Will a Ketogenic Diet Help Me Lose Weight?

Maybe, if done correctly. The Ketogenic diet has been one of the most consistent diets to prove successful short-term weight loss, however, effects on long-term weight loss (or being able to keep the weight off), are still up in the air.

 Keto dieting has actually been around for a long time, since the early 1900s. It was originally created to treat epilepsy in kids and was used successfully until anticonvulsants (seizure medication) were developed.

It wasn’t until more recently that eating Keto began gaining popularity for dieting and weight loss.

The Ketogenic diet is high in fat, moderately high in protein, and low in carbohydrates. In a “normal” diet, we consume around 50% of our food from carbohydrates which are then used for our immediate energy needs. In a ketogenic diet, however, there is not readily available glucose from the diet, so the body is forced to use ketones (made from fat) for fuel.

Herein lies the difference between a low-carb diet and a ketogenic diet. A low-carbohydrate diet simply means you’re reducing the amount of carbohydrates in your diet. A Ketogenic diet, on the other hand, specifically means the body is burning ketones for fuel, rather than glucose, and typically is achieved at a diet of < 20-50 grams of carbs per day.

It can take up to 3 weeks to enter ketosis on a very low carbohydrate diet, which can be a very hard three weeks!

Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet

Once in ketosis, hunger usually subsides, or becomes more regulated with less ups and downs throughout the day and less “hangry” moments. Utilizing ketones for fuel is actually a more efficient way to produce energy, so despite a lower calorie diet, you can still generate enough ATP, ie energy.

A Ketogenic diet may lead to fat loss in two ways: 1) By decreasing hunger and therefore overall calories, and 2) By forcing the body to burn fat for fuel rather than easily accessible glucose.

Beyond fat loss, a ketogenic diet may regulate blood sugar levels (and reduce blood sugar levels in those with diabetes), improve cardiovascular endurance, improve cognitive performance and concentration, improve recovery from posttraumatic brain injuries, reduce seizures in epilepsy, and can reduce the overall oxidative damage, or inflammation, in the body.

The Ketogenic diet is currently being studied for it’s role in many other chronic diseases such as neurological conditions, PCOS, anxiety and depression, malignancies and more.

The Ketogenic diet has been one of the most consistent diets to prove successful short-term weight loss, however, effects on long-term weight loss (or being able to keep the weight off), are still up in the air.

Samantha Henley, Physician Assistant and Registered Dietitian

Downsides of the Ketogenic Diet

So far, a keto diet sounds pretty glorious, doesn’t it? Here comes the obligatory “but” part of the article. While a keto diet can work for a lot of people, there are some negative aspects that we have to look at. Studies do not show significant long-term weight loss with Ketogenic diets, most likely due to the inability to maintain such a restrictive diet long-term.

While keto may lead to significant short-term weight loss, the yo-yo effect of rapid weight loss then regain may be more damaging than not losing the weight in the first place. That being said, if you plan on trying a keto diet, it must be done with long-term goals in mind and there should always be a follow-up plan in place for when you come out of ketosis.

Additionally, the high fat content in keto diets tends to push people towards a higher saturated diet, which we know can raise LDL (ie “bad” cholesterol) and increase risk of atherosclerosis. The very low carb nature also steers participants away from the fiber, antioxidant, and micronutrient dense vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. We know diets low in fiber can increase the risk of colon cancer long-term.

The short-term side effects of getting yourself into ketosis may include nausea, fatigue, constipation, and headache. The long-term effects can include kidney stones, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, fatty liver, worsening lipid metabolism (increased LDL, for instance), among others.

How to “Keto” the Right Way

  1. Use it as a short-term, to medium-term diet
    • The jury is still out on the long-term effects of Keto for the general population. If you’re using it for seizure control, or another medical condition, please follow your doctor’s advice. However, if you’re using it for weight loss, I suggest following strict keto until you’re close to your goal weight, then gradually adopting a diet that you can sustain lifelong. Please, please, do not crash keto diet then swing into binging all the carbs a month later. This WILL NOT lead to sustained weight loss. Graduate yourself into a diet rich in fiber, vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and health fats for maintenance.
  2. Use your carbohydrate allowances for non-starchy vegetables
    • When you know you only have 20-30 grams of carbohydrates to eat a day, it’s certainly tempting to save that for a nibble of candy or something else crave-worthy. But this will only perpetuate the cravings and will minimize the small window of opportunity you have to get in some fiber and micronutrients. Use your carb allowance on vegetables!
  3. Use cardioprotective fats and limit saturated fat
    • Though this is a high fat diet, this is not a free pass to eat bacon all day. Saturated fats from high fat animal products are still bad for your cardiovascular health, so try to load up on mono- and polyunsaturated fats from olive and other plant oils, nuts, avocados and fish.
  4. Don’t Overdo the protein
    • In order to achieve and sustain ketosis, you have to keep your protein levels low to moderate. This is a “protein-adequate” diet, not a high protein diet. If you overdo the protein, your body can start converting amino acids (from protein) into glucose, avoiding the ketosis pathway altogether. Aim to get about 30% of your diet from protein.
  5. Don’t do “dirty keto”
    • Getting close to ketosis, but not actually being in it, negates a lot of the benefits of the Ketogenic diet. You’ll be prone to cravings and binging and will still be trying to burn carbs for energy rather than ketones so will likely be chronically tired and fatigued.
  6. A Ketogenic diet is not for you if:
    • You’re pregnant or nursing. Your body needs carbohydrates to support normal fetal development and breastmilk. DO NOT try to diet while your are pregnant or nursing unless under the guidance of your doctor.
    • You’re an athlete participating in a lot of high intensity activities. Studies have shown that performance levels decrease in athletes that need a lot of anaerobic capacity, or short bursts of very high intensity exercise, like, a 100-meter sprint, for example. Endurance athletes, for example those participating in long-distance running, may fare better on a keto diet if they’re well adapted as it allows them to burn a seamlessly never-ending supply of fat for fuel rather than a very limited supply of glucose.
    • You have very high cholesterol, a history of kidney stones, cardiovascular disease, or any other chronic disease monitored by a medical provider
      • Please talk to your provider first

Example Ketogenic Diet Day: This example is about 1300 calories, 30 grams of carbs with 30% of calories coming from protein and 60% coming from healthy sources of fat

Breakfast: Eggs topped with avocado and tomato slices, cilantro and drizzled with olive oil

Snack: Celery sticks and almond butter

Lunch: Ground turkey lettuce wraps

Snack: Sharp cheese and handful of nuts

Dinner: Mashed cauliflower (you can add in sour cream, cheese, salt and pepper), salmon, and asparagus roasted in olive oil