Friday, January 3, 2020

Retrospective #321: “Energy In” at the cellular level

Sometimes I can be pretty dense, or at least slow to comprehend something I have read or been told. A recent example is my understanding of the definition of Macronutrient Ratios and their application to “energy in.”
I first became interested in my “intake” ratios, that is, in the ratios of carbohydrate, fat and protein that I took into my body by mouth, i.e. what I ate – about 14 years ago. I was a pretty naïve “kid” at the time and created my initial ratio using a flawed model. Miraculously, it worked. Somehow, I lost 170 pounds altogether, and I did it without getting sick. In fact, there is not a doubt in the world about it: I got a lot healthier!
Over the years the ratios changed somewhat, more from what I would call “fine tuning” than a corrected understanding of the model I was employing. I was just lucky because the model was faulty. Anyhow, my goal was to be close to or in a mild state of ketosis most of the time. My ratio compositions all had 3 things in common: very low carb, moderate protein and high fat. I gave special attention to the protein amount, ensuring it was adequate but not so much as to induce unwanted gluconeogenesis. And I was taking 500mg Metformin once a day to suppress unwanted gluconeogenesis. And I always ate 3 small, equally spaced meals a day.
(One of the early errors I made was how I figured the amount of protein to eat at each meal. I erroneously based it on an amount in grams per pound (or kilogram) of total body weight. That is not correct! It should be calculated on grams of lean body weight (LBW), not total body weight. You don’t need to eat protein to support fat. Your protein requirement is based on muscle mass, and other bodily needs for protein.)
Nevertheless, the ratios changed from 7% carbs, 28% protein, and 65% fat to my current 5% carbs, 20% protein, and 75% fat. All my ratios were still based on “intake,” i.e. food by mouth. They did not take into account any energy that my body consumed WHEN IT WAS BURNING ITS OWN FAT – the fat stores on my body. Whenever I was losing weight, my body fat was part of the equation and therefore part of the ratio at the cellular level.
This error in my thinking was brought to my attention three times before it stuck. The first was by my editor. I have a vague recollection that when I first began writing this blog about nine years ago, she mentioned it to me in an aside or edit on my writing. I glossed over it, but apparently it stuck somewhere in the back of my brain.
The second was in a chapter in Volek and Phinney’s, “The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living,” then and now one of the best books on the subject for a popular readership. And the third was recently in a very good column, “Don’t Force the Fat,” by the nutrition consultant, Kelley Pounds, at Low Carb RN (CDE). She used bar graphs from Volek and Phinney and pie charts from another source to explain the contribution of body fat to the fat portion of the macronutrient ratio during the fat loss phase. As Kelley puts it succinctly, “My formula is low carb + moderate protein + moderate DIETARY fat + BODY FAT = LCHF.” I couldn’t have said it better, Kelley!
Kelley came to this insightful conclusion after some rather blunt introspection: “For a while I wondered how I could be in nutritional ketosis, and either not lose…or sometimes actually gain weight. How can that be if I’m burning body fat?  Then I realized, I was just taking my old overeating habits and changing the source. So while I was keeping my carbs very low, and my protein moderate, I was overeating dietary fat. I was overeating period. I wasn’t listening to my body’s satiation signals…” This is good stuff! Especially when read with Retrospective #319.
Kelly concludes, “So while fat is not something to be feared, it is also not something to be gorged on…unless you need to STOP losing weight. That sounds like a good problem to have…I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it,” she says. I know where she’s coming from. “How many of us out there have already reached the point where we need to STOP losing body fat?” Ruefully, not I, nor many of us, I suspect. And now I understand, finally, that my macronutrient ratios were more “extreme” than I’d thought. All I have to remember now are steps 1 and 2 from #319: 1) follow strictly a low carb diet, 2) eat ONLY when hungry. Then, let the body burn its own fat for the “high fat” macronutrient part. In other words, YOU DON’T REALLY HAVE TO EAT “HIGH FAT,” IF YOU EAT LOW CARB.


  1. Perfect - just the clarification I needed to hear today.

  2. I hope you meant that to be sincere, Laura. It came to me as an epiphany, anyway...several years after my editor pointed out what seemed to her to be obvious.

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