Wondering what all the hype is around this new keto diet? It ain't new. The ketogenic diet was developed in the 1920s as a successful alternative treatment for children with epilepsy whose disease did not respond to drugs, and further studies are underway regarding treatment for neurological diseases.
But you're not hearing about it for that reason: You're hearing about it as a weight loss diet. A ketogenic diet is one that all but eliminates carbohydrates in favor of foods high in protein and fat. Butter in your coffee, a bun-less cheeseburger, and bacon-wrapped cheese are all welcome on this diet. Slather cream cheese on that slice of bologna and enjoy!
How does it work? Without its preferred source of energy available—glucose from CARBS!—your body goes into starvation mode called ketosis, and your liver turns fat into ketones for fuel. Further, hunger is reduced and as dieters consume fewer calories than you burn, weight is lost. The initial adaptation to this diet can be brutal, even gaining its own nickname, “keto flu.”
But celebrities, Instagram influencers and people you may actually know in real life--people who've struggled with weight loss for years--are touting success on this regiment. If maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best indicators of long-term health outcomes, does that make this diet a good choice?
Here are my thoughts on the keto diet for weight loss...
The diet restricts some foods we can all agree are unhealthful, including refined grains and added sugars.
This diet also frequently results in weight loss (though much of this initial loss is water weight lost as the body burns through its carbohydrate stores, which also store water).
Some dieters claim a range of other benefits, including less hunger and great mental clarity.
The diet eliminates health-promoting fruit, starchy vegetables, whole grains and beans, which can lead to deficiencies in important vitamins and minerals (is it a matter of time till we see the resurgence of scurvy?!).
With only protein- and fat-rich foods allowed, many adherents consume significant amounts of red meat and processed meat (sausage, deli meats, etc), both of which are classified as carcinogens. Read more about the World Health Organization's classification of these foods HERE.
Carbs fuel active bodies, so this diet may make high intensity training (aka anaerobic activity) or endurance training very uncomfortable. Ask any marathoner who's ever "bonked" in a race! Consumption of carbohydrates allows for storage of water in our bodies, so the state of ketosis easily leads to dehydration as well as electrolyte loss, a special concern for active folks.
The diet can negatively impact blood cholesterol and triglycerides, though it does not do so for everyone.
But here are two of the biggest cons:
In order to stay in ketosis, dieters must practice obsessive adherence, meaning they are ruled by...well...diet rules. This diet only works if rules are compulsively followed--it's why anyone you know on this diet constantly talks about the diet. It becomes a cornerstone of their existence.
For most dieters, once they discontinue the plan, they gain weight back in part or in full. Yo-yo dieting is downright dangerous to physical health, and it's emotionally draining.
This post should not be construed as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you're interested in developing habits and skills for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight without being ruled by a diet, please be in touch!