Dietary gateways

I practiced a ketogenic (very low carb) diet consistently for about two years, from 2017-2019, with occasional forays into the carnivore (zero-carb) diet when my weight loss was stalled. I did a lot of fasting and time-restricted eating as well during this interval, which tend to be quite popular in the keto community.

This experience was transformative for me, ultimately leading to some important developments in my life, and pulled me in two very different directions.

I started the diet because I needed to lose a lot of weight. A friend of someone I knew had tried keto, apparently with great success. Another obese friend of mine had gone through an amazing weight loss transformation, which inspired me to commit to something radical, and I later found out that he too had found his success through keto and carnivore diets. I began the diet, lost a lot of weight quickly at the start, and then continued to lose weight for a time at a slower pace. I did plenty of reading about it online, and bought and devoured a couple books on the subject. I was entirely sold on the diet, and I educated myself pretty extensively, insofar as I was able.

The two directions I was drawn in were a trust of science, and a distrust of institutional experts. Keto groups like to claim that there is lots of science showing that their diet is no worse than other dietary options, and that it might even be far superior in some respects. They also like to complain about how public health authorities do not recommend anything like the ketogenic diet, and how they even caution against some things that are generally common and praised among those who advocate for keto (eg saturated fat, dietary cholesterol, sodium).

This sort of distrust of institutional experts pushed me in the direction of a vaguely right-wing, populist mindset. (Luckily I was mainly off that train before the right really lost its mind as of 2020.) This sort of right-wing thinking liked to emphasize things like, masculine strength and vitality, self responsibility, and scorn for the sheep who believe what the “experts” are saying, experts who are ineffectually overseeing the worst obesity health crisis in human history.

What got me thinking about all this, actually, was when I listened very recently to a podcast interview with someone who was present at and involved in the Jan 6 riots. He was a young fellow who had been radicalized to rightwing extremism and conspiracy theories in the years leading up to January 6 2021. According to how he narrates his story, the process of radicalization began with a change of diet, where he changed his life and his body after realizing that the health authorities had been lying to him all his life. I don’t know for sure if he was talking about a keto/carnivore diet (he didn’t specify), but I’m guessing that’s what it was. What I feel absolutely sure of is that whatever diet this was, it was something that involved a lot of animal products and that praised the health-promoting properties of saturated fat and dietary cholesterol.

Luckily, the other direction that I was being pulled in won out, and just in time. Insulin resistance is a huge talking point for the low carb people. You don’t want to be insulin resistant or diabetic if you can avoid it (true enough), and by going low carb, you increase your body’s sensitivity to carbs, just like how using more drugs (including alcohol and caffeine) deadens your body’s sensitivity to them, and using less increases the sensitivity. That was the argument. It was compelling to me. Then I read somewhere that saturated fat is actually really bad for insulin sensitivity, that keto people don’t do well on the sort of insulin tests where they have to consume carbs and see how their body handles them, and that the best diet for improving insulin sensitivity is something with lots of whole plant foods (including high carb whole plant foods like fruit, whole grains, and legumes), and with minimal saturated fat. Then I started learning about the other health benefits of such a diet, including for weight control. So that’s how I’ve been eating for the past five years now, and I have not regretted making the change. As a result, I tend to be rather more appreciative of the experts now too, which has also been a very positive development.

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