The “keto” in a ketogenic diet comes from the fact that it makes the body produce small fuel molecules called “ketones”. This is an alternative fuel for the body, used when blood sugar (glucose) is in short supply.
Ketones are produced if you eat very few carbs (that are quickly broken down into blood sugar) and only moderate amounts of protein (excess protein can also be converted to blood sugar).
Ketones are produced in the liver, from fat. They are then used as fuel throughout the body, including the brain. The brain is a hungry organ that consumes lots of energy every day, and it can’t run on fat directly. It can only run on glucose… or ketones.
On a ketogenic diet, your entire body switches its fuel supply to run almost entirely on fat. Insulin levels become very low and fat burning increases dramatically. It becomes easy to access your fat cells to burn them off. This is obviously great if you’re trying to lose weight, but there are also other less obvious benefits, for example less hunger and a steady supply of energy.
When the body produces ketones it’s said to be in ketosis. The fastest way to get there is by fasting – not eating anything – but obviously it’s not possible to fast forever.
A ketogenic diet, on the other hand, can be eaten indefinitely and also results in ketosis. It has many of the benefits of fasting – including weight loss.
To get into ketosis you need low levels of the fat-storing hormone insulin. The most important way to do that is to eat a strict low-carb diet, also called a ketogenic diet.
On top of the necessary ketogenic diet, there are many ways to increase ketosis further. The most powerful is adding intermittent fasting.
How do you know you’re in ketosis? It’s possible to measure it by testing urine, blood or breath samples. But there are also other telltale signs, that requires no testing:
Dry mouth and increased thirst. Unless you drink enough and get plenty of electrolytes, like salt, you may feel a dry mouth. Try a cup of bouillon or two daily, plus as much water as you need.
Increased urination – another ketone body, acetoacetate, can end up in the urine. This makes it possible to test for ketosis using urine strips. It also – at least when starting out – can result in having to go to the bathroom more often. This is the main cause of the increased thirst (above).
Keto breath – this is due to a ketone body called acetone escaping via our breath. It can make a person’s breath smell “fruity”, or similar to nail polish remover. This smell can sometimes also be felt from sweat, when working out. It’s often temporary.
Other, less specific but more positive signs include:
Reduced hunger – many people experience a marked reduction in hunger. This may possibly be caused by an increased ability of the body to be fueled by its fat stores.
Many people feel great while eating just once or twice a day, automatically ending up doing a form of intermittent fasting. This saves both time and money, while also speeding up weight loss.
Increased energy – perhaps after a few days of feeling tired (the “keto flu”) many people experience a clear increase in energy levels. This can also be experienced as clear thinking, a lack of “brain fog” or even as a sense of euphoria.
How to achieve ketosis?
There are many things that increase your level of ketosis. Here they are, from most to least important:
- Restrict carbohydrates.
- Exogenous Ketones (Keto OS / Max Formulas)
- Restrict to 30 digestible grams per day or less – a strict low-carb diet. Fiber does not have to be restricted, it might even be beneficial.
- Restrict protein to moderate levels. (not as crucial when supplementing with exogenous ketones)
- Eat enough fat to feel satisfied.
This is the big difference between a ketogenic diet and starvation, that also results in ketosis. A ketogenic diet is sustainable, starvation is not.
Avoid snacking when not hungry. Unnecessary snacking slows weight loss and reduces ketosis.
If necessary add intermittent fasting, like 16:8. This is very effective at boosting ketone levels, as well as accelerating weight loss and type 2 diabetes reversal.