In my previous CarbSmart column, I explained the distinction between the traditional low carb Atkins diet millions of people have used to lose weight and regain health and the revolutionary concept of nutritional ketosis. You may be hearing a lot about nutritional ketosis this year due to the influence of a fantastic new book by low-carbohydrate diet researchers Dr. Jeff Volek and Dr. Stephen Phinney called The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance.
I’ve been doing my own n=1 experiment of nutritional ketosis since May 2012 updating my blog regarding this every 30 days (read my four 30-day update posts: Day 1-30, Day 31-60, Day 61-90 and Day 91-120). Today I want to share 5 mistakes I was making in my own low-carb plan that prevented me from reaching the needed level of nutritional ketosis. Correcting these mistakes has helped me effortlessly shed 50 pounds (and counting!) in less than five months. This is not a comprehensive list of the common low carb mistakes. However, these are worth a closer look if you are struggling with your weight and health goals. You might just be surprised!
1. Consuming too much protein.
What?! But I thought a low carb diet was supposed to be “high-protein!” We hear this a lot, don’t we? The reality is that a well-formulated low-carb diet is actually high in FAT, not protein. I bet you never thought that protein could hinder your weight loss – but it can. Why? Here’s the word: GLUCONEOGENESIS! When you consume excess protein, your liver transforms it into glucose (sugar). If you are eating a bunch of lean meats like chicken breasts, turkey and lower-fat cuts of beef or pork, you might be defeating the purpose of your low carb lifestyle. Try choosing fattier cuts of meat and controlling the absolute amount of protein you are eating – I aim for 12% of my total calorie intake – to see how that impacts your blood ketone levels.
2. Using urine ketone testing sticks to measure ketosis.
This is a biggie! Low-carbers have long relied on urine ketone test sticks (Ketostix) to detect the level of acetoacetate the body is excreting. Watching the sticks magically turn light pink to dark purple has always fascinated low carb dieters, myself included, making them feel they are doing something constructive. It feels like a reward for our low-carb efforts. Unfortunately, these pee sticks are inexact. Further, they don’t measure the specific kind of ketones your body can use as fuel. As I learned in the Performance book, it’s better to test your blood for beta-hydroxybutyrate. This indicates whether or not you are keto-adapted, burning fat and ketones for fuel – the true essence of nutritional ketosis. You’re looking for a level between 0.5-3.0 millimolar for optimal fat loss and keto-adapted performance. You’ll need a blood ketone meter like the Precision Xtra from Abbott. The test strips vary in cost from $1-6; for example you can get them for $3.50/strip from this Canadian pharmacy. The information gained from measuring blood ketones instead of urine ketones is solid gold for knowing how well you are doing on your healthy low carb lifestyle!
3. Not eating enough dietary fat.
One of the lingering effects of the low-fat propaganda machine over the past 3+ decades is the idea that dietary fat is harmful, that it will clog your arteries and make you fat. So it’s probably not surprising to hear that many who begin a low carb diet simultaneously cut their fat intake. They erroneously think that if low-carb is good, low-fat and low carb is perfect. That’s a fatal error in your attempts get into nutritional ketosis, staving off hunger and cravings. Even if you think you’re eating pretty high-fat you may need to ramp it up a bit. I’m eating around 85% of my calories from dietary fat during my n=1 experiment. It’s pretty simple to get there: consume butter, coconut oil, sour cream, cream cheese, full-fat meats and cheese, avocados, full-fat Greek yogurt and more! Get creative and don’t fear the fat. While you may not necessarily need to eat 85% of your calories in the form of fat, you’d be surprised how adding just a bit more fat to your diet can make all the difference in reaching therapeutic levels of nutritional ketosis, helping you shed pounds and gain the health benefits that come with it.
4. Eating too often/too much food.
Am I talking about calories on a low carb diet? Yes and no. Yes, it is indeed possible to eat beyond satiety and consume more food than you really need. But I’ve learned these past five months what happens to the body once you become keto-adapted: hunger is completely zapped, you “forget” to eat and you generally feel energized and alert while going many hours between meals. Your body is “eating” stored body fat all day long (as my friend Dr. Ron Rosedale would say) and your brain is fueled efficiently by the ketone bodies you are producing. I’ve fallen into a regular pattern of eating a calorie-sufficient meal with 85% fat, 12% protein and 3% carbohydrate, consuming high-quality, nutrient-dense real whole foods. This one meal can keep me satiated for upwards of 12-24 hours. As you can imagine, this period of spontaneous intermittent fasting helps naturally lower overall food and calorie consumption without the need for feeling miserably hungry between meals. Too many people habitually eat three full meals and two snacks daily because they always have. But if you allow your cultural paradigms about food to shift from eating by the clock to eating when hunger kicks in, you might be pleasantly surprised to see your blood ketones increase and healthy weight loss commence.
5. Failing to stabilize blood sugar levels.
What does blood sugar have to do with nutritional ketosis? Why should you worry about your blood glucose levels if you’re not a diabetic? The reality is everyone should be using a glucometer – they’re available from any pharmacy or Walmart - to know exactly where they stand in their blood sugar numbers. (Listen to what Angela Ross shared with me about this in Episode 591 of “The Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb Show” podcast.) Keeping carbohydrate intake to your personal level of tolerance, moderating your protein intake to the best amount for your metabolic needs, and eating ample amounts of satiating fats will lower your fasting blood sugars down into the 80s and even the 70s. When I first began my blood ketone experiment, my fasting blood sugar was regularly in the upper 90s/lower 100s. Once I attained an average blood ketone level of 2.0 millimolar over a period of time, my blood sugars suddenly dropped to an ideal level. Normalized blood sugar has kept my hunger at bay, regulated my mood and given me a sense of well being not experienced with the rollercoaster ride that alternating hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia produce. Get blood sugar regulated and nutritional ketosis will be easier to attain – and conversely, nutritional ketosis will help you regulate your blood sugar.
Be encouraged! You are not alone if you’ve been struggling with your low carb program. Even those of us who have been doing this for many years are susceptible to low-carb mistakes that can can make all the difference to success. In my next CarbSmart column, I’ll be providing more practical details about specific changes you can make to your low carb diet and lifestyle to bring yourself into nutritional ketosis and experience the benefits you’ve been hearing about. Have you been making any of these mistakes in your low-carb lifestyle? What other mistakes have been hindering your low carb success? Share your experience in the comments section below.