Why would a company that sells food be talking about fasting? Although our clients not eating seems like it would be bad for our bottom line, it is actually something we encourage people to learn about. What the ketogenic diet offers is a way to eat while obtaining some of the systemic benefits of fasting.
The science of fasting is fascinating, and we have learned a lot from Dr. Jason Fung’s excellent 23-part blog series. Fasting begins when body fat is converted into ketones for energy, and continues for as long as there is adequate body fat. During this phase of ketosis, energy and cognition are still good, which will hopefully give someone enough time to find food.
Starvation only starts when the body runs out of body fat and starts to break down muscle and other vital tissue. Many modern people could fast for weeks before hitting starvation. Don’t try an extended fast at home–there are myriad issues that can arise during fasting and medical monitoring is recommended–but it illustrates that the ketogenic state is a natural one, and you will enter it within three days of ceasing food intake.
Because Western diets contain large amounts of carbohydrate, and the majority of people have steady access to abundant calories, many people have not spent much time in the ketotic state.
The ketogenic diet, which restricts carbohydrates but allows high amounts of fat and moderate amounts of protein, is a way to mimic the effects of fasting while still consuming calories. If you restrict calories on a ketogenic diet, which usually happens naturally (due to the reduction in appetite from having round-the-clock even blood sugar), you will lose weight.
If you consume excess protein, which still triggers a small insulin response, you can gain weight. As bodybuilders know, triggering insulin is the key to getting bigger, and carbohydrates provoke the biggest insulin response.
If you merely consume higher fat while keeping protein adequate on a ketogenic diet, you may stay the same weight. All the extra fat calories you consume will be burned up for energy, with the excess being burned as heat. This is often surprising to people who have been on more typical calorie-restriction diets.
People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.– Isaac Asimov
Calorie-restricted high-carbohydrate diets have been described as trying to drive a car while pumping the gas and the breaks simultaneously.* Carbohydrates raise insulin, which are the “breaks” for weight loss, and calorie restriction is the “gas” that spurs body fat to be used as energy.
This is why typical dieters spend lots of time feeling hungry and low-energy. Hunger is triggered, in part, by falling blood sugars. Blood sugar rises highest with carbohydrates, a small amount with protein, and hardly at all with fat. This means that even if your calories are low, eating carbs at every meal and snack keeps you on what Dr. Bernstein, one of the earliest proponents of a low-carb diet for people with diabetes, calls the “blood sugar roller coaster.”
I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.– Oscar Wilde
People often fail to realize the impact that this blood sugar rollercoaster has on their mood and cognition until they adjust to a low carb or keto diet and feel the serene stability that often ensues. There are people who adhere to a meat-only diet (which is not necessarily keto at all times due to the high protein intake, but is likely ketotic at least some of the time) who refer to this feeling as the “Zero Carb Zen.”
Fasting and keto are both tools to create mental and physical change, and like any tools, must be used safely. We will continue discussing how to do that in Part III.
*I cannot recall who said this originally, and my Google-fu has failed me in trying to find it.