Escaping the Fat Trap

Once you’ve been heavy for some time, your high insulin levels can make it hard to succeed in losing weight. Trying diet after diet and failing on each and every one is depressing. But when you discover the perfectly natural bodily process called lipolysis, hope can replace despair. To a person longing to lose weight, Nirvana is the definition of lipolysis: the process of dissolving fat. When you burn fat, it breaks down into glycerol and other fatty acids. How does the process actually work? Are there any drawbacks? There are plenty of laypersons and even physicians who think there must be. Burning off one’s fat sounds like a faddish trick. These folks give a skeptical shrug and say, "I’m sure people lose some weight with the Atkins approach, but don’t they gain it right back again?"

The interesting thing is that if you adhere to the four phases the Atkins approach—which includes finding your Atkins Carbohydrate Equilibrium (ACE), meaning the amount of carbohydrates you can still consume and neither gain nor lose weight—you won’t regain the weight. The phase known as Lifetime Maintenance, though more indulgent, evolves naturally from the three weight-loss phases, thereby gradually teaching you a permanent way of eating that still moderates carbohydrate intake to the degree that is necessary for your individual metabolism.
Many controlled carbohydrate regimens have been proposed over the years. They work with some degree of effectiveness for some people. However, many of them do not bring carbohydrate intake down to a level that will permit lipolysis. For people who suffer from metabolic obesity and have great difficulty losing, that is a grave weakness. Atkins, on the other hand, starts you off consuming 20 grams of carbohydrates. You then proceed at your own rate, gradually adding back both the amount and an increased variety of carbohydrate foods.
How does lipolysis work? Lipolysis simply means that you’re burning your fat stores and using them as the source of fuel they were meant to be. The by-products of burning fat are ketones. When your body releases ketones—which it will do in your breath and your urine—it is chemical proof that you’re consuming your own stored fat. Once more, for emphasis: When a person on a safe, controlled carbohydrate plan such as Atkins is releasing ketones, he or she is in the fat-dissolving state of lipolysis. This process is simply the most efficient path ever devised for getting you slim. And the more ketones you release, the more fat you have dissolved.
Lipolysis is the biochemical method of weight loss—the alternative to using glucose for fuel, the very process that has made you heavy by storing excess glucose as fat. Lipolysis can be your life raft, leaving you both slim and healthy and distancing you from the obese person’s perils of diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Most of all, of course, it is the key to achieving your goal—to use up the fat stored on your body.
If this all sounds like hocus-pocus, understand that the phenomenon of lipolysis as the major alternative fuel system has been so well researched that it is simply not disputed in academic circles. It is scientific fact. Moreover, if you hear from anyone that lipolysis is undesirable or is in some way bad for you, you’ll know that he hasn’t done his homework.
Here’s why. The weight-loss phases of Atkins stimulate the process of lipolysis—a state in which you burn your fat for energy. A secondary process of lipolysis is ketosis. You can be in lipolysis, triggering the secondary process of ketosis, but you can’t be in ketosis without being in lipolysis. Ketosis occurs when you are taking in a low level of carbohydrates from the food you eat, as you will do during the Induction phase of Atkins. Lipolysis results in the creation of ketones (that’s ketosis), a perfectly normal and natural function of the body.
The confusion lies in the minds of laymen (and even some ill-informed doctors) between ketosis and diabetic ketoacidosis. The latter is the consequence of insulin-deficient subjects having out-of-control blood-sugar levels, a condition that can occur as well in alcoholics and people in a state of extreme starvation. Even though ketosis and ketoacidosis may sound vaguely alike, the two conditions are virtually polar opposites. They can always be distinguished from each other by the fact that the diabetic has been consuming excessive carbohydrates and has high blood sugar, while the fortunate person who is doing Atkins does not.
This article is continued here: Escaping the Fat Trap, Part 2.
Escaping the Fat Trap, Part 2
Lipolysis and the secondary process of ketosis allow you to slim down without being tortured by hunger—unlike the agony of low-fat dieting.
Our bodies usually need glucose for fuel; ketones provide the exception. They are derived from fat (when lipolysis occurs) and are the other source of fuel that energizes our cells and powers our brain and other vital organs, just as glucose does when we subsist on a high-carbohydrate diet. These are the only two fuels that come from food (alcohol is a third fuel).
People seem to understand the concept better when it is described this way: If you’re not in ketosis, you’re in "glucosis," a term Dr. Atkins uses to remind you that the two fuel sources are your body’s alternative, completely parallel options for energy metabolism. (Remember that ketosis is a secondary process of lipolysis.)
This terminology has helped many people convince their doctors or dieticians that the Atkins Nutritional Approach™ is the right path for them. If you have a doctor who tells you lipolysis (and ketosis) is bad, counter with this question, "If I’m not in ketosis than I will be in glucosis, right? So, why is it so bad for an overweight person like me, with hyperinsulinism, to be living off my own stored fat and so beneficial to continue not to do so?"
It’s clear why such a dual system exists. Before the invention of agriculture, in the first few hundred thousand years of human life, periods of severe food shortage must have been uncomfortably common. Human beings had to be able to burn their own body fat for fuel on those recurrent occasions when the larder was bare. Naturally, our bodies devised a highly efficient system for doing just that.
Just as bears and other hibernating animals sustain themselves during their long winter sleep by utilizing their fat stores, when you dial down the volume of insulin production (as you do in lipolysis) your body is equipped to burn your own body fat in a similar way. This process makes losing weight as painless as eating naturally was when you were piling on pounds.
Insulin converts all your excess carbohydrates into stores of body fat. In a normally functioning body, fatty acids and ketones are readily converted from fat tissue to fuel. But in overweight people, high insulin levels prevent this from happening.
Most obese people become so adept at releasing insulin that their blood is never really free of it and they’re never able to use up their fat stores. By primarily burning fat instead of carbohydrates, lipolysis breaks the cycle of excess insulin and resultant stored fat. So by following a fat-containing, controlled carbohydrate regimen, you bypass the process of converting large amounts of carbohydrate into glucose. When your carbohydrate intake drops low enough to induce fat burning, abnormal insulin levels return to normal—perhaps for the first time in years or decades.1-3
Hunger Is Reduced
One of the most attractive features of Atkins is that lipolysis, and the resulting production of ketones (if you have triggered the secondary process of ketosis), helps suppress your appetite. Lipolysis—and the resulting state of ketosis if your carbohydrate level is low enough—has certain metabolic similarities to fasting. In either case, after the first 48 hours the body suppresses hunger and appetite diminishes.
But there is a significant difference from fasting. A prolonged fast can be dangerous and has one severe metabolic disadvantage: The body not only burns fat for energy, it also burns protein. This means that it burns off some of the body’s lean muscle tissue, which is clearly not desirable. Research has shown that on an eating plan where you are in lipolysis, and the carbohydrate intake is low enough to result in ketosis, virtually no lean tissue is lost, only fatty tissue.4-9 And that’s why for extremely overweight individuals it is possible to be in lipolysis—and at the carbohydrate level that creates ketosis—for six months to a year, and confidently know that there will be no ill effects of any kind.10
People who’ve been burdened with excess pounds for a long time or who have tried many weight-loss programs often find it very nearly impossible to drop many pounds unless they’re in lipolysis. There are people who are unable to lose weight, even on 700 or 800 balanced calories a day. That’s less than half the normal caloric intake of an average woman. And yet the pounds finally peeled off when these folks began to do Atkins, even though their meal plans comprised foods totaling even more calories.
This claim—that you can lose more weight by consuming a higher number of calories—seems to be breaking one of the hallowed laws of thermodynamics: a calorie is a calorie is a calorie, and anyone who claims otherwise is a heretic. If you’ve counted calories for so long that you could do it in your sleep, you’ll be overjoyed to know that lipolysis allows you to take in more calories and still lose more weight as compared to low-fat, calorie-restricted diets.11
Selected References
1. Reaven, G., "Syndrome X," Current Treatment Options in Cardiovascular Medicine, 3(4), 2001, pages 323-332.
2. Fujita, Y., Gotto, A.M., Phil, D., et al., "Basal and Postprotein Insulin and Glucagon Levels During a High and Low Carbohydrate Intake and Their Relationships to Plasma Triglyceridesge," Diabetes, 24(6), 1975, pages 552-558.
3. Hilton, A.D., Hursh, T.A., "Type 2 Diabetes in an Aviator, Protein Diet vs. Traditional Diet: Case Report ,"Aviation, Space and Environmental Medicine, 73(3), 2001, pages 219-220.
4. Young, C.M., Scanlan, S.S., Im, H.S., et al., "Effect on Body Composition and Other Parameters in Obese Young Men of Carbohydrate Level of Reduction Diet," The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 24, 1971, pages 290-296.
5. Golay, A., Eigenheer, C., Morel, Y., et al., "Weight-Loss With Low or High Carbohydrate Diet?," International Journal of Obesity, 20(12), 1996, pages 1067-1072.
6. Benoit, F.L., Martin, R.L., Watten, R.H., "Changes in Body Composition During Weight Reduction in Obesity: Balance Studies Comparing Effects of Fasting and a Ketogenic Diet," Annals of Internal Medicine, 63(4), 1965, pages 604-612.
7. Phinney, S.D., Horton, E.S., Sims, E.A.H., et al., "Capacity for Moderate Exercise in Obese Subjects After Adaptation to a Hypocaloric, Ketogenic Diet," Journal of Clinical Investigation, 66, 1980, pages 1152-1161.
8. Willi, S.M., Oexmann, M.J., Wright, N.M., et al., "The Effects of a High-Protein, Low-Fat, Ketogenic Diet on Adolescents With Morbid Obesity: Body Composition, Blood Chemistries, and Sleep Abnormalities," Pediatrics, 101(1), 1998, pages 61-67.
9. Sharman, M.J., Volek, J.S., Gómez, A.L., et al., "Fasting and Postprandial Lipoprotein Responses to a Ketogenic Diet," May 31-June 2, 2001, Abstract of the 48th Annual American College of Sports Medicine Conference, Abstract #3295, Baltimore, MD.
10. Phinney, S.D., Bistrian, B.R., Evans, W.J., et al., "The Human Metabolic Response to Chronic Ketosis Without Caloric Restriction: Preservation of Submaximal Exercise Capability With Reduced Carbohydrate Oxidation," Metabolism, 32(8), 1983, pages 769-776.
11. Sondike, S.B., Copperman, N.M., Jacobson, M.S., "Low Carbohydrate Dieting Increases Weight Loss but not Cardiovascular Risk in Obese Adolescents: A Randomized Controlled Trial," Journal of Adolescent Health, 26, 2000, page 91.