Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. I went to cooking school. Everything I’m sharing here is based on personal experience and not meant to serve as medical advice. Also, if you hate people who talk about the ketogenic diet, please stop reading. I can’t stand the idea of you hating me.
I said that I would write one of these posts every week, on Thursdays, as part of a series where I share my non-negotiables. The habits I’ve adopted for living with a mental illness. Last week I was supposed to post about my diet. While I did write, I didn’t post. This is what I wrote:
I’m not feeling great today, so I’ll keep it short.
Diet or die.
STOP EATING SUGAR
The more I’ve read, and the more I’ve experimented, the more I’m certain that bipolar disorder, and possibly other mental health conditions, are the result of glucose metabolism abnormalities. Meaning, some brains suck at using sugar for fuel.
There’s only one way around metabolizing glucose (sugar) for energy, and that’s the ketogenic diet. Not simply low-carb. Ketogenic. Where your body gets its fuel from fat rather than glucose.
So that’s my non-negotiable.
I WILL not eat sugar. You shouldn’t either.
Here’s a resource for anyone that’s on the fence.
And that’s all I could write. I could barely eek out little more than 100 words. All because, in the days leading up to Thursday, I had eaten in a way that kicked me out of ketosis. A couple days of mild carb consumption and my brain started metabolizing sugar for energy again, something it’s not good at. My mood plummeted, depression surfaced, focus dissipated. It was so bad that I had to leave work early that day. Something I very rarely do.
I first tried the ketogenic diet a few years ago at the encouragement of a good friend and personal life guru. Coincidentally, during that time, my life got a lot better very quickly. Suddenly work, though still difficult, was easier. My confidence, always low, was super high. Things that weren’t working out started working out.
Looking back, it’s easy to see that this brief bright spot of time in an otherwise dark decade and a half was not due to a random change in circumstance (there was none) , it was due to a radical change in perspective. One I can now say with confidence was shaped by a brain running on fat. I did the diet till I lost some weight, then switched back to my old ways. With the end of the diet came the swift return of the mood swings. Life got hard again, and stayed that way until September ’19.
It’s hard to stay in ketosis. The variety and texture of appropriate foods, its availability in social settings and on the road, and the relentless appeal of a quarter pounder (I know, I know. McDonald’s is gross. Everyone hates it, right? Then who are all the people in the drive-through???) It all makes staying in a state of ketosis feel impossible. I’m literally writing this while my family is sitting in the other room knocking back some McFlurry’s. I hate them with all the love in my heart.
But difficulties aside, I’ve been in a confirmed state of ketosis about 95% of the time since Sept 13th of last year, so a little over four months now. I started the diet at the tail end of a debilitating depression, and within three days, I had a brand new brain. I’ve said this a hundred times, and I’ll say it for the rest of my likely pro-longed life:
Sleep and medication provided the baseline needed to pursue healing. Diet is saving my life.
Let me expound a bit on what’s happened since September:
- For years I’ve tried writing, and have generally struggled to make it through one hundred words a day. One hundred very painful words. After about two months on the diet I realized that I could write without needing to stop. Waking up early each morning and journaling (roughly 700 words), and then blogging twice a week (avg. around 600-700 words, sometimes longer). That’s on top of some very long days at a rewarding, but challenging, job.
- Sleep became effortless. Prior to September, one mistake at work, one tough conversation with a friend, could leave me reeling for days. I can’t count the number of nights that I would lie awake, tossing and turning at the thought of something I should have said differently, or how my reputation had been irreparably damaged, or how I was sure to humiliate myself tomorrow. Bipolar disorder is all about those sweet, sweet sleepless nights and paranoia. Now I’m in bed around 8:30 at night, I read for a bit, and then regardless of the day’s events I sleep great. (I had one night in December where I checked my email to some terrible news that I had very little control over in the moment. This would have normally ruined me for days. Instead, after a skipped heart beat, I responded to the email with some thoughts about appropriate next steps. Laid down. Fell asleep. This might sound minor to some, but I’ve never operated this way.)
- My mood. You know, the thing that makes a bipolar person bipolar. While I still respond to circumstances the way a human does (Bummer things make me bummed. Happy things makes me happy), I’m not sitting in the passenger seat of a 1 star rated Uber-driver brain. My mood is constant, or near constant. It’s incredible.
- I didn’t go on this diet to get healthy. I went on it to not die of depression. That said, I’ve lost 40 pounds, my resting heart rate has dropped from 79 to 61 bpm, my blood pressure went from hypertension levels, to pre-hypertension, to normal. I’ve also found the energy to wake up and exercise daily. That means running, sit-ups, push-ups. Nothing fancy, but I’ll take it.
I’m not afraid to say it. This diet is not ideal.
I’m a good cook. Look, I made this:
Incredibly sexy food.
Nowadays, I eat pretty much nothing but meat, and eggs and cheese. Occasionally, a few veggies. It’s not always appetizing, it’s not always convenient, but it beats the hell out of being depressed.
If you decide to try the keto diet, talk to your doctor first. It may require adjusting your meds to stay safe.
Lastly, if you don’t think you can do the diet, exogenous ketone supplements may provide some of the same therapeutic effects as being in actual ketosis. But dang, it’s expensive.
Next week, on to Non-Negotiable #4: Work or Weep. Make sure to subscribe and I’ll be sure to keep providing you with as much quality content as I possibly can.