Warning statement: I am not a certified nutritionist. The information contained herein is based on my own research and understanding. Before pursuing any diet or nutrition program, or any exercise program, consult with your physician, dietician, nutritionist, cardiologist, etc.
I have several friends who have used “the keto diet” successfully to loose quite a bit of weight in a fairly short period of time. I also have friends who try to focus on eating keto-friendly foods, but haven’t committed to the dietary limitations sufficiently to actually get into a state of ketogenesis. I have also had some conversations with people who feel that if they “just limit [their] carbs enough… like on keto… [they] can lose all the weight I want easy.”
Understand that I am neither for nor against the keto diet. As I said, I’ve seen it work great for some; not so well for others; and not even be understood by some more. I also have some concerns about anyone – not just those using the keto diet – who embraces a nutrition / diet program but completely ignores other factors that impact their health. So, let’s review a few things to figure out if the keto diet is good for you (it’s not for me) and what other things you would need to do beyond limiting the types of foods you eat.
Ketogenesis: as defined by dictionary.com – the production of ketone bodies in the body, as in diabetes mellitus or low-carbohydrate weight-loss diets.
Diabetes Mellitus: a disorder of carbohydrate metabolism…
Type 1 Diabetes: a severe form of diabetes mellitus in which insulin production by the beta cells of the pancreas is impaired, usually resulting in dependence on externally administered insulin.
Type 2 Diabetes: a mild, sometimes asymptomatic form of diabetes mellitus… exacerbated by obesity and often treatable by diet and exercise.
The first challenge I present to the benefits of a ketogenic diet is that it may not be healthy or viable for a diabetic. Because a diabetic’s sugar levels are so closely tied to their carbohydrate intake balanced against the insulin in their system, a severe reduction in carbohydrate intake may (or may not) be harmful. This is something that needs to be determined by a physician in conjunction with a nutritionist who understands the specific application and concerns.
Eating keto friendly foods does not mean you are on a ketogenic diet. To actually put your body into a state of ketogenesis, you have to restrict your carbohydrate intake to a point where your body essentially gives up on trying to convert carbohydrates into sugar / fuel for your systems. When that happens, your body starts burning/converting fat stored in your body and you begin to lose weight. The key thing to remember is that until you get your body into a ketogenic state, which can take several days of eating a carbohydrate restricted diet, you are not in ketogenesis and your body hasn’t started focusing on fat as fuel yet.
Now, don’t misunderstand. There are several low-carb diets from Atkins to South Beach that have worked for a long time for a lot of people, but low-carb and ketogenic can be different. Reducing carbs is a viable weight loss strategy provided you understand the pros and cons and how it works. To be realistic, you could simply eat what is generally considered a healthy diet, balancing your carbs, protein and fat intake, add some activity and see steady weight loss. If you choose to pursue the ketogenic diet, I encourage you to do a few things before you start it.
First and foremost, talk to your physician. The sudden and drastic reduction in carbohydrates may not be good for you. Example: While I’m not a diabetic, Type 2 Diabetes does run in my family and the sudden change in carbohydrate intake could impact how my body processes carbs and produces insulin as a result. It’s not a guarantee; it can’t be presumed either way. It’s an unknown and as unique as every individual. So first and always, talk to your physician first.
Second, make sure you understand what ketogenesis is, why it results in quick fat loss and what’s required to maintain it long term. Ketogenesis can be used for long term weight control but a lot of people simply use it to reach a goal weight and then go back to their “normal eating.” Well, if your normal eating wasn’t healthy before and it contributed to you gaining weight, then going back to it is going to do the same thing all over again. Keto can be done long term but you have to have a plan for it and understand just how much it means you will eat the keto-friendly foods.
Third, understand that you can’t just decide to start eating keto-friendly, assuming that everywhere you go you’ll find the foods you need. Eating a severely low carb diet sometimes means eating foods you wouldn’t normally eat simply because everything else available has carbs you can’t have to remain in a ketogenic state. A successful keto eater will plan their diet out, sometimes weeks at a time, with each meal and snack accounted for and they will very carefully stick to that plan. They will also either have a long term plan or they will have an exit plan once they’ve reached their goal weight.
Fourth, and I feel this is just as important as the other three above, understand that weight is only one indicator of health and simply losing weight doesn’t automatically mean you’re getting healthier. As you enter or select any nutrition program, research it enough to understand what it will cost you in weight, muscle mass, cardiac health, hydration levels and more. Understand that your overall health isn’t just about weight but about your holistic physical fitness level. It’s about what you weigh, how strong your heart is, what your blood pressure is, what your sugar levels are, how flexible you are, how strong you are and what endurance levels you have (among a few other things as well).
So… to keto or not to keto? That’s up to you… and your doctor. But have a plan – short and long term – and don’t neglect all the other aspects of health that work hand in hand with a healthy weight goal or maintenance.