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Keto 101

Do I Need To Count Calories On The Keto Diet?


  • Eating at a high caloric deficit for weight loss slows your metabolism, results in imbalanced hormones, weight loss plateau and increased chances of weight regain.
  • Those who eat a ketogenic diet to satiety, lose more weight and more body fat than those who are eating a low-fat, calorie restricted diet.
  • A diet that consists of around 5% carbs, 15% protein and 80% fats, satiates you, meaning you don’t over-eat and indulge on good fats. Your caloric deficit will come naturally, when you listen to your “true hunger” your body will burn your stored fat for energy when it does not require dietary fat.
  • Proteins and fats promote satiety and help control blood sugar to reduce cravings. Resting metabolic rate increases somewhat, and does not continue to spiral downward as the body sheds excess fat (found to be common in weight loss).
  • Increased ability to burn fat: keto-adaptation (becoming fat-adapted) more than doubles the rate of fat burning compared to a high-carb diet. In addition, lower levels of insulin trigger fat burning, reduce fat storage, and increase lean mass.
  • Body weight is self-regulated on the keto diet by emphasizing the types of food over quantity of food consumed; this is the best approach to losing weight and reversing disease.

For decades, so much of weight loss and dieting has been focused around counting daily calories, and the truth is, calorie restriction dieting works, but it comes with a price. Perhaps it’s working for you right now, but it’s slowing down your metabolism, damaging your natural levels of hormones and soon enough you’re losing more hair than weight. This can take longer for some people over others, but it happens to everyone.

When you eat at your maintenance calories for your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) and you put on weight, this directly shows that your metabolism has slowed. Your maintenance calorie intake means you should be able to maintain your weight here. Do not fear, it can be repaired, however multiple studies [1] have shown that metabolism drops much faster in restriction than it raises when eating normally; in other words it gets damaged easy yet is hard to repair, but it is repairable.

Long-term underlying metabolic issues, such as insulin resistance, have not been resolved with calorie-counting diets. This failed, traditional approach of calorie deprivation has been used for decades while obesity rates continue to soar and the vast majority of overweight people are unable to lose weight and keep it off. [2]

This is just another reason why the ketogenic diet rises above those unsustainable, ‘quick-fix’, restrictive weight loss diets we’ve all tried and failed, and really holds its place as a ‘healthy lifestyle way of eating’.

Here’s what is actually important: the type of calories consumed and the macronutrient ratio (carb, protein, fat).

Keto and Weight Loss

Eat fat, burn fat. But wait.. Fat has more than double the amount of calories to protein and carbs.

Not all calories are created equal. At its core, weight loss results from burning more calories than you consume, but the macronutrient composition of those calories is also vital. Different foods have substantially different metabolic and hormonal effects on the body.

What’s eaten (and how calories are expended) can change how much you eat and whether those calories are burned or stored.

A review of 13 randomised controlled trials (1,415 patients) found that people on the ketogenic diet lost significantly more weight than people on low-fat diets. They also kept the weight off for 12 months or more.[3] The diets in these studies contained no more than 50 grams of carbohydrate, further to this, low-carb diets with more generous amounts of carbohydrate (≥ 120 gm/day) showed similar results (increased weight loss with low-carb than low-fat) in a review of 17 randomised controlled trials.[4] More recently, type 2 diabetics lost 12% of their body weight after one year in diet-induced ketosis.[5]

So, study after study shows us that over the first 3-6 months, people randomised to a low-carb diet who are eating to satiety, lose more weight and more body fat than those who are eating a low-fat, calorie restricted diet.

Here’s another report to reinforce this, by Dr. Guenther Boden [45 – ASLCL] in an inpatient study of obese type-2 diabetics.

After a week of eating a balanced diet to satiety, the subjects were given a low carbohydrate diet consisting of most of the same foods, with the exception that they were asked to limit their total daily carbohydrate intake to 20g. Over the next 2 weeks, their spontaneous nutrient intakes were carefully measured. Interestingly, the subject’s average daily energy intake dropped from 3100 to 2100 calories, and this was all due to the ‘missing’ carbs. Despite having the choice to eat more, the protein and fat intakes of these subjects remained relatively constant. And despite this 1000 calories per day deficit, their reported hunger, satisfaction and energy levels did not change appreciably. What did change was their diabetes control – dramatically for the better.

Carbohydrates in our diet may offer a short-term send of increased energy, but they offer little in the way of functional satiety.

How To Eat Your Calories And Lose Weight On Keto

Carbs are your limit, protein is your goal and fat is used as your lever to satiety.

The above ketogenic formula is a much more ‘individualised’ way of eating than the generic, basic formula of;

Energy stored = energy (calories) in – energy (calories) out

This basic calorie in/calorie out formula is exactly that – basic. I’ll expand more on this later, but for now, the ketogenic formula to eating gives your individual body the chance to heal itself. Your body doesn’t want to be fat, it doesn’t want to be resistant to insulin, it doesn’t want to be riddled with inflammation and disease. Given the chance to, your body will heal itself, by itself.

Yes, you need some form of caloric deficit from your maintenance TDEE (link), in order to lose weight. Eating a diet that consists of the following macronutrient ratios; 5% carbohydrate, 15% protein and 80% fat, satiates you, you don’t over-eat and indulge on healthy fats. Your caloric deficit will come naturally, when you listen to your “true hunger” your body will burn your stored fat for energy when it does not require dietary fat.

“Ok, Sophie, I understand all of this but actually, I’ve gone the other way and I’m not hungry. I’m worried I might be consuming too little calories each day”

First thing is first, are you tracking your macros correctly? I see SO MUCH that when someones seeks my advice on this and I ask them to show me their food diary, their macros are off and protein is usually too high. Protein is important, but too much protein is unnecessary and is hindering your progress. Carbohydrate needs to be low (5%), protein needs to be moderated (15%) you will then likely feel hungry which will increase your fat intake, and fat contains double the calories of protein and carbs.

“Sophie, my macros are correct and I’m still not hungry consuming too few calories, but I want to lose weight without damaging my metabolism, help!”

One word, fast. You’ve been handed thee most perfect opportunity to allow your body to hugely benefit from practicing fasting quite easily. As you fast, there are a number of hormonal changes that do NOT happen with simple caloric reduction. When you’re in a fasted state counter-regulatory hormonal reactions take place; your insulin levels drop which normalises blood glucose, growth hormone increases which maintains lean mass, and noradrenaline increases which keeps your resting metabolic rate high. The body opens up its ample supply of stored food – body fat, and begins burning stored fat for energy! Yeah! Burn, baby, burn.

To Conclude

I want to make clear that I have not stated in this article that you can eat as many calories as you want and you won’t gain weight on a ketogenic diet, of course you will. If you are overeating calories, you are going to put weight on, it’s as simple as that. So counting calories on keto does have some benefits:

  • It may be useful for people who are still not getting results. These individuals may be unknowingly consuming too many fats, such as coconut oil, in order to increase ketones.
  • Eating a very high caloric deficit that’s slowed down your metabolic rate.
  • Tracking calories may offer a reality check on what normal portion sizes look like.

In general, strict control of calorie balance is unnecessary on the ketogenic diet when following the correct macronutrient ratios. The keto diet is consistent with the foods we were designed to eat; a diet low in starchy/sugary carbs and favouring proteins and fats, along with fiber-rich cruciferous vegetables, was the mainstay for humans for thousands of years.

  • Proteins and fats promote satiety and help control blood sugar to reduce cravings. [6][7]
  • Resting metabolic rate increases somewhat, and does not continue to spiral downward as the body sheds excess fat. [8][12]
  • As you become more keto-adapted, energy expenditure increases resulting in more calories being burned. Elevated levels of endogenous ketones, beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), reduce inflammation.[9]

The ketogenic diet allows body weight to self-regulate by really emphasising the type of food over the quantity of food consumed. This is the best approach to reducing obesity, as well as healing the body from disease caused by abnormal insulin levels ie. diabetes, cardiovascular disease etc.[10]

How Calories Are Used In The Body

60% Resting Metabolic Rate = the number of calories required to keep the body functioning at rest
32% Physical Activity = any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that require energy expenditure
8% Thermic Effect of Feeding = the amount of energy required to digest and process consumed food

The Science Behind The Conclusion

“A calorie is a calorie” is the traditional view which argues that the type of food we eat isn’t important. To lose weight, you create a caloric deficit by either eating less or burning more. To gain weight, you increase calorie intake.

The first law of thermodynamics, also known as Law of Conservation of Energy, states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; energy can only be transferred or changed from one form to another. This has in effect controlled the concepts for the basis of weight loss for over a century — resulting in a difficulty in accepting other ways of thinking. Apply this Law to weight control and it’s translated into this basic formula, which I referred to earlier in the article:

Energy stored = energy (calories) in – energy (calories) out

Bringing this into a realistic perspective, the formula stays true but you have to adjust the calorie expenditure for; metabolic rates, activity levels, effectiveness of the persons endocrine system, etc. Say your body needs 1800 calories, and you only eat 1300 calories, weight loss will occur because your body uses roughly 500 calories of body fat to cover the missing 500 calories from your diet:

-500 = 1300 – 1800

Let’s say this leads to a theoretical weight loss of 1 lb per week (3500 kcal per pound of fat in the week). If you ate 1300 calories on keto and lost 2 lbs in a week, you’d have to use 1000 calories from fat stores. That means that 1000 calories of expended energy are external from your diet a day, for 7 days. If that isn’t the case, the formula does not work.

-1000? = 1300 – 1800

This fails basic mathematics. It also doesn’t work in physics. So for keto, or any diet for that matter, to lead to more weight loss – you have to get to a higher energy expenditure of calories for the formula to work. This means increasing your metabolic rate, increasing activity levels, etc.

-1000 = 1800 – 2800

The opposing viewpoint agrees that calories still count, however the type of food consumed affects the amount of energy expended and what foods the body craves. It takes way more energy to process and store protein than it does carbohydrate or fat – this is called the thermic effect of food. Essentially, a person burns more energy consuming protein because it requires more energy for the body to process. In one study, twice as much energy was expended after meals on a high-protein diet versus a high carbohydrate, low-fat diet. [11]

Another study compared the effects of three diets differing in macronutrient composition on energy expenditure during weight loss maintenance. Weight loss causes resting metabolic rate to decrease, which predisposes to weight regain. Results of the study showed that the very low-carb (and highest protein) diet had the LEAST effect on reducing metabolic rate following weight loss. [12]

Hormonal changes associated with different types of food are also important; diets high in carbs increase the secretion of insulin. Elevated levels of insulin leads to more fat storage, low insulin promotes fat burning. [13][8]

The loss of energy as heat through the thermic effect of consuming food is consistent with the second law of thermodynamics, which states that some energy is always lost in any chemical reaction. The idea that “a calorie is a calorie” defies this law. [14]

How Is The Keto Diet So Effective At Promoting Major Weight Loss?

To summarise (listed in order of importance and available evidence), the weight-loss effect of the ketogenic diet seems to be caused by several factors:

  1. Reduction in appetite due to higher satiety effect of proteins, [6][7] effects on appetite control hormones [15] and to a possible direct appetite-suppressant action of the ketone bodies.[16]
  2. Reduction in lipogenesis and increased lipolysis.[17][18]
  3. Reduction in the resting respiratory quotient and, therefore, greater metabolic efficiency in consuming fats.[19]
  4. Increased metabolic costs of gluconeogenesis and the thermic effect of proteins.[20][21]

[1] http://sciencedrivennutrition.com/dieting-and-metabolism/

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20479763

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23651522

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26485706

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29417495

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19400750

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18282589

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17663761

[9] https://www.nature.com/articles/nm.3804?foxtrotcallback=true

[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26339496

[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11838888

[12] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22735432

[13] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12077732

[14] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15282028

[15] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23632752

[16] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18175736

[17] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19640952

[18] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16848698

[19] https://bmcproc.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1753-6561-6-S3-P37

[20] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3217855/

[21] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15588283


Sophie Laura

Hi! I'm Sophie (Easy Keto Lifestyle). I'm a Certified Nutrition Coach and I help women who struggle with their weight to radically transform their health and body, by living a simple yet delicious ketogenic lifestyle.

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