Gotcha! Yes, once in awhile I'll use a click bait title that I think people will click on, but it isn't to drive traffic to my website (well, maybe it is) or to sell a product of some kind.
Truth be told, I believe the ketogenic diet can be a fantastic tool for many people (not all) if done correctly. Several times throughout the year I will draw back my carbohydrate consumption and increase my fat consumption to put myself into a state of nutritional ketosis for a period of time depending on how I am training. If I am prioritizing aerobic endurance during my training I find that I do far better on a very low carb, moderate protein, high fat diet since the training I do during these periods prioritizes fat as a primary energy substrate. I know this works for me because I have spent a lot of time tweaking how I eat and train and experimenting with many different variables. Anytime I head out and do a longer training exercise in the Army out in the field I will generally be eating very low carb and high fat due to the fact that even though we are completing a lot of work, much of it is at a low intensity and I have found that eating the carb laden MRE's they give us creates a lot of very large energy fluctuations leaving me wanting a nap 2-3 times per day. Last, I believe that metabolic flexibility is the a big factor in overall health. Your body will eventually adapt to whatever it is you are doing. Ever notice that you could go on a diet but at some point you stop losing weight or maybe even gain some back? Chances are your body has made some sort of long term adaptation to what you are doing. By employing a ketogenic diet periodically I have found a way to periodize my eating in the same way I periodize my training.
Yes, that is very anecdotal and based on my personal experience, and much of this article will be based on experience I've had with patients and some of the advertisements I have seen in the past several weeks since the New Year (anyone else notice how much media time the ketogenic diet has received this New Year?). This is not meant to be a "how to" guide on keto, but just to address some of the shortcomings I have seen in some people's application of the ketogenic diet.
Reason #1) You are learning Keto from a blogger or some other erroneous source.
Sorry, not sorry.
There are experts in the ketogenic diet. In fact, there are people who have dedicated their entire scientific careers to studying the effects of a very high fat very low carb diet. Then on the other hand, there are people who discovered the ketogenic diet, lost weight on it, and proclaimed themselves to be internet experts on the topic despite having no physiology or biochemistry background. When I first began exploring the ketogenic diet (KD) I learned from a few different sources that I will list below. I will repeat myself once again, this is not meant to be a "how to" keto blog. I would like to emphasize that since I just suggested you go to the experts and avoid the bloggers. I am no expert on the topic, so I will direct you to those who are.
Dominic D'Agostino PhD: Dr. D'Agostino is a professor in pharmacology and physiology at University of South Florida. He began investigating ketosis for navy divers as a means of improving their performance in the extreme environments in which they operate. From there, his research efforts started to venture into the effects of ketosis and epileptic seizures and has been doing a great deal of work looking at the effects of the KD on certain types of cancers (full bio in the hyperlink I provided).
Dr. Jeff Volek and Dr. Stephen Phinney: Dr's Phinney and Volek have also contributed a great deal to the academic lexicon of the KD and written several books available at the link provided above that are a little more accessible to the average reader who doesn't want to spend hours digging through PubMed.
Robb Wolf: Robb is a former research biochemist who has written 2 New York Times bestsellers on the topic of nutrition. I have been following Robb for years and listening to his podcasts for as long as I can remember. He is a master of taking difficult topics and breaking them down for people to understand and apply them to their lives.
Mark Sisson: Mark is a former professional endurance athlete who has adopted and popularized what he terms the primal lifestyle. Very good resource for anyone looking for additional advice.
Reason #2) You aren't measuring ketones.
Unlike many other diets out there, the KD has a very specific biomarker that helps to determine if you are following the diet correctly. That biomarker is the ketone body. In short, ketone bodies are produced when your body shifts it's energy metabolism from glucose (blood sugar) to the breakdown of fats. Ketone production happens primarily in the liver as a result of the body mobilizing stored fat tissue or from dietary fats (that is a very short synopsis, not all inclusive). If you are consuming too many carbs and producing insulin shifts, or if you are consuming too much protein your body will not produce ketones. Ketones can be measured via breath, blood, or urine. Breath and blood are probably the most accurate, urine is easiest. If you are not measuring ketone levels, you may not be following the ketogenic diet.
Reason #3) You are eating too much protein
I have had encounters with people who are trying to follow a KD but are regularly sitting down to a plate full of lunch meat and chicken several times per day (more on lunch meat later). If you are consuming more protein than you require there is a CHANCE that your body is breaking down the excess amino acids into glucose thus creating changes in insulin levels, and keeping your body from entering into ketosis. A KD that is well formulated will contribute moderate amounts of protein but not an excess.
Reason #4) You think the KD gives you carte blanch to eat bad foods and excess calories
The KD is not an invitation to sit down and eat a tub of bologna and a tub of peanut butter. Food choices should still be primarily whole foods based. If you were to follow me around for a day and watch what I eat, you will notice that the majority of the VOLUME of food I consume during the day comes from plants. Avocado, lots of vegetables, bell peppers, onions, fruit pre/post workouts (I often times workout a couple times a day so I can get away with a larger amount of carbohydrates and stay in ketosis), and nuts and seeds. The remainder of what I eat comes from animal products from local farms that we know are grass-fed and from grazing/pastured animals. No, the KD is not an open invite to eat bacon and eggs 5 times a day and wash it down with a 500 calorie cup of coffee laden with butter and coconut oil. Caveat to that: if you are training a great deal, you will likely need those calories. While were on the topic of calories, let's not ignore the fact that a lot of the weight loss and lean physique results people experience from a KD come from caloric restriction. While there are many potential metabolic benefits that come from the periodic restriction of carbohydrates, weight loss still requires a certain degree of calorie restriction. If you are a desk worker who doesn't regularly exercise, chances are you will still gain weight on the KD if you are consuming too many calories.
Reason #5) Maybe the KD just isn't that into you?
Remember the movie and book "He's Just Not That Into You?" I said it above and I'll say it again. The ketogenic diet is a great TOOL for many people, not all. Some people do not respond favorably to the KD. My personal opinion is that it may have a lot to do with ancestral lineage, but I won't go too deep into that. Remember that it is *A* tool not *THE* tool. There are a great deal of keto-evangelists out there who say that it is the way to go for all people. It probably isn't. For example, if we took someone who descended from ancestors who existed for millennia on the savannas of Africa and started feeding them a diet that you would see consumed by the Inuit in Alaska, you would probably see somewhat unfavorable results. I have encountered people who follow the KD protocols to a tee and make fantastic food choices, but sometimes the high fat consumption (even good fats like avocado, fish, olive oil etc) simply doesn't agree with their body. If you think this may be you, check the amount of calories you're eating, monitor ketone levels, and consult with someone who understands the KD to determine if it's right for you. Quick rant: I believe this reason applies to all diets in general. Some folks do very well on a vegan diet, some do very well on paleo, some do well on carnivore, but that doesn't mean that EVERYONE will. Stop evangelizing diets and understand that everyone's physiology is not the same.
To conclude, the KD can be a fantastic tool if done correctly, but avoid the nonsense. You don't need to buy the keto supplement program from the infomercial and you need to be cognizant of the good information sources out there. Find someone who can help you along the process and see how it works for you. I'm a big believer in experimenting to see what works for the individual. Begin to experiment for yourself by FIRST looking to find out what is sustainable and promotes adherence for you. If it is not sustainable and you can not adhere to it, it likely won't work for you in the long term. Start there rather than jumping into something like a strict KD.