Thursday, December 6, 2012

Why Does a Low-Carb Diet Plan Stop Working?

A Variety of Low-Carb Diet Books
Why Does a Low-Carb Diet Stop Working?
A low-carb diet plan is an effective weight-loss tool because it promotes satiety and teaches us the importance of eating nutrient-dense foods. We learn how our prior eating habits contributed to our present metabolic situation. We learn that our personal metabolic defects can cause us to crave the very foods that create these imbalances. We also learn that changing our diet can literally correct those imbalances and change our lives.

However, for many dieters, counting carbohydrates and staying within a certain daily allotment isn’t enough to achieve success.

In my own case, the problem with not losing weight on a low-carb diet can be traced to a variety of issues:

  • hidden food sensitivities
  • celiac disease
  • leaky gut syndrome
  • endocrine disruptors
  • fat malabsorption
  • probably excessive ASP
  • and who knows what else

But weight-loss problems are never the same for everyone. In general, the closer you get to goal weight, the more important calorie counting, fat intake, and portion control becomes. However, for many individuals, the amount of weight you’ve already lost and the length of time you’ve been low carbing plays just as large a role in the final outcome. Maybe, even more.

Misunderstandings Regarding Fat Storage

Many low-carb dieters believe you cannot store dietary fat without high insulin levels. They believe that low basal insulin and avoiding all insulin spikes always creates a favorable environment for fatty acid mobilization and utilization. If that were true, it would make calorie counting obsolete. However, fat storage and fat mobilization are accomplished quite differently than the method that most low carbers believe in.

When you eat dietary fats, Acylation Stimulating Protein, or ASP, rises significantly. This rise does not occur from glucose. Elevated ASP levels are independent of insulin and cause all dietary fats not immediately needed for fuel to be stored in your fat cells. This is opposite to the ongoing belief within the low-carb community that says insulin stays unchanged when you eat fats (therefore high fat is good) and only rises when glucose spikes (so eating carbs is bad). They conclude that low insulin therefore means easy fat mobilization.

However, later on, when the body needs fuel, Hormone Sensitive Lipase, or HSL, is stimulated. HSL breaks triglyceride down into fatty acids. Fat storage is not stagnant. It’s more like a constant river that runs in and out of the fat cell. Fat cells are not actually storage depots. The flux of ASP fat storage and HSL release can get clogged. When that happens, more dietary fat enters the fat cell than leaves. That is what actually causes overweight and obesity: the inability to use stored body fat for fuel.

How Dietary Fats Affect a Low Carb Diet Plan

Most people following a low-carb diet plan do not find value in counting calories. Others believe that eating more dietary fat will provide better weight-loss success. However, if dietary fat provides more fuel than is needed to achieve effective weight loss, the body will store more fat than it can mobilize. HSL only releases enough fatty acids to meet your daily metabolic needs. It doesn’t release extra just because you’ve upped your dietary fats.

Coconut Oil Doesn't Help Everyone Burn Fat
(Photo by Pseph)
So those who start spooning in the coconut oil or drowning their foods in sour cream and cheese on top of their current daily fat intake often do not experience what those who preach “up the fat” claim they will. More likely, they are not losing weight despite strict adherence to their low-carb eating plan.  

If you fall into the obese category, your ASP fasting basal levels are 58 to 400 percent higher than ASP basal levels found in those who are not. Higher circulating ASP interferes with HSL stimulation and therefore fat mobilization. Regardless of low insulin levels achieved by following a low-carb diet, when ASP levels are consistently elevated, stored body fat cannot be broken down into fatty acids for fuel. When such individuals raise the fat content of their diet, the result is easy weight gain rather than fat loss.

Why Portion Control and Counting Calories Matter

In the beginning of a low-carb diet, carbohydrate levels are low. Depending upon how much you weigh and how much you need to lose, most people initially find they can eat high amounts of dietary fat without having to focus on portion control or calories. You can experience effective weight loss rather easily because your energy needs are high.

For example, when I first started low carbing in 2007, I weighed 256-1/2 pounds. Even though I’m only 5-foot tall, at that weight, maintenance for me was over 3,000 calories a day! Since most people are much taller than I am, maintenance calories in the beginning of your journey will be quite high. This enables a dieter to adjust to the changes that a low-carb diet demands.

At some point, as body fat is lost and body fuel needs change, if a low-carb dieter continues eating high-calorie foods, energy input catches up with and balances energy output resulting in a long, lengthy stall. If you’re still in the obese category as I am, that also means higher circulating ASP. Plus, depending upon how long it has taken to reach your current level of health, your metabolic rate may also have dropped since we’re utilizing and optimizing the body’s starvation pathway.

What most stalled low-carb dieters fail to consider is that their new smaller body now needs less fuel. While maintenance for me in 2007 (working in a boys’ home) was 3,000 calories per day, today, (writing online) it’s less than 1800! Plus, my body is going to extensive measures to replace the body fat it’s lost. While that doesn’t happen to everyone, it has happened to me.

Weight-Loss Success Sometimes Requires Less Dietary Fat

The purpose of all diet plans is to help you learn healthy eating habits. A low-carb diet plan can be an effective way to focus on and zero in on nutrient-dense foods. It can help to get you off of the processed carby junk and onto a more whole-foods diet. However, a low-carb diet doesn’t automatically translate into long-term, effective weight loss. Eventually, many of us come to realize that a 16-ounce porterhouse steak is not everyday life. It’s an exception to the rule.

Low Carb High Fat Creamy Chicken Recipe
Most Low-Carb Recipes Are High Fat
If you search through low-carb recipes, you’ll quickly discover that most of them are heavy on dairy, heavy on fat, and heavy on calories. They can sometimes work when you’re at the beginning of the path, but that isn’t always the case. While a few individuals have been finding success by turning to a Nutritional Ketosis plan that lowers protein and raises the amount of dietary fats you eat, that type of program won’t work if you don’t easily burn dietary fats. It also won’t work if your ASP levels are high.

That’s why it’s essential to customize your low-carb diet plan to fit your desires, health needs, lifestyle, food sensitivities, and metabolic issues. There is not a single low-carb program that works for everyone. Low-carb diets as written are wonderful starting points, but that’s all they are – starting points. They give you a place to start from. The Atkins Diet was never designed to be a one-size-fits-all diet plan that the low-carb community has turned it into today.

In fact, Dr. Atkins himself has said that some individuals do better on a low-fat diet. His nurse has said that sometimes calories do have to be addressed because the diet works best if you eat only as much as you need to avoid the discomfort of hunger. Now, that’s very different then the high-fat mindset being preached today.

Personal Effects of Eating High-Fat Low-Carb

The bottom line is that some people do best on a high-fat low-carb diet. Some people do best on a moderate-fat diet, and some people do best on a lower fat diet, but that doesn’t mean that if you need to eat lower fat you’re doing something wrong. It doesn’t mean that you need to change what works best for you to fit someone else’s ideal. It’s fantastic when you find something that works for you. It’s fantastic that so many people want to share what they’ve discovered about themselves.

But let’s not forget that these discoveries are personal discoveries. For me, I cannot eat a high-fat diet. I have never been able to eat a high-fat diet, even when I was doing Atkins in 2007. I did do some recent experiments with Nutritional Ketosis and high-fat eating because I was hoping that my fat issues might have actually been about eating too much protein, or were tied into my intestinal inflammation problems, but that hasn’t turned out to be the case.

I’ve come to a few realizations about myself that I wasn’t aware of before. Because I adopted suggestions made by others, I’ve paid a high price for those experiments. I’ve paid a high price for listening to and embracing the personal discoveries of others. My weight is up. My cholesterol numbers came back very bad two weeks ago, as did my A1c. Both were excellent when I was eating low-fat low-carb, so the only variable that has changed in my life was moving to a high-fat diet.

In addition, my overall health has taken a dump. The vertigo is almost as severe as it was when I lived in California and has not corrected itself even though I stopped eating a high-fat diet last week. My neuropathy and arthritis are back, even though both were in remission before I raised my fat intake. I am really, really tired, but that’s not surprising given my high triglycerides right now.

The point is simple. A low-carb high-fat diet isn’t magic for everyone. Some of us need to eat a low-fat low-carb diet. Some of us need to eat a low-fat, low-carb, very low-calorie diet in order to achieve weight-loss success. That’s just what is. The question I now have to answer for myself is this:

Is it worth the price?

I’m not sure that it is.


Journal of Biochemistry, Murray, Ian, and Kohl, Jorg, and Cianflone, Katherine, Acylation-stimulating Protein (ASP): Structure-function Determinants of Cell Surface Binding and Triacylglycerol Synthetic Activity, 342:1, 41-48, 1999

Journal of Lipid Research, Kramer, Fredric B. and Shen, Wen-Jun, Hormone-sensitive Lipase: Control of intracellular Tri-(di-)acylglycerol and Cholesteryl Ester Hydrolysis, 43:1, 1585-1594, October 2002 (doi:10.1194/jlr.R200009-JLR200)

Obesity,, "Acylation Stimulating Protein" (accessed May 7, 2010)

Eades, Michael R., M.D., and Eades, Mary Dan, M.D., The Protein Power Lifeplan, Creative Paradox LLC, 2000

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