Did you know Keto was originally created as an epilepsy treatment for children?
Intermittent fasting was too. These two diets that have become such popular weight loss trends were actually never intended at the beginning to be used outside of a clinical setting. Weight loss just happened to be a side effect and thus the weight loss trend was born.
So if the Keto diet was researched and used to treat epilepsy, why has it gained so much popularity as a weight loss approach? And is it truly all it’s cracked up to be?
The Ketogenic Diet aims to send your body into a state of “ketosis”
This term to the general population seems to simply imply a state of fat burning in the body. But what a lot of people don’t know is it’s a lot more complex than just fat burning.
The diet forces one to eat an extremely low amount of carbohydrates: about five percent of one’s daily recommended calorie intake compared to the FDA recommended forty-sixty percent.
Since carbohydrates are your body’s preferred energy source, when these carbohydrates are not available, your body is forced to make glucose (or simple sugar/AKA carbs) out of other tissue and macronutrients. Your body is able to make this glucose out of both fat and protein. When that happens, your body produces another alternative energy source called ketones. This is normally where the public education of what your body goes through on the diet stops.
So let’s dive a little deeper.
What exactly does “ketosis” mean in the body?
Ketosis describes the state of the body where there is an abundance of ketones in the blood and urine.
Ketones are byproducts produced from the breakdown of fat tissue and these molecules can be recycled and used for energy. When done for a short amount of time and under medical supervision, doctors can actually test your blood and urine to measure your ketone production and tell you if you’re actually burning fat.
For some, this can be beneficial for a short time to jump start the weight loss process. Due to that reason, I want to be clear that there are places and times where being in ketosis can be beneficial.
But ketosis is not a state you want to be in for long
These byproducts can build up to toxic levels and make it very difficult for your kidneys to keep up. Over time this can cause other unwanted health issues.
So if I’m saying that Keto can be beneficial, what’s the big deal-right?
One of my major concerns as a Nutrition Coach when it comes to the Keto Diet is the potential side effects and lack of sustainability. The general difficulty and stress of the diet is also a big concern.
To do the Keto Diet properly, the goal is to only consume 5% of your daily calories in carbs. Most versions of the diet want you to limit this to primarily vegetables and the occasional fruit. Most people claiming to “do keto” are actually only doing “low carb”. That’s because they’re eating more than 5% carbs and their bodies aren’t actually in ketosis.
To consume that few carbohydrates is an extreme challenge to most people. Even more challenging is to maintain for more than a few weeks. When dropping your carbs this low, many side effects can occur. These may include things such as the “keto flu,” dangerous drops in blood sugar, and nutrient deficiencies.
So if there are major challenges with the diet and it’s hard to maintain, why are people seeing short-term success?
Nutrition is so bio-individual
Because of that, every single person will respond differently to the same diets, macronutrient ratios, and intake amounts.
For instance, Precision Nutrition did a study where a selected number of people were to eat 1,000 calories more than they technically needed each day.
If the basic equation for metabolism (More calories in vs Calories out = weight gain) was as straightforward as it appears, everyone should have gained 16 pounds by the end of 8 weeks. However, the maximum amount of weight gained was only 9.3 pounds. The smallest amount gained was less than a pound. (you can find information on this experiment in this article: https://www.precisionnutrition.com/…/surprising-problem…)
In the same fashion, just like some people will gain weight easier than others because some people lost weight from keto doesn’t mean that you will.
Your body may prefer fatty foods for energy. Losing a good amount of carbs in your body may not cause as dramatic of a drop in weight as your friend who did it while initially on the diet. Your body’s energy needs also change daily based on activity level, injury status, whether or not you’re fighting off a cold, stress, lack of sleep, etc.
What you need today will likely change tomorrow. You could lose weight on Keto for a short amount of time, but your body cannot maintain ketosis long term. There comes a point where the weight loss benefits of keto stop happening for one reason or another.
After all, if Keto really was the secret to weight loss, how come everyone isn’t doing it and seeing their goal weight dreams come true?
The moral of the story is:
The Ketogenic Diet may cause short-term weight loss for some people, but everyone will respond differently and it is likely not all it’s cracked up to be.
To do keto properly, it is medically recommended to seek medical supervision for the duration of the diet. Someone who can help you decide if the Ketogenic Diet truly is right for you. Who can help you monitor symptoms, track your ketone load, and better guide you through the entire process in a way that does not cause unnecessary effects.
If sustainability and a healthy lifestyle long-term are your goals, Keto may not be the best decision for you.
If you want to see if it’s the jump start you need, however, I highly recommend that you consult your physician who can dive deeper into the pros and cons of Keto. And also help you execute the diet properly with the right supervision along the way.