I’ve been a diet, health, and fitness nut ever since I was a (fat) 11-year-old kid. I’m following mostly a “ketogenic” diet now, and I’m stronger, more cut, and more energetic than ever.
Download PDF: Ketogenic diet for photographers
But Asians are naturally skinny!
Not true. Go to Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, China, etc. There are so many fat Asians now, especially those consuming a higher diet of sugar, soda, sweets, etc.
For myself, I was a fat kid from age 11. Mom always working, so I grew up eating hot dogs, corn dogs, hot pockets, etc. I still remember at age 11, having a triple chin, and not being able to sleep at night in the humid New York summers, because my chin(s) were sticking to one another.
Even in college, after one or two nights of drinking beer, eating chips, and French fries, I would already feel fat rolls accumulating around my abdomen. Even more recently after two months of living in France, and eating copious amounts of almonds, nuts, and cheese, I probably put on 10 pounds of fat. Since then, I went back to my strict ketogenic diet, and intermittent fasting schedule, and now I have a 6-pack again.
I want to share my experiences with the ketogenic diet, why I follow it, and why it might be good for you as a photographer, visual artist, and human being.
What is a ketogenic diet?
Essentially a ketogenic diet is a diet that optimizes the body to burn accumulated body fat (adipose tissue) for energy, through the metabolic pathway called “ketosis”. When your body doesn’t have immediate sugar, carbohydrates to draw from, your body will convert your body fat tissue and metabolize it into “ketones” for energy. This is why you can sleep (without eating anything) and not die in your sleep.
Now, in order for your body to go into a state of ketosis, you need to do the following:
- Don’t eat sugar: This means no lactose (milk sugar), no sucrose, no fructose (fruit sugar), and of course no high fructose corn syrup (in almost all American foods and beverages).
- Don’t eat simple carbohydrates: No bread, wheat, rice, pasta, or any white foods.
- Don’t eat starch: Don’t eat potatoes, tubers, roots, etc.
That’s pretty much it. Which means you can eat the following:
- Unlimited eggs, meats (fatty meats included), organ meats, or animal byproducts.
- Unlimited leafy greens.
This means your diet will be very high in protein, fats, and green leafy veggies. Very low (or no) sugar, no starch, no carbohydrates.
For drinks, allow yourself unlimited water, black coffee (no cream or sugar), and tea (black, green, etc).
As for meal timing, I wake up in a “fasted” state, go workout (chin-ups at the park or deadlifts/squats at the gym), and usually don’t eat anything (just drink lots of black coffee and water) until around 3-6pm, when I “break my fast” then eat copious amounts of eggs (6-8 whole eggs, including yolk), fatty meats (chicken legs, thighs, ground beef, pork), and leafy greens (spinach, kale, etc).
It works for me
This diet has so far been the best and optimal diet for myself. This has allowed me to put on lots of muscle mass (I’m around 160 pounds, at 5 foot 10 inches), my max deadlift has been 410 pounds, I can do 25+ consecutive chin-ups, and I can see pretty much all of my abdominal muscles.
I have lots of energy and focus during the day, and have been the most productive in terms of writing, researching, making photos, making films, deepening my knowledge, etc.
So the question is, “Is the ketogenic diet/intermittent fasting good for me?”
I’m extreme; you don’t need to be. You can follow whatever diet or lifestyle you want. Nobody can force you to do anything.
But, if your goal is to have minimal body fat, to have maximal muscle mass, to have maximal energy, and to be creatively productive, I think the ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting is ideal.
Isn’t fasting dangerous?
No. People who follow Ramadan in the Islamic religion do it all the time, and they’re fine. And they drink no water during the day, in the middle eastern heat!
Aren’t you supposed to eat a big breakfast in the morning to be fueled for the day?
The human body isn’t a gasoline engine. The problem we make is that we use simple analogies to describe human metabolism. But the human body is far more complex.
Consider, the human body can survive 40+ days with no food, as long as you have water. How does that work? Through ketosis; your body drawing from your fat/adipose tissue to have energy.
Now the more practical question is this:
If I want to maximize my energy levels during the day, with the maximum amount of energy, focus, and power, with the least amount of fatigue and tiredness… what’s ideal?
Well, consider if you have a big meal during the day (especially if you eat a lot of sugar or carbohydrates) you get “food coma”; your body injects insulin to combat the incoming food, to quickly stabilize your body sugar levels. Your body injects insulin as a way to keep your body in a state of homeostasis. This is also what causes diabetes, metabolic disease, or metabolic syndrome. They’re even starting to call Alzheimer disease as “type 3 diabetes”; note a lot of people who get Alzheimer’s disease have a diet high in sugar, processed carbohydrates, etc. Type 1 diabetes is generic, yet type 2 and type 3 diabetes purely come from lifestyle and diet.
Nutritional science is always changing
The science and explanations behind bodily health are always changing. Yet, the human body is not changing, at all.
To be honest, even this concept of “ketogenic diet” will change and evolve in the next 10+ years, as more science is discovered. Yet, the biological response of the body won’t change. It doesn’t matter what the scientific theory, the real life evidence is simple:
If you eat a lot of sugar and simple carbohydrates, you accumulate body fat (adipose tissue) on your body.
If you eat a diet with 0 sugars, 0 carbohydrates, 0 starch, 0 dairy, you will decrease the body fat mass (adipose tissue) in your body.
Anti calorie counting
Calories in vs calories out is a myth (read “Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes). If you eat 2,000 calories a day in pure white table sugar versus 2,000 calories a day in fatty lamb ribs (no sauce), you’re of course going to accumulate body fat/adipose tissue with the table sugar, versus eating the (delicious) lamb ribs.
Now, calorie counting works for some people, because it makes you more cognizant of what you eat, and thus you’re less likely to drink soda and eat sugary desserts, French fries, etc. But the idea of your body losing adipose tissue from eating fewer calories than it burns is scientifically false.
Why recommend this to photographers?
This is my rationale:
- As photographers, what we do is quite physically and mentally demanding. To run around, crouch, and take photos is a physical workout. And to have the mental focus and energy to make photos is also quite taxing. Therefore, to have the maximal amount of physical and mental strength is good.
- In order to maximize our mental and physical strength, we must optimize our diet, fitness, health, lifestyle, workouts, etc.
- Therefore, what we eat, what we don’t eat, and working out to become strong is of utmost importance.
Just think: if you’re a street photographer, you must walk a lot, not get tired, have strong legs, a strong back, have agility, be able to crouch very low (good hip mobility), and you need mental focus.
Therefore doing deadlifts and squats is good for your leg strength. Having less body fat (adipose tissue) is good, because you will have less weight to slow you down. And also, avoiding food coma during the day will ensure that you will have the energy to be active all day, without getting tired.
So practical suggestions:
- If you’re interested in the ketogenic diet, I recommend going 100% in, extreme. It’s easier to commit to something 100%, than just partially.
- If you start to follow a ketogenic diet today, it’s simple. Just try it: for an entire day, only eat eggs (both yolk and the white), only leafy greens (spinach and kale), and only fatty meats (chicken legs, chicken thigh, pork ribs, ground beef, etc).
- Totally abstain from all sugars (no fruit, no fruit juice, no soda), no carbohydrates (no brown or white rice, no brown or white bread, no beans, no potatoes or cruciferous “vegetables”). No starches (no carrots, no cauliflower or broccoli). No sauces or condiments on your foods (just stick to salt, pepper, and spices). No dairy (no cheese, milk, yogurt, etc).
That’s pretty much it.
As for intermittent fasting, let’s talk about that some other time. Just for now, try sticking to a very strict 100% ketogenic diet for two weeks, and see how it works for you. If it doesn’t work for you, you can always go back to whatever you did before. And no, by following 100% ketogenic diet you’re not going to die.