I’ve been a long-time believer in calories in, calories out, doing yoga and walking to build strength and stamina for lasting weight loss and management - but I have to admit I was recently persuaded by all the buzz online about the keto diet. I also have a friend who tried it who was very excited about her success. She raved about the diet to me after our weekly yoga session, and I thought since it was working great for her I would try it to lose some of my “vanity” pounds by going keto too.
I thought, maybe I’m wrong about this one…. Maybe I should just try it and see what happens?
Despite my inherent skepticism, I optimistically decided I would approach the diet with vigor and open-minded enthusiasm.
Let me preface this with a clear statement: I am not a fan of the most extreme version of this diet, which includes restricting your daily carb intake to just 30 carbs a day. If you’re new to counting carbs, compare that to what the average American on 2,000 calories a day eats -which is about 300 carbs a day.
I did not like this very much at all.
In fact, I would really regret ever going on this diet if it weren’t for the tremendous learning experience it provided. Now I know that I’ve tried it, and it’s just not for me.
But I understand why people go on it, I fell victim to it myself. It promises to transform your body into a fat-burning machine despite how many calories you eat or how little you move throughout the day.
Jillian Michaels, a world-renowned fitness trainer, and nutrition expert has gone on record against the keto diet as, claiming that when you deprive your body of one of its essential macronutrients (i.e., carbs), you are starving yourself (1).
I didn’t mind the food, but I did mind all the meal prep, and mostly - I did not like what it did to my body and mind.
I had absolutely no energy. I did have intense dizzy spells, brain fog, and I was really weak and cranky. I also found it stressful and time-consuming to plan my meals so precisely where
I was previously unfamiliar with eating this way. I lost 5 pounds in my first week and then nothing afterward. This initial weight loss at first was exciting but I was also experiencing symptoms of dehydration.
I also have had a lot of stomach issues on the diet that I’m still dealing with, rapidly going from being overly constipated to then having diarrhea and I am now officially on the mend and trying to heal my system from the stress of the diet (sorry if TMI). I regularly had nausea, painful stomach cramps, and general upset stomach.
Keto flu is a concept pretty well known to keto dieters. The keto flu is a collection of rather unpleasant symptoms associated with starting the keto diet that many dieters go through. It was so intense for me it felt like I actually did have the flu. What is not mentioned too much is that you get keto flu again when you start adding carbs back into your diet, even if you do it gradually (I just added 10 carbs a day). Maybe this isn’t as common but it happened to me.
So, I’m now in a state where I consider myself on the mend from this diet. I still have many of my symptoms and absolutely zero energy to the extent that I actually have to take it easy while I heal my body.
Unfortunately, I cannot go back to my normal diet right away and I have to mostly stay keto while slowly and gradually re-introducing some carbs back into my diet. That’s because in one week on this diet, my body has forgotten how to effectively process carbs and sugar for energy and if I eat too many carbs too quickly now I will go into rapid fat storage mode. I enjoyed homemade bread and other baked goods, pizza, and desserts before this diet without gaining a pound so this is kind of annoying.
The keto diet worked for me in the sense that I lost 5 pounds that have so far stayed off, but because of the difficulty of prepping all the meals and all the unpleasant physical symptoms I had the diet was not sustainable for me.
One thing I did like about going keto is that it makes it easy for you to cut calories because you eat very savory foods that keep you fuller longer, but many health experts advse individuals to not stay on the diet for long. For one, this diet is not good for your cholesterol (2).
While on keto, I was easily eating 1,300 - 1,400 calories a day without feeling any hunger, so from my trial I feel that those who do have success long term with keto might do so because ultimately their overall calorie intake is lower and they are able to maintain that deficit comfortably. They just don’t notice it because you feel like you’re eating more, perhaps.
At least that's a theory. Many keto advocates will suggest not counting calories, but if you did you will probably see that your caloric intake is well in the weight loss range for your body anyway.
In the future, I will stick with the original formula that works for me and stay away from the new hot diets, and far away from the “keto flu.” I can happily count calories and lose weight with little to no side effects. I don’t mind feeling a little hungry now and then for my figure, but I do mind feeling sick as a dog.
Still, I seem to be in the minority because the keto diet is insanely popular. According to Google’s Ad Planner (3), the term “ketosis” gets about 500,000 searches per month on their search engine alone.
According to reseaerchandmarket.com, keto is also a 15.6 Billion dollar industry (4). Between books, supplements, beverages, and keto-friendly food products there is a lot of money to be made from this highly popular diet. I myself bought a keto cookbook because I felt I needed it to help me stay on plan.
The Atkins, South Beach, and Paleo diet fads had similar booms, all slightly different versions of going low carb. If any of these were truly effective for long term health and weight loss, why do they keep getting replaced? It seems every few years there is a new diet craze that promises rapid fat loss with minimal effort, and a lot of big business is making big money on it.
So, what about this ever increasingly popular state of ketosis that’s so hot right now? Ketosis is a state when the body is burning fat at a high enough rate that the body produces ketones, or waste bodies resulting from burning fat (4).
The truth is, you don’t have to be in ketosis at all in order to burn fat, and you won’t necessarily burn fat while you are in ketosis while on this diet because the keto diet is so high in dietary fat, the body may just burn through those dietary fat stores before tapping into any actual body fat (4).
The keto diet isn’t all bad though, just a little extreme in my opinion and it wasn’t a good fit for me. Plus, I'm still a little cranky from my keto flu. Anyway, I’ve put together this list of pro’s and con’s that summarize my experience on the diet and what I learned in my trial:
Pros: Going keto can...
Be helpful for weight loss, but not every body handles being in or getting to ketosis very comfortably.
Help you lose weight and restrict calories without feeling hungry.
Help you to reduce the amount of highly processed foods in your diet.
Make you aware of the effects of too many carbs on your system.
Ultimately, I did lose 5 pounds very quickly, which have stayed off after slowly re-introducing some carbs back into my diet.
Cons: On keto,
I had a lot of negative side effects, including dehydration, GI issues, brain fog, headaches, fatigue, irritability, nausea, sharp stomach pains, exhaustion, dizzy spells, and general upset stomach.
I will still need to eat a pretty restricted diet for a few weeks now while I continue to slowly re-introduce carbs back into my system to avoid gaining the weight back.
I felt stressed and overwhelmed by all the meal planning I had to do, and the amount of meal prep and cooking required was too much for me to keep up with.
The diet seemed highly restrictive to me.
The best lessons I will take away from this keto trial are:
-It’s best to follow the golden rule of everything in moderation. Don’t think about a highly restrictive diet you can stick to for a couple weeks or months, think of a healthy way of eating and exercising you can be comfortable with and enjoy doing forever.
-You don’t need to cut your carbs to astronomic lows in order to lose weight, but weight loss will be easier if you don’t “carb-o-load.” Eating more foods rich with other macronutrients can provide your body with better nutrition to function well and help you to feel fuller longer, which will help you hit your calorie deficit more comfortably with less hunger.
-Try not to stress about your weight. Stress makes everything harder and while it does serve a good purpose at the right time, you can put it to bed when it comes to your weight loss efforts.
I am not a doctor or licensed nutritionist, just a yogi who has a personal interest in diet, nutrition, fitness, inner peace and wellbeing. Always check with your doctor before trying a new diet or exercise program.
It is now two weeks later and after slowly increasing my carbs up to about 100 carbs a day (up from just 30 a day), I feel so much better. I am bursting with energy and I no longer have any of the unpleasant side effects I had been facing on the more extreme version of this diet. I have kept the 5 pounds I lost off too.
Overall, I’m glad that I lost a little weight, but it was way too much trouble for my liking as I really didn’t feel well at all. My plan is to continue to slowly increase my carbs back up to normal levels and then maintain my weight with simple calories in, calories out and - but focus on whole, unprocessed foods and make sure I don’t carb-o-load. Before I tried keto, I didn't really even watch my carbs at all, but I will keep an eye on them now to make sure I don't go overboard.
All in all, it wasn’t for me, but I’m glad I did try it. I learned a lot from this experience and I did lose a little weight too.
For more information on healthy weight loss and maintenance, see this post. I’m going back to it myself as a healthy reminder.
Thank you, and namaste.