We know that simply counting calories doesn’t work for weight loss. The threadbare ideas of “calories in versus calories out” and “just eat less and exercise more” are outdated concepts, and not effective long-term.
However we do know that the quality of your diet has a tremendous impact on your hormones, satiety, and body composition. In this article, we cover how ketosis for metabolic control wins out over other ways to try and lose fat.
How Ketosis Changes Metabolism
Let’s do a very quick overview of metabolism in the context of ketosis:
When the average person eats, their body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose to be used as energy for all functions of the body. In this case, carbohydrates provide the main fuel source for the body.
But when someone is in ketosis, either from eating a ketogenic diet or from fasting, their body is instead breaking down fats into ketone bodies for energy. These ketone bodies are then used to provide the body with a constant source of energy instead of carbs.
Being in ketosis allows you to literally shift your metabolism.
Now, let’s look at some of the powerful ways ketosis can be used for maintaining a healthy metabolism:
Calorie Restriction Versus Ketosis
As we prefaced above, simply reducing calories to lose weight is not effective. We know this based on research from people like Gary Taubes.
And that’s just part of the story: it can actually be harmful to your metabolism and lower metabolic rate (the amount of calories the body burns per day) — just look at the long-term results from past winners of the Biggest Loser. After forcing the body into caloric reduction, the contestants’ metabolisms dropped, leading to weight loss plateaus and weight regain.
In contrast, research has also shown that when we fast, the metabolic response is different:
- Growth hormones are raised, which is good in maintaining lean muscle mass
- The steep drop in insulin helps prevent insulin resistance
- The hormone norepinephrine is raised, which keeps basal metabolism high
After glycogen from carbohydrates is used, we begin to burn through our own fat stores — a basic survival mechanism of our bodies — which is known as ketosis.
Metabolic Benefits of Ketosis
Ketosis is result of fasting the body. Nutritional ketosis (and burning through fatty acids while still eating high amounts of healthy fats and moderate protein) through a ketogenic diet allows us to reap the benefits of fasting and going into ketosis without comprising any metabolic problems.
When the body is turning to fat stores for fuel, it maintains a healthy metabolism because there’s energy still being burned—as opposed to slowing down when someone simply diets by reducing their daily caloric intake.
Plus, switching your body metabolism from carbohydrates to fatty acids for energy has several benefits itself, including:
- Increased fat burning
- Less inflammation
- Increased longevity
- Better immunity
- Protection of the brain
- Protection against cancer
- Better mental clarity
Now, let’s break down some of the metabolism-related benefits of ketosis a little further.
Insulin and Ketosis
A lot of problems with metabolism have to do with the body no longer responding normally to insulin, which is released when glucose enters our bloodstream. When someone becomes insulin resistant, there are too-high levels of glucose.
This is unfortunately a problem for many people, and it can lead to diabetes and other health disorders. If we’re constantly eating high carbohydrate foods, there are constant spikes in insulin. This itself which can lead to metabolic issues.
Eating a carbohydrate-restricted ketogenic diet has been shown to be much more effective at improving fasting insulin levels, among other factors like BMI and triglyceride levels, than a low-fat diet. [1,2]
Low-Carb Versus Ketosis for Metabolism Control
You might be wondering at this point if simply eating low-carb is responsible for these improvements. Not quite. The metabolic changes that happen in ketosis can overall lead to much better results than simply eating low-carb.
The ketogenic diet is often lumped into the same category as any low-carb diet, such as Paleo (see our article on the difference here [link]). However, the ketogenic diet is much different because it facilitates an actual change in metabolism by burning fats for energy.
While there are still benefits of eating lower carb, there are many more we can experience from eating keto and putting our bodies into ketosis.
Also, simply eating low-carb can actually make us feel pretty bad, while ketosis makes the body very efficient at burning fats and doesn’t come with long-term side effects of your body trying to use carbohydrates, which include:
- Hunger pangs
- Disruptions in hormones
- Mood swings
- Feeling irritable
- Weight gain
- Reduced physical performance
When we’re just low-carb and not in ketosis, the body is still trying to use carbs (and proteins) for energy, so it’s looking for fuel that we aren’t giving it. This isn’t great for our mood or metabolism. We can maintain greater control over our metabolism by shifting into fat-burning mode.
Measuring Metabolism in Ketosis
So, how do you know when you’re in ketosis and/or if ketosis is working for your metabolic health? Here are two key forms of measurement:
Glucose Ketone Index and Metabolism
There has been a lot of research lately on the glucose ketone index (GKI) ratio and how it relates to metabolic health. This is a good way of monitoring the effect of ketosis on your metabolism and other functions of the body:
The GKI allows you to measure the ratio between ketone levels and glucose levels at any time. Your blood glucose level is divided by your blood ketone level, which gives you a number to indicate your metabolic state.
This type of tracking not only shows promise for preventing cancer and tumor growth but also diabetes, obesity, and other metabolic conditions.
It’s shown that low to moderate ketosis can be an effective tool for preventing many of these diseases, and higher levels have even more powerful benefits — like fighting cancer.
Testing for Fat Metabolism
Besides using the GKI to track your metabolic health while in ketosis, it’s also important to confirm you’re in ketosis and that you’re still metabolizing fats by testing ketone levels — and doing so often. See this guide for how to best test your levels.
Ketosis is a powerful metabolic state for the body that has many advantages for short- and long-term health. Going keto is more than just another “fad” diet — it’s a change in metabolism that may be able to help prevent bigger issues down the road.
Sources: Volek, Jeff S., Stephen D. Phinney, Cassandra E. Forsythe, Erin E. Quann, Richard J. Wood, Michael J. Puglisi, William J. Kraemer, Doug M. Bibus, Maria Luz Fernandez, and Richard D. Feinman. “Carbohydrate Restriction Has a More Favorable Impact on the Metabolic Syndrome than a Low Fat Diet.” Lipids 44.4 (2008): 297-309. Web.  Yancy, William S., Eric C. Westman, Jennifer R. Mcduffie, Steven C. Grambow, Amy S. Jeffreys, Jamiyla Bolton, Allison Chalecki, and Eugene Z. Oddone. “A Randomized Trial of a Low-Carbohydrate Diet vs Orlistat Plus a Low-Fat Diet for Weight Loss.” Archives of Internal Medicine 170.2 (2010): 136. Web.
Dr. Anthony Gustin is a board-certified sports chiropractor, functional medicine practitioner, entrepreneur, podcast host, and founder of Perfect Keto.
Over the last few years, he has treated thousands of patients with movement rehab, internal diagnostics, and natural interventions, including NFL, MLB and NBA champions. After growing his sports rehab and functional medicine clinics to six locations in San Francisco, he shifted his mission to help as many people as possible achieve optimal health and well-being.