The ketogenic diet has become very popular for weight loss. With good reason. If you can stick to it, it is an effective way to lose weight. In the last post we covered exactly what the ketogenic diet is and the many metabolic benefits of nutritional ketosis including the impact it can have on several chronic health conditions. To get all of that information, just click here.
Today though, we are going to cover the most common reason people think about going keto and that is to lose a little weight.
Why does keto work for weight loss?
Yes, the ketogenic diet does work for weight loss. There are several reasons for this.
The first reason is common to any diet you begin. Once you start paying attention to what you are eating and actually follow some healthy guidelines, you will be eating a healthier diet. And for that reason alone, you will probably lose weight. This is why so many people can find initial success with almost any diet they begin. The trick is actually maintaining healthy habits. If the diet you have just started isn’t really about making healthy choices but instead is about severe restrictions, then you may not be able to stick to it. The ketogenic diet does require a severe restriction of carbs, but it also involves many other very healthy choices if done correctly. Remember, in the last post we talked about the need to be on a “well-formulated ketogenic diet”. In a moment we’ll talk about some people who need to restrict their carbs whether they like it or not.
Most people who start the ketogenic diet find that they lose a few pounds in the first week or so. Carbohydrates that you consume and don’t use right away get stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen. Glycogen is stored with water. When you restrict carbs, you use up your glycogen reserves pretty quickly. Less glycogen stored means less water stored and so you lose water weight. There is nothing wrong with losing water weight. You may still notice extra room in the waist of your pants. And it is quite motivating to lose weight right away on a diet. But the weight loss will likely slow down after the first week or two. From there most people will keep up a healthy weight loss of a half pound to 2 pounds per week depending on how much they need to lose.
The third reason that keto works is that fats and proteins make you feel full. This is why you don’t have to count calories on a ketogenic diet, and you are encouraged to eat until you feel full. Studies show that people who consume more fats feel more sated than people on a low-fat diet and as a consequence consume fewer calories. Calorie counting can also make you eat more if you have the mindset that you must consume all of the calories that you have been allotted for the day.
Finally, there are some of you that have developed a condition called insulin resistance. It means that although your body is able to produce enough insulin, your cells do not respond to it as readily as they should. Some people call this pre-diabetes. Insulin resistance is essentially the condition that leads to type II diabetes (type I diabetes is altogether different). What it means from a practical standpoint is that you are not able to tolerate foods that raise your insulin levels. The macronutrient that raises your insulin levels the most is carbohydrate. Fats and protein do not raise your insulin levels as much. Your body essentially has become “carbohydrate intolerant.” Insulin is a storage hormone so the more insulin you are secreting, the more food you are storing as fat (it is really more complicated than that, but that's the basic idea).
However, even if you have insulin resistance, you may not have to limit your carbs to the point that you are in a state of nutritional ketosis (less than 50 grams of carbs per day for most people). You may be able to tolerate more carbs and still have better blood sugar control. But you won’t be on a ketogenic diet. You will just be limiting your carbs a little. How do you know if you are insulin resistant? That is a topic to discuss with your physician. There are some standard tests that can indicate that you might have the condition and some specialized tests that may only be available through a clinical trial. It is important to know if you are insulin resistance since it can lead to the development of type II diabetes, but it also increases your risk of breast cancer recurrence.
The ketogenic diet does work for weight loss for a number of reasons. These include eating a healthier diet, losing water weight, eating fewer calories because fats make you full, and getting at the cause of insulin resistance if that is a problem for you. Next we’ll talk about the ketogenic diet and cancer and who in particular may want to try a ketogenic diet.