Ketosis – Day 19

Peed on my stick this morning and came up with moderate ketones. Seriously, my urine is a mystery. Last night for dinner we had potatoes, onions, sausage and kale, all cooked up in a big electric skillet. It was really good. Jenna didn’t like the kale very much, and I understand why not. It really tasted like seaweed for some reason. Not sure why that would be, but there you go. I didn’t mind it so much, but I’m pretty tolerant of weird tastes overall. I’m also really keen on getting more kale into our diet and there are only so many ways to do that, so I can put up with non-ideal flavors if it means significant improvements in nutritional quality. I think it’s just about time to bust out the dehydrator again and make a giant batch of kale chips, since that’s the easiest way I can think of to eat the stuff. I heard very good things about using nutritional yeast, so I’m thinking that may be on the menu, too.

I also went to the gym yesterday and did some barbell lifting. Just bench and squat, and I only used a light weight (135 with each) so I could really concentrate on my form. I’m not really feeling any soreness in my legs from the squats, but I’m definitely feeling it in my chest from the presses. It feels good! So good that I think I might head back on Sunday to do it again. I also might add a deadlift, especially if I can figure out a good way to learn proper form before I go. I really want to focus on proper form and technical skill so i maximize my chance for improving and minimize my chance for injury. We’ll see how it goes, and I will keep you posted.

Okay, I’m going to go off on a bit of a rant. I’ve been reading a number of things, and talking to a number of people that have gotten me thinking about the prevalence of the overly-simplistic (in my opinion) calories in/calories out model. You watched Dr. Lustig yesterday talk about how hormones drive intake and output (you did watch, didn’t you?) so it’s less a factor of more eating = more fat, and more of an issue of more fat=more eating, oddly enough.  There have also been a number of studies showing that the content of the diet does have an effect, beyond the calories. Dr. Guyenet talks about that quite a bit in this piece: Twinkie Diet for Fat Loss Anyway, beyond that, there are other issues.

I’m going to be paraphrasing this post (Calorie is a Calorie is a Calorie) as well as adding my own thoughts. Okay, so the way we’re told to lose weight is pretty simple, right? You just burn more than you take in. And based on our understanding of basic physics, this should work, right? Energy cannot be created or destroyed, so if you burn more than you take in, you literally have to lose weight. It’s a scientific fact. Right? I suppose that depends. Is your body a closed system? Mine certainly isn’t. Heat goes out and comes in from the environment all the time. My activity level isn’t held constant, nor is the level of my metabolic processes. So, since we’re not closed systems, it’s entirely possible that extra calories consumed could be burned off by increased body temperature, increased fidgeting, or any number of other things. Decreased calorie intake could be compensated for by reduced body temperature, reduced activity level, etc.

Okay, but the rule still holds, right? Even if your metabolic rate decreases, you’re not violating calories in vs calories out, you just have to recalculate and adjust, right? Certainly. But let’s look at the ways we calculate our calories in and calories out. Calculating your calories is as easy as looking at the box (all your food comes in boxes, right?) and adding them up. Couldn’t be simpler. Except that it’s not so simple. Nutrition labeling guidelines are pretty loosey goosey with rounding. And you don’t even have to test your own food. You can take the established number for someone else’s ingredient and just use that. What does it matter if things are different species, grown in different areas of the country with different farming practices? Beef is beef, right? There’s also the issue that calories are calculated using the 4/4/9 estimation, which was developed in the early 1900s. However, things have changed since then. Foods have changed, people have changed, and understanding has changed. But our numbers haven’t.

One of the things that I don’t think is being taken into account is the energy cost of digesting different foods. Digesting protein is tougher for your body than digesting carbs or fat. I’ve seen estimates pegging the cost as 30%. So that means that every gram of protein you eat is actually netting out at 2.8 calories, not 4. You know, roughly. And if you even trust the original estimate of 4 calories per gram. And if you actually burn 100% of the protein to produce ATP instead of using the amino acids as raw material to repair or build cells. Wait, what? Yeah, there’s that. Your body uses your food as building blocks, which we all know intellectually, but I think it’s easily lost in the shuffle of calculating our intake. Your body is a wooden ship with a steam engine, let’s say. The fuel you bring on board can be used to patch holes or to fire the furnace. This holds for fat as well, but very minimally for carbohydrate. Your cells are mostly fat, protein, cholesterol, water, etc, but relatively few of your structures are carbohydrate. How much of the protein you eat is being used to build the ship, and how much is being shoveled into the furnace to keep it moving? I have no idea. You don’t, either.

How confident are you in those calorie counts now? Keep in mind that too much of a reduction in calories slows metabolism, reduces immune response, and does a whole mess of other things. If you’re shooting for a 10% daily calorie reduction and your estimation is off by 10%, you’re either eating exactly as many as you’re burning (rather, how many you think you’re burning, but we’ll get to that), or you’re actually cutting your calories by 20%. I think it’s safe to say our estimates aren’t even guaranteed to be within 25% of what we think they are. That’s just me talking out my butt, though, so don’t take my word for it. maybe I’m wrong. Maybe every potato produced in the US has exactly the nutrition that the USDA claims for a potato. Maybe every piece of beef has exactly the same ratio of protein to fat, and the exact same amount of moisture per pound uncooked. Maybe it’s not exact, but it’s pretty close. Sure, let’s go with that.

How do you determine how many calories you’re burning? Well you have your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) which is the number of calories you expend just keeping your body alive. This is what you would burn if you stayed in bed all day. You calculate this based on your age, weight and gender. There are some different calculations out there. Some of them use only lean mass as opposed to total mass. But really, either way, you’re burning the same number of calories as everyone else who is your weight, your gender and your age. Sound likely? I don’t think so either. What kind of variation do you think we might see? 10%+/- or so? I think that’s feasible. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe these numbers are perfect representations of everyone. Maybe everyone operates exactly the same. Sure, that sounds reasonable. Let’s go with that.

So now you have your BMR, you just need to add your activity, right? Let’s say you work at a desk job, there’s a calculation for that. You run a few times a week? There’s a calculation for that. You lift weights? There’s a calculation. See where this is leading? There’s no direct measurement for any of this. Direct measurement of these things involves a lot of expensive equipment and people hanging out near you all day. Even if you have a Body Bug or something, it’s not actually measuring your calories burned, it’s measuring a few things and then calculating your calories burned. Is it more accurate than just trusting the stair machine? Almost definitely. But you’re still looking at an error rate of some kind. The worst part is that none of these calculations take into account how efficient you are at something. I run using a barefoot style, which means I’m using the stretchiness of my tendons to help return energy back to my body with every step. Someone heel-striking isn’t getting that benefit. They’re burning more calories than I am, almost certainly. Even myself running on two different days can be wildly different levels of calorie burn. Both of them fall under the same calculation, though. A heart rate monitor loaded with my own info, again, is a better gauge, but still far from perfect.

So what’s your energy balance? Let’s summarize. You’re estimating your calorie intake based on calculations of estimates of calculations and incomplete understandings of how that fuel is used by your body. You’re estimating your daily BMR based on calculations of estimates of calculations based on a few numbers. You’re estimating how much you burn during exercise based on some calculations or some estimates, or some estimates based on calculations of some measurements. Any one of these things could easily be over or under estimated, and that could mean you’re either over- or under-eating, or over- or under-burning. How is it even possible to pretend that we can actually calculate these things in such a dynamic system?

Anyway, that’s my rant. I’ve been wanting to rant that rant for a while and it feels good to get it out.

Link time!

Poor Diet Linked to Teen Mental Health Problems – It’s an observational study, but it seems like a pretty solid one as far as it goes. It’s also in keeping with plenty of other studies that all suggest nutrient deficiencies can affect psychological health and behavior.  This just makes me think that we need to be eating a nutrient dense diet, avoiding processed foods, and all the rest.

Coconut Oil Touted as Alzheimer’s Remedy – An interesting news story on the benefits of coconut oil in a gentleman with Alzheimer’s. This is far from the first time I’ve heard about this, but it’s definitely the first time I’ve seen it broken down for the average person and presented in a relatively mainstream source. Nothing conclusive here, again, but strong indications that diet has something to do with this neurological disease.

Vitamin D – Why we’re not getting enough, how to get more, and what it means for your health.



4 comments on “Ketosis – Day 19

  1. Carla says:

    Great post!!! I couldn’t agree with you more!! The problem they also don’t consider is that when you eat junk food it makes you want or NEED to eat more. I can eat a ton of meat and veggies and lose weight and feel satisfied but that never happened when I was eating chocolate bars all day!!! It’s NOT just calories in and out. There are so many other factors involved.

    • Septimus says:

      I glad you liked it! I’ve just been really frustrated by all the “Just eat less than you burn” comments I keep hearing from everyone. People think it’s so simple, but they never seem to realize that they’re really just throwing darts in the dark and hoping they end up with the right numbers. Add to that the effects of the specific foods on your body, and the whole concept really just falls apart. Thanks!

  2. Kayla Hunt says:

    Re: ketone levels in urine…what I’ve heard over and over again on the low-carb forums is that your urine ketone levels are affected by so many different things, hydration level, the amount of ketones your body is actually using for energy, the amount of dietary fat you’re eating…
    I count myself as having been in ketosis for nearly 4 months now and I’ve never used a strip. Why do I think I’m in ketosis? My brain is happy! When I eat too many carbs I’m anxious and irritable. Another reason…I’m slowly but steadily losing weight and my body is reconfiguring – I’m definitely leaner than I used to be. Another reason…I don’t crave anything. I’ve even fasted for 9-23 hours without getting grumpy, yes, I felt hungry at times during the fast, but no blood sugar wackiness.

    I definitely keep my carbs very low (<20g/day) so there's no reason I shouldn't be in ketosis, but if I slip out for a day due to a little carbage, it's no big deal, I eat my usual load of saturated fat the next day and I'm back in! I'm planning to be in ketosis forever, so I just eat really low carb and don't worry about the urine levels.

    Regarding the whole Calories In/Calories out mess – I've never felt so free as when I realized that was a load of hooey. But boy is it a tough mindset to change in some people. I love telling people how much fat I eat, and that I'm losing weight while snacking on bacon and drinking cream. I can lose weight on 2000 calories a day eating high fat/moderate protein/v. low carb – but gain weight on 1600 calories of typical low fat, high carb diet. Not to mention I feel terrific. It's all about the insulin, once you know that, you're free!

    • Septimus says:

      Thanks very much for commenting! It’s good to know I’m not going crazy with this stuff. I have a tendency to want to measure everything quantitatively, and when things don’t seem like they’re where I think they should be, I get confused and discouraged. I think your approach is definitely healthier than mine, long-term. Watching every tick on the graph gets exhausting, and taking a long-term view seems much more peaceful. Thanks again!

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