My Ketosis Experiment, Part Three – Problems

In part one and part two I described why I wanted to use a ketogenic diet and the logistics of the protocol. All was going well for awhile but slowly some problems started to arise, the most serious being depression. I’ve waited for way too long to write this post because it’s personal, but procrastinating is just torturing myself so here goes.

I’m no stranger to depression. I have been dealing with it for many years and I’ve learned by now some very important things:

  1. I tend to wait to long to go back on meds (Wellbutrin does the trick for me, without the side effects of SSRIs). I hate taking meds and I also tend to think I can fix my problem through some combination of therapy and eating right, which just isn’t true and leads to a personal sense of failure.
  2. Weight loss is a depression trigger for me. I’ve read some scientific literature on this and it seems that weight loss does indeed lead to depression for some people. If I had to take a speculative guess at why, it would be two very different reasons:
  • The mental issues that come up with not liking how you look, because those issues don’t get better just because you lose weight and for me often get worse. I tend to think I look better than I really do when I am heavier and worse than I really do when I am thinner. Notice there is no concern for how I feel here, just how I look. That’s bound to cause problems.
  • The physical response to losing a significant amount of weight (I would guess the trigger is around 10% of body weight for me). We know that metabolism slows down in response to weight loss and it makes sense to me that depression is another way for the body to slow us down to conserve energy.

The weight loss/depression link didn’t become visible to me until very recently. When I went to my doctor this time, I asked when the last time I was in for this problem was and it was after the last time I purposefully lost weight, back in 2012. At first I thought it was ketosis, and maybe it is. I can’t know for sure. But I then remembered that the time before THAT, back in 2007 or 2008,  was also during a weight loss phase and I wasn’t doing keto.

I had other symptoms, too, which made me suspect ketosis: hair loss and poor skin quality. Sounds like lowered thyroid function, which you can find tons of information on if you spend any time Googling ketosis and hair loss/depression. I explored the idea of thyroid dysfunction the last time I went through a depression cycle and it led nowhere. What helped was Wellbutrin, period. Not a thyroid drug, not iodine, not vitamins and supplements.

Trust me, I’ve given tons of thought to going down that rabbit hole again this time around but I haven’t. Yes, my hair has fallen out like crazy for MONTHS, but that tends to happen as a result of weight loss, not just weight loss through a certain dietary regimen. So it could be thyroid dysfunction from low carb or it could be just a weight lost side-effect or it could be something else entirely. My skin lacks the elasticity I think it should have. I feel like it makes me looked aged. Again, could be low thyroid. Could be that I’m 41 years old. Could be that my skin needs time to regain elasticity after losing weight. I should not ignore this combination of symptoms, as they do tend to occur together in people losing weight and people on ketogenic diets. But I can’t assume it means anything in particular, either.

Honestly, I haven’t done much to try to fix these problems. Depression really sucks the motivation out of me. But I did decide to explore CKD (cyclical ketogenic diets) to see whether a weekly dose of carbs would create any positive hormonal changes that would show up as improvement in any of my symptoms (hair loss, mood, skin condition). I’ve been following the CarbNite protocol for about 4 weeks now. Basically, I stay in ketosis for 6 days and on the 7th day, for a 6-8 hour window in the afternoon-evening I spike my blood sugar with simple carbs.  So far, not much has happened. And even if it DID, there is no way for me to tease out any positive effects because that’s also how long I’ve been back on Wellbutrin. CarbNite is a fat-loss plan, btw, so I’m not using it for it’s supposed main benefit.

The most important thing that has come out of the CarbNite experiment is a renewed appreciation of ketogeic diets, actually. I’ve done a low-carb (but not ketogenic) diet before combined with a weekly cheat meal (slow carb ala Tim Ferriss) and it was disastrous for me. I thought of nothing but that cheat day ALL week long. Pure torture. But this time it’s not like that. I hardly ever think about the cheat night and I certainly do not long for it all week. It’s a reminder to me of how WONDERFUL it is to not crave carbohydrates like I used to. It’s so freeing. So in that sense my cheat meals have made me more committed to keto. It just feels so much better. I am perfectly content and happy to return to keto after a cheat meal. That is a huge indication that keto is right for me. Whether it’s right and proper to not be in ketosis 100% of the time is certainly up for debate, but nobody knows the answer to that question so the only things we can do are do research and then self-experiment.

Okay, this post is way too long so I’ll end it here. I’ll probably talk more about CarbNite in the future, but this post is about the problems I had on a ketogenic diet and what I did about it. So to wrap up: I had depression, hair loss, and saggy skin. I’m back on meds for the depression and I’m experimenting with a weekly carb-up to see if that helps the other symptoms. I’m not considering abandoning ketsosis because I love it still and love the way it helps me go through life craving-free but I am tinkering with it to see if I can make things better all around. The end.