Monday, March 19, 2018

Adventures in Keto, Part 3 - Exercise

Its been about four months since I started eating keto. (I choose not to say "keto diet" because its not a diet in the colloquial sense, its a life style, a way of eating all the time, not just until I reach a target weight or some other goal.)

I'm pretty strict about avoiding sugars and grains. About once a week I go out to dinner at a nice restaurant. I love good food, but most menus include a lot of carbs with every dish. When possible, I ask to substitute vegetables, or I just don't eat the carbs -- Well, I'll eat a few bites. My day to day carb count is usually below 20g, so I don't worry too much about going over at one meal.

I also get dessert, because I love a good dessert. That totally blows my carb count. In fact, I've learned that sweet desserts, like cake and ice cream are an emotional weakness of mine. When I'm bored, I like chocolate. So I've learned to make some keto chocolate treats, like keto ice cream and, most recently, a keto friendly, flour-less chocolate torte (still tweaking the recipe, but I'll post it when I'm totally happy with it.) I always keep something like that around the house, so I don't end up going for something with a lot of sugar in it.

I usually check my blood ketones the next day to see if I'm back in ketosis, and don't have any problems after my dinner out. But... Dinner out is usually Thursdays, my night off. This past Saturday, at work, I ate a hamburger (after still doing dinner out two days before), bun and all. Usually, I skip the bun, but this time, for some reason, I didn't. I figured I'd be fine.


First, it tore up my stomach. I had to get out of bed twice for unpleasant trips to the bathroom. In the morning I felt pretty normal, but my ketones were 0.1 mmol/L, so I was out of ketosis. I ate normally, Sunday and went about my business until about 4pm, when I crashed out on the couch until after 7pm. I haven't been needing naps since starting keto, a three hour nap is crazy! I woke up feeling total brain fog, but I was finally back in ketosis (1.0 mmol/L).

After being in ketosis for so long, my body definitely let me know the old way isn't as great as I thought. Which brings me to exercise.

I made the foolish mistake of beginning ketosis in the middle of a six month attempt to increase my bench press, because six months is a long time and once I decide to do something, I like to get started right away. Predictably, keto killed my gains and ruined my attempt... Well, not ruined, I did improve, but it got cut 8 weeks short of where I hoped to be.

It takes time to adapt to ketosis. When it comes to exercise, the science of ketosis for power is not well studied yet. Endurance and ketosis is well understood and heavily in favor of keto lifestyle, given enough time to adapt (read "start keto in your off season").

As I understand it (and I'm not a scientist or researcher, so do your own research and correct me if you find out differently), the process of adaptation goes through several stages. First, glycogen depletion, when you body uses up its carbohydrate stores in the muscles and other tissues during the first day or two.

After your body gives up trying to convince you to eat carbs by making you feel hungry and lethargic, it begins pumping out ketones, which your brain and muscles both use as fuel. You start to feel great, your head clears, and you're through the worst of it...Unless you try to exercise as hard as you used to.

You're power, and probably your stamina, will decline in the beginning. Mine certainly did. My lifts dropped by almost 50% initially, my stamina dropped through the floor. My heart would pound like a race horse and I would huff and puff like a coal fired locomotive after the briefest exertions. It sucked and I questioned the whole thing.

It also made me realize that I'd basically allowed myself to get strong, but ignored other aspects of fitness. I hate cardio, so I don't do much of it. When I do, its HIIT, so its short, but brutal. But my attempts to motivate myself to do that on a regular basis have been feeble for years. The last time I sustained a cardio routine was training for Warrior Dash  six years ago.

Also, I can't touch my toes. I'm not fat (I literally have a six-pack thanks to keto), I'm inflexible. I have been for a very long time, and its been nagging at me. Finally, I've decided I need to get serious about improving that, too. Maybe all this keto-clarity is helping me get focused on the neglected parts of my health?

So, with lagging power, shitty cardio and inflexible hips, I decided it was time to change things up. I started taking yoga classes and put the weights aside for awhile, in exchange for body weight workouts.

The yoga is pretty cut and dried. I pick a class that works for my schedule, show up and do as I'm told to the best of my meager abilities. Its funny, all the core work and Warrior poses that make people abs and thighs burn, are easy for me. Years of weights have made those muscles plenty strong. But all the Gumby, bendy stuff? Ha! I'm pathetic at that.

The body weight stuff is different. I had no idea where to start. Besides pushups, pull ups and crunches, I really had no idea what else to do. So I found an app to design the workouts for me. I don't get paid to endorse anything (probably because no one reads this blog), but I've really found this app useful, so here it is: Freeletics Bodyweight.

The app alone just gives you individual exercises and stacked cross-fit style workouts. I decided to spring for the virtual coach, which designs a whole program week by week. I wasn't expecting much, but I'm pretty impressed after five weeks.

First, I answered some questions about myself and my goals, then it had me do some simple exercises, and rate how easy/hard they were for me. Then it gave me my first week of workouts.

Each workout includes a warm up and stretching cool down, so that alone impressed me. Then each workout includes two individual exercises, like 10 pullups and 20 crunches, or whatever, they vary. After which you're asked to rate your performance on a sliding scale. I assume it uses this to gauge progress and design the next week.

Some days include an interval session, which will be two or more exercises, followed by a rest, then repeating the exercises again, etc. for several rounds. This is usually pretty easy for me. Intervals are meant to raise your heart rate, then let it drop, then raise it again. Its more interesting that doing sprints, my usual for of HIIT, so I learned something new!

Next every workout includes a "named" cycle of exercises, which is basically cross-fit. They can be anywhere from one to ten rounds, of two or more back to back exercises. These can be very exhausting. After you rate your performance again, both in terms of how exhausted you were and how your technique was.

All the main routines are timed. It was not until week five that I repeated the same workout. This time the goal was to beat my previous time, PB (personal best). To be clear, in the first couple weeks, this app kicked my ass. It gives a time range for each routine, which I assume is the average. One of them said 17-23 minutes, but took me 29 minutes, after which I thought I was going to die. I haven't felt do defeated by a workout in years, and most people who look at me assume I'm in great shape!

When you begin a routine, you click "Start" and it counts down from five, then begins. An animation on screen shows you the exercise and how many reps to do. When you finish, you touch the screen and move on to the next one, while the time keeps going.

Repeating a routine, every time you move to the next exercise, it tells you how far behind or ahead of your previous best you are. I found that motivating, instead of just wondering and waiting until the end to find out.

I did beat my previous time by over 90 seconds. Proof of improvement.

So, four months into keto and this is where I'm at: I've switched from low rep/high weight lifting, to high rep/body weight exercises, which is a huge change for my body. It is definitely taking time to adapt, because there's a third stage of ketosis which takes more than a couple weeks.

The long term goal of ketosis is to become "fat adapted." This is when your muscles preferentially burn available fat from your blood stream and then from your tissues, instead of ketones, leaving most of the ketones for your brain, and this can take time. According to some, it can take months (this also doesn't seem to be well studied scientifically).

My thinking, (again, I'm not a scientist or researcher, so I'm just guessing) is that muscles are used to having glycogen stores to go to when they need power. Now the don't, so they see ketones as the next option. Eventually, they learn that they can use fats directly for energy. But when they get stressed, like during a workout, they go back looking for glycogen and ketones,  because those are easier. But if you continue to put them in that stressed condition enough, they adapt to using fats more and more. Thus you become "fat-adapted."

How long this takes depends on a lot of factors: your diet (micro and macro nutrients), your initial health, your stress levels, your hormonal balance (or imbalance), how much sleep you get, how you workout, etc. Its not well studied, just hang in there.

As I continue on this journey, I continue to notice differences. After loosing weight for the first couple months, I'm now stable. All the weight I lost was water and fat. I have maintained roughly 9% body fat for two months without counting calories or macros. I just avoid sugars and grains, and eat lots of fats (bacon, egg yolks, butter, etc.) until I'm not hungry any more.

I still drink. Liquor is my go to, wine with my dinner out. Alcohol is not a carb, its a fourth macro-nutrient (7 Kcal/g), so its doesn't seem to affect my ketosis. I average one to two servings per day (which means 3 days a week I don't drink, and I drink more than two on the other four days. Bar life). Beers have too many carbs, I don't drink them (never really a fan of them anyway) Some people seem to react to wine on ketosis, I don't, but I don't over do it since they have residual sugars, I prefer dry, higher alcohol wines, which have fewer sugars.

To sum up: I've lost weight, but stabilized at a healthy point. I've lost a little in my over all measurements (I do care about how I look), but not so much as to make me look bad (still a decent shoulder to waist ratio). In fact, I'm pretty ripped, even without lifting weights for two months. I'm gaining stamina again, and feel like I'm improving my overall fitness, even if its has cost me some strength (I expect to get back to weight training eventually, but I feel this change is good for a lot of reasons.)

I love lifting, and I love getting stronger. I started working out 20 years ago with the purpose of putting on muscle. There are very few studies of muscle building and ketosis, and those have been poorly designed. But there are a growing number of strength/power athletes trying ketosis and having good results after adaptation, which can take months. Its hard to find volunteers for a study like that.

So, for now, how to build muscles and get stronger on keto is not well understood, and I'll be following the suggestions of those who seem to be successful and waiting for more science. I believe its possible, I just need to get through final adaptions.

If you think about it, it makes sense. ketosis reduces inflammation and catabalism, improves recovery and energy levels, while ending the competition between brain and muscles for the same fuel source. Some athletes are reporting that they can build muscle in ketosis with much lower levels of protein... In fact, at least one insists you must lower your protein to do so!

There's a lot of unknowns here. But the known benefits of living keto are too good to pass up.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Ten Thousand Miles

The day I bought the bike (bottom), and 10,000 miles later (Top).

Yesterday, I passed a milestone, 10,000 miles on my motorcycle. Just under two years ago, I decided to learn to ride, and almost as soon as I started, I nearly quit.

I got thrown off the bike in day one of classes and scared the hell out of myself, and my instructors. That night I made the decision to finish the class, get my license and become a competent rider. Only then would I allow myself to quit riding IF I decided it wasn't for me. I would not let fear be the deciding factor.

Twenty one months ago I bought my bike and began riding daily. First in parking lots, then the mile and half to work, then longer. The first time on a highway above 35 mph, the wind, the speeding cars, the huge trucks, was terrifying. Now its routine.

I ride alone, I didn't have buddies or a club to ride with, so it was a few months before I felt confident enough to venture OTP. By the end of the summer I took my day trip, 200 miles. There's a special kind of courage to wonder out into the unknown alone. You have to have confidence in yourself that you can handle whatever comes your way.

I still ride every day. Every step out my door is preceded by the question: Can I ride the bike? Rain, sub freezing temps and the need to carry anything that won't fit in my backpack are usually the only things that answer that question with a "no."

Now I've done ten thousand miles! (On a bike that only saw 2,000 per year before I got it.) Riding through the steep hills and curves of the North Georgia mountains yesterday, still gave me moments of anxiety and challenge. Finding the right gear, leaning a little more, remembering to brake before the curve, NOT in it, managing front and rear brakes -- Riding take thought and purpose and skill.

But unlike two years ago, I didn't have the terror in the pit of my stomach. I knew that if I went down, I would survive. Ego, and probably body, bruised, but I could handle it, because I'd handled everything the road had thrown at me for 10,000 miles.

I give myself permission to quit riding now.

But I choose to continue anyway. Its who I am now, its a way of life for me now.

I'm also reminded now, that I'm entering my third year of riding -- The most dangerous years. Riders in their third year are the most likely to have an accident, more than cautious newbies, and far, far more than seasoned vets who continue on beyond year three.

I told myself, when I began, that I would remain cautious through this year, that I would not let hubris bring me to tragedy.

I see other riders in shorts and t-shirts, in minimal helmets, no gloves, etc. I feel the heat in the summer and think it would be great to go without a jacket, that my boots are thick and hot -- That I don't look "cool." But I also know the cost of a small mistake without protection can be huge, and that even if I do it all right, someone else might hit me, or a mechanical failure could bring me down hard.

I ride to feel alive, I do not want to die doing it... Or get maimed or crippled. I realize I always run that risk, but there's no need to multiply.

So I enter my third year of riding with a renewed sense of purpose to my riding. To get better. Be more aware, become more skillful, to push my limits more.

And I ride on.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Handlebars: Take 2!

Phaedrus got some more upgrades yesterday.

When I first bought my motorcycle, a 2004 Honda Shadow VLX 600, I knew I'd be making changes. One of the first things I did was to take pics and work up what the natural angles and lines of the bike were.
Follow the pink line, that's the natural visual spine of the bike. Notice how the original bars and mirrors stick way above? Ugly!

The line from the seat, over the gas tank to the top of the speedometer (the highest natural point on the bike) looked pretty good, but the original handlebars, and especially the mirrors just stuck way up and shattered the natural lines. They had to go.

After a minor involuntary dismount, the handlebars got bend and it was a quick swap to low-profile drag bars. Then came the electronics upgrade with new control buttons, internal wiring, a Motogadget M-unit and a new custom (by me) wiring harness. All this looked a lot better.

But those mirrors. Ugly!

Not to mention cheap. At the time I wasn't ready to shell out for high quality mirrors, and didn't want to waste money on mid-range that I knew I'd be replacing. So I bought a pair of cheap ($15) mirrors. After about 3000 miles the plastic on one cracked and it wouldn't stay straight. I bought another set. Then the glass fell out of another at 60 mph.  Four thousand miles later, another cracked in the same place.

Time to get on with the upgrades.

The drag bars were cheap steel. This time I upgraded to high quality, thick walled aluminum street bars, with about a 2" rise.

To keep the natural lines of the bike, I knew the mirrors would have to under mount, so I got a pair of Oberon bar-end clamp ons.

I never liked the stock turn signals, which are big cruiser style. I always have intended to strip the bike down to a bobber style, with minimal accessories, so I really wanted to minimize the signals. Motogadget M-blaze LED bar end signals are ideal. The function as front and rear signals, plus as marker lights, and look like part of the handlebars, so all the other signals can go!

To finish it off, I needed new grips to accommodated the bar-end signals, so I got a pair of Motogadget rubber grips. They make metal ones, but I prefer the comfort of rubber, plus the insulation between my hand and the bar in winter helps a little with cold hands, and they're 1/5th the price.

Since I was doing wiring, I disconnected the power by pulling the main fuse. Its easier to get to than the battery cables.

This whole exercise also served as a test of the wiring harness I'd built and installed last year. Pulling the old bars was simple: I removed the body panels in front of the tank to expose the wire connections. Disconnected and labeled all the connectors. When I rewired the bike previously, I used nylon OEM style connectors, which made this supper easy. Then dismount the levers, and unbolt the bar from the risers. It took maybe ten minutes.

I removed the original turn signals, front and back. They'll go on Ebay to recoup some of my expenses. Bye-bye!

Then I mounted and test fitted the new bars, making sure to carefully mark everything to make sure it all went back exactly where I wanted it later. Measure twice, cut once.

Taping and marking where the bars meet the risers makes sure that every time I take the bars off, I can put them back exactly how I like them.

One mistake I made with the drag bars was positioning the buttons, they weren't exactly were my thumb naturally went. Since they depend on holes in the bars, I wanted to make sure I got them perfect this time.

With the bars mounted and positioned exactly how I wanted it, and taped and marked to ensure I could get it back there, I installed the grips and throttle assembly, making sure to allow enough space for the mirror clamps. I was careful to allow about a small gap between the throttle grip and the mirror clamp, to ensure the throttle didn't stick.

With everything in place, I put a piece of tape roughly where I thought the buttons should go and gripped the handlebars in riding position. Then with my eyes closed, I extended my thumb to touch the tape. I marked the tape at the middle of my thumb top to bottom. That would be the vertical center of the button hole, the natural position of my thumb.

Grips and mirror clamps installed, and the wiring holes marked for ideal position based on my natural thumb position.

Then I marked the left/right center by measuring to allow for the full width of the button housing and to the natural center of the pad of my thumb where I press buttons. All this ultimately put all the buttons in comfortable position.

Drilling the aluminum bars was much easier than the steel ones. I started with a 1/8" pilot hole, then stepped up with progressively larger drill bits to 5/16". I drilled both holes while the bars were mounted.
Wiring whole drilled.
I also marked the center top of the handle bars as mounted, and made a mark on the bottom end of each side to show the lowest point when mounted. Then I removed the bars.

The exit whole for the wiring needs to be in the center of the bottom of the bars. I used the marks I made while they were mounted and located the bottom center. I drilled three pilot holes, and progressed up again until 5/16" and all the wholes formed one slot. Wiggling the drill bit back and forth a bit chewed away excess metal to help make a smoother slot.

Finally, I cleaned up all the drill holes with a roto-tool to remove any burs, and smooth the sharp edges that would chew up the wires. The last thing I want to do is have wires shorting out from rubbing on the metal edges. 

Thne it was just a matter of routing my existing wiring from the other bars into the new bars. I used a left over piece of wire and tape to fish the lines through and that was done.

Then came the M-Blaze bar end signals. 

Motogadget's instructions are pretty clear. Before installing them, I used heat shrink to wrap the wires where they exited the bars as an extra layer of protection against abrasion, then installed the M-Blazes.

M-Blazes are sold individually as left or right side, and the Motogadget logo needs to face up when they're installed. If you look closely, you can see that they have two LEDs facing front, and one facing the back when installed correctly. 

Now back to the bike for another test fit. I wrapped the M-blazes in masking tape to ensure I didn't scratch them while working. 

Using the tape markings, I mounted the bars again and checked the routing of all the wiring. 

This time, I was able to find some black vinyl tubing, which gives a way more professional look to the wiring than wrapping them in electrical tape. Also, since the wires can slide easily in the tubing, they're more flexible and should have less stress on them. 

I decided to route the M-blaze wires in the tubing with one set of control wires, and the other side separately. Cut them to length, and install the nylon connectors I'd used before and they were done!

My custom wiring harness made the whole thing easy! I took a lot of time and effort to think ahead when I built it, and now I feel vindicated. I could have run wiring straight from the M-Unit, all the way to the buttons, in a continuous single piece, but I assumed I'd need or want to remove the bars, or replace broken parts eventually, so it made sense to add connectors. Glad I did. 

I rehung the clutch and brake levers, reconnected the throttle cable and reconnected the M-unit. The moment of truth: turn the key and test each button. Everything worked right off the bat.

It works!

Then came time to mount the mirrors. The go on easy enough and I thought I had them where I wanted them. It was raining out, plus I'd just installed new grips, so I decided to wait until morning to ride and see. Since I used WD-40 to help slide the grips on, I knew I need to give them at least over night to set up.

Left side - Now to figure out how to get rid of the mirror mount on the clutch lever?

Right side.
Clean look, and the under-mount mirrors make riding feel more open, nothing obstructing my view.

Nice and clean, no bulky turn signals.

Profile. The natural line from the bottom of the seat all the way up to the bars is clean. (Need a new seat, though!)

A little reprogramming of the M-unit to make the M-blazes function as marker lights, too (10% brightness) and its done. 

The whole process took me about 4 hours. The simple wiring harness and nylon OEM style connectors made a huge difference in how easy everything was. 

I'm about out of things to work on before getting serious about the body work. With the electrical and controls finished, and the lighting upgraded, plus velocity stack and pipes wrapped the next move is really removing the rear fender and replacing it with the seat to make it a bobber. That will mean cutting down the front fender to match and getting a paint job. Guess I need to start saving some cash!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Adventures in Ketosis - Part 2: Adaptaion

In my last post, I discussed the basics of a Ketogenic diet, and what I was going to monitor while adapting to it. I've found very little about what to expect during the initial adaptation phase of the diet, other than to expect some lethargy and brain fog in the first few days, aka "Keto flu." So I decided to give a detailed account of my experiences.

I have no idea if mine are typical or not, they just are what I experienced. I'd love to hear if other people's adaptations were similar or different.

To begin, I should note that I am a bartender, so my work hours and lifestyle are atypical. I usually work 4 days a week, but could work 3 or 5 days. I usually don't work more than two days in a row, but could work five in a row during busy seasons. On weekdays, I usually go into work at 3:30 in the afternoon, and work until between midnight and 1am, depending on how busy we were and how long it takes to clean the bar. On weekends, my in-time is either 6pm or 8pm, and I usually leave about 3:30am. Which means I usually go to bed between 2am and 4am, even on nights I don't work. Mondays and Tuesdays and usually my "weekend."

I rarely set an alarm, and tend to wake up between 9am and 10am, but sometimes as late as noon, if I had a particularly rough night at work.

Because of the nature of the job, meals are also atypical. All employees share a "family meal" before we open week days, prepared by the cooks. It could be anything, chicken wings, lasagna, ribs, stew... No way of knowing before I get there, so I'll be packing my meals for that, to make sure I stay low carb and better count my macros and calories.

 At home, I use a digital kitchen scale for all my food, and track everything I consume with a the Cronometer app. I do a fair amount of meal prep. Since live alone, I tend to make something and eat the multiple servings over the course of several days. Which makes it easier to track. I love eating out, and thanks to my career, I have the "in" at some of the best restaurants in my city, however, I'll be forgoing that for the next few weeks at least (sad face).

On any given night, we're allowed to take a short break (10-15 minutes) around the time the kitchen closes (11pm weeknights/1am weekends) to eat, if we're not too busy (if we're busy, then no food, its the nature of the business). If I'm the only bartender working, I generally just grab a bite of food between serving guests. Meals are always on your feet. I'll be bringing snacks for this, since our menu doesn't have much keto friendly food, and the kitchen staff gets grumpy with elaborate custom requests from the staff 15 minutes before they want to go home.

My prefered exercise is weight lifting. Currently I'm on a three day split, usually Monday, Wednesday and Friday, for big lifts (Bench Press, Squats and Deadlifts). I'm also working a specific pull-up regimen which has me doing multiple low rep sets throughout the day, almost every day. I rarely do cardo, for a lot of reasons, but mostly because I hate it. If I do, it's HIIT, but I don't expect to do any during the next couple weeks as I'm not training for anything specific.

My unpaid work, my passion, is writing. Currently I'm working on a screenplay and try to put in at least a couple hours five days a week. The mental focus and cognitive boost ketosis is supposed to give is one of the main drives for me, as I feel it will improve my writing.

Week One

My first day in the diet was a Sunday, I had to work that night, but it was only a 4-5 hour shift, then I had two days off, so I figured that was going to be a good time to get through the worst of it.

My goal was to keep my carbs below 50g/day, in reality, I was below 30g almost every day. Most of my carbs were veggies, and since only net carbs (total carbs minus fiber) count, I set my tracking app to account for that.

Hunger was the first major hurdle. Filling up on fat based foods, like bulletproof coffee, and homemade bone broth (I kept the fat, didn't skim it off), didn't do much to stop the cravings for carbs. It was particularly bad at work where there's food in front of me constantly. But I kept at it.

I tend to drink at work, usually a shot or two after we close. I don't drink much or at all on my off days. Since I was monitoring my blood, I figured I'd see if it messed with me ketosis. It didn't. I drink straight liquor, usually whiskey, so no carbs from beers or wine or mixers.

On my second day, I worked out. It went well, setting a new person record for my bench press, in spite of feeling a bit lethargic.

Day three is when the worst hit me. I woke up feeling like crap. It took supreme effort to drag my ass out of bed. I loaded up on high fat foods, but basically, I sat on the couch all day doing nothing. It was a little better the next day, but still pretty tired and lacking focus. My workout suffered from either lack of strength or just lack of will power to push through.

I also realized I had to stay off my motorcycle, and limit driving altogether for two days. My focus was so bad it scared me to be on the road. My mind kept drifting, and I had one close call.

My glucose was staying low, sub 90, but my ketones were also low, staying below threshold (0.5mM), until Thursday, when they suddenly jumped to 2.7mM and continued to say in the 2 to 4mM range.

By day four, I was feeling pretty good, but every time I did anything that required real physical exertion, I drained quickly. On Friday, I was able to set a new personal record deadlift, but literally could not do a single power clean after. My HRV score tanked the next morning, which I would normally expect after a deadlift workout, so not surprise.

The biggest issue the first week, besides the couple days of lethargy and brain fog, were hunger pangs. It gets easier to walk by carb loaded foods as long as I have snacks (Cheese, nuts, avocados, etc.) available, but I still feel hungry a lot, despite having eaten plenty of calories.

In the middle of the week sleep was an issue also. I would have a hard time getting to sleep, I'd lay in bed tossing and turning. That lasted a few days, but seems to have stopped.

The other thing I notice is I feel tired, like I've just run out of energy. Which I normally associate with not eating enough in a given day. But I know I've eaten plenty of calories, and I feel better after I've eaten a snack. I'm assuming this is because my body still isn't burning the available fat, is looking for carbs, and in the end settling for food that just came in rather than stored energy.

The mirror tells a tale, too. Years ago, in preparation for a photo shoot, I did a crash no carb diet, followed by carb loading, similar to what body builders do before competition to look swollen. As the carb stores in my muscles was depleted, I began to look smaller and scrawny. I'm seeing that again. Hopefully, its a temporary side effect.

Body weight and body fat stayed consistent over the course of this week. A lost a bit in some of my measurements, which I expected as the carbs and water drained out, but nothing too significant.

Week Two

Had a rough night on the bar Saturday night, then woke up very sick Sunday morning. Not Keto flu, but genuinely ill. I rarely get sick at all. Its been a few years since I can remember anything worse than a runny nose. So this was out of the ordinary, and I felt really terrible.  HRV was in the basement (expected if I'm ill), but Ketones and glucose were good, so the diet is on track. I felt better Monday.

The whole second week, my workouts suffered. I failed all my major lifts, but easily got all my warm ups (up to 90% of target), so I feel like I'm at least maintaining so I'll be able to get back on track once I'm through adaptation.

I have no endurance for anything physical. I'll feel fine, then do something physical, like change a keg (which weighs less than half what I just deadlifted a few days ago) and I'll be out of breath for 5 minutes.

That lack of strength and endurance  lasted all week, and its depressing as hell. I'm nearing the end of a 12 week workout cycle and I've been breaking personal records for a few weeks, and suddenly that's stopped. Its a big temptation for me to carb load pre-work out, but I believe this is temporary and will pay off in the long haul, so I'm sticking to the diet.

Mentally I feel pretty good, but still feel like I'm hitting the wall when I should not be. For example, I went to work Saturday night at 8pm. By that time I'd already eaten over 2500 calories, about 80% fat, 21g carbs, and around 100g protein. My daily minimum is 2300 calories to maintain weight. I try to get about 500 more than that to help gain muscle mass. So I was well within my normal range, and should have been fine all through the shift.

But by 11pm, I felt like I was hitting the wall -- tried, mentally unfocused and starving. I ate some cheese and that helped, but I had to eat again an hour later. I at a whole avocado, and more cheese. All in, my calories for the day were over 3400, (almost 150% normal!) but I still was hungry and feeling like I hadn't eaten enough.

Coming to the end of two weeks, its clear I'm still not adapted. Hunger pangs have gone from every couple hours to virtually constant, no matter how much I eat, there's a constant dull hunger. My guess is this is the last desperate attempt by my body to get me to eat some carbs, but instead I just give it  more fat.

(Sidebar-- I've never had to diet to lose weight, and I've been guilty of judging others who fail at their diets. No more. I now know what's like to feel hungry ALL THE TIME. I can manage to get through a couple weeks of this, but if I was facing a life of constant hunger and food cravings, like a typical weight loss dieter, I couldn't stick to it either. I think after a month I'd fail, too. So to all those people I secretly judged, I'm sorry.)

I do have periods of really good mental clarity and creativity that I've noticed. I don't know if I can attribute that to ketosis, but I do feel like I'm having that "spark of inspiration" more often than normal.

In addition, I've gotten much better at doing chores. I'm a terrible housekeeper, always have been. But in the last couple weeks, I've managed to get myself to do daily cleaning and housekeeping, book keeping/finances, and other dull but necessary life stuff that I usually put off until the stress of not doing is too much to take. Caused by keto? I don't know, I don't have an MRI or whatever to measure brain function, but I'll take it whatever it is.

I also started practicing piano again. I started about a year and half ago, then fell off after a couple months. Now I'm back at it. I felt like I only had so much time and energy to devote to learning something new, so I choose writing instead of piano. Now I feel like I can devote plenty of time to both, but nothing else has really changed in my life, its an attitude shift I can't explain. Keto? Maybe, I don't know.

Overall, I'm noticing changes in my behavior and thinking, even how I interact with guests at work (I'm more tolerant, less easily frustrated, and more creative in conversation), that I believe are attributed to keto, but I can't quantify those changes. The changes I can quantify are blood glucose and ketones, which are where I'd expect them to be, and energy levels/strength versus caloric intake, which are not where they should be... yet?

My HRV scores are yoyoing, but I expect this. I'm in week 10 of a 12 week cycle, pushing for new personal records, so I expect my HRV to drop the morning after a workout. It is bouncing back up the next day, signalling a good recovery. Keto is supposed to aid in recovery, but so far, what I'm seeing is normal.

My body weight is down 4 pounds, and body fat is down 1%, which equates to about 2 pounds of lean mass lost, but this is also well within the normal deviation for me, and could easily be nothing. According to much of what I've read, about 50% of weight loss in the first two weeks is usually water, since hydration is an issue when adapting to ketosis (I have been peeing a lot!). I'd personally rather see the scale go up, while my body fat stays the same or drops, but maintaining for two weeks is nothing to worry about.

Week Three

On Monday, day 15, I woke up feeling great. The constant hunger pangs were gone, replaced by seemingly normal hunger around meal times. Meals made me feel full. My energy and focus throughout the day were good and constant. My workout didn't totally drain me, instead I felt good after.

I woke up around 7am (VERY early for me) feeling great, and when I finally went to bed around 1am it wasn't because I was exhaust, it was because it was time. I slept great.

I was also extremely productive that day. I've said before that my productivity has been rising, and it has. I studied new drink recipes I need to know for a new bar opening a couple weeks, I practiced piano, I tried three new recipes (including keto cookies for the holidays), I cleaned house, I still manged to watch several episodes of a TV show I'm binging, started a new book, went grocery shopping, did a little work on my motorcycle and worked out. And I never felt like I had "too much to do" for the day. 

I think its safe to say I've made it through the initial transition.


The rest of the week has gone really well. I was a bit dumb in planning this whole journey right before the holidays, so half way in to week three was Thanksgiving. My plan was to spend it with my brother and his family who live an hour away, so I planned ahead.

I baked some keto-friendly almond shortbread cookies, I tried two different recipes, both were good. I also made a keto-friendly peanut butter mousse (basically peanut butter and heavy cream, because my brother loves anything peanut butter. Just being a good guest, I also made an asparagus dish I knew was keto friendly.

At dinner, I ate dark meat, a lot of it with gravy made from the turkey drippings (the gravy's only carb was corn starch, about a teaspoon for the whole batch, so not much per serving), and veggies. I skipped the sweet potatoes and stuffing and rolls, which were temping. I forewarned my family of my restrictions so no one was pushing those things on me.

I also had a couple glasses of whiskey and water, instead of beer or wine, and began the day with 500 cal coffee, and ended with 500 cal Chia (with 2 Tbsp each of butter, coconut oil and heavy cream blended in), to push my fat to protein ratios up.

I didn't measure my macros, I just tried to eat smart and get lots of fat. I'm pretty sure I way over did my protein, and was way over my calories for the day, but I expected both of those. Around 7pm I checked my blood work, ketones 0.3, glucose 79 (this is about 30 minutes after finishing the chai. So I crashed my ketones, but had kept my glucose down. I also felt sleepy, so I took a nap in front of the TV.

I woke up about 30 minutes later feeling pretty good. I checked my ketones again, 1.6, so I was back in. I was awake of productive the rest of the night (I even experimented wit making sphereified cocktails around 11pm). The next morning, ketones were still in range. I survived.

Sunday, day 21, I woke up feeling good, well rested, which is not always the case after a Saturday night behind the bar. Hunger pangs have continued to reduce, and the feeling of being full last longer after each meal. I'm definitely through the worst of adaptation now.

I've been really good about my meals, and having a lot of fun cooking new things that are keto friendly. I've felt good all week, waking up rested, and having consistent energy all day. I've found several good resources for keto-friendly food recipies that don't taste like "diet food" substitutes. Keto Connect and Carrie Brown (She has several cookbooks, including one very promising one all about keto ice cream I'm dying to try! I miss ice cream!) and Ketovangelist kitchen also has an associate pod cast. So there are lots of resources for cooking.

Thoughts and Observations

The first 10 days were tough, especially the Keto Flu. Getting genuinely ill didn't wasn't great either, but I think that's anomaly. My energy level suffered, my workouts suffered, and I was hungry most of the time, craving all my comfort foods. It was depressing and I was plagued with concerns that it wasn't working that whole first week.

Food prep is key. Keto is a new way of eating, so its not automatic to choose the right foods. Over time I know this will get easier as I learn, and as cravings fade away. I'm used to trying to force tons of protein to build muscle, now I have to be careful not to over do it. As I progress I'm sure I won't have to prep as much or plan ahead, there's just a learning period.

Learning about keto, and how the body processes excess protein has been an eye opener for me. As someone who has always been underweight, and worked hard to build muscle for nearly two decades, I was always of the belief that extra protein was good. Now I understand that excess protein is converted to sugars and spikes insulin, which can be bad for people who are insulin resistant. So not having to focus so much on proteins will be a shift for me.

I'm interested to see how keto effects my performance and ability to build strength. Its supposed to produce quicker recovery, which should improve muscle growth. In the past I've had problems gaining weight because I couldn't eat enough calories, with keto, that's much easier, just down a couple tablespoons of olive oil! 

My goal is to keep going for eight weeks total, and see how I'm feeling, and assess how its impacting my life. A Keto diet is "limiting" from the stand point of not eating a lot of things that the average population eats, so there could be a sense of missing out. On the other hand, I get to eat a lot of things they don't, like tons of fatty foods. And, if the reports are true, the desire for sugary foods will wane as I progress. 

Socially, I've made one important observation: When sharing food I made, like desserts, unless I want to have a long conversation about what a keto diet is and the health benefits, and argue that fat is healthy, just don't tell anyone the food is "keto friendly." People tend to look at anything that's a "diet food" as not tasty and don't want to try it. Most keto food isn't traditionally diet-food, they're full of fat and salt, which are two of the major flavor enhancers, so the food tastes great. If people don't know before trying it that something is "healthy" or diet related, they taste it with an open mind, and I avoid yet another long explanation.

Besides the social aspects of food, I also want to see how it affects my overall life. Will I have more energy? Will my workouts and recovery improve? Will I be able to build muscle? Will I get shredded? Will be more focused? Will my moods improve? If I'm feeling great, and energetic and happy, and writing a lot and being creative, and productive, those things will easily out weight any social-food related issues.

I've already had several people comment that I look really good. I've not lost any weight or fat (Remember, those aren't goals for me. A lot of people are very successful using keto to lose fat.), but people are still commenting that I look better and asking what I'm doing.

Guess I'm gonna find out!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Adventures in Ketosis - Part 1: Gearing Up

I'm always looking for natural ways to improve my health and sense of well being. Not long ago, I stumbled upon the concept of Ketogenic Adaptation, a.k.a. Ketosis or Keto. The science behind it is a bit complicated, but the short version is this: Adapting your body to prefer burning fats over carbohydrates -- not only for weight loss, but as a life style the has scores of scientifically proven benefits from diabetes control, improved cognition, reduced risk of heart disease, improved athletic endurance and performance,  even reduction of epileptic seizures, and many more.

I'm looking for the increased energy, cognition and performance aspects of it, along with reduced food cravings and, to be honest, getting my body fat below the 10% level out of pure vanity. The numerous other health benefits are a wonderful bonus. 

I won't go into all of the details, because frankly there are lots of resources (Check out The Art and Science of Low Carb Living for the single most comprehensive I've found.) It's similar to Paleo (but grounded in more science, from what I've seen) and Atkins (but less focused on short term weight loss), in that it requires a dramatic reduction in the amount of carbohydrates one eats. But the most important part is a dramatic increase in the amount of fat one eats, up to 80% of calories.

The basic principles to keep in mind when doing this type of diet are:
  • Keep net carbs (total carbs minus fiber) below 50g per day
  • Keep protein between .7g and 1g per pound of lean body mass per day (too high can throw you out of Keto, to low can cost you lean mass)
  • The remainder of your calories (60-80%) are from healthy fat sources, mainly saturated and monounsaturated. 
  • Stay away from polyunsaturated fats, too many tend to make people feel ill.
  • Increase sodium intake, because you'll be excreting more than on a high-carb diet. 
The goal is to restrict your carbs enough to force your body to convert fats into chemicals call ketones, and to use those as an energy source. However, it can take two to three weeks for this adaptation to take place, and afterwards, increasing your carbs too much can cause your body to switch back over to the preferring carbs.

There is an important distinction a lot of discussions about Keto seem to miss or gloss over: being "in ketosis" is different from being "keto adapted." Ketones are specific chemicals your body produces from fat. When you're body produces enough to put your blood serum levels of ketones between 0.5mM and 8.0mM, you are considered to be "in ketosis." This does NOT mean that your muscles, organs and brain are actually choosing to use these available ketones as fuel. In other words, just because there are ketones available, does not mean your body uses them.

There are now a number of performance supplements available that will very quickly increase your blood ketone levels, but if you're body doesn't choose to burn them (because it is carb adapted), they won't do you much good. Being Keto-Adapted is when you're body recognizes ketones as a primary and preferred source of energy. That takes a couple weeks to reach, and must be maintained through diet. 

Once keto-adapted, I expect the performance benefits of keto supplements are probably very good, but they're pretty new in the market, and I'm not a competitive athlete, so I'll leave them alone for now. Besides, the science already shows the endurance increases of a keto lifestyle are pretty remarkable, I'm not sure the unknown risks of supplements are even worth it.

There's tons of info available about the sciences, the body chemistry, recipes, etc. But little about what to expect while going through adaptation, the initial two to three weeks. What I've seen says many people experience a initial period of lethargy and mental fog, some so bad its called "Keto flu," and that after about two weeks, you suddenly feel fantastic. But not much else about the day to day, hour to hour things you'll experience.

I know when I begin making a lifestyle change, I become hyper aware of my physical and mental state, and constantly wonder "is this normal?" Since I couldn't find anything detailed about what to expect, I decided to document my experience for others considering this change. 

My documentation will be as detailed as I can make it, but I am not a scientific or medial expert, so follow at your own risk. And please, consult your doctor and read the research on Ketosis and Low Carbohydrate Diet before trying this yourself. 

Keto is about using diet to make some pretty radical physiological changes. Fortunately, I love tracking numbers, so I have a solid base line of my own data for months, and even years, across a variety of bio-markers which I will continue to monitor as I go into Ketosis. Here's the various types of data have been and will continue to monitor through the next few weeks.

Heart Rate Variability (HRV): This measures the variation in time between heart beats and is a measure of the your bodies ability to recover from stress, both physical and mental. It is taken every morning upon waking. I've been tracking mine consistently for a couple years as a way to know if my body is ready for another hard workout, and it's very effective in telling me when I need to take a break. I use a Polar Heart Rate monitor chest strap and Elite HRV app

Body Composition: Body weight and body fat are important to know together. I have tracked both for years, and recently began using use a Skulpt Chisel, which is accurate to within 2% of a DEXA scan. I have data going back to July 2017 from the Skulpt, so I can monitor any changes in my lean body mass and body competition. I typically weigh myself first thing every Monday morning, take 8 body measurements with a tape measure, and do a full Skulpt scan (16 readings) for body fat and muscle quality. 

Blood Markers: Blood glucose and Ketones are the things I want to know, they should be inversely affected, as Ketones rise, glucose should decline. I use a Keto-Mojo, which monitors both with different test strips in exactly the same way a diabetic would measure their glucose, by pricking my finger and getting a little blood. Prior to beginning the diet, I measured both ketones and glucose for a couple weeks to get a baseline.

Ketones can be measured three ways, with urine test strips, with a breathalyzer and in the blood. Urine stripes only tell you what you're excreting, and are effected by hydration, so they're not very accurate. Breathalyzers measure acetone in your saliva, which again is an excretion, so not as accurate, and the device is expensive.

Keto blood test measure ketones in your blood, which are the ketones you're body can access to energy, so its the most accurate. Until recently, the blood test strips were expensive, about $5 each. Keto-Mojo now offers them for $1 to $2, depending on if you get into their "Founder's Club." 

Macro Nutrients: To make sure I'm doing the diet correctly, I'm recording everything I eat with the Cronometer app on my phone. It can measure net carbs, which makes it much easier, and includes alcohol as a fourth macro, which I do drink, so that's handy. I don't expect to track my food so meticulously after I'm fully adapted, but it'll help to learn what I can and can't eat and how much.

Those are all the things I'll be tracking, along with keeping a journal of my experiences. In my next post, I'll give you details about how it all went! 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Suches Loop and Unexpected Challenges

At Neels Gap, GA, almost finished with the Suches Loop, before I got really challenged.
Yesterday I passed 7000 miles of riding since I bought my motorcycle last year. I guess 7000 isn't really a milestone, but I did pass it while on a day trip to Suches Loop in the north Georgia mountains. The Loop is 11 miles of winding mountain roads that involves 318 curves, its sometimes called the "Georgia's Dragon's Tail."

I had the day off, and the weather was looking perfect, so I took the opportunity to drive the two hours north of Atlanta to experience the loop for my first time. I went solo, as always, I don't have any close friends in Atlanta that ride. Heading out solo on a motorcycle for any distance away from home always produces some anxiety. But it also creates a real feeling of accomplishment when you get home. 

I was a little anxious about this trip. Curves are one of the funnest parts of riding, but also can be the most challenging, especially when faced with back-to-back curves, sloping roads, blind curves around cliffs and through woods, long drop offs, narrow roads, down hill sharp curves, spots of gravel and whatever else the world wants to throw at you. Driving a bike through such roads takes focus and really test the skills of an inexperienced rider. Which is what I was looking for. 

Despite the perfect weather forecast, I did decided to take along my chaps and a rain liner for my Kevlar mesh jacket (it provides protection in a slide, but no protection from rain without a liner). It was a good call.

About 30 minutes from my destination, in the middle of nowhere, under mostly blue skies, a cloud decided to open up and dump buckets on me. Fortunately, I could see it coming about a half mile off and was able to pull off on a side road under a tree for some shelter. I pulled on my rain gear and saw blue skies ahead, so I pulled back out onto the four lane state road and continued on. 

I hate riding in rain. I avoid as much as possible. Besides just being uncomfortable, its scary. Helmets don't have windshield wipers, so visibility is impaired along with tire traction, and braking becomes far more dependent on the less powerful rear brakes. I've gotten caught out in the rain a few times, but only on city streets. The worst was in stop and go traffic, where I basically just got soaked for an hour. This was my first time riding on a highway at speed in the rain. Fortunately, traffic was light and the road was long and fairly straight.  

A few minutes later, the rain stopped and I kept riding until I was dry. Challenge faced and conquered! On to the curves!

I stopped for gas and headed into the mountains, north of Dehlonega, GA. The Appalachian Trail passes through this area. Its mostly national forest and park, lots of green trees, parting for occasional overlooks -- and LOTS of curves. 

The first stretch wasn't bad. I arrived at Two Wheels of Suches, a burger joint and camp ground for bikers only. What I didn't know was that the restaurant was only open Friday through Sunday, so I wasn't going to get the burger I had planned on. Having missed my chance for lunch in Dehlonega, I opted for a soda and candy bar from the gas station across the road and figured I'd get food after finishing the loop. There really weren't any other options. 

I headed up Wolf Pen Gap Road, the heart of the loop. This is a well maintained, if narrow, two lane road where the curves come fast, with banked roads, steep drop offs, switchbacks, steep dropping curves and lots blind curves. It was challenging, constantly managing the brakes and shifting up and down between 2nd and 3rd gear to manage speed and power as I went up hills, then engine braked on steep declines. 

One of the most critical skills of motorcycle riding is managing brakes and turning. Bikes have separate front and rear brakes, which affect the handling of the bike differently, and which must be handled differently in the event of a skid. Braking and turning both require increased traction, and tires only have so much traction to use. You cannot brake hard while turning, that's a good way to wreck. One of the cardinal rules of motorcycle riding is brake before the curve, accelerate (slightly) through the curve. Needless to say, coordinating both brakes, gears and throttle through constantly changing directions and elevations tests ones ability to keep it all upright. 

Add in the distraction of cliff faces and long drop offs, plus on coming traffic and you have another issue: Target fixation. One truism of riding is that the bike goes where you look. If you get fixed on looking at something that scares you, like an on coming car as you go around a curve, your body unconsciously tends to steer the bike toward the car... Or off the cliff, or where ever it is your mind and eyes have fixated.  This is the mental, and emotion challenge, of riding something like the Suches Loop. In my opinion, its the more critical part of the equation. You must be in control of your mind.

I'm proud to say I managed it all, including a few unexpected things, like spotting a gravel patch at the apex of a downhill set of switchbacks, which I had to navigate around at the last second while avoiding an oncoming car that was very close to the yellow line, with a drop off on my right. A scary moment, but I was impressed with how calmly and smoothly I handled it. Of course, my instant of self-congratulations was short lived because I had to immediately lean the bike the other ways and enter the next curve. Focus.

At the end of Wolf Pen Gap Road, I turned south onto Georgia 19, which is still a curvy mountain road, but wider (three lanes in some places) and most of the curves are not as intense. Following this up hill, I finally stopped at Neels Gap, the top of the mountain, for a scenic over look and to stretch my legs and hips. 

The view from Neel Gap, GA
From there, I figured it was relatively easy riding to the bottom and on to lunch. I head down through more curves. But those fluffy clouds had other plans, and I found myself looking down hill, into steep declining curves on fairly new (read "slick") black top as rain began to fall.

It was the kind of rain that you see like a curtain crossing the road ahead. Only I didn't see it until I rounded a curve and it was right there, and I didn't have time to stop. I found a spot to pull off under a tree where it seemed a little dryer to decide what to do.

Decision time: Wait it out, or make for the blue sky in the distance.
I had two choices, wait it out under the tree (which wasn't providing much protection), or brave the wet, curvy mountain roads to try to get out from under it. I could see blue sky not far away, but with all the switchback on the road, who know how far the drive actually was?

I decided to ride and face my fear. I knew the real risks were higher than on dry road, but I also knew they were not as high as my anxiety riddled brain was screaming. I had learned, and had some practice, with rain riding techniques and the roads were mostly free of other cars, so I set out.

Ten minutes or so later, I was on dry pavement that hadn't seen a drop all day. I had faced the challenge and over come it.

Challenges come in different ways in life. Riding a motorcycle, like many other things, is objectively a skill that anyone can learn. Taken in progressive steps and with practice, the skill can be mastered. But the real challenge is overcoming your fear. Your mind gets filled with images and ideas of everything that can go wrong, and you think about that, instead of what you need to do to be safe.

I chose to ride the Suches Loop to challenge my fears. I knew I was capable of riding curves. I wasn't trying to take them at full speed or prove what a bad ass I was. I just wanted to prove to myself that I had the skills and experience to take curve after curve after curve, of all variety of sizes, slopes, lengths, diameters, etc. And I did, the small fears of falling, of skidding, etc, that I feel every time I get on the bike were still there, I just had to push them down and focus on the task, like I do every time.

But the unexpected challenge of rain... That brought up a whole other level of fear. I would not have faulted myself if I decided to wait it out. It wasn't what I had set out to do, I had not mentally prepared myself for it, and it wasn't "do or die." I 'm glad I decided to face that fear, too.

There are challenges in life that we choose, like riding the Loop, and there are those life chooses for us, like riding in the rain. But a challenge is a challenge, whether we choose it or not, it is faced the same way: with courage and thought. Courage to acknowledge your fear, and thought to navigate the challenge safely.

The more challenges I set for myself in life, the more easily I find I can overcome the ones life throws at me. And that is how I create an amazing and interesting life for myself.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Interpreting Meanings

People get tattoos for a lot of reasons, and I'm not going to say there is a good or bad reason to get one, its your skin, your money, your life.

For me, my tattoos all have meaning to me, meanings that were (at least when I got them) deeply significant. What I find interesting is how some people misinterpret the meanings according to their own view of the world.

Recently I had three bees, as in insects, tattooed on three different parts of my body. Each bee was customized to represent a different individual, all of whom happened to be women, and this caused a bit of jealousy in another woman in my life. As she saw it, I'd just had the equivalent of three women's names tattooed on my body, and she wasn't included.

But that isn't how I view it at all. These tattoos represent a nick name I was given at Burning Man last year, one which I felt helped clarify a part of my own identity. Here's the story:

At Burning Man, I met a group of three first time Burners, three women. They were all in their late twenties, had all gone to college together and all shared a house in college. During that time, they called their house "The Honey Pot," for obvious college-girl reasons. Since graduating, they have all taken very different paths in life, but remained close, despite being spread out all over the world.

At Burning Man, I was one of the first to welcome them, and in a very real sense, they adopted me into their little tribe. We spent a lot of time together that week, and had many adventures. There was no romance or sexual interactions between us, but did connect on a deep and intimate level.

One night, while we were out on an adventure, they gathered up, and after a discussion, pulled me close and announced I was "the Bee Keeper"!

At Burning Man, nicknames can take on an important meaning, they allow one to step outside the identity you have in the rest of the world, the one you probably didn't choose, and embrace other aspects of your personality you'd rather showcase. So this new name caused me to think a lot.

As I interpreted it, a bee keeper, in actuality, is a person who provides a safe place for the bees to live, protecting them from harm, while at the same time allowing them to roam free and go about their natural lives, doing what bees do. There is obviously a symbiosis, the keeper gets honey or his plants pollinated, while the bees get protection, but the keeper does not try to shape the bees into anything they aren't already, he nurtures them, without directing them.

Applying that analogy to myself, I felt it was appropriate for how I did a lot of things in life. I find my self mostly surrounded by younger, less experienced people, and I have a paternal nature which leads me to want to guide and protect them. Yet I also do not wish to stop them from seeking and becoming their true selves, regardless of who that is, I just want them to do so in a healthy, safe way. This is how I tend to treat the younger people in my life.

Over the years, I've had many, many people come back to me and let me know how I positively impacted their lives, often by simply being the one person who let them be themselves. That is what being The Bee Keeper means to me.

To commemorate this new realization about myself, I decided to get a tattoo. I thought a lot about how to represent the idea, a bee hive came to mind. Then simply bees, but I would need a few, to show it was about many bees, not just one. Soon I decided on one to represent each of the people who helped me understand myself in this way, and that's what I got.

The tattoos, while representing three people, also represent Burning Man and its impact on my life, and the quality of my character I've come to understand through my experiences there. So while each be represents a person, its less about them, and more about recognizing how they helped me -- The honey I got from the bees, so to speak.

I don't even know if I'll ever see those three again (we are still in contact, but not deeply involved in each other's lives.) I haven't told them about the tattoos, because I don't want them to misinterpret their meaning. Though I will be proud to show them if I meet them again in person.

This experience also helped illustrate to me how people view the same thing differently, and is a constant reminder to take those potential different views into consideration when dealing with other people. My lesson about myself, lead to a lesson about the world! Pretty cool!