Zero to Eighty in Point-Seven-Five Days

I’ve tried lots of diets in my decade as an only-slightly-overweight test subject. By far the most effective have been induction-phase low-carbohydrate diets. Yes, I tried them before they were a national fad (by about two years, depending on your definition of “fad”). Yes, I’ve researched them. The reasons they work for me better than other diets:

1) They force me to abandon comfort foods — especially sugared beverages (Nesquik being the worst) and cold cereals.
2) When my metabolism is burning protein, body-fat, and a few complex carbs, I have much more energy — both mental and physical.
3) The exercise I like most (weight training) is a powerful force multiplier — I burn fuel, AND I tell my body that the proteins I’ve been eating are NOT fuel. We need them to repair the muscles I’ve just torn up.
4) My cholesterol drops by almost 100 points when I’m dieting this way, and the HDL/LDL ratio is in the 4.0 range (which is good). Last January I demonstrated this during the “guess Howard’s HDL/LDL levels for free artwork” game. I’ve been as high as 250 when not dieting, and as low as 100 (HDL was 25) when on the diet.

The reasons I’m still slightly overweight:

1) When I drop out of the induction phase, the temptation to return to comfort foods is one I yield to.
2) My work schedule and travel schedule at Novell was such that I couldn’t establish long-term healthy habits easily. Diet and exercise often fell by the wayside for a year or more at a time.
3) Bad genes, or at least fat-o-philic genes. My male progenitors, with perhaps one exception, have been overweight.
4) Mostly sedentary lifestyle. I’m a cartoonist, not a carpenter. And when I worked at Novell, I was a manager, not a mason.

Yesterday I began the induction phase of the low-carb diet again. Typically this phase runs for two weeks as you “teach” your body to burn body fat to replenish the glycogen stores, rather than depending on digestion of simple sugars. It can be HELL for several days. Each day you test your urine for ketones, which are (in very lay terms) the “smoke” put off when body fat burns. The first time I tried this (eight years ago) I spent six days being miserable, with no energy, and no measurable ketones. The SECOND time I tried it I made it to day seven, when suddenly the switch had been thrown, and I felt GREAT. In recent years I’ve been able to jump-start the fat-burning engine in as little as two days, which is unusual because the body has something like three days’ worth of glycogen stored up in the blood.

Well, yesterday I jump-started that engine in just 18 hours. My day went like this.

8am: 16oz of water, two “fat-burner” pills providing chromium picolinate and about 25mg of caffeine. Breakfast was a spanish omelette — ham, garlic, and 3 eggs fried in olive oil. I didn’t like it, so I didn’t finish it.

9am-Noon: Scripting. Ah, the benefits of a clear head! These are funny, but you don’t get to read them yet.

12 noon: Force multiplication time… I went to the gym, and did chest-and-triceps with Kent Carter (Kent modeled a Schlock Mercenary T-shirt back in 2002). I got as much exercise racking and un-racking the weights as I did actually pressing them. See, Kent’s a bit bigger than I am.

1pm: Anyway, after that workout I did 25 minutes of running and steep-uphill walking on the treadmill, keeping my pulse over 140 the whole way. I followed that up with four laps in the pool, and a rewarding soak-and-steam in the spa. (Ah, the life of a well-to-do cartoonist!)

2pm: Lunch time. Two more fat-burner pills (completing the daily dose), and another 16oz of water down the hatch. I was hungry enough to eat a horse. I settled for a bowl of tuna salad (canned tuna, 2 tbsp miracle whip, 2 tbsp canned corn, 1 tbsp dried onion) which disappeared into my mighty maw with mythological speed. I was still hungry…

3pm: Went birthday shopping for Sandra. (Incidentally, if you want to do something nice for the woman who makes Schlock Mercenary possible, her Amazon Wish List is here, and she shares a birthday with Lewis Carroll. Email me if you’ve got questions.) On the trip out I hit Carl’s Jr. and had a jalapeno cheeseburger in a lettuce wrap. It was $1.06, because it’s their special this month, and it hit the spot in spite of being kind of a stupid flavor combination.

5pm: Famished. Depressed. Grouchy. This is the low point in the induction phase, and the fact that I’d hit it so soon had me worried. The grumpy dieter is the one who bails on the diet, choosing instead to be fat and happy, despite the understanding that “fat” has serious drawbacks and that the “happy” associated with binging is going to last all of 20 minutes. I tried some cottage cheese, and it was AWFUL. This batch from Viva was a clumpy cheese-pudding instead of the usual, tasty chunklets of proto-cheese in a slurry of whey. Sandra told me it was fine for cooking but yeah, it was horrid straight. I thought “Ooooh…. LASAGNA.” And then I realized that if you omit a couple of ingredients (most notably the pasta), you can make a good low-carb lasagna. But I was too tired and grumpy to do it myself. Sandra to the rescue! She made a low-carb lasagna for me, and I liked it a lot.

6pm: Feeling much better. Absurdly better. Almost giddy-goofy. Decided to do a ketone check, even though it’s always depressing to see no ketones (and there never ARE ketones on Day One).

And then a miracle… I was almost at the top of the ketone scale, at 80 units per something-or-other, the urinalysis strip having turned a dark purple. Two hours of exercise, coupled with the metabolic accelerants in those little pills had worked better than I had any reason to expect.

This morning I was at 40 UPS (Units Per Something-or-other), which is high for an AM check. Apparently my body wants rid of this bellyfat almost as badly as my brain does. The bathroom scale said I’d dropped a pound and a half since the same time yesterday.

So I’m happy. And if you post some anti-low-carb, rain-on-my-parade junk in here, I’ll rip off your head and pee ketone-rich urine straight down your neck.

Later today, I’m going to have a chupaqueso!


26 thoughts on “Zero to Eighty in Point-Seven-Five Days”

    1. It really wasn’t all that good. Jalapenos, cheese, burger, and the Hardee’s/Carl’s “special sauce,” which is basically a salty, no-relish thousand-island dressing. The flavors didn’t blend. If there’d been some guacamole, or perhaps a cumin-and-chili-powdered tomato sauce in there it might have been better.

      The bacon cheeseburger is much tastier, and in the low-carb lettuce wrap it’s an Atkins Dieter’s manna. Or Mana. Whichever. Food from heaven AND magical. 🙂


  1. Hey, whatever works for you, man. But I find the thought of inducing ketosis horrifying–it’s all the EMS training (so easy to tip into ketoacidosis!) It fills me with the urge to load someone with insulin and/or H2O and rush them to the hospital.

    1. You give insulin in the field? I never did, but then I got out of EMS in 1996 or so.

      Still, the diet would result in a lower than normal blood glucose reading, not the high one you’d expect to find with ketones in the urine, thus leading away from an assessment of a diabetic problem. Remember: treat the patient, not the numbers. If you hit him with insulin in that setting, you’d be likely to generate severe hypoglycemia.

      1. This article nicely describes the difference between ketosis, or “dietary ketosis” (which we ALL experience to some degree) and ketoacidosis which is typically only experienced by insulin-dependent Type I diabetics, and perhaps those in the late stages of anorexia/bulemia.

        One point brought out in the article: ketosis is not dangerous if you’re able to produce your own insulin. It’s NATURAL.

        The article does not discuss low-carb diets specifically, but the conclusions I draw from its data and other data I’ve read match my experience: low-carb dieting exploits a natural mechanism to accelerate safe, fat-burning weight loss.


      2. I was not cleared to do so, but I’ve ridden with paramedics who could. We lowly Basics could and did strongly suggest that the patient administer their own, if it looked like they were with it enough not to stick the needle in their eye. (I was allowed to adminster “oral glucose,” which is basically cake frosting that you put on a tongue depressor and rub up in their gums.) I would never have administered the bus’s insulin to someone, but their own prescription? If I felt it was between that and losing someone during the ride, hell, yes.

        When I was active, it was pre-Atkins craze. Ketosis was indicative of a diabetic reaction or starvation, so it was always a cause to transport. If I were still running now, I would add “are you on Atkins?” to the questions I would ask if I smelled fruity breath.

        1. if it looked like they were with it enough not to stick the needle in their eye.

          I originally read that as “if it looked like they were with it enough to stick the needle in their eye”, and had a brief flash of “I hope I never need to do that” panic before I reread the sentence. Self-administering a shot in the arm or leg is bad enough…

  2. I have to say, I tried Nesquik for the first time yesterday…

    and if I weren’t already hooked on chocolate malt Ovaltine, I can see how it could be habit forming. The bad thing about being hooked on Ovaltine is that I can say “but it’s full of vitamins!”

    1. That’s bad thing #2. Bad thing #1 is that Ovaltine is great straight, without any milk. I remember getting scolded as a kid for spooning it straight to my mouth — something you can’t do with the much-more-powdery Nesquik — and I remember getting scolded by my wife two months ago for the same transgression.

      We’re back on sugar-free Nesquik now.

      1. heehee

        and there’s that problem you have when you’re eating Ovaltine straight and you breathe in at the wrong time… *coughcoughcoughcough* But I wouldn’t know anything about that!

        I swear, we really should start a Dry Ovaltine Eaters’ Club. 😀

        Ewwww… sugar free Nesquik. Sounds nasty. I have to ask, is eating the artificial whatever-it-is they use to make stuff sweet any better than just eating the sugar?

  3. Wow. Sounds like a nice start.

    The way I figure it, the low-carb thing as most people perceive it is no more than a fad diet. That is, most people hear about it and figure “Hey! I can leave the bun off my burger on my thrice-weekly fast-food stop and stop eating wheat products, and I’ll lose weight!”. And of course, they don’t do anything else… but on the other hand, any diet that comprises one change to one part of your lifestyle isn’t likely to do much. (Okay, “stop eating fast food three times a week” might make you a little healthier, but still.) So really, the difference between an ineffective “fad diet” and an ineffective diet is… unsurprisingly, the “fad” part.

    (Incidentally, I used to date a girl from Russia. It seems to be folk wisdom there (from what she told me) that bread and sugar are okay to eat in general, but to lay off them after dinner (if not earlier). I suspect this is because when you ingest carbohydrates, your body will either want to use them immediately, or put them into long-term storage…)

    Anyway, congrats! And good luck with the diet!

    1. Late Night Carbs = Bad

      I’ve heard the same thing about late-night carbs. When doing the low-carb thing, I absolutely CRAVE carbs at the end of the day, even if I’ve had a nice salad with veggies and dried fruit at lunch. I mean, I’m hankering for mashers, chips, popcorn… even oatmeal.

      NOT eating those at night, like after about 7pm (I’m up until midnight… if you go to bed earlier, lay off the carbs earlier) seems to work really well for me diet-wise.


  4. Shared birthdays

    You better treat that lady right, not only does she share birthdays with Lewis Carroll, but also Mozart, Jerome Kern, Donna Reed, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and last and probably least, myself.

  5. Your description of that diet almost makes me wish I had some fat to burn just so I could feel great like that… personally I’m doing what I can to keep my ribs from sticking out too much. *pout*

  6. I suppose I could post this personal weight-loss update in my own damn blog… maybe later. I have not lost any weight since Christmas. The good news is that I have not gained any either. The 10 lbs. I lost from early November to Christmas are still off.

    My diet is the, “eat less shit” diet. It works when I stay disciplined.

    Good luck on your weight loss trek. You generally have a better outlook on life without the extra poundage. Day to day life is a touch easier, also.

  7. The effort it takes to switch over to fat-burning from sugar burning decreases with practice, as your body gets used to the idea. I remember a top-level athelete (I believe he was a tennis star) that was going to be tested on a treadmill to see how much excercise it took to get him to switch over (as he normally burned through his sugar supply during a game). They had him all hooked up to their equipment and asked him to step on the treadmill, and they saw his metabolism switch over at the mere request to excercise.

  8. How did you get all the information and testing stuff for the diet? Did you sign up on an official program, or just get the information needed?

    1. Google Is Your Friend. Oh, and I read several books, beginning in the mid-90s, with Dr. Atkins fairly controversial and extremely opinionated text. He draws some conclusions from his research that I don’t feel are supported, but the data he gave was pretty educational.

      Ketosis detection strips are available at Walmart. So are the supplements recommended by most low-carb nutritionists.


      1. Well, I looked up this reeeeally useful site: and it seems to have all the information I need. I’m getting my pantry prepared to start this sucker next week. This and my taking up quarter staff training (yay re-enactment nerds!) should get things moving.

  9. Howard, how excellent! Your experience with low-carb dieting almost exactly mirrors my own, except for the doing-it-right-now part. I can get into ketosis in two days now without even exercising. Which I know because I haven’t been to the gym in five months… bad. I’m going to follow your progress and use you as an inspiration. No pressure or anything.

    And thanks for the link to the article about ketosis/ketoacidosis. It’ll be very helpful when I get frustrated trying to explain the concept.

    Happy birthday to Sandra!

    1. Thanks, Zenkitty. I’ve dropped just over 2 pounds in two days, which is consistent with my past experience. I can shed a pound a day for every day that I force my body to burn fat rather than digest sugars.

      This is more a statement of how much surplus fat I’m carrying than anything else. And I know it’s not water weight, because I’m drinking easily twice as much water as I usually do to stay hydrated and keep my tummy feeling nice and full.


  10. low-carb

    My college roomate and I went on a low-carb diet back in 1971. I don’t recall the source of our inspiration, but it was just a slim book of guidelines and carb-counts for common foods. We regretted giving up chips and beer (oh the pain of a frat-boy without beer!), but we sure ate a lot of roast beef, and green beans (the only vegetable we could agree on). I have no memory of how difficult it was to start, or whether I felt any better or had a clearer head (I’ve never been well-tuned to my body’s signals). The results, though, were great! In about a college quarter we both lost almost 15 pounds, and we both kept it off for the next ten years! No extra exercise was indicated, or done.

    I recall that there was a warning of some sort about ketosis in the book — something about not proceeding if your breath started to smell like formaldehyde (?) or you had some other bad reactions. When I attempted go on the diet again some years later, I got into that state in a couple days, so I got scared and quit. It looks from your info that maybe I was just on the cusp of actually having it work again!

    Time to review this diet, methinks.


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