The Ketogenic Diet: Is It for Me?
The Ketogenic Diet: Is it for me?
You’ve probably heard a lot about the Ketogenic Diet. I know I have. In fact, I’ve been asked about it by many of my clients. As with any significant dietary change, there are risks and benefits. If you are thinking about using this diet yourself, or if you are working with someone interested in starting a ketogenic diet, it’s important to know the facts.
Let’s break it down together and try to figure out how this diet works and when it might be appropriate for yourself or someone you know.
What exactly is a Ketogenic Diet (KD)?
My first exposure to the concept of ketones was from experiences with my brother, who was diagnosed as a type 1 diabetic at age 12. One of the side effects of Type 1 diabetes is actually weight loss. The Ketogenic Diet is very low in carbohydrates, moderately high in protein, and very high in fat. The Ketogenic Diet claims to put your body into a state similar to a diabetic with poorly controlled blood sugar.
Strictly defined, it consists of the following macronutrient totals:
Carbohydrates – 5% total calorie intake or less than 20 grams daily
Protein – 1.2-1.7 g/kg up to 2.5 g/kg
Fat – The rest of fuel needs
Here’s an example of a daily Ketogenic Diet:
- 1 tbsp butter
- 2 large eggs
- 4 slices bacon
- 2 tbsp heavy cream
- 1 oz raw onion
- 3 oz grilled chicken breast
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 oz ranch dressing
- 1 stalk celery
- 3 cups mixed greens
- 4 oz ribeye steak
- 1 cup mushrooms
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp heavy cream
- 1 cup broccoli
The Ketogenic Diet is so low in carbohydrates that the body switches over to using fat for its main source of energy instead of utilizing carbohydrates. The term “ketogenic” comes from this adaptation. Stored fat is released into the bloodstream to be used for fuel in the form of a “ketone body” or a “ketone”. When the concentration of ketones in the blood is sufficiently high, the environment is considered to be in “ketosis”, meaning that it is producing lots of ketones to fuel the metabolism.
It is actually fairly similar to what would happen to a caveman back in the day when he would go through periods of starvation. Since fuel for that hard living hominid was hard to come by, his body turned to stored fat to keep him on the hunt. The deprivation of carbohydrate (and fuel in general) directly results in stored body fat being turned into ketones for fuel.
Let’s look at reasons, other than being a starving caveman, to jump on the Ketogenic Diet Train.
You’re a deep diver or a Navy SEAL planning a mission that includes a deep dive.
Being in ketosis can help prevent seizures associated with changes in pressure associated with deep diving.
I want to lose weight short term.
Yes. Although we haven’t quite figured out exactly how this works, it definitely does speed up weight loss.
There are certain people (physique or weight classed athletes) that can benefit from a rapid, short-term weight loss. Or, you might have a wedding or beach trip coming up this summer! IN these cases, the KD can be quite effective.
I’m bored and want a challenge.
Yes. You will learn very quickly how many foods that you think do not have carbohydrates actually do. It will prove to be a great learning experience and you will become an expert at reading food labels. Oh, you might get incredibly cranky (at first), but you’ll likely drop some body fat along the way.
I want to follow this diet to treat epilepsy, polycystic ovarian syndrome, cancer, diabetes, a neurological disease, or another illness.
Perhaps, but do so only under the careful supervision of a physician and nutritionist.
I want to improve endurance.
No. The Ketogenic Diet is known to increase your perception of fatigue, not something you want when training for a marathon. Although it may not hurt endurance performance, it certainly has not been shown to improve performance. Runners haven’t been carb loading for years for anything.
I want to improve strength.
No. Similar to endurance, your perception of fatigue is increased on a KD diet. While physiologically it may not be more difficult, psychologically the difficulty level of strength performance is increased.
I want to build more muscle mass.
No. Building muscle mass on a ketogenic diet just isn't very likely. Insulin release on a KD is extremely low. Since Insulin is extremely valuable when muscle gain is the goal, the Ketogenic Diet isn’t the best bet.
Although you may not experience loss of muscle tissue, it is unlikely that you’ll see gains you would on a diet that includes carbohydrates.
I want to lose weight long term.
No. This diet is extremely difficult to continue on a long-term basis. Besides never being able to eat a dessert again for the rest of your life, this nutritional approach also eliminates most fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The inclusion of these foods offers a great many benefits to health, performance, and longevity.
I want to feel better about myself.
Not likely. The transition from using carbohydrate to using ketones takes time and that time is generally associated with an inability to concentrate, short-term memory loss, low self-esteem, confusion, lack of confidence, fatigue, depression and a general irritability. These are common psychological symptoms of transitioning into ketosis.
You will find that eating out (or anywhere other than home) becomes difficult to nearly impossible and can have a negative effect on one’s social life.
When embarking on the journey to becoming a healthier version of yourself, you want to ask yourself what your long-term goal ultimately is. This should be your leading deciding factor as far as the right food and fitness plan to follow.
The Ketogenic Diet may have the potential to offer benefits to some people, but it is not the best choice for everyone. If you are an athlete that chooses to go on a Ketogenic Diet, test it out on yourself for a period of 2-4 weeks long before an athletic competition. If you have any health conditions, consult with a physician.
If you are an overweight or obese, but otherwise healthy individual looking to jump-start short-term weight loss, the Ketogenic Diet followed accurately may be effective.