“The insulin resistant, crack-addicted individual really benefits from LC [low carb], I cannot say that sufficiently, and the ease with which people lose weight (fat) on these programs is remarkable” ~Robb Wolf
A ketogenic diet, keto for short, is also known as a low carb diet. Keto is most commonly associated with Dr. Robert Atkins, as it is the introductory phase of his diet plan that became popular in the late 90s. Dr. Atkins originally published his book, Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution, in 1972. You would think that this makes him one of the pioneers of keto but, come to find out, he was nearly 200 years behind. John Rollo M.D. was a Scottish military surgeon who treated an army officer for Type II diabetes with a ketogenic diet in 1797.
So what does Type II diabetes have to do with being overweight? We’ll get to that in a minute. First, let’s clarify what keto actually is.
A Ketogenic Diet
A ketogenic diet is when your food consumption consists of mainly fat. You restrict your carbohydrate intake and moderate your protein consumption to a point that your body goes into ketosis. Ketosis is when your body starts to use fat for energy instead of sugar. Once in this state, if you are overweight, your body will start burning your stored fat for energy, resulting in weight loss. Simple, right?
How we get fat
Let’s dig a little deeper and look at how we get overweight in the first place. Our body keeps sugar on hand for energy use in the form of glycogen. Glycogen is stored in your liver and your muscles. When it’s needed, like for your super cool CrossFit workout, these stores are depleted. If these stores are full when you eat something sugary or starchy (which turns to sugar), then insulin will carry the sugar to fat cells, saving it for later. This is how we get fat.
What happens when you eat a doughnut?
When you eat a doughnut, the sugar and the flour cause your blood sugar levels with a spike, almost immediately. This signals your pancreas to release insulin so it can do its job, which is to regulate your blood sugar levels by delivering the sugar to your muscles and liver in the form of glycogen. Again, if these glycogen stores are full, the insulin carries the sugar to fat cells for storage making the fat cells larger. If you eat another doughnut or wash it down with a latte, this process continues. Taxing your pancreas like this may not be so bad on occasion but if it happens every day, meal after meal, you are going to develop problems.
Problem 1: Your liver and muscles no longer respond to the insulin. They become resistant and tell insulin to bugger off. This is known as “Insulin Resistance” and can be an indicator of, or lead to, pre-diabetes.
Problem 2: Your pancreas says, screw it. After years of trying to regulate your blood sugar, your pancreas will eventually just call it quits. When this happens, congratulations, you’re diabetic.
Problem 3: High blood sugar, which can affect anything that relies on blood flow in order to work. These are some of the best parts of your body. These include your eyes, your kidneys, your heart, your feet, and your brain. Oh, and the male reproductive organ.
So why all this high blood sugar, diabetes talk?
Well, I’m trying to make something very clear. If your glycogen stores are full or are resistant, insulin will carry blood sugar to your fat cells to be stored, making you fat. The more insulin released into your blood, the more sugar it will take to your fat cells, making you fatter. When is insulin released into your blood? As soon as you eat something with sugar or something that turns to sugar, like flour. In the example of the doughnut I have been using, it’s sort of a double whammy. Also, keep in mind that insulin is released every time you eat protein too, just not as extreme as with flour and sugar. This kills TWO major weight loss theories: 1) Eat lean proteins and 2) eat small meals throughout the day. Both of these releases insulin in your blood and if there is insulin in your blood, you WILL NOT burn stored fat. In fact, the exact opposite happens.
Now we can go back to the question, what does Type II diabetes have to do with being overweight? The answer is that they are both caused by the same thing— the over-consumption of carbohydrates— and a ketogenic diet can reverse them both! You can’t address one without addressing the other.