“If only I’d known!”
We have all said this during our lifetime. When I finally discovered one simple fact about my state of health, I was finally able to really make my diet work. It seems to me that this one fact would be important for anyone seeking better health through diet.
Here is what you already know.
- Consume good food that promotes health, fuels the body and gets rid of inflammation, stress, and toxicity.
- Body movement promotes better health. Some call it exercise. It’s important to have strength, flexibility, and endurance.
- Rest and recovery are essential to a complete health plan. Quality periods that restore and rejuvenate your mind, body, and spirit promote better long-term health.
Predicting the Results of Your Diet Before You Start
The starting question that needs to be answered before you develop a diet is
Am I Insulin Resistant and if so, at what level?
The Fat Storage Problem
Truth: Carbohydrate is fat burning’s gatekeeper
(Hardly anyone is talking about this. The big carbohydrate food companies DO NOT want you to know this.)
- Fat is the body’s most efficient fuel
- The more carbohydrate you eat the less fat you burn
- The less carbohydrate you eat the more fat you’ll burn
Fact: when there is glucose in the blood there is also insulin. When insulin is present in the blood glucose, fat burning is turned off. The more carbohydrate a person consumes, the more insulin is in the blood glucose (unless of course of diabetes when there may be a lot or not any at all). At certain low levels of carbohydrate consumption, the prevalence of insulin is low and fat burning is turned on. This is called ketosis (because ketones are produced as a fuel substrate in the absence of insulin).
Starting here is the fundamental way to understand the differing views of diet and was the starting point to find my own truth. When I finally learned my own truth, I said, “If only I’d known!”
What does it mean that carbs are fat burning’s gatekeeper? According to Jeff Volek, Ph.D., RD, a recognized expert and author of The Art and Science of Low-Carbohydrate Living, obesity is a fat storage issue including the prevailing belief it’s a calorie in, calorie out situation too. People gain or lose weight based on how effective their body uses carbohydrates (glucose). If it’s not effective (insulin resistant, below) it doesn’t use all the glucose and then stores the unused excess as fat (lipogenesis).
If you are Insulin Sensitive your cells efficiently absorb glucose (primarily created by carbs). Your cell’s glucose receptors are sensitive to the insulin in your blood that is carrying glucose (blood sugar) and allows the glucose to enter the cell and be used as fuel. Also, insulin opens the door to your cells receiving other vital nutrients like minerals and vitamins.
If you are Insulin Resistant the opposite is true. Your cells do not absorb all the glucose, minerals and vitamins in your blood and the excess glucose that is not absorbed is returned to your liver to be stored as fat in your body (lipogenesis). Your cell’s glucose receptors are “resistant” to the insulin.
If you are insulin sensitive then you may consume the right kind and amount of carbohydrates and retain your health and body composition in a healthy way (see Figure 1).
If you are insulin resistant and carbohydrates are restricted (lowering insulin, see above) will allow your body to turn on fat burning as it’s primary fuel source. When fat is used as your body’s primary fuel source then two desirable results can ensue; 1) you’ll use your body’s excess fat as fuel (weight loss) and 2) avoid the future storage of fat to maintain a healthy body composition (i.e., not gain the lost weight back).
How to Find Your Own Truth (aka, throw all gimmick diets out the door)
A ketogenic diet addresses the truth about how your body processes carbohydrates. If a diet doesn’t address this issue and a person is insulin resistant, the diet that is carb driven will most likely fail.
The starting place is to determine if you are insulin sensitive or resistant (See separate page on how to begin to make that determination).
If you are insulin sensitive then you can create a diet that contains good (at least good for you) carbohydrates, enough protein, and healthy fats. You may start with a basic mix of about 40% of your calories in carbs, 30% protein and 30% healthy fat (it’s just a starting point and most likely will not be where a person will end up). As you have now discovered this fact, you’ll be able to understand (and you will for sure witness) the very high rate of bias in high-carbs and low-fat diets. The truth is the big food carb companies went on a full-court marketing blitz about 20 years ago to discredit fat and unfortunately most people, including so-called experts, took the bait. You need fat in your diet. It’s one of the most efficient fuels at 9 calories per gram (a carb and protein only contain 4 kcal per gram) and it will not spike your insulin levels and will stabilize your blood glucose level. Fats have healing properties too such as helping in the removal of inflammation.
If you are insulin resistant (by the way, all diabetics, severely obese individuals and those with metabolic syndrome are insulin resistant) then you’ll want to consider a low-carb high-fat diet that will create a fat burning state of ketosis. According to several sources, it’s probable that 1 in 4 Americans is insulin resistant. Some believe it’s a higher percentage. A low-carb diet may look like this; 60-70% Fat, 20-25% protein and 5-20% carbohydrates. Because the vast majority of food companies are carb based and our culture has been centered around carbs for the last century, there is a major bias that carbs are good and fat is bad. Yet as you now have discovered, you’ll begin to filter the bias and make a good choice for yourself.
Variability in Different Diets
The way most diets are started: Let’s throw something against the wall and hope it sticks!
I think most people, perhaps you too, believe diets don’t work. Another way to say that is there is a high variability in a diet’s results, i.e., it may work and it may not work. I tried three well-known diets and each of them failed me. I tried the Barry Sear’s Zone diet, the Adkin’s Diet and the Fit for Life diet. They each failed me because they did not consider I was insulin resistant and thus they did not restrict the percentage of my calories that were coming from carbohydrate or define the amount of protein that was optimum for my body. It’s predictable they would each fail me because I’m insulin resistant. This is why I believe the starting point of making a choice of diets for you has to be the assessment of insulin sensitivity or resistance. Without knowing, you’re going to have variability in your diet’s results as illustrated in the graph below (figure 2).
There is two general type of diets based on the premise that carbohydrates are the gatekeeper of burning fat. You have diets that are either low or high in carbohydrates and with multiple variations in between. The lower the number of carbs in a diet the more predictable the diet’s results. The higher the number of carbs in a diet the more variable your results will be.
When I made the discovery that I was insulin resistant I was finally able to understand why my method of maintaining my weight through calorie adherence and/or to lose weight with intermittent fasting and calorie restriction, were no longer working as they did in the past.
When I discovered that my steady weight gain I’d experienced the last 4 years, all while training extensively for racing the Ironman triathlon, was attributable to my high carbohydrate diet, as recommended because I was an endurance athlete, which failed because I was insulin resistant.
In April of 2017, I started a ketogenic diet; 70% fat, enough protein (about 127 grams per day) and 5-10% carbohydrates (20 – 35 grams per day of carbohydrate) and almost immediately felt the vast difference. I started to lose weight fast, my energy shot through the roof and my whole disposition changed. I’ve been able to release 18 pounds on the ketogenic diet alone and I’m at the lowest weight I’ve been since I graduated from high school in 1974.
Others who witnessed my transformation have asked for my help because they too believed they were insulin resistant.