What Is The Keto Diet Anyway?

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The Ketogenic diet, or the “Keto diet” as some call it, is sweeping across the U.s., is purported to be a panacea for all that ails the human race, and is especially being promoted as an “effective” strategy for weight loss. 

In fact, you may have heard your neighbor, friend, colleague, partner or stranger on the street talk about how they, or someone they know, lost a lot of weight following this diet. Or, maybe you have considered trying the keto diet, but are on the fence about it.

But, is what they say true? And are there any dangers in following this diet? Let’s find out!

So, what is the Keto diet anyway? 

The standard and most often prescribed ketogenic diet is a very high-fat, extremely low-carbohydrate diet that has been shown to help to control seizures in some people with epilepsy, especially children. A person’s overall daily carbohydrate intake when following this diet is around 30 grams, making it more restrictive than both the Atkins and Paleo type diets.  

To give you a visual, 30 grams of carbohydrates is the equivalent to a heaping bowl of strawberries or one banana or two slices of bread. Not nearly enough to sustain an adult human. 

Now, you might be asking yourself, "With such low amounts of carbohydrates consumed, what is actually happening to a body when following the keto diet?" Great question! Here’s the breakdown (it gets a little science-y, but stick with me here): 

Ketosis is an evolutionary survival mechanism that allows a human body to use something called ketone bodies during times when it does not have access to adequate carbohydrates, the preferred fuel source for the body and brain. 

Essentially, if there is not enough glucose around (from both food and your body’s stores) to meet the body’s needs, it will break down fat to provide energy. Something called ketones or ketone bodies are produced as a byproduct of this biological process, thus the name “the ketogenic diet”. 

But is this safe? 

There is much debate around this. So, let's take a look at it from a few angles: 

Ketones are acids that build up in the blood from the above process and in small amounts can usually be eliminated in the urine. But, high levels of ketones can cause the blood to become extremely acidic, which is very hard on the body, in particular the kidneys.

Because of this, when this diet is traditionally prescribed in a therapeutic setting, it is closely monitored and is only recommended for a person that is actively being supported by a team of experts (both their primary care physician and a registered dietitian) over time. 

In addition to it’s biological impacts on the body,  let's also consider the psychological and physiological impact of following such a strict diet. Such dieting and restriction of carbohydrates can and will often lead to intense cravings due to the body’s need to have adequate carbohydrates on board to function most optimally and to meet it's needs. 

This ultimately can lead to episodes of overeating or binging on carbohydrates, which is a normal response to deprivation. sometimes it can feel so intense that some report feeling "out of control."

And guess what most people do when this happens? They blame themselves for not having enough control, for not trying hard enough. But, I am here to tell you that it’s not you, it’s the diet. Full stop. 

This is because restricting foods (dieting) leads to an increased desirability of those same "forbidden foods", it increases food preoccupation or time spent thinking about food, and often contributes to eating in the absence of hunger. 

Dieting has also been shown to increase taste and reward stimulation, which means that when dieters deprive themselves of a particular food or food group, they experience an increased reward and increased pleasure from forbidden foods in comparison to non-dieters. 

Ultimately, there is no strong evidence to show the keto diet’s efficacy, except in the case of those individuals with epilepsy. Dieting and restriction, while sometimes can contribute to weight loss short term, leads to weight gain long-term

If you are ready to stop the dieting and create peace with food , know that there is a different way of eating that leads to greater satisfaction, gives you full permission to eat all foods, and long-term will help you to live a liberated life

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