The ketogenic diet is great for a number of things, but weight loss is that one benefit getting everyone's attention these days. That's not surprising considering that we're living in the midst of an obesity epidemic and that calorie restriction and low-fat diets are proven to be ineffective.
Keto diets, on the other hand, tackle excess weight better and differently than most fad diets. First, these diets allow for a higher fat intake. Secondly, ketogenic diets are medically-approved and highly effective according to countless studies. Lastly, they completely transform your metabolism from sugar burning into fat burning for the long haul.
But how exactly does the diet work for weight loss and how do you get there? We'll answer those questions in this article by going over the science of ketosis, ketogenic diets, and weight loss. With all that said and promised, let's dive into keto for weight loss.
It All Starts with Ketosis
The key to unlocking fat-burning mode on keto is ketosis. Ketosis is a completely normal metabolic state that happens either during fasting or carb restriction. When you're in ketosis, your liver mitochondria are producing ketone bodies (aka ketones) by breaking down fatty acids.
The fatty acids that your liver uses to make ketones can come from a) your fat stores or b) the fat you eat. If you eat less fat than necessary for energy production, your body will turn to your body fat stores and you'll lose weight as a result. If you eat more fat than necessary for energy production, you'll gain weight; it's as simple as that.
However, foolproof fat-burning is not the only reasons ketosis is so great. Being in ketosis is scientifically-prove to :
- Reduce heart disease risk
- Reverse and prevent type II diabetes
- Treat uncontrollable epilepsy
- Stop and prevent cancer
- Prevent age-related neurological diseases
- Treat polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Improve acne
Many keto dieters also notice an increase in energy levels and mental clarity when being in ketosis. That's because ketones have a protective effect on the brain. Ketones stimulate cell mitochondria to produce more ATP. Ketones also reduce free radical formation in the brain, GABA (a calming neurotransmitter) formation, and cerebral blood flow .
A healthy body is perfectly able to control ketone production. If you have diabetes, however, problems with insulin put you at risk of ketoacidosis – a state of abnormally high level of ketones in the blood. Make sure to test your ketone levels daily and take insulin shots if you're a diabetic interested in the ketogenic diet.
Medical experts designed the ketogenic diet in the 1920s to treat epilepsy in children. The diet is based on scientific findings showing that carb restriction puts people in ketosis and that ketosis stops seizures. Before this discovery, fasting was a common epilepsy treatment but was difficult to stick to. The ketogenic diet allowed patients to cure epilepsy while feeling full.
In order to get into ketosis, you would need to restrict your carbs to below 50 grams per day or 30 grams of net carbs per day. But other macronutrients also matter, and the general formula looks something like this:
- 5-10% carbohydrates
- 20-30% proteins
- 65-80% fats
These are the three macronutrients you need to pay attention to on the keto diet. Macronutrients are energy-providing nutrients that you need to take in large amounts. Normally, our bodies heavily rely on carbohydrates to make energy, thus the term sugar-burner. But on a keto diet, you force your body to burn fats turning you into a fat-burner.
The reason you still need to eat some amount of carbs on a keto diet is that your brain can't full run on ketones. Up to 70% of your brain's functioning can use ketones but the rest requires carbs. You also need to eat a moderate amount of protein to build and repair tissue and produce important hormones.
According to the World Health Organization, obesity has tripled since the 1970s . And now, almost 40% of adults worldwide are overweight. While there is a lot of talk about what is causing the obesity crisis, it really boils down to two things:
- Energy-dense foods became available globally
- Physical activity dropped due sedentary jobs, urbanization, and transportation (no one walks to work anymore).
In other words, people are taking in more calories than they are spending. Humans were not built to live in such an environment of opulence. Millions of years of evolution made us to, not only survive, but thrive in harsh environments where food is not always available and where being physically active is essential for survival. The rapid change in living is making us sick and obesity is just one manifestation of the problem.
But to be fair, environmental pollutants and unrelenting stress of modern living also adds to this equation [4, 5]. Luckily, you can take matters into your own hand by making your lifestyle and food choices fit your genetic makeup. You can change your behavior and your environment to protect your health and feel your best and the keto diet is a great way to start.
Using the Ketogenic Diet for Weight Loss
The ketogenic diet mimics both starvation and fasting, something that humans went through regularly, and that research shows our body expects and wants . The keto diet can help you:
- Shed excess weight and keep it off
- Improve your metabolic functioning and overall health
The keto diet is different from other weight loss diets. Most weight loss diets recommend eating plant-based, low-fat meals and watching your calorie intake. While this can help you shed pounds, in practice it's not effective. The reason these diets don't work is that they don't suppress your appetite and your body's metabolism slows down when you take in fewer calories making it harder to lose weight .
The keto diet, on the other hand, hacks your body so that you burn fat, eat less, and lose weight. The keto diet works through:
1) Appetite suppression
Studies show that ketosis has a natural appetite-suppressing effect . This has partially to do with normalizing blood glucose and insulin levels and partially due to ketones. When you eat carbs constantly, blood glucose and insulin levels fluctuate rapidly increasing hunger hormones. On a keto diet, your blood glucose drops, and insulin remains moderate to control ketone production. This, in turn, suppresses appetite.
Another reason why the ketogenic diet suppresses appetite has to do with the food you eat. Fats are a powerful source of energy, containing more than double the calories of carbs (9 kcal per gram compared to 4 kcal in carbs). Fats are also difficult to digest and break down staying longer in the digestive tract.
Proteins have the same number of calories as carbs (4 kcal per gram) but they're even harder to digest than fats. Proteins are made up of long chains of tightly-bound amino acid molecules requiring stomach, pancreas, and bile juices to be broken down. With so much work to digest proteins, your body burns calories along the way. To get just 100 calories from protein, your body has to spend 30 calories and that boosts energy spending all in itself.
2) Calorie restriction
With appetite suppression comes calorie restriction, and calorie restriction is the gold standard for weight loss. The reason people gain too much weight, as already explained, is because they're eating more calories than their body is burning. In contrast, when you eat fewer calories than your body needs to maintain its current weight, you start to lose weight.
The only problem with reducing calories is that it leaves you feeling hungry and miserable. Besides that, your body perceives a lower calorie intake as starvation and react by shutting down. Ever heard about those infamous weight loss plateaus? Those happen because your basal metabolic rate slows down. Calorie restriction can also cause muscle wasting if not planned right.
The ketogenic diet allows you to eat fewer calories and still feel full. You are not very likely to eat too much when your diet is mostly fat and protein – two highly satiating macros. Ketones themselves also suppress appetite while providing ample energy. The reduction in calories on keto also spares muscle tissue when you eat enough protein and fats.
3) Metabolic enhancement
Bad dietary and lifestyle habits have a negative effect on metabolism functioning. The ketogenic diet can restore your metabolism through these three things:
1) Normalizing blood glucose and insulin metabolism
While your body is perfectly used to running on carbs, having too much of the same thing can negatively affect your health. Eating carbs constantly wreaks havoc on your blood glucose metabolism, possibly leading to insulin resistance and even diabetes.
2) Making you metabolically flexible
Many people on carb-based diets also become metabolically inflexible throughout the years. Metabolic inflexibility is when your body struggles to switch between sugar burning and fat burning despite diet changes. This problem is further exacerbated when you're not physically active because metabolic flexibility depends on how active your muscles are .
3) Enhancing fat oxidation (burning)
Ketogenic diets also boost fat burning in a similar fashion as vigorous exercising. Low insulin and blood glucose levels stimulate fat burning. In other words, keto helps you burn fat without lifting a finger. Nonetheless, everyone benefits from exercising and exercising boosts weight loss success. The thing with keto is that exercising is not necessary for burning fat as it is in other weight loss diets.
Using the Keto Diet for Long-Term Success
What everyone dreads on their weight loss journey is gaining the weight back soon after success. This is known as the yo-yo effect and is more common than we'd like to believe. According to one study review over 50% of people regain their weight back in the 4 years after losing the weight and 90% fail to keep the weight off in the next decade .
The reason the yo-yo effect happens is because people jump into extreme dieting to lose the weight as quickly as possible. But doing this is taxing on the body and not sustainable in the long-run. Your body will begin to compensate for the deprivation by increasing your cravings, breaking down muscle to preserve energy, and storing back as much fat as possible.
The keto diet, on the other hand, hacks your metabolism in a way that ensures you're losing weight steadily and that the weight lost is in the form of body fat. As long as you're eating enough protein and fat, your body will spare your muscles, keep your energy levels high, your appetite low, and your body weight ideal.
There is a down-side to the keto diet for long-term success: it's notoriously difficult to stick to. We're used to feeling satisfied when with eat carbs. That's because our brain rewards us when we eat carbs with feel-good chemicals like dopamine . In other words, carbs are addictive and breaking the habit requires willpower. Another reason why keto is hard to follow is that you need to continuously monitor your macros intake to ensure you're hitting the right balance.
Following the Keto Diet - How To’s
First, you will need to calculate your daily macros. Use our Keto Calculator to get precise macro ratios that fit your physique and activity levels. At first, it's best to stick to the same recommended daily macros to reach ketosis. After you become keto-adapted, you may want to adjust your macros intake to fit your activity levels, weight-loss rate, and needs.
To hit your daily macros, the keto diet comes with a list of foods you can and cannot eat. There are many online resources providing you with this type of information. Our Keto Grocery List is one great source of information on keto-friendly foods and our Ketocademy course can help guide you towards ketogenic eating. To give you a look at which foods you can eat on keto, here is a quick list:
- Meat:Red meat, pork, chicken, and cured meat are all good. We recommend choosing fattier cuts of meat over lean ones.
- Fish:Fish contains essential fatty acids and is especially rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Its also a healthy source of protein.
- Dairy: High-fat dairy like butter, cream, and cheese are a convenient way to meet both fat, protein, and calcium needs on a keto diet.
- Low-carb vegetables:Vegetables contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, all of which are essential for normal health and functioning. Sticking to low-carb options like kale and broccoli ensures you're meeting your micronutrient needs without going overboard on carbs.
- Berries:Berries are one of the rare fruits you're allowed to eat on keto. They're lower in carbs than most other fruits but rich in fiber and antioxidants.
- Nuts and seeds:Most nuts and seeds are high in fat and low in carbs making them a perfect addition to a ketogenic diet. Many keto alternatives are made using nuts and seeds, examples include coconut milk, almond flour, and peanut butter.
- Zero-calorie sweeteners:Stevia and erythritol don't contain carbs and have no impact on blood glucose.
- Fats:Cold-pressed oils are good but refined vegetable oils and trans-fat margarine you need to avoid. Lard and butter are also great for keto meal preparation.
- Supplements:Psyllium, exogenous ketones, MCT oil, and collagen peptides boost keto success and help with your workouts.
When first starting the keto diet, you'll also need to watch your fluids and electrolytes. At the beginning of low-carb eating, most people lose a lot of water weight as well as electrolytes. This can leave you feeling tired, achy, and generally unwell.
Many keto dieters also fast intermittently and exercise to boost their weight-loss success and improve health. Intermittent fasting is simply skipping certain meals and eating as you normally would when breaking the fast. This method enhances ketone production and also boost longevity according to numerous studies .
You can expect to lose 1-2 pounds (0.5-1 kg) per week, especially in the beginning. This is a normal rate of weight loss that's most likely to lead to long-term success. However, stalling does happen even on ketogenic diets and here's why:
- You're not lowering your calories – Gradually lowering your calories is the only way to lose weight, even on keto. Once people lose a certain amount of weight, they often continue to stick to the same number of calories throughout their diet. The thing is, you need to keep lowering your calories up to a safe 1,500 calories a day. We don't recommend going anywhere below that.
- You're not exercising– Once you hit a weight-loss plateau, it's high time to start exercising if you already haven't. If you are exercising, then increasing the intensity of your workouts is a sure way to break the plateau.
- You are not eating enough carbs – If you are a highly-active keto-er, then you may need to eat just a tad bit more carbs before and after your workouts. This is known as carb-cycling and is highly-effective for tackling plateaus. You may want to look into the cyclical ketogenic diet to stay in ketosis while carb-cycling.
- You're stressed and not sleeping enough – Stress raises cortisol levels, and studies show that elevated cortisol slows down fat-burning and enhances fat accumulation, especially in the stomach area . A lack of sleep has a similar effect.
Keeping all these factors in mind, you'll be able to tackle weight loss plateaus. Another reason you may not be losing weight on a keto diet is not being in ketosis. Ketosis is essential when trying to lose weight on keto. If you're eating too much protein or carbs, you may get kicked out of keto. Sugar cravings, increased hunger, low energy, and less mental clarity are good signs that you need to lower your carbs to get back into fat-burning mode.
The ketogenic diet is growing in popularity these days because it's highly effective for weight loss. Not only that, but the diet does not lead to hunger pangs and low energy like many other weight-loss diets. Instead, you get to enjoy delicious meals, feel energized, and shed pounds along the way.
The effectiveness of ketogenic diets for weight loss is also scientifically tested with great success. These diets hack your body to run on fats instead of its usually sugar. This prevents fat from being stored and enhances fat burning in otherwise metabolically inflexible folk. And all that works in the long-run as well.
But to reap all these benefits of the ketogenic diet for weight loss, you need to be determined and consistent. This can be a challenge given how different keto is from your standard diet. But with a bit of willpower and creativity, anyone can eat keto for a long time. Try your hands at keto today and we guarantee you'll have success coming your way soon.