As a functional nutritionist, I work with clients in various diet paradigms, from keto to paleo, to autoimmune and anti-inflammatory. Since diet is not religion, and no diet is the “one true diet”, everyone needs different things. Many of my clients function well on a keto diet, especially when their main goal is weight loss.
The ketogenic or “keto” diet is a style of eating that incorporates moderate protein, very low carbohydrate, and moderate to high fat in an attempt to push the body into a state called nutritional ketosis. Nutritional ketosis is where the body creates energy out of its own fat cells, instead of relying on the inputs of foods like carbohydrate.
The diet can be undertaken in a perfectly healthy manner for most people, so long as things like micro-nutrients are taken into account.
But there is often a misconception, propagated largely by uninformed psuedo-nutritionists, that counting calories is unnecessary and besides the point.
While counting calories is not the main concern on a ketogenic diet, it is a concern, and can take your results from mysterious and confusing losses and plateaus, to a far more steady weight loss.
To understand why you need to know and care about your calories, we must first understand how the body breaks down energy. For that, we need a little primer on something called the Kreb’s cycle.
Despite what you may read when looking into a keto diet, carbohydrates don’t just break down into glucose.
All foods sources from fats to proteins to carbs get broken down further to eventually be used as ATP, the energy currency of the body.
While glucose is one stop on the breakdown path for carbs, they also eventually turn into something called pyruvate which then gets broken down into an important molecule called acetyl CoA- a very important molecule for producing energy in the body.
What may be more surprising to you is that both fats and proteins are also broken down into pyruvate and acetyl CoA. Without getting too in depth in the science, the main facts to understand are that all food sources are broken down in to the same eventual kind of energy and that energy is used to fuel the body. If we have too much food in our diet, we will simply not need to break down our own fat because we will have enough energy inputs
Despite what is often claimed, there isn’t much evidence to support the theory that only insulin balance is the key to fat storage or releasing of fats. There’s quite a bit more to it and calories play a role.
I know you’ve seen lots of success stories of people not counting any calories and losing remarkable amounts of weight. There are a lot of potential things that can be going on there.
First, ketones are appetite suppressing. After the initial few weeks of adjustment, many people end up consuming far less that they think they are. This is the reason I love this diet for weight loss so much! It makes it much easier to stick to until you hit your goal.
Second, they have a lot of weight to lose. Weight loss is about a lot of things, but one important factor is creating a calorie deficit. With a lot of weight to lose, the body will naturally create a large deficit because the body requires a lot of energy to keep going while carrying lots of extra fat and combined with the appetite suppression of ketones, the combo can be an effective one. This is also, however, why you see many people hit a stall as they inch closer to their goal weight. Their body no longer needs as much energy to function, so their deficit is smaller.
Third, ketogenic diets have a diuretic effect. Water can bloat you just as much as fat and one of the benefits of ketogenic diet is that it helps remove a lot of that extra water. This can result in weight and inch loss, especially in the first several days.
Fourth, ketones are anti-inflammatory. A ketogenic diet, when done in a healthy way, can have a wonderful effect on hormones, especially insulin. It can contribute to balancing of male and female hormones and can balance blood sugars. These are the reasons many people try a ketogenic diet. Balancing of blood sugar and hormones can be key in your body reducing chronic inflammation and letting go of excess fat.
Counting calories on keto is something to consider when weight loss stalls. If you have a lot to lose, you will probably be fortunate to have your body weight decrease on its own without much counting. Fortunately, many people don’t have to consider calories until they get closer to their goal weights. If you are struggling with weight on a keto diet, though, its something to look into.
There are other potential reasons for weight loss stalls on a ketogenic diet, not least of which are food sensitivities, hormonal imbalance, and thyroid issues. These can be tested with a qualified professional.
One way to avoid counting calories is to work with a nutritionist. What I do for my clients is create customized templates that tell them how many servings of each type of item to have per day. This way, I remove the need to count calories OR carbohydrates and you can focus on keeping your diet fun and interesting and losing that extra weight.
If you’d like to come in for a free first consultation, contact me here.