There are lots of products out there with big promises to help you attain this. But are they of any value? Given that up to 95% of all weight loss attempts fail, with dieters gaining back all of the weight they lost, sometimes more within 5 years, I’d suggest most of them aren’t very helpful.
There are a number of reasons for this – many diets are based around calorie counting and grossly restricting the amount of food you eat. That will lead to weight loss, but it’s not just fat you lose, it’s also muscle, plus it slows down your metabolism meaning that when you finish the ‘diet’ and resume eating a normal amount of calories, you regain all that weight you worked so hard to lose. And that’s just the diets that aren’t based on some crazy fad. But there are programmes that work – these tend to be ones that are based around healthy eating and also encourage regular exercise.
One simple reason for this is that it works! Ketogenic diets work because they are in tune with the body’s natural mechanisms.
The body is designed, very intelligently I might add, to roll with the ebbs and flows of food supply, which historically dried up seasonally and created natural cycles of famine. During these periods the body would break down stored reserves (fat) and use it as the primary fuel source until the season changed and food once again became more abundant. And this is the principle of a ketogenic diet, not to starve, but to switch the body over to burning fat as its primary fuel source. Importantly this happens by working with the natural processes of the body, not by forcing unnatural starvation or the breakdown of structural tissues (muscle).
These are quickly broken down into glucose and used for energy, any excess is stored typically as fat. Only when glucose levels are very low does the body flick the switch to burning stored fat; this is caused by a diet that is very low in carbohydrates.
The natural metabolic by-product of burning your fat stores is ketones which can be measured in the urine using a simple ketone strip. Now apart from the obvious benefit of reducing fat stores, ketogenic diets help to reduce both blood glucose and blood insulin levels – excess levels of these have been linked to premature ageing and chronic health conditions.
When a ketogenic diet is part of a complete programme you eat far fewer carbohydrates, eliminate refined sugars, eat balanced healthy fats and proteins and lots of leafy vegetables. The benefits of such a diet extend well beyond mere weight loss; you’re also improving your glucose and insulin regulation and sensitivity, you’re increasing your intake of antioxidants, supporting heart health, brain health, increasing energy levels and of course recalibrating the body for optimal ageing.
As you’d expect, anything that has so many benefits is bound to attract attention – the ketogenic diet is no different. Over recent years supplements that are marketed to provide the body with ketones have been promoted as ‘miracle fat-burners in a bottle’.
These are classified as exogenous ketones – exogenous meaning originated outside of the body compared to endogenous which is a substance created within the body – such as ketones that are generated when the body is deprived of dietary glucose (low carbohydrate diet) and burns stored fat for energy. So what happens when you take exogenous ketones in the form of a supplement? Well the scientific evidence is sketchy at best with regard to weight loss, and that makes sense – endogenous ketones are a metabolic by-product of burning stored fat; if you take exogenous ketones you have a certain level of ketones in the body but they didn’t come from burning stored fat, they came from taking a supplement – so how can they help with weight loss? It is possible that exogenous ketones provide some benefit to the brain for people with conditions such as epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease, but this is quite a new area of research and to be quite frank I’d suggest looking at creating endogenous ketones through diet changes to get these benefits, that way you reap the other rewards of such a programme.