Monday, December 17, 2012

Can Keto-Adaption Increase Weight-Loss Success?

I was reading Jimmy Moore’s latest n=1 Nutritional Ketosis report that he posted to his blog recently, and discovered that Regina Wilshire of the Weight of the Evidence blog is beginning to post again. I thought that she might be around because someone with that name recently “liked” my author fan page at Facebook. I’ve always enjoyed reading Regina’s posts because she’s not fanatical about a low-carb diet. She’s extremely realistic.

Since she’s a professional nutritionist, her focus has always been on the nutrient density of food rather than typical low-carb topics such as Ketosis, Keto-Adaption, or that most carbs are evil. Her approach is what I would call The Middle Path. She doesn’t subscribe to extremes. She simply calls it as she sees it.

I wish I would have known that she had put up a few posts over the past year, because it would have saved me much of the misery and weight gain (a whopping 22 pounds!) I’ve suffered from experimenting with Nutritional Ketosis over the past few months. She gave some excellent advice to a low-carber who had stalled part-way to her goal. But at least, I now have something I can work with – a real, honest, down-to-earth method for correcting my current weight problems.

Today, however, I want to talk about a misconception within the low-carb community that keeps surfacing – this time, in Jimmy’s response to one of Regina’s latest blog posts about his experiment. Regina has a couple of ideas as to why Jimmy’s current low-carb diet plan is going so well, but Jimmy has perceived her posts to be an attack, rather than realism, so in his latest report, he tried to save face by explaining his opinion about what Regina thinks might be going on.

“So one question remains: Was it the keto-adaption or the calorie-cutting that has worked in producing the weight loss success I’ve seen? If you ask me, I say WHO CARES?! The fact is it’s working. Whatever the mechanisms for bringing it about, the bottom line is I’m burning stored body fat and improving every measureable health marker I have tested so far. At the end of the day, the results are much more interesting than any attempt to explain why they happened. It’s my contention that becoming fully adapted to using ketones (fat) for fuel has allowed my body the opportunity to run as it was intended to without the need for arbitrarily counting calories, carbohydrates or really much of anything.”

That response to Regina’s post is loaded with things I could talk about, but today, I’d just like to address Jimmy’s opinion about keto-adaptation being responsible for his weight-loss success because he’s a strong player within the low-carb community, and a lot of folks tend to accept his opinions and ideals as Truth without experimenting with them for themselves.

Granted, that isn’t Jimmy’s fault. Experimenting with suggestions and ideas that we’re presented with on a daily basis is our own responsibility, but a lot of folks within the low-carb community hold similar misunderstandings about ketones and fat.

What is a Ketone?

A Ketone is the waxy by-product that’s left over when the liver breaks down triglycerides into fatty acids to fuel the process of gluconeogenesis after our glycogen reserves (the storage form of carbohydrates) fall below a certain level. It is not a fat. These ketones are a signal that the body is predominantly burning fatty acids for fuel, rather than glucose. However, the presence of ketones in the urine or the blood do not signal that your body fat stores are being used for fuel. They simply show that glucose is in short supply. Nothing more, as ketones are also made from dietary fats.

Keto-Adaption Explained

When the body enters a famine situation, most of the body’s tissues can use fatty acids for fuel, but there are a few exceptions. The brain, kidneys, red blood cells, bone marrow, and certain muscle fibers cannot use fats. They require glucose. However, the fact that the brain cannot use fatty acids doesn’t mean that the brain can only use glucose because certain portions of the brain can use ketones. When glucose is in short supply and ketones are readily available, the brain will adapt to that situation and begin using ketones for up to three-quarters of its energy needs.

The purpose of keto-adaption is to save what little glucose there is for body organs and tissues that cannot use ketones or fatty acids for fuel. Ketone adaption is a life-saving mechanism designed to come into play during those short periods of time when carbohydrates are not available. Initially when carbs run short, most body functions can use ketones for fuel. That’s where the idea that a low-carb diet is fueled by ketones from. However, this only holds true for the first three weeks, or so.

After three weeks, most body tissues including muscle begins using fatty acids for fuel – not ketones – so that the ketones in the bloodstream can be saved for the brain. This form of physical salvation is called keto-adaption. Ketones in the blood are not about fueling the body. They are a life-saving mechanism that keeps the brain functioning so that the body can survive a famine situation.

The Ketone build-up in the blood has absolutely nothing to do with weight loss, but everything to do with brain and heart function because when you have an excess of ketones over what the brain needs, the heart can use what’s left over. Keto-Adaption is simply when the body stops using ketones for fuel and saves them for the brain in order to protect your life. This saving mechanism works independently of the body mechanisms that determine body fat loss, energy balance (maintenance or energy equalization), and increased body fat storage.

So What Good is Being Keto-Adapted?

A ketogenic state works to correct hormonal imbalances such as insulinemia, so that ketones can be made more readily available to the brain. In order for the liver to break down stored triglycerides into fatty acids that the body can use, insulin levels need to be low. While all dietary fats are initially stored as body fat and then drawn out of the fat cell throughout the day as needed, this in-and-out flow of fat can become blocked if insulin levels do not return to normal shortly after meals.

Despite what most low carbers believe about insulin, nutrients cannot get into your body’s cells without that initial insulin spike. It isn’t the spike that locks up stored body fat. It’s the way your body responds to the insulin you produce. In individuals who have problems with insulinemia or insulin resistance, being keto-adapted can help reverse those abnormal situations. However, low insulin doesn’t guarantee that you’ll burn stored body fat.

As Dr. Michael Eades has stressed time and time again: low insulin keeps the doors to your fat stores open, but if you eat more fat than your body can use in a day, or if you eat the exact amount of fat that your body can use in a day, you will not see weight-loss success. It cannot happen. A low-carb diet doesn’t negate the laws of physics. It simply teaches you how to use them to your best advantage.

Why Does it Matter? WHO CARES?

While some people like Jimmy don’t care why their current low-carb program works, ignoring the principles of why and shoving them aside as being insignificant can create disastrous effects for those who try to duplicate the same success. Why? Because in Jimmy’s case, he consistently tells his readers that he has raised his dietary fat and lowered his protein. He consistently tells his readers that dietary manipulation, along with keeping his blood ketones high, has been the way to his salvation – even though that isn’t what he’s actually doing.

When someone decided to take a look at what Jimmy is doing, and raised a few ideas about what it might be – in order to actually help some of the rest of us understand – Jimmy’s reaction was to perceive attack and brush off those ideas with a simple “who cares.” His reaction was that the Truth of the matter doesn’t matter.

Well, you know what? I care! And it does matter, because when I attempted to implement his advice into my life, mirroring what he said he was doing, it completely backfired on me.
  • Why?
  • Why didn’t it work?
  • Why did Jimmy insist on Twitter that if it wasn’t working for me, then there was something metabolically wrong with me, because it has to work?

Maybe...because as Regina hypothesized, raising fat might not be what’s Jimmy is actually doing. He might not have raised his fat grams per day. He might have merely raised his fat percentage. If that's true, then it could explain why I gained 22 pounds when I raised the number of fat grams I was eating per day.

Percentage isn’t the same thing as fat grams and it changes when you manipulate the other macronutrients. Regina’s hypothesis is that Jimmy’s meals are probably lower in fat grams and calories, even though his fat percentage is higher.

That might be why his high-fat, low-carb diet program is working so well for him, and why my own high-fat, low-carb diet program did not. Because there were not the same thing. Either way, it’s not about Keto-Adaption. Keto-Adaption is about saving your brain cells from destruction when glucose runs low. It isn’t about weight-loss success or failure.


  1. It maybe that the diet is actually low carb low to medium protein and high fat. While what you did was low carb medium to high protein and high fat.

    Both are different you see. Proteins do convert to carbs, when the body is not keto-adapted.

    This is evident because you talk about steaks in your diet, those would result in medium to high rather than low to medium proteins.

    I am not sure if you need to test that, but it doesn't really discard the keto-adaptation gimmick :-(.

    I much love PerfectHealthDiet philosophy, over the keto-adaptation :-).

  2. It is heartening to hear someone else say that highfat keto diet with low protein didn't work for them also--It was DISHEARTENING to daily see and feel all my fat cells fill up while eating and increasing my fat percentages...I total believe in the lowcarb diet however and will stick to it for health reasons--just will need to return to induction type levels in order to now lose the weight I have put on! thanks so much for posting--I thought I just needed to continue and it would eventually work!

  3. I'm not sure how low, medium, and high protein is determined these days as it seems that everyone has a different definition of what those levels are.

    I ate 60 grams of protein, 20 grams of carbohydrates, and then filled in the rest of my calories with fats. There is no way I could have eaten less protein than that.

    I ate mostly chicken, turkey, and salmon because beef here is extremely expensive. We eat it only occasionally. I gave the diet a lengthy trial this time, about 3 months, which is why I've gained so much weight.

    In my personal experience, a low-carb, high-protein, low-fat, low-calorie diet is the only type of low-carb diet that has every worked for me.

    But I will check out the PerfectHealthDiet philosophy.

  4. Anonymous,
    It made me feel extremely sludgey. I don't know how else to describe it. Plus, I was always sick to my stomach, craving real food. Eating mostly fat isn't my idea of eating.

    I've been back on maintenance for a couple of weeks, and my weight has FINALLY stabilized. But just listening to people talk about putting coconut oil or butter into their coffee, eating fat bombs, or stirring a 1/4 cup of mayo into their cup of green beans to get their fat percentages up still makes me nauseated.

    I'd rather eat my grilled chicken breast and steamed veggies, thank you. The sad thing is that there is so little acceptance within the low-carb community for our individual metabolic differences.

    In 1972, Dr. Atkins clearly stated in his first diet book that "some" individuals do BETTER on a low-fat diet, but that's the exception. What I have to wrap my brain around is that it's OKAY to be the exception.

  5. " It simply teaches you how to use them to your best advantage."

    Vickie - I think I may steal that! It hits the nail on the head exactly!


  6. Hi Regina,
    Go ahead and steal anything you like. I am so grateful that you're back to blogging again.

  7. i know this thread is 3 years old, but it is gold! Thank you. I also dont see results with such high fat (although I love it), but cut fat, optimal protein and 20g - 30 g of carbs, and things start happening for me.. You explain it so well!!!

    1. Your comment is really appreciated. We each have to find our own sweet spot when it comes to fat, and unfortunately, high fat doesn't work for most people. Only those with extreme insulin resistance.

  8. I think it may yet be more complex than either Jimmy or you say. When I was diagnosed with type II diabetes, I took to the ketogenic diet principally to control my blood sugar. Weight loss was welcome, of course, but not the principal goal. Two months passed, over which time my sugar dropped from an average over 250 to an average of 115. If I wake at night to go to the bathroom, I take metformin (500 mg) to blunt the morning sugar spike, but otherwise no drugs. Weight started pouring off me like soap in the shower. I dropped from 270 to 240 (tall, and muscular, so my ideal might be 220). But after something like two months, the weight loss, which was at first effortless, just stopped. I gained about 4 pounds in the last two weeks, and am looking to make adjustments to the diet, to keep the positive trend intact. Even while my sugar kept declining, the weight loss seemed to hit a brick wall.

    What I'm thinking is that there was an initial phase, where it did not matter how much fat I ate. My body was not good at absorbing and using it. Possibly when I became properly keto adapted, something changed, and I became good, or at least much better, at absorbing the fat. Because I did not suddenly start eating more fat. I frequently skip breakfast, or lunch, and eat only a single meal mid-morning, and sometimes that's as little as a single egg, some melted cheese, fried on coconut oil.

    Bottom line, I believe something changed about me, and the weight loss is now hard, where it was initially effortless. I think Jimmy had it effortless, while you had it like I do now.

    1. It's definitely not as simple as I thought it was in 2012. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and insights. I've been observing this pattern in a lot of people lately.