Psychology of the Ketogenic Lifestyle . . .

Ketogenic Lifestyle – the Balance of Endocrinology & Psychology

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of talking to a number of patients and friends about what it means to live a ketogenic lifestyle.  A low-carbohydrate or ketogenic lifestyle is different from a low-carb diet. It is different because the definition of lifestyle implies the way a person lives their life that reflects specific attitudes and values, not just how they eat. My recent posts, The Principle Based Ketogenic Lifestyle – Part I and Ketogenic Principles – Part II, focus on fundamental principles making the ketogenic lifestyle one in which balance and grounding in all aspects of life can occur.  When the mind, the body or the spirit are out of balance or un-grounded, symptoms of metabolic inefficiency, sickness or disease result. 

I have been fascinated, as a family practitioner, that the body produces “warning flags,” when there is dysfunction in one of these areas: mind, body & spirit. These warning flags are byproducts of inefficient inter-related functionality between the body’s systems and it is one of the foundation principles of osteopathic medicine.  Prior to the advent of many of our diagnostic techniques today like MRI, CT scan, advanced laboratory evaluations, and ultrasound, these were the only indicators of disease that a physician could identify, and upon which diagnosis was made. These flags often show up on the skin, in the hair or nails, in the complexion, or in general appearance or mannerisms.

Skin tags

Skin Tags (fibroepitheial polyps) under the arm

For example,”skin tags” are now recognized as pathognomonic, specifically indicative, of insulin resistance and will often occur up to 20 years before impaired fasting glucose or diabetes is ever recognized.

exopthalmos 2

Exopthalmos (bulging or protruding of the eyes) from hyperthyroidism

Exopthalmos, or protrusion of the eyes, is pathognomonnic for overactive thyroid function (hyperthyroidism), and spider angiomas occur as a somatic flag that cirrhosis of the liver is present.

Alligator Skin (severe dry skin) found in hypothyroidism

Alligator Skin (severe dry skin) found in hypothyroidism

Hair loss and dry skin, or “alligator skin,” represents the exact opposite with an under-active thyroid (hypothyroidism).


Spider angioma seen with cirrhosis

When metabolic pathways get “clogged” or flow of blood, lymphatic fluid or hormones do not reach the destinations they were meant to reach, symptoms of accumulation or poor function begin to arise.

Anterior Chapman's Reflex Points

Anterior Chapman’s Reflex Points (images adapted from Osteopathic Foundations of Medicine.)

The osteopath is also trained to recognize a corollary Chapman’s Reflex Points that act as flags for dysfunction in specific organs or regions of the body. These points relate directly to what causes the pathognomonic flag.  I frequently identify abdominal, adrenal, pancreatic and liver Chapman’s points present in those with insulin resistance, inflammatory diseases, pre-diabetes and diabetes.  Understanding how to interpret and use these flags comprises four years of medical school and three to four years of residency and often years of clinical application.

Mental or spiritual pathways can often be bloc-aided by poor recognition of, or refusal to acknowledge, individual truths in our lives. Interestingly, the signs or warning flags of spiritual dysfunction are also expressed physically.

“Oh, no?! Dr. Nally are you going to get all religious on us?”


Over the last 15 years of my medical practice, I’ve witnessed the spiritual component of the “mind, body, spirit” unit, or lack thereof, have profound impact on the body’s ability to heal.  Every one of us must defeat what Sigmund Freud called the pleasure principle – the human instinct to seek pleasure and avoid pain, including recollections or memories that are painful.    Hiding from these memories because of pain is very common and is part of human nature.  We often believe that thinking about or re-living the truth may cause us individual overwhelming un-survivable grief.  So, we naturally bury the thoughts and emotions and feelings deep down into our subconscious minds.

In fact, we take irrational risks, busy ourselves, use food or drink for short term comfort and move from one distracting or debilitating relationship to another. We lose and then regain gain weight, become workaholics, hide behind thousands of texts, social media posts and emails in order to protect ourselves from the part of ourselves that we don’t want to think about.

However, when we step away from the distractions and courageously look at our individual history, our personal life story, honestly and completely, feelings of sadness, anxiety, regret and anger may often arise.  These painful emotions bring with them essential insights into how experiences will help you and I individually grow, become a better people, and help others along the path.  It takes faith to trust that these experiences will not destroy us, but were allowed to occur by a loving Father or Creator, understanding that for you and I to grow, we must each be given individual agency to chose.  It takes faith to recognize that that Father has your individual best interest in mind. Hiding from these emotions clogs the mental and spiritual systems and fuels disabling depression, anxiety, insomnia and fatigue. These feelings, real as they are, persist when there is no other physical sign of illness.  That’s because this illness is not physical.  It is spiritual. When we are out of line with the truths that bring peace and balance to our lives, negative, self-limiting patterns of activity and fear stifle growth and development mentally.

It is fascinating to me that on more than one occasion, as an osteopath, when a patient suffering from these symptoms gets a massage or has an osteopathic or chiropractic manipulative treatment, they may suddenly become tearful or have unexpected release of emotion. Physical treatment over the areas of congestion can, and do, cause a reflex triggering of mental, emotional or spiritual release of tensions.

How do I know that it is truth we are hiding from?  Take the words of the Buddhist teacher Sogyal Rinpoche found in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying among many others throughout the ages:

“Saints and mystics throughout history have adorned their realizations with different names and given them different faces and interpretations, but what they are all fundamentally experiencing is the essential nature of the mind.  Christians and Jews call it “God”; Hindus call it “the Self,” “Shiva,” “Brahman,” and “Vishnu”; Sufi mystics name it “the Hidden Essence”; and the Buddhists call it “buddha nature.” At the heart of all religions is the certainty that there is a fundamental truth, and that this life is a sacred opportunity to evolve and realize that truth.”

Wait a minute, what does all this have to do with a ketogenic lifestyle?

The ketogenic lifestyle is one that is based on values.  A patient following a ketogenic diet recognizes that food has just as powerful effect on the hormones of the body as does prescription drugs.  Understanding the value of hormone balance and the principles that effect weight, inflammation, blood pressure and cholesterol, the ketogenic lifestyle is one in which carbohydrates are restricted in an individually tailored way to obtain the end goal. How does a ketogenic lifestyle balance mind and spirit?

Step One

Put down your force-field.  This takes courage and it takes faith.  Your force-field is any distraction that keeps you from thinking and feeling and identifying truth.  These include excessive alcohol, illicit drugs, binge eating, smoking, gambling, working excessively or getting lost in repetitive dramatic romantic relationships .

Believe me, the force-field gets heavier every day.  After my father passed away at age 58 from the major complications of diabetes and my sister committed suicide a few years later, I threw myself into work and church service.  I worked 16-18 hour days, completed a second board certification in Obesity Management and a fellowship in Health Policy, all while serving as a bishop and counselor in my church.  I found that I could raise my force-field of justification to hide from the pain and emotions of family illness and depression.

But the force-field saps your energy and cheats you out of seeing your full potential.  I found that as long as I held up my force-field (and some of us care more than one), I couldn’t see the experiences that made me who I am and connect me with those I was trying to serve and help.  As long as I was holding up my force-field, I was living in the fear of re-experiencing the pain of loss and the worry of future disease, . . . and people sense that.

You don’t have to drop the force-field all at once. You don’t have to quit work and become a hobbit. You just have to lower the field a little bit, enough to peek over and let the Eternal Truth shine on you. Truth is a funny and powerful thing.  The more we overcome our reluctance, face the pain and the fear, the more we realize just how often things begin to go well for us.  Living in the presence of great truth and eternal law and being guided by permanent values is what keeps a man patient when the world ignores him, and calm and unspoiled when the world praises him.

Step Two

Identify emotional or behavioral patterns that you want to change. If you don’t know, ask a trusted friend, your spouse, or your relatives. As I think back over the years, I had a couple trusted friends pull me aside and identify a few of those patterns face to face.  I appreciate that, and I’ve never forgotten it.

  1. Make a list of the events in your life that you regret and wish you would have made a different decision.
  2. Go over the list as many times as you need to to identify the pattern or theme that seems to tie the regrets together.
  3. Then actually write down the theme or reason that you identified as the cause. This allows you to identify and remove the corrupted soft-ware of your soul.
  4. This process can take time and is often camouflaged by denial.
  5. Major insight often comes as a knock on the door of denial, so listen carefully to what is being said.  Listen to yourself listening. Psychiatrists say that if something said while listening to a patient makes them suddenly feel sad or irritable, then that may be a meaningful theme in the patient’s life.  Listen to your gut feelings as you go through the day.  Don’t ignore a prompting from your soul.

Step Three –

Realize that today’s negative emotional and behavioral patterns are connected with painful memories and unsolved past conflicts.

Do you get a gut feeling that you want to change the subject when someone brings up a financial setback?  Do you want to reply with one liners like, “I’m sure it will all work out?”  Are there other topics that make you uncomfortable?  Ask yourself why that topic makes you uncomfortable . . . seriously, ask yourself, and then answer yourself.  Do you suspect your spouse of cheating when there is no objective evidence to support the suspicions?  Recognize these uncomfortable feelings are our subconscious waving flags to make us each aware of unresolved conflicts within our mind and spirit.

Remember, we attract the type of energy we give off.

Step Four

Pray to whatever higher power you believe in.  Meditation, prayer and “ponderizing” brings a reservoir of faith and courage to find and to face the truth.  If you have the faith, get on your knees and sincerely ask God for help facing your truth and the challenges, fears and sadness that reflecting upon it may initially bring. I promise you that you will gain the strength to accomplish the task. It will bring the strength to overcome the hidden trauma in your earlier life and will give you the strength to resist the call of ice cream at 3 am.

d_day_courageFollowing these four simple steps, keeps you vigilant to the physical and spiritual warning flags that may arise on your ketogenic journey and will bring great confidence while modifying your diet to balance your body’s hormonal milieu.  Confidence inspires courage.  Those with courage and confidence in themselves, and faith that they are on the right path, are unstoppable. Good luck . . . I look forward to seeing you on my journey down the same path.

2 Comments on “Psychology of the Ketogenic Lifestyle . . .

  1. This was so helpful .. It’s why I keep starting and failing. I’m doing it to myself. I will pray for courage and strength to look at sat these and work on the 4 steps you have given.

  2. Pingback: Ketogenic Lifestyle Rule #5: “Impossible” Only Means You Haven’t Found the Solution Yet | The KetoDynamic Antidote

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