What IS the ketogenic diet and how does it help people shed pounds?
By now, you’ve probably heard all about the keto diet. You’ve seen the articles shared on Facebook and the flatlays of colorful, keto-friendly food items on your Instagram feed. There’s a lot of buzz about keto and what food you'll actually be allowed to eat when you're on it, both from its advocates and detractors alike, so here, in the simplest of terms, are the straightforward answers to your 6 basic questions about the ketogenic diet.
1. What is keto?
The ketogenic diet, commonly referred to as keto, has this almost magical sales pitch: no calorie counting, all the fat you want. It sounds like a dream come true, an easy diet you’d be happy with, but hold your proverbial horses. Keto is not an excuse to mindlessly gorge on meat, cheese, and avocado. While keto is not strict with its calories or portions, it is particular about your macros: the ratio of fats, proteins, and carbs that you consume from food.
2. How does keto work?
Keto was originally used to help children with seizures. When medication was no longer enough, the ketogenic diet helped bring them relief while controlling their symptoms. In the medical sense, the ketogenic diet followed a very strict ratio of 4 grams of fat for every 1 gram of carbs. That’s why most medical ketogenic diets begin with hospital inpatients and the active supervision of a dietitian.
The modern, mainstream keto diet follows the same principle of low carb, moderate protein, and high fat consumption, but is slightly less strict. Instead of a set ratio, mainstream keto can look like 5% carbs, 20% protein, and 75% fat. While the percentage can vary from person to person, the goal of the mainstream keto diet is to get the body into a state of ketosis. Ketosis occurs when the body starts burning fat instead of glucose or sugar from stored fat.
3. Does the keto diet work for weight loss?
This idea of ketosis as the body burning fat is what makes keto so popular. But, does fat burning automatically equate to successful weight loss?
Yes, keto does work for weight loss. But, as with anything, it’s not without its drawbacks or considerations.
Weight loss on keto happens almost immediately, with results showing up in the early stages, which can be after just a few days. However, it needs to be noted that most of that weight loss comes from water weight. Still, you can’t discount the motivation of seeing movement on the scale. It might just be enough of a push to stay committed long enough for the few weeks it takes to get the body into ketosis.
Keto is not only effective, it’s cost-effective as well. You don’t need to buy medications or supplements to get started—just change the food that you’re already eating. All you need is some careful planning or a subscription to a meal delivery service in order to get started.
For those who’ve tried all kinds of diets with no success, keto might just be the one thing that works. When you lose weight, your metabolism slows down but your hunger does not. The keto diet may allow you to skip these adaptations and increase your chances of sustaining the weight loss in the long run.
Those with Type 2 Diabetes might also find keto promising, not just for weight loss but for daily life as well. This kind of diabetes is basically a condition of intolerance to carbohydrates, so by removing high-glycemic food items and starchy carbohydrates, keto might help those with Type 2 Diabetes control and lower blood sugar levels without medication.
4. Wait, what’s this I hear about keto fever?
Like any major lifestyle change, keto is not without its growing pains. These growing pains are collectively known as keto fever. The transition out of carbs required by keto can be quite a shock to the system. The drastic reduction of carb intake can cause withdrawal-like reactions in the body. When starting keto, people can experience any number of symptoms: nausea, constipation, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, stomach pains, muscle soreness, cramps, irritability… basically, everything you find in a normal fever can happen during the first few days of keto, hence its name.
Some people experience keto fever, others don’t. For some, it may be enough to give up on keto entirely, but don’t despair, these symptoms are only temporary. In the meantime, to alleviate any keto fever symptoms, stay hydrated, avoid strenuous exercise, and get enough sleep. This is good advice for anyone, but particularly for those starting keto, this will ensure a smoother transition as the body enters ketosis.
5. What should I consider before trying keto?
Consider your goals and lifestyle. For all that it does and the liberties it allows, keto can be very restrictive. Once you go off keto and return to your regular eating habits, there will be a tendency to overeat. This is a natural reaction as the body tries to make up for what it has been deprived of. You’ll need to be able to take care of your body both on and off keto in order to maintain your health.
If you decide to stop keto, at any point and regardless of how long you’ve been on it, you will gain weight back. Keto doesn’t do cheat meals or cheat days, since your weight loss depends on your maintaining ketosis, so if you frequently go off plan, keto is not going to work for you.
If you’re on any special medication, consider that as well. This is especially true for anyone with diabetes. Consult with a nutritionist or dietitian first in order to find a way to make keto work for you and your needs.
6. Is keto right for me?
Keto obviously has its pros and cons. Whether keto will work for you depends on, well, you.
What are your personal goals? What is your current lifestyle? What is your mindset in terms of discipline and commitment? If you find that you can meet the requirements of keto without adversely compromising your goals and lifestyle, and if you feel like you’ve exhausted all other options anyway, keto might be something worth looking into.
If you do try keto, focus on whole foods over processed ones to avoid any unnatural, unnecessary additives. You can start by making diet adjustments using the healthy eating plate model—half a plate of fruits and veggies with a quarter of protein and a quarter of carbs—or looking up grocery lists online. If that’s too time-consuming, established meal delivery services can help you meet your macro requirements. Regardless of what you decide, at the end of the long, dieting day, make sure to love and listen to your body. It’s the only one you have.
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