1: WHY DIETS DON’T WORK
Almost everyone has been on a diet for some reason or another. With two thirds of people in the USA (and anywhere from a third to two thirds of people elsewhere in the developed world) being overweight or obese, most of us have dieted to lose weight. However large numbers of people have dieted to gain weight, or to rebalance their bodies. Lose fat and gain muscle, lose belly and gain butt, put on curves without putting on too much fat, fit into that dress without losing much weight… There are countless diets which claim they will help you achieve these goals. And yet 95% of diets fail.
Yes, 95% of people who go on diets will regain all of the weight, or even more, in five years, or have to go on another diet before the five years are complete. Loads of people don’t even achieve their goals in the first place!
So why is this?
There are many reasons for it, but they all boil down to: A diet is not a lifestyle change.
1: Most diets are unsustainable.
Ever wonder why new diets show up every few years? New fads, new meal replacements, a new version of your weight loss plan, new cookbooks? It’s because you can’t actually stay on any of these diets for any length of time.
In the age of the internet it is harder to see, but almost every single diet plan or meal replacement needs a massive disclaimer on it telling you not to follow it for over a certain amount of time. Because it isn’t safe.
For starters, just eating too little for too long will make you keep losing weight. So many diets are so low in calories that you won’t naturally stop losing weight at a new point, you will keep on losing and losing until you are unhealthily light.
But you can’t just adjust them, because it is impossible or even dangerous to increase the calories. These diets are often very low in fat, protein, or variety, so you will end up with deficiencies if you keep following them for too long.
And what happens when your diet comes to an end? You go back to eating the same stuff that made you fat in the first place, of course.
2: Most diets are unhealthy.
It should go without saying, but: any diet that lets you lose 20lbs a week, or that lets you eat 4000 calories a day and still lose weight, is not going to be healthy. This is not natural, and probably means you are damaging your body.
When you reduce your calories by too much, your body isn’t just burning fat, it is using up water and protein. To burn fat your body needs to combine it with protein and make it into ketones. Not enough protein? It will use your own muscles. And although some water weight needs to be lost, dehydrating yourself is not a good idea either.
What is more, if you are not eating enough vitamins and minerals, then you could find that your bones are depleted too. Your risk of osteoporosis will go up massively the longer you spend not getting enough vitamins and minerals.
If you are eating loads of calories, barely exercising, and losing weight, that is a sign that something is wrong. We have fat to help us store up energy for when there isn’t food around. Every animal gets fat on its natural diet if it eats too much. So to eat 4000 calories a day, not exercise, and not gain weight, you have to not be digesting the food you are eating.
Finally, a diet that lets you eat “whatever you want!” and still lose weight is not helping you in the long term. The problem is that a lot of the foods which made you fat are actually really bad for you, so you are likely to end up losing muscle and bone and with nutrient deficiencies, even if you are eating a lot.
3: Water retention ruins everyone’s look.
Although, as we have mentioned, dehydration is a pretty bad idea, a lot of us are actually carrying too much water. We can store a lot of sugar and salt on our bodies, in our fat, muscles, and our liver. But for every gram of sugar we store, we need up to five grams of water, and for every gram of salt we store up to four cups of water!
This means two things: First of all, that if we lose a lot of weight at first on a diet, we could just be losing water. A lot of crash diets involve massively reducing the carbs and/or sodium in our diets, to make us flush water out as quickly as possible. This makes our skin look tighter and our weight drop radically, so we think it worked, even though it is doing nothing for our health.
Secondly, that as soon as that diet ends, we are going to puff up and look terrible again. Because we have only lost water and some protein, with only a little bit of fat, we will put all of the weight back on as soon as we are eating our regular diet again. And because most diets are unsustainable, we will be eating our regular diet before a month is over.
4: Dieting lowers your metabolism.
Let’s start out with saying that there is no such thing as a “body fat set point” or “starvation mode” in the sense people talk about it. You can always lose weight if you eat little enough. And you can always keep weight off if you watch what you eat every day.
But there is a little bit of truth to the myth! Our bodies will fight to keep our fat on. This is because when we diet we are telling our body that there is a shortage of calories. And our body responds by trying to make its spare calories last as long as possible.
Think of it like a bank account. Your fat is savings. And you have spent a long time saving up. And all of a sudden, you have no job. What are you going to do? Spend faster? Spend the same? Or try and budget to make your savings last longer?
That is what your body does when you diet. No matter what diet you go on, your metabolism will drop, making it harder to lose weight. But if you can keep your calories low enough for long enough, you will still lose weight. And if you make sure you are getting enough vital nutrients, your body will not hold onto your fat quite so tightly.
5: Dieting makes you hungry and messes with your hormones.
The end result of eating a diet that is low in nutrition, dehydrates you, and crashes your metabolism is that it stresses your body. Stress isn’t just about being upset with too much on your plate. It is a physical response to danger. And if you are eating terribly, your body will think it is in danger.
If you want to feel hungry, angry, and tired all the time, normal dieting is the way to go. But if you want to lose weight and keep it off, it is a horrible idea.
And what all this means is that we don’t need a diet! We need to change our lifestyle.
2: WHAT IS KETOSIS?
Ketosis is a state where our bodies are burning fat for energy. Although you may have been taught that we always burn glucose, aka sugar, for energy, our body is actually really good at burning fat as well!
When we are in ketosis our bodies combine fats and proteins to make an energy source called ketones. Ketones can be used for anything glucose could be. And normally, in the wild, our bodies would use a combination of ketones and glucose depending on our diet at the time.
On a normal modern diet, we are mostly burning carbs for energy. Sometimes only. Even if you don’t eat any sweets, if your diet is mostly bread, pasta, rice, etc, and you are eating little and often, then you aren’t giving your body a chance to make ketones. This means that your body isn’t used to ketosis, but also that it isn’t used to burning its own fat. So no matter what diet you pick, if your normal diet is high carb, your will find dieting harder.
Because technically, all weight loss is ketosis!
When we are eating so little that we burn fat, we are using ketones made from our own body fat. The worse your body is at ketosis, the worse you will handle dieting for weight loss. A lot of people call this “carb withdrawal”, but it is really just your body not knowing what to do. A bit like if you never eat vegetables they will taste bad even though they are good for you. If your body doesn’t understand ketosis, it will feel awful the first time. Which is why you might feel miserable every time you diet.
But we can recreate ketosis even when we are not losing weight. As long as your diet is low enough in carbs and high enough in fats, you will enter ketosis. And, unlike other diets, if you eat enough calories, you can maintain your weight and fat levels on a ketogenic diet.
Our bodies are perfectly capable of burning fat forever. Populations like the Mongolians or the Inuit have lived for a very long time in areas where carbs are seasonal and rare. And they have survived many generations largely living in ketosis.
The trick is to follow a healthy ketogenic diet. Many low carb fad diets are designed to cause ketosis, but they skip all sorts of important health advice, like keeping your vitamin levels up, controlling your protein intake, etc. So when you go on them you feel terrible.
As a word of caution, remember that ketosis is a low carb diet, not a low plant diet! There are many low carb vegetables that are incredibly healthy for you and help keep your vitamins and minerals up.
3: WHY DOES A KETOGENIC DIET HELP?
But is a ketogenic diet really the right way to lose weight?
Well, for starters, ketosis is the only way to lose weight. As was explained earlier, whenever you burn fat for calories, you are actually burning ketones. So why not cut out the middle man and just start burning ketones right away? This way your body is prepared and knows what to do when time comes to burn your own fat.
But actively eating a ketogenic diet helps. Of course, not eating carbs has its own particular benefits. On a normal diet you are continually swapping between ketones from your body and glucose from carbs. Every time you have a meal you are stopping burning body fat! And if you follow normal advice and eat little and often, and eat slow release carbs, you will hardly be burning any fat most of the day.
The benefits of a ketogenic diet don’t stop there. By eating more protein than the typical weight loss diet you are ensuring that you burn fat, not muscle. You will always burn some muscle when you diet. But if you eat enough protein you can minimize the muscle loss. This keeps your muscles strong and shapes your body, giving you an attractive athletic figure.
And unlike some other low carb diets, you aren’t eating too much protein! A lot of low carb diets involve eating too much protein, which means you are at risk of damaging your kidneys, and will develop a strong body odor. By controlling the amount of protein you eat, you can avoid the harm that is usually caused by eating too much protein.
A ketogenic diet also allows you to eat healthy plants. Some low carb diets recommend avoiding plants entirely. On a ketogenic diet you can eat any plants you like so long as you do not leave ketosis. This means that any low carb plants and even a teeny tiny amount of high carb plants can be considered safe. So you will get lots of healthy fiber and nutrients.
All of this together makes ketogenic diets very filling and satisfying. Too many diets leave you feeling hungry, so you either have to put up with feeling terrible, or you give up and break the diet. But if you are eating enough protein, loads of fiber, and never have a sugar crash, then you will not experience the ups and downs or hunger pangs of a normal diet.
And that means you can follow the diet easily for as long as it takes. You can even work out and feel great! Why deal with constant hunger, carb cravings, and jogging for an hour a day, when you can eat low carb, enjoy your veggies, exercise two hours a week, and feel amazing all the time?
4: IS KETOSIS FOR EVERYONE?
All this might sound too good to be true, but for most of us it isn’t. Most people can safely and comfortably follow a ketogenic diet forever. Even older people, or teenagers, or athletes, can follow ketogenic diets if they are healthy ones.
Unfortunately, like anything that works, ketosis will interact with health conditions, be incompatible with certain dietary restrictions, and maybe even have an effect on your medication. This means that if you have any known health problems you don’t want to adhere to a ketogenic diet without investigating properly first. You might want to talk to your doctor if you do not fully understand your condition, or if something is not clear to you.
As a general rule, suddenly going into ketosis is not a good idea for pregnant women. Most weight loss diets are a bad idea if you are pregnant, but even if you are not losing weight, you do not want to begin a ketogenic diet. Many women from other civilizations, women with glucose metabolism problems, and long term ketogenic dieters successfully have healthy children whilst in ketosis. But if you have not been in ketosis for 6-12 months before getting pregnant, then you risk miscarriage.
If you are diabetic you could actually really benefit from ketosis, but you need to discuss it with your doctor first. Some people with diabetes find that a ketogenic diet helps them to regulate their blood sugar and appetite. However some people with diabetes worsen when they follow a ketogenic diet. And some people with diabetes start a ketogenic diet only to find they can never break it ever again because their insulin production stops. It depends on your type of diabetes, as well as your individual body, what your reaction will be.
If you have pancreatitis, kidney failure, a missing gallbladder, or a stomach bypass or sleeve, then you may not be able to follow a ketogenic diet. This is because these organs are essential for staying healthy in ketosis. Your pancreas makes the enzymes that digest fat and protein. Your kidneys get rid of excess ketones and protein. Your gallbladder handles fat processing. And your stomach acid breaks down proteins and fats so you can get the nutrients out of them. If any of these organs don’t work properly, ketosis may be dangerous.
If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet you may not be able to make your diet ketogenic without using supplements. Because you need to keep your fats high, your proteins moderate, and your carbs low, there are very few non-animal whole foods that will be suitable for you to eat. Some vegetarians may get away with a diet very high in eggs and dairy. But some people exit ketosis when they eat eggs or dairy, so you might need to turn to extracted oils and protein powders.
However if you are generally in good health, or suffer from bowel problems, neurological ailments, or blood pressure issues, then a ketogenic diet may be your best bet. It allows you to stay continually burning fat without putting too much pressure on your body with excess protein or carb crashes.