| June 10, 2021

Does the keto diet actually work?

The keto diet is technically an ultra low carb high fat diet, where carbs are clocked in around 20g per day. This is very low carb, where you even have to weigh and track your green vegetable intake due to trace amounts of carbohydrates.

By Michelle Moen

Read time: 4 min.

The keto diet is technically an ultra low carb high fat diet, where carbs are clocked in around 20g per day. This is very low carb, where you even have to weigh and track your green vegetable intake due to trace amounts of carbohydrates. Most people, however, just follow a low carb diet when they think they’re on keto, consuming closer to 50-80g of carbs daily.

This isn’t technically keto because the carb content is still too high to truly switch your body over to ketone production, instead of glucose as the main energy source. This process can actually take weeks to initiate, since we have glucose energy reserves hanging around in your muscles and liver (glycogen!). Only once your body has depleted its reserves will it then make the switch over to ketone production. This is charmingly deemed the ‘keto flu’ phase, since it can be quite the change! Cold-like symptoms are common during this period, making you feel pretty sluggish. For my clients I typically recommend taking exogenous ketones during this stage to help mitigate the symptoms and temporarily kick your body into a ketogenic state. After a few weeks of consistently consuming 20g of carbs daily, your body should be able to take over ketone production on its own. This is typically when people report feeling better, more energetic and mentally clear. 

Is the ketogenic diet ideal for weight loss though?

As always, it depends. 

The only way you’ll truly lose weight is through a caloric deficit, or consuming fewer calories than you burn throughout your day. A lot of people report weight loss on the keto diet, however, for a few reasons. The first reason is that you initially lose a lot of water weight once you cut carbs out of your diet. For every gram of carbs there’s about 2-3 grams of water retained by your body. Once you cut carbs out of your diet, your body will drop water weight like crazy, as significantly as 10 pounds in one week, depending on your previous carb intake. Just to be clear, this weight loss is NOT body fat, but water retention. Any weight lost after the initial 2 weeks is likely true fat loss. 

The second reason people lose weight on the ketogenic diet is because it helped them establish a caloric deficit that they could stick to. Most people have trouble moderating portion sizes of hyper palatable food, or foods that are high in both fat and carbs. A lot of people claim to have a sugar addiction, but once you do some digging you’ll realize that it’s not a true sugar addiction, but the combination of fat and sugar, in foods like cookies, ice cream, and cake. If it was a true sugar addiction you’d be reaching for foods like table sugar, maple syrup, and honey, to consume on its own. Once someone is following the keto diet, they can no longer reach for those hyper palatable foods, drastically decreasing their calorie intake. Over time, this will lead to weight loss.

The third reason someone might lose weight on the ketogenic diet is because they have some issue with blood sugar regulation. Those swings in blood sugar can make it harder for someone to stick to a diet, causing them to reach for quick carbs once their blood sugars take a dip. On a ketogenic diet, you don’t get the same swings in blood sugar, since you’re running off of ketones instead of glucose. For some people this helps them manage hunger, mood, and adherence to their diet, allowing them to establish a consistent caloric deficit. 

Sounds peachy, right?

Not so fast. The ketogenic diet definitely isn’t for everyone. It is best for those with neurological issues, insulin resistance, or obesity. It is a poor choice for athletes, especially those in sports that demand explosive movement, like football players, sprinters, or lifters. There will always be exceptions to the rule, however, so the only way to truly know if it’s a good idea for you is to give it a go. A few more things to note is that you should monitor your thyroid function and cholesterol levels every 3 months if you’re doing the keto diet long term. These markers aren’t to be ignored. Some people will be OK on the keto diet long term, with no issues, others could run into very real cardiovascular  and/or thyroid issues. This comes down to your unique genetics interacting with the environment. If you love the keto diet, but are running into these issues, you could probably safely run the keto diet in phases instead of full time. Try it for 3-4 months every year, instead of all the time. Ultimately, no one can tell you what’s the best diet for you. It can take a lot of trial and error. So give the keto diet a try, and have some fun with it! 

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