Yes, It’s A High-Protein Diet

      302 Comments on Yes, It’s A High-Protein Diet

I admit it:  I eat a high-protein diet.  Not just low-carb, and not just high-fat.  It’s high protein.

I thought I should make a public confession because every time some dunce in the media opines that the “high-protein Atkins diet” will kill you, low-carbers around the world jump up and down and yell, “It’s not high protein!  It’s high fat!”

Speak for yourself.

It’s true that when most of us switch to a low-carb diet, we don’t replace 300 grams of carbohydrate with 300 grams of protein.  We swap a lot of the carb calories for fat calories, and that’s good.  But a lot of us also swap a chunk of carb calories for protein calories, and that’s also good.   I used to eat pasta with low-fat marinara sauce for dinner.  Now I eat meats and vegetables.  More fat, more protein.  I almost certainly eat more protein — quite a bit more — than people on the standard Western diet.   I suspect a lot of people on paleo and/or low-carb diets do as well.

People who aim for a constant state of ketosis are, of course, an exception.  Many find they have to restrict protein.  Fine, if that’s working for you, keep it up.  But as I stated in this post and others, I see “nutritional ketosis” as an intervention that’s useful and perhaps even necessary for some, but not the ideal state all health-conscious people must seek.  It’s likely less-than-ideal for a large share of the population.

When ketogenic diets were all the rage, I tried getting into ketosis and staying there, but found it difficult.  Restricting carbs to almost zero and eating plenty of fat wasn’t enough.  I also had to restrict my protein intake to somewhere around 50 grams per day.  Even that barely got me past 1.0 on the keto-meter.

After mulling it over, I concluded that if maintaining chronic ketosis requires that much effort, it can’t possibly be the natural metabolic state of our paleo ancestors – at least not my Irish paleo ancestors.  They wouldn’t have restricted protein, and they certainly weren’t importing avocados year-round to keep their fat intake at 80 percent.

Yes, I’m sure they, like other paleo people, prized fat.  But that doesn’t mean they were able to live on mostly fat.  People prize gold too — because it’s difficult to obtain. There just aren’t that many fatty foods available in the wild, at least not in Northern Europe.  Even if you’re a successful hunter of Paleolithic beasts and eating them nose-to-tail, I doubt you end up at 80 percent fat and only 50 grams of protein per day.  The Inuits — our poster-boys for a VLC diet — consumed 240 grams of protein per day, according to one study.  That doesn’t sound ketogenic to me.

I went back to eating high protein because I listen to my body.  I gave myself several weeks to adjust to ketosis, but never felt quite as strong, energetic or alert as when I eat a higher-protein diet.  Wondering why that was the case, I looked to simple math for an answer.

Our brains, mucous membranes and red blood cells require glucose.  Ketones can substitute for some of the glucose, but not all of it.  The bottom line is that our bodies must have glucose – nowhere near as much as the USDA dingbats tell us, but some.

The answer in low-carb circles has always been Yes, but your body can produce glucose by converting protein.  It’s called gluconeogenesis.  Yup, I’m totally on board with that, and I’m pretty sure I rely on gluconeogensis for at least some of my glucose needs.  But we also need protein to maintain muscle mass.  Different gurus have different opinions on exactly how much, but the typical figure for a guy my size would be a minimum of 60 grams per day.

See the basic math problem here?  If I’m only eating 50 grams of protein per day, that might just cover what I need to maintain muscle mass, or it might just cover my body’s requirement for glucose via gluconeogenesis, but it sure as shootin’ won’t cover both.  So if I can only stay in ketosis by going zero-carb and low-protein, I’m either going to run short of biologically necessary glucose or lose muscle mass.  (If I’m missing something in the equation, somebody can enlighten me.)

When I’ve mentioned that I don’t aim for ketosis and don’t believe it’s the natural human metabolic state (at least not as a constant state), I’ve had well-meaning people assure me that if I’m not in “nutritional ketosis,” it means I’m still primarily a glucose-burner.  Let’s see how that holds up to simple math.

Suppose I consume 150 grams of protein in a day, plus 50 grams of carbohydrate.  That would be a typical daily intake for me, and definitely prevent me from going into ketosis.  My body will likely use 50 or more grams of protein to maintain lean tissue, but what the heck, let’s say all that protein ended up as glucose for energy.  In that case, we’re talking about 800 calories of protein and carbohydrate combined.  At my size and activity level, I probably burn at least 2400 calories per day.  That means the other 1600 calories come from fat … otherwise known as 67% of the total.

So no, I’m not primarily a glucose-burner.  I’m primarily a fat-burner, even at a high protein intake.  I don’t know why that doesn’t translate into higher readings on the keto-meter, nor do I care.  What I do care about is feeling alert, energetic and strong – which I do on a higher protein diet.

Once we let go of the “but I won’t be in ketosis!” fear, the question is whether going high-protein provides metabolic advantages.  For most of us (meaning those who don’t over-produce insulin in response to protein), I believe it does.

This study, for example, found that increasing protein to 30 percent of calories (which is what our friend Jonathan Bailor recommends) produced a spontaneous decrease of 440 calories per day and a reduction in fat mass.  As you know, I don’t believe restricting calories is the key to weight loss all by itself.  Your body has to be satisfied with fewer calories, or the elephant will panic and run away.  (That’s a reference to a post about The Rider and the Elephant, in case you missed it.)  When people eat less despite not being instructed to do so, it means their bodies are satisfied.

This study (as well as others) demonstrated that while losing weight, people on a high-protein diet were more likely to maintain their muscle mass.  If you’re trying to lose weight (and I’m sure many of you out there are), you don’t want it to come from your muscles.  That sets you up for a lower metabolism and a less-appealing body composition.  So restricting protein as part of a weight-loss diet could backfire in the long term.  A high-protein diet, on the other hand, has been show to raise metabolism.

I don’t feel the need to make major changes in my diet.  Going low-carb in 2008 was a major change that provided a slew of  benefits, so most of what I do now is tinker.  Last year I tinkered by re-introducing a bit of safe starch and adding some resistant starch.  This year I’ve been tinkering by reducing my fat intake a bit and increasing protein.  It’s still a high-fat diet, but not as high.

Most days I aim for somewhere around 150 grams of protein.  Since I don’t want to slog down 75 grams for lunch and another 75 for dinner, that means I’ve started eating breakfast again – well, most days.  Some days I just don’t feel like it.  I also still pick two days per week for intermittent fasting, meaning I don’t eat until dinner – usually around 7:00 PM.  I accept that I won’t get as much protein on those days.

On the non-fasting days, I’ve upped the protein partly by adding eggs whites to my meals.  Don’t scream.  I know we all think of eggs whites as those icky things the anti-fat hysterics want us to eat instead of whole eggs, but I still eat whole eggs – usually three per day.  However, I don’t want to choke down six whole eggs in the morning for the sake of consuming a high-protein breakfast.  I like eggs yolks, but not that much.  So I’ll eat three eggs with a cup of eggs whites added to the pan.  I’ve also been adding lean cuts of meat to my lunches and dinners – which already contain plenty of fat, so the point isn’t to create a low-fat meal.  The point is to create a high-protein meal.

After extolling the benefits of a higher-protein diet, I’m probably supposed to tell you how much weight I’ve lost.  Trouble is, I don’t know.  I’ve mentioned before that we don’t have a scale at home so I only weigh myself at the gym.  Turns out even that was useless, or at least it is now.

I realized as much when I stepped on the gym scale a few weeks ago.  It’s one of those “medical” scales you see in doctors’ offices, with the sliding weights and the balance mechanism.  It all feels so very precise, sliding that top weight over … and a little more … and a little more until the balance is dead center.

But I knew the gym’s scale wasn’t precise when it told me I weighed 206 pounds.  That’s not an impossible figure – I weighed more than that 10 years ago – but just a week earlier, the same scale told me I weighed 194 pounds.  All I’ve done since then is follow my usual diet and exercise program, which isn’t likely to induce a gain of 12 pounds in seven days.

So I turned to a nearby staff member and said, “This scale has me weighing 12 pounds more than a week ago.”

“Oh, yeah, don’t pay any attention to that thing.  It’s all messed up.”

Makes me wonder why it’s still in the gym instead of being fixed or sent to the scrap heap, but that’s not my concern.

Anyway, I don’t know how much I weigh.  But I can say I’ve had to cinch my belt a notch tighter since tinkering with a high-protein diet.

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302 thoughts on “Yes, It’s A High-Protein Diet

  1. tony

    Tom, you stated ” eating 50 grams of protein per day, that might just cover what I need to maintain muscle mass.” According to the RDA and WHO, we are supposed to consume 0.8 grams of protein per kg of weight. 50 grams would mean your weight is 62.5 kg or 137.5 lb. No way you cover your needs!

    You mentioned that you weighted 194 lb.

    Thus, your minimum daily needs are 194/2.2 lb per kg *0.8 = 71 grams of protein. Since excess protein won’t hurt unless you have kidney problems and bodybuilders recommend 1 gram of protein per pound of weight, your 150 is in the ball park. Congratulations!

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton

      I believe the .08/kg figure was intended to be applied to estimated lean body mass. So if I weigh 194 at 20% body fat (just guessing on that), my lean body mass would be 155.

      That being said, I’d still rather eat extra protein than not enough, and you’re correct: 50 grams per day isn’t enough.

      Reply
      1. David

        I like the formula A. Colpo uses in the Fat Loss Bible-
        protein,
        lean mass kg x 1.6 (sedentary)
        lean mass kg x 2.5 (athlete)

        If you take the average of the range, 2.05, you get 145 g, which puts you right on the sweet spot

        Reply
        1. Tom Naughton

          That makes sense, since 150 feels right to my body.

          Another formula I’ve seen that’s easy for Americans (or anyone not on the metric system) is to estimate your lean body weight in pounds, then consume 1 gram of protein per pound. So if my lean body weight is 155, we arrive at almost the same number.

          Reply
  2. JW

    I was doing high protein but found my blood sugars rising along with my hunger and weight. I tweaked and lowered my protein/upped my fat and wow awesome hunger control and weight loss. I’m not sure what to do as I’m a firm believer in high protein for body composition and am worried about going high fat. Has anyone else been in this same position and offer advice.

    Reply
  3. tony

    Tom, you stated ” eating 50 grams of protein per day, that might just cover what I need to maintain muscle mass.” According to the RDA and WHO, we are supposed to consume 0.8 grams of protein per kg of weight. 50 grams would mean your weight is 62.5 kg or 137.5 lb. No way you cover your needs!

    You mentioned that you weighted 194 lb.

    Thus, your minimum daily needs are 194/2.2 lb per kg *0.8 = 71 grams of protein. Since excess protein won’t hurt unless you have kidney problems and bodybuilders recommend 1 gram of protein per pound of weight, your 150 is in the ball park. Congratulations!

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I believe the .08/kg figure was intended to be applied to estimated lean body mass. So if I weigh 194 at 20% body fat (just guessing on that), my lean body mass would be 155.

      That being said, I’d still rather eat extra protein than not enough, and you’re correct: 50 grams per day isn’t enough.

      Reply
      1. David

        I like the formula A. Colpo uses in the Fat Loss Bible-
        protein,
        lean mass kg x 1.6 (sedentary)
        lean mass kg x 2.5 (athlete)

        If you take the average of the range, 2.05, you get 145 g, which puts you right on the sweet spot

        Reply
        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          That makes sense, since 150 feels right to my body.

          Another formula I’ve seen that’s easy for Americans (or anyone not on the metric system) is to estimate your lean body weight in pounds, then consume 1 gram of protein per pound. So if my lean body weight is 155, we arrive at almost the same number.

          Reply
  4. JW

    I was doing high protein but found my blood sugars rising along with my hunger and weight. I tweaked and lowered my protein/upped my fat and wow awesome hunger control and weight loss. I’m not sure what to do as I’m a firm believer in high protein for body composition and am worried about going high fat. Has anyone else been in this same position and offer advice.

    Reply
  5. Robert

    Tom-

    What’s up with the Irish thing? I am a mutt, but with half Irish ancestry.

    But I still gotta keep my carbs extra low. Does make one wonder??

    Famine, nutritional deficiencies, generational microbiota, generational emotional patterns, etc.

    Up and coming Nutrigenetics could be very interesting.

    Thoughts?

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton

      People with fewer copies of the AMY1 gene get bigger glucose spikes than people with more copies. I don’t know if the Irish have fewer copies on average or not — maybe there’s a study somewhere. I do know the Irish are more prone to celiac, probably because Ireland was one of the last places in Europe to adopt grain farming.

      Reply
  6. Robert

    Tom-

    What’s up with the Irish thing? I am a mutt, but with half Irish ancestry.

    But I still gotta keep my carbs extra low. Does make one wonder??

    Famine, nutritional deficiencies, generational microbiota, generational emotional patterns, etc.

    Up and coming Nutrigenetics could be very interesting.

    Thoughts?

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      People with fewer copies of the AMY1 gene get bigger glucose spikes than people with more copies. I don’t know if the Irish have fewer copies on average or not — maybe there’s a study somewhere. I do know the Irish are more prone to celiac, probably because Ireland was one of the last places in Europe to adopt grain farming.

      Reply
    1. Tom Naughton

      I don’t think body-fat percentage is the only barrier between me and a modeling a career.

      If the 194 figure for my weight is correct, my BMI is 27.1, so I should live forever.

      Reply
    2. David

      “Research has conclusively shown that those with overweight BMIs (25-30) have the best longevity” – this one doesn’t pass the smell test

      Reply
      1. Tom Naughton

        Why do you say that? Here’s a study of BMI and longevity.

        http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1555137

        Keep in mind a point I made in Fat Head and in many posts: to have a “normal weight” BMI, you have to be on the skinny side. If you bulk up a bit by lifting weights, if you have thick legs, if you’re naturally barrel-chested, whatever, you’re probably going to fall into the “overweight” category even if you’re not fat.

        Reply
        1. David

          Thanks for posting the link Tom. I will review it when I get a chance. Which is it – is BMI irrelevant or do you think the higher range is better? My takeaway from FatHead is that BMI is not a relevant marker to health in that 21-30 range, not that a BMI from 25.1-30 would be generally better than a BMI 21-25. In the lower BMI range, are they taking into account smokers, those who don’t exercise, people who eat the SAD or people who are already sick (either metabolically or from diseases like cancer)? If your BMI=27 and you know you are at a healthy weight for yourself, I get it. To claim to weigh more makes you healthier (or live longer) than a healthy person with the lower BMI, I wonder about that.

          Reply
        2. Firebird

          There was a story in a weightlifting magazine going back almost 30 years now of a soldier who was also a competitive bodybuilder. He was in danger of being discharged because his competition body weight, with near zero levels of body fat (3-4%) was over military limits. If I recall, he was 5’8″ – 5′ 10″ and weighed 235 lbs. He was fit and they still wanted to kick him out because it did not matter what the quality of that weight was…they were only interested in the number. He was considered overweight and obese. The last I heard he was fighting it. I do not know the end result.

          Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I don’t think body-fat percentage is the only barrier between me and a modeling a career.

      If the 194 figure for my weight is correct, my BMI is 27.1, so I should live forever.

      Reply
    2. David

      “Research has conclusively shown that those with overweight BMIs (25-30) have the best longevity” – this one doesn’t pass the smell test

      Reply
      1. Tom Naughton Post author

        Why do you say that? Here’s a study of BMI and longevity.

        http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1555137

        Keep in mind a point I made in Fat Head and in many posts: to have a “normal weight” BMI, you have to be on the skinny side. If you bulk up a bit by lifting weights, if you have thick legs, if you’re naturally barrel-chested, whatever, you’re probably going to fall into the “overweight” category even if you’re not fat.

        Reply
        1. David

          Thanks for posting the link Tom. I will review it when I get a chance. Which is it – is BMI irrelevant or do you think the higher range is better? My takeaway from FatHead is that BMI is not a relevant marker to health in that 21-30 range, not that a BMI from 25.1-30 would be generally better than a BMI 21-25. In the lower BMI range, are they taking into account smokers, those who don’t exercise, people who eat the SAD or people who are already sick (either metabolically or from diseases like cancer)? If your BMI=27 and you know you are at a healthy weight for yourself, I get it. To claim to weigh more makes you healthier (or live longer) than a healthy person with the lower BMI, I wonder about that.

          Reply
          1. Tom Naughton Post author

            There’s a correlation between muscle mass and longevity. Why, I can’t say for sure. Could be a marker for people who get more exercise. Anyway, if you have decent muscles, there’s a good chance your BMI will be over 25. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that if your BMI is 23, you’ll live longer if you develop a fat belly.

            Reply
            1. David

              Knowing your body fat % is the way to go. I would expect a correlation between muscle mass and longevity – you can’t really say that a higher BMI always leads to more muscle mass. If BMI is useless, then maybe you should leave it at that.

        2. Firebird

          There was a story in a weightlifting magazine going back almost 30 years now of a soldier who was also a competitive bodybuilder. He was in danger of being discharged because his competition body weight, with near zero levels of body fat (3-4%) was over military limits. If I recall, he was 5’8″ – 5′ 10″ and weighed 235 lbs. He was fit and they still wanted to kick him out because it did not matter what the quality of that weight was…they were only interested in the number. He was considered overweight and obese. The last I heard he was fighting it. I do not know the end result.

          Reply
            1. Sky King

              As everyone should know…muscle weighs much more than fat, so the BMI method is not a very good weigh (excuse the pun) to determine if one is overweight/obese. I like using the Waist-to-Height-Ratio Method myself, since I think it’s a much more accurate assessment of one’s obesity status.

              Ideally your waist should be no more than half the length of your height. For more precise measurements, here’s a link to a Waist to Height Ratio Calculator: http://www.shapefit.com/calculators/waist-to-height-ratio-calculator.html

              As for your post, it was MOST EXCELLENT! I guess some folks still need to understand that muscle does not come from eating more fats. If you care about your body composition, then you need to up the aminos, not the ketones!

            2. Tom Naughton Post author

              I’d say that measurement is useful, but only to an extent. I’ve seen guys at the gym who aren’t fat, but happen to be on the short, stocky side. Probably no way for them to improve their waist-to-height ratio.

            3. Sky King

              Suffice to say that it’s not an exact science. There are always exceptions to the rule.

              But if someone wants to know for sure what their body composition/fat percentage is, then they could always fork over the $$ and get a DEXA scan.

            4. johnnyv

              Formula that take into consideration waist to chest ratio as well as height are good for men. Waist to hip good for women in general.
              The larger the difference the greatly lesser chance of having significant visceral fat.

            5. Tom Naughton Post author

              Including a chest measurement makes sense for guys. Some of the beefy types who aren’t fat don’t have small waists, but they do have big chests.

          1. Jean

            I joined the Army almost 29 years ago. They were just getting serious about kicking Soldiers out for being overweight. Because of situations like the Soldier described above, they implemented a caliper test, followed shortly thereafter by a tape measure test that could be done by other Soldiers. The tape test is based on a series of measurements. Here’s a link to the latest Army body fat calculator: http://www.armyprt.com/apft/online-apft-and-body-fat-calculator.shtml .

            The standards have changed over the years, most recently allowing a few more pounds before requiring taping, especially for women, and allowing a slightly higher percentage of body fat. I nicknamed it “The Ken and Barbie Index,” because I never believed that the numbers had anything to do with actual body fat, but whether or not you would look good in uniform. Soldiers with thin necks were at a severe disadvantage.

            I officially retire from the Army on May 31st. I loved my job, with the exception of this requirement. This will be the first time in my adult life that my job performance will not be tied to a number on the scale or those dreaded measurements. They’re even on your performance evaluation and can have an effect on whether you’re selected for promotion.

            Reply
  7. Rebecca Latham

    Hi, Tom!

    This post was very timely for me. Just last week I happened upon the Facebook page “Optimal Ketogenic Living” and one of the main premises, besides low carb, is to eat more protein than we have been told to eat by the government AND the keto camp. Also, eat less fat if you want to lose weight. It is still a high fat diet, but if you are overweight, you are “eating fat from the body instead of from the plate”. After reaching goal weight, you might be able to increase fat somewhat as long as it does not increase body fat.

    We have heard from the keto camp that fat is satiating, and the way to stave off hunger is to eat more fat, but whatever you do, do not increase protein above the minimum, because it will be converted into glucose, and you might as well be eating high carb!

    I did try, off and on for a couple of years, to eat very low carb, lower protein and pretty high fat. And yes, I did get great numbers on my keto meter, and yes, I did lose weight. But I was hungry a lot and was not satisfied only getting to eat 2.5 oz. of meat with my meal. For me, it was not sustainable, which is why I kept going on and off it for the past couple of years.

    I have now gained back my weight and am on the prowl, once again, for a way of eating that will sustain weight loss, satisfy my large hunger, and promote health. I am hoping that 85g of fat, 120g of protein and 23 net carbs are going to do that for my 5’3″ post-menopausal body. I am plan to use intermittent fasting, and will be eating in a 3 hour window some days, skipping just breakfast some days, and doing some 36 hour water fasts some days, in order to combat insulin resistance and Type 2 Diabetes.

    One thing that I have found is that when I am totally committed to a way of eating, and it turns out to be less than optimal, there is a level of embarrassment to admit that that way of eating is not working and changes have to be made. Thanks for just coming out and saying, without any drama or shame, that the thing you tried did not work for you and that you have moved onto something that is working better.

    I hope that, a few months from now, I will be able to say that I found something that is working better for me.

    Rebecca

    Reply
  8. Rebecca Latham

    Tom,

    I have been reading a lot by Dr. Jason Fung, who promotes low carb and intermittent fasting through his practice in Canada. His views are most compelling and I wonder if you have read any of his stuff and/or have an opinion about his viewpoints.

    Below is the first of his writings about why we gain weight and in it he dispatches the Calories In/Calories Out hypothesis quite neatly. He renamed it Caloric Reduction as Primary and calls it the CRaP hypothesis. Love it!

    https://intensivedietarymanagement.com/how-do-we-gain-weight-calories-part-1/

    He often quotes Gary Taubes and Drs. Phinney and Volek in his writings and videos. I’m not sure if he has seen Fat Head, but if he had, I’m sure he would be quoting that, too!

    Rebecca

    Reply
  9. Rebecca Latham

    Hi, Tom!

    This post was very timely for me. Just last week I happened upon the Facebook page “Optimal Ketogenic Living” and one of the main premises, besides low carb, is to eat more protein than we have been told to eat by the government AND the keto camp. Also, eat less fat if you want to lose weight. It is still a high fat diet, but if you are overweight, you are “eating fat from the body instead of from the plate”. After reaching goal weight, you might be able to increase fat somewhat as long as it does not increase body fat.

    We have heard from the keto camp that fat is satiating, and the way to stave off hunger is to eat more fat, but whatever you do, do not increase protein above the minimum, because it will be converted into glucose, and you might as well be eating high carb!

    I did try, off and on for a couple of years, to eat very low carb, lower protein and pretty high fat. And yes, I did get great numbers on my keto meter, and yes, I did lose weight. But I was hungry a lot and was not satisfied only getting to eat 2.5 oz. of meat with my meal. For me, it was not sustainable, which is why I kept going on and off it for the past couple of years.

    I have now gained back my weight and am on the prowl, once again, for a way of eating that will sustain weight loss, satisfy my large hunger, and promote health. I am hoping that 85g of fat, 120g of protein and 23 net carbs are going to do that for my 5’3″ post-menopausal body. I am plan to use intermittent fasting, and will be eating in a 3 hour window some days, skipping just breakfast some days, and doing some 36 hour water fasts some days, in order to combat insulin resistance and Type 2 Diabetes.

    One thing that I have found is that when I am totally committed to a way of eating, and it turns out to be less than optimal, there is a level of embarrassment to admit that that way of eating is not working and changes have to be made. Thanks for just coming out and saying, without any drama or shame, that the thing you tried did not work for you and that you have moved onto something that is working better.

    I hope that, a few months from now, I will be able to say that I found something that is working better for me.

    Rebecca

    Reply
  10. Rebecca Latham

    Tom,

    I have been reading a lot by Dr. Jason Fung, who promotes low carb and intermittent fasting through his practice in Canada. His views are most compelling and I wonder if you have read any of his stuff and/or have an opinion about his viewpoints.

    Below is the first of his writings about why we gain weight and in it he dispatches the Calories In/Calories Out hypothesis quite neatly. He renamed it Caloric Reduction as Primary and calls it the CRaP hypothesis. Love it!

    https://intensivedietarymanagement.com/how-do-we-gain-weight-calories-part-1/

    He often quotes Gary Taubes and Drs. Phinney and Volek in his writings and videos. I’m not sure if he has seen Fat Head, but if he had, I’m sure he would be quoting that, too!

    Rebecca

    Reply
  11. Nads

    In terms of people in long term ketosis, one of the gut bacteria experts I heard on a podcast said that very low carb is great for getting rid of bad bacteria overgrowth and losing weight, but then you do need to feed the good bacteria longterm, and provide them with enough resistant starch etc. it could be a reason why some people thrive on VLC but then things don’t work as well for their weight down the track.

    Reply
  12. Bret

    I agree that consuming boatloads of fat, while taking extraordinary care to keep both protein and carbs below very low thresholds, does not sound even close to plausible from an evolutionary perspective. It’s clear to me that ketosis is an adaptation to survive temporary starvation. Inducing it perpetually with macronutrient ratios that can only be sustained in modern agriculture — at least for relatively ordinary, healthy people — seems to make no sense at all.

    Kudos for acknowledging the emperor’s nudity, Tom. Seems to me that a pro nutritional ketosis stance is the dogmatic standard among LC blogs, and it is refreshing to see a contrary example. And a well argued one, too.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton

      I’m by no means against ketogenic diets for everyone. Some people seem to thrive on them. The mistake is assuming that if some people do very well on them, everyone should.

      Reply
      1. Bret

        Agreed, and it complements well the point you made last year on the starch front: that just because low-carb diets are beneficial, this does not prove that extremely low- or no-carb diets are better, or even just as good.

        Reply
  13. Nads

    In terms of people in long term ketosis, one of the gut bacteria experts I heard on a podcast said that very low carb is great for getting rid of bad bacteria overgrowth and losing weight, but then you do need to feed the good bacteria longterm, and provide them with enough resistant starch etc. it could be a reason why some people thrive on VLC but then things don’t work as well for their weight down the track.

    Reply
  14. Bret

    I agree that consuming boatloads of fat, while taking extraordinary care to keep both protein and carbs below very low thresholds, does not sound even close to plausible from an evolutionary perspective. It’s clear to me that ketosis is an adaptation to survive temporary starvation. Inducing it perpetually with macronutrient ratios that can only be sustained in modern agriculture — at least for relatively ordinary, healthy people — seems to make no sense at all.

    Kudos for acknowledging the emperor’s nudity, Tom. Seems to me that a pro nutritional ketosis stance is the dogmatic standard among LC blogs, and it is refreshing to see a contrary example. And a well argued one, too.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I’m by no means against ketogenic diets for everyone. Some people seem to thrive on them. The mistake is assuming that if some people do very well on them, everyone should.

      Reply
      1. Bret

        Agreed, and it complements well the point you made last year on the starch front: that just because low-carb diets are beneficial, this does not prove that extremely low- or no-carb diets are better, or even just as good.

        Reply
  15. cody

    Tom, I really appreciate that you wrote this article.

    I’ve tried the ketogenic diet many times and not lost a an ounce of weight (other than the initial water weight).

    I’ve even tried the Atkins fat fast and lost zero weight (1,000 calories at 85% fat, I was basically eating a soup made out of miracle noodles, broth, and butter every night for dinner and nothing else).

    And on a keto diet I can easily put away 4,000 or more calories per day. I could eat 6 eggs with 4 tb of butter and 8 ounces of cream cheese for breakfast and still want more.

    Now, I am 6’4″, but still, it’s just not working for me. And I’ve always felt that maybe there was something wrong with me.

    But fortunately, I’ve experimented enough to have tried an all protein diet (Protein Sparing Modified Fast, for me, basically 200 grams of protein and not much else). I lose weight like gangbusters on that, until I stall, and then I’m done.

    So after going through a very stressful period in my life and gaining back over 100 pounds, I’m struggling. I’m still highly stressed (I have a child with significant health issues and I”m a full time single dad with no help from the mom or from my extended family whatsoever) and I want to get the weight off.

    I asked Robb Wolf about this and he suggested 1 gram of protein per pound of weight. That’s a ton of protein for me!

    So after reading your article, and seeing stuff from the zero carbers who eat a lot of protein, I’m going to really work on upping my protein intake, eating to satiety, and see what happens.

    I’m also going to focus on getting a good amount of fiber in, as well as taking a solid probiotic every day. And I’m trying to get a good amount of minerals in as well (I take magnesium and boron, and I’m drinking gerolsteiner carbonated mineral water).

    I really wish that it was better understood how stress causes weight gain. And I really wish that in our society, we stopped treating obesity and weight issues as a moral failing. You can see the look of disgust in skinny people’s eyes when they look at you. Like you’re some how less of a human than they are.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton

      Some people struggle to lose weight until they go ketogenic, others do much better if they forget about the keto-meter and go high protein. We should never become so enthusiastic about intervention or another that we decide it’s the right intervention for everyone.

      I’m sorry to hear about your child’s health issues. As a dad who adores his daughters, I can imagine how stressed I’d be if one of them was seriously ill.

      We do need a much deeper understanding of how stress and other factors cause weight gain. The blame-game attitudes of those who’ve never struggled with weight doesn’t help those who do. If anything, treating obesity as a moral failing simply adds to the stress.

      Best of luck to you and your child, Cody.

      Reply
      1. BrunoT

        Hey Tom, I promote your doc to anyone I come accross discussing weight loss. I’m a walking case study that tends to validate your conclusions.
        1. I have horrific blood chemistry, high triglycerides, sky high cholesterol, low HDL.

        2. I DID have a heart attack 2 years ago, but it turns out it was vasospasms, not blocked arteries, confirmed by a cardiac catheterization. The doc just seemed mystified and said perhaps I had a tiny blockage in a minor artery they couldn’t see in the multitude of tests they did.

        3. The hospital assigned cardiologist gave me the whole gamut of statins and blood thinners and bp meds (even though mine was marginal at worst). I felt terrible for 6 months.

        4. My primary doc also specializes in cardiology, got my records, and diagnosed immediately that it was the vasospasms that cut off the blood to that part of my heart, killing some muscle. I went on calcium channel blockers and have felt ok since.

        5. My calcium score from an MRI was 0. (perfect). The cardiac catheritization confirmed this. High cholesterol, for me, did not mean my arteries were blocked.

        6. My work (call it gardening) for 25 years led me to walk 8-10 miles a day and do strenuous labor (like your backyard projects) all day every day. They think this did a lot to keep my arteries healthy.

        7. Unfortunately due to various drugs and having to stop doing that work due to arthritis and other health issues (potentially mitochondrial dysfunction) I have gained 30 lbs. I do lose about 5 lbs in a week going to low carb, but then I find myself stagnating and unable to sustain it due to craving carbs through the next few weeks. I sometimes wonder if it is my mitochondria craving energy they can no longer provide. I admit part of is is the unvarying diet.

        8. MY wife, always a little overweight in adult life, slowly gained and then suddenly lost 70 lbs and became a real bombshell due to our doctor also suggesting a low carb high fat diet. Took about 5 months. It definitely works great for her. When she goes off she gains about 20 lbs. But for about 5 years she has looked relatively great, so thanks.

        9. Do you have any information on various mitochondrial or other disorders causing weight loss issues? I am still above average in activity level in retirement (54), but I have pretty serious pain issues (arthritis, muscle) that developed in the past couple of years that keep me from doing what I would normally do. I bike, work in my own large property, and such, but at 2,000 calories a day of moderate carbs I don’t lose weight.

        10. I will add that for some, it is a moral failing, or more accurately, a psychological disorder. I will sometimes eat sugar during stress, and I knew a friend who ate herself from 150 lbs to 300 in a couple of years due to some mental issues. That level of eating goes beyond normal hunger and even bad habits. I have never eaten like that, and could count on one hand the number of days in my life since age 30 that I have eaten 3000 calories in a day.

        11. You have, however, given me the knowledge that some of us are not bad, we just have metabolisms that don’t handle food well naturally.

        If you need any power equipment or lawn advice, feel free to ask, I spent 25 years running a small business doing it for others.

        Reply
        1. Tom Naughton

          I’m afraid I don’t have any information on mitochondrial disorders and weight.

          I believe our bodies have strong opinions on how fat we should be. I also believe science has yet to identify all the reasons some bodies insist on being what we consider overweight. I’ve met plenty of people who have tried everything, yet can’t lose that last 40 pounds or whatever. Maybe someday we’ll have it all figured out, but for now, the best we can do is focus on health, become as lean as our bodies will allow, and get on with what matters in life — and becoming skinny isn’t what matters in life.

          Reply
  16. cody

    Tom, I really appreciate that you wrote this article.

    I’ve tried the ketogenic diet many times and not lost a an ounce of weight (other than the initial water weight).

    I’ve even tried the Atkins fat fast and lost zero weight (1,000 calories at 85% fat, I was basically eating a soup made out of miracle noodles, broth, and butter every night for dinner and nothing else).

    And on a keto diet I can easily put away 4,000 or more calories per day. I could eat 6 eggs with 4 tb of butter and 8 ounces of cream cheese for breakfast and still want more.

    Now, I am 6’4″, but still, it’s just not working for me. And I’ve always felt that maybe there was something wrong with me.

    But fortunately, I’ve experimented enough to have tried an all protein diet (Protein Sparing Modified Fast, for me, basically 200 grams of protein and not much else). I lose weight like gangbusters on that, until I stall, and then I’m done.

    So after going through a very stressful period in my life and gaining back over 100 pounds, I’m struggling. I’m still highly stressed (I have a child with significant health issues and I”m a full time single dad with no help from the mom or from my extended family whatsoever) and I want to get the weight off.

    I asked Robb Wolf about this and he suggested 1 gram of protein per pound of weight. That’s a ton of protein for me!

    So after reading your article, and seeing stuff from the zero carbers who eat a lot of protein, I’m going to really work on upping my protein intake, eating to satiety, and see what happens.

    I’m also going to focus on getting a good amount of fiber in, as well as taking a solid probiotic every day. And I’m trying to get a good amount of minerals in as well (I take magnesium and boron, and I’m drinking gerolsteiner carbonated mineral water).

    I really wish that it was better understood how stress causes weight gain. And I really wish that in our society, we stopped treating obesity and weight issues as a moral failing. You can see the look of disgust in skinny people’s eyes when they look at you. Like you’re some how less of a human than they are.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Some people struggle to lose weight until they go ketogenic, others do much better if they forget about the keto-meter and go high protein. We should never become so enthusiastic about intervention or another that we decide it’s the right intervention for everyone.

      I’m sorry to hear about your child’s health issues. As a dad who adores his daughters, I can imagine how stressed I’d be if one of them was seriously ill.

      We do need a much deeper understanding of how stress and other factors cause weight gain. The blame-game attitudes of those who’ve never struggled with weight doesn’t help those who do. If anything, treating obesity as a moral failing simply adds to the stress.

      Best of luck to you and your child, Cody.

      Reply
      1. BrunoT

        Hey Tom, I promote your doc to anyone I come accross discussing weight loss. I’m a walking case study that tends to validate your conclusions.
        1. I have horrific blood chemistry, high triglycerides, sky high cholesterol, low HDL.

        2. I DID have a heart attack 2 years ago, but it turns out it was vasospasms, not blocked arteries, confirmed by a cardiac catheterization. The doc just seemed mystified and said perhaps I had a tiny blockage in a minor artery they couldn’t see in the multitude of tests they did.

        3. The hospital assigned cardiologist gave me the whole gamut of statins and blood thinners and bp meds (even though mine was marginal at worst). I felt terrible for 6 months.

        4. My primary doc also specializes in cardiology, got my records, and diagnosed immediately that it was the vasospasms that cut off the blood to that part of my heart, killing some muscle. I went on calcium channel blockers and have felt ok since.

        5. My calcium score from an MRI was 0. (perfect). The cardiac catheritization confirmed this. High cholesterol, for me, did not mean my arteries were blocked.

        6. My work (call it gardening) for 25 years led me to walk 8-10 miles a day and do strenuous labor (like your backyard projects) all day every day. They think this did a lot to keep my arteries healthy.

        7. Unfortunately due to various drugs and having to stop doing that work due to arthritis and other health issues (potentially mitochondrial dysfunction) I have gained 30 lbs. I do lose about 5 lbs in a week going to low carb, but then I find myself stagnating and unable to sustain it due to craving carbs through the next few weeks. I sometimes wonder if it is my mitochondria craving energy they can no longer provide. I admit part of is is the unvarying diet.

        8. MY wife, always a little overweight in adult life, slowly gained and then suddenly lost 70 lbs and became a real bombshell due to our doctor also suggesting a low carb high fat diet. Took about 5 months. It definitely works great for her. When she goes off she gains about 20 lbs. But for about 5 years she has looked relatively great, so thanks.

        9. Do you have any information on various mitochondrial or other disorders causing weight loss issues? I am still above average in activity level in retirement (54), but I have pretty serious pain issues (arthritis, muscle) that developed in the past couple of years that keep me from doing what I would normally do. I bike, work in my own large property, and such, but at 2,000 calories a day of moderate carbs I don’t lose weight.

        10. I will add that for some, it is a moral failing, or more accurately, a psychological disorder. I will sometimes eat sugar during stress, and I knew a friend who ate herself from 150 lbs to 300 in a couple of years due to some mental issues. That level of eating goes beyond normal hunger and even bad habits. I have never eaten like that, and could count on one hand the number of days in my life since age 30 that I have eaten 3000 calories in a day.

        11. You have, however, given me the knowledge that some of us are not bad, we just have metabolisms that don’t handle food well naturally.

        If you need any power equipment or lawn advice, feel free to ask, I spent 25 years running a small business doing it for others.

        Reply
        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          I’m afraid I don’t have any information on mitochondrial disorders and weight.

          I believe our bodies have strong opinions on how fat we should be. I also believe science has yet to identify all the reasons some bodies insist on being what we consider overweight. I’ve met plenty of people who have tried everything, yet can’t lose that last 40 pounds or whatever. Maybe someday we’ll have it all figured out, but for now, the best we can do is focus on health, become as lean as our bodies will allow, and get on with what matters in life — and becoming skinny isn’t what matters in life.

          Reply
  17. Pedro

    Tom,

    I’ve been a follower of yours for a while and recently heard on a podcast that you no longer are VLC so I came here to read why. Regarding being high protein, have you read Mauro Di Pasquale’s books? In particular, The Anabolic Diet or Metabolic Diet? They are marketed as high fat diets, which they are, but they are not ketogenic. The protein is usually around 30-40% calories, which depending on which phase you’re on can be over 200g+ easily. After induction, you start to play with carbs (starting at 30g) if you do not adapt at the 30g level before carbing up on a weekly basis. As an experiment I switched over to ketogenic dieting thinking I would feel the same and it’s not even close. I look flat on the ketogenic diet and more muscular as if I were eating more carbs on the higher protein anabolic diet. The only difference is that my protein intake is lower.

    Many recreational bodybuilders feel the anabolic diet to be superior to ketogenic carb loading in the long term.

    Also, while I think it’s impossible to increase in 12 lbs so quickly, do you think that you retained a lot of water plus increased in muscle mass and that’s why you went up 12 lbs? These days, I never weigh myself without using calipers to check my BF% just in case the scale begins to shift all over the place.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton

      Naw, it was definitely a wonky scale at the gym, as one of the employees told me. I found later I could step on that scale, look at the number, then step on it again and see a shift of six or eight pounds. Don’t know why they don’t just trash the thing or get it fixed.

      I don’t count grams of carbs anymore. My diet is still mostly meat, eggs and vegetables, but I toss in a small potato or serving of squash a few times per week. I probably come in at 50 to 100 grams most days. I also eat good-sized portions of protein at every meal.

      During Q & A on the low-carb cruise, someone asked about stalling on a ketogenic diet. After the usual responses from some panel members (it may be carb creep, you may be eating more than you think, etc.), I put on my ketogenic-naysayer hat and paraphrased what I’ve heard Chris Kresser and Matt LaLonde say: in paleo times, chronic ketosis was something that happened when humans were starving. So for some people, the body interprets being in ketosis all the time as starvation and slows the metabolism to survive the famine.

      That wasn’t the answer some people wanted to hear, but Dr. Justin Marchiagiani chimed in to back me up. He said some of his patients do better on 100 carbs than zero, and he does best on 80 to 100 grams per day. Dr. Keith Runyan then added that while he treats diabetics successfully with a ketogenic diet, he doesn’t advise others to aim for chronic ketosis because he’s concerned about the protein restriction required.

      So the bottom line for me is that to stay in ketosis, I had to cut protein to around 50 grams, which clearly isn’t enough. Some of those 50 grams would be used for gluconeogeneis to provide the biologically required glucose, which doesn’t leave much to maintain muscle mass.

      Reply
  18. Pedro

    Tom,

    I’ve been a follower of yours for a while and recently heard on a podcast that you no longer are VLC so I came here to read why. Regarding being high protein, have you read Mauro Di Pasquale’s books? In particular, The Anabolic Diet or Metabolic Diet? They are marketed as high fat diets, which they are, but they are not ketogenic. The protein is usually around 30-40% calories, which depending on which phase you’re on can be over 200g+ easily. After induction, you start to play with carbs (starting at 30g) if you do not adapt at the 30g level before carbing up on a weekly basis. As an experiment I switched over to ketogenic dieting thinking I would feel the same and it’s not even close. I look flat on the ketogenic diet and more muscular as if I were eating more carbs on the higher protein anabolic diet. The only difference is that my protein intake is lower.

    Many recreational bodybuilders feel the anabolic diet to be superior to ketogenic carb loading in the long term.

    Also, while I think it’s impossible to increase in 12 lbs so quickly, do you think that you retained a lot of water plus increased in muscle mass and that’s why you went up 12 lbs? These days, I never weigh myself without using calipers to check my BF% just in case the scale begins to shift all over the place.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Naw, it was definitely a wonky scale at the gym, as one of the employees told me. I found later I could step on that scale, look at the number, then step on it again and see a shift of six or eight pounds. Don’t know why they don’t just trash the thing or get it fixed.

      I don’t count grams of carbs anymore. My diet is still mostly meat, eggs and vegetables, but I toss in a small potato or serving of squash a few times per week. I probably come in at 50 to 100 grams most days. I also eat good-sized portions of protein at every meal.

      During Q & A on the low-carb cruise, someone asked about stalling on a ketogenic diet. After the usual responses from some panel members (it may be carb creep, you may be eating more than you think, etc.), I put on my ketogenic-naysayer hat and paraphrased what I’ve heard Chris Kresser and Matt LaLonde say: in paleo times, chronic ketosis was something that happened when humans were starving. So for some people, the body interprets being in ketosis all the time as starvation and slows the metabolism to survive the famine.

      That wasn’t the answer some people wanted to hear, but Dr. Justin Marchiagiani chimed in to back me up. He said some of his patients do better on 100 carbs than zero, and he does best on 80 to 100 grams per day. Dr. Keith Runyan then added that while he treats diabetics successfully with a ketogenic diet, he doesn’t advise others to aim for chronic ketosis because he’s concerned about the protein restriction required.

      So the bottom line for me is that to stay in ketosis, I had to cut protein to around 50 grams, which clearly isn’t enough. Some of those 50 grams would be used for gluconeogeneis to provide the biologically required glucose, which doesn’t leave much to maintain muscle mass.

      Reply

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