Low Carb and Ketosis For Dummies -- the Short Form: What is it & what's it mean? (a 4-minute read)
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
When you eat lots of carbs (I'll just call that the Usual American Diet), you are using a metabolic pathway that produces lots of glycogen (another word for sugar!) for energy. IT is VERY efficient and uses all the calories it can get out of the food you eat. Americans generally eat too much; and so we get fat. In fact, we get fat very fast on the Usual American Diet. So you can eat less of everything and you'll lose weight, but you'll feel hungry! One solution is to use the Low Carb Way Of Eating (LC WOE) to change your metabolic pathway to ketosis in order to make ketones. Ketosis is an INefficient way of extracting calories for your body's use (so lots of what you eat is just wasted calorically and actually exhaled!). AND.... as a bonus: ketones stifle hunger. And just like on every other diet, you can choose to eat healthfully... or not.
Ketosis is a state, not a "level". How fast you get there depends on YOU and YOUR diet. If you are eating 20 grams carbs you'll get there faster than if you are eating 60 grams carbs daily. It's like driving over the border between Texas and Oklahoma. It doesn't matter if you drive 20 mph or 80 mph -- once you're there, you're there! And once you are in the State of Ketosis, the number of carbs you CAN eat to STAY in ketosis depends on YOUR body. (Note: just like you can drive in both directions and go back and forth, the same is true for your metabolic pathways. You can easily change your state.) You won't lose weight any faster or slower by eating more or fewer carbs as long as you stay below your Critical Carb Level (CCL). Let me explain (below):
First you use up all the glycogen (sugar) stored in your body when you eat too few carbs to replenish the glycogen. Glycogen is replenished by eating excess carbs (too many carbs for your body to use immediately), so you want to keep carbs low. Once it is used up, then your body will make the metabolic switch to ketosis. How long? That depends on the amount of carbs you eat. At any time when you eat too many carbs for YOUR body, you will fall out of ketosis. How fast? Practically immediately!
In the ketotic metabolic pathway, FATS are broken down into ketones -- and ketones make urine sticks turn purple. IF you are in ketosis, and eating lots of fat, then your urine sticks will show deep purple. If you are eating just a little fat, then you'll show only a light purple or possibly no purple if you are perfectly balanced. Here, "balance" just means that all the fat you eat is used up in your body for energy or broken down and exhaled and there are no ketones left to pee out. The color of your urine sticks has nothing to do with the amount of carbs you eat -- other than that your sticks won't turn purple at all if you eat too much carbs and are no longer in ketosis!
SO: eat too much carbs and you'll fall out of ketosis, and you'll abruptly gain weight. Eat way too much protein and, in ketosis, your body turns the excess into (yep!).... sugar -- and that's carbs. But fat is very filling, and fat is inefficiently turned into ketones. So there's a saving grace!
Note: It is hard to eat too much fat, but it IS possible, even without eating carbs. You'll feel more stuffed than the Thanksgiving turkey. It's very unpleasant. Don't do it for that reason alone!
But also, when you eat too much of ANYTHING, you'll gain weight, and that includes eating too much fat even if you are in the State of Ketosis. If you want to lose weight, don't do that! Just. Don't. Calories matter in every single diet humans have created.
SO.... the urine sticks are useful as a visual tool to learn your CCL, which is the number of carbs you personally can eat and still stay in ketosis. You want to be able to see at least a very light purple all the time at first. If you are showing any purple at all, you are doing well and staying in ketosis. Until you learn your CCL, test often! Once you get comfortable with your Way Of Eating, you won't feel the need to test so often. But the sticks do serve as reassurance!
Actually, the most accurate way to know that you've fallen out of ketosis is to weigh yourself. If you've abruptly gained more weight than you think is possible, you've fallen out of ketosis! You see, if you eat too many carbs, you revert to regular metabolism immediately and you start storing glycogen. Glycogen holds onto a LOT of water. Thus, rapid weight (water) gain! Of course the reverse is true too... use up your glycogen, convert to ketosis, and you let go of the excess water that the glycogen was holding -- resulting in rapid weight loss due to now-excess water loss. Note: you can't keep up this weight loss rate. Further (quick) water-weight loss is dehydration and it's unhealthy. Continued weight loss rate will be slower than initial weight loss rate. The only difference between diets in this respect is that during ketosis, excess water loss happens all at the beginning (and you notice!); and during other forms of dieting, excess water loss happens gradually and so is less noticeable. You have to metabolize 1300 calories to lose a pound of fat, and that takes longer no matter what diet you choose.
In the LC WOE, most people seem to get into trouble by eating too much protein. (Normal amounts are fine. Large amounts are not!) The other difficulty is adjusting psychologically to not eating carbs. Americans are SURROUNDED by temptations constantly and constantly URGED by outside forces to eat carbs. For success, you have to be prepared to battle these forces.
On the LC WOE, just like every other weight-loss diet, you can't eat EVERYTHING you want in any quantity you want! Calories do count! However, on the LC WOE, because of the inefficient metabolic pathway of ketosis, you can eat more calories than you can on other diets, so you are unlikely to feel real hunger -- AND you can still lose weight. Psychologically, you might feel hungry, but that is true on any diet. The correct word for this situation is "appetite"!
In sum, on the LC WOE, the TWO big advantages LC has over other diets are the lack of hunger and the ability to eat more calories while still losing weight. You can choose to eat, healthfully, dramatically more or dramatically fewer calories to a point -- and adjust your weight-loss rate accordingly, WITHOUT feeling hungry, by adjusting your fat/protein/carb ratio. You can lose faster or slower depending on the number of calories you eat, just like any other diet. But on the LC WOE, you would tend to lose weight FASTER than if you ate the same number of calories as on a regular diet. And, just like any other diet, if you stop dieting and return to your old eating habits (the Usual American Diet), you will gain back the weight you lost. No one can eat a weight-gaining diet without gaining weight!
Like all diets, the devil's in the details! You have to figure out HOW to eat less, sustainably, over your entire lifetime. What you eat less of is your choice. And your weight-loss rate is also your choice, dependent on what and how much you choose to eat. A couple thousand years ago, Socrates said "Know Thyself." It's still good advice today.