Are you like me? Do you read and do research when you want to know what’s up with this or that health trend? I read health, exercise and food articles all the time—and what I’m seeing these days is a flood of keto.
You’ve heard about keto, right? There’s a ton of information out there, a lot of it with solid and reliable citations behind it, and plenty of crap right beside it.
I’ve been curious, and recently set out to learn more, so I talked with a couple of people I know who have made this dietary change, and like the way they feel. I also recommend a documentary called “The Magic Pill,” which you can find on Netflix.
A ketogenic diet is one designed to induce a state of ketosis in the body (not to be confused with ketoacidosis, a serious and potentially life-threatening condition). When our bodies are in ketosis, we are burning ketones from fat instead of sugar for fuel.
So the basic idea is that fat becomes the major fuel for the body rather than carbohydrates, and the keto diet turns the “food pyramid” on its head, with fats and meats forming the largest part of the diet, followed by low-carb vegetables, then fruits, with grains forming the smallest part of the diet.
My friend Aimee Elliott said she started to follow these dietary guidelines to ease chronic pain and fatigue due to fibromyalgia. She feels so much better now that it’s pretty easy for her to drastically restrict carbohydrates, even though this bean farmer now finds pinto beans out of her diet, well, beyond a taste here and there.
With symptoms of fibromyalgia including depression and anxiety, which make every part of getting healthier just that much harder, the change has been totally worth it for Aimee. In addition to changes to her diet, she started walking her dog and heading to a Silver Sneakers exercise class a couple of times a week.
It’s not about weight for Aimee, although the promise of quick weight loss with the keto diet seems to be a huge factor in its popularity online. She said she hasn’t weighed herself since she started following the regimen a few months ago “because my scale doesn’t work,” but has lost inches and dropped a few dress sizes.
When both of her kids grown and moved out, it was a turning point in her life with her husband, “to be healthy enough to enjoy our time together.” Aimee said her husband said her physical abilities are like they were five years ago.
After the success of my week without caffeine, this past week I reclaimed my beloved coffee, but decided to forgo sugar, cigarettes and bingey screen time for a week. Bingey screen watching isn’t directly related to health, except so far as it steals time, and it’s complicated because I use the same electronic devices for work, and I work from home a lot. I was actually shocked to discover that it was far easier for me to give up sugar and nicotine for a week than screens.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about my diet and whether I want to make changes in line with the keto diet. My current diet is fairly close, as I already try to limit refined sugars. The ketogenic diet is basically a much stricter version of the way I already eat.
For example, Aimee says she doesn’t eat pinto beans, or any grains, or even sweet vegetables like carrots.
My approach is to stick to whole foods, and with a vegetarian bent, so legumes and grains like quinoa are definitely still on my menu. According to the research I did over the weekend, there are different levels of ketosis, so it’s not an all-or-nothing type deal.
There are a few side effects including bad breath, and digestive issues like constipation or diarrhea during the transition period where the body adjusts to the change.
I dislike fads, and there is no doubt in my mind that the keto diet is the biggest fad out there at the moment, eclipsing the paleo diet and the Atkins diet before it, both of which share a high-protein, low-carb focus, and both of which have been wildly popular. But it also seems clear that the restrictions of the ketogenic diet can really help with health issues like Aimee’s.
“I feel enough better that it’s worth doing it,” she answered when I asked her if she found it hard to restrict her diet so severely. “Before when dieting, there was not enough reward for me. Now I’m not feeling like I’m fighting my body every hour of the day. … I do feel like I have gained a lot of my life back.”