Why I Got Started
At school people had made fun of me in physical education/sport lessons because I was the tall, lanky one who had bad coordination. This left me with low self-esteem. I went to university and dared to go into a gym for the first time (it was to escape a statistics lecture with a flat-mate!) To my surprise I liked it, so I went back—and kept going back. That was 26 years ago! I went on to become a gym instructor and personal trainer, working in the fitness industry initially part-time and then full-time in the 1990s.
Then one day, totally unexpectedly, I had a seizure.
On September 8, 2000, I was managing Fitness Services at the University Of Birmingham (UK) and had just completed a major refurbishment of all the gym facilities there. I took a phone call at 6 p.m. and the next thing I knew, I was at home. I had complete amnesia about the 3 hours in between. I’d had a convulsive seizure. I had been taken to hospital in an ambulance, diagnosed with epilepsy, given anti-epilepsy drugs and told that I’d need to keep taking them for the rest of my life to stabilize the biochemistry of my brain, because my body could no longer be relied on to do this.
Neurologists went on to say that I would suffer progressive brain damage and would slowly die over the next 5 years. The anti-epilepsy drugs that they gave me couldn’t stop further seizures—they became more frequent and more severe. I was told to take more and more drugs and these led to increasing side effects, which impacted severely on my endocrine and immune systems. They also destroyed my memory. Additionally, I developed progressive food intolerances. First it was wheat, then dairy, then yeast, red meats, citrus, nightshades, soy and sugar. I developed pernicious anemia—my gut could no longer absorb vitamin B12. The list seemed to be forever growing.
I asked if I could reduce the amount of anti-epilepsy medication I was taking. I was told that this would lead to a more rapid death. I chose to face rapid death with the capacity to recall my own name, with the capacity to say “goodbye” to my family and friends in a lucid manner, rather than to live for longer but unable to remember how to speak. So I gradually stopped taking all medication. The seizures worsened and I got ready to die.
By this time I had stopped working and was receiving disability benefits. My esteem was low and my past experience showed that using a gym had elevated my self-esteem. I found a gym that was prepared to accept me as a member (there are many in the UK that still won’t—they see me as a health and safety risk) so I started strength training. Thank you to the Workshop Gym at the Lido, Guildford!
I recorded my progress at Bodybuilding.com and I communicated with other people that used the forums there. I am grateful for this, because it was at this point that things began to improve for me. One user called dpd555 asked if I’d ever heard of the ‘ketogenic diet‘. I hadn’t. He explained that it is an approach that was used for children suffering with frequent, bad seizures back in the 1920s and 1930s before anti-epilepsy drugs had been invented. This approach had been abandoned for a number of decades but was now being used once more particularly for children where anti-epilepsy drugs had no effect. The diet produced impressive results.
Dpd555 pointed out that ketogenic diets have been used by adult bodybuilders preparing for contest and didn’t appear to cause any side effects. We both agreed that it was therefore possible to develop a ketogenic diet for adults, over a much longer time span that wasn’t harmful in terms of heart disease and decline in health. I’ve always been curious – asking questions and exploring and I wanted to investigate further. I felt that this could be something I could really benefit from. I then discovered that not only is dpd55 a bodybuilder but he is also a professor in molecular pharmacology and physiology. He investigates the microscopic influences of chemicals called ketones on brain cells at a major university in the U.S.
Medical journals documented the application of a very strict diet with children, but nothing had been recorded for adults. Additionally, the diet for children mentioned nothing about Basal Metabolic Rate and revolved around dairy products—which I couldn’t eat. I was lucky because I met Adam247 at the gym at the same time. He was preparing for contest, using a ketogenic diet and keeping a meticulous food diary.
Adam247 was a similar weight to me so I was guessing that we had a similar basal metabolic rate. He offered to help me establish a diet, so we used his food diaries as the starting point for my own diet. Dpd555 and adam247 helped set up the ingredients and amounts of food and exercise to establish a way that helped reduce my seizures.
On July 15, 2008 I put this into practice. Over the months that followed we realized that my seizures had reduced, remarkably. Additionally, I recovered much quicker from the few that I did have.
We have improved and adapted things as time went on. Three years have passed.
How I Did It
I keep a constant food diary. Every gram of every ingredient that ever I eat is recorded in a spreadsheet that calculates the amounts of protein, carbohydrate, fat and fiber held in all those ingredients, for all of those meals. This gives an accurate picture of what I am eating.
Initially I was surprised by the amount of ‘hidden’ carbohydrate contained in the foods I was eating. I wanted to ‘convert’ my brain and body to use ketones rather than glucose. It was like shifting from gasoline to diesel for a car—but in my case, we were converting human metabolism—all those mitochondria!
To get my liver to produce these ketones I discovered that I had to reduce my daily carbohydrate intake to 20g/day. It was not easy—it meant cutting out a lot of foods, leaving me with few vegetables and fruit. I’d developed intolerances to nightshades and citrus fruit, which left me with only leafy, green vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus, avocado and spinach.
In terms of fat, I had a dairy intolerance but still needed to avoid ingredients that didn’t exaggerate coronary heart disease—and that didn’t include hydrogenated oils or trans fats. So I chose oily fish, coconut oil, Brazil nuts and walnuts.
In terms of weight training, things altered quite a bit. I found that once my stored glycogen had been used up, I was no longer able to manage endurance training to the same intensity as I had before. Long, slow aerobic training (e.g. walking) was fine, so was very intense power/strength work. This forced me to look at recovery with far more consideration than I had in the past and again had beneficial results for me. I found that my body fat levels dropped regularly and reliably.
The Ketone Caper
The medical world insists that a ‘Ketogenic Diet’ MUST be organized in a 4:1 ratio of total fat to total protein + total carbohydrate. The protein + carbohydrate equation can include sugars. In my case I increased the protein levels well beyond what the medical definition approved, but I cut out the sugars and refined carbohydrates. Hence I was not following a ‘ketogenic diet’ in their eyes. The bodybuilding world argued that you needed to supply body muscle with plenty of protein in order to reduce gluconeogenesis—because muscle cells get broken down and turned into glucose for the brain and muscle to use when glucose levels are low.
It was evident that my body fat levels were decreasing because my muscular definition improved. The people at the gym asked me why I didn’t consider going into a bodybuilding competition and for some time I resisted the idea. I felt scared about going onto a stage and competing against a lot of other people that I imagined would be ‘perfect’. It meant going back to that teenage insecurity about my appearance and competence, which I had used the gym to avoid over the years.
Adam247 was an astonishing counsel during this episode and prepared me for contest – not only in terms of diet and exercise but also in terms of my mind—the emotional highs and lows that I faced at this point. This was where another ‘guardian angel’ I’d met through Bodybuilding.com came to my rescue, too. Carla Hampshire sent fantastic affirmations that encouraged me to keep going at times when it felt likely that I was going to give up. Thank heavens for Adam, Carla and dpd555.
Gradually, with the encouragement of these three people and many others, I discovered ‘meaning’ for my life—meaning that I dissolved away following my ‘death sentence’ epilepsy diagnosis. I decided to represent these people plus the gym and I chose to enter a bodybuilding competition in 2009 and yes, I felt terrified leading up to it. I went on stage and it was nothing like as bad as I’d initially imagined.
I reckoned that I could have done better, so I chose to do it again a few weeks later and came third in the seniors’ category—I was on a high following that! I went on to the national finals, held in Glasgow some months later and I have to say it was a fantastic experience. Thank you to the BNBF for considering the difficulties I faced with a disability.
I went for a further regional competition in 2010 and came third again!
In October 2010 there was a meeting about dietary treatments for epilepsy held in Edinburgh. I went to this and so did dpd55, so we finally met in person at long last. We also went training. This was a fantastic experience for me, as we’d communicated through Bodybuilding.com for four years and now we finally met face to face.
It did a lot for my confidence, too: Edinburgh is one of the UK’s main medical training centers and there I was (still considered to be a ‘write off’ by the medical world), weight training with the guy who helped me build the diet that reduced my seizures—and my ‘death sentence’.
This led to the opportunity to meet dpd555 again in May 2011, when I went across to the U.S. to speak at a symposium about medical advances into ketogenic diets. I spent a week there, dpd555’s guest, which was just brilliant—we got to train at Powerhouse Gym on a number of occasions.
In October, we’ll go across to another symposium—this time held in Italy—to talk further about how ketones can impact epilepsy and other conditions. It will give me the opportunity to show dpd555 where I live, as he’ll get to break his journey in England for several days. What’s the betting that we’ll go training and get to meet Adam247? All I need now is to get Carla to join us and then I will have my dream workout team!
On the days that I don’t do a cardio machine I will do 8 sets of 30 seconds plyometrics in between my weight lifting sets. I’m always changing my workouts to keep my muscles guessing and to keep my workouts interesting and challenging. Work smarter not harder!
Suggestions for Others
Expectations. These are at the heart of the adventures I faced when I began bodybuilding. The expectations that others had previously had for me were certainly challenged, as were the expectations I had for my self. This involved changing my beliefs in my own physical capability, my appearance, how others perceive me plus my expectations in life and well-being.
When I say ‘well being’ I refer to:
- The positive emotions that I generate and that I value in others.
- My relationships with others.
- The meaning that my life holds.
- The achievements that I take pride in.
What can I say for others? Be prepared to see expectations alter – and evolve. You certainly can become better, not just in terms of the weights you lift and food you eat but in a whole range of things you never previously realized were related. It is a life-changing experience – and oh boy, can it change for the better!
I appreciate that bodybuilders may get criticized (for a number of reasons) by a number of poorly informed people that feel negative about a large range of subjects. The bodybuilders that I have had the good fortune to meet (both in cyberspace and in person) have not only saved my life but also provided the building blocks for me to take control of – and improve – all those expectations mentioned above.