Are you struggling with Keto? Is Keto the “right” diet for you? Find out the pros and cons here and why I’ll NEVER go Keto again.
If you’ve been reading this blog for the past two years, then you know I dabbled in the low carb world for quite a while.
Almost two years ago, I wrote THIS blog post about why I decided to go low carb. When reading that now, I can see that I was heavily influenced by a small group of people who said that low carb was the “only” way to eat and the most beneficial for my health.
I talked about my energy increasing, my bloating going away, my cravings had vanished, and more.
And I can tell you honestly that I did enjoy eating low carb at first. I did enjoy adding in more fats to my daily eating. I learned a lot about healthy fats and how they are not harmful to us like the media would have us believe.
But as I went along my low carb ways, I dove deeper and deeper into the low carb rabbit hole, eventually learning more about the keto diet. In my mind, I thought, if less carbs was good, then even LESS carbs must be better, right?
What is the Keto Diet?
Basically, the ketogenic diet is a super high in fat (80% of your diet is fat), a super low carbohydrate (<5% of your diet) and moderate in protein (15-20% of your diet).
This is typically not what we are told to eat. Health Canada recommends a ratio of 20-35% of protein, 45-65% of carbohydrate and 10-35% of fat.
So how does one get so much fat in their diet? They load up on all the fats! Think avocados, cheese, cream, nuts, seeds, oils, butter, etc. The only carbs that are eaten are low carb vegetables such as greens. All other carb-heavy sources like sweet potatoes, rice, whole grains, pasta, fruits, and beans are cut out.
Those on a keto diet are encouraged to eat a moderate amount of protein. Grass-fed meat is encouraged (which is awesome in my opinion) as well as other protein sources like whole eggs, salmon, seafood, dark skin poultry, pork, beef, organ meats, etc.
That being said, keto advocates will tell you to enjoy protein but not to eat too much of eat for fear of the protein causing gluconeogenesis. Gluco-what?? Basically, it’s when too much protein in the bloodstream gets turned into sugar. And sugar, according to keto enthusiasts is the DEVIL!
Fats make up the majority of a keto diet. This is because keto encourages the body to use ketones for fuel rather than glucose. Typical fats enjoyed on a keto diet are oils, mayonnaise, butter, heavy cream, nuts/seeds, avocados, etc.
But even when eating fats, you want to make sure that those fats don’t contain too many carbs. Take nuts for example. Most keto-goers don’t eat cashews because they are too high in carbs.
Fruits and Vegetables
When eating keto, you are encouraged to eat a lot of vegetables. This is one thing I do love about the keto diet. Veggies like spinach, kale, cabbage, green beans, celery, zucchini, and green peppers are encouraged. You are also allowed to eat some lower carb fruits such as blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries.
While I love the idea of adding more greens, there are so many healthy and wonderful vegetables that are usually left out. Here are some healthy fruits and veggies I didn’t eat for over a year: carrots, parsnips, yams, potatoes, apples, bananas, grapes, mangoes, pineapple, and dried fruit.
All grains and anything with a high starch content like beans and legumes should be avoided while doing keto.
This even includes whole wheat and high fiber beans like black beans. For over a year I didn’t enjoy any bread, buns, or chili for fear I might be kicked out of ketosis!
What is Ketosis?
You’ve probably heard of the term ketosis by now, it seems to be quite the fad at the moment.
So what is it exactly?
Our body’s main source (and preferred source) of fuel is glucose, aka, carbs. We get energy from glucose to go about our daily activities. However, when glucose gets depleted from our body, either from cutting out carbs or not eating for a long period of time, our body looks for other sources of energy. When we decrease carbs to the point of having very little glucose being available, our insulin levels drop and fat is released from our cells. Our liver then turns this fat into ketones, our body’s second choice for energy.
I really want to clarify something here though.
Many keto and low carb advocates tell us that we go into “fat burning” mode when we run on ketones for energy. This would have you believe that you are burning your body fat for fuel, and because of that, you are going to turn into a lean, fat burning machine.
However, this is NOT true. There is a difference between burning fat for fuel and burning excess body fat for fuel. While it’s true that when in ketosis, we do burn fat for fuel. However, the fat we are burning is the fat we are EATING. It’s not some magical process that happens and all of the sudden we are burning off all this body fat.
It does sound logical and seems to make sense that being a “fat burner” would help you lose fat. Unfortunately, whether your body is relying more on fats or more on carbs for fuel actually says nothing about how much fat you’re burning off your body.
How Did Keto Get Started?
The keto diet has actually been around for quite a while.
It can be traced back as early as the 1920’s. It was used to help treat children with severe epilepsy.
Since then, keto has been studied in treating other diseases such as Alzheimers, certain types of cancer, Parkinson’s, MS, and Type 2 diabetes.
While this all sounds amazing, I think it’s important to remember that the science behind keto and these major diseases is quite new and very little human studies have been done. I’m not saying that keto can’t and won’t help people with these ailments, but we must still use caution when using keto as a treatment method.
Keto for Weight Loss
With keto getting all this attention for its therapeutic uses, many people are turning to keto for weight loss purposes. While I want to share with you why people are using this diet for weight loss, I also want to share with you my experience and why I’m writing this article in the first place.
There is no denying that many people lose weight on the keto diet.
First of all, when you eliminate an entire macronutrient, there are a lot less options for food. And when there are less options, we tend to, well, eat LESS!
Secondly, many people who start keto, ditch the typical standard American diet foods such as fast food and opt for healthier options like more vegetables and protein. It’s no surprise that people start feeling better and losing weight when they make healthier choices.
But the biggest reason that people lose weight quickly when they start keto isn’t because of what I’ve mentioned above, it’s because of a loss of water weight. One of the concerns with the keto diet is the loss of muscle mass and the depletion of glycogen stores. Glycogen, which stores our glucose, also stores water, so when stores are depleted, we flush out excess water. In other words, that rapid weight loss isn’t fat, it’s just water.
This is exactly what happened to me. I didn’t turn to keto for weight loss, but I did end up losing 5 pounds in the first week just from water being flushed out of my system. So imagine an already thin woman becoming even thinner!
Other Short Term Effects of Keto
The keto diet can also directly impact hormone levels.
Our hormones ghrelin and leptin are responsible for our hunger and fullness cues. Many studies confirm that our appetite hormones, ghrelin and leptin, are suppressed while in ketosis.
Another hormone that can be impacted by the keto diet is cortisol. Cortisol, put simply, is our body’s stress hormone. Unfortunately, the studies show that cortisol can be increased in individuals following a very low carb diet. High levels of cortisol are associated with insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease, and fat accumulation.
I’ll relate this to my experience with the keto diet.
I personally did find that I was less hungry while eating keto. I could easily go 6 hours between meals. I actually had to force myself to eat regular meals because otherwise, I wouldn’t eat.
I also found that I put on weight quite easily while eating low carb. I thought that being in ketosis meant I was burning my body fat, when in fact, I was just burning the fat that I was eating. Eventually, my female sex hormones tanked and I started gaining weight no matter what I did. I firmly believe this was because my body was in such a state of stress from not eating enough carbs.
Dangers of the Keto Diet
Advocates of the keto diet will say that while their total cholesterol will increase, it’s only the good kind (HDL) that increases, not the bad kind (LDL.) However, a study using the keto diet as a form of treatment for epileptic seizures in children found that after 6 months of administering the diet, triglyceride levels increased, total cholesterol levels increased, and HDL and LDL increased. So if heart disease runs in your family, you may want to do more research before jumping on the Keto bandwagon.
Many people, including me, experience major constipation when they eat a keto diet. This is due to the fact that you are no longer getting a lot of the fibre found in whole grains, beans/legumes, and many fruits and vegetables.
Decreased Muscle Mass
A study from the Netherlands confirmed this. In the study, participants were given three diets (high carb, moderate carb, low carb) and moderate protein. The study found that those following a low carb diet experienced increased muscle breakdown.
This is because when we eat carbohydrates, we produce insulin which promotes muscle growth. This is why athletes depend on carbohydrates (along with protein) to fuel their performance. When we eat carbs, the insulin release unlocks our muscles to let the protein in so it can do its job at building our muscles.
So, when we skip the carbs all together, muscle glycogen stores get depleted, we lose out on those muscle building opportunities. This was me! Even though I do a lot of weight training, I found that 1) I didn’t have the energy for lifting heavy, and 2) my muscle mass decreased dramatically.
With low-carb diets or keto in particular, you often cut down on a lot of food groups and types which means that you’re not only cutting out the bad part but you’re also taking out some of the good parts. And, with a shortage of vitamins and minerals, your body in return will feel the effects from it.
The three most common mineral deficiencies from eating keto are: potassium, sodium, and magnesium. This is why you are told to generously salt your food when eating keto.
Other vitamins that might be missed out on include vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, selenium and zinc. The lack of vitamin D and calcium puts keto dieters at risk for reduced bone health and increased risk for fractures and long term bone diseases.
My Experience with Keto
I’m sure you can deduce by now that I did not benefit at all from the keto diet.
The ONLY reason I even started eating low carb in the first place is because certain people I followed on social media made me fearful of carbs, aka, sugar. I listened to many podcasts and read many books that touted sugar causes cancer, Alzheimers and many other chronic and terrible diseases.
I was told that carbs aren’t an “essential” macronutrient, that our ancestors survived off fats and protein, that fat was our body’s preferred energy source, and on and on.
Pretty soon, I became scared to eat too much protein for fear that it would turn into sugar via gluconeogenesis. I became scared of fruit and many vegetables. I became scared to eat out for fear of things being cooked in unhealthy oils. I didn’t celebrate my kid’s birthdays with pizza and cake because God forbid I eat that many carbs and get kicked out of ketosis. I became obsessed with tracking my fat intake and trying to get it lower and lower, spending so much time planning my day so I would never go over that 5% carb intake. I started losing energy. I got really, really bloated and couldn’t figure out why.
Finally, enough was enough.
I realized that my health and my quality of life were MUCH more important than how many carbs I ate in a day.
So I slowly began cutting back on the amount of fat I was eating and adding in more carbohydrates. Foods I had missed so much like yams, potatoes, rice, fruit, whole wheat bread became part of my every day eating. I started eating out again. I started enjoying pizza and cake with my family again. I stopped tracking my macros. I gained more energy. My bloating went away. But most importantly, I started loving myself again.
You see, I think when we start a certain diet, it’s often to try and manipulate or change the look of our body in some way. We are looking for that magic ticket to help us effortlessly lose the weight. And I’m not saying that wanting to lose weight is bad. But what I am saying is that we need to look deep within and really ask ourselves WHY we want to jump on some diet trend.
Because that’s just what keto is – a trend! Next year, there will be another diet that people jump on. And on and on the cycle goes.
I agree on the fact that there are some rare medical justifications to follow a keto diet, and it was created to help children who suffer from seizures. But most people who choose to follow a keto way of eating are NOT doing it for medical reasons.
Do I have cancer? NO
Do I have seizures? NO
I’ve done a lot of soul searching this past year, and I actually thank keto for that. Because without it, I may not have reached this point in my life. The point where I care more about experiences rather than the food that goes in my mouth. The point where I love my body just as it is, no matter what size I am. The point where I wake up everyday and don’t worry about food, but rather look forward to being present in my life and my family’s lives.
You can tell I’ve changed a lot just by looking at this blog. My tagline used to be, “Low carb living made easy!” But now, it reads “Get healthy without dieting!”
My goal with this blog is to help free you from the bondage that diets create. I want to help you learn to trust your body again and start loving the body you’re in. Because our worth is NOT determined by the size we are. Rather, let’s look at what type of human being we can be in this world. Compassionate, forgiving, loving, kind, generous, happy – these are the things that matter to me. These are things I want people to remember me by…not by how much I exercised or what I ate.
I know that “haters gon hate” on this article, and that’s okay! Everyone is entitled to their opinion, including me. And last time I checked, this was my blog 😉 I’m not saying keto never works for people, especially those who may suffer from specific ailments. But I want you to consider what I’ve talked about above before diving into this way of eating.
Ask yourself: am I doing this for weight loss? Am I following a trend? Am I listening to MY body or something that someone told me? Because I can tell you that a lot of the things that keto promotes just aren’t true. So please do your own diligent research before doing ANY type of diet. I don’t want you to end up like me, being afraid of carbs, because carbs are NOT the enemy (and neither is sugar!) It’s the diet industry that is the enemy in my opinion.
I’m a big believer that everything – especially carbs – can be enjoyed in moderation and the best way of eating is just whatever eating pattern you find most pleasurable that also meets your body’s unique needs. I don’t know about you, but I need that crunchy apple, or a pillowy slice of sourdough bread, or a steaming hot bowl of pasta.
If you’re wanting to learn more about how I’ve healed my relationship with food, don’t forget to grab my FREE Food Freedom guide!
Are you following the keto diet for weight loss or for medical reasons? What has your long term experience been with keto?