Why You’re Failing On The Keto Diet

It’s in our nature to seek paths of least resistance. It’s not a particularly bad thing. Conserve energy, obtain more for less, and reduce the often greater risks associated with high energy and effort.

It’s not necessarily lazy and can sometimes be smart.

In the realm of diets, however, this human tendency often goes off the rails into magical territory. It’s nothing new, really. The diet industry is huge and to compete within it—whether it be through books, training courses, packaged and processed foods, or whatever—you’re going to need some hook or sizzle that I call magic, in order to compete for the dollars on offer.

The magic typically entails some sort of easy counting…like packaged foods all broken down into point values; or, counting only carbohydrate grams. The latter is the classic Atkins, of course; and admittedly, there is a bit of “magic” underfoot, since it turns out that if you severely restrict carbohydrate, most people tend to replace it with forms of protein. Since protein is the most satiating of the three macronutrients, there is a spontaneous caloric reduction for many, and they enjoy a double whammy effect: they lose a lot of water weight from glycogen depletion initially, and then sustained weight loss from eating fewer calories than energy demands.

Most stall at some point, however. I wrote about this way back in 2012, after Stephan Guyenet got Gary Taube’s knickers in a bunch at AHS11: Synthesis: Low-Carb and Food Reward/Palatability, and Why Calories Count.

Here’s how I explained the stall phenomenon, long quote.

Calories count.

So let’s run some example numbers for shits, giggles…and in hopes of a Second Coming (I didn’t specify what kind).

…Let’s suppose a 250 pound male body, 5′ 10″, 50yo, light to moderate get-off-his-ass level. Daily burn is about 3,500 calories.

He goes Low carb. His target is 160 pounds, 90 pounds away…because that’s the last time he remembers where a hot chick approached him and, well….she did nasty things to him. He’s been told he doesn’t need to count calories or anything—that they don’t matter, eat to satiety—under a certain set of proscriptions having to do with carbohydrate per se.

And it’s exactly what he does. After the initial water weight loss and adjustment period, he settles in. Since he doesn’t count calories, let me do so, hypothetically. …Wow, amazing, and this does go to the asset side of the Balance Sheet. He’s not doing anything like 3,500 calories per day. Not even close. Eating ad libitum, he’s naturally consuming about 2,800 calories for a 700 calorie deficit per day, or about a pound lost per 5 days. He feels awesome, great…because even though in big caloric deficit, he’s still on a very high fat diet and he’s not really hungry too often. He’s euphoric. The pounds are melting off. He’s an LC believer for life. It borders on Enlightenment. It’s tantamount to a religious experience or, a Second Coming.

This goes on for just short of a year, about 350 days if my math is correct. He’s livin’ it up, low-carb style. He’s doing himself, friends, and family a huge favor. Don’t discount that. But in the end, he’s accountable mostly to himself, and in that end, he stalls. He stalls, not at his 160 pound goal where hot chicks might once again do nasty things to him, but at 180 pounds, 20 pounds away. He’s gonna have to do something, or settle for 2nd string in the chick department. How can this be? Low carb is magic. He’s proved it. Over the space of an entire year!

…Or so he thinks.

What he only proved, however, is that calories count. Yea, he may have gorged on the fatty meat one night to the tune of pounds and huge calories and couldn’t wait to tell you. But like my dear late grandmother—while I was growing up in Reno—only ever told us about her jackpots at the slots, and never the amount she fed it regularly…what he didn’t tell you is that the next day, he didn’t eat much at all. He was satiated. It all subtracts down, over time.

As it tuns out, 2,800 average daily calories is about the requirement for a 50 year old guy, 180 pounds, 5′ 10″, who gets off his ass now and then. …Unfortunately, fantasizing about the hot chicks in waiting doesn’t burn a whole lot.

Are you beginning to see where I’m going? Low carb was indeed effective. But it was only a means to the end that really worked. Actually, two means: his food palatability/reward was diminished, he spontaneously lowered caloric intake to an ad libitum level of a 180 pound man (2,800 calories), and he lost the weight. A year later, right on schedule, he weighs 180. After months and months or years and years, he begins to become disillusioned about low carb. But the blindspot, because “calories don’t count on low carb,” is that he never tried 2,600 calories daily on average, the requirement for a 160lb man with his parameters. But, had he done that, he’d have been hungry and low carb is a lot about not having to feel hungry. It’s baked into the low carb—and hopefully gluten free—cake. So low carb failed him?

Now let’s get into new information. The advent of both activity trackers like Fitbit and food logging aps like LoseIt! and MyFitnessPal (that can also integrate your tacker activity, your workouts, and even your WiFi scale) are making it not only easy, but a bit of fun to track stuff. They can even scan food bar codes, so errors are being reduced. AI may bring the ability to snap a picture of food and get a reasonable estimate of the total breakdown.

The keto diet as it’s being popularly touted is doomed to failure on two primary counts.

  1. Because it’s a high fat, limited protein, and very low carbohydrate diet, it has a serious handicap in that the highest macronutrient is more than twice as energy dense as the other two, combined with the fact that’s its the least satiating, gram for gram. So you get that? If you separately eat 100 grams of protein, whole food carbohydrate, and then fat, generally speaking you’re going to feel the most full and lasting with the protein, then the carbohydrate, then the fat. Thing is, the protein and carbs cost you 400 calories, but the fat costs you 900. So, you’re more hungry with the latter, and you have already eaten more than double the energy as with the former. Can you say stupid?
  2. It has to, and does, discourage all of the new technology that allows individuals to science their own deal and get measurable results that correlate very well with their tracking efforts. Why? Because they’ll easily be able to figure out why they’re stalled or regaining, Occam’s Razor like.

And that kills the magic and we’ve come full circle.

What if we could access and analyze all of this self reported data and see who’s doing best? Turns out you can. Turns out engineer Marty Kendall is doing just that. He has a blog, and two Facebook lives, here and here.

What he did is take about a half million days of diet data from users of MyFitnessPal, categorized them by the macronutrient breakdown they were reporting, and then see how they do in terms of success in meeting their targets for consistently coming in at goal and meeting weight loss goals.

Amazing. Per the data covering a half million days, the Keto dieters are just doing the absolute abysmally the worst. It is a disaster.

Clearly, targeting protein is the path of least resistance, almost magical. Even high carb or low protein show decent results. As soon as you start limiting protein, and there are a number of ways—a junk food diet is just like a low protein diet is just like a high fat diet—shit begins to hit the fan.

There’s more.

What this chart actually means is that IF you get about >10% of your whole daily calories from protein composition early in the day, you’re going to tend to eat less over the whole day, naturally. So, it’s not so much the old adage that breakfast is the most important meal but, that you make it rich in protein.

Marty is using exactly the same data, just a different way of query. The bottom line is, the more protein you eat at breakfast, up to about 11% of total calories on the day, the proverbial path of least resistance, you’ll be coming in at a good caloric deficit for the day if you’re aiming to lose weight.

It turns out that my morning “meal” most days is pretty dam close, since I began the spring cleaning: Spring Has Sprung: Time To Tighten Diet and Exercise — My Flexibility Method And Food Pics. Here’s the basic deal most days, like an average of five days of the week.

The shake is made from 1 cup of the 1% milk, and I just drink the other cup. Please, not one single comment about raw eggs in a shake or smoothie. I’ve been eating raw eggs for over 50 years and have never had a single problem ever. Shut. The. Fuck. Up. I seem to always get comments from tender flowers and special snowflakes every time I mention this. I don’t care about your outlier problems and won’t entertain them.

My daily average caloric target at a loss of 1.5 pounds per week is 1,750. Eleven percent of that is 192.5 calories, which is about 48g protein. So, very damn close.

Go and do likewise. Like this, grilled flank steak last night.



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34 Comments

  1. Robert on May 22, 2018 at 01:43

    Great stuff, high fat diet fail to produce caloric deficit. But of course, this will not convince ketotards, since they are not in need of a caloric deficit to lose weight. It’s all hormonal magic…

    And all the people getting a caloric deficit on low fat will ruin their metabolism…

    The high protein breakfast info was very interesting. I skip breakfast usually, but there might be some downsides to that.

    BTW Richard, I don’t have facebook, but until recently I could anyway view the ketotard group in my web browser. It was a great source of info for me. But the last week it’s blocked for anyone not logged in to facebook. Maybe it’s a change of settings in the group, like an age limit? Perhaps it could be changed back to open access, and thereby rewarding those not having facebook?

    • Richard Nikoley on May 22, 2018 at 08:35

      Robert

      Nope, it’s open access. Nothing changed. Probably a general Facebook deal. Are there other groups you can still access?

    • Robert on May 22, 2018 at 23:03

      Just tried to access the group from my mobile phone turning off WIFI, i.e. different ip, and it works! So they must be tracking my ip, seeing I’ve enjoyed facebook content too much without being a member.

      I follow two other groups aout the microbiome, but I don’t access them as often as the Ketotard group. I guess in time, they will likely be blocked too.

    • Robert on May 23, 2018 at 21:01

      Problem solved: I simply turned off my router for a few hours, and this likely gave me a new ip address. The Ketotard group is accessable again.

  2. fearless on May 22, 2018 at 04:13

    “calories count” – they certainly do! See the example in the link below. A man loses 278 pounds in 382 days. 278 pounds of fat is worth about 973,000 calories which means he was burning about 2,550 calories a day in fat – pretty damn close to what the calories in, calories out method of weight loss calculation tells us he should have burnt and lost.

    https://pickle.nine.com.au/2018/05/22/14/41/angus-barbieri-the-man-who-didnt-eat-anything-for-a-year

    • thhq on May 22, 2018 at 09:05

      Extreme weight loss comes at the expense of muscle too. It’s taken me 10 years to slowly gain back 10 lbs of leg, arm and shoulder muscle I lost after a 50 lb weight loss in 6 months. A combination of refeed and exercise is what it took.

  3. thhq on May 22, 2018 at 07:38

    Here’s my reductionist view of the obesity crisis

    The 2010 USDA dietary macro profile is about 12% protein, 45% fat and 43% carbs.

    That’s about the same composition as cookies and potato chips.

    There are no foods with higher reward to value ratio than those.

    The problem with diets is that they require mindfulness to work. Overconsumption doesn’t stop automatically. And when the diet’s over the rewarding cookies and chips are still there.

    • Bret on May 23, 2018 at 19:59

      “The problem with diets is that they require mindfulness to work. Overconsumption doesn’t stop automatically.”

      This is why in hindsight I detest Gary Taubes’s GCBC so heavily. He gave gluttons worldwide false hope that they never have to tolerate a yearning sensation in their bellies, when in fact that is exactly what they need. And they need to track their food aggressively and precisely.

      Diets and finances are routinely compared in this way. If you’re trying to break the hand to mouth cycle, you have to make a budget and keep track of it. And you really have to work at it, because old habits die hard.

      Sadly, magic sells much easier than that.

    • Robert on May 23, 2018 at 21:17

      To be fair, Taubes did present a falsifiable scientific hypothesis. It has now been tested, especially with the two latest NuSI studies, and it has been falsified. The Kevin Hall study is what made me stop believing in the insulin hypothesis. Ironically, this happened after listening to Jimmy Moore’s interview of Hall. He was so maligned on the low carb sites, that I thought he was some kind of monster. Jimmy’s interview presented a different picture however, and I realized that Hall was a sane, intelligent scientist. And when I subsequently took in the study results, read it, and pondered, the conclusion was inevitable. Insulin does not lock fat in any way, low carb has no metabolic advantage of any kind.

      Sadly Taubes himself isn’t honest about it though. But this is probably to be expected. When you’re so incredibly invested in a hypothesis, it’s almost impossible to give it up. “I was wrong all these years, sorry all you people that believed me and bought my books. I shall now retreat to a shadow existence, no longer making big money promoting low carb”. It’s not gonna happen. They will fight until the bitter end, no matter what science and reality shows, just like Hitler in his bunker.

    • thhq on May 24, 2018 at 07:00

      I remember Hitler in his bunker in Downfall, eating his green vegetarian glop….

      Atkins (ie Taubes) dieting continues to work as long as you stay religiously mindful about it. But if you leave the straight and narrow the glycogen weight comes right back.

  4. CDLXI on May 22, 2018 at 07:47

    I would love to see how high to low fiber effects Marty Kendalls data. High fiber combined with high protein has even more satiety to me.

    • fearless on May 22, 2018 at 13:12

      Agree. Fibre is often overlooked. As you do, I find it works a treat when combined with high protein.

    • Robert on May 23, 2018 at 21:25

      I can also confirm that high protein combined with high fiber is extremely satiating.

      Satiety is very complex it seems, every food is different and must be studied separately. But reviews of satiety studies find that in general satiety correlates with two things: protein and fiber content. Interestingly, Ketotards often aim to minimize both these factors. Stupid and foolish indeed.

  5. Joe on May 22, 2018 at 11:28

    My N=1…
    Wife wanted to lose weight. Did whole 30, which tells you to be sure to eat enough to avoid getting hungry and grazing between meals.
    So she goes whole 30, and stuffs her face for a month. Never in my life have I seen that girl eat so much. And that’s saying alot, since we’ve been married for 30 years.
    At the end of 30 days, so lost 10 lbs. That’s 2 inches of each upper leg and an inch off her waist and an inch off the butt. And she’s kept it off. And there was no excersize the entire month. Previous to Whole30, she ate like a bird. Tiny amount of plain yogurt (whole fat) and a few berries for breakfast, a bar of some sort for lunch or cheese and crackers (and not much of that) and a dinner, always less than me. And she was gaining weight doing this.
    So as far as calories in and out, I don’t know how to account for that weight and inches loss she experienced.

    • Anand Srivastava on May 23, 2018 at 03:15

      I don’t think calorie calculations are so accurate. The body is not a bomb caloriemeter, and has a lot of ways to modify it calorie requirement.

      I have understood that when you change your diet drastically, the body does not react as fast in being able to utilize the new forms of food efficiently. 30 days is around the time it takes for the body to get efficient, sometimes it can be a lot more.

      While it is inefficient, you can eat a lot more and get away with it.

      Another issue is the starvation response. If you are eating below your energy requirements, the body tries to work with less, reducing BMR. One side effect is that the body runs colder. The body temperature is a give away. It could have long lasting effects on the thyroid.

      Then when you start to eat more, the body turns off the starvation response, the BMR starts to go up. So you lose body fat, even though you are eating more.

      It had happened to two of my friends.

      I would think something like that happened to your wife. A drastic change coupled with a refeed. It can work wonders to the mood also. I am pretty sure she felt great during those whole 30 days.

  6. Joe on May 22, 2018 at 11:32

    “I’ve been eating raw eggs for over 50 years and have never had a single problem ever. ”

    Me too, but for 10 years. 2-3 raw eggs a day in my raw-milk and protein powder drink that I have every morning.
    Raw eggs and raw milk nearly daily for 10 years. Most everyone I know questions why I’m not dead.

  7. VW on May 22, 2018 at 14:43

    If what you claim is true, then how do you explain Jimmy Moore’s low carb journey that finds him sleek and fit here in 2018? From fat to fit, via la vida low carb. Riddle me that, writer-man.

    • Anand Srivastava on May 23, 2018 at 03:18

      Where is the funny button when you need it?

  8. jim on May 22, 2018 at 16:12

    I’d be most curious if you go full carnivore.

  9. Thomas Mann on May 22, 2018 at 18:09

    Just wonder how and where cooked then chilled potatoes fit into your spring diet and the more protein macro approach.

  10. stephane on May 22, 2018 at 23:11

    Hi Richard

    I think the nutrition data from the App is wrong. It would be great to get 42,6 g of protein with this breakfast but it doesn’t add up :

    Taking protein nutrition facts from internet and rounding up to the nearest upper g :
    1 egg is 7 g
    2 cups of 1% milk is 18 g
    1 scoop of vanilla ice cream is 4 g
    which makes a 29 g protein breakfast which is great but nowhere near the 42,6 g displayed.

    Thanks

    • Richard Nikoley on May 23, 2018 at 07:43

      It’s not vanilla ice cream silly, it’s vanilla whey protein, 24g. ;)

    • stephane on May 23, 2018 at 09:06

      Hehe Makes more sense now …
      That’s a lot of protein to start the day !
      Thanks

  11. Jeff on May 23, 2018 at 15:02

    Are you targeting 1,750 calories everyday no matter what, or are you letting the app subtract the amount of calories you have burned through “exercise”? I’ve always wondered how accurate that was or if I should be paying attention to that.

  12. Thomas Mann on May 25, 2018 at 18:45

    Please remove my comment above. It has taken several readings of the prior post and this, but I think I am finally getting your points. O the joy of growing older.

  13. Bret on May 28, 2018 at 13:00

    Richard, this macronutrient narrative summary you’ve presented is commendable. It is much more honest and inclusive of much more diverse information than the ketotard bullshit.

    It is an improvement on the original Atkins dogma, which was right about some things, without really knowing why, but missing key pieces.

    Your update is something people can actually work with and contributes to the dialogue in a positive way, rather than in a rigid, intransigent way. Well done.

    Middle fingers to the assholes who are continuing to push falsified baloney, regardless of how genteel or polite they are, superficially.

  14. Bonnie on May 28, 2018 at 20:47

    I’m not sure why anyone takes diet and weight loss advice from you when you’ve been consistently overfat/trying to lose weight for what seems like forever in blog-land (I think I’ve been coming across your blog for 6-8 years at least, since you used to be very pro low carb)

    I’ve been low carb, high fat with moderate IF that whole time and maintained within my desired weight range easily while staying very lean (even on bulks). I don’t have to count calories to do a mini cut, I just ease off on the carbs and my abs are out again in a couple weeks. None of the high carb/low fat people (bodybuilders and power lifters) I know can manage that, it’s a constant unhealthy cycle of bulking and getting bloated and puffy, then killing themselves counting and doing big calorie deficits to try to lean out again for months. I’ll keep on passing on that.

    I never ruined my metabolism in the first place, keeping a consistent weight and diet my whole life might be most of my success, but I know a great many diehard keto and low carb eaters who were formerly overfat and have gotten lean and stayed there.

    • Richard Nikoley on June 4, 2018 at 18:49

      I’m not sure why you’ve been torturing yourself for 6-8 years reading my blog because that sounds stupid.

      I meander in 18Os and 190s and sometimes I want to lose. I’m never worried about it and 170s feels awkward to me and ungood. I’m 57, not 25.

      I’m also not morbidly obese telling you to just eat more fat.

  15. Brenden on June 1, 2018 at 07:07

    Started eating 1800 cals a day, with 180g protein. Tracking it all in Lose It! Suprisingly easy and in 1 week im from 255 to 248. Theres a little hunger but its bearable. Im gonna keep this up.

    • Bret on June 2, 2018 at 05:31

      Brenden, congrats on the good start. The loss will slow down, as the initial shedding is largely water weight.

      Not trying to throw cold water on you, just don’t get discouraged if progress slows down after a week or two. It may even stall or reverse a pound or two, but that’s typical and temporary.

  16. fearless on June 2, 2018 at 22:26

    Richard, can you provide an index of all your posts from most to least viewed? Perhaps by most to least commented also? I suspect ‘No Shampoo’ will be your most viewed and that burger post will be your most commented.

    Of course you’re free to tell me to fuck off also.

  17. Rob on June 9, 2018 at 11:06

    In 2000 I learned a lesson about my fod consumption that I didn’t heed at that time. I was in a Chinese buffet; my usual course was to eat a lot, eat a plate of food then go back for more. This time I brought a newspaper in with me and was reading something interesting while I ate. When I finished my first plate of food I didn’t rush back to the buffet line, because I wanted to finish the article. About eight minutes later I got another plate but my appetite had vanished. Just waiting a short time before eating again allowed satiety to kick in.

  18. zach on July 2, 2019 at 19:31

    Now that the west is rediscovering intermittent and prolonged fasting, we know it’s not solely about calories. The whole success of the snake diet guy is prolonged fasting. If he takes a person and has them eat 9000 calories over a couple hours and then they fast for three days, and then repeat, they get lean. Really lean. If they eat 3000 calories a day for 3 days and continue, they get fat. Regardless of what the “science” says, he gets results. Same thing with jason fung and the diabetics.

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