The ketogenic diet, also known as a low-carb diet or the low carb, high fat (LCHF) diet aids in weight loss by changing the way the body uses energy. Reducing net carb intake and increasing consumption of healthy fats induces the body into a state of ketosis, during which ketones are produced from the breakdown of fat in the liver.
The ketogenic diet is also beneficial at maintaining blood sugar levels without wild swings, leaving you feeling even and stable with more energy, improved mood and alertness.
The goal of the ketogenic diet is keto-adaptation.
What is keto-adaptation?
When you essentially starve your body of carbohydrates, your body will begin to use fat-based sources (ideally body fat) for energy rather than glucose. This process is called keto-adaptation.
The body will burn glucose (carbohydrates are converted to glucose in the body) before it burns fat. The more carbs you eat, the more you delay adaptation to fat burning.
For some, the adaptation process can be as short as four weeks, but for others, it can take several months for the body to shift from glucose-based fueling to fat-based fueling. To reach keto-adaptation, you must keep carb intake consistently low.
What happens during keto-adaptation?
There are two stages of keto-adaptation. In the first few days of a ketogenic diet, your body is still running on glycogen stores. These first few days are the most difficult part of the process because in order to break vicious cycle of glucose burning metabolism, you must avoid eating carbohydrates, no mater how much you crave them. During this stage, fat metabolism is not optimized, and ketone production has not increased significantly.
During the first days of a keto-adaptation, you will also experience water loss. Glycogen storage requires water — it takes about three to four grams of water to store one gram of glycogen. The ketogenic diet also reduces insulin levels and increases insulin sensitivity, adding to the release of excess fluid. As your body begins to burn through its glycogen stores, you will lose water weight.
When your body’s glycogen runs out, you will start producing ketones, excreting some in urine. This marks the beginning of the second stage of keto-adaptation. During this stage, ketones become available for fuel, although they have not yet risen to a stable adapted level.
When ketone levels are low, the muscles tend to use them directly for fuel, but the longer you stay in a state of ketosis your muscles will begin to turn to fat for fuel instead.
On a ketogenic diet, the brain relies on ketones, making it no longer susceptible to running out of fuel. This will reduce your need to eat frequently throughout the day to maintain mental function.
Read more about the basics of the ketogenic diet here.
Learn more about how ketosis can help you lose weight here.
Betty Murray, CN, IFMCP, CHC is a Certified Nutritionist & Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner with the Institute for Functional Medicine, founder of the Dallas-based functional medicine clinic Living Well Dallas and Executive Director of the the Functional Medicine Association of North Texas. A master of the biochemistry of the body, Betty teaches her clients how to utilize nutrition for autoimmune diseases, digestive disorders, MTHFR and weight loss. You can find her book “Cleanse: Detox Your Body, Mind & Spirit” on Amazon here.
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