As with most discussions, it’s probably best to start by getting your ego out of the way: You are not in control of anything. Well, to be fair, that’s not entirely true. You can control some thoughts and some muscle contractions but for the most part, your conscious self (You) is at the mercy of your subconscious, involuntary self (Your Body). It’s best to separate these in your mind into two distinct entities as it will help you to see the bigger picture.
Your Body does not want to lose weight. It does not want to gain weight. It wants to maintain homoeostasis. Your Body wants to maintain a body fat set point. Your Body is governed by millions of years of evolutionary adaptation. You are governed by social pressures. You want to get rid of Your Body‘s fat stores because You feel it will potentially lead to finding a better mate. Even though Your Body agrees that finding the best possible mate is the prime directive, Your Body can’t understand why getting rid of its fat stores will be of any benefit. You figure this is probably because low body fat as a desirable quality is an extremely recent cultural trend, making up only .022% of the entire human existence. Your Body is not quick to catch on to these cultural trends. Regardless, Your Body is the boss, and is stubborn to change. You will have to convince Your Body to get rid of its fat. There’s a problem however. Any resistance to Your Body‘s wishes results in friction (Stress) and uses up your Will Power. You only have a certain amount of Will Power to use per day, and if You get too low Your Body will make You frustrated, tired and depressed. That’s why it is important apply a method that will use the least amount of Will Power.
Not to sound like an infomercial peddling cleaning products, but a Ketogenic Diet can meet all these requirements, and more! A Ketogenic Diet is one where one is or tries to be in a state of Ketosis. You get into this state by limiting your carb and protein intake. I won’t get into specifics (because the underlining variables are not well understood) but basically you need to make sure 70-80% of your calories come from fat. The best way to check if you are in Ketosis is to either take daily blood ketone measurements (stay between 1-8 mmol/L) or urinate on a Ketone Strip (get it as red as possible). Ketosis is a very distinct metabolic state and is somewhat difficult to get into. And it’s not a linear progression either. You get less than half the benefits for being half way in. You have to build momentum, which takes some time. Once you’re there however you will start to reap the amazing benefits.
First of all it’s important to note that you can’t gain fat on a Ketogenic Diet. I mean that quite literally. The mechanism for storing fat on your body (insulin) is inhibited on this diet. The absolute worst case scenario is you maintain the same body fat %. The reason you lose fat is because Your Body is making up the deficit of glucose You caused by limiting your carb intake. It does this by converting fat into a glucose substitute called a Ketone. With sufficient time, Ketones can become an excellent substitute for glucose in nearly every respect. What’s that? You don’t want to read theoretical scientific mumbo jumbo and only believe in facts and hard evidence? Well here’s some facts for you then:
- Fact 1: r/Keto is the largest dieting community on reddit.
- Fact 2: Countless of studies comparing low carb diets to low fat diets show that low carb dieters always lose more fat in ADDITION to improving their lipid profile and insulin sensitivity.
- Fact 3: The entire Lakers team is on a low carb, high fat diet and they even put butter in their coffee.
- Fact 4: 7 out the top 10 highest rated dieting books with the most reviews on amazon.com advocate a low carb, high fat diet. Correcting for duplicates and obvious errors (Gone With The Wind??) this number increases to 8 out of 10.
Other than curing epilepsy, as we will discuss later, fat loss is the reason why most people try out this diet. In the same way cutting calories makes a deficit that needs to be made up by burning fat, cutting carbs makes a deficit that needs to be made up by burning ketones. It’s that simple.
Dr. Oz will tell you that protein is more satiating than carbs. Also, because fat has more than twice the calories of carbs, it should be obvious that fat is more satiating than carbs. After eating low carb for over a year now it’s pretty obvious to me (and a statistician would agree) that its not that fat and protein keep you full for longer, it just that carbs make you hungry. I can easily go a day eating only 1000 calories (less than half of what most people eat with my BMI and BF%) and not feel hungry. As a matter of fact, I honestly can’t remember the last time I was actually very hungry. I’ve gone full days without eating and only experienced the most minor of hunger pangs. That’s not to say I didn’t feel irritated, have headaches or cravings, it’s just nice to know in a survival situation I would fair better than most.
Basic requirements to reach ketosis is to have 70-80% of your calories from fat, have just enough protein so your muscles don’t break down and not too much protein that you raise your insulin levels. This means, technically, that all you have to eat to get into and stay in ketosis is 1 lb of lean ground beef and 4 tsbp of coconut oil per day. That works out to around $4.70 a day or $33 a week. How’s that for a grocery bill?
Good Tasting Food
Every Sunday I spend an hour making my food for the entire week. You may be asking “wait, you eat the same thing every single day? How do you not get bored?” Easy, it’s delicious. It’s not that I’m a good cook (I just throw some beef, oil, spinach and spices into a big pot) or I have low standards but I find I just really, really enjoy my meals. We have adapted the evolutionary trait of “flavour” to help us seek energy dense foods, which is why its not surprising that fat is so tasty. It also helps that your taste buds adapt to your diet. Fat becomes tastier and tastier the more you eat it.
As I alluded to in the opening paragraphs, fighting Your Body stresses you out, which is just about the worst thing that You can do to Your Body. Apart from not feeling particularly great when your stressed out, you should avoid stress to avoid the release of a hormone called cortisol. High levels of cortisol are associated with bodyfat storage, reduction in cognitive abilities and lowered immune function, not to mention an increased risk of CVD and mental illnesses. Don’t fight Your Body, just convince it to do Your bidding.
Improvement in Lipid Profiles
If you read my last post you’ll notice that eating cholesterol rich bacon for a week did not result in high levels of cholesterol. The reason you maybe surprised about this is because you have placed too much belief on a flaky idea known as the Lipid-Hypothesis. This is the idea that 1: Cholesterol intake + Saturated Fat intake = Cholesterol in your blood and 2: High Cholesterol = Death. So you maybe asking, “If high cholesterol doesn’t cause heart attacks, doesn’t that mean a good lipid profile won’t guarantee you won’t get one?” Yes, this is true, but I believe inflammation is the actual root cause of most heart attacks, which brings me to our next topic:
Reduction in Inflammation
Cheap Food, Fast Food, Healthy Food: Pick 2. We paid a price for conveniently priced and conveniently packaged foods, conveniently located in convenience stores. Something had to give, and it wasn’t just our belt buckles. Heavily processed, sweetened and fried foods can cause chronic inflammation (not to be confused with the acute inflammation you get from an injury). Some people even think chronic systemic inflammation is the root cause of most, if not all forms of disease. Why do so many people feel better when avoiding gluten even though only about 1% of the population has celiac disease? A reduction in gluten means a reduction in gluten containing foods, a list that often includes foods that are highly inflammatory. Speaking of which, scroll half way down this page to see a list of the worlds most inflammatory foods. Note that most of these are banned on a ketogenic diet. Inflamation also causes acne so, in fact, eating fat will give you better looking skin. Mind blown yet? Well piece it back together, we’re only half way done.
Improved Overall Energy Output
Why is it generally accepted that kids get hyper when they eat sugar but adults get fat? While you ponder that, let me introduce you to the concept of involuntary energy expenditure: Ok, so you have just ingested a lot of fat, but your insulin levels are too low to store it. What happens next? In my experience, 1 of 2 things will happen. If your body is not used to that much fat it will try to flush it out as quick as possible. This is not fun. If you’re just starting out on keto I recommend not having too much fat if you want to avoid stomach upsets. If you’ve been on the diet for a little while and you eat a lot of fat you’ll find out the body has another way to deal with excess calories: burn baby, burn. Nowadays I avoid eating a lot of fat before bed because I just get way too hot to sleep. Not to mention being way too alert to sleep. This is why I think the calories in, calories out model is fundamentally flawed. It doesn’t take into account involuntary energy expenditure and instead assumes You are in control of your weight loss directly. Your Body is, in fact, a smart, strong and independent entity who don’t need no conscious input. If Calories In does in fact equal Calories Out, as the famous equation states, then it should be obvious that without a way to store calories (as in an insulin inhibiting ketogenic diet) the excess energy intake should equal excess energy output, whether induced by You or not. In other words, eating too much on a Ketogenic diet doesn’t make you fat, it gives you more energy.
Improved Energy Stabilization
Being on a well adapted ketogenic diet is like switching from a gas guzzler to a car that runs on air. Say goodbye to the gas station AKA stuffing your face when you get tired or hungry. Your Body doesn’t have to “wait” for You to supply it with energy. You have given it the key to its own energy storage silo and it will dip into the reserves when it wants to. On a typical day, on a typical diet, your energy will peak and crash like the Behemoth. A ketogenic diet, however, takes more of a Ghoster Coaster approach to energy distribution. Many people not only report increased energy while on this diet, but also sustained energy through out the day. Life’s too short to take naps, and on a ketogenic diet you’ll forget the concept existed.
Improved Glucose Stabilization
I like to think of our insulin receptors as delicate flowers growing along a coastline. Eating a jelly donut is like unleashing a monstrous tsunami on the unsuspecting flowers. Most will survive but some will be damaged or destroyed. Destroy enough flowers and congratulations, You’ve got Type II Diabetes! A long absence of tsunamis allows for repair and growth as well better resilience against future tsunamis. I know what you’re thinking: “That’s all well and good, but I don’t think I can resist demolishing a jelly donut if it’s placed in front of me”. Don’t worry, if you train your body to utilize fat, you’ll stop craving carbs. Say good by to your sweet tooth.
Improved Energy for Endurance
Sport nutrition science is mostly devoted to improving “refueling” methods because the go-to “fuel” that athletes use is limited and depletes quickly. Not that this method is particularly bad for, say, 100m sprints but when running a marathon, runners will need to constantly replenish their glycogen levels to avoid “hitting the wall“. This video provided me with an eureka moment about a the potential exercise benefits of a ketogenic diet, particularly the graph regarding metabolic flexability. Above a certain heart rate, carbs are used for energy and below it, fat is used for energy. This in itself is not big news considering it is printed on most treadmills. The “optimum fat burning zone” is ALWAYS less than you’re max heart rate. This is because at a certain point the intensity of the activity becomes too much for your body to rely on slow burning fat so it has to switch to fast burning carbs. Lets call this point a turnover point (although no one has ever named it, probably because it’s not so much a point as it is a gradient). Like with most things calculated on a treadmill, the treadmill turnover point or “fat burning zone” is a very simplistic, one-size-fits all number based on complex and dynamic variables. The longer you go on Keto, the higher your turnover point will be, and therefore a higher percentage of the energy needs can come from fat. Lets say two people go for a run in the morning on an empty stomach but one is on a well adapted keto diet and one is on a regular carb-based diet. You can only store around 1000 Cal of carbs. So the carb guy will become exhausted after burning 1000 Cal, which is about an hour of running. A 180lb man with 10% BF has around 73,000 Cal of stored fat, meaning the Keto guy can theoretically run for 3 days before he runs out of energy! I want to stress the fact that he is WELL ADAPTED, meaning he has gone 3 or more months of eating under 20g of carbs a day, without cheating. If you try this on any other type of low carb diet you will run face first into the big red brick wall of exhaustion WAY before the carb guy does.
Protection Against Neurological Disorders
The Ketogenic Diet was originally developed in the 1920’s as a way to treat epilepsy and to this day still remains the only way to treat the disease without medication. No one knew why it worked so well until about 10 years ago when scientists discovered that a ketogenic diet actually change gene expressions to increase energy production in parts of the brain while making it resilient to metabolic changes, suggesting it also can also be used as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. There is also evidence that a ketogenic diet can protect against traumatic and ischemic brain injury (stroke). For a more technical insight into experiments and potential theories on why a ketogenic diet works so well on the brain, check out this in-depth article.
If you’ve gotten this far and you’re even some what skeptical aforementioned benefits, your BS meter must be off the charts after reading this heading. Your suspicion is understandable. Despite there being a purported cancer cure nearly every week , death rates have only decreased 5% in the last 65 years . But perhaps there was something we missed. A weakness we discovered long ago but only recently determined how to exploit. In 1931, a German scientist was awarded the Nobel prize for discovering that cancer cells metabolise differently than normal cells. In fact, as it turns out, cancer cells have an insatiable sweet tooth. Unlike normal cells undergoing carb restriction, tumor cells can’t just switch to ketones because abnormalities in it’s unusual mitochondria won’t allow it. Instead they just, quite literally, starve to death. In theory this should allow for complete remission of the cancer. I say “in theory” because the current evidence of this working well in humans are either anecdotal or come from studies with small sample sizes. Mouse models however are very promising . More research needs to be done to verify if a ketogenic diet is one-stop cancer eradicating solution or a just one of many tools that, when used in combination, can decrease tumor size. What we know for sure is, at the very least, a ketogenic diet is harmless to a cancer patient. At most it is an anti-drug, anti-invasive, side-effect free, inexpensive cancer treatment alternative that is available to anyone.
If nothing else, you should take away from this the fact that a Ketogenic Diet may prevent you from getting Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, Cancer, strokes and Alzheimer’s, 5 of the top 7 most common causes of death in Canada.
So, I have to ask you, why wouldn’t you want to eat fat??