In my February 28 post, Ketosis: The Silver Bullet in Weight Loss, I tried to make the case that carbohydrate-restricted diets (a.k.a. "ketotic diets") were the most effective way to bring about fat loss (which should be every diet's primary goal).
In this post I will try to flesh out my description of ketosis in more detail: what the body is trying to accomplish with ketosis; what being in ketosis feels like; why not to be afraid of it; what pitfalls to watch out for; and the many benefits that accrue from restricting carbohydrates.
People vary widely in their reaction to carbohydrate-restricted diets (here defined as taking in no more than 30-60 carbohydrate grams a day). For some people, such regimes are a breeze: they feel fine and energetic the whole time they are on the diet, and happily watch as pounds melt away without any feeling of deprivation. My husband was one of these people.
I, on the other hand, had had a weight problem from early on in life; I had an underactive thyroid; and I had issues of carbohydrate addiction. I was the type of person that Dr. George Watson, in his book Nutrition and Your Mind, called a "slow oxidizer".
For people such as us, making the transition to a low-carbohydrate regime can be enormously taxing at first. When carbohydrates are nearly absent, the body will dip into and out of ketosis. What this means is that after the body has used up all its previously stored sources of glucose, it begins to convert fatty acids into fuel the body can use for energy. When only limited carbohydrates are available, the fatty acids are incompletely burned, producing "ketone bodies."
In the three weeks or so it takes for the supply of ketone products to become adequate and dependable, one may feel awful: weak, depressed, and so forth. The body will change over to the new metabolic process, but only after putting up an incredible fight over it, the severity of which depends on the carbohydrate dependence/intolerance of one's original metabolism. The good news is that when the ketones do arrive in full force, a kind of joyfulness sets in (along with a total absence of hunger) that lasts as long as the ketosis.
Now, since ketosis is very toxic to the body (it makes the bloodstream highly acidic), the kidneys try very hard to wash away incompletely burned fatty-acid molecules and thus keep the overly acid state of the body to a minimum. That's why it's critical to drink enough water while in ketosis. As they excrete more water than normal, body tissues become dehydrated; it's crucial to replace this necessary water.
Also, people in ketosis will tend to have bad breath: diligent chewing of mint-flavored (sugarless) gum will take care of this problem quite nicely.
I firmly believe that the genuine fat loss that ketosis-based diets produce is entirely worth the trials and tribulations that may occur when one is starting out!
Today's Words of Wisdom: "Whatever we see is changing, losing its balance. The reason everything looks beautiful is because it is out of balance, but its background is always in perfect harmony. This is how everything exists...losing its balance against a background of perfect balance." Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind