Why Keto Works

I’ve tried dozens of different diets over the course of my life and I’ve usually been able to lose a little weight with most of them, at least in the beginning.  But inevitably the diet stalls, I stop the diet, and I gain back the weight I lost,  plus a little extra.  In fact, other than taking injectable insulin, calorie restricted diets were the most reliable way for me to GAIN weight.  So much so that I wonder how much better my weight would be if I had never tried to diet.

Why do I think keto is different? 

First I’m still making progress after more than a year into keto.  Traditional calorie restricted diets usually stopped working after a few months.  They never seemed to start working again no matter what I'd try.  And I usually felt so hungry and irritable that I'd decide continuing that diet wasn’t worth the pain if there wasn’t going to be a corresponding gain.

The second and perhaps the most significant reason why I think keto is different is because of what happens to your metabolism while on keto.  Traditional calorie restricted diets work on the “calories-in / calories-out” theory.  Simply put, if you burn more energy than you consume you will lose weight.  While there is some truth to this, your body compensates in ways that complicate this story.   In the end it all comes down to metabolism.

Each person has a resting metabolic rate.  That is the number of calories you consume just to exist before you do any activity.  Unless you are a high performance athlete, most of the calories you burn in a day is due to your resting metabolic rate.  Calories burned by exercise are a small percentage of the overall calories burned by most people. (There are other benefits to exercise, so don’t take this to mean that I don't think exercise is important.)

When you are on a calorie restricted diet, your body starts to think you are starving.  And when your body senses you are starving, it starts to slow down your metabolism.  Think of it this way, if you use wood to heat your house and you are getting low on wood, you might decide to burn less wood.  Lowering the temperature in your house will make your inadequate fuel supply last longer.  Your body does the same thing, lowering your metabolism to match your reduced calories.  It also may send signals to your brain to increase your hunger.  After all, don’t you know you’re starving yourself?

Another complicating factor is access to your fat stores.  Carbs are the primary fuel source for a standard American diet.  This causes insulin to be constantly coursing through your blood stream.  When high levels if insulin are present in your blood, your body is in “fat storage mode” and cannot easily access your fat stores for energy.  Your body thinks your are starving, but because of the insulin it can't access your fat for fuel so it lowers your metabolism.

On a ketogenic diet, fat is the primary fuel source.  Your levels of insulin are lower and your body becomes “fat-adapted” looking to use fat for energy.  If your body needs energy it just burns some of your surplus fat supply and it doesn’t need to lower its metabolic rate.  This is why studies have shown that low carb diets do better at burning fat than high carb diets.

Because your body doesn’t think it is starving while eating keto, it doesn’t send lots of hunger signals to your brain.  That means you don’t walk around “hangry”all the time.  So a keto diet doesn’t lower your metabolic rate, it burns more fat, and allows you to feel satiated.

Another difference is the food.  In general, low-fat food tastes terrible unless you add a lot of sugar to it.  But all that added sugar spikes your insulin which means you can’t burn fat from your fat stores.  However, it is possible to have wonderful high-fat, low-carb foods.  It will probably take adjustments to your habits.  It seemed like about 80% of the meals my wife used to make were pasta or potato based.  And while there are some low-carb pasta alternatives, our menu needed a bit of an overhaul for keto.   Now that we’ve made that switch, we have lots of tasty keto dishes to choose from.  Of course since part of eating keto is eating real food that means that we need to make time to do some actual meal planning and cooking instead of going to the nearest drive-through.

Which brings me to the last, and perhaps most important reason why I think keto is different than other diets.  Keto is a way of life.  If I were to stop eating keto there is no doubt in my mind that I would gain my weight back. I've stopped diets in the past to end my suffering, but keto isn't suffering.  I feel good on keto, I feel satisfied and I don’t feel the need to stop.   Keto is the way I eat now; it isn’t a temporary fix but instead a permanent change.

Keep Calm and Keto On!

In my next blog post I plan on talking about insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.  You can also read my last post which talked about my decision to add deliberate exercise as part of my health routine.

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