You’ve read the reviews, heard your friends discussing it and probably have at least one friend who is actually on it but still you may be asking yourself what is the keto diet about?
The keto diet is about giving your body the right food at the right time so that it can use what you eat or use your fat stores to meet its energy needs.
This is in direct opposition to what the majority of diets have been doing so far.
Just about all other diets focus on the amount of food you eat and involve calorie restriction. The keto diet focuses on the type of food you eat.
What’s wrong with the calorie restricted diets that have been used for years?
The very word diet conjures up images in your mind of someone summoning every last ounce of their will power and going without all the foods they normally love in order to drop some body fat.
Think of a diet and you think of words like deprived, reduced and hunger. You imagine someone who is suffering in the name of doing something about that roll of fat that has slowly encircled his or her waist.
This is because most diets for as long as anyone can remember have all based themselves on the idea that you need to reduce your calories in order to lose weight.
Now here’s the thing: Your body has no receptors for calories. It hasn’t the first clue about the calorie count of any food you’re eating, and nor does it care.
This is an entirely man made concept that has been applied to people.
This is an important point, and the single biggest reason why calorie restricting diets don’t work. Sure, if you don’t eat enough you’re going to lose weight, but your body will respond by reducing your metabolic rate and doing everything it can to keep that from happening.
If you do manage to shift some fat, then you’ll soon find that you have to eat less and less to achieve the same result and the moment a bite of cake passes your lips you will be putting it all back on again.
We all know this happens, we’ve all been there or watched our friends go through this, but still people persist in the idea that calories in/energy used model of eating is going to help them lose weight.
A short history lesson
The word “calorie” has been around since at least 1879 when it was used in a physics lecture to describe the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1g of water from 0 to 1°C.
So it was a concept that had some value in physics, a long time before anyone applied it to human physiology and nutrition.
The use of the word calorie in nutrition seems to have begun to enter popular American vocabulary after Atwater explained the unit in his 1887 article in Century magazine. The most important avenue was probably the USDA Farmers’ Bulletins (61,62), which provided the first U.S. food databases to be used in dietetics.
Then, as now, American audiences were interested in managing weight, and the Calorie was soon introduced in articles and books.
For example, Dr. Lulu Hunt Peters’ best-selling “Diet and Health with Key to the Calories” specifically cited Farmers’ Bulletin 142 as a source of information (65).
Eventually, the Calorie was adopted for the nutrition facts panels on U.S. food labels.
Everyone used the word, but nobody worried about the fact that our bodies don’t have a calorie receptor.
So what does this have to do with the keto diet?
The keto diet became popular due to widespread frustration with a diet system that simply didn’t work.
Actually the keto diet has been around for many years in the medical world, but it’s use as a tool for weight loss is fairly recent.
People begun to notice that despite the mountain of “healthy eating” advice out there, everyone seems to be putting on weight.
The rates of certain diseases and illnesses are skyrocketing too.
So what was going wrong?
The old diet advice which restricts the amount you eat without thinking about what different foods do to your body is wrong.
Thinking only about what you eat, and not when you eat is wrong.
Ignoring what food does to your hormones is wrong.
I could go on, but I think you get it.
If our bodies don’t know what calories are, what do they respond to?
Our bodies don’t have the first clue about calories, but we are non the less very in tune with what we eat.
Stop thinking about calories, and start thinking about hormones.
The single most important fact which will help weight loss is to eat foods that create a hormonally favorable environment in your body which will enable it to use the food you eat for energy, rather than storing it as fat.
All foods are made up of three macro nutrients – fats, proteins and carbohydrates. All three are necessary for good health, but they each cause a very different hormonal response in our bodies.
As part of the calories in theory of dieting, fats in particular have been demonized and we have been encouraged to severely limit the amount of them that we eat.
However, the truth is that fats are essential for our good health. Fats are involved in the synthesis of our hormones, and are necessary for the absorption of vitamins especially K, A, D and E.
Fats contain essential fatty acids.
Fatty acids, in particular essential fatty acids (EFAs) omega-3 and omega-6 are important for managing inflammation in the body.
Fatty acids provide the building blocks for your body to make prostaglandins, which increase and decrease inflammation in the body.
So, saturated fats create the prostaglandins that increase inflammation and omega-6 and omega-3 create the prostaglandins that decrease inflammation.
Both inflammation and anti-inflammation are important functions in our bodies, because this is the process though which the body heals and protects itself.
When this balance is off and inflammation increases, we are at much greater risk of a long list of diseases and our health is seriously compromised.
The other issue with the demonizing of fats is this: What did we start eating instead of fats?
We started eating bread, cereals, pasta and a never ending array of “low fat” diet foods which are laced with extra sugars and a whole list of ingredients that we can’t even pronounce.
Suddenly we were all eating high carb diets, and this was and is playing havoc with our hormones. Insulin levels are going through the roof.
The result is not just the obesity that you see all around you.
It is also the sudden explosion of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer and many other diseases.
This way of eating is not making us thin.
It’s making us fat and sick.
What happens to us when our insulin levels are too high?
Depending on what we eat, our body releases specific hormones.
We have different processes to deal with each of the three macro-ingredients. Carbohydrates generally digest more quickly, while fats take the longest to get broken down.
Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, proteins are broken down into amino acids, and fats are broken down into fatty acids.
The hormone insulin is responsible for regulating our blood glucose levels and maintaining a steady blood glucose level.
A carb heavy meal or snack sends blood/glucose level soaring, and we need to release insulin to deal with this and return the levels to normal as quickly as possible.
We use what glucose we need to meet our current energy requirements, and the rest is stored in the liver. However, once the liver stores are full then the extra glucose has to be stored as fat.
When we are continually eating a carb rich diet, the high levels of insulin will be telling our bodies to store all the fat that we can.
We are meant to do this, and in the past when food was short, these stores would help us through lean times.
Now, the stored fat never gets to be used. There is always another meal on the way, and more insulin, and more fat to add to the layer we already have.
Nothing to do with too many calories. Everything to do with too many carbs, and insulin levels which are too high.
Enter the keto diet
The keto diet not only restricts the amount of carbs that you eat, but concerns itself with the type of carbs you eat.
Some carbs are much more likely to cause a spike in insulin levels than others.
Insulin is a storing signaling hormone, and some carbohydrates that can be absorbed quickly cause a spike in blood sugar that triggers your body to respond by pumping out insulin.
This tells your body to go into storage mode, even when the food you’ve just eaten wasn’t a large meal.
The worst offenders are pure sugars and processed carbs such as bread, pasta, rice, wheat and potatoes.
Eat these and you will go straight into storage mode and gain fat.
These are the very carbs that the keto diet restricts, because it understands this bodily response.
We need some carbs, and not all carbs are off limits.
Carbs in above ground vegetables, some berries, eggs and cheese are amongst some examples of carbs that are safe and healthy to eat on the keto diet.
The keto diet restricts carbs to the point where your insulin levels are low and your body is no longer signaling you to store fat.
As you continue eating very low carb, you will use up the glucose stored in your liver and will then begin to use the glucose that becomes available once you are metabolizing your fat stores.
Through this process your body will produce ketones, which gives the keto diet it’s name.
This is the quick description of how the keto diet works in relation to weight loss.
What else does the keto diet do?
As well as restricting carbs, the keto diet depends on you eating the right amount of protein for your weight and activity level.
This is important, as too much protein will derail your efforts to get your body’s glucose store depleted, and begin using fatty acids.
The third macro nutrient is fat, and the keto diet is famous for wanting you to eat very high levels of fat.
Normally the keto diet calls for about 5% of your intake to come from carbs, 25% from Protein and a huge 70% from fats.
Why does the keto diet want you to eat so much fat?
Fat is essential to our health, and is not the cause of the current epidemic of obesity.
That claim to fame can be laid at the feet of carbs.
Fats are essential to our health, and also help us to feel full for a long time after a meal.
Fats, especially omega 3 fats which are found in fatty fish, and healthy fats in olive oil all have amazing health benefits.
They are essential to our health, help absorb vitamins, slow down digestion and limit the insulin response to some foods.
By eating a very high fat diet, we don’t get fat.
We get full, healthy and can meet all our energy needs without spiking insulin. So we use the fat we eat to provide us with extra energy. On a keto diet we won’t store fat.
On top of this, the body senses that it has plenty of food ( your fat stores which it is now using) and so it does not reduce the metabolic rate.
There is no afternoon slump with this way of eating, and no weight plateau that is going to derail your dieting efforts after a few months.
So, what is the keto diet about?
The keto diet is about working with our bodies natural responses to food, and using this knowledge to work well for our weight loss goals and our health.
It’s not about calorie restriction. You eat enough to feel full.
You eat a small amount of carbs, and make sure they are nutrient dense carbs. Junk food, sugar and processed foods are out.
You eat the right amount of protein for your body type and exercise levels.
You eat all the healthy fats that you need.
Simple? Yes, it is but like all big changes to your diet it takes time to educate yourself about it.
It takes some practice to put into effect in your daily life and it takes some effort to say no to some of the carb/sugar heavy foods you’ve got used to.
Is it worth it? Definitely. The health benefits are immense and as a way of controlling or loosing weight, it is quick and efficient and proven to work.
Like all big changes to your life style or diet, it’s always best to consult your medical adviser first.
This is especially true if you’re on medication or have any of the health conditions that can be improved with the keto diet.
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