Considering a ketogenic diet for weight loss? Read this first!
THERAPEUTIC DIET TURNED WEIGHT LOSS REVOLUTION?
Researchers have long supported the use of a ketogenic diet to achieve therapeutic outcomes, especially as related to the treatment of epilepsy and the prevention of neurodegenerative disorders and cancer. More recently, ketogenic diets are advertised as a quick and easy way to lose weight. As a wellness professional, I often get asked what I think about this.
Are you considering using a ketogenic diet to shed a few pounds? Here are a few things to consider and the one question YOU MUST ask yourself before getting started.
There is without a doubt a genetic component to the way our bodies handle fats and carbs. Some people optimize their health and athletic performance with a lower carb, higher fat lifestyle and others do better with higher carbs and lower fat. My husband is a great example. Despite being an ultra-runner, he seems to thrive on a diet high in healthy fats and lower in carbs. For myself, I achieved some amazing body composition goals postpartum with my second child while following a higher carb food plan.
Now, two years later, my metabolism and overall health status has changed, so I include a lot more fat to support hormonal and brain health. In the end, it’s all about finding what works best for YOUR BODY and what’s most realistic for YOUR LIFESTYLE.
However, playing around with dietary ratio of fats, proteins, and carbs is vastly different from following a strict, extremely low carb diet in an attempt to reach ketosis. While there are a few protocols that suggest “biohacking” ketosis and using it intermittently, what I’d like to talk about in this article are ketogenic diet plans that advertise an extremely low carb lifestyle as a quick weight loss solution. If you’re thinking about taking on a rigorous ketogenic protocol, it’s definitely worth thinking through before getting started!
THE ONE QUESTION TO ASK YOURSELF
Before starting any new diet ask yourself, “How realistic is it that I can follow this plan long-term?”
Take a hard look at the recommended foods within the plan and consider your lifestyle. The reality for most people is that a ketogenic diet can be extremely hard to follow for any extended amount of time. What will you do in social situations when you are surrounded by some of your favorite carb-o-licious foods or when you just want a break from a super restrictive food plan?
If you are going to take on a ketogenic diet I want you to be fully informed and be aware of potential challenges. It takes just a few instances of falling off the low carb wagon to start a frustrating (and unhealthy) yo-yo dieting cycle.
WHY A YO-YO KETOGENIC DIET CAN BE AN ESPECIALLY VICIOUS CYCLE
Any time we go to add carbs back into our diet after having cut back there will be an adjustment period. It can be an uncomfortable process, in the form of digestive issues, fatigue, and bloating. And heads up: It’s a physiological fact that our body will store water with each gram of carb we take in. This isn’t always a “bad” thing (especially for those who have an upcoming endurance event), but the initial results on the scale can be discouraging for anyone coming off of a low carb program.
Another (not-so-fun) fact is that when we follow a ketogenic diet for an extended period of time our body may need some time to adjust back to being efficient at processing and using carbs for fuel. Although the exact effects on metabolism may vary from person to person, be aware that if we bombard our body with carbs after an extended period of extremely low intake it is possible our body may be more prone to produce and store body fat due to insulin resistance. (Mark Sisson, a thought leader on use of a ketogenic diet lays it out really nicely here).
Bottomline: It will be super important to slowly add carbs back in, rather than all at once. There is little to no wiggle room for going overboard because we need a dieting break, lost willpower on the weekend, or we get a little too excited once we reach our goal weight. If you’ve ever struggled with yo-yo dieting be aware of how ugly this insulin resistance/water retention effect can be.
To clarify, here's how this might look:
1. Begin low carb diet
2. Cravings/temptation/want a break
3. Give in and overeat carbs
4. Experience discomfort, bloating, fatigue, weight gain
5. Attempt to diet harder, restrict carbs even more just to get back to “where I was"
6. Diet becomes more physically and mentally challenging (maybe worse cravings, lower willpower, some depression)
7. More intense carb binge
8. See an even higher number on the scale
9. Even greater restriction, more extreme dieting
(you get the point)
THE PROBLEM WITH ANY RESTRICTIVE DIET PLAN
Last but not least, consider that any restrictive diet plan can cause nutrient deficiencies, which will ultimately affect your body‘s ability to work properly. If you’re going to take on a highly restrictive ketogenic diet you need to consider where you might need supplementation of certain nutrients your body is ultimately not going to get. The “supplementing for nutritional gaps” code is one that can be really hard to crack, even for some of the most dedicated healthcare professionals.
When our bodies are deprived of certain nutrients it sends us signals in the form of hunger, fatigue, and cravings. I don’t know about you, but remaining dedicated to a strict diet when I am hangry, tired, and have cravings is a fight I’m not going to win! (Here’s where even with the best of intentions our willpower can start to break down and that deadly yo-yo diet cycle can come into play again.)
COME OFF KETO RIGHT
If you’re convinced you can remain dedicated to a keto program until you reach your goal weight, ways to minimize bloating, discomfort, and regaining weight include slowly (and I mean very slowly) reintroducing the foods you have been avoiding into back into your life. If following a specific plan, be sure to read closely and follow any suggestions for carb reintroduction.
Hopefully I gave you some things to think about. If you believe an extreme low carb ketogenic lifestyle is for you, go for it! There are definitely ways to make it work and a place for ketosis in many nutrient timing protocols. I’ll say it again, it’s all about finding what works best for YOUR BODY and what’s most realistic for YOUR LIFESTYLE.
Success can be achieved with most evidence-based nutrition programs, as long as we do our best to go in fully informed and think through challenges that might pop up along the way. Check out these tips & our best-selling new book, The Art of Breaking Through, for more ways to crush your wellness goals!
Team Valentine Project is all about finding simple, realistic, and science-based ways to make wellness work in your life. Don't miss a post: Follow @TeamValentineProject on Facebook & Instagram and subscribe to the blog below!
Aspery, Dave. (2017). Head Strong. HarperCollins Publishers. New York, NY
Branco et al. (2016). Ketogenic diets: from cancer to mitochondrial diseases and beyond. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26782788
Paoli, A., Rubini, A., Volek, J.S., & Grimaldi, K. A. (2013). Beyond weight loss: a review of the therapeutic uses of a very low carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3826507