As of February 15, 2020, I’ve been following a ketogenic diet for a full year. The results to date have been good.
The data reveals that I’ve reduced body weight by approximately 40 pounds, year-over-year. Both the mirror and the fit of my clothing suggest that the majority of this body weight reduction has been fat rather than muscle. (I may have dropped up to 50 pounds. Unfortunately, I do not have an exact measurement of my peak weight because I wasn’t weighing myself at the time.)
An important driver of this change has been protein leverage. While I’ve been eating a mostly ketogenic diet (low carb and high fat), I suspect that my average protein intake per day is higher than most “orthodox” keto practitioners. Even so, I’m probably still getting above 50% of my daily calories as fat.
Most recently, I’ve been inspired by the P:E diet methodology promoted by Dr. Ted Naiman. The theory behind this approach uses protein leverage as a foundation, and it can explain both the successes and failures of many different diets.
The goal of the P:E diet is to optimize for a high ratio of protein calories to energy (carb or fat) calories. Protein leverage theory suggests that a person will experience hunger until he reaches the needed intake of (1) protein and (2) minerals and vitamins. Empirically, experimentally, and clinically, protein appears to be the macronutrient that delivers the greatest level of satiety, offering support to the protein leverage theory. P:E theory suggests that body fat loss is greatest when protein needs are prioritized over energy needs.
To avoid overeating and maintain insulin sensitivity and metabolic health, the P:E diet recommends targeting protein, mineral, and vitamin needs, with a minimum of unnecessary energy intake. In this sense, it’s the exact opposite of the “Standard American Diet” or SAD. The SAD is very weak in protein and nutrients, and people eating this way tend to give themselves a massive excess of food energy (fat or carbohydrate) as they eat to satisfy their need for protein.
People don’t consciously think “I need more protein, I should eat more”. Instead, they experience greater appetite and naturally increase their food intake until the body receives enough protein. This overconsumption of energy has to go somewhere, and it usually ends up stored in the form of body fat. Alternatively, if they are “on a diet”, then they use their willpower to endure hunger and avoid eating, even though their body is sending out signals calling for more food. This is why calorie restriction diets have a high failure rate – appetite is involuntary, and your body will apply mental pressure and push against your willpower until you get enough protein in a day. This creates the familiar yo-yo dieter cycle of “being good” – undereating on low-satiety foods and ignoring the natural urge to eat – and then “being bad” – giving in and eating junk food to excess. Using protein leverage makes the body into an ally rather than an adversary.
Prioritizing protein can be done in either a high fat (ketogenic) approach or a low fat (high carbohydrate) approach. The latter is represented by various famous “heart healthy” diet doctors like Ornish, Fuhrman, Esselstyn, and McDougall. Regardless of the exact approach, the P:E theory explains the successes of both ketogenic diets and ultra-low-fat diets.
The main things to avoid are foods and food combinations high in both fat and carbohydrate, because this matches the “fattening up for winter” dietary pattern. It’s not surprising that the most addictive junk foods and comfort foods fit this pattern: approximately half carb, half fat, and a little protein (typically somewhere in the range of 5-10%). Foods like this include pizza, french fries, potato chips, ice cream, donuts, packaged baked goods, and so forth. If there’s a food that you “can’t stop”, the odds are good that it’s one of these: half-fat, half-carb, a little protein.
My top 5 tips for healthy weight loss (body fat loss)
- No matter what else you do, eliminate sugar, grains, and seed oils. Many people are able to drop unwanted body fat through this tip alone. This tip wipes out most processed foods, junk foods, fast foods and other artificial, addictive, food-like substances that create myriad health problems.
- Eat low-carb, high-protein, and high-fat. Favor protein for satiety (long-term fullness), and fat for energy and its low effect on glycemia (blood sugar).
- Practice time-restricted eating or intermittent fasting. For example, stop eating at 20:00 (8:00 PM) and do not eat until 12:00 (noon). This keeps blood sugar in a healthy range. (Tips 1 and 2 come first because they make practicing tip 3 a lot easier.)
- Supplement with whey protein. Aim to add supplemental whey protein at least a couple of times a day in order to reach your protein intake targets and improve satiety. Take advantage of protein leverage.
- Favor whole foods in their natural state. Processing tends to concentrate energy (fat and/or carb) and eliminate fiber. On average, processed foods digest and convert to stored body fat a lot faster than natural, whole foods. It’s good when the list of ingredients is short. It’s best when the list of ingredients has just one item: e.g. “beef”, or “macadamia nuts” or “eggs”.