Weight Loss

Ketosis and Weight Loss: How Does This Process Work?

Published on: September 13, 2019

Ketosis and Weight Loss: How Does This Process Work?

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Let me tell you a secret: No matter your age or where you are in your life, you have this amazing ability to burn fat. And guess what? You were born with this ability. You’ve probably heard that ketosis is one of the best (and healthiest) ways to lose weight. But unless you understand how it works, you won't be able to appreciate it.

Without further ado, let’s dive into the topic of ketosis for weight loss. Keep reading.


Is Ketosis Good for Weight Loss?

For us to be able to answer the question of whether ketosis helps you lose weight, we need to do a brief recap. The reason is that most people know that ketosis is achieved by eating more fat, but few know its mechanism.

Recalling what was said earlier, your body has a built-in mechanism to lose weight. That mechanism is called ketosis.

Ketosis is a metabolic process where the body uses up its glycogen stores for energy when carbohydrates are not available. It then breaks down stored fat to produce fatty acids. Fatty acids get converted into ketones, which then serve as your alternate source of fuel [1].

ketosis-fat-burn-and-benefits

But before your body enters ketosis it tries to compensate for the lack of glucose by producing glucose from non-carbohydrate sources. We call this endogenous (internal) glucose production gluconeogenesis [1].

If you further reduce your dietary carbohydrates, gluconeogenesis can no longer keep up. That’s when ketogenesis or the production of ketones take place [1].

Going back to the question:

Is ketosis good for dropping those excess pounds? The answer is a resounding yes.

Not only does it put your body in a fat-burning mode - but it also provides amazing benefits such as increased mental clarity and stable energy levels. But that’s a topic for another day.

To appreciate the potential of ketosis for weight loss, we’re going to explore some recent studies done on human subjects.


ketosis-and-weight-loss

3-Month Study on Nutritional Ketosis for the Military

Did you know that obesity and overweight is a growing problem among service members? This includes those in active duty, guard and reserve components, veterans, retirees, and their families [2].

Furthermore, 2014 national weight and height data revealed that one-third of Americans ages 17 to 24 don’t qualify for military service because of their weight [2].

A 2019 study by Ohio State University showed that nutritional ketosis could increase fitness among military men. They studied 29 campus ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) members and divided them into two groups. One group, which had 15 participants, ate a ketogenic diet. The other group, which had 14 participants, followed their regular diet [3].

Those in the keto diet group reduced their carbohydrates to 30-50 grams per day. Nuts and non-starchy vegetables were emphasized. The research team asked them to report back their blood ketone readings (which should be between 0.5 and 5.0 mM). This is to make sure that they stay in ketosis [3].

The results?

Both the nutritional ketosis group and regular diet group had the same physical performance levels. The difference was that those who followed a keto diet lost an average of nearly 17 pounds and over 5% of their body fat, including 44% of their belly fat. [3]. They also improved their insulin sensitivity (protection against diabetes) by around 50%. The test subjects who simply ate a ‘healthy’ carb based diet experienced none of these benefits.


10-Week Pilot Case Study on Endurance Athletes

Here’s another interesting study on keto diet weight loss success:

effects-of-ketosis-on-endurance-athletes

Five New Zealand endurance athletes (4 females, 1 male) followed a ketogenic dietary plan for 10 weeks. Note that these athletes regularly participated in high-level competitive endurance sports for at least 5 years and were non-smokers. Furthermore, they didn’t have any previous knowledge or experience of keto diets [4].

They reduced their carbs to below 50 grams daily, consumed moderate protein (1.5 grams per kg body weight), and ate fat to satiety. The primary researcher monitored their diet weekly [4].

When it came to their exercise, they engaged in endurance events regularly. These included biking, running, and multi-sport events. The participants also measured their blood ketones daily between 2-4pm [4].

These were the results:

After 10 weeks, all five participants achieved weight loss and a reduction in skinfolds. According to them, they also experienced other benefits such as increased satiety, improved skin, and enhanced well-being and recovery [4].

The negative part was that they experienced tiredness during the first few weeks [4]. This is a common symptom in keto-adaptation among those who have been used to eating a high-carbohydrate diet.


appetite-supression-and-increased-ability-to-burn-fat

How does ketosis make you lose weight?

You already know that ketosis is a normal metabolic state and also an effective weight-loss tool.

You might be wondering by now:

“What are the ways that ketosis helps me lose weight?”


1. Appetite suppression

Not hungry on keto? Decreased appetite is one of the reasons why people follow a ketogenic lifestyle. Researchers suggest that the major ketone body beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) could be a factor behind reduced appetite.

Your ketone bodies increase during fasting (starvation ketosis) or when you’re eating a low-carbohydrate and high-fat diet. Researchers from the University of Oxford did a study where they tested the impact of an exogenous ketone ester drink on appetite [5].

The results of the study showed that the participants' BHB levels increased from 0.2 to 3.3 mM after 1 hour. After 2 hours, their ghrelin levels decreased. Ghrelin is your “hunger hormone” as it signals your brain to eat [5].


2. Increased ability to burn fat

The rate at which your body burns its stored fat increases when you become fully keto-adapted. As you reach keto-adaptation, which can take weeks to a few months to occur, you can get most of your energy needs from fat [6, 7].

Keep this in mind:

Just because your ketone levels have increased, doesn’t mean that you’ve already become an efficient fat burner. It takes time for your body to reduce its dependency on carbohydrates for fuel [6, 7].

This “gear-switching” process explains why someone who’s just attempting nutritional ketosis experiences unpleasant side effects. These side effects happen due to carb withdrawal. Collectively, they’re called keto flu.

optimal-ketone-level

What level of ketosis is good for weight loss?

Knowing which optimal ketone levels to aim for allows you to plan an effective diet and fitness regimen.

The sweet spot for ketosis weight loss is between 1.5 – 3 mmol/L [8]. Take note that the normal range for nutritional ketosis is between 0.5-3.0 mmol/L.

Here’s a common misconception when it comes to achieving the optimal level of 1.5 – 3 mmol/L for weight loss:

Many people believe that they can attain their weight loss goal by only eating more fat and taking exogenous BHB ketones. To increase your ketone levels to at least 1.5 mmol/L, the first thing you should do is to cut back on carbohydrates [9].


ketosis-for-weight-loss

How Long Should You Stay in Ketosis to Start Losing Weight?

Fact: Each person’s fitness journey is unique and that some people attain weight loss at a faster rate. However, there is an average period where we can begin to see the pounds drop.

Want to know the best part?

Weight loss starts within the first week of following a ketosis plan.

You may notice the number on the scale decrease. This weight you’re losing initially is water weight. You’ll be urinating more often as you decrease your carbohydrates. This is your body’s way of getting rid of its stored glycogen.

Take note that the carbohydrates that are stored in your body (in the form of glycogen) binds to water molecules. One glycogen molecule holds on to 3 water molecules [10].

After your first week in ketosis, you lose weight at a steadier rate. This is the period in which your body starts burning its stored fat.


ketosis-weight-loss-rate

How Much Weight Will You Lose in Ketosis?

During the first week into ketosis, you can lose a minimum of 2 pounds and a maximum of 10 pounds. Remember that this “weight loss” is mostly water weight. Losing 2-10 pounds is normal at the beginning.

However, as you progress, you will experience a steadier weight loss of 2 pounds per week. According to the Mayo Clinic, losing 2 pounds a week would be a realistic long-term goal [11].

If you want to boost your fat-burning capacity, follow these strategies:

  • Beware of hidden carbohydrates - While you get rid of the usual carb-rich foods you eat and look for better options, be careful. Carbs lurk everywhere - in processed meats, canned soups, and sauces [12].
  • Move more - Exercise depletes muscle glycogen. High-intensity intermittent exercises and exercising for longer periods cause a considerable depletion of glycogen [13].
  • Test your ketones and make adjustments - The best way to track your weight loss in ketosis is to take blood ketone measurements. Remember to aim for a level of 1.5 – 3 mmol/L. If your ketones decrease, it might mean that you’re not meeting your optimal macros. You may be consuming more carbs or protein than are required.

Conclusion

If you want to get fitter and healthier, ketosis might be your solution.

Ketosis and weight loss go hand in hand. You possess the metabolic machinery to burn fat, and you can get started the right way with medical supervision.

Remember: A ketogenic way of eating is safe for most people, but it is not for everyone.

That is why before you dive in, check with a doctor who completely understandsit. Its mechanism, benefits and possible risks depending on your current health status.


Takeaways

  • You can lose unwanted weight effectively through a natural metabolic state. We call this state ketosis.
  • Research on humans shows that a ketogenic diet plan reduces body fat.
  • Studies suggest that ketones control hunger and appetite.
  • During the first week of keto, a person can lose as much as 10 pounds.
  • Initial weight loss is mostly water weight. This is when the body uses up its stored glycogen. Glycogen molecules contain water.
  • After your initial weight loss, you can lose up to 2 pounds a week safely.
  • Watching out for hidden carbohydrates, increasing your exercise level, and monitoring blood ketones carefully help you speed up weight loss.

References:

  1. Masood W, Uppaluri KR. Ketogenic Diet. 2019 January - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499830/
  2. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine. Understanding and Overcoming the Challenge of Obesity and Overweight in the Armed Forces. 2018 August - https://www.nap.edu/read/25213/chapter/1#2
  3. Ohio State University. Keto diet... View all references

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