Low Carb vs. Ketogenic: The Big Fat Difference
I have been eating, breathing, and living diet trends for as long as I can remember. I always wanted to reach that mystical diet utopia where I looked good in a bikini and could still throw down my beloved chicken tenders and fries on the regular. I desperately needed to get rid of the maternity bathing suit I was holding onto “just in case” for good. It took far too much time and far too much effort, but better late to the low carb party than never, I suppose. I finally discovered the piece of the puzzle I was missing all along.
I know if you are reading this, you have likely faced this struggle. Maybe you aren’t holding onto your maternity suit because you cannot find a regular suit to hide your fat appropriately. Maybe you refuse to get into a bathing suit at all. I have a three-year-old, so I don’t have that option. The endless whining I would endure would surely drive me mad.
I have good news! My mid-section was finally introduced to the sun this summer for the first time in its entire life. For a mom of two who is approaching 40, I wasn’t too shabby. I even felt a little confident. Sure, I was only in my backyard swimming with the three-year-old, but the new neighbors could have peeked over the brick fence at any time. I assure you, I. Was. Brave.
If you have been following along, many of you know I finally reached my personal health utopia thanks to keto! For anyone who still thinks keto is some sort of supplement sold by MLM companies, read here. I have an entire blog dedicated to the keto newbies of the world. Now I want you to fully prepare yourself for shock and awe with this next statement I am going to make. A ketogenic diet alone was not responsible for the majority of my success.
The lies! The trickery! Everyone wants their money back!
Wait a minute, this is all free.
Ok, so it’s not all that shocking, especially since I have alluded to that, as well as flat out written about that, in several other blogs. Long before I followed a ketogenic diet, I was simply low carb. Guess what – being simply low carb is sometimes enough. I lost 60 of the first 80 pounds with being simply low carb after my first pregnancy. I didn’t know what a ketogenic diet was until then. Sometimes simple is all it takes. Well, until I find out it’s not quite as simple as I thought.
I am fortunate to have many people reach out to me to let me know I have inspired them to continue their health journey. Still, I have many others that do not know what in the bologna sandwiches I am talking about. Well, I do not endorse bologna sandwiches and I clearly watch far too much Mickey Mouse.
Here is the basic timeline I used to finally reach my goal weight for the first time after struggling for more than twenty-five years:
- September 2013 – reached the highest weight after the birth of a son.
- February 2014 – Read Kick Your Fat in the Nuts (and then re-read it a few more times). Began natural supplements to fix digestive issues. Began reducing carbohydrates to less than 25 per meal for most meals and snacks. Added more healthy fats to the diet. Reduced eating windows to 10-12 hours per day.
- February 2015 – lost 60 pounds by this point. Digestive supplements and a better diet fixed a multitude of health problems that plagued me for decades. Heard about the ketogenic diet.
- March 2015 – began reducing carbohydrates from approximately 100-150 per day to approximately 20-30 per day. Ate even more fat.
- June 2015 – lost additional 20 pounds by this point. Became pregnant with a second child.
- June 2015 – March 2016 – kept processed carbs low, kept healthy fats high, went for walks. Gained approximately 50 pounds during pregnancy. Avoided gestational diabetes.
- April 2016 – began lowering carbs to ketogenic levels. Resumed frequent walks.
- August 2016 – sold the house and moved across the country with two small children. Food free for all!
- October 2016 – began reducing carbs to ketogenic level.
- December 2016 – Christmas break in Chicago. Food free for all.
- January 2017 – resumed low carb, high fat ketogenic diet. Began experimenting with longer periods of intermittent fasting. (Went from daily 16:8 to some weeks with at least 1-2 24 hour fasts)
- April/May 2017 – reached goal weight of 135 pounds. Total weight lost after second pregnancy 65 pounds + 80 pounds from the first pregnancy.
- Determined this stuff works after all.
As you can see, my diet plan changed from start to finish. I had periods of time where I was simply low carb, periods of time where I was strictly keto, and periods of time where life happened and I ate whatever was shoved in front of my face. Guess what! All of these methods helped me to my goal. Well, not the shoving junk in my face. But it happened and I didn’t go all crazy, only to wake up years later with Dorito crumbs falling down my 2X shirt.
I planned for it, I kept it reasonable (which wasn’t hard since I fixed my digestion and didn’t crave all of the junk of the days of yore) and I picked myself up to get back on my eating plan when I was ready. Sure, eating keto and adding intermittent fasting sped up the results and led to some pretty marvelous health gains, including unbelievable energy, but keto wasn’t absolutely necessary for me. As messed up as my hormones were from years of bad diets and too many over-the-counter medications, I was still fixable and I allowed myself time to heal. For other people, keto is exactly what they need to heal and they cannot afford to veer off course. These are all very individual people.
Since it is individual, I want to explain the differences between low carb and ketogenic, and what makes each diet work.
Low Carb Diets
When I began to eat low carb, which involved cutting my carbs to less than 25 per meal, this caused a less severe insulin spike than previous meals of say, spaghetti with meat sauce, which probably has around 50-100 grams of carbs just for the spaghetti and sauce. The spaghetti package says only 42 grams, but who measures out only one cup of spaghetti noodles? And then you add in the garlic bread, maybe a fruit popsicle after dinner. Holy insulin spike batman!
When your insulin is hard at work trying to recover from a huge spike, your body is not able to burn fat.
Not only is your body not burning fat, but it is also now storing excess fat.
So when you take that spaghetti and meat sauce – let’s say 75 grams of carbs + garlic bread 25 grams of carbs + fruit popsicle 13 grams of carbs, oh and wait, let’s not forget about that Coke you had with dinner too + 40 grams of carbs. That is 163 grams of carbs spike your body now has to recover from. Well, that’s IF it ever recovered from the carbs you had at 3 pm because you were so hungry that you would have eaten cookies off the ground if that was your only option. Thank goodness for the vending machine!
When your insulin is spiking up and down ALL DAY LONG because you have to eat ALL DAY LONG because the processed carbohydrates you are consuming make you ravenous ALL DAY LONG, guess what your body never has a chance to do. Burn fat. So about that diet, you keep saying you are on… If you are eating carbs all day, not gonna happen; so quit talking about it already. You are wasting time talking when your internal clock says it’s time to find more junk to shove into your pie-hole.
If you want to make that spaghetti and meat sauce meal work on a low-carb diet, let’s make a few changes. How about we eat only half a portion of noodles starting out. Soon enough you can wear them all together, but for now, just eat half. And how about you add some green peppers, onions, zucchini, and fat, maybe butter or olive oil, to that low sugar sauce to help fill you up and give your body the nutrition it needs. Get rid of the garlic bread and popsicle. Just because it says it is fruit does not mean it is good for you. Do we even need to talk about Coke? Liquid sugar in any form is the fastest way to spike your insulin. (Here’s looking at you, orange juice).
Hey you! Yeah you, trying to sneak in that Diet Coke. Uh, uh. Let’s stop that right now. Who do you typically see drinking diet sodas? Overweight people. Do you know why that is? Diet soda can also cause insulin spikes, which causes weight gain. And you people with the diet soda didn’t even get sugar out of the deal. (Who am I fooling here. It is diet pop. I’m a midwestern girl, after all).
So now that we have taken our meal from over 160 carbs down to only 25 carbs, and we also removed the artificial sweeteners, our body’s insulin spike isn’t quite so drastic. The body can recover more quickly and can now spend time burning the fat on your body instead of adding more. It’s called eating for your hormones.
Insulin is the fat-storing hormone.
When you eat in a way to bring insulin down, you do not store the fat. Eating 25 grams of carbs or less per meal is one way to bring insulin down. So long calorie counting, I never liked you anyway!
If you eat 25 carbs or less at most meals during the week, your hormones will begin to heal and the weight will start to come off your body accordingly. Also, add plenty of healthy fats and proteins to your meals to make you satiated longer. Every single time you put food in your face, your insulin spikes. Every time your insulin spikes, you are storing fat. If your meals keep you satiated longer, then you can make it to your next meal without a snack. If you are only eating three times per day instead of six times per day, your insulin is spiking only half as many times. (see, even us creative folk can do the math). The longer amount of time you give your insulin to rest, the more opportunity your body has to spend energy-burning fat in place of storing fat.
This low-carb thing sounds pretty easy, eh? Sure, at first you might miss all of the sugar a little bit. Who am I kidding? You are probably going to want to rip your spouse’s head off due to the sugar withdrawal from your lifelong sugar addiction. If you ever want to heal and get to a healthier place, it’s kind of what needs to happen. Kicking the sugar addiction, not ripping your spouse’s head off. Once again, fixing the way your body digests food can help here. You can do this the easy way or the hard way. Your choice.
Now we get to keto. Keto is a low-carb diet, but supercharged. Do you know what you get with a supercharged diet? Supercharged results! You are still eating for your hormones, but now you are lowering your insulin level even further! If you get into ketosis correctly and stay there for a while, your hormones begin to heal and you can improve many diseases of civilization, including type 2 diabetes, PCOS, metabolic syndrome, IBS, foggy brain and so much more. Check out this article for even more ailments a ketogenic diet can help improve. I was on the verge of type 2 diabetes…guess how I changed that health sentence. Keto, of course!
With keto, you want to lower your carbs all the way down from 100-150 per day to only around 20 per day. Why would you do such a thing? What about the vegetables? What did all the fruits ever do to you? you must be asking. No, I don’t hate all the fruits, but they are called nature’s candy for a reason. Do you know any reasonable person who goes on a diet and expects to have results eating a bunch of candy? And vegetables, definitely still eat those – just eat the vegetables lower in carbs and add butter. Lots and lots of butter! After all, you won’t be getting any of the necessary fat-soluble vitamins from those vegetables without adding fat.
With keto, you are lowering your carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat. Like, a lot of fat. And some protein, but not too much. You want to eat 75-85% of your calories from healthy fats. This eventually forces your body to burn fat as fuel instead of glucose, which the majority of people burn. As a glucose burner, your body requires frequent energy boosts in the form of more food all day long. Glucose just isn’t an efficient fuel if you have any kind of life and have things to do. Or if you want to burn your stored fat. Glucose sucks as a fuel for burning stored fat.
As a fat burner, you can go for days without additional fuel. Seriously, I have tried it and I felt amazing. It’s called intermittent fasting while being fat adapted. Once you are fat-adapted, your body breaks through the glucose barrier that needs constant refueling and starts to burn the fat on your body. Once you are fat-adapted, it becomes easy to strategically skip meals because you are finally using the energy up from that Big Mac you had back in 2012. (This, thankfully, was the last time I had a Big Mac).
I get many messages from new ketoers telling me they are in ketosis because the pee sticks turned purple. These same people tell me they are on a strict ketogenic diet of fewer than 100 grams of fat and under 1200 calories. Dear new ketoer, I call that lunch! I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you are most likely not in ketosis, and eating less than 1200 calories per day is no way to heal your hormones. Your body can barely make it out of bed on 1200 calories per day, little lone have the extra energy to heal itself. There are some days and some people where 1200 calories might be enough. The point is, you need to listen to your body – not an app on your phone telling you how many calories you have left for the day. And those purple pee sticks – sorry to tell you, you are most likely dehydrated.
If you are not already on a ketogenic diet, start with the low carb. You can get plenty healthy with a low-carb diet. When you are ready for the amazing benefits of a ketogenic diet, it will actually be easier to make the switch since you are already eating around 100 carbs per day instead of the standard 300+ that most people on a standard diet consume.
Some reasons you may want to stay low carb are:
- You are not fully committed to a ketogenic diet. With a keto diet, there is no cheating on the weekends. If you want to get and stay in ketosis, especially at the beginning, it takes work and commitment. Not everybody is ready for that.
- Your body is not able to process fats very well yet. If you feel bloated, gassy, nauseous, have frequent acne, or itchy skin, these are all signs that your body is not digesting the additional fat very well. You may need extra time to ramp up your fat to get anywhere near a ketogenic level. Also, taking Beet Flow or a coffee enema can help speed this process along. (Yes, I said coffee enema. Please seek a professional, because it’s not simply streaming coffee into your butt. Well, maybe it is. I was good with the Beet Flow; never needed the enema) Click here for an almost free four-week digestion course.
- You are happy with your results from a low-carb diet. Not everyone wants to be the same size as they were in high school. Some people actually just want healthier insides. Having healthier insides is an awesome goal. Lowering your carbs to under 25 per meal can get you here without the extra commitment.
Reasons to start low carb, then switch to a ketogenic diet:
1 . You are suffering from any of the diseases of civilization mentioned in the link above.
To eat a ketogenic diet is to heal your hormones. To heal your hormones is to improve your disease. Real, high-quality food will work way better than anything your doctor could ever prescribe. If you are looking for a quick fix, see your doctor. If you are looking for lasting results, change your diet. (NEVER come off your prescribed medications without consulting your doctor).
2. You want the most energy you have ever felt in your life!
When you adopt a ketogenic lifestyle, your body has almost unlimited fat to use as fuel. You are not constantly experiencing the sugar spikes and crashes of the typical standard American diet. This leads to the energy that lasts all day long, without the constant need to refuel.
3. You want life to be easy without constant food noise.
We have all experienced daydreaming about what we are going to eat for dinner about twenty minutes after we just consumed lunch. When you consume a ketogenic diet, your mind isn’t constantly thinking about food. You feel satisfied and can spend your energy on more important tasks. Your brain fog clears and you can accomplish so much more in a day. Throw some intermittent fasting into the mix and look out world, mama’s taking over! But that’s another blog, another day.
There you have it – the piece of the puzzle that I was missing for so long! Low carb diets and ketogenic diets are both excellent diets for bringing insulin levels down, which helps us burn fat. They just do it at different levels. Choose the results you want, cut back on the junky carbohydrates, and eat some coconut oil already!
If you need help figuring out what to eat to reach your health goals or are struggling to get into ketosis, ask me about Personal Coaching. A little bit of coaching now can save you from a ton of food frustration and struggle. Besides, who couldn’t use a friend to guide you and cheer you on while going through such an exceptional life change!
QUIT DIETING FOREVER!
To learn how to stop yo-yo dieting FOREVER, click here. Work with your body, not against it!