant effects of the infamous “keto-flu.”
Keith did very well with this plan, which focuses on using higher fat and lower carbohydrate nutrition to improve insulin sensitivity, alongside anaerobic exercise and strength training to optimize hormone function and preserve and create more lean body mass (muscle tissue.)
You might have different needs. A Mediterranean diet that has more carbs could be better for you. There is an extent you will have to call upon personal experience or try experimenting with different diets if you don’t notice a benefit from the techniques in this guide.
Regardless of the nutrition or exercise program you choose, there are some things that you should do no matter what if you’re losing weight.
- Restrict calories, prioritize food quality, and track your macros
- Have a calorie surplus once a week (a feast day but not a cheat day)
- Exercise hard a couple of times a week, but prioritize recovery
- Avoid being sedentary by moving throughout the day
- Optimize your sleep pattern and reduce stress
So let’s get started on the details of Keith’s program.
The point of Keith’s program was to use the most effective, least effort techniques possible wherever possible. Things like dieting are always highly involved, but simple techniques like fasting or supplements can greatly bolster effectiveness.
In a similar vein, there are techniques for boosting fat-loss that are as simple as changing the temperature of your daily shower, and this is just such a technique.
Every day, Keith took a shower, as many of us (hopefully) do.
To make his shower an asset for fat loss, all I had him do is alternate from hot water to cold water ten times every morning.
You can promote this effect in a number of ways, from full-on ice plunges to the use of cool biohacking gear like the cool-fat-burner vest. However, cold showers are an easy-access way to increase your metabolism with minimal discomfort.
Simply turn on the shower and alternate between hot and cold for one minute at a time (one minute hot, then one minute cold.) End the shower with a final round of two minutes cold.
You can make your own variations of this routine; the only rule is that you end on cold. In general, I also recommend that your cold rounds are always equal to or longer than your hot rounds. For example, if you do 30 seconds hot, you can do 30 seconds or longer cold, but not 30 seconds or less.
If you have any interest in learning about extreme cold exposure, check out the Wim Hof method. These guys teach people to do things like climb Kilimanjaro shirtless, and many practitioners swear by the techniques for addressing all manner of physical and mental ailments.
For month 1 of Keith’s program, we focused on high efficiency, high-intensity exercise alongside low-carb, quality-over-quantity nutrition.
The goal was to increase Keith’s metabolism and prepare him for the ketogenic diet in month two. In month two, we transitioned to a ketogenic diet and took two weeks off from hard exercise, but kept light activity and transitioned back into workouts from then onward.
We decided from the get-go to use intermittent fasting in order to boost the benefits of his nutrition. Intermittent fasting involves waiting at least 16 hours from your last meal of the day before you eat again the following day. This process improves your metabolism without decreasing calories.
We also used a couple of other tricks to increase his metabolism — namely the use of cold showers, which are a form of cold thermogenesis, and L. Reuteri Probiotic yogurt, which has an appetite reducing effect, as well as supports gut health and lowers inflammation.
Nutrition is the foundation for weight loss — you can do everything else right, but if you are eating low-quality foods and/or too much food, you probably won’t lose weight.
The first big thing we had to do is determine what kinds of food Keith should eat, how much, and what ratios of fat, protein and carbohydrates were appropriate for him.
When you go for more than 16 hours without eating food, your body is able to finish digesting and to begin metabolic functions we know of as fasting.
During fasting, similar to ketosis, your body uses fats for fuel and also kills off pre-cancerous cells and cleans out cellular garbage in a process called autophagy.
Now, obviously, the big benefit we’re focused on here is fat loss. Intermittent fasting has been linked to positive changes regarding weight loss and insulin sensitivity. I had Keith eat all of his calories during a feeding window between 1 p.m. and 9 p.m. each day, and to start later if he could.
Intermittent fasting is independent of calorie restriction, and you can get many benefits from fasting without eating less.
Even if you are not planning to restrict your calories, simply skipping breakfast and eating all your calories during a consistent, 8-hour or smaller feeding window can help you lose weight.
We did both.
Calories and macros
Since we decided to use month 1 to prepare for the ketogenic diet, which involves consuming 70% or more calories from fats and less than 5% from carbs, we chose macronutrient levels for month 1 that focused on getting the majority of calories from fat.
Specifically, Keith’s macro targets for the first month were 50% calories from fats, 25% from protein, and 25% from carbohydrates.
Next, we picked Keith’s calorie targets based on his TDEE estimates.
TDEE stands for total daily energy expenditure. Based on Keith’s weight, age, and activity levels, an online TDEE calculator estimated that Keith should consume 3,000 calories per day to maintain his weight.
We decided to aim for 1800 to 2100 calories on days when Keith did not do a hard workout, and to aim for (at most) 2400 on workout days.
To count calories (and macros), you’ve got to measure. A simple food scale (here’s one option) is fine.
For recording your calories, we used the app My Macros + because it tracks your macros throughout the day, and anyone can input foods in their database for searching later.
You could use other apps like MyFitnessPal, but it’s harder to track macros throughout the day.
The My Macros + app also allows you to record your daily weight. We didn’t use body measurements during Keith’s plan, but we did record his daily weight. Just get a scale and measure your weight every morning upon waking. It is best if you measure right after waking, every day. This way you have a consistent time of day when you are doing measurements. Using the bathroom, eating, and drinking water all make your weight fluctuate slightly during the day.
I suggest placing your scale in your room, next to your bed, for immediate use when you wake up.
Beyond the general plan of eating, we also implemented one feast day per week, on Saturdays. The feast day is not a cheat day. The point is to consume more calories than your TDEE once a week in order to keep your metabolism from adapting to your caloric deficit.
When you maintain a calorie deficit for too long, your body adapts by lowering your metabolism and now you won’t lose weight at these lower calorie levels. By having one day a week where you consume more calories than you need, you can prevent this metabolic adaptation.
Feast days are about preventing your metabolism from lowering in the long run, not about having a cheat day. We still focused on high-quality foods on Keith’s feast days.
Food quality rules
Regarding food quality, we focused on three basic principles:
- Eat real food: eat foods that are from recognizable natural sources. This means things that are obviously natural, such as meat and plants.
- No dairy or grains: though dairy and grains are recognizably natural, one being a plant, and the other being a product from animals that are minimally processed, they give many people issues and are a source of omega-6 fats or carbs that we were trying to avoid.
- Fats mainly from vegetables and fish: in order to keep grocery shopping affordable, I recommend people pursue their fats from plants and not from meats. Conventional meat can have higher levels of omega 6 fats, which is not ideal. Grass-fed, grass-finished beef is better in this respect, but is expensive and can be difficult to source. So, instead, get your fat from plant sources and from fish. This means using lots of avocados, olive oil, and macadamia nuts and other plant fats. For meat, stick with lean cuts, such as sirloin steak and chicken breast.
During the day, Keith was allowed to eat green leafy vegetables with abandon, but other carbs were restricted to his evening meal.
The best carb sources are yams and other sweet tubers, due to their high fiber content, which slows the effect on blood sugar.
We allocated Keith’s carbohydrate intake to his last meal of the day because this meal occurs right before bed — when you will be fasting for at least 8 hours, allowing your blood sugar to stabilize.
We also used a lot of foods with resistant starch, namely cooled or reheated regular potatoes. When you cool a cooked potato, it forms much more resistant starches, which help stabilize blood sugar.
For you bakers out there, another awesome source of resistant starch is authentic sourdough. It is nearly impossible to find in stores because it takes up to a day to make and then goes bad within two days, but home-made authentic sourdough is high in blood-sugar stabilizing resistant starch, as well as containing much less gluten than other bread.
One of the most annoying things about eating healthy is finding good recipe books. I love to cook, but I take a very less-is-more approach to it.
Unfortunately, most recipe books do the opposite and ask for 15 ingredients per recipe that you’ll spend a bunch of money on and never use again.
Like I said, Keith is a great chef, but even for him, we ran into this issue of oversaturated ingredient lists.
So instead, I had him get a copy of The Four Hour Chef by Tim Ferriss, which is the best cookbook I have ever had and is a great way to both eat healthily and become a phenomenal chef.
The Four Hour Chef focuses on using small ingredient lists and teaching specific cooking skills. It is very “minimum effective dose” oriented, meaning it asks for the smallest amount of work for the highest result yield.
Furthermore, Ferriss found relief from Lyme Disease by using the ketogenic diet, so he decided to use his cookbook to promote his “slow-carb” diet, which avoids grains and uses carbohydrate sources that don’t spike blood sugar.
Not everything in the book is quite keto, but it’s all high quality and very close to it. It also teaches you how to cook like a champ.
L. Reuteri probiotic yogurt
Alongside the diet, we used homemade L. Reuteri probiotic yogurt to decrease inflammation, heal the gut biome and digestion, and reduce appetite.
L. Reuteri is a strain of bacteria native to the upper intestinal tracts of many creatures. It is one of the only bacteria that live in the upper digestive tract rather than the lower, large intestine.
Supplementing with this bacteria has been shown to reduce inflammation, heal the gut lining which is often damaged by conditions such as leaky gut, and also increase the hormone oxytocin which is a factor in feelings of intimacy, happiness, as well as faster wound healing.
These are all great benefits, and I’m a big believer in supporting the gut microbiome. However, the big reason I like this yogurt for weight loss is that it has a significant appetite reducing effect. I personally feel like I can always eat. I’m not always hungry per se, but I can always eat. This yogurt is one of the only things that reduces my appetite, and the only time that I forget to eat a meal is when I’m using it.
This makes it much easier to adhere to diet plans. The distraction of being hungry not only makes it difficult to stick to your calories, but I think the bigger detriment is to one’s discipline choosing high-quality foods and avoiding addictive, low-quality foods.
This yogurt just creates a buffer where you are less hungry and less invested emotionally in what you eat, while also supporting your digestion, lowering inflammation, and benefiting you in several other significant ways.
You can find instructions for making the L. Reuteri Yogurt from my other Better Humans article: Beyond Probiotics: 3 Incredible Tools for Healing The Gut Microbiome.
We centered Keith’s training around three basic training styles:
- High-intensity interval training (HIIT) once a week.
- Slow-rep strength training once a week.
- Active recovery for the rest of the time.
Keith has degenerative disk disease, and also a shoulder injury from sports and the military. Because of this, we avoided difficult balance-training or free weights. Instead, we stuck to primarily machine-based weights.
In general, I prefer free-weights and gymnastic strength training because I believe it is better for creating balanced muscle and body function without creating muscle imbalances. However, if you have injuries, the forced structure of a machine can let you build strength without directly aggravating them.
When Keith’s core becomes stronger and he’s lost more body weight, he can transition to free-weights as he is able to.
Keith’s training looked like this:
Monday: High-Intensity Interval Training
Warm-up: 2 minutes easy-pace rowing machine
Workout: Rowing machine: 60 seconds as fast as you can, 120 seconds rest. Repeat until 6 rounds have been done on the rowing machine
Total workout time: 20 minutes
We start every week with a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout because I believe it is the most beneficial training style for Keith’s goal of fat loss. As a general rule, I always suggest doing the most beneficial/hardest workout on Monday or as your first workout of the week. This is because Monday is a fresh start-point for the week, and the most likely day you’ll get a workout done.
As a partial owner of a business in a chaotic industry, unpredictable things come up often for Keith that get in the way of workouts. However, after the quiet weekend, Monday was always the least likely day to get interrupted.
Though this workout is only 20 minutes long, it is hard. The point is to hit the highest heart rate zones possible and hit primarily anaerobic metabolic function.
In layman’s terms, this is sprint day.
The benefit of this style of training is many-fold. For years, the popular belief has been that slow-pace cardio is the best for fat burning. This is due to the fact that at a slow, aerobic pace, your body can use oxygen to burn fat for fuel to sustain your training. The term aerobic means literally “with oxygen” and references this metabolic requirement for utilizing fat during exercise.
On the flip-side, anaerobic (without oxygen) training involves higher heart rates where your body cannot use oxygen to burn fat for fuel. Instead, it must rely on stored muscle glycogen (sugar).
Despite the fact that anaerobic training does not burn fat during your workout, it has powerful effects on fat burning after you are done.
The only caveat is that this style of training should not be overdone. At a rate of once (possibly twice) per week for no more than 20 minutes, with proper recovery between sessions, these workouts are great for fat loss and hormone function.
Done for longer or more often, these style of workouts are one of the fastest routes to depleted hormones and eventually overtraining syndrome, adrenal fatigue, or deeper forms of burnout.
I experienced this directly while training for the CrossFit games. If a healthy HIIT program involves two workouts a week for a total of 30 to 40, and most of that being rest, I was training closer to 150 minutes a week — and none of it was spent resting. The resulting burnout resulted in mental and physical health problems that took years for me to recover from.
If your purpose is health, do this style of training once, at most twice, a week. Furthermore, keep your training session short and hard, with large rest breaks between rounds.
Modification: This workout should feel very hard. If it is not, increase to eight rounds, or do something harder such as sprints instead of the rowing machine. Some of the best exercises to do for HIIT training are:
- Assault bike (this thing is murderous)
- Punching bag
- Kettlebell swings
- Burpees (shorter rounds. 60 seconds is a long time for burpees. Do 30 seconds on, 90 seconds rest.)
Pick one of these and go to town.
Thursday: Body By Science Strength Workout
Body By Science by John Little & Dr. Doug McGuff is a phenomenal book I read recently that aims to build functional strength in 12 minutes a week.
Backed by over 400 studies, this workout is a highly efficient, no B.S. approach to strength building, and by extension, fa loss.
Muscle tissue helps raise metabolism and burn fat, and the style of training done in the Body By Science workout is great for not only building strength, but also for improving mobility and reducing injury risk.
The workout involves performing exercises that target large muscle groups at slow speeds. The purpose is to recruit all forms of slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibers via slow reps.
When you see most people do a strength workout, they perform exercises fast and explosively. This primarily uses fast-twitch muscle fibers.
As you complete more reps, the fast-twitch fibers tire out and you can no longer perform the exercise.
However, you still have slow-twitch muscle fibers that are not strong enough to perform that exercise explosively but haven’t been recruited.
Furthermore, there are many who find anecdotally that slow rep exercise improves mobility. I believe this is due to the fact that you must be able to perform the exercise with strength throughout the entire range of motion, whereas when you exercise fast, you can let the weight’s momentum carry you through your range-of-motion without applying strength.
Every Thursday, we performed the Body By Science Big 5 Workout at his local gym. The exercises are as follows (with video links for form).
We did ten seconds per rep, which meant raising the weight for five seconds then releasing for five seconds (aka five seconds up, then five down, depending on the exercise).
Your aim is to keep doing reps until you’ve spent between 90 seconds and two minutes on the exercise (9 to 12 total repetitions). You want to keep doing reps until you cannot do one more. Then you do an extra rep anyway, which you will not be able to finish.
During the last rep that you cannot finish, when you get to the point where you can no longer move the weight, flex and try to hold the weight there for 10 seconds. When you finish, write down your results and move onto the next exercise quickly with very little break time (30 seconds or less).
Every day we worked out, we recorded the amount of total time-under-tension as well as the weight for each exercise. Time-under-tension means the time from starting the exercise to finishing the final rep.
We did not record reps, as the point is to know how long was spent under tension in this slow-rep style rather than how many reps were completed.
General movement/active recovery
Keith had two styles of “active recovery.” On days immediately following workouts (Tuesday and Friday), Keith was charged with simply keeping moving throughout the day. On other days Keith added a long walk, short light cardio session, or foam-rolling session.
The idea is not to do any kind of formal workout the day after our gym sessions, but instead to keep the body moving in order to improve recovery and combat stagnation.
To keep things simple, I had Keith walk his dogs at least once a day, and on days that were at least two days after our gym sessions, to get on his Nautilus elliptical machine for ten minutes of light cardio or walk the dogs for a double-length walk. He was also allowed to substitute these sessions for 30 minutes of foam rolling, which is a technique to work on body mobility.
The staples of Keith’s foam rolling were to do five minutes on his upper back and his lower back, and two minutes on each shoulder. Beyond that, he could pick 3–4 more areas based on how he’d been feeling.
Rather than spend weeks training Keith in the fundamentals of mobility, I just had him pick mobilizations by searching such things as “foam rolling for shoulder pain” on YouTube in order to make his routines.
If you’d like to deep dive into the subject, check out my other Better Humans article: How To Master Your Mobility In 15 Minutes A Day.
Otherwise, grab a cheap foam roller or a lacrosse ball and just use YouTube. Search based on the area you have pain. Back pain? Search “foam rolling” or “lacrosse ball techniques for back pain”.
You can also join an inexpensive online program such as The Ready State, where you can access a huge library of mobilizations authored by legendary physical therapist Dr. Kelly Starrett.
I could address sleep very simply and just tell you this: get eight to ten hours every night and sleep at the same time every night.
Achieve that, and you’ll get huge benefits for everything you do.
However, this topic begs for a deeper dive, if not to convince you that it’s important, then instead to help those part-time (or full-time) insomniacs figure out how to just get to sleep.
For a total guide to sleep optimization and how important it is, check out my Better Humans article: The Everything Guide to Getting Good Sleep.
For now, though, I’ll just detail what I told Keith about why sleep is the most important thing for weight loss, and the techniques you can use if, like him, you have a difficult time turning off your brain at night.
Sleep is the most important thing for weight loss.
Because, by extension, sleep is one of the most important things for your health in general, and I’m not talking small potatoes. Other than breathing, which a lack of will kill you in minutes, lack of sleep will kill you faster than starvation or dehydration.
The longest a human has ever been recorded going without sleep is 11 days, and while death by sleep deprivation is rare, this bodily function is so important that most people’s bodies will force them to sleep long before letting that happen.
If prevented from sleep, the deleterious effects of sleep deprivation are significant and particularly affect the brain.
After a mere 17 hours without sleep, meaning staying up one hour past your regular bedtime, your brain begins to perform like you have a blood alcohol content of .05%. Push longer and this quickly increases to the equivalent of .1% BAC.
When it comes to weight loss, sleep is closely linked to hormone function, especially when it comes to having stable levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In one study, dieters who did not receive enough sleep experienced 55% less weight loss than their undeprived counterparts.
Getting enough sleep is hugely important for weight loss, but so is sleeping at consistent times.
In research on shift work, it was found that even when working night shifts, if you could maintain a regular sleep schedule that is consistent day-to-day, you would avoid many of the health effects that plague night workers who are constantly sleeping at different times and on weird hours.
So when it comes to rallying sleep as an ally for weight loss, I had Keith pick set times to sleep every night that would give him at least eight hours of sleep.
Consistent sleep times are also very helpful for intermittent fasting. The biggest part of your fast is when you sleep at night, but if you stay awake too long and get hungry, it will be difficult to go to bed without breaking your fast with a midnight snack.
Keeping a regular sleep schedule was as much practical for fasting as for sleep benefits.
We picked a sleep schedule of 10-11 p.m. to 7 a.m. for Keith based on when he normally feels tired, with his final meal of the day at 8:00 p.m.
To help Keith wind down at night, I had him implement journaling before bed. It might seem simple and not very biohacker-ey, but writing a to-do list before bed has been found to be highly effective for falling asleep faster, and it’s my favorite technique personally.
Secondarily, we implemented a no-phones in the bedroom policy. A study in The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that people who use devices in bed tend to go to sleep an hour or more later, and also to experience lower sleep quality.
Skeptical? I invite you to just try leaving your phone in the next room, out of reach, every night for a week. Then, tell me how much faster you fall asleep each night.
That’s not to say you should deprive yourself of things to do while you’re laying in bed. On the contrary, reading fiction, doing puzzles, or writing are all great techniques for falling asleep faster.
Keith isn’t an insomniac, but he has trouble going to bed a few nights a week. For him as well as those of you with insomnia, I suggest adding Dr. Kirk Parsley’s Sleep Remedy to your nightly routine for a month. Unlike medications, which don’t so much put you asleep as knock you unconscious (few of the same benefits) this sleep remedy makes me feel like I am ready to go to bed, with no negative effects on sleep quality.
I have used many products for sleep, this is the only one that I’ve found that just works. No grogginess the next morning, just simple sleep.
The Ketogenic Diet
The majority of Keith’s weight-loss occurred in months two and three when we switched from low-carb paleo to ketogenic paleo.
For an in-depth guide that strives to cover all the most important bases, check out my article: Myths and Mistakes of the Ketogenic Diet.
One of the biggest mistakes made on keto is that there is not a focus on food types or quality, as long as you are hitting the ketogenic macros. However, I don’t think it is healthy to eat ketogenic if you don’t properly prioritize food quality.
So, for Keith, we kept all the same rules for keto as for his first month doing low carb.
To reiterate, here are those rules again from earlier in the article:
Regarding food quality, we focused on three basic principles:
- Eat real food
- No dairy or grains
- Get fats mainly from vegetables and fish
Beyond these rules, the ketogenic diet involves getting 70% or more of your daily calories from fats and 5% or less from carbohydrates.
For Keith, we ended up doing 70% fats, 25% to 30% protein, and less than 5% carbs.
Some major staples for Keith were canned fish such as sardines, for snacks, leafy green vegetables, lots of olive oil as a garnish, and lean meats.
One of the big things with keto is that the purpose of the diet is to put your body into a state of ketosis, where your body uses primarily fats for fuel and uses ketones rather than glucose for many bodily processes.
Because of this, it is important to hit your macro ratios on a per-meal basis, rather than per-day. If you are not eating enough fat, or eat too many carbs, your body will exit ketosis.
To do ketosis, you’ve got to measure not just your macros, but also your blood ketone levels. For both accuracy and convenience, Keith used a ketone breath monitor called the Keyto.
You could use a blood monitor or a urine strip test instead, but I find that breath monitors are the best happy medium between accuracy and affordability.
As long as Keith’s monitor said his ketones were above .5mmol, we knew Keith was in ketosis. Simple as that.
Avoiding the keto flu
One of the most infamous experiences of first-time ketosis is the keto-flu. Typically during the first week or two on a ketogenic diet, you can feel like, well, like you have the flu.
This effect seems more pronounced in those with significant fat. However, the reasons for the flu as well as the ways you can avoid it seem universal.
When you enter ketosis, your body is switching fuel sources away from using glucose for what may be the first time in your life.
If you are obese, it is even more likely that your body will resist this shift to fat-burning. As you enter ketosis, your body uses all your available glucose stores, and when you run out, then it will start burning fats.
Well, muscle glycogen is accompanied by water, so when you use it all up, you also deplete this water, too. This means dumping electrolytes and also running out of fuel.
To prevent the keto flu, I had Keith add a teaspoon of sea salt to his water, take a magnesium supplement, and also take a high-quality omega-3 fish oil supplement.
Keith experienced a feeling of “flatness” during workouts for the first two weeks in ketosis, which is incredibly common. Your muscles are depleted of glycogen to use for fuel, so it’s common to feel like you’ve lost some strength in the gym.
However, Keith didn’t get headaches or any flu-like symptoms. To make ketosis more effective, I had him maintain these supplements for the entire rest of the program. Most people are low in omega-3 fats anyway, and electrolyte support is a good idea when you’re losing weight.
The specific supplements we used were:
- Ava Jane’s Kitchen Colima Sea Salt
- MagSRT Slow Release Magnesium with B Vitamins
- Living Fuel Super Essentials Omega-3 Fish Oil
I found these products via the recommendation of top health writers like Ben Greenfield or keto expert Thomas Delauer, and they are great quality. However, feel free to look for your own sources. I’d recommend sticking with magnesium glycinate products for bio-availability and go for high-quality fish oil for the omega-3 fats. Most fish oils are of low quality or rancid.
Month 2 exercise modification
When Keith started the ketogenic diet, I had him stop working out in HIIT training for the first two weeks. Not that it would have necessarily been bad for him, but exercise can be uncomfortable and difficult when your body is switching fuel sources.
We decided to only do the Body By Science Big 5 workout during Keith’s first two weeks of keto.
After two weeks we brought HIIT training back in and continued with the usual workout routine for the rest of his program.
Feast day modification
For the ketogenic phase of Keith’s plan, Keith was allowed to break ketosis on his Saturday “feast day.”
Getting some carbs while doing a ketogenic diet can help restore glycogen stores, which are necessary for some types of exercise. I think that many people mess up on keto by never eating any carbs whatsoever.
However, breaking ketosis or just making sure to get some good starchy carbs for your 5% a day could be beneficial for certain styles of exercise that rely more on sugar for fuel, and also lets you access nutrients that some foods have you might not otherwise eat.
For Keith, we did this by abandoning macro-counting on feast day. Usually Keith still ate higher fat on feast day, but he made sure to get some healthy carbs like sweet potatoes and the like.
Month 3 and onward: Cyclical ketosis
For month 3, I had Keith begin alternating between the ketogenic diet and low-carb, on a weekly basis.
It can get tiring trying to stick to the ketogenic diet for weeks on end, and you can begin to miss being able to attend social gatherings where carbs are a staple.
I gave Keith the option to cycle off every other week. Keith elected to do this only once, as he liked the way he felt and the weight loss—but we still wrote it in as a planned thing.
And that’s it. From this point forward, Keith continued the program on his own. We work out together sometimes and change the exercises a bit, but he still does one HIIT workout a week and one strength workout, sometimes adding a third workout based on how he feels.
He still has a lot of weight to lose, but it’s the most significant improvement he’s seen of anything he’s tried, and his weight loss hasn’t plateaued yet.
Though I’ve never had to deal with this problem for myself, I knew of many techniques for weight loss just by learning what to do for my general health.
Keith’s family is particularly susceptible to obesity, and in anyone else, Keith’s lifestyle would already have him living lean and mean. Together we decided to use some of the best-known techniques for weight loss in order to combat the bad hand he’d been dealt genetically.
Mainly, this meant optimizing his metabolism, which we undertook using high-intensity interval training, strength training, low carb eating, and the ketogenic diet.
It wasn’t all about eating and exercising, however. A big focus was placed on proper sleep and recovery, as stress hormones are a major factor in stubborn weight retention.
Keith lost a little over 25 lbs using these methods and continues to lose weight. Though far from his end goals, these techniques are well-backed by research for sustainable weight loss and improvement of insulin sensitivity.