The ketogenic or “keto” diet is the latest low-carb fad sweeping through celebrities and social media these days. I know I’ve already been cornered by several well-meaning bacon-wielding friends who swear that keto helped clear up their headaches, arthritis, bunions, and that pesky zit that wouldn’t go away—but I digress.
What exactly is the keto diet, and is it really the cure for what ails you? Will you lose pounds while chowing down on bacon and butter?
Let’s find out what it really does to your body.
It Makes You Think You’re Starving
The goal of the keto diet is to get your body in a state of ketosis, where your body is basically forced to stop using readily available glucose or carbohydrates for fuel, and forced to burn fat instead. By cutting off the body’s carbohydrate (aka glucose) supply, but providing energy and nutrients in the form of fat, plus a little protein, we get the same effects as straight-up starvation. That’s ketosis.
You’ll Lose Weight, Sort Of
While it’s true many people often see a significant weight loss when they start on a keto diet, many doctors and nutritionists argue that you’re not really losing much body fat.
Most of the lost weight is water weight, according to Lisa Cimperman, R.D.N., a clinical dietitian at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“Once your body enters ketosis, you also begin to lose muscle, become extremely fatigued, and eventually enter starvation mode. Then it actually becomes even harder to lose weight,” Cimperman said in an interview.
Watch Those Muscles
As we mentioned before, staying in a state of ketosis for too long can begin to damage your muscles. That’s why the general population should only consider a keto diet in extreme cases, according to Francine Blinten, R.D., a certified clinical nutritionist and public health consultant.
“It can do more harm than good,” she explains. “It can damage the heart, which is also a muscle.”
As restricted as it is, it’s unlikely that most people would be able to follow a strict keto diet for long periods of time.
“We fall prey to wacko diets, but the truth is there’s no quick fix,” Blinten said. “Cutting refined carbs and replacing them with fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean protein, cutting processed foods, and avoiding too many additives will keep you healthy in the long term.”