to the Altris Blog

‘Low Carb’ Thinking

Approximately three years ago I had a conversation with a colleague of mine who was a registered psychologist. At the time I was noticing that I had lost a bit of my ‘joie de vivre’, I wasn’t feeling like doing any more than the bare minimum and overall was rather ‘flat’. I was worried that I might have depression – not at a very significant level, but depression nonetheless. Members of my immediate family have been diagnosed with bi-polar / depression so I was concerned that I might be genetically disposed to this and so keen to avoid heading further down that route.

My colleague provided me with a couple of self-assessment tools that showed that while I wasn’t ‘clinically depressed’ I was a bit ‘down’. While this was a relief in many ways I still knew that I didn’t like the way I was feeling. Over subsequent months I tried a few things to improve the way I was feeling. These had some impact but the ‘flat’ feeling never really went away. At that time I was also feeling anxious about some elements of my work – worrying about details of programmes; how clients were judging the work I was doing etc. So all in all, from a mental health and wellbeing perspective I wasn’t in a place I wanted to be.

Fast forward to today, and I can say that my state of mind has totally changed. Looking at what I’ve done in the intervening period the only significant change I have made has been to adopt a ‘low carb’ (LCHF) approach to nutrition. As you know from my previous post this involves limiting my intake of carbohydrates (particularly sugar, refined carbs and starchy vegetables) and significantly upping my intake of healthy fats (olive oil; coconut oil; butter; cream; avocado etc. but no vegetable oils – canola; rice bran etc.) so they become my primary source of energy. As a consequence I have changed from being a ‘sugar burner’ (the way that our bodies are fuelled when we eat the way we’ve been encouraged to eat for the past 40 years by the government, our doctors and nutritional experts) to a ‘fat burner’.

Without getting too deep into the science at this stage, suffice to say that the human body can use carbohydrate (glucose) and/or fat (ketones) for energy. While many people think that your body and brain can only run on glucose, the reality is that, after a short period of adaption, it can actually run very effectively on fat.

While your body typically has a store of around 2,000 calories of glucose energy at any time, it also stores around 40,000 calories of fat – and either of these sources can be used for energy. Given the difference in these levels of available energy research shows that fuelling with ‘fat’ is a much more stable and reliable source than fuelling with carbs/glucose. By fuelling with fat you avoid the highs and lows that we are all familiar with when we consume carb-laden food i.e. the mid-morning or mid-afternoon slumps that we tend to assume are normal and just part of the natural rhythm of a busy and stressful life. I can confirm from experience that when you fuel with fat you have a much more stable energy level and don’t need to grab something to eat (normally a sugar / carb filled solution) every two or three hours to keep you going (and also starting you on another blood sugar high / low cycle).

Since adapting to this way of powering my body the impact on my thinking has been dramatic. The best way I can explain it is that it feels like the world has ‘slowed down’ and, as a result, I’m better able to make sense of what’s going on around me and to make decisions using an ‘unclouded’ mind. I also feel more ‘present’ and aware of my surroundings – picking up some of the subtle cues from people and situations that I know I would have missed in my previously ‘clouded’ and ‘flat’ mode. As a consequence I’m hoping I’m providing a better service to my clients and colleagues.

Things that would previously have stressed me out seem to be much more ‘manageable’ and not a big issue anymore. In reality I am still facing the same kind of things I would previously have been anxious about but I seem to be able to handle them better as a result of having more level energy and a clearer mind.

Noticing the effect this approach has had on my own thinking and energy reinforces for me the value that could be generated for individuals, their families, their teams and organisations by making changes to what they eat. It seems so simple when you say it like that. But it requires some willpower and dedication to make a switch as well as to fly in the face of what we have traditionally been told is good for us. My personal experience is that the benefits from making the change more than make up for some short-term ‘pain’ as your body gets used to burning fat again.

If you’re feeling that you’re thinking is cloudy or muddled, or you notice energy slumps mid-morning or mid-afternoon I encourage you to explore the LCHF approach. Research on large groups as well as my own personal exploration demonstrates the positive impact this can have.

In time, I’m convinced that this will be recognised as the most appropriate way for human beings to eat. But rather than wait until it becomes mainstream, feel free to jump on board and be at the head of the curve!


Leave a comment