What living with a chronic disease for a decade has taught me about happiness

When I was 15 years old, I got diagnosed with crohn’s disease and colitis. The doctor was not so sure which of both I really had, so he diagnosed me with both. For years before that diagnosis I struggled with increasing stomach pain, diarrhea and missed many days at school. Finally I got treated with prednisone and felt better initially, but the drug made me feel worse in the long run.
I started my search for health and diet on the internet, read many books and was hooked on the path to get well by myself ever since. I saw immediate benefits of the healthy lifestyle and the healthy diet in particular. I drastically reduced the occasions when I drank alcohol and avoided junk food for the most part, because everytime I indulged in it, I felt the immediate negative effects.

Challenges come to us in many ways. Consciously chosen or not.

Finding what works

I have to say though that it was not an easy journey to find out what works and what does not and I am still tweaking my diet around on a regular basis, trying out new things. But I also tend to forget from time to time what did not work and deviate from my protocols and diets, only to find myself in pain all over again. But those periods have become less frequent and shorter. I am now more stable in my good eating habits and avoid big “failures”.

Can you become happier through a disease?

But I have learned a positive lesson from this disease. I am actually very thankful for the path that this condition has pushed me towards. I know this sounds mad to someone who is suffering badly from this or any disease. But I have found that this disease has pushed myself to grow mentally. To learn and grow in areas that I would probably have neglected otherwise. If you would ask me if I wanted to relive the past 10 years without having this disease, I would tend to answer no. Of course you never know how an alternative reality would have turned out to be, but as I am in a pretty happy state right now, I do not wanted anything to be different. I can imagine many different realities without this disease that would not have turned out so well. Without the interest in eating healthy, I would probably have continued to eat meat and junk food. Ending up less healthy overall in the end.

And the things I learned about healthy living were only the start of a much greater journey into personal development. This path I might also not have taken without all that I learned through the research on this condition. And serious personal development work has probably been the biggest factor in increasing my happiness over the last couple of years. Meditation, inner work and contemplation of death for example have shifted my mental outlook in profound ways. Listening to great teachers like Alan Watts and contemplating on his teachings have paved my way to discover greatly helpful concepts to cope with life’s struggles. And I can honestly say I am much happier since implementing several mental practices into my daily life.


The bottom line of this post is that no matter what difficult situations life throws at you, you are most likely to benefit from them as well. Similar to physical training, where you first have to challenge and hurt the muscles in order for them to grow, life-challenges will grow your character, happiness and resilience. And in knowing that, you can actually appreciate the hard times. Seeing hard times as opportunities for growth allows you to search for constructive solutions to your problems. Leaving you better off in the end than without that challenging life-event.

The different levels of ketosis

If you reduce your intake of carbohydrates, your body increases the amount of fat it burns. Lowered levels of insulin allow for a greater release of free fatty acids into the blood. Their utilization by almost all tissues goes up. But the interesting thing is that not all tissues and organs are able to get all of their energy from metabolizing fat. The brain, some immune-cells and mucous producing cells in the gut have a hard time getting 100% of their energy requirements from fat.

From a certain point onwards, the body starts produce ketone bodies as a byproduct of fat metabolism. In highly adapted individuals the brain for example can derive 75% of its energy from the utilization of ketone bodies. It will always require a certain amount of glucose. This can either come from glucose from food or through gluconeogenesis.

Therefore the adaptation to a ketogenic diet has several phases. At the beginning a low carbohydrate diet is accompanied by quiet a high amount of ketone bodies expelled in the urine. This shows that the body is burning a lot of fat, but organs like the brain are not jet able to fully utilize the ketones that are present. Only if the level of carbohydrates are consistently kept very low (<30gr/day) will the body fully switch over.  After several weeks the levels of ketone bodies in the urine should go down. Though this can take up to several month. Once this happened, protein requirements will drop even further.

A critical point during the adaptation phase

But the most critical point is probably the mucous producing cells, lining the gut walls. They require carbohydrate, from which they form the mucous. It is not clearly known if those cells can ever fully do their job without carbohydrates. There are concerns, that this increases the risk of colon cancer. Because cells in the lining of the colon are no longer optimally protected.
To prevent this it is also critical to maintain a proper amino-acid intake. Heavy reliance on muscle meats as it can be found in many keto-dieters is also detrimental to the mucous lining of the gut. Glycine, Proline, Cysteine, Serine and Threonine are important amino acids for those mucin-producing cells. Mucin is the glycoprotein that the mucus consists of. Glycine and proline are usually the amino acids that most people are falling short in. Even though they are semi-essential amino acids, sometime the body cannot produce enough of them for optimal functioning. Gelatin would be one good source for those amino acids. On a vegan diet though, the best strategy is to eat a variety of nuts, seeds and protein rich vegetables like leafy greens and mushrooms.

The adaptation phase is challenging

Few people truly adapt to the ketogenic state, because it is so hard during the adaptation phase. One cannot imagine that there is light at the end of the tunnel and most people quit before they reap the benefits.

Personal experience with getting fully keto-adapted

I have found that I could get into a highly adapted state by a pure water fast. Afterwards I broke the fast with the most low carb vegan foods I could think of. I feel so incredible different than I did before on a higher carb diet (100-150gr/day) that I plan on staying on this protocol for as long as possible. I am also curious to see where this diet leads me health wise and in my mental performance and wellbeing.
I have found the water fast to be an ideal way to get fully keto adapted. As many people complain about the difficulties of giving up sweets or reducing carbohydrate intake, I have found it easy to compress all the withdrawal symptoms into one week and go cold turkey on everything. That’s basically what a fast does and why so many people feel so bad during the first few days. It is quitting a lot of addictions at once (stimulating food, coffee, alcohol, drinks,…)

The great advantage of the water fast for the ketogenic dieter

After even a short water fast (one week)most of your taste buds have recovered and are very sensitive. You are not craving sweet food anymore and if you break the fast with low carb food (avocado for example) you can expect to have a heightened sensitivity for sweet tastes. Even things like avocado, celery and spinach will have a remarkably sweet taste. This sets you up for success on the ketogenic diet, where sweet tastes are usually very subtle. 

Trying out the opposite of the one meal a day diet: Grazing

I have in the past eaten the one meal a day diet for a couple of month. I felt good on it and liked some aspects of it and disliked others.
Now that I am coming off of a prolonged water fast and my body is highly adapted to burning fat, I will continue eating high fat plant based. But I will switch over to several smaller, even sized meals throughout the day. This means, I am going to eat 5 meals of the same size every three hours. Or, as I plan to prepare a smoothie in the morning, I will drink a few sips of that throughout the day.
My rough calculation:
6days/week: 5x400kcal=2000kcal
1day/week: 0kcal
daily average 1.700kcal
After my prolonged water fast I guess my body is efficient enough to survive on that level of calories.

Nuts are a convenient snack for me

What is the purpose of grazing?

I intend to get better nutrient absorption from grazing. I have found that I did not fully digest my meal, if I only eat once a day. This resulted in muscle-twitching leading me to the conclusion that I am deficient in some minerals.

Grazing and low-carb – a necessary combination?

Every time I start eating a larger amount of carbohydrates, I have a hard time stopping myself before the point of being fully stuffed. And even than I find myself wanting more. Therefore I think the combination of high fat and grazing can be a good combination. I even wonder if hunger will ever be a motivator to eat on that eating pattern. I am more concerned about having to stop myself earlier than what I was used to. After the fast I do not want to gain weight too fast. I want to build healthy lean weight.
But I can imagine, that the combination of grazing and high carb low fat might work equally well. Volume is generally high on that diet and the small meals might level out the blood sugar and not cause huge spikes.

I am going to report my experiences with this in future posts...

Did I fast to completion? And my low-carb fasting exit!

My fast to completion officially came to an end. I wasn’t expecting for it to be so short. But it is not surprising either. I started out with a low body fat percentage (visible abs) and overall with a BMI that classified me as underweight. Additionally I proceeded the fast with an active lifestyle: Working, walking, ice skating and body-weight exercises.

Why did I end the fast?

Given the cold weather I was doing the fast in, it was no surprise that I quickly used up my reserves. But I trusted my body to tell me when to stop the fast. First indicator was that my tongue cleared up. It was no longer coated in white and my breath became much less offensive.
Additionally I noticed a feeling in my throat. I was first thinking it is increased thirst. But it was not relieved by drinking more. So from what I have read, this is the beginning of real hunger. I also had the desire to eat, even though I was confused at first. Because this came so early in the fast and I had expected to go for a couple of more days. But I guess my body went through the issues he had to heal and decided that I should better start eating again. I guess that is a good sign with me weighing 51kg at 173cm after the fast. With a considerable amount of muscle left, it indicates my fat reserves are low.

How did I break the fast low carb?

So I broke the fast, but not in a hurry. I purchased celery and white cabbage to make a juice out of it first. Over the course of 5 hours I drank about 500ml of this fresh juice. Approximately half celery juice, half cabbage juice. It is incredible how good and how sweet even this combination tasted. So the end of a fast is a good point to start on a low sugar diet. Your taste-buds are so sensitive you will get a lot of satisfaction from much lower amount of sugar.
Next morning I continued with a green smoothie with spinach, coconut, flaxseeds and avocado and one date. I made a big shake and took it with me to work. I drank about 100ml each hour. It was a whole avocado in total and about 300gr of spinach.
On the side I drank some diluted sauerkraut juice to repopulate my colon with good bacteria.

I think the most important point of breaking the fast, is to keep the amount of food low. And then it might work with almost any food.

The great advantage of breaking the fast low carb

Many people experience uncontrollable hunger after the fast, when they start drinking fruit juices and eating fruit. This is to be expected, because of the huge insulin spike and blood sugar fluctuations. I experienced the same thing after my first two prolonged fasts. It can be a torture to stop yourself from eating when you mind screams at you to dig in. You have basically cut yourself off from the fuel supply you were using during the fast. Insulin inhibits the use of fats and ketones. Therefore your body is immediately thrown into other metabolic pathways. And those need time to properly restart and build all the necessary enzymes.

Breaking the fast low carb is very different. I experienced no such thing as cravings or hunger. I felt very content with the first sips of the juices. The celery and cabbage juice has probably 5-8 times less sugar than any fruit juice. And given I drank it so slowly, it probably did not cause a considerable rise in blood sugar.
Also the smoothie on the next day was very satisfying. I was not craving more. Instead I was happy that it kept my stomach engaged and working on digesting it. I did not even finish all that I prepared, even though it was only about 800kcal for the day. Would it have been a smoothie of 800kcal of bananas you could be certain, to find me drinking it within one hour and ravenous immediately afterwards.

If you consider the metabolic side, I am actually not changing much from the fasted state. I am utilizing the same metabolic pathways, just that the digestion has to be restarted and the energy is coming from fats that originate from outside the body. From there it is the same thing. And body tissue and proteins that were formerly broken down are now coming partially from glucose and partially from ingested protein.
I am glad, I discovered this way of breaking and entering a fast!

Any issues?

The breaking of the fast this was not without problems. Immediately after my bowels started to move again, I experienced some pain. But I would guess this is not so much related to low carb foods as it is to the hardened feces that formed in my large intestines and that I still did not pass. The pain might be caused by the contractions of the bowels in combination with those stones of waste. So nothing really bad happened and I attribute that to the fact that I was easily able to keep my portion size small. In addition I spread my portions throughout the day instead of having a few big meals.

In another post I will explain why I am now more fully in ketosis than ever before and why I will continue to eat a high fat vegan diet for as long as it is suitable. (Summer with all the fresh fruit available here in Germany might be an exception) There are different levels of ketone adaptation. 

Reasons for fasting to completion

Why fast so long until the body has used up all its reserves? Here are a few reasons I have come across so far and that I find make some sense:

  1. The body will have completed autolysis: In theory, when your body’s fat reserves are mostly used up, you also have gone through all damaged tissues and either repaired or used them for energy. This leaves no damaged dysfunctional cells. Making the body efficient and disease free.
  2. From this point you can start building healthy tissue. As only health cells remained, you will only generate healthy cells when refeeding. As their DNA is still intact proper cell-replication takes place.
  3. All stored toxins have been released from the body. Fat tissue stores most toxins. And once it is gone, with it are the toxins. If you continue to watch your toxin exposure after the fast, mainly through a healthy diet, you should be able to maintain this clean state.
  4.  Addictions to coffee, alcohol and unhealthy food have been broken. If you are careful not to engage in them again it is very easy now to stay away from them.
  5. Your body has reached maximum efficiency. And if your goal was to get to a healthy bodyweight, then this is a good starting point. You can reap the benefits of caloric restriction after the fast, if you slowly increase your calories again.
  6. You are highly adapted to a ketogenic state. This could be the ideal time to start a ketogenic or low carb diet(plant based of course).
  7. Probably for the first time in your life (and maybe the only time) you will experience true hunger. This in turn will lead to the awareness that skipping a meal does not cause hunger.
  8. When breaking the fast earlier, the body is actually not yet ready to take in food. The process of cleansing and healing is not yet finished.