Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The True Role of Ketosis in a Low-Carb Diet

Once you have the purpose for a low-carb diet fixed firmly in your mind -- that the aim is to lower your basal insulin levels and thereby make your fat stores more readily available for energy -- it's easier to understand the true role of ketosis in a low-carb diet. Ketosis isn't magic. It isn't a state that automatically makes you well again. Nor does it mean you will always lose body fat. Ketosis is a "sign" or a byproduct of the fat burning process.

When you are in ketosis, it means you are burning fat for energy.

A brick of Amish butter and a jar of Grapeseed Oil
Some of the Daily Fat We Need Must Come From Our Diet

That fat can come from the fatty acids in your diet, or it can come from your fat stores. Obviously, we want it come from our bodies, but it isn't practical for all of your fat needs to come from the fat stored in your body. It takes time to break down adipose tissue and convert it into a form that the body can use, so some of the fat you need every day must come from your diet. How much dietary fat you need depends on how well your body can convert fat into energy efficiently. Everyone is not efficient at burning fat.

Ketosis Myth: More Dietary Fat = Deep Ketosis

Before we delve into the true role of ketosis in a low-carb diet, I want to take a minute and debunk a myth that keeps circulating through low-carb groups and forums. This myth says that the more dietary fat you eat, the deeper the state of ketosis you will be in. That is not true. The reason why a lot of people believe that -- and I mean a lot -- is because dietary fat can turn the Ketostix that you use to measure the amount of beta-hydroxybutyric ketones in the urine a deeper shade of purple. The darker the color of the sticks after testing, the deeper the state of ketosis -- they think.

That's a false assumption.

Ketostix measure the amount of B-hydroxybutyric ketones you are dumping into the urine. They do NOT measure the state of Ketosis! The dark color on the sticks does mean you are dumping more B-hydroxybutyric ketones, but if you are eating a high-fat diet, then those ketones can come from the breakdown of dietary fat into energy, and not necessarily from your fat stores. There is some correlation between the color on the sticks and ketosis, but that depends on your caloric needs for the day.

Although one doesn't initially count calories on a low-carb diet, since hunger reduction from being in ketosis is often enough to make the diet work, calories count. Even Dr. Atkins said that!

Getting Into the State of Ketosis

To get into the state of ketosis, we cut back on the carbohydrates in our diet. If you're on Atkins Induction or the Protein Power Life Plan, that means you are only eating about 20 to 30 net carbs per day. 

Paper Plate with scrambled eggs, bacon, and cheese sticks
Low-Carb Diet Starts Out at 20 to 30 Net Grams

A drastic reduction in carbohydrates will initially cause the body to use its carbohydrate stores known as glycogen. Those glycogen stores can be found in the liver and muscles. We use up our muscle glycogen by moving our body. We use up our liver glycogen (and the water stored to process that glycogen) when the amount of carbohydrates we eat falls below our energy needs.

If carbohydrate restriction continues for more than a day or two, the glycogen level in the liver will get to the point where the body begins to panic. That happens within 2 to 4 days, once liver glycogen drops to about half full. Since liver glycogen is used to maintain a stable blood glucose level, it's essential for the body to have a ready fuel source it can use to maintain blood sugar. Otherwise, blood sugar would drop too low, and we'd pass out.

So the liver sends out a distress signal. It tells the brain that we are low on glycogen. We're in a famine situation. In response to that distress signal, the body secretes cortisol and other stress hormones to save us from starvation.

Initially, cortisol clears the bloodstream. It stores blood fats in the form of triglycerides in the fat cells, locks down our fat stores, and gets working on finding alternative glucose sources. It doesn't automatically turn to predominantly burning fats. This is generally the point in your Atkins Induction diet where you become ravenous and begin craving sugar, starches, and other carbohydrates.

It is cortisol that is making you do that. Not carbohydrate addiction. Cravings are a normal physical response to a lack of available glucose. Cortisol is trying to tell you that you are low on glycogen and need carbohydrates, so the liver can refill its glycogen stores.

On a low-carb diet, you don't want your liver glycogen stores to be full because the idea is to trick the body into believing that we are going through a famine. If you ignore the hunger and cravings and continue feeding the body non-carbohydrate foods and vegetables instead, within a day or two more, cortisol will give up trying to convince you to eat sugar and the body will switch metabolic pathways. The alternative pathway predominantly uses fats for energy, rather than glucose. In that alternative state, the body doesn't expect a large amount of carbohydrates to come in for fuel, so it keeps the body primed to burn fats instead.

That is the state of ketosis.

The True Role of Ketosis

Now, the purpose of a low-carb diet is to fix metabolic imbalances. It does that by lowering your basal insulin levels -- the amount of insulin the body squirts into the bloodstream every few seconds; not the amount of insulin it produces, stores, and dumps into the blood as a response to what you eat. Lowering your basal insulin level consistently is done by putting you in a state of dietary ketosis, what some people are now referring to as Nutritional Ketosis.

The state of ketosis is a method that helps to lower basal insulin levels, so the body can access and use body fat for fuel. It's not the purpose of a low-carb diet, but it is a good TOOL, especially if your higher-than-normal insulin levels are a result of overeating carbohydrates -- very typical in a standard American diet. The amount of glycogen storage the average person has is about 300 grams of carbohydrates. If you eat more than what you body can use and store in a 24-hour period, it ends up stored as body fat. For most people, it's the overeating that causes the problem, not carbohydrates themselves, but going into the state of ketosis can help us reverse the tendency to overeat.

The true role of ketosis is to keep the body primed to burn fatty acids for energy, rather than glucose.

Frying Pan of Fatty Bacon Ends
Calories Still Count: You can GAIN Weight Eating High Fat

However, that state of being doesn't mean you will always burn body fat. If you eat a low-carb high-fat diet, and your calories are at your current maintenance level or more, the body won't need to withdraw any stored body fat, as you are supplying all of the calories the body needs. In fact, you can even gain weight on a low-carb high-fat diet if you are eating more calories than the body can use in day.

Being in ketosis isn't a guarantee that you will lose weight. It's simply an alternative metabolic pathway that encourages the body to burn fats for energy. Nothing more.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What is the Purpose of a Low-Carb Diet?

Okay. You're decided to give the Atkins Diet a try. You've heard good things about dietary ketosis and you want to give it a whirl. Or, maybe you think that a lower fat, more protein-controlled Protein Power low-carb diet might be more suitable to your taste. Perhaps you are thinking about trying some other low-carb diet plan. No matter which low-carb diet program you're considering, it's a good idea to take a moment and ask yourself:
  • What is the purpose of going on a low-carb diet?
  • Why am I doing this?
  • And what do I hope to gain?

4 BBQ Skewers Filled with Chicken, Sausage, Onions, Peppers, Zucchini
What is the Purpose of a Low-Carb Diet?

Don't Confuse Purpose with Goal

A lot of people confuse purpose with a goal. A goal is the ultimate outcome you hope to achieve once you have completed a diet program. That goal could be to achieve a certain clothing size, reach a particular number on the scale, or enjoy improved overall health. A goal could be to get rid of the uncontrollable cravings that unstable blood sugar or a high basal insulin level can cause, to get rid of heartburn or digestive issues, to be able to fit into your favorite pair of jeans again, or maybe be able to participate in physical activities you couldn't do before, such as hiking or biking.

But those things are not purpose.

Purpose is the driving force, belief, or motivation that powers your actions. It's not the ultimate result. It's more like the beginning of a long journey of discovery. It's the frame of reference your subconscious mind turns to when evaluating what's currently going on, and the foundational belief your mind uses to assign a value to things. What we value or find important is what we react to. It's what we act on. So, the importance of what's happening at any given moment comes from purpose. It doesn't come from a goal.

What is the Purpose of a Low-Carb Diet?

A low-carb diet has many advantages over a standard low-fat, low-calorie diet, but it isn't magical. It works because of certain biological principles that can help improve your body's ability to access stored body fat. For that reason, it doesn't work well for everyone. If you don't have insulinemia or unstable blood sugars or metabolic syndrome -- and not all overweight or obese individuals do -- then a low-carb diet won't work any better than any other diet because the purpose of a low-carb diet isn't weight loss. It isn't even about getting into the state of Ketosis.

The purpose of a low-carb diet is to lower your basal insulin levels.

A low-carb diet can reduce your hunger and cravings. It can increase your energy, and make it easy to stick to a diet, but all of those things are a by-product of what happens when you restrict carbohydrates -- and, as such, it can be a dramatic help when it comes to shedding excess body fat -- but those "extras" are not the diet's purpose. The purpose of a low-carb diet is to correct any metabolic issues you might have. Period. When you fix what's biologically wrong with the body, the body can then begin to function appropriately.

Why Choose a Low-Carb Diet Then?

Barbecue grill with uncooked pork chops
Why Choose a Low-Carb Diet?

Many people come to the low-carb table because they've heard about the dramatic results that many dieters receive from restricting their carbohydrates. They want to get a little bit of that ketosis magic for themselves and believe it will always be that way. What could be better? Low-carb success stories tell you that you can eat bacon and eggs for breakfast, cheeseburgers (without the bun) and salad for lunch, and pork chops, ribs, steak, or roast beef for dinner. You can have heavy cream in your coffee, nuts and cheese for snacks, and you can even use full-fat dressings on your salad.

That can appear heavenly to those who have been trying to shed the pounds by limiting fat and calories. However, you always have to keep the purpose of a low-carb diet in mind. In fact, it's essential.

The reason why carbohydrate restriction works so well isn't because you are in a state of ketosis. Ketosis is a by-product of cutting way down on carbs. Ketones are a by-product of fat metabolism. It's about the body moving to an alternative fuel source for the brain, heart, red blood cells, and some kidney cells. Low carb works because restricting carbohydrates lowers your body's basal insulin levels. That helps the body access its fat stores for energy, something it might not have been able to do very well before. If you are in a state of ketosis and your insulin levels are still high, the diet won't work very well.

Insulin levels HAVE to come down first.

To shed those unwanted pounds and lumps, you have to eat less food than your body needs to function. That is true for any diet. But on a low-carb diet, initially, that can be quite a lot of food -- a lot of fatty foods and a lot of calories that you don't have to count. At 256-1/2 pounds, I was able to eat quite a bit of food and fat on a daily basis and still lose weight consistently each and every single week.

But as time went on and my body reduced in size, I wasn't able to eat like that any more. As my low-carb journey continued, my dietary choices had to move toward a lower-fat, lower-calorie diet because that is what it took for me to continue shedding the fat. In fact, many people who have yo-yo dieted for years -- any diet, not just low-carb diets -- have a metabolic rate that is so low and/or functioning so poorly, that they can't eat high fat and high calorie even from the very beginning.

But that doesn't mean that a low-carb diet is a bad choice. Low carb has benefits that other weight-loss diets doesn't have.

What Do You Hope to Gain By Switching to a Low Carb Lifestyle?

Change always requires us to give up some parts of ourselves that we might find painful to let go of. In the world of diets, that usually means certain foods or lifestyles that have been near and dear to us. So once you have a low-carb diet's purpose rooted firmly in your mind -- it's about lowering insulin levels not Ketosis or weight loss -- it's time to take a look at what you hope to GAIN by switching to a low-carb lifestyle.

Eating lots of carbohydrates can be a mindless activity for some, but more often than not, it's driven by biology or suggestion. We eat high-carb foods because of the comfort they provide, because we've been brainwashed to believe that whole grains are good for everyone, or simply out of habit -- from the suggestion that bread and pasta and rice are necessary for a healthy diet.

Paper plate with smoked chicken and a lettuce salad
What Do You Hope to Gain From Switching to a Low-Carb Lifestyle?

The truth is: society is saturated with carbohydrate foods at breakfast, lunch, and dinner because that's what makes manufacturers the most money. Not because they are essential for a healthy diet.

So for a lot of people, a low-carb diet offers a way to relearn the truth about biology, weight loss, health, and balanced diets. It offers biological helps, such as reduced hunger and cravings for sugars and starches, stable blood sugars, increased stamina, an increased feeling of well-being, food choices that are easier to live with, and a host of other benefits. And yes, a low-carb diet offers a way to lose those undesirable pounds.

However, losing body fat is only a very small part of a low-carb diet. It is only one small factor or by-product of moving to a healthy low-carb lifestyle.

If you can wrap your brain around the idea that the purpose of a low-carb diet is about lowering insulin, not getting into ketosis and not about weight loss, you'll have a much easier time making the switch. Because low-carb is a way of life. A new way of life. It is NOT a diet!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Are You Addicted to Carbs?

Plate of Christmas Cookies - Frosted and Decorated
Am I Addicted to Carbohydrates?

One of the accusations I hear running around the low-carb world is that people can become addicted to carbohydrates, and that is why they are fat. That is why they cheat now and then, have trouble maintaining their loses, or got heavy in the first place. It's all because of the carbs. They simply cannot stop eating them. They crave them too much, or they lose control at a party or social gathering because they can't stand the thought of being deprived.

Now, whatever the exact reason is, carbohydrates always get the blame.

What is Addiction?

When low carbers talk about cravings, they usually are referring to a very strong urge to eat something that contains carbohydrates. Their mind says they want to eat that particular food because it will taste good, provide loads of enjoyment, and will satisfy them more than a leftover BBQ chicken leg or hard-boiled egg would. Being unable to make up one's mind and craving the sensation of taste is often called addiction, but for true addiction to be present, there has to be a continual pattern of activity.

In other words, the addicted person will find themselves cheating every single week.

However, even those who have a difficult time sticking to a low-carb diet might be falling prey to something totally different than carbohydrate addiction. Carbohydrates are a macronutrient. They are found is most foods, except for meats, so to be truly addicted to them, one would find a baked potato or cup of plain steamed rice just as tempting and uncontrollable to avoid as a piece of chocolate cake. If that's true for you, then you "might" be addicted to carbs. If it's not true for you, then you might be addicted to something else.

What Addictions Might Drive You to Eat Carbs?

The following are a few psychological addictions that might mask themselves as a physical addiction to carbs. Some of these addictions are very common, especially among those of us who don't have a lot of self esteem or those who struggle with insecurity issues:

Being a Victim:

For those who are overweight, this is a biggie. We believe that we have been victimized by carbs. If carbohydrates didn't exist in the world, we wouldn't be fat, so the idea is that carbs have somehow attacked us. They have mistreated us and made us fat. When a person is functioning from a victim mindset, the Life force will go out of its way to prove you right. Situations will pop up that will give you ample opportunity to cheat. If you cave in and go face down into the pumpkin pie, that reaction to food will support what you already believe. Yep. Carbs are out to get you.

Addiction to Dieting:

You can actually be addicted to dieting itself. Yo-yo dieters do this all the time. They get a high out of initially going on a diet, and fall in love that surge of energy and well-being that you receive when you first enter the state of ketosis. Once the newness loses it's hormonal potency and the body adapts to ketosis, you begin to feel a bit flat. 

Maybe the scale doesn't return the correct number that week, or you get bored with the food, or someone in your family is eating one of your favorite foods in front of you. You end up cheating for that sugar rush or you give up for a while. When you return to a low-carb diet, after a lengthy diet break, you'll once again experience that high that comes from thinking this time I'm really going to do this.

Discrimination Syndrome:

This syndrome is very popular among those who are overweight as well. We feel like we have been discriminated against because we are fat, and that it isn't fair that we can't eat the same foods that others can. Since energy follows the path where we place our attention, thinking about what we can't have and the unfairness of life will cause the mind to suddenly produce cravings for that very thing. The mind thinks that's what we NEED to be happy, must have to not feel inferior, so that's what it encourages us to do at the very next opportunity. Yes, it's enticing us to eat foods with carbohydrates, but only because we feel like it's unfair that we can't.

Addicted to Taste:

Taste is one of our 5 basic senses, and as such sets off a chemical reaction within the bloodstream whenever we experience it. Those who are addicted to the sense of taste don't feel good about themselves unless every single thing they eat gives them the ultimate sense of pleasure they are seeking. These people generally won't eat anything that doesn't taste really good to them because they are dead set on avoiding anything that causes displeasure. You won't find them eating foods that are just okay. Foods must produce a chemical high, or they'll push them away.

Being Sick:

Believe it or not, there are people who are actually addicted to being sick. This reaction to food restriction comes from a strong need for more attention, as well the need to play the victim. Instead of being responsible for one's food choices and avoiding foods that will make one feel sick, the person addicted to feeling bad will eat something they shouldn't whenever they are feeling neglected, ignored, unappreciated, or unloved.

I see this quite a bit on low-carb forums. Some people get literally sick when they eat foods that contain a high amount of carbohydrates. That's because the enzymes needed to digest those foods down regulates when we don't need it. But even though they know they are going to get sick, they do it anyway. Then they post about what they did on a forum or blog, so people can console them and tell them to pick themselves up and keep going. It's a strong plea for attention.

Consequences for Giving in to Addictions

When we go about our daily life unaware of what we are really addicted to, and sitting around blaming the carbs instead, we sacrifice our energy reserves, health, peace of mind, and sometimes, even our very lives in order to gratify our addictions and cravings. It's easier to blame the carbs than it is to turn around and take a good look at ourselves. Unexamined, our motivations for what we are eating, and the methods we are using in an attempt to have our way right now will cause us to do things we wouldn't ordinarily do if we were conscious of our thoughts and actions.

Smoked chicken leg quarter and lettuce salad on a paper plate
Smoked Chicken Leg Quarter and Healthy Lettuce Salad

Making our true motivations conscious, owning what we are doing, and taking responsibility for our choices will go a long way toward helping us reach our daily aims and ultimate goals. But we have to willing to take the risk of looking into our mind and not running away from what we find there. It's not going to be pretty. The false picture we have created of ourselves isn't real. Plus, most of us have never really faced who and what we really are. Most of us have hidden behind a variety of masks, personality bits, and false beliefs that are actually in control and have enslaved us.

Breaking free of our addictions is possible, but one has to have reached a point where every method of achieving pleasure and escaping all forms of pain has failed to work for us. Until then, we will keep on searching for rainbows that don't really exist.