We’ve heard that weight is all about the calories we consume. In fact, someone recently shared with me that she felt betrayed. She had been successfully losing weight eating very low carb, and had not been counting or restricting calories. She had been feeling so happy about her progress and how easy it was and how she had so much more energy that she had now been regularly working out for over 2 years. However, she recently heard that eating very low carb or “keto” was effective for weight loss because it cuts calories. This whole time, she thought it was being low carb that worked, not the calorie restriction. She felt “tricked.” Have you heard this too?
Allow me to clarify. If you are eating carbohydrates and your waistline is enlarging or you are gaining excess weight or you have prediabetes or diabetes or PCOS or metabolic syndrome, you have insulin resistance. Insulin resistance means that your body produces excessive amounts of insulin for the same amount of carbohydrates you consume. So, if you eat carbs, your body dumps too much insulin into your blood stream.
High levels of insulin prevent your body from being able to access your back up fuel source – your fat cells. You will not be able to get fuel from your fat cells. This means that when you need fuel, you will need to provide fuel, to run your body, by eating or drinking it. You know the feeling- you will be hungry or get the munchies when your fuel in your blood stream starts dropping low. Again, you have to eat or drink calories the have the fuel to continue to run your body. If you don’t eat and your insulin level is high, you don’t have access to your back up fuel source, so your cells begin to panic. You get hungry, ravenous and feel your blood sugar dropping and feel very unwell. Eating or drinking carbs (including sugars) is the fastest way to “feel better” in this scenario.
Now, let’s go on the “common” diet of cutting calories or portion size. If you started out eating a standard American diet with lots of carbohydrates and then begin calorie restriction, or cutting calories or eating smaller portions, it usually means you cut back on the fats and eat mostly carbohydrates. Carbs spike insulin. This means you keep insulin pretty high and as a result, you starve those poor cells in your body. Your body doesn’t like starving, so it adapts and starts to cut back on its activities and slows your metabolism to “conserve” your limited energy. With this method of weight loss, weight loss is very difficult to maintain unless you continue to add more exercise and/or continue to cut calories. There’s a limit to how far you can go with this.
When someone pursues a very low carb or ketogenic diet, your body adapts to running on the ketones produced from burning your fat stores (it continues to make glucose too). Good news, ketones act as a natural appetite suppressant- so you don’t need to eat as much or as often. You just aren’t that hungry because with this method, your insulin levels stay lower. When insulin is lower, your body can burn fat for fuel when it needs fuel (burning fat for fuel instead of requiring eating for chronic re-fueling). Also, by eating a very low carb or ketogenic diet, your brain and gut can receive the signals that you are “full” when you eat fat and protein.
Ultimately, by keeping insulin levels in the naturally lower range, when you need fuel, you can easily burn fat for fuel, your appetite is decreased overall, and your brain and gut can receive signals and know when to stop eating. Voila! Less calories in, but it is because you don’t need or want them- NOT because you artificially put your body into a starving panic mode. VERY different reason for less calories in. VERY different body response to less calories in. Long term weight loss and weight loss maintenance is achievable. Pretty cool, right?