The ketogenic diet is simply a way of eating or fasting that reduces the amount of glucose your body has available to use to fuel your cells. When you reduce the glucose your body must switch to fat to fuel your cells. This is nutritional ketosis. Not to be mixed up with diabetic ketoacidosis which is an entirely different thing.
Knowing whether you are in ketosis or not is a hot topic. So many keto experts tell you that you absolutely need to get yourself a monitor and track your ketone levels closely. Others will tell you that you don’t need to know at all. Just keto on.
In my opinion there is a balance between the two opposing positions. Are you in ketosis? It is a great question and one you should ask yourself to optimise your health and weight loss. It will help you avoid making the most common mistakes on keto.
Why you need to know
I think it’s important to know if you are in ketosis or not because it’s really easy to overeat foods that will keep your body from producing ketones. Not only that, if you are eating foods that are not good for you, your body will show signs of stress. Both of these issues will mean slower healing and weight loss
Knowing the signs of an unhappy body is a vital part to achieving your long term health and weight loss goals. It can be really easy to lose weight, especially at the start of your journey. As your body adapts to your new way of eating, weight loss usually slows down. It can stop altogether if you ignore these unhappy body signs.
Optimising Weight Loss
In my community we don’t chase weight loss as our only goal. This is because there are two ways of losing weight. Unhealthy restriction and stress based weight loss or healthy, natural appetite control and hormonal weight loss. If you have been practising the unhealthy way to lose weight (restricting calories a lot/chronic fasting) you might find that weight loss is slow. You might even be regaining weight eating the same food you used to eat to lose weight.
If you are practising stress based weight loss you will see that reflected in your ketones and fasting glucose. As your stress hormones increase, your fasting blood sugar will rise, your ketones will fall and you will stop losing weight or start regaining. Your ketone levels will give you so much information on how your body reacts to things like stress, bad sleep and exercise.
Are you in ketosis?
There are three ways to determine if your body is in ketosis (burning ketones) or is producing ketones. Two require a financial investment and the other requires you to slow down enough to be able to listen to your body.
1. Urine Ketone Strips
If you are starting out and you are brand new to keto, these are a great, cheap way to see if your body is producing ketones. This strip is easy to use, you just pee in a jar or plastic cup and dip the strip for 5 seconds (follow the manufacturers guidelines) and voila.
The information you can get out of these strips is very valuable. You can see, at what level of carbs or how much time fasted, your body starts to produce ketones. Then you can plan to follow that plan for as long as it works. If you are producing ketones you know that you have hit the sweet spot.
The only drawback is that these strips don’t tell you if you are burning ketones or not. Ketones in the urine are excess to requirement, they are waste. So you might be producing them but not yet burning them. That is why they are only really valuable for beginners.
A few weeks in and your body should be really efficient at using the ketones you produce. This means very little waste so when you dip your strip, you might show very few or no ketones at all. Not because you’re not producing them, but because you’re using them!
2. Blood Ketone Monitor
This requires a bigger financial investment at first. There are lots of different options available for tracking ketones. I am affiliated with KetoMojo and I have been for the last 5 years. They are, in my opinion, the best ketone and glucose monitor on the market.
You don’t need two machines, the same monitor will do ketones and glucose.
The blood ketone monitor tells you, in real time, how many ketones are in your blood. Again, it doesn’t tell you if you are burning them, just that they are circulating in your bloodstream. The reason I favour blood ketone monitors is that you can get very quick answers when you want to know how a certain food affects your body, how stress or bad sleep affects you and if an exercise is good for fat burning for you.
You can also calculate your GKI (Glucose Ketone Index) which tells you how metabolically healthy you are. You can see, in real time, your health transform in front of your eyes. The KetoMojo monitor does this for you.
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The drawback to blood ketone testing comes the longer you have been in ketosis. It seems that the longer you are in ketosis, the lower your average blood ketone level will be. At the time of writing this post, I have been on keto for 7 years. In that time, I believe my body has learned how many ketones to produce and it maintains that level. It makes sense when you understand how hard your body has to work to produce ketones. It wouldn’t want to make a lot of them only for them to be peed out as waste.
This means that the longer you are on keto, the lower your blood ketone level becomes unless you push your body (calorie restriction, exercise, fasting) to produce more. This is just my theory though, we currently do not have enough evidence to say conclusively whether this is correct or not.
3. Feeling Good
The third way, and cheapest, is to observe your body’s energy level. How do you feel? Do you feel like you have stable energy, you don’t get hangry or get sudden hunger pangs? These are good signs you are in ketosis. You will feel less hungry and it becomes much easier to skip meals or go for longer between meals. You might find that you only eat two meals a day but you still feel like you have lots of energy.
When you are in ketosis, especially at the beginning of your journey on keto, you will feel like you are on fire, on top of the world! That feeling does fade the longer you are on keto and your body adapts. That doesn’t mean that it’s not working any more or that your body has stopped producing ketones. It just means that you are adapted to burning ketones.