According to, the ketogenic diet is “a diet that tends to promote the metabolic formation of ketone bodies by causing the body to use fat (rather than carbohydrate) as its principal energy source.”

What is Keto really?

The Keto Diet uses a low-carb, high-fat approach that, yes, does help some people lose weight, just as any fad diet does in the short term. However, it’s so extreme that it works by putting your body in a metabolic state called ketosis. Without going in to unnecessary physiological detail, when your body is missing its preferred source of energy (carbs) it freaks out and thinks it’s going to starve. Therefore, it begins to utilize fats as an energy source because, as you may have noticed, your body stores fat well and it offers more calorie per gram. The body historically goes in to ketosis during fasting or starvation.

What’s the scariest about this fact isn’t that it’s literally transforming the way your body naturally metabolizes food to something it does in a starvation state, but that it’s become popular enough to have a definition in the dictionary.

Why it works, for some

Ketosis, once the state is actually entered, is much more efficient at appetite control. Yet, it typically takes about 3-5 days of extreme feelings of hunger and fatigue to reach ketosis because you’re denying your body it’s normal energy source. Usually, during quick weight loss, your body thinks it’s starving so your ghrelin and hunger skyrocket so you can eat and return to normal.

Since glucose needs go down, so does ghrelin, and levels of leptin rise. Basically, ghrelin is the “hunger hormone”, and when it’s happy with the amount of nutrients the body is receiving, it stays quiet. If you can get through this initial transition state, ketones help you feel full, despite maybe having lost weight.

Why it’s not better than other diets

It’s not sustainable for general health. If it were, it wouldn’t be biologically associated with starvation and the limits of existence. For some people, the keto diet can work very well and they have the willpower to maintain it long-term. But for most, it’s just another fad diet that promotes a perfectionist mindset.

In order to keep the keto benefits, you have to stay keto – for life really – or you’ll have to be able to withstand cravings of hunger again. Once you start re-introducing carbs in to your diet, your body will go back to craving its preferred energy source. This means not only no cake or candy, but no bread, no pasta, no fruit, no rice, no beer – nothing.

Additionally, becoming Keto doesn’t magically mean you get to eat more fats, either. This is the most surprising news to others. While sure, it does mean a higher percentage of fat burned during activity, it’s much easier to gain fat than to burn it. You might burn 400 calories in a workout session, with 75% of that being fats. Yet, eat 33 grams of fats (3 tbsp of almond butter) and you’re at net zero. Add in an egg or two for breakfast and you’re already over what you’ll burn by training.

Finally, it’s not great for muscle or getting stronger. For one, being ketogenic makes you very tired and lethargic to start. It’s hard to find motivation to get in the gym and put in a big workout when you’re tired. Additionally, muscle tissue is where carbs are stored! Take the carbs away and you’re literally taking away the food that grows your muscles.

In the end, stop the perfectionist mindset.

The keto diet might work to lose weight in the short term, for some people. However, you’ve created a mental hang up and attachment to a diet without really truly understanding if it fits your body or lifestyle. When it’s likely not the bananas but the beer that are doing you in. Maybe reduce the calories from some types of carbs, versus removing all of them!! Maybe a list of things you can eat in place of sweets or salty foods. Maybe give yourself credit for the progress you made instead of beating yourself up over every mistake!

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Detric Smith, CSCS, ACSM Exercise Physiologist, Precision Nutrition Coach

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