So, you’re ready to lose weight, or maybe you’ve already been trying to lose weight, and a colleague at work has told you how much success they’ve had using the ketogenic diet. Is it right for you? Is weight loss by ketogenic diet something that you should consider?
One of my “go to” phrases in my practice is “everybody is different.” I say this mostly because it simply is true, but also because when we try to fit each individual into the same protocol, it’s just not helpful.
Let me step back a moment and make sure that we are all on the same page regarding the ketogenic diet, or “keto” for short. The ketogenic diet was created around 100 years ago as a specific nutrition therapy for those with epilepsy.
There are three macronutrients in the diet (nutrients that provide energy); carbohydrates, fat and protein. The typical diet tends to be highest in carbohydrates, and recommended amounts of carbohydrates range from 45-65% of calories, or 900-1300 calories for a 2000 calorie diet. This also translates into 225-325 grams per day.
The human body sources its energy in two ways: from carbohydrates or ketones. Ketones are created when the body uses fat as an energy source. This fat comes from fat in the diet, some of the energy from protein in the diet, or from the fat that is stored in the body. Some individuals are very good fat burners, and others are not.
When someone is on the ketogenic diet they will be restricting their carbs generally to under 50 grams per day. The deficit in calories will be made up by adding a very large amount of fat to their diet while maintaining a moderate amount of protein. If the individual is in a calorie deficit (meaning their body needs more energy than what that person is eating), then the body will look to fat and protein stores to get the energy that it needs. At this point the fat and some of the protein will be turned into ketones and the body will shift from using carbs as its primary energy source to ketones.
So, is the ketogenic diet for you?
Well, I would say that this depends on many things, some of which include your weight and weight loss history. Sometimes the keto approach can be very helpful for those who seem to not be able to lose weight despite being in a calorie deficit while getting exercise. But the individual should speak first to a healthcare professional before taking the plunge to make sure that they would be a good candidate.
The benefits of the ketogenic diet may sound very enticing, but it does have its drawbacks as well. Some people experience what is termed the keto flu, which may include many symptoms such as malaise, constipation, diarrhea and irritability.
Getting into a state of ketosis is not always that easy and may take several days during which the person can feel very tired as the body is shifting from one energy source to the other. And the flexibility is not there on this eating plan. In order to lose weight, it is important to be consistent; so those “cheat days” are off the table. A cheat day can end up setting a person back several days as their body has to readjust into a state of ketosis all over again.
And one of the most important factors to consider is if the person will be getting adequate and healthy nutrition while they are on the diet. Just because the macronutrients add up the right way doesn’t mean that the person is getting what they need to maintain good health. For instance, with such limited grams of carbs allowed each day it’s very important to make the most out of those carbs nutrient-wise. A few cookies can add up to 50 grams fairly quick, but a person can also eat quite a bit of non-starchy vegetables for under 50 grams. The latter would certainly be the wiser choice.
There are many factors to contemplate when considering if the ketogenic diet is right for you. If you are taking a serious look at this option and need to get a professional perspective, please contact me! And if not me, I do recommend working with a healthcare professional to discuss if this diet is right for you.