Full disclosure: As someone who does not eat meat, dairy or eggs my tone may come off intentionally or unintentionally biased.
I am also fully aware of the body research being done on ketogenic diets for individuals with epilepsy and type II diabetes. However, my approach and perspective is strictly for those who are considering going keto for the sake of weight management and general health.
Do you even keto?
I used to train a lady that told me she was on a ketogenic diet… except she ate carbs on the weekends. You see, that’s not a technically a keto diet anymore, that’s just a low carb diet.
A low carb diet is one where less than 40% of your total calories comes from carbs. A ketogenic diet calls for no more than 10% of total calories coming from carbs. A single fruit could put you over the “limit.”
The reason it must stay that low is that you are forcing your body to only run on fat. The moment you introduce carbs, your body will switch to carb metabolism, because it is the human body’s preferred energy source. So, eating carbs on the weekend immediately disqualifies you from being “ketogenic.”
Thus, a keto diet is primarily made up of high fat dairy, eggs, meat, oils, avocados and leafy green vegetables.
But my neighbour lost weight on keto!
Your neighbour lost weight from a reduction in total calorie intake. He or she used a keto approach to choosing foods, however the same reduction can be created with any macronutrient (carb, fat, protein) ratio.
It is worth noting that the calorie reduction on keto may have given him/her an advantage because of the high fat meals and its restrictive nature.
People claim feeling more full on keto because they are eating high fat meals. Fat takes longer to digest so you will feel more full from a stick of butter than a loaf of white bread. But, including high fat foods and fibre into a non-keto diet is also a good strategy.
Further, a restrictive diet, ironically, may make dieting easier because it takes all the guess work out of what to eat. You have so few options left, forcing you to become super consistent, making weight loss/management less “complicated.”
Is there harm in trying?
No, the keto diet will not kill you. But, neither will a high carb diet.
So safety aside, the real questions to ask are: Can you stick to it? and Is it necessary?
Adherence is entirely personal, necessity is entirely nonexistent. Our body systems are made for carb digestion, so to claim we should all avoid them is poor advice.
My biggest concerns are for those with a history of restrictive eating patterns and disorders. Using keto as a method to create food fears will do damage to your mental health, while bringing little to no benefit to your physical health.
It all comes down to motives. Are you epileptic and looking to see if your seizure respond to keto? Or, did someone convince you bread is making you fat and now you’re justifying your fear of carbs by identifying with the keto lifestyle?
Isn’t your diet restrictive ya damn tree hugger?
No. But it can be.
I have heard of several people using a vegan/plant-based diet to mask an actual eating disorder, so, yes, it can be implemented inappropriately. However, for me, adopting this diet liberated me from restrictive dieting.
My choice to avoid meat, dairy and eggs is entirely out of ethical and environmental concern and is a preference, not a hard rule. I do not think it will bring anyone miraculous health, wellness or weight loss. Rather, a sustainable approach for me that aligns with my values.
Take home message
Carb reduction is an effective and reasonable way to reduce total calorie intake, in fact it’s typically how I approach weight loss. However, reducing carbs to less than 10% of total calories is not necessary, but it may be preferred by some.
You need to ask yourself why you are considering keto, and what are you gaining from it. Incorporating adequate fibre and keeping a low to moderate carb intake can reap similar/same benefits from a health and weight management standpoint.
Also don’t forget, there is an abundance of vitamins and minerals found in foods non-existent in a keto approach such as: fruits, vegetables and grains. So just a word of caution when taking advice from anyone selling the idea that a ketogenic diet is “the healthiest” way to eat because, simply put, there is no such diet.