Ah, The Keto Diet, been hearing about that one a lot lately. Seems to be surging in popularity with hashtags like #bulletproof and #keto getting tossed all over Instagram alongside pictures of bacon and eggs.
If you’ve been around for awhile, you know that Bridget and I are of the paleo persuasion when it comes to nutrition. We believe that real, whole foods, fewer grains and less sugar and dairy is the healthiest way to eat for most of us.
My general, vague understanding of keto before researching for this article is that it’s just a more intense, specific, higher-fat, version of paleo. Basically, if you’re eating keto, you’re also probably eating paleo, but not necessarily the other way around.
Keto is much more strict, as it requires a concerted effort to reach a specific state in the body that can be a challenge to get to. So they’re similar in some ways but with a few distinct differences.
I’ve never tried keto myself, and at 37 weeks pregnant, this is no time to be a hero. But after another Instagram friend announced she was doing it to lose the baby weight, and another podcast guest started talking about eating bacon grease, I couldn’t take it anymore.
I wanted to dig in and see what all the fuss was about. Who knows, perhaps I’ll even give it a go after baby Barron arrives. Actually, no. I doubt that very much. I loathe strict diets.
Regardless, I wanted to dig in and see why it’s been trending. Here’s what I found:
What is the Ketogenic Diet exactly?
The diet get its name from ‘ketones’ or ‘ketosis’.
Usually, the body depends on carbs for energy in a process called glycolysis, named for blood glucose or blood sugar. Ketones are the energy source made by the body when there aren’t enough carbs to be burned.
Ketosis is the state your body goes into when you’ve restricted carbohydrates enough that it allows your body to make the switch from using glucose as fuel to using ketones as fuel. You start burning body fat for energy instead of sugar. The energy sources created are called ‘ketones’. Hence, the Ketogenic Diet or Keto, as it’s commonly referred to. Achieving and maintaining ketosis is the goal of Keto diets.
How does it work?
At its most basic, you severely restrict carbohydrates (carbs and sugar are interchangeable here) and eat lots of fat and a moderate amount of protein until your body reaches ketosis.
(Think 10% carbs, 20% protein and 70% fat.)
The only way to tell though, is to use pee tests. Yes, you have to test your urine for ketones.
What are the benefits?
The diet’s been around for about 100 years now, used historically to treat those with epilepsy and other mental disorders. Apparently, ketones are extremely efficient fuel for the brain. It’s also been used for weight loss, especially in those addicted to sugar.
Most advocates say they feel mentally sharper, have more energy and focus, are never hungry and lose weight easily.
If you’ve heard of Bulletproof coffee and the biohacking cult surrounding it, this is what they’re talking about. Keto dieters tend to love them some Bulletproof coffee. You know, the coffee with butter in it.
Is it safe?
I mean, I’m not a doctor, obviously. But for otherwise healthy individuals it seems keto is widely accepted as safe.
The huge exception here would be anyone with diabetes or taking prescription drugs. Keto is sure to affect your blood sugar and insulin levels drastically so you’ll definitely want to be careful with that. It’s probably really good for diabetics but, if you’re on insulin or other medications, you’ll want to consult with your doctor. And as always, check with your doctor if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding or have any other medical conditions at all.
Another note is that when starting keto, you’re probably going to get the keto or carb flu for a while. Basically, as your body adjusts from using sugar as fuel to fat as fuel, it’s going to freak out for a bit and probably make you feel like shit. Which isn’t cause for alarm necessarily, but might make some people feel it’s not safe.
It’s tough to get a clear answer on safety of any diet in general though, as most doctors just aren’t informed about nutrition. They tend to take the guidelines of groups like the American Heart Association as truth when, a lot of their research has been disproven. And the confusion around dietary cholesterol, its effect on cholesterol levels in the body, and the connection between those levels and heart disease has been at the heart of this safety dispute.
My point is that most doctors will probably tell you a high fat diet isn’t safe. This is where you’ll just have to do some of your own research and go with your gut.
Will it help you lose weight?
The thing about keto is that the absence of carbohydrates will keep your blood sugar low and stable and alleviate the need for your body to respond with insulin. Less insulin equals less fat storage. More insulin equals more fat storage.
So yes, for most people, keto should encourage weight loss. There are always exceptions to every rule though.
The Pros of a Ketogenic Diet
(…as I see them… in my humble opinion)
- Reduces sugar
- Encourages whole foods
- Encourages healthy fat consumption
- Reduces inflammation and gut irritation
- Stabilizes blood sugar
- Helps with weight loss
- Is the opposite of the Standard American Diet that’s killing us
- I really like bacon
The Cons of a Ketogenic Diet
(…as I see them…in my humble opinion)
- I loathe strict diets
- I don’t believe that any way of eating that suggests making calculations or weighing and measuring food is sustainable or emotionally healthy
- I’m a firm believer that restrictive dieting actually causes weight gain regardless of how well the diet itself might work while you’re on it
- I would assume most trying keto are severely focused on weight loss and it’s probably not a healthy mindset to be in – most people aren’t treating their epilepsy with it
- I’m really sick of the term ‘calculating macros’
- I don’t think you should have to pee on a stick to find out if your diet is working for you
While I think the keto diet has some benefits for sure, my staunch belief that strict dieting is bad for us women – mentally, physically and emotionally – overrides any benefits in the long run.
The idea that we should calculate macros and severely limit anything to get ourselves into a specific, hard-to-maintain state just doesn’t sit right with me.
Plus, I know us women. And we might say we want more energy and mental clarity and what not but really, the vast majority of us just want to look good in a bathing suit. And I think these strict dieting attempts are a slippery slope into self-loathing and unhealthy behavior.
I can only speak from my own experience. It wasn’t until I stopped trying to follow strict diets like keto, and instead worked on my body image while eating real, whole foods and reducing processed foods, sugar and carbs, that my food and diet obsession subsided. I started feeling better physically, mentally and emotionally. And that’s when I was actually able to lose weight. In fact, I lost 30 pounds that I never gained back. Well, never gained back until I got pregnant.
My point is this: Give keto a try if you really want to. I’m not going to tell you what to do with your life. But if it were me, I’d take the concepts that make keto work, like reducing carbs and sugar and eating more healthy fats, and incorporate those into my life while simultaneously chilling out on the whole strict diet idea.