Before we get into myths about a ketogenic diet, let’s talk about metabolic health in general. Metabolic health is basically how well our body is able to use take energy from the food we are eating and metabolize into usable energy for the body. There are a couple things that I think are really key indicators that someone has a healthy metabolism. One is that their body is able to use fat for energy. And so generally speaking, you may be able to tell this because a person probably doesn’t have a lot of excess fat on their body. Obviously, there’s a range of different normal body weights and body composition out there. But generally, you’re not going to see someone with a lot of excessive body fat, when they’re able to use their own fat for energy.

They also are able to fast easily. I don’t think everyone needs to be fasting all the time, but if you have a healthy metabolism, it means that you can fast if you need to, and you’re not going to get “hangry”. The concept of hangry is so normalized in our culture, but it’s actually a sign that your body is metabolically unhealthy. And while you may get hungry and you may really want to eat, you should be able to be able to maintain long periods of time without food if it is necessary.

Another indication that your body is able to use fat for energy is that you have a stable mood overall and you have emotional stability. Part of this is related to having balanced hormones and neurotransmitter production. Our hormones and our neurotransmitters are only in production when our blood sugar levels are very stable. If we can utilize fat for energy, then we always have that blood sugar stability, regardless of whether we’ve been eating sugar recently or not.

On that note, having a really balanced, easy hormonal cycle is another sign, as well as just having generally good energy levels. People who have chronic fatigue, often find that their body cannot utilize fat for energy and their body isn’t able to utilize sugar for energy either. And so they are just stuck, never having energy! Another sign that people have a healthy metabolism is clarity of thought. This is ebcause their brain is getting fueled very efficiently. This means that you can solve problems and take on difficult tasks mentally. Brain fog may be an indication that you don’t have very good metabolic health.

What is the difference between using sugar or fat as your primary fuel source? Sugar is a very quick and dirty fuel source. So if you have any kind of carbohydrates in your diet, your body will utilize that for energy first and it burns off very quickly. When that runs out, there needs to be something to fall back on. Otherwise we get stuck having to eat carbohydrates every hour or two. We have this idea in our culture that you need to basically constantly eating and snacking. That is only true if you are metabolically unhealthy and are running only on carbohydrates. Ideally, we want the body to be able to be flexible. We want the body to be able to, when it runs out of sugar or carbohydrates, to be able to tap into that fat source- either fat you have been eating or the fat that’s on your body. Fat is a much slower burning and very clean form of energy for the body. It’s gonna last a lot longer. People can fast for days or even weeks if necessary, when they are really metabolically healthy.

In a nutshell: metabolic health is metabolic flexibility.

This is where therapeutic ketogenic diets come in. Being in a ketogenic state is extremely healing for the brain and nervous system partly because it can help to reset the metabolic and energy production in the cells. Epilepsy, tics/Tourette’s, neuropathy, dysautonomia, poor vagal tone, schizophrenia and psychosis, bipolar, depression, anxiety can all benefit from ketogenic diets. These are all signs that your brain is not getting the energy that it needs. A ketogenic diet helps the body heal the metabolism, relearn how to use fat for fuel, and provide the cells with the energy they need.

Now, let’s address myths people hear about ketosis.

One: Ketogenic diets are not sustainable long term.

Some people will say that ketogenic diets are safe only for short periods of time, and then you really need to cycle out of it. Long term, I agree that you should have metabolic flexibility and be able to cycle in and out of ketosis seasonally if desired. However, we many examples of cultures who are always in a ketogenic state, and who are born, live and die in a ketogenic state, and eat mostly low carb except for a couple exceptions. It just doesn’t make sense the idea that you shouldn’t be in ketosis long term because we see examples of people who are in ketosis literally their entire lives.

Two: Being in ketosis is stressful for female hormones

Some people will say that if you are in ketosis too long, you are going to start getting hormone imbalances. First of all, reproductive hormones are made from fat. The precursor to estrogen, progesterone and testosterone is cholesterol. We actually need a lot of fat in our diet when we’re trying to produce hormones. A lot of my clients who are women are not eating enough fat, and this is what causes their hormones to strugge. Second, you need to have stable blood sugar levels in order to produce hormones. If your blood sugar is imbalanced, you will not be producing hormones. Blood sugar instability is the main thing that is stressful for hormones. And a lot of people in modern society who are not doing ketogenic diets have blood sugar instability, because a lot of people have really unhealthy metabolisms. So what I primarily see is people whose diets are higher in carbohydrates, with unstable blood sugar, having a lot of stress on their hormones, NOT people truly in therapeutic ketosis.

Similarly, people may say that ketogenic diets spike your cortisol and is bad for your thyroid. The reality is, thyroid hormone is made from protein and needs minerals to be synthesized. It is a myth that we need carbohydrates to synthesize thyroid hormone. I have seen multiple people reverse their thyroid issues on ketogenic diets. As for cortisol, I will say that any time you make a major change, cortisol will spike. A big shift like getting into ketosis is stressful for the body in the short term. Often people will find that their mood and sleep quality struggles at first. This is just a transitional period that is going to happen no matter what kind of big change you are making.

Three: Troubleshooting – “I tried a ketogenic diet and I felt really bad.”

First of all, you have to be eating enough minerals. Almost universally people are under salting their food. You can use electrolytes. But even just very extensively salting your food, making sure you’re eating food with a lot of potassium and magnesium. Minerals are always the first thing I address if someone’s saying they’re not feeling good.

Another thing is that “junk food keto” is a huge problem. I have people all the time who say they’ve tried a ketogenic diet and it didn’t work. This is because of all the packaged convenience keto products they are eating, most of which are not actually keto and a lot of which have starches and gums and additives and flavorings in them that wreak havoc on the digestive tract.

Last, on a ketogenic diet you start to shift their microbiome and that can give you waves of feeling really awful for quite some time as overgrown bacteria dies off. And so that is always a culprit to look at. We also tend to store toxins in our fat cells- things like heavy metals and pesticides and industrial solvents and all these kinds of things. If the body can’t detox them fast enough, it’ll store them in your fat cells. And a lot of people who have unhealthy metabolisms have a lot of extra weight. When they switch to a ketogenic diet, they will start shedding that weight and suddenly, their bloodstream is full of toxins that were stored in their fat cells for years. All of this really does seem to pass if you stick with it and are patient.

I hope this inspires you to try and experience the benefits of a therapeutic ketogenic diet !

About the Author
Jen Donovan completely rebuilt her life and career as a result of her experience with severe chronic illness. After finding no answers from conventional medical approaches, she took matters into her own hands and with the help of key mentors, found a path to healing.
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