Author: Raj Chandler • Fact checked by: Tara D. Thies • Oct. 6, 2020
Many people adopt new eating styles or diets to lose weight. While the only scientific requirement for weight loss is consuming fewer calories than you burn each day, dieting methods provide a specific framework that can make lowering your daily calories feel easier.
Along these lines, many find that the ketogenic or keto diet is a great way to help them control their body weight. At the most basic level, keto is simply a high fat, low carbohydrate diet designed to put the body in a state called ketosis. This comes with some health benefits: Scientific studies by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition show that these low-carb, high-protein diets are beneficial for controlling hunger and food intake. Other research indicates keto diets can help regulate blood sugar levels, which can play a role in controlling type 2 diabetes.
If you’re using the keto diet to lose weight, it’s important to recognize that the process takes time. No matter how you are looking to reduce body fat, results won’t happen overnight. However, with consistency and dedication to a dietary pattern that controls calories, you can achieve the type of weight loss you desire.
Whether you are following keto or any other diet plan that puts you in a caloric deficit, it can take anywhere between a week up to several weeks to start seeing results, depending on a number of different factors. This article will discuss the keto diet and how it may help you lose weight, some advice for choosing foods on keto, and some important potential side effects you should consider before fully committing to the keto eating style.
The ketogenic diet at its most basic level is a very low-carb diet that emphasizes high fat intake and moderate amounts of protein. Some who follow keto enjoy allowing themselves to eat large amounts of meats and vegetables. The carbs that are allowed are typically small amounts of complex carbohydrates, which are found in foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
The extreme carbohydrate restriction of the ketogenic diet is similar to that of the Atkins diet, though the two diets differ in their approach to fat intake. The ketogenic diet centers on the idea of reaching a metabolic state called “ketosis”, where the body is said to increase its efficiency at burning fat for energy, instead of the glucose and glycogen from carbohydrates. Atkins focuses on higher levels of protein for fat loss, while keto emphasizes a higher consumption of fat than protein. Atkins is generally thought of as a less intense version of the keto diet, although there are all sorts of varieties of both types with varying levels of restrictiveness.
Carbohydrates are a primary source of energy for our bodies. When we fast or severely limit intake of carbs, it causes our body to begin to switch to consuming fats as our primary source of energy. The oxidation of fatty acids in the liver causes the production of ketones. It is believed that these ketones are what helps suppress the appetite, allowing adherents of the keto diet to better moderate their food intake.
That’s one reason keto is popular for weight loss – while it can be difficult to get used to in the early stages, many adherents report that it feels less restrictive than other forms of weight loss diets once they get into the habit of keto eating.
As mentioned above, higher ketone levels can help suppress the appetite, making it less likely that you will overeat and put yourself in a caloric surplus. However, be cautious with keto if you are looking to build muscle, since the diet requires a specific amount of proteins.
Others like keto because it allows them to eat foods that are traditionally thought of as “off-limits.” Since keto is restrictive based on the presence of carbohydrates, certain variants of foods like bacon and guacamole can be consumed by those on keto as long as they fit into their existing nutritional targets and overall meal plan.
Like any other diet, the key to success with keto is consuming the right foods in the right amounts.
As mentioned, keto emphasizes diets with very low levels of carbohydrates. Adherents to the keto diet typically eat foods like:
Lean poultry (turkey, chicken)
Fish (cod, salmon, tuna)
Since common foods like bread and grains aren’t allowed on keto, many people will make their own keto-friendly versions of classic meals. Thanks to the popularity of the ketogenic diet, a quick online search will find you dozens of recipes for foods like “keto pizza” or “keto tacos.”
If you’re going to be following a keto eating style, be conscious of your daily macronutrient and calorie intake – especially when it comes to foods high in fats like nuts and avocado. Keto also requires careful monitoring of protein intake, as studies show that excessive levels of protein in the body are actually converted to carbohydrates, which may interfere with the state of ketosis.
Ketogenic diets can be problematic because carbohydrates are the body’s main and preferred source of energy. If you restrict your intake of carbs for a long time, you’ll likely be left feeling tired, lethargic, and craving carbohydrate-rich foods. Carbohydrates also have essential micronutrients that you may not get from other foods, such as fiber and some vitamins and minerals.
The ketogenic diet is also high in fat, usually saturated fat. A high fat diet can lead to other health consequences down the line, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, etc. Because of the high fat and extremely low carb intake, the ketogenic diet can be difficult to adhere to for an extended period of time.
Since keto adherents consume a large amount of fat each day, it’s not recommended for those with liver problems. The liver plays an important role in the body’s process of converting fats to energy. Excess amounts of fat can place strain on the liver, exacerbating existing conditions.
A lack of carbohydrates can even have an impact on mental function. Many keto dieters report a “brain fog” that includes memory loss and trouble focusing. In clinical nutrition, these and other symptoms are collectively known as “keto flu.” The risk is particularly high for people who are in their first week of the keto diet.
There are far too many factors involved in individual weight loss to predict with any certainty how long it will take to shed the pounds. Generally, you’ll need to adhere to a caloric deficit of around 500 calories per day. At this rate, you should start to see noticeable weight loss after anywhere from 10 to 21 days. Some may meet their weight loss goals sooner, while others may take a bit longer. Keep in mind that water weight is often the first thing the body sheds in the first week when grams of carbs are restricted, as for every 1 gram of carbohydrates that are stored, 3 grams of water are stored with it. That’s why the scale may not give you an accurate portrayal of how much body weight is actually lost. This also means that, when carbohydrates are introduced back into the diet, that water weight will come back with them, which is completely normal and healthy.
Sustainability is a more important factor than short-term weight loss results or timing, however. Although it comes with certain risk factors for those who may be sensitive to fats, the keto diet is a preferred choice for many who feel that it presents a more manageable style of eating.
The bottom line: It’s better to be concerned about creating a weight loss plan for eating, exercise and supplementation that you can maintain for as long as necessary, instead of trying to stick to an overly-restrictive diet that you won’t be able to keep up. Body composition is a long-term goal that you should develop a personalized lifestyle around.
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