Everyones’ talking about it. Everyones’ on it. They are crushing it. Everyones’ having success and losing weight.
If I had a dime for every time someone in the last 7 years has asked me if they should do the [___Enter Newest Diet Fad Here____] diet, I would be retired on my 70 acre commune by now. Keto is the newest diet in the spotlight, and everyone on the band wagon is professing it’s incredible ability to take weight off. So why wouldn’t you want to try it? Because carb’s are great! I’m going to give you 7 reasons why you shouldn’t do keto - and give you a healthier and better solution instead.
What is it? “Going keto” is a diet that causes the body to release ketones into the bloodstream. Most cells prefer to use blood sugar for our bodies’ energy, which comes from carbohydrates but in the absence of circulating blood sugar from food, we start breaking down stored fat into molecules called ketone bodies (the process is called ketosis). The shift from using circulating glucose to breaking down stored fat as a source of energy, usually happens over two to four days of eating fewer than 20 to 50 grams of carbohydrates per day. You are technically tricking your body by putting it in its last modus operandi. But hey, the weight falls off, so who cares about severely stressing our body in the process right?
All right, I’ll tone down the snark. Let’s get down to it, shall we? It’s key to remember here that research on the ketogenic diet is severely limited, and we don’t have enough studies to really understand its safety and effects.
Here’s my honest thoughts on the keto diet.
It’s a “recycled” diet - not something NEW. In the 1970s, Dr. Atkins blew up everyones’ kitchens with his big book about his high-protein-very-low-carbohydrate diet for weight loss that began with a very strict two-week ketogenic phase. Sound familiar? Don’t get me wrong, I love the 70s, and I love recycling plastic and glass. But diets that continue to be recycled make me feel like we’re the pawns in the nutrition world the same way the fashion industry treats its customers. Releasing the old stuff over and over again that was already fashionable a decade ago but now IT’S BACK, forcing YOU to buy more, always be searching and not just learning to trust your own body, all because we haven’t found what really works. (Okay you got me, this is coming from a ‘minimalist’ who never buys new, but you know its true that you’re not in fashion anymore and must rush out to keep up. [Why I’m Obsessed with Minimalism]) I believe strongly that diets don’t work and know the majority of people intuitively understand this too, so why are we so obsessed with keto THIS season? Because it has worked, for some, and for short term! (But in years past, what was the go-to diet that ‘worked’ then?
The quality of the food needs to be taken into account. Because it lacks carbohydrates, a ketogenic diet is rich in proteins and fats. It typically includes plenty of meats, eggs, processed meats, sausages, cheeses, fish, nuts, butter, oils, seeds, and fibrous vegetables. So while on keto, most people aren’t taking into account the QUALITY of the foods and tend to eat too much protein and poor-quality fats from processed foods, with very few fruits and vegetables. This is NOT a balanced diet of healthy whole foods. [5 Reasons You Need Whole Foods] Nutrition is therapy. It does powerful things in the body. The quality (source, freshness, etc) of food needs to be taken in account when we are making upgrades to our diet, but this is overlooked in ‘diets’ because folks on them don’t care about the therapy part about it - they just want the quick results.
It doesn’t feel good (long term.) A lot of folks have experienced not-so-good side effects of this diet. They may feel a little tired in the beginning or they may have bad breath, nausea, vomiting, constipation, and sleep problems. Carbohydrates are our bodies’ main source of energy (glucose) and its a fantastic shock to cut them from our diet. Carbohydrates are essential and provide our body with vital vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. They help fully nourish the body, keep us regular and give us energy. They are the main source of fuel for our central nervous system, led by the brain. Other cells in the body can temporarily survive without glucose but this nervous system must have it. Glucose, which comes from carbohydrates, are also essential to the function of red blood cells and hormone regulation. Thus, people with hormone imbalances should not try keto. Patients with kidney disease need to be cautious and talk to their doctors before attempting keto. The fact is, we need carbohydrates in our diet. Carbohydrates normally account for at least 50% of the typical American diet. Carbohydrates are our bodies’ best source of energy. I’m not just talking about bread here. I’m talking about the carbohydrates found in foods like vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
It’s really restrictive, which causes stress. Because it is so restrictive, it is really hard for people to follow over the long run. So the problem remains that once people go back to eating carbs’ and put weight back on, they may want to go ‘back to keto’ and thus re-start the vicious cycle of yo-yo dieting. If diets really worked, then why do we try new ones every year? The word “diet” itself has the connotation of a beginning and an end. We’d prefer people to hear the word “diet” as the food you eat, rather than a short-term quick fix. We still don’t know if there are any long-term health benefits to following such a strict meal plan like keto. As well there is not a lot of research regarding what happens after you follow the ketogenic diet and then go back to a more sustainable meal plan with all food groups and how that will affect your body. If its like any other diet however, the chances are you will put the weight back on. The ketogenic diet eliminates or severely limits a variety of healthy food groups that are known to be nutritious like fruits, starchy vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes and dairy. Whenever food groups are cut out its not a sustainable meal plan that allows you to nourish your body properly. Also many ketogenic diets do not differ from heart healthy fats and unhealthy fats.
If you’re stressed, you shouldn’t even attempt keto. If you deal with anxiety, chronic stress, overwhelm, insomnia (wired mind, tired body), low energy/motivation, upper back/neck pain, or brain fog, the medical term is ‘HPA axis dysregulation' - aka Adrenal Fatigue. Keto is NOT ideal for women with adrenal fatigue, as the main hormone that goes “out of control” in adrenal fatigue is cortisol which is our stress hormone that makes us feel wired yet tired, panicky and stores belly fat. Since the keto diet is low carb it can increase this stress hormone. Not enough carbohydrates in a diet can worsen adrenal fatigue. Combine that with a stressful job, inadequate sleep, and over-exertion, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for adrenal burnout. Carbohydrates play a very important role in maintaining the right balance of cortisol in the body. If you are consistently stressed out, not eating the right amount of carbohydrates at the right times can make the problem worse.
It’s a therapeutic diet, not meant for ‘weight loss’. There is solid evidence showing that a ketogenic diet reduces seizures in children, sometimes as effectively as medication. The University of California has studies finding that eating this way might have this affect by lowering inflammation in the brain. Because of these neuroprotective effects, questions have been raised about the possible benefits for other brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, sleep disorders, autism, and even brain cancer. However, there are no human studies (only mice) to support recommending ketosis to treat these conditions, because the diet is so hard to maintain. A ketogenic diet has been shown to improve blood sugar control for patients with type 2 diabetes, at least in the short term. There is even more controversy when we consider the effect on cholesterol levels. A few studies show some patients have increase in cholesterol levels in the beginning, only to see cholesterol fall a few months later. However, there is no long-term research analyzing its effects over time on diabetes and high cholesterol. Dr Ritamarie Loscalzo, an endocrinologist states that insulin resistance (when cells in muscles, body fat and liver start resisting or ignoring the signal that the hormone insulin is trying to send out—which is to grab glucose out of the bloodstream and put it into our cells) is linked with depression, fibromyalgia and adrenal fatigue. Most people do not have stable enough blood sugars for this not to be a concern. She says ketosis short term can be healing, but uncomfortable. (To which I add — this is ONLY if you know your body well enough and feel prepared/have been eating clean for a while.) There are short term benefits to a ‘reset’ of the system. Long term? Problems.
Long term, sustainable weight loss is smarter. We should always try to embrace change that is sustainable over the long term rather than continuously looking for a quick fix. A balanced, unprocessed diet, rich in very colorful fruits and vegetables, organic meats, fish, real whole grains, nuts, seeds, olive + coconut oil, and lots of clean, filtered water seems to have the best evidence for a long, healthier, vibrant life.
Science aside, it’s A DIET. EVERYONE KNOWS THAT DIETS DON’T WORK. [Read: 7 Powerful Nutrition Foundations]
Many times I have had clients tell me they are scared to eat too many carbs. Here’s what everyone needs to understand. “Carbs” are not bad. It’s the TYPE of carbs that mean something. If you say “I’m not eating carbs right now” it really means you aren’t eating much as carbohydrates are in all vegetables, fruits and whole grains. But to say “I don’t eat REFINED carbs” is a whole other game. Refined carbohydrates are the ones we want to cut out, white flour products like baking and breads or white sugar products like fancy sweetened ‘coffee’s’, muffins, candy and cakes.
You don’t need a diet to lose weight and feel better. You can get all the direction and guidance you need from your own body.