The ketogenic diet puts your body into a state of ketosis, which ultimately allows you to use fat for energy.
Fat burning is just one of the many benefits of ketosis that improves overall health and makes it an effective tool for weight loss.
Keto has a cult following for a good reason: it makes you feel great. Keto-ers feel more satiated throughout the day and have increased energy levels, both physical and mental, leading to:
- Fewer cravings
- Lower caloric intake
- More self-control
- More physical activity.
These benefits all contribute to weight loss; however, keto is not synonymous with weight loss.
Far from being a magic tool, the ketogenic diet takes accurate and diligent tracking and adjustment to work. You need a balance of the right macros, realistic goal setting and tracking to take you closer to achieving your weight loss goals.
What is Ketosis & How Does It Promote Fat Loss?
The ketogenic diet promotes and maintains ketosis.
Ketosis is a metabolic state in which your body uses fat rather than glucose from carbohydrates as its primary source of energy.
To achieve ketosis, you stop supplying your body with carbs and sugar. This depletes your stored glucose — also known as glycogen — and your blood sugar and insulin levels decrease. Your body starts to look for an alternate source of fuel (fat), releases it and burns it for energy. Hence, weight loss on keto.
Because of the decrease of glucose and increase in the metabolism of fat, ketosis has a ton of benefits — its unique ability to induce weight loss is just one of them. Many people use ketosis as a treatment for epilepsy, diabetes and even cancer.
When your body burns fat, it produces ketones. Without ketones, you’re not in ketosis. Therefore, the ketogenic diet’s sole purpose is to aid and promote ketone production.
Ketones are the metabolic fuel produced when your body shifts into fat-burning mode.
Glucose and ketones are the only energy sources used by the brain. Think of ketones as the auxiliary power source of your body.
Your body burns fat to use and produce ketones whenever glucose sources are low or depleted, such as:
- during fasting
- after prolonged exercise
- when you eat a ketogenic diet.
Lipase (an enzyme responsible for fat breakdown) releases stored triglycerides (fats). These fatty acids go to your liver and your liver turns them into ketones.
There are three types of ketone bodies:
- Acetoacetate – During the breakdown of long- and medium-chain fatty acids for energy, acetoacetate is produced first.
- Acetone – Spontaneously, acetone is also produced as a by-product of acetoacetate. Both of these ketone bodies, when not used, spill into your urine and breath, making urine and breath testing a promising measurement of whether or not you’re going into ketosis.
- Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) – Not technically a ketone but a molecule. Its essential role in the ketogenic diet makes it count as the important ketone body. BHB is synthesized by your liver from acetoacetate. BHB is important because it can freely float throughout your body in your blood, crossing many tissues where other molecules can’t. It enters the mitochondria and gets turned into ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the energy currency of your cells. BHB = ATP = energy!
Now that you know what ketones are and how ketosis works, you probably want to know why you should consider eating a ketogenic diet — the diet that promotes ketosis.
The Benefits of Ketosis
The benefits of ketones come from your body burning fat for fuel and the lowered glucose and insulin in your blood.
The benefits of ketosis include:
- Body fat burning
- Mental clarity and increased cognition
- Improved physical energy
- No feeling of deprivation because you experience less hunger.
- Steady blood sugar levels from little to no intake of refined carbs
- Skin improvements in those with acne.
- Improved triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
- Hormone regulation — women who go on keto report less severe symptoms of PMS.
Aside from the therapeutic benefits of ketones, many people fall in love with keto because of the way it makes them feel both mentally and physically.
When designing your Keto meal plan try to include;
- More coconut oil and more omega 3 fatty acids (macadamia nuts, fatty fish) in your diet - it helps with fat loss. Also, check out my two posts about what will help you lose weight: coconut oil and macadamia nuts. To find out more, check out my posts on how coconut oil and macadamia nuts may help you lose weight.
- Some low-carb dieters claim to have improved their weight loss by reducing the consumption of dairy products, while others found no significant effect. This may well be down to individuals and it's worth trying in case it works for you. Why would dairy products cause weight stalling while they are low in carbs? Some say it's down to dairy intolerance but the most likely reason is that full-fat dairy products are energy-dense and easily overeaten. In general, full-fat dairy and nuts should be eaten with caution - calories may not be the main focus of a LCHF diet but they are not insignificant.
- Be careful about products labeled "low-carb", "sugar-free", etc. It's a known fact that some of these products contain more net carbs than they claim. The perfect examples of such advertising are the Atkins products. They contain artificial additives and have a long list of ingredients which always raises alarm. Additionally, they are sweetened with sugar alcohols such as sorbitol or Maltitol that cause insulin spikes and are definitely not "carbs-free". Not all sugar alcohols have the same impact on blood sugar and I would recommend you only use products sweetened with Erythritol, Swerve, Stevia or chicory root sweetener (e.g. Just like sugar). These sweeteners have no impact on blood sugar and are very low in calories. To find out more about sweeteners, here is my list of Top 10 Natural Low-carb Sweeteners.
- Avoid products labeled "fat-free" at any cost. These are often full of carbs!
- Learn to eatREAL food: meat, eggs, vegetables and nuts should be the main part of your diet! Eating food full of preservatives, additives and colourings is not only unhealthy, but it will impair your weight loss efforts. In most cases, these products are not nutritious enough, don't have the ability to sate our appetite as REAL food does and as a result, you will eat more.
- Most of your diet should consist of meat, eggs and vegetables. Be careful with nuts, root vegetables, dairy and fruits (berries, if any). Here is a list of low carb foods that you can make to ease your way into ketosis (note, you may need to modify some of them based on your carbohydrate goals)
- If you reached the plateau, try Intermittent Fasting (IF) - a complete guide to IF is here - or High Fat Fasting (HFF) - a complete guide to fat fast is here - for a few days and see if there is any difference. Doing IF every now and then is recommended for keeping your metabolism high.
- HIIE (High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise) also works for breaking the plateau. These short intense workouts improve glucose tolerance and are the most effective for burning calories without inducing increased appetite. I personally love home workouts from Bodyrock.tv: free beginner, intermediate and advanced programs, all starting from just 12 minutes a day!
- I should mention that for long-term effects, it’s not about burning calories, it’s about building muscle tissue and increasing your metabolic rate. Therefore, include resistance training in your workout routines.
- Increase your electrolytes, make sure your electrolyte intake is sufficient (magnesium, potassium, sodium).
- Drink water! Make sure you get properly hydrated, it's vital for fat loss. Water suppresses appetite and helps body metabolise fat.
- If your carbs intake is low and you don't see any reason why you shouldn't lose weigh, give it some time. Your body may just be getting used to your new life-style and needs time to adjust.
- Don't weigh yourself more than once a week or even better, don't weigh yourself at all. There are natural fluctuations related to water retention and hormonal balance. If you are a woman, you will notice these fluctuations more often. If you see no movement on the scales or even if your weight goes up, it doesn't mean you are not losing fat. If you exercise, you may even see a little increase in weight, as muscles are heavier than fat. The important thing here is to concentrate on losing body fat. Don’t rely just on scales, use body tape, calipers, belts or clothes to see any changes.
The ketogenic diet is an effective tool for weight loss because of the dramatic decrease in carb intake, forcing your body to burn fat instead of carbs for energy.
Results vary among individuals due to several factors such as insulin resistance and unique body composition. Nonetheless, keto has consistently lead to a reduction in weight and body fat percentage in a wide range of situations including but not limited to obesity, type 2 diabetes and athletic performance.
A randomized control study in 2017 examined the effects of a ketogenic diet combined with Crossfit training on body composition and performance. Results from this study concluded that subjects following a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet (LCKD) significantly decreased body weight, body fat percentage and fat mass compared to those in the control group.
The subjects following the ketogenic diet:
- Lost an average of 3.45 kilograms (7.6 pounds) compared to those in the control group who had no loss in body weight.
- Lost an average of 2.6% body fat while those in the control group did not lose any body fat.
- Lost on average 2.83 kilograms (6.2 pounds) of fat mass (the portion of the body composed strictly of fat) compared to the control group who did not lose any fat mass.
- Maintained lean body mass to the same degree as those in the control group.
- Improved Crossfit performance to the same degree as those in the control group.
Dashti et al. performed a study in 2004 observing the long-term effects of a ketogenic diet in obese patients and found the following:
- The weight and body mass index of the patients decreased significantly.
- The level of total cholesterol decreased from week 1 to week 24.
- HDL cholesterol (the good one) levels significantly increased.
- LDL cholesterol (the bad one) levels significantly decreased after treatment.
- The level of triglycerides (fat) decreased significantly following 24 weeks of treatment.
- The level of blood glucose significantly decreased.
Partsalaki et al. carried out a study in 2012 comparing the effects of a ketogenic diet versus a hypocaloric diet in obese children and adolescents. Results showed[*]:
- Children following the ketogenic diet significantly reduced body weight, fat mass, waist circumference and fasting insulin levels.
- The children in the ketogenic diet group significantly reduced a marker of insulin resistance known as homeostatic model assessment-insulin resistance (HOMA-IR) to a greater degree than those following a hypocaloric diet.
- An important marker of insulin sensitivity and cardiovascular disease — known as high molecular weight (HMW) adiponectin — significantly increased in the ketogenic diet group but not in the hypocaloric diet group.
Additionally, a 2008 study looking at the effects of a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet versus a low-glycemic index diet in type 2 diabetics was conducted.
Results from this study concluded that participants following the ketogenic diet had significantly greater improvements in weight loss, hemoglobin A1c, and high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol compared to the low-glycemic index diet group:
Those following a ketogenic diet:
- Lost on average 11.1 kilograms (24.5 pounds) compared to those following the low-glycemic index diet who lost on average 6.9 kilograms (15.2 pounds)
- Reduced their HbA1c levels by 1.5% compared to the low-glycemic index diet group who only reduced their HbA1c levels by 0.5%.
- Increased their HDL cholesterol on average 5.6 mg/dL compared to those in the low-glycemic index group who had no increases in HDL cholesterol.
- Diabetes medications were reduced or eliminated in 95.2% of participants in the ketogenic diet group vs. only 62% of participants in the low-glycemic index group.
The ketogenic diet works for weight loss because it’s based around high fat, moderate protein and very low carb intake.
But I Thought Fat Was Bad for You?
There’s a common misconception that fat is bad for you; however, this misconception fails to adequately represent healthy fats which are actually good for you.
Aside from other scientifically-proven benefits, saturated fats like medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) go directly to your liver to be used for energy.
The ketogenic diet, with its high percentage of good fats, leads to a fat-adaptive metabolic state.
Fat-adaptation occurs when your body becomes more efficient at burning fat for fuel. The longer you maintain a fat-adaptive state; the more ketones you produce.
The goal of a ketogenic diet is to maintain high amounts of ketones so you can reap all of the benefits that occur from being in ketosis.
A high fat, ketogenic diet is also protein-sparing: your body keeps burning fat and doesn’t turn to protein as an energy source.
Even on keto, you still want to consume sufficient protein for the benefits: more calories burned at rest (muscle burns fat!) and decreased feelings of hunger because protein is one of the most satiating macronutrients. It is not just a high-protein diet. Carb and protein intake are both limited so that the body breaks down fat and uses ketones for fuel instead.
You must eat enough protein to maintain muscle mass and organ function, but that’s it. If you consistently eat more protein than your body needs, or if both carb and fat intake are low, your body turns protein amino acids into glucose to be used for energy.
This is known as gluconeogenesis, which breaks down lean muscle and can raise your blood glucose and insulin levels, thus affecting ketone production. This occurs because your body has an alternate source of glucose so it halts ketone production.
A high-protein diet is not ketogenic because you won’t be in ketosis. This brings us to the next point: low-carb is also not synonymous to ketogenic.
Note that;Low-Carb is Not Ketogenic:The difference between ketogenic and low-carb diets is that the ketogenic diet aims for ketosis.Other low-carb diets may not have a large enough decrease in carb intake to shift your metabolism into producing and burning ketones for fuel. Although, certain types of keto diets do have some leeway with carb and protein intake.
Types of Ketogenic Diets.
Like intermittent fasting, you can customize the ketogenic diet according to your goals or needs.
There are four common types of ketogenic diets:
- The Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD): Most common and recommended version of the diet:20-50 grams of net carbs per day, moderate protein intake and high fat intake.
- Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD): “Targeted” for energy around your workouts: 25-50 grams of net carbs or less around 30 minutes to an hour before exercise
- Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD): Similar to intermittent fasting “Down Day Up Day” or the 5/2 cycle, CKD involves eating a low-carb, ketogenic diet for several days followed by a couple days of eating high-carb.
- High-Protein Ketogenic Diet: The SKD alternated with additional amounts of protein that could be ideal for more elite athletes, but not enough to trigger gluconeogenesis.
Designing your ketogenic diet involves calculating your macros. Based on current research, studies at my lab and continuous testing with clients, anything over 0.5–1.0 mmol/l demonstrates sufficient nutritional ketosis
Ways by which you benefit from keto diet include:
- Higher protein intake: Some ketogenic diets lead to an increase in protein intake, which has many weight loss benefits.
- Food elimination: Limiting your carb intake also limits your food options. This can noticeably reduce calorie intake, which is key for fat loss.
- Gluconeogensis: Your body converts fat and protein into carbs for fuel. This process may burn many additional calories each day.
- Appetite suppressant: Ketogenic diets help you feel full. This is supported by positive changes in hunger hormones, including leptin and ghrelin.
- Improved insulin sensitivity: Ketogenic diets can drastically improve insulin sensitivity, which can help improve fuel utilization and metabolism.
- Decreased fat storage: Some research suggests ketogenic diets may reduce lipogenesis, the process of converting sugar into fat.
- Increased fat burning: Ketogenic diets rapidly increase the amount of fat you burn during rest, daily activity and exercise.
It is very clear that a ketogenic diet can be a successful weight loss tool compared to the recommended high-carb, low-protein and low-fat diets
Here's a step-by-step keto for beginners plan for the best way to lose weight, now that you know why a ketogenic diet is the best weight loss program.
- Get the supplies, books, foods and anything else you need and begin the diet using the steps and tips in my Ketogenic Diet Plan.
- After the first month, implement a high intensity interval training exercise program, at your speed. If walking really fast is high intensity for you, do that once or twice a week. Most importantly, begin a high intensity weight training program once a week, like the one in Doug McGuff's Body by Science program or Fred Hahn's The Slow Burn Fitness Revolution. The purpose of this is to increase muscle insulin sensitivity and build muscle mass, which will translate into a higher metabolic rate, lower insulin levels, and more fat burning.
- Set up an accountability system. Find someone who will be an independent measure of your weight loss. It helps to stay with the plan, if you know you have to admit your indiscretions to someone important. And holding yourself accountable is important too.
- Be consistent, and don't cheat. It takes time for the body to build the enzymes it needs to burn fat instead of glucose. In addition, it takes 3-4 days to get into the fat burning mode of ketosis. Once you are in ketosis, it only takes one cheat day to stop the fat burning, ketotic process, and you'll have to start over. So don't start a ketogenic diet plan just before some major food holiday, like Thanksgiving or Christmas, unless you are sure you can weather the pressure to eat sweets and starches.
- Be patient. Even the best way to lose weight won't work if you don't give it time. And here's a tip: don't weigh yourself every day. Your weight can vary between 2-4 pounds each day because of changes in water intake and absorption. You won't be able to track any fat loss accurately on a daily basis, and the fluctuations will make you crazy and discouraged if you focus on them. Instead, weigh yourself once a week, or keep track of your body measurements to track your progress.
- Track your progress with either a written or electronic journal. Measure and write down what you eat, at least for the first month or so. I use a software program called Fitday to track calories, fat, carbs and protein intake. It's a great program because I can add custom foods to it, and track those accurately as well. For instance, if I make a low carb casserole, I can put the ingredients and servings into Fitday and then when I add one serving to my daily totals, it accurately calculates the actual calories, carbs, fat and protein amounts.
- If you stop losing weight, or your weight yo-yos (you lose 2 pounds on week, then gain back a pound the next week) see my weight loss plateau page for ideas on what to do.
I truly believe that following a ketogenic, low carb diet is the not only the best way to lose weight, but it's the best way to get as healthy as possible.
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