“So, how do you tell your body to start burning stored body fat?” my friend and fellow mother asked.
“Cut the carbs,” answered another mom. “I go into ketosis just about every afternoon.”
“Ketosis? Isn’t that bad for you?”
The short answer? No.
I talk to a lot of people who want to lose weight. They try all sorts of things — exercise, calorie restriction, you name it. Sometimes, they lose the weight. Inevitably, they gain it back. That’s because what they’re doing is going on a diet — a temporary fix at best. What they need is a lifestyle change, a perspective shift, a new paradigm. Of course, you all know the paradigm I espouse — a conversion to eating real, traditional foods.
Yet even a conversion to eating real food won’t necessarily help the pounds melt away. If you’re still eating 200 grams of carbohydrates a day — even if they’re “traditional” carbohydrates like sprouted or soaked grains, unrefined sweeteners, etc, you’re not going to lose weight without making some serious changes.
If your body is regularly storing body fat (you gain a little bit of weight each year), then something is wrong with how your body metabolizes food. Let me introduce you to a new concept: the body fat setpoint.
The body fat setpoint is the mass of body fat that your body attempts to defend against changes in either direction. It’s your body’s attempt to maintain homeostasis. This is why if you exercise more, you eat more. It’s also why if you restrict calories, your metabolism slows down to compensate.
Why should you care about the body fat setpoint? From Stephan at Whole Health Source:
We care because this has some very important implications for human obesity. With such a powerful system in place to keep body fat mass in a narrow range, a major departure from that range implies that the system isn’t functioning correctly. In other words, obesity has to result from a defect in the system that regulates body fat, because a properly functioning system would not have allowed that degree of fat gain in the first place.
So yes, we are gaining weight because we eat too many calories relative to energy expended. But why are we eating too many calories? Because the system that should be defending a low fat mass is now defending a high fat mass. Therefore, the solution is not simply to restrict calories, or burn more calories through exercise, but to try to “reset” the system that decides what fat mass to defend. Restricting calories isn’t necessarily a good solution because the body will attempt to defend its setpoint, whether high or low, by increasing hunger and decreasing its metabolic rate. That’s why low-calorie diets, and most diets in general, typically fail in the long term. It’s miserable to fight hunger every day.
So, how do you “reset” the system? How do you train your body to start burning stored body fat?
One word: ketosis.
Ketosis is the state that your body enters into when it starts converting stored fat into ketones to use as fuel for your cells. If you eat plenty of carbohydrates, you will never enter into ketosis. Instead, your body will simply use all that glucose as a fuel.
Is Ketosis Dangerous?
Ketosis has earned a bad name, though. For one thing, your body enters a ketogenic state when it starts starving itself. But if you’re eating plenty of calories and sticking to a nutrient-dense diet, you need not fear starvation. Ketogenesis doesn’t destroy muscle tissue, but is rather the process by which stored fat is turned into ketones — a perfectly usable energy source for every major body system. Others object to ketosis because it gets confused with ketoacidosis, a dangerous state in which the body not only becomes ketogenic, but also causes the blood to become too acidic. If you’re still getting your limited carbohydrates from vegetables and fruits, you need not fear ketoacidosis.
From Mark’s Daily Apple:
Finally, ketogenic diets, which are generally lumped together by critics, have gotten a lot of bad press. While experts have generally recognized their effectiveness for weight loss, very low carb diets that result in ketosis (like the Atkins) have been criticized on health grounds. The problem with these criticisms? They’re based on diets that allow for 20 grams or less of carbohydrates a day. While I believe we are not meant to run primarily on carbohydrate energy, I do believe we depend on the nutrients offered by low carb vegetables and even some low glycemic fruits. A diet of 20 carbohydrate grams simply can’t allow for the plentiful intake of nutrient-rich vegetables.
When your carb intake is low enough, say 50-80 grams a day, ketosis kicks in when it needs to. Over time, this process becomes efficient as the body “unfolds” in its genetic expression. Yet this carb intake is high enough that you can freely include copious amounts of nutrient- (including potassium) rich vegetables to offer the body sufficient nutrition, fiber, and alkalizing minerals.
In other words, when you cut your carbohydrate intake to 50-80 grams per day and still include plenty of vegetables and fruits in your diet, then your body can safely enter into ketosis when it needs to.
Once you’re at your desired weight and you don’t hope to lose anymore body fat, then sticking to anywhere between 100-150 grams of carbohydrates per day will help you maintain your new body fat setpoint.
The glory of thinking this way is that you absolutely never have to count calories! In fact, you probably don’t even have to count grams of carbohydrates. Just avoid grains, sugars, and sweet fruits. If you start craving those foods, eat more saturated fat from traditional sources like ghee, coconut oil, tallow, and lard. (I swear this works!) When you reach your desired weight, give yourself more grace to eat sweeter fruits and the occasional properly treated grain, tuber, or legume.
When you’re in your “maintenance” mode, what you’ll discover is that you’re eating a diet much more in line with traditional cultures around the world — a diet devoid of artificial and processed foods, a diet full of healthy fats from quality sources, a diet rich in fermented and living foods, a diet absent sugar, you get the picture. The exact quantities of meats, vegetables, and fats you eat can vary greatly depending on your cravings and preferences, but one thing will be sure: you won’t ever want to go back to how you ate before.
(photo by foshydog)