February 20, 2019
December 28, 2018 by Dr. Varner in Ketogenic Diet
Recently, celebrity personal trainer Jillian Michaels slammed Ketogenic diets as a fad that people should avoid. Her advice? “Just work out, eat clean, and don’t overeat. It’s that simple.”
It may be ‘that simple’ for Jillian Michaels, but as someone who has suffered from obesity and who also understands human physiology, I’m here to tell you that it isn’t.
Michaels advocates calorie management and calorie restriction as a way to lose weight and manage oxidative stress. There is certainly a grain of truth to this: calorie restriction can result in weight loss and even result in a longer lifespan. But that’s not the whole story.
When you eat more or you eat less, your body naturally adjusts to regulate its own weight through hunger and metabolism guiding hormones. If you restrict your calorie intake and your fat stores become too scarce, your body will respond by boosting your hunger hormones and slowing down your metabolism. Likewise, if you consume excess calories and your fat cells get too big, your hunger impulse falls and your metabolism rises correspondingly.
Thanks to this, eating more calories does not automatically lead you to obesity. And this is why, even though there has been a surplus of food in parts of the world for centuries, obesity has only been common in the last few decades.
The truth is, obesity is the result of a global shift to high-consumption of processed carbohydrates, which has caused the body’s natural weight regulation system to break down.
When you eat processed carbohydrates, your body produces insulin, a hormone that helps trigger your body to convert the incoming sugar into fat, and store it in your fat cells. On a carb-centric diet, your insulin levels are at a constant high, which signals to your body to keep storing more fat, and impairs your body’s ability to use your existing fat stores.
So on a low-calorie, high-carb diet, essentially what you’re getting is increased hunger, a lowered metabolism and a reduced ability to use your own fat stores. It’s the worst of all worlds! In a situation like that, it’s no wonder that people associate dieting with suffering.
Michaels gives this flawed calorie-restriction advice on her show The Biggest Loser. And while contestants are typically able to reduce their weight during the course of the show, most of them regain all of the weight shortly after.
In fact, studies on the longer-term effects on the contestants show that many have suffered long term damage to their metabolisms. And it makes sense. When your fat metabolism is impaired, even if you have hundreds of pounds of excess fat, your body will have difficulty using it. And if you then drastically cut your calorie intake, your body just goes into starvation mode, which as mentioned at the beginning leads your body to naturally lower your metabolism. It’s a losing battle.
You wouldn’t take your firewood and submerge it in water before trying to use it to heat your house. But on the low-calorie, high-carbohydrate diet prescribed by Jillian Michaels, that’s basically what you’re doing to your body fat.
What the Ketogenic diet does, is it helps you to break that cycle. This works to tackle obesity by promoting fat-adaptation, which is what allows your body to access stored fat. Only then, when you eat a hypocaloric (low calorie) diet will you actually be able to start using up your excess fat stores. The best part is, you won’t feel like you’re starving. And your body won’t act like it is either.
Ketogenic diets aren’t popular because they’re trendy; they popular because they offer a real solution in a world of blatant misinformation about obesity.
For years, I was the patient getting constant lectures from doctors, personal trainers and strangers who thought I just lacked discipline. This kind of self-righteous preaching reinforced all of my worst insecurities and made being obese not just physically damaging, but emotionally and mentally destructive as well.
Obese people don’t need a genetically blessed personal trainer to tell them to eat fewer calories. They need education about the real cause of obesity and support in crafting a healthy lifestyle. With the right information and support, dieting does not have to be a painful and losing battle.