Is the Keto Diet a Bad Choice for Women?
Butter in coffee, eating full avocados with a spoon, bacon piled high… It’s practically a dream to be told you can eat these high-fat foods all the time and lose weight.
These days, “Keto-friendly” snacks and meals are all over social media. But are the glistening pictures of happy women with 6-pack abs eating pork belly and cheese for lunch too good to be true?
Related - What is the Ketogenic Diet?
Let’s chew the fat on this diet.
What, Exactly is Keto?
Keto, short for the proper term ketogenic diet, is a way of eating that utilizes fat as fuel instead of carbohydrate. Typically, our bodies bun carbohydrate first, as a quick and continuous energy source. However, when you do not consume enough carbohydrates for your body to draw upon, it uses fat, instead. It converts the fat into energy molecules called “ketones.”
It sounds awesome, right? But it’s not as easy to stick to as one might think.
A proper ketogenic diet consists of 90% fat, 6% protein, and 4% carbohydrate. Think about that. It sure isn’t endless plates of meat and you’re not even allowed an apple. Buckle up, and prepare to fill yourself with butter and oil and cheese and egg yolks. If that sounds a bit nauseating, it is because it is.
This is why the more popular version floating around today is approximately 80% fat, 15% protein, and 5% carbohydrate.
Where Did Keto Come From?
The Ketogenic diet was used to treat epilepsy in the 1920s. Before then, doctors had discovered seizures diminished with fasting, so many epileptic patients were put on very low-calorie diets and water fasting protocols.
One doctor discovered the ketones produced by the liver in this state were responsible for the decline in seizures. He concluded one could keep fasting, or they could eat a diet high in fat and extremely low in carbohydrates to produce these ketones.
I know which option I would choose, just saying.
Eventually, anti-convulsant medications replaced special diets, but as the wheel turns, it was reintroduced as a natural remedy for some people who did not take well to the medications.
In the 1970’s Dr. Joseph Atkins would tout it for weight loss. It caught on, and an osteopath named Robert Linn took note. He concocted a fat and protein drink to put people into ketosis. Unfortunately, those people began having heart attacks because the drink lacked the basic nutrients to support the electrical function of a human heart. Whoops.
However, in the 80’s we were back on the keto bandwagon, with Oprah Winfrey supporting a similar product (except this time with the necessary vitamins and minerals) that helped her lose weight. “You get a keto, and you get a keto!”
This put ketosis on the modern map, but it wasn’t until a study in 2013, which concluded that a ketogenic diet may be able to slow the aging process, did we see the huge shift in public consciousness. In a flash, every self-proclaimed biohacker and wealthy health bro was on top of it and running in all directions.
Big players in Silicon Valley, military heroes, Joe Rogan. People began posting transformation pictures everywhere of huge amounts of weight being dropped nearly effortlessly.
Suddenly everyone had to be on this diet, constipation be damned.
What Are the Dangers?
Most of the backlash to the ketogenic diet centers around the lack of quality control and doctor supervision. There are many self-proclaimed keto experts out there, who advise anything from keto drinks, to “keto” recipes that blow your entire day’s allotment of carbs in one small meal, to simply eschewing carbs and paying no mind to your protein intake.
Since one handful of baby carrots can kick you out of ketosis, constant monitoring and regular checkups with your doctor are essential. Because you are on a deprivation diet, you are at risk of not getting proper daily nutrition. This can lead to serious health problems over time.
But a more common danger is simply consuming way too many calories.
Something women need to consider is the keto culture’s complete disregard to calories. As women, we require half of what most men require in terms of our daily caloric intake, and it is men who popularized this diet. Oftentimes, you will see a keto queen posting her breakfast of a huge egg omelet, topped with half an avocado and a coffee with cream and butter. That, alone, can eat up half your daily energy requirement.
This means once your body adjusts after dropping initial water weight, you can easily start putting unintended pounds on. Even on keto, calories are primary. It does not rise above the laws of thermodynamics.
Also disturbing, is many proponents of keto advise there is no need to exercise on this diet. Not exercising puts your health in jeopardy and does not help burn any of that 8-egg omelet off.
Hungry for the Magic Pill
We all want to find a special diet that holds the key to a slim, healthy physique. The ketogenic diet promises a life full of delicious fatty foods and no need to exercise. Eat cheese and the pounds just melt off…
But the ketones aren’t the reason the diet works – they’re simply the reason epileptics stop having seizures. The Ketogenic diet works for some people because they eat less food.
When you truly stick to a ketogenic diet, there is no bread, no rice, no pasta, no soft drinks, or really drinks of any kind with even an ounce of sugar. Almost all of the little extras most people blame for their “snackcidents” are off the table. Nothing is sweet, plus you must constantly test for proper ketosis.
The beginning of Keto is where the so-called magic happens. You can drop 10 pounds of water weight. Fat and meat are more filling than starch, because they take longer to digest. Therefore, most people consume a bit less. In fact, you become a little full and sick of eating fat. You may experience the “keto flu” and feel like garbage for a few weeks, causing more weight loss.
However, if you do not carefully maintain a proper calorie balance, you can get yourself in trouble pretty quickly. Women, especially. Where men have a lot more calories to play around with, we often do not.
We can start putting on weight with just a few hundred extra calories per day, especially if we are not physically active. If you are not exercising vigorously and have no idea what your daily intake requirements are, I’d advise you get those two things in order before you consider this diet.
All of the evidence suggests every diet works with an appropriate caloric deficit. The difference is in nutrition. There is no diet that will cause you to lose weight on a caloric surplus, not even keto. So, by all means, enjoy a buttered coffee, but remember anything “keto” is not a magic pill to a perfect body.
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