If you have any interest in healthy eating, you probably have come across the term “ketogenic diet.” It’s all the rage right now in the dieting world because its effective, its straight forward, and it embraces the consumption of bacon.
Ketosis is a state of metabolism where your body uses stored body fat for fuel instead of sugar (glucose). After about a week of eating a very low carbohydrate diet, your body burns fat to provide energy to brain cells, muscles and life functions. The result of ketosis is an immediate drop of water weight (since carbohydrates help your body hold onto water) and, soon after, body fat loss, as your body burns up fat to use as energy.
The ketogenic diet is simple; eat a lot of calories from fat (80%) and avoid carbohydrates (5%), and eat a little bit of protein (15%). This means butter, nuts, cheese, fatty cuts of meat (bacon!), avocado, egg yolks, cream are on the menu, but bread, pasta, bagels, candy, whole grains, and fruits are out. Lean cuts of meat and other “lean proteins” should be chosen in moderation, as well as low carbohydrate vegetables (such as leafy greens).
When first transitioning from a carb-containing diet to keto, you likely will experience the “keto flu,” as your body transitions from using carb to fat preferentially for fuel. This is a totally normal side effect that generally subsides after five days on the ketogenic diet. However, as an athlete, ketosis may contribute to sodium and magnesium deficiencies. If your workouts leave you sweaty, you may quickly develop a deficiency. Make sure to liberally season your meals with salt, and consider taking a magnesium supplement when going keto.
The ketogenic diet is a great method to jumpstart fat loss. Six months on the ketogenic diet is very motivating as it may result in huge reductions in body fat, however, as a clinical dietitian, I question the sustainability, the practicality and the health of “going keto” long-term.
In terms of sustainability and practicality, I know from working as a counselor that it is difficult for people to stick to elimination diets long-term. Ultimately, it is human nature to want to “fit-in” and eat pasta, birthday cake, or bread; mastering a balanced eating approach allows for these indulgences, while keto does not.
Human inclinations aside, the ketogenic diet has also been linked with reduced thyroid function. Hypothyroid (low thyroid) can contribute to stalled fat loss, fatigue and chills.
Ultimately, as a clinician, I think the ketogenic diet can be a highly motivating tool for the short-term, but is not a long-term solution for fat loss. Athletes need to be cautious when implementing keto by replacing electrolytes, and all those who follow keto should have their thyroid function checked every three to six months.