Friday, August 1, 2014

why ketone readings may -- or may NOT -- indicate weight-loss progress

This is a more elementary post -- most of my blog-buddies are very familiar with it, but I know we have newer readers who might not be....

The debate about ketones never wants to die!  In the time-span between Robert Atkins' introduction to the subject and Jimmy Moore's elaborations, I think the waters have just gotten muddier.  The technical writer in me is eager to restate the basics, just so the picture's details are a little clearer and more discernable.

In the early low-carb days there was confusion in the weight-loss world between ketosis and ketoacidosis.  Atkins explained how they are entirely different states in more detail, but suffice it to say that a person following HIS DIET could use the pee-strips to determine how well their bodies had learned to burn fat for fuel.  Because elevated insulin suppresses fat-burning, a positive urinary ketone reading is a proxy for normalizing insulin levels.

A positive ketone reading on those keto-strips is also evidence that potential-human-fuel is being WASTED down the toilet.  THAT may well be the "metabolic advantage" of a low-carb diet:  energy -- the metabolic product of fat -- being flushed away.

Atkins saw some obese patients who were not even able to lose well on his basic regimen, so he developed the "fat fast" that would jump-start the process.  It was a low CALORIE (approx. 1000) version, designed to force the body to burn adipose tissue because it provided almost no carbs and minimal protein.  The "meals" were small but frequent, to help keep hunger at bay.  He said to THOSE PATIENTS, if the fat-fast worked for them, they should add one more "feeding" of the same type (so around 1200 Kcal), to see if they were still able to lose weight on that, and if so to morph back into his basic plan -- it wasn't meant to be a long-term eating style.

Decades later when more quantitative measurement (of blood ketones) became available, researchers played with the notion of just how high those measurements would be when their test subjects lost fat-weight most efficiently.  The LC-diet world grabbed that ball and ran, not stopping to think that such a number MIGHT be individual and/or particular to the demographics of the subjects.  It became the mode to try to emulate THE NUMBERS in that study.

...WHERE HAVE WE SEEN THAT BEFORE???  Oh yeah -- drugging people to raise their HDL, thinking it was a causative factor, not the SYMPTOM of better health that it actually is!

Large numbers on your ketone-meter, or dark colors on your pee-strip, do NOT mean you're losing fat-weight.


It means your body is converting the fats present in the body into ketones.  If you're consuming less energy than your body is burning from day to day, then the ketones are coming from body-fat.  If you're eating more than you actually use, dietary fats are available for that process, too, or at least stored as MORE body fat THEN converted.

The reading of ketones is probably most helpful as a surrogate for your insulin levels -- the more ketone the less insulin, and vice versa.

There, was that helpful?  :-)


  1. I can vouch for that--By Ketonix breath meter I'm in mild to moderate ketosis pretty much all the time, but no more weight loss (after 70 lbs) going on here. BUT, when I cut calories about as low as I can stand (900 to 1100/day), no weight loss either--my body just slows on down and it messes with my thyroid. In ketosis, I can at least maintain my weight loss and feel great.

    1. "being in ketosis" for me is just a sign i haven't been eating TOO many carbs! :-) i feel good like that -- but i don't need measuring tools to know i feel good, and therefore am in a good nutritional place. are you of the right age to remember "if it feels good, do it"?

  2. Well Done Tess ............

    All the best Jan

  3. "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure."
    Goodhart's law, originating in economics but at least as true when applied to the animal economy. Also phrased as "Any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes." and "A risk model breaks down when used for regulatory purposes".

    1. interesting thought.... the more I mull on it, the more complex it gets, too. it's gonna take me awhile to properly realize this!

  4. I guess I eat too much protein to be in ketosis. My meter stays around 0.1-0.2.

    Oh by the way I almost choked on my chicken bone reading this one - protein from vegetable sources being superior?? Did the nurses exaggerate about their veggie intake. I know so many people who eat a few lettuce leaves with their fries, pies, pasta, chinese food etc and seem to think the former cancels out the latter.....

    1. when you cut back on meat, does it rise? do you get higher readings at different times of the day?