Hands, down, one of the most frequent questions I get asked as a nutritionist is “what diet is the best for weight loss?”
And in the last year, the most popular question is “should I do Keto to lose weight?” (followed by “is the celery juice cleanse healthy?”)
I contemplated writing this for quite some time, but stopped, in fear of backlash. I know I’m going to ruffle some feathers when I say this but…
The Keto diet is a fad diet. And it will go out of style, like my Rae Dunn mugs
There I said it!
I know that so many women are passionate about this diet, and for those of you doing keto, please note, this isn’t a personal attack. This post is my honest opinion on the keto diet, not only as a holistic nutritionist, but as a woman, a mother, and former yo-yo-dieter.
The goal of the keto diet is reducing carbohydrate consumption considerably so that your body shifts from burning glucose, to burning fat. This state is called ketosis and many dieters can lose several pounds per week, which is why the diet has exploded in popularity.
I’m not saying that Keto DOESN’T work. It does! And with fantastic results! I’m not saying this diet hasn’t been extensively studied. It has! This next part might sound harsh, but…so did all of the other flash-in-the pan diets. They’re all the same. Numerous studies, doctors in the media talking about it.. Convinced, women then try new diet, lose weight, tell all their friends, it gets popular, then it goes away, and another diet becomes trendy.
Right now, fat is in. Carbs are out.
And the industry is profiting big time!
It’s not alllll bad, but before you jump on the bandwagon, I think it’s wise to be well-informed about the pros and cons of the keto diet before making a decision
CON: It’s a Classic One-Size-Fits-All Diet
Believing that there is only one true diet implies that we are all identical, with the same dietary needs. Are we though?
Take for example, a 45-year old premenopausal woman with Metabolic Syndrome. She is overweight, with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a borderline diabetic. She has a high stress job, and a busy lifestyle, married, with three teenagers, and has tried every diet on the market, but has not found a program that she can stick with long term. She loses (and then gains back) anywhere from 20-50 lbs each time.
Does she have the same dietary needs as a 30-year old female who is only 5lbs overweight but battles with PCOS and infertility. She also has IBS and has never been on a diet, but heard about the benefits of keto from a friend and wants to try before her 3rd IVF attempt ?
Do they have the same needs? The answer is no. (a HARD NO!)
There is no perfect diet that will work for everyone, and although they can both benefit from some elements of the keto diet, these women have very unique dietary (and emotional) needs that will not be met following the same diet.
You and your best friend (or cousin, or mother or co-worker) may have a ton in common, but in many ways, you’re not, so a one-size-fits-all diet may be a great short term solution, but it won’t be the holy grail for all of you in the long run.
CON: It’s Restrictive
Some of us thrive on having “rules” when it comes to food, as it makes it easier to follow (eat this, not that… got it!) but a restrictive diet is not a good choice for anyone with a disordered relationship to food and eating, which is one of the biggest reasons I can’t get on board with keto (or any restrictive diet for that matter), especially with eating disorders on the rise. This can be especially problematic with kids in the home, as food anxiety, obsessive habits and behaviours when it comes to dieting and eating can be influenced by parents.
A restrictive diet may also not be attainable, especially in the long term. Let’s face it, life can get chaotic, especially in motherhood. We get burned-out, experience mom funks, kids get sick, or perhaps there’s a new work schedule, a big move, etc. It’s hard enough to eat healthy when life takes over, but trying to eat according to all the rules can be downright stressful (and seemingly impossible). On any diet, ask yourself one thing – can you see yourself eating this way for the rest of your life? If the answer is no, stop!
I want to share my personal “low carb” story with you –> Shortly after having my son in 2010, I felt very sick and battled with poor digestive health, chronic acne, brain fog and depression (there were probably at least 20 more symptoms that I can’t remember). With the help of my naturopath, I went on a candida diet (quite similar to keto) that lasted about 4-6 months, and lost weight exceptionally fast. My carb intake was about 50g per day, and I swore off sugar, all grains, bread, fruit, juices, beans and legumes. It was the skinniest I had ever been in my adult life. I’d be straight up lying if I said I didn’t feel incredible at the time. It was around this time that we were trying for baby #2, and the stress of infertility had me reaching for carbs for comfort, awakening the carb monster within. Before I knew it, I had gained all of the weight back – and then some. It was not sustainable for me, and truthfully, isn’t for most women.
Restriction may also present challenges when it comes to social occasions, vacations, celebrations and dining out.
CON: You’re Only Focusing on Numbers
We spend so much time and energy focusing on the numbers on the scale, how many calories we’re consuming, and how many grams of carbs are in a dish, and we never really find our own sense of balance
When dieting, we never really spend much time investigating what’s really going on in our bodies. Headaches, pain, moodiness, lethargy, brain fog, digestive problems, and poor immune health may temporarily improve when changing your diet, but what if it doesn’t? For many women, as long as the numbers on the scale are going down, that’s all that matters. When you lose weight, whether we’re talking 5lbs or 50lbs the numbers alone may not reflect good health, especially if chronic symptoms are present.
Listen. To. Your. Body. It is the most important thing you can do for long term health!
Let’s also talk about cravings. What if they don’t go away after the “honeymoon phase” of the diet? Ignoring cravings (instead of getting to the bottom of why the cravings are happening), can potentially open the door for a huge binge in the future.
CON: Use of Artificial Sweeteners
Thankfully many online resources recommend that keto dieters avoid artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose, but not everyone is getting the message. Artificial sweeteners have been linked to headaches, seizures, memory problems, inflammation, gut dysbiosis (an imbalance of gut bacteria that is linked to numerous health problems and conditions), and can even lead to an increase an appetite and sugar cravings (which makes your diet work against you). But because artificial sweeteners contain virtually no calories and carbs, they’re often considered “safe” on the keto diet for many. While the short term benefits of weight loss are amazing, many don’t consider the long term risks associated with regular intake of artificial sweeteners.
CON: Excessive Consumption of Dairy
Cheese (allll the delicious cheese), milk, butter, heavy cream, whipped cream, sour cream, yogurt… yes, you can have it all on the keto diet. It sounds fantastic, especially when everyone seemed to be avoiding dairy a few years ago. And I get it, giving up cheese can feel like torture, so when you’re given the green light, it’s ON! While dairy may be okay for some, not everyone can tolerate it. In fact, it’s still one of the top foods that is problematic for many, and is generally recommended to avoid by most natural health practitioners. Dairy sensitivity has been linked to acne, headaches, poor digestion, bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, eczema, psoriasis, hives, joint pain and respiratory problems. Some dairy foods like plain yogurt or butter is usually more tolerable in small amounts (hey, even I enjoy dairy once in a while), but excessive consumption of dairy on a keto diet may lead to or worsen health problems in the future.
PRO: Stabilize Blood Sugar Levels
Studies have shown that the Keto diet is effective for improving blood glucose control and may reduce dependency on medication for diabetics and women with PCOS on metformin
PRO: No More Fat Phobia
Fat is in, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We need fat to absorb fat soluble vitamins that help promote bone health, eye health and heart health, to name a few. Fats are also vital for hormonal balance. It’s about time we busted the myth that eating fat is unhealthy and will make you fatter… it won’t!
PRO: The Sugar Free Recipes
While I’m not crazy about diets in general, I do think the opportunity to try new recipes and foods, is a positive. There are tons of keto recipes on Pinterest, some of which are pure genius! You can actually enjoy meals, desserts and beverages without sugar or excess carbs, and having access to all of the tips, hacks, and recipes is fantastic.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with losing weight, reducing carbohydrate intake, trying new foods, new recipes, and feeling great about yourself.
The problem is when it takes over your entire life and becomes overly restrictive.
The problem is when you’re eating foods that are not right for your body, but feel that it’s okay to sacrifice your health to be skinny.
In my opinion, the problem is the diet industry itself (but hey, just my opinion!)
If you’re looking to lose weight for good, just know that what you eat is just one part of the weight loss puzzle. Other factors like sleep, hormones, physical activity, stress, and food intolerances all play important roles in weight loss (and overall health) as well. Consider working on the whole person instead of just one teeny piece of the puzzle.
Keep in mind that you have individual needs and discover what works for YOU!