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Do You Have to Count Calories on Keto?

Do I Have to Count Calories on the Ketogenic Diet?

No, calorie counting should not be the primary weight loss focus on keto. Emerging research is showing that the archaic “calorie” as referenced in weight control is not as relative as once thought.

Controlling the hormones insulin and glucagon is much more relevant to weight control than focusing on calories.

The term “calorie” was originally used in engineering and physics and invented between 1819 and 1852. A calorie is an outdated unit of measure that doesn’t account for the hormonal response to fat storage.

Is it better to count calories on keto or carbs?

Keeping track of carbohydrate intake is more important than calorie counting on keto. Limiting carbohydrate intake can deplete glucose/glycogen stores in the body. This phenomenon puts you in a state of ketosis which is the condition of optimum fat burning.

Just limiting calories will not put you into ketosis if the majority of the calories come from carbohydrates. Carbohydrates break down into sugar (glucose) in the body during digestion. Glucose stimulates an insulin response from the pancreas.

Insulin stops ketogenesis. Ketogenesis is the biochemical process through which organisms produce ketone bodies through the breakdown of fatty acids.

The bottom line: Counting calories on keto is just not necessary.

A calorie is a measure of the amount of energy required to heat one kilogram of water one degree Celsius. The human body is not a closed system like a stove and there are many more variables that control weight loss or gain than a simple unit of measure to heat water.

counting calories on keto
Calories- tiny creatures that live in your closet and sew your clothes a little tighter every night.

This is the reason those on the Ketogenic Diet don’t count calories.

Low-calorie diets just don’t work, you eventually get hungry and break your diet and gain all your weight back. America is getting fatter. Why?

Because up until the advent of the Ketogenic Diet, most diets focused on lowering calories but totally ignored the primary reason we store fat. We store fat when we have excess insulin in our bodies.

I have this debate all the time with the traditional “grazers” and high carbohydrate dieters. They are adamant that you have to count calories and have a calorie deficit to lose weight.

I like to use the term energy instead of calorie. If you eat too much of any food that provides the energy, you will not lose weight, true. However, in a low insulin environment, your body will produce glucagon, which stimulates your cells to release fatty acids into the bloodstream

Focusing on counting carbs instead of counting calories on keto will set you up for fat burning success.

A diet that fails to focus on lowering insulin will never succeed. The calories we eat are controlled by two hormones. Insulin and Glucagon. Insulin (anabolic) tells our body to store energy and glucagon (catabolic) tells it to burn it.

Emerging science is teaching us not to be as focused on calories as earlier thought. It’s not just calories in, calories out. The human body is not that simple. For example, the human body requires 60-65 grams of glucose per day. The Ketogenic Diet restricts glucose and the liver is forced to “make” the difference through a process called gluconeogenesis.

keto calorie counting and gluconeogenesis

Glucose is “made” from two primary sources: glucogenic amino acids and glycerol which it gets from triglycerides. Maybe that is a reason that the Ketogenic Diet has been shown to lower triglycerides?

How do the Calorie Counters explain gluconeogenesis and ketogenesis in calorie expenditure?

The energy cost of gluconeogenesis has been proven in several studies and it has been calculated at ∼400–600 Kcal/day.  How are those calories accounted for in a closed system of calorie counting?

Furthermore, the conversion of fatty acids into ketones is called ketogenesis. A by-product of that conversion is Acetone production. Because of its small molecular size, acetone is exhaled in the breath.

Acetone can be measured in exhaled breath to monitor ketosis levels in individuals. How is the exhaled acetone accounted for in simple calories in/calories out calculations?

If it’s just an equation of calories why do women have more difficulty losing weight than men?

It’s generally accepted that women have more difficulty losing weight than men and it’s a medical fact that on average, women carry more body fat than men. Fat in normal women represents between 18% and 20% of body weight, whereas in men it represents only 10% to 15%. Why is that?

It’s the hormones, the primary difference between men and women are different hormone ratios. Hormones affect calories by controlling how those calories are used in the body.

Counting calories just doesn’t work.

Think about this: Six Coca-Cola sodas contain approximately 900 calories. One ribeye steak has about 900 calories.

Now, imagine if you went one week drinking only six Cokes a day, and then went another week eating just one ribeye steak a day. At the end of each week, how do you think you would feel? Which food choice would have resulted in better body composition?

The type of calories you eat is more important than the number. Don’t you think you would be more healthy and fit if you ate all your calories from keto superfoods as opposed to processed foods?

“Controlling the hormone insulin is more important than counting calories.”


Insulin is the master storage hormone and if we learn to control and reduce insulin secretion, we can lose fat efficiently without needing to focus on calorie counting.

Do you have to count calories on keto? (Video)

I know this goes against conventional thinking, but in health and nutrition as well as science, we have to learn to think outside the box.

Still, don’t believe me. Here is a link to a study that shows the beneficial effects of a ketogenic diet (low carbohydrate) over the conventional LCD (low-calorie diet) in obese diabetic subjects.

The ketogenic diet appears to improve glycemic control much more than the calorie-restricted diet.

“Are all calories equally fattening? and the answer is no,”

Dr. Jason Fung

Glycemic control (sugar/glucose) is also the key to insulin control. The best diets focus on controlling hormones, not just calories. The hormone Insulin gets talked about a lot and for good reason, it’s the master storage hormone.

The coke we talked about earlier would result in a massive release of insulin into the bloodstream, which would stop any fat burning.

It (Insulin) stops the hormone glucagon and glucagon stimulates our cells to release fatty acids to be used as energy. Insulin is anabolic and glucagon is catabolic.

Insulin and glucagon are the Ying and Yang in the body and the reason for counting calories is not important.

Glucagon promotes gluconeogenesis and glycogenolysis, which stimulates the release of fatty acids into circulation where they can be catabolized to generate energy.

The liver converts those fatty acids into ketones. Hence the name “Ketogenic Diet,” the diet focuses on stimulating glucagon to make you a fat-burning machine.

Why is it important to understand Insulin and Glucagon?

When we are trying to lose weight, we want to be catabolic, in other words, we want to feed off of ourselves. We want our fat cells to release fatty acids into the bloodstream. On the flip side, we don’t want insulin to hold on and store those calories. That’s where keto comes in, restricting carbohydrates lowers insulin and raises glucagon.

Going back to the Coca-cola and ribeye comparison. We would get an instant energy burst from the Coke, most of the glucose would get used up almost immediately and within 30-45 minutes we would be extremely hungry again.

Since our insulin was high our bodies didn’t release any fatty acids to be used as energy. We would just be painfully waiting on more glucose from our next Coke.

Now think about eating the ribeye steak:

Since the ribeye has plenty of fat and protein and very few carbohydrates, it would result in a minimal spike in insulin. The fat in the steak would be slowly broken down and converted to a steady flow of ketones that we could use as energy.

After we used all of the fat from the steak, our bodies would seamlessly switch over to burning our own fat. We are accustomed to burning fat at that point. That is what is known as being fat or keto-adapted.

Another example is the difference between an avocado and an orange. An orange only has 45 calories and avocado has 234 calories.

I wrote a controversial article that asks the question if fruits are healthy? I got a lot of flack for that article, I didn’t intend it to be ant-fruit, but for those suffering from type 2 diabetes, obesity or fatty liver disease, fruits are not the best food choice.

Is an orange healthier than an avocado?

Most people looking at the calories would assume the orange is healthier than an avocado. Hold on a second though. The orange has 9 grams of fructose sugar and only 2.3 grams of fiber. That’s 6.7 grams (net) of sugar fructose that goes directly to the liver to be metabolized.

If your liver and muscle cells are already full of glycogen, the liver has to do something with all the extra fructose.

The pancreas releases insulin to help store the energy and through lipogenesis, the liver converts the extra fructose to fat to be stored. The orange also only has 174 mg of potassium as opposed to 708 grams in the avocado.

The avocado, on the other hand, has 12 total carbohydrates and 10 grams of fiber, so it has only 2 net carbohydrates. Most of the high calories in the avocado comes from the 14 grams of fat.

The fat has to be broken down and converted to fatty acids and the liver, through ketogenesis has to convert the fat into ketones before it can be used.

Here is an article about fatty liver disease the Keto Diet.

The liver signals the gallbladder to releases bile acids and enzymes and the fat gets broken down slowly in the body. The fat doesn’t cause an insulin spike and doesn’t signal the body to store the energy.

The avocado gives you even, sustained energy for hours and the orange would give you a quick burst of energy followed by a blood sugar crash. Additionally, the fat from the avocado is in the form of monounsaturated fat which has been shown to reduce inflammation and improve cardiovascular health.

If you ate the peel with the orange, the extra fiber and antioxidants would help even the playing field, but I don’t think anyone eats orange peels. So as you can see, just looking at calories alone doesn’t tell the whole story.

The hormones ghrelin and leptin are more important than calories.

Ghrelin is the hormone that makes you feel hungry and leptin is the hormone that makes you feel full or satiated. The key to long term success in any diet is to be able to control those hormones. An imbalance in those hormones often causes binge or overeating.

Counting calories on keto is not something you should be focusing on.

This is further evidence that it’s not just about calories. High-fat diets substantially enhanced plasma level of leptin more than high carbohydrate diets.

Focusing on insulin control instead of calorie counting can also prevent yo-yo dieting. This resource shows that It can also prevent and even reverse type 2 diabetes.

Most people that are overweight have at least some insulin resistance and this study on PubMed shows that a high-fat meal induces more satiety than a high-carbohydrate meal in obese insulin-resistant subjects.

Keto can also eliminate that “hangry” feeling you get between meals.

You can build muscle on a keto diet and it’s highly recommended. When you conduct resistance training you can get away with eating more calories, or energy as I like to put it.

In conclusion, the key to any long term weight loss program is more about controlling hormones than simply counting calories. If you eat food from a good Keto Diet Food Plan that keeps your insulin low you will burn fat and won’t have to focus on reducing calories.

For more on this subject learn what the best long term diet is.

Here is the answer if you are dieting and hitting a weight loss plateau.


Robert Bryant

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