Someone recently raised the holy grail question to me. "How can you talk about weight loss in keto without tracking calories in vs. calories out?" A very interesting topic which usually comes with two more topics, which we also need to address to get a full understanding of our physiology.
- I need to have frequent meals (5-6 / day) to keep the metabolism high
- I need to keep fat intake as low as possible
Let's dive into shall we?
The body indeed has energy requirements based on our daily activities, but the most relevant question is what happens with that energy and how it is being made available our cells spread in the body. And here hormones come into play. The body switches between storing or burning fat based on the secretion of hormones, such as insulin, grelin, leptin, cortisol, estrogen etc.
Let's take insulin for example. ( We have already discussed insulin here). Insulin is an anbolic hormone helping in building and repairing also called the fat storing hormone. This is not strictly speaking true, since insulin acts as the key for the cells to absorb nutrients and energy, but when eating carbs since they are an immediate energy source what can not be absorbed or stored by the liver will stored directly as fat.
Another dimension is that in order to lose your own body fat and not water or muscle you need to deplete most of your liver glycogen reserve at which point your body starts break down fat to create ketones as energy. This is quite difficult in the continious presense of insulin and glucose when eating 5 meals a day.
More important is to realize is that if someone has put-on weight it is more than likely that he has developed a level of insulin-resistance where insulin signalling to the cells is not working as it should and nutrients are not being absorbed. Without fixing insuling-resistance you can forget losing any kilos even if you are starving yourself.
When eating at a coloric deficit, especially when doing frequent meals you probably are never satiated. The results can be detrimental. This is because the satiety hormone, Leptin, which is a hormone produced by fat cells to control metabolism and hunger will up-regulate reducing your resting metabolic rate and increasing your hunger. Reducing the metobolic rate, is the body's way to preserve energy and will make it impossible to lose weight.
Every time you are stressed you go into a flight or fight mode. Cortisol is a response to times of difficulties, what keeps you alert by raising insuling and bood sugar thus preventing weight loss. Furthermore being stressed-out makes you phycologicaly more prone to over-eating.
Another issue with reducing calories is nutrient density. Independent of calories a meal plan needs to be constructed to always provide the required nutrients. This can be very difficult to do when you reduce too much your calories. This will lead to constant hunger signalling, stress and impossible to lose weight. In order to be able to utilize the food energy your body's machinery needs to have all the tools to run in an efficient way. All the Vitamins , Minerals, Amino-Acids and Electrolytes are somewhere involved in a very complicated energy production pathway. You need to get a daily basis all your essential nutrients at the right dose or you will become deficient. It is impossible to sustain such a diet since it is impossible to get all the nutrients you need. And to add insult to injury by following a low-fat diet you deprive yourself of essential nutrients and it will be very challenging to construct a meal plan which is nutrient dense with as few calories as possible. Eating pasta is an energy source not a nutrient source!
The excess energy even in a caloric deficit state is usually addressed by exercising especially with fat-burning cardio sessions. Cardio is important and will support the cardiovascular health. There is a risk though of becoming addicted to too much cardio at the expense of muscle. This is called "The Black Hole Training Zone". This is the zone where the runner goes above the 70% of the VO2 max but is keeping this pace for 1 or even 2 hours. This phase is where we can hold a conversation and a phase which depletes glycogen and starts breaking down muscle for energy. The result will be a skinny-fat body type.
How can you unblock your body to be a fat-burning machine?
- Practise daily intermittent fasting. Shortening the feeding window with protocols such as 16/8 has been proven to increase the metabolic rate! Fasting will also reduce insuling-resistance and blood sugars.
- Clean-up your diet from fast-food and reduce the intake of simple carbs. This will allow you to get into ketosis put your cravings under control.
- Exercise mainly with HIIT to promote muscle building and growth hormone.
- Sleep well and practise stress relief daily.
Our physiology does not know of calories. It knows of nutrients and energy. Give it as much nutrients as possible, let your body rest and digest through intermittent and be aware of your hormones. Stop counting calories and start using your own store of fat as your main energy source and make weight loss an effortless lifestyle change.