Fuelled by fat, felled by a pizza

Breaking a fast can provide a fix

August 14th, 2019 by | Posted in Health+Nutrition | Tags: ,

by James “Cranky” Ramsay

It’s no secret that as we age, our metabolisms slow down. This means we can no longer consume the same foods we once did without paying a price – that price being an unfortunate softening of the physique. Fat seems to accumulate differently from one person to the next. For most men older than 40, it’s the midsection that seems to expand. That’s certainly been true for me. Many of my columns in these pages have chronicled my efforts to keep a beach-worthy midriff.

Illustration: Russ Tudor

But despite my earnest struggle, I have yet to achieve the six-pack abs that I feel are my right as a clean-living, hardworking citizen of the cycling nation. At my best, the most I’ve managed could be generously described as a four-pack, and that’s only if seen in the most flattering light.

So with vanity as the driver, I was fascinated to learn about a new way of eating that promised not only to recompose my body to its rightful state, but to do so by way of greasy, delicious and filling food. No deprivation here – just the marvel of hacking my metabolism into a state known as ketosis.

Ketosis and the ketogenic diet are currently attracting a lot of attention, and with good reason – the approach produces immediate and dramatic effects. The basic premise is that by consuming a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet with adequate protein, you deprive your body of its preferred fuel (glucose) and induce ketosis, in which you burn fat as fuel instead of sugar. Put another way, the theory is that it’s not dietary fat that makes us fat – it’s carbohydrates – and that by limiting carb intake, we can still consume a lot of calories (and tasty ones, too), while maintaining a lean physique.

There are not many things I love as much as my children. But there are a few, and one of them is a giant breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon and mushrooms sautéed in butter. In fact, most Saturday mornings I love that more than my children. So once I learned that this could be a core part of the menu, I eagerly signed on to the keto experiment.

Mrs. Cranky wanted to try it as well. She’s a more reasonable person that I am in every respect, so she said, “Let’s see how this works out over a few weeks.”

True to my extreme nature, I replied, “No. Let’s commit to it for six months, and then we’ll see if we want to stick with it.”

And with that pronouncement, I began my keto journey.

It was easier than I expected. I had been warned about all sorts of side-effects: headaches, the “keto flu” (flu-like symptoms that can appear soon after you start the diet) and mental sluggishness. On top of that was the prevailing sentiment, smugly delivered by everyone around me, that it is simply unsustainable. One cantankerous friend gleefully told me that I would break out in a festering rash, grinning as he described the itchy welts that would beset me. But I experienced none of these things. Instead, I started dropping inches off my waist while building muscle at the gym. I had tons of energy. I was getting thinner while eating sticks of butter and cups of whipping cream. It was truly a miracle.

But like all good things, it came to an end. My downfall, as it has been so many times in the past, was a pizza.

Here’s what happened. Mrs. Cranky and I took my mother-in-law and the Crankettes out to an Italian restaurant one night. On the way there, Mrs. Cranky and I agreed that we could stick to our program by having the salmon or the steak. Simple enough for Mrs. Cranky, who did stay true to her word.

But I couldn’t do it. I was starving when we arrived. As I saw the pizzas and bowls of pasta being delivered to the tables around us, I had a thundering realization that I was giving up too much by eating keto. And so I cracked.

In keeping with my policy of never doing things in half measures, I cracked in magnificent fashion. I ate every molecule of carbohydrate I could find. I scarfed all the bread in the basket. Then I devoured an order of bruschetta, a pizza and the leftover spaghetti in both the kids’ bowls. I stopped short of eating the crayons and craft paper the waiter had brought for the kids’ amusement.

When it was all over, I leaned back in my chair, stuffed with starchy goodness and consumed with guilt – but also satiated in a way I hadn’t felt in months. My brain, long starved of glucose, lit up with sudden and total clarity. It’s pizza that I love more than my kids, not scrambled eggs.