That's a really popular question right now. If you have a pulse you've probably heard of "keto" or dietary ketosis. It's every where right now. Everyone is doing it. Are you missing out? Should you be "keto" too?
Let's start with a little Metabolism 101. Your body can burn sugar or fat as its primary fuel. If sugar is the preferred fuel, you are a sugar-burner. Sugar-burners rely on carbohydrates or glucose for fuel. Think needing to carbo load if you're an athlete or eating based on the Food Pyramid or MyPlate.
Examples of carbohydrates are vegetables, fruit, sugar, tubers, bread, and pasta.
If fat is the body's preferred fuel, you're a fat-burner. The fat used to fuel your body may be dietary fat, such as, butter, avocados, animal protein and fats, high-fat dairy, and oils like olive, avocado, and coconut.
It could also be stored body fat.
As a fat-burner, you can further be categorized as keto or fat-adapted. What's the difference? Let me explain.
What is Ketosis?
Dietary ketosis is a very low-carb diet that requires your body to use fat-derived ketones as energy. When glucose isn't available in the body, fat fragments are combined with one another to form ketone bodies. When you first enter ketosis you will be burning fat as fuel in the form of ketones, but your body will not necessarily be fat-adapted. Your body will take time to become efficient at burning fat for fuel. This could mean that you are burning dietary fat, but not stored fat.
What is Fat-Adapted?
Being fat-adapted means your body can efficiently use both dietary and stored fat for fuel, but it also means your body can use glucose when it's available. In other words, you're metabolically flexible. Your body prefers fat as fuel, but can efficiently burn glucose when it's available. If dietary fat isn't available then your body will tap into stored body fat to use as fuel. Helloooooooo weight loss!
Let's Compare & Contrast
Both of these are considered low-carb diets. Especially when you compare them to the government guidelines.
You can be in ketosis, but not fat-adapted. Your body will take time to become fat-adapted, but in the meantime will be using ketones for energy. Ketosis requires a lower carbohydrate intake than fat adaptation. Many experienced keto enthusiasts can actually feel they're in ketosis, while others have to rely on testing.
You can also be fat-adapted and not in ketosis. This just means your body is now using fat as it's primary fuel, but you don't restrict your carbohydrate intake as much and you're not measuring your ketones.
So Which One Is Better?
It can be difficult for many people to stay in dietary ketosis due to the very restricted carbohydrate intake. Many people find that their carb intake is so low that they miss too many foods to stay in dietary ketosis. This means they are only in ketosis for a few days at a time before they "give in" and are "kicked out of ketosis". (I'm not talking adding a sweet potato at dinner, but rather when you add in some bread, ice cream, starchy veggies and a glass of wine.) Often times they go in and out of ketosis so frequently they never become fat-adapted. Additionally, some people have difficulty balancing their hormones or regulating their mood while in ketosis.
However, some people love being in ketosis and thrive. They can't imagine not being in ketosis because it fits their lifestyle, helps them meet their goals, and they feel better than they have in years.
So my answer?
Only you know which one will be better for YOU. However, I will say that being either keto or fat-adapted are better options for most people over being a sugar-burner. When you are fat-adapted you can easily cycle in and out of keto on purpose and still get the benefits.
I personally prefer being fat-adapted over dietary ketosis. I prefer having the metabolic flexibility and not worrying about measuring ketones or macros. I'm able to go by how my body feels and it's less stressful for me.
So What Are The Benefits?
Being fat-adapted can offer numerous benefits. Ketosis may offer the same benefits, plus many more because it is a therapeutic diet. Being in ketosis may be beneficial for conditions, such as, cancer, MS, Alzheimer's, epilepsy and other neurological conditions just to name a few. However, if you are using it as a therapeutic diet you need to stay in ketosis and become fat-adapted, not just cycle in and out, to really get the benefits.
Here are my Top 7 Benefits of being fat-adapted.
No More Hangry -- Your blood sugar is steady so you don't crash between meals or feel like you have to eat "right this very minute", only 2-3 hours after your last meal. Once you're fat-adapted you can go 5+ hours between meals without feeling hungry. And when you do get hungry it's just feels like hunger, not starvation or on the verge of passing out due to low blood sugar.
Burn Stored Body Fat -- Being a fat-adapted allows your body to tap into stored body fat and use it as fuel. When you're a sugar-burner your body is looking for glucose (causing carb cravings) and won't be satisfied until it receives a sufficient amount of glucose. In fact, if you don't eat enough glucose, your body will make glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis. Remember, you can be in ketosis and not be fat-adapted which means you aren't yet tapping into your body's fat stores.
Focus & Clarity -- Say goodbye to brain fog! Not only does brain fog disappear, you gain clarity and focus when becoming a fat-adapted. This was a huge aha moment for me. I used to be grazing for food every 2 hours. Now I can get so focused I look up and realize that I missed lunch. Sometimes it's a hint of hunger that breaks my concentration, but instead of it being every two hours, it's been five...or more!
Lowered Inflammation -- Inflammation is needed to help your body heal to acute injury, but chronic inflammation is a leading factor in most diseases. A high-sugar diet is known for causing chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation also means your body is holding on to additional water weight and you may even have edema. Once the inflammation is reduced you may notice you have increased urine output for a few days. This is a good thing!!! Lowering your chronic inflammation can make a huge difference in your health now and as you age.
Quicker Recovery Time -- As an athlete you may notice that recovering from workouts takes longer or you need more rest days. This is one of the main benefits that led me down this path as a runner. I relied on a lot of sugary substances to fuel my runs. This caused a lot of inflammation in my body slowing recovery. One of my main symptoms, tingling in my legs at night (almost like bugs crawling under my skin) went away after becoming fat-adapted.
Reduced Cravings -- Disregulated blood sugar is a huge contributor to cravings. If you're a sugar-burner, your body will tell you when it needs glucose. Instead of craving broccoli or bell peppers, you think you need popcorn, chips or candy. Being fat-adapted means you no longer require glucose as your primary source of fuel and you no longer have blood sugar crashes. Buh bye cravings!
Steady Energy -- If you're a sugar-burner you probably know about the afternoon slump. You wish you had toothpicks to hold your eyelids open. You have to get up and take a little walk, hit the vending machine, or grab a cup of coffee to function for the rest of the day. When you're fat-adapted, your energy stays steady throughout the day and you don't need a George Costanza nap desk.
Want to bust your sugar and carb cravings naturally?
How To Deal With The "Keto Flu"?
When your body is transitioning from using glucose to fat as fuel it can be rough. Even if you aren't trying to get into ketosis and just want to be fat-adapted, this will likely induce the "keto or low-carb flu". It's called this because it mimics some of the symptoms you may have with influenza, such as, fatigue, nausea, headaches and brain fog. It's temporary, but how long depends on how easily your body begins to use fat efficiently. You can approach it two different ways. Neither option is better than the other per se. It's all about what works for you.
Rip off the band-aid Approach
This approach is where you change your diet with the flip of a switch. You're all in. You now restrict your carbs to enter dietary ketosis in a day or two or cut them back significantly to begin fat-adaptation. You will be hungry. You will eat more fat than you thought possible. However, once your body makes the change you will feel satiated and full and notice the benefits I mentioned earlier. Drink plenty of water and ensure you are getting enough electrolytes by adding a pinch of sea salt to your water.
This will get you to Point B quickly, but you may not feel great. Don't use this approach if you have an upcoming athletic event, big project, or just need to bring your A game. You may want to do this over a long weekend or staycation to let your mind and body rest. Remember you will feel like you have the flu.
Slow & Steady Approach
This more gentle approach may allow you to skip the "flu" all together, but it will take longer. You'll begin cutting back your carbs and increasing your fat slowly over a few weeks.
This may be a good option if:
you're currently eating a low-fat diet because your gallbladder will need to up it's game to help you digest the increased fat. (Side note: You can still be fat-adapted without a gallbladder!)
you're not a fan of restriction. This approach allows you to learn as you go and have the freedom you want to have with your food.
you are overwhelmed by change. This will make the changes more subtle and easier to maintain.
How Many Carbs Will You Need To Eat?
It depends. Your activity level, metabolism, and genetics all play a role. It's more like a range and it may not be the same every day. This is the same for keto and fat-adaptation. The best approach is to go by how you feel. If you really want to be sure you are in ketosis, measure your ketones using urine, blood or breath. Just know that there can be a lot of nuance that goes along with measuring ketones.
How Will You Know When You've Become A Fat-Burner?
If you want to be keto then you will need to measure, especially in the beginning.
If you want to be fat-adapted, then refer back to my Top 7 list. When you feel these benefits you'll know you're there. They will likely not all happen at the same time. Just check in with yourself once a week or so and take note of any changes.
Only you know if keto will for your body and lifestyle. Your body will tell you what works if you listen. Once the "flu" passes you need to really listen to your body and decide if it's working. You don't want to give it only a week, but know that if it's not working for you that doesn't mean you're doing it wrong. It may not be the right fit for you. If that's the case, then it's okay to change it up. Do what works for YOU.
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