Have we been using the ketogenic (keto) diet all wrong?
Instead of using keto as a lifelong diet, would we be better off using it as a tool, as a stressor we can use from time to time to help us achieve our ultimate goal?
Now before you start writing me a nasty email or comment, let me say a few things about the keto diet.
If you enjoy eating a ketogenic diet and you enjoy your food, look fine, perform fine, and are healthier because of the diet, keep doing what you are doing, don’t change a thing.
Additionally if you are eating a keto diet to treat a medical condition, of course you should continue to eat that diet unless your practitioner says otherwise.
What if everything is not perfect?
Should you feel guilty, or feel like something is wrong with you?
If you can’t say you enjoy 100% of your life eating a keto diet, DON’T DO IT!
Does that mean keto is junk and useless then?
Nope, in fact, I think quite the opposite.
I think that a lot of people can benefit from eating a keto diet….for a period of time, not for a lifetime.
This was confirmed after listening to a podcast with Mark Sisson where he said he uses keto as a tool.
Yeah that’s right, the guy who wrote a book about keto, called the Keto Reset, does not advocate people be keto all the time.
When you read the Keto Reset and carefully look at the ultimate goal of that book, you would find that the goal is for you to develop metabolic flexibility.
As a side note I do not agree with the “low-to-moderate protein” part of the above quote, but that is another topic altogether.
In other words the whole goal of the Keto Reset is to enable you to consume carbohydrates and not suffer any negative consequences of doing so (aka metabolic flexibility), it’s not to never eat another carbohydrate again in your life.
Most people who are adopting a keto diet have the goal of losing fat and are coming from a high carb western diet full of processed foods and low in whole food intake.
When they adopt a keto diet they eliminate all those processed foods and replace them with low carb whole foods, which means they eat protein and vegetables. This is the magic of the keto diet for most people.
The swap of high-carb processed food for low-carb whole foods is a win in many ways.
- It removes a bunch of calories from their diet, and almost always results in a caloric deficit. Once you are in a caloric deficit you will lose fat.
- It removes hyperpalatable foods so they are less likely to overeat.
- It removes many foods that might cause blood sugar crashes giving them more energy and again keeps them from reaching for sugary snacks for instant energy when the crash hits.
- They are likely improving vitamin and mineral intake which results in more energy and better mental clarity.
- If they have blood sugar or blood pressure problems it helps correct them.
But in almost all circumstances people eventually come to the realization that they are not completely happy eating this way.
- They miss eating certain fruits and vegetables. Should anyone be afraid of eating a carrot, beet, strawberry, banana? NO!
- They experience a lot of anxiety around food. Will eating a baked potato cause them to gain a whole bunch of weight?
- They feel they can’t enjoy certain social situations and some avoid social situations altogether. Birthday parties anyone?
- While certain aspects of their health improve some aspects, like sleep or digestion, may get worse.
- Their performance in the gym or their training may be negatively impacted.
Yet they keep on going because they think keto “is the way”.
This is where Mark’s analogy in the above video comes in, for most people, they are probably better off viewing keto as a tool rather than a long term diet.
Let’s take a look at a few examples.
You have heard keto is great for weight loss, how can you use keto as a tool to accomplish this goal?
One of the biggest problems with achieving weight loss is being hungry and staying full while eating less calories than you need. Keto makes this easy to do in most cases because of the combination of adequate protein (not low protein), higher fat, and the removal of hyperpalatable foods make you feel full longer and eliminates the option of consuming foods that hijack your appetite.
Using keto as a tool to more easily achieve and maintain a caloric deficit is a great plan in my opinion. After you achieve your desired weight loss, there is no reason you can’t return to eating whole food carbohydrates. Notice I said whole food carbohydrates, you do not want to go back to eating hyperpalatable processed carbohydrates because you will most likely put the weight back on, not because of the high carbohydrate content, but instead because of the increased caloric intake that comes with those foods and the potential blood sugar wins.
You can also use keto as a tool to improve your ability to tolerate carbohydrates.
That’s right, eliminating carbohydrates can help you eat your birthday cake and not feel like garbage! How?
When you remove a vast majority of carbohydrates from your diet you will force your body to rely more on fat for fuel. This eliminates your body’s dependency on carbohydrates and takes you off that carbohydrate rollercoaster you are on throughout the day meaning you will have more stable energy and mood. After a period of time, your body will once again learn how to efficiently burn fat and can more easily switch back and forth between burning both fat and carbohydrates. Now the next time you have a piece of cake your body burns that off and once it’s done, it switches right back to burning fat and you don’t end up with a sugar crash and wanting to eat the whole cake!
What about athletics, how can keto be used as a tool to improve performance?
Athletes and avid exercisers are notorious for consuming a large amount of carbohydrates. In most cases, they are likely consuming more than they need. So many people consume carbohydrates before, during and after their workout even if that workout is a 30 minute easy run. In all likelihood most people can go without any additional carbohydrate supplementation and be just fine. In fact, they could probably improve their performance in the gym and their training if they spent a period of time eating a keto diet. By exercising in a low carbohydrate state they teach their body to use fat as a fuel to power their muscles. This can be quite uncomfortable at first, but over time their body adapts to the stress, and they are able to exercise at a higher intensity with less of a need for carbohydrates.
What about when it comes to mental performance, can keto be used as a tool in this situation?
Have a really hard cognitively demanding day ahead of you and know that when you are in ketosis you perform better mentally?
Great! Try this the next time you need to be on your “A” game:
Doing a really hard workout the day before you have a cognitively demanding task. This will deplete your stored carbohydrates. Post workout minimize your carbohydrate intake. The next day you should wake up in ketosis. Now have a higher fat, high protein breakfast and get started on your cognitively demanding task, your brain should be on fire! After you finish your work day and you finish your cognitively demanding tasks, eat some carbohydrates and go back to a more balanced eating pattern. Again, in this case you are using keto as a tool to allow you to perform better.
Ancestrally our ancestors certainly spent time in ketosis, far more time than the average western person does. However they did not purposely enter ketosis (nor did they know what ketosis was), they were forced into this state due to not having any carbohydrates available. As soon as they did have access to carbohydrates they ate them and ate them with reckless abandonment. By using keto as a tool and occasionally entering a state of ketosis with a purpose and a defined end point we more accurately replicate a ketogenic state ancestrally. I think that results in better enjoyment of food, life, health, and performance both physically and mentally. If you want more actionable information on how to achieve your goals use the form below to sign up for my newsletter. Each week I send out a few emails with actionable information you can easily apply to get you to your goals while still enjoying life and performing optimally.