Keto Questions: Does a Ketogenic Diet Help You Make Good Decisions?
First of all, I need to admit that I’ve never been asked this question in exactly this way before. Usually when I get something like this, it is usually in the context of the cognitive benefits of ketosis which deserves its own blogpost that I will surely get to one of these days. But something happened last week that has gotten me thinking about the role of blood sugar levels in decision making and how ketosis can help with this.
I have been working my way through Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman and have found it fascinating. It is about the difference between the 2 main ways we think, namely the quick decision making that seems to come from our gut vs. the long slow process of working through a difficult issue. His thesis is that all of our physical, mental, and emotional processes come from the same pool of resources. In other words, if you are doing strenuous physical activity, it hampers your ability to think through a subject or react with tempered emotions to a new development. Or if you are under extreme emotional stress and anxiety, you will find it difficult to concentrate on a difficult mental problem. I think most of us intuitively know this to be at least somewhat true just from the experiences of our own lives.
The part of his contention that caught my eye was his assertion that this “pool of resources” we are drawing on to perform these tasks is linked to our blood sugar levels. In other words, as your blood sugar levels fall (and I’m thinking specifically about the typical sugar-burner here) your ability to exert yourself physically, control your emotions, or concentrate on a subject decreases. Again, most of us intuitively know this. I remember from my sugar-burning days that about 3 in the afternoon, I was useless unless I had a snack to get my blood sugar levels back where they needed to be. One example given in the book was how a prison parole board tended to parole more prisoners just after lunch and the farther they got from their meal time, the more they defaulted to their default “Parole Denied” as their blood sugar levels dropped throughout the day.
What does this mean for us ketoers? I need to be clear that everything from this point on is purely conjecture as the author did not deal with ketoers in his research but it seems to me that if your ability to draw from this “pool of resources” falls as your blood sugar levels fall, what would change if your blood sugar levels remain steady throughout the day? I think this is another one of the areas where the ketogenic diet will shine as soon as someone gets around to doing some science around it. I know one of the first things I noticed when I cut out the carbs was the increased physical endurance I needed to just make it through my day without needing a nap. And if it’s true that “Fatigue makes cowards of us all” than a diet that helps combat fatigue by providing an almost infinite energy source of ketones would help us react more bravely and emotionally stable in difficult situations.
But for the purposes of this post, I think the strongest benefit might be in the ability to be able to think through situations and see the different angles of problems regardless of how long it has been since our last meal. I can think back over my life and remember several times I made a poor decision simply because it was the end of the workday and I just wanted to go home and get something to eat. Now that I am in ketosis, I am amazed at how often something difficult will come up at work and I am able to tackle the issue with the necessary energy, even though by that point I have usually been fasting for 12 hours or longer. In fact, my ability to thrive at work despite almost never eating at work is not only impressive to the people I work with but has allowed me to get a lot more done compared to my fellow employees. That “pool of resources” I have to draw from simply never shrinks.
I would love to hear your opinion on this. Have you noticed an improvement in your mental abilities since entering ketosis? Please let me know in the comments!