In this post, we will look at why not getting the results you expected on keto is found in understanding the difference between being in Ketosis vs being Keto-adapted.
Many of my clients get impatient in the beginning when they don’t get the results they expected at the start of their keto journey.
Keto is not like other diets. There are no cheat days or off-days. Not in the beginning though. The longer you stay in ketosis, the more efficient your body gets at burning ketones as an energy source, which means your body is more efficient at using fat for fuel. So, if you fall off the diet for a few days and binge for a day or two, you’ll get kicked out of ketosis. You’re human, it happens. And this can happen with any diet. But with keto, know that you’re probably going to be starting at ground zero when you get back to it – you’ll see now why ketosis is not enough and why you need to aim for becoming Keto-adapted. And besides, we are working towards the future you.
Your Future Self
Becoming Keto-adapted [Fat-adapted]
I teach my clients to stay consistent for at least 90 days. There are two reasons why I say this. The first reason is simply for you to have a milestone. No matter how many times you fall off the bandwagon during the first 90 days, you must commit to continuing where you left off. Starting any diet is hard in the beginning, and it can be challenging. Sometimes we miss the plot due to our own lack of commitment, but sometimes life just happens where you don’t have control.
The second reason I say you should stay on plan for 90 days is to allow your body to go beyond just being in ketosis, to what is called becoming keto-adapted.
Your goal for the future you is not just to be in ketosis, but to be keto-adapted. Being keto-adapted allows your body to switch back and forth between glucose and ketones, and it is also how the body becomes efficient at producing and using ketones.
Until now, you have primarily relied on carbs as a primary fuel source. Your body breaks down carbs into sugar or glucose and converts that into energy. The pathways and enzymes associated with this process is all your body knows until now. Being in ketosis creates more of these enzymes and teaches your body to rely on breaking down fat and producing ketones. It’s like a path you have to tread over and over until it becomes the way home. When you’ve made making and burning ketones very clear for your body, it already knows what to do next time you exceed your carb intake. If you can stick it out for that first 90 days, your body is going to be able to get back into ketosis faster because it’s a familiar state. You’ve now become fat, or keto-adapted.
The Phases of being Keto-adapted
There are three progressive stages or phases that you need to go through to become optimally fat-adapted and truly enjoy all the benefits of the Ketogenic Diet. Let me take you through them:
Phase 1: Generating higher ketone levels
Within the first two to four days of lowering your carb intake to below 20g per day you will start showing elevated Ketones which marks the start of your body’s utilising Nutritional Ketosis and shifting its primary fuel source to fat; also called lipolysis. Unfortunately, this phase is also the yucky phase where you might have issues with energy, moods, headaches, and other common keto flu symptoms (read more on Keto Flu here).
Even though your blood Ketones might be higher, your body is not yet efficient at using these Ketones for energy. To help this process along, it will be helpful to increase your fat intake to about 75% of your total calories intake. It is worth mentioning that the more metabolic damage you might have the longer you will remain in this first phase. But if there is ever a way to heal metabolic damaged caused by years of yo-yo dieting; the Keto Diet is it.
What is metabolic damage? It is the non-clinical term for something referred to physiologically as “adaptive thermogenesis”. Essentially the human body has two responses to a calorie deficit from perhaps yo-yo dieting. The first response is good – to lose body fat. The second response is to down-regulate your metabolism to help your body cope with the calorie deficit of your yo-yo diet. Keep in mind that the human body desires stability and consistency (“homeostasis”) and will do whatever it can to maintain it, even if it’s counterproductive to our weight loss efforts or long-term health. For certain individuals, this decrease in metabolism becomes so severe that they have the complete inability to lose weight, even at very-low-calorie intakes and very high levels of exercise. We might say these individuals have a “damaged” metabolism.
Phase 2: Becoming Keto-adapted
This is where your body and cells get better at utilising fat as their primary fuel source. This leads to fewer cravings, feeling fuller throughout the day, better moods, more restful sleep, and much more energy. Depending on the level of metabolic damage you have, Phase 2 can take anywhere from four to six weeks, or even more.
Let me tell you why it takes so long to become Keto-adapted:
Glucose burns super easy as fuel: it contains lots of quick energy and needs fewer mitochondria to give the body or the fuel it needs. But to transition to using fat for fuel, your body needs to undergo a massive cellular-level change to transition from being used to burning glucose. This prolonged transition also explains why you get those energy dips in the first couple of weeks after going Keto. When your body is in Ketosis for a continuous extended period, your body makes more mitochondria to increase its capacity to burn fat for fuel. Mitochondria are the little powerhouses in your cells that turn fuel (free fatty acids, Ketones, glucose) into energy (ATP). During this phase, you will note that your blood ketone levels might drop because your body is now using more free fatty acids directly for fuel instead of turning it into Ketones and then using it for fuel. The increase in Ketone levels in the early stages of Keto-adaptation is part of a transitional state in which your body creates Ketones. These additional Ketones help fuel your body until it can generate more mitochondria so that you can burn more free fatty acids directly. So don’t track Ketones when you are Keto-adapted.
Phase 3: Deeper mitochondrial level of Ketosis when you keto-adapted
After three to four months of consistently being in a state of Ketosis, you really start to experience how good your body can feel. Those afternoon energy dips are a thing of the past, you have endless energy, you never have any cravings and are almost always feeling full, and food now becomes an afterthought instead of being something that you think about all day long.
At this point, the body has increased the number of mitochondria in your cells, which continues to transform white adipose tissue (or white fat) to brown adipose tissue (or brown fat). Brown fat is a type of an activated fat that contains mitochondria, much like muscle cells. Whereas white fat has no mitochondria and simply stores fat. Brown fat also handles thermoregulation that brings many benefits. This shift to brown fat can also reduce your glucose levels, as well as increasing your basal metabolic rate (the amount of energy your body consumes all day long). Having more brown fat can be a tremendous metabolic advantage, especially in the repair of metabolic damage. This is why the Ketogenic Diet is such a powerful tool in the treatment of metabolic damage and metabolic syndrome.
The longer you are in Ketosis and the more keto-adapted you become, the more healthy cholesterol your body has to produce healthy hormones. This additional healthy cholesterol enables your body to regulate your hormones to a more natural and optimal setpoint. This balancing process of your hormones has many benefits like fertility, deeper sleep, better moods, and increased mental clarity. And due to the anti-inflammatory properties of the Ketogenic Diet, you will also see improvement in chronic conditions such as Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome. The reality is that a long-term ketogenic lifestyle has many benefits, including greater longevity and the reversal of many chronic diseases.
Ever tried taking up running? It is hard in the beginning! You couldn’t run very far for very long and had to stop several times to catch your breath. But, the more consistent you were at going for a run, the more efficient you became. With keto, it’s the same: it can be hard in the beginning because your body is adjusting, but over time, your body will become more efficient at it, and it will get easier. So, be patient with yourself. I always say keto is hard in the beginning, but the longer you do it, the easier it becomes. You don’t start running by entering a marathon a week from when you’ve started. You practice for months, and you get fit! Any runner will also tell you that if they stop running for a while, it is hard work to get fit again and so they stick to it and stay fit.
Becoming keto-adapted works the same way; it does take some time in the beginning. The more committed you are to stay in Ketosis in the beginning, the quicker you become more efficient at burning fat and being fat-adapted. Stay focussed and put all the effort with the aim at becoming fat-adapted. Your future self will thank you for it.
Let me leave you with a little hope. When you are well keto-adapted, and your body is used to burning ketones as it’s primary fuel source, it is as if you can almost afford to have a little more carbs [good carbs off course] and yes, have that glass of wine, without upsetting the apple-cart completely. Once you are keto-adapted the now and again higher carb intake does not have the same effect as it does in the beginning, and you quickly jump straight back into ketosis.
Keto gets easier the longer you do it.