Tag Archives: semi-starvation diet

Keto is Different from ‘Dieting’

The Keto/Low-Carb approach is often misunderstood because people assumed it is just another form of ‘dieting.’ And ‘dieting’ means calorie-counting, cutting back on food amounts, experiencing hunger as a form of virtue, perhaps radical reduction of fat— the whole package that gets called ‘semi-starvation’ in scientific journal articles. 

Critics of Keto/Low-Carb have been claiming for so long that you only lose weight on our eating plan if you cut the calories that Dr. Robert C. Atkins, in his very first book in 1972, felt the need to include the case study of a patient of his who lost 80 pounds on 3000 calories a day. We cut back on the carbs, not the calories or total food amounts. 

Imagine a ‘dieter’ in the morning. He used to eat two slices of buttered toast for breakfast, now that he’s ‘dieting’ he eats his toast dry. If he can’t lose weight on that kind of restriction maybe he only eats on slice of dry toast. Or maybe he buys whole wheat bread and decides since he’s being so good, he can have 3 slices of dry toast in the morning. It’s ‘healthy whole grain!’ Without butter!

When we are on Keto, by contrast, we will ditch the bread (unless we can buy or make low-carb bread) and keep the butter. An easy solution if you are lazy like me is to put your butter in your hot coffee or tea, making it ‘bulletproof.’ If that feels too much like skipping breakfast (which many of us ketonians do) you can add an egg. Or two, or three. Eggs are low-carb enough to be a ‘free food’ on Keto. You can cook your eggs in butter, coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil. Whichever you like. Or you can have hard-boiled or baked eggs if that’s what you prefer.

A ‘dieter’ has this dilemma— he constantly has to cut back, reduce calories, eat less. But that doesn’t always lead to the desired weight loss. It may just train your body to get by with fewer calories per day. This is why dieters experience weight loss plateaus, that usually can’t be fixed without more calorie restrictions. Which leads to hunger. Which, if you are not anorexic or a diet fanatic, will lead at some point to the dieter ditching the diet to EAT something.

On Keto we work WITH our bodies. When we feel hungry, there are low-carbohydrate foods we can eat. If we are not so hungry because of being in ketosis, we can do intermittent fasting or OMAD (one meal a day) when we feel like it. 

Our bodies are not under our voluntary control. You can’t control the rate at which your heart beats, or how quickly your body digests food, or when your body makes insulin or how much it makes or if your body, because of insulin resistance, doesn’t pay proper attention to insulin.

Keto is a trick to make your body let go of the weight without feeling constant hunger pangs. Since hunger pangs are your body’s signal that you need food, healthy people can’t ignore hunger signals for long. And because of that, ‘dieting’ fails. Keto DOES hit weight loss plateaus, and you may need to do some intermittent fasting or cut down further on your carbs from time to time. But it won’t make you go hungry. 


To get good instructions on how to go Keto/Low-Carb, get one or both of these books: Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution (1972); Dr. Atkins New Diet Cookbook (1994). They have instructions on doing the eating plan, recipes, and menu plans. 

The Scientific Reasons Why Calories Don’t Count

Some medical people are so convinced of the merits of the semi-starvation diet (calorie-counting) that when the first popular ketogenic eating plan came out, Atkins, they proclaimed without gathering evidence that anyone who lost weight on Atkins did so because they were eating less calories, perhaps because Atkins was so ‘boring.’ (For me, I’ve never gotten bored by being able to eat when I’m hungry instead of having to endure hunger pangs.)

Atkins tackled this issue in his first book in 1972. He gave the case history of a man, Herb,  who had a calorie intake on the Atkins eating plan of 3000 calories a day— not a semi-starvation diet calorie level! And yet he lost 85 pounds in four months on this eating plan.

According to advocates of the calorie-watching, semi-starvation diet, our bodies are like calorie calculators and with all these ‘extra’ calories in 3000 calories a day, Herb should have been steadily gaining weight, not losing 85 pounds. The numbers don’t add up for weight loss, and for semi-starvation diet advocates it is all about the numbers.

In the Keto/Low-Carb realm, it’s all about the science. We look on the body not as a calorie calculator that will punish us with fat if our numbers are wrong, but as a metabolism, that uses insulin to metabolize our food, and that can be thrown out of whack by a condition called insulin resistance— where the body learns to ignore the insulin it makes, and so makes ever more insulin which it ignores ever more, and in the end results in T2 diabetes— which is a disease with too much insulin, not too little as in T1. The ‘fix’ for T2 diabetes is not insulin shots, which normally cause weight gain and give the body even more insulin to semi-ignore, but to lower one’s carb intake and get one’s body back in balance— at best, through the standard Keto/Low-Carb eating plan. 

The golden standard of science is the experiment which is sound enough to get published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. The case studies Dr. Atkins gives aren’t as good. We don’t know how carefully he observed his patients, and we don’t know whether he ‘cherry-picked’ through a thousand case studies to get the ones he wanted for his books. Scientific journal studies are much more ‘sciency.’

The best or at least best-known study for the case of ‘calories don’t count’ is the Kekwick and Pawan study of 1957 (Remember those names and that year.) It was called ‘Metabolic Study in Human Obesity with Isocalorie Diets High in Fat, Protein or Carbohydrate,’ published in ‘Metabolism Clinical and Experimental.’ 

This is how it worked. Kekwick & Pawan compared three 1000 calorie a day diets. But one was high in carbohydrate, one high in protein, and one high in fat. The high-carbohydrate dieters lost very little weight even though they were consuming only 1000 calories per day. The high-protein dieters did lose weight. And the high-fat dieters lost the most weight of all.

Think for a moment. The semi-starvation diet’s advocates have a slogan— ‘a calorie is a calorie is a calorie.’ That’s their way of saying only calories count. But Kekwick & Pawan’s study kicked that slogan in the butt. A calorie acts differently in the human body, depending on whether it is a calorie of carbohydrate, protein or fat. 

The results of the three different Kekwick & Pawan experimental diets explain why our eating plan is LOW in carbohydrates, MODERATE in protein, and HIGH in healthy fats. It’s the best way for weight loss, and in addition a ketogenic diet has proven beneficial for a number of health conditions (See Jimmy Moore’s book “Keto Clarity” for more details.)

And this ‘calories don’t count’ science explains one technique used by successful Keto/Low-Carb eaters. They eat something low-carb whenever they get hungry. They are not counting every calorie and limiting the day’s total. They are eating to feed their body well enough not to be tempted into carbohydrate binges. This is especially important during Induction, the first and strictest level of many Keto eating plans. Don’t get all hung up on the ‘dieting’ mindset and allow yourself to get hungry because you are being ‘good.’ Eating all the zero-carb foods your body might want IS being good on this way-of-eating. If someone tells you that you have to do calorie restriction in order to lose weight on Keto, that person is not scientifically up to date. Don’t let some ill-informed person turn your happy Keto life into a life of hunger and restriction. The semi-starvation diet has been proven through scientific study to fail dieters most of the time. Don’t turn healthy Keto into an imitation of that!