It’s almost a universally accepted fact that diets leave you hungry. After all, that rumbling tummy two hours after mealtime (not to mention, strict and time-consuming calorie counting) is the reason most New Year’s resolutions fail by February, right? But Dr. Jacob Wilson and Ryan Lowery, the authors of The Ketogenic Bible, say you don’t need to go hungry or count calories to lose weight.
The ketogenic diet, also referred to as “keto,” is a dieting method gaining popularity from people with diabetes to CrossFitters. “The ketogenic diet induces ketosis, which is a state where your body is running primarily off of fat and ketones,” explains Wilson, instead of sugar from carbs. “That can occur through lowering your carbohydrates and having very high fat intake.” Specifically, the ketogenic diet targets about 80 percent of calories from fat, 15 percent from protein and 5 percent from carbohydrates.
The Upside of Ketosis
While this method may have gained popularity among athletes and other hard-core fitness buffs, they’re far from the only ones who will see benefits from this method. “When you implement a well-formulated proper ketogenic diet, you can see improvement in performance and body composition at the same time,” says Lowery. You’ll look leaner and shed fat, but you won’t feel sapped of energy like when you decrease calories. The bonus is you won’t experience the post-meal crash associated with a higher-carb diet, he says.
Lowery also says that for most ketogenic diet newbies, there won’t be a need to count overall calories either. As long as you’re paying attention to your diet and inducing ketosis through high-fat and low-carb consumption, most dieters automatically hit a calorie intake that allows weight loss. (Over time, it may become necessary to pay attention to both macronutrients and calories.)
So How Does the Ketogenic Diet Work?
Consuming fewer calories means weight loss, but fewer calories also means you’re going to be hungry more often than not. The ketogenic diet avoids this pitfall by making the majority of the calories you consume fat. Fat is very satiating, say Lowery and Wilson, so a very high-fat diet will help you feel fuller for longer.
In addition, keto-enthusiasts say you’ll also have more energy, feel more alert and possibly even experience other neurological benefits. “If my diet is primarily carbohydrates, [my body] is going to select that as it’s primary fuel source. If I eat primarily carbohydrates, my body will use more carbohydrates,” says Wilson. But by dramatically lowering carb intake and inducing ketosis, you can force the body to burn fat for energy instead of carbs. Carbs aren’t necessarily bad or good, but if you consume too many high GI (glycemic index) carbs, you can increase insulin production, which leads to weight gain, and in worse instances, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Even a lean individual, Wilson explains, can carry around about 50,000 calories of energy in the form of fat on their body. By eating less and inducing ketosis, you make it easier for the body to tap into the energy reserves it already has on hand, keeping you energized between meals.
While there is research indicating that a high-fat diet could be very harmful, Wilson and Lowery are quick to point out that this is only the case when you’re consuming both high-fat and high-carb foods. If you haven’t induced ketosis, or forced the body to start metabolizing fat, then a high-fat diet can be harmful. However, research shows that an ultra-high-fat and low-carb diet might be beneficial for weight loss while still preserving muscle and strength.
Making Ketosis Work for You
As a first step to ketosis, Lowery and Wilson recommend cutting out as many high-carb foods from your diet as possible: bread, pasta, rice, grains and sweets. In the meantime, you’ll want to significantly up your fat intake. Think: high-fat animal proteins, like fish, meat and eggs, and plant-based fats, like avocados, oils and some nuts. Once you’ve mastered ketosis, you’ll begin focusing on the variety and quality of fats, but for now, fat is fat.
After you’ve eliminated the most obvious sources of carbs, look to dairy, fruit and condiments, which can sneak in surprising amounts of carbs. Lowery and Wilson say you should aim to get most of your roughly 30 grams of carbs daily from fiber instead of sugar. That fiber can often be found in foods like leafy greens and other veggies — but again, beware of the high-carb count that some veggies, such as sweet potatoes and squash, may have.
Perhaps the most important step is to get into a state of ketosis as quickly as possible. Lowery and Wilson warn of a transition period of a few days commonly known as the “keto flu.” As your body adjusts to its new fat-based energy source, you may feel tired, groggy and grumpy. It’s essential to move through this period as quickly as possible in order to make it to ketosis and see the results that will keep you motivated to continue.
The Downsides of the Ketogenic Diet
Obviously, that transition period can be a big “con” when it comes to embarking on a ketogenic diet, though our experts insist it’s worth it. Also good to know: They say you shouldn’t usually have to go back through that difficult transition period if you slip out of keto for just a few days. (Good news if you’re going home to visit mom and her cooking or vacationing in a carb-heavy part of the world.) You can usually tell you’ve gone out of ketosis when you’re experiencing grogginess or low-energy like you may have before the ketogenic diet.
It’s also important to note that a ketogenic diet can make it easier to become dehydrated and lose electrolytes, so it’s essential to stay hydrated and replace electrolytes like potassium, sodium and magnesium in your diet or with supplements.
Finally, when researching or talking about the ketogenic diet, you may encounter a common myth that ketosis leads to ketoacidosis. “That’s a condition typically only seen in uncontrolled diabetes,” Lowery says. “You’ll never achieve that state on a well-formulated ketogenic diet.” Unless you suffer from one of a handful of medical issues (like impaired functioning of the kidneys, gall bladder, pancreas or liver, for example), a ketogenic diet is perfectly safe, he says. Having a “well-formulated diet,” though, does mean you do need to plan, prepare and think about your diet far more than you may be used to, especially at the beginning. Want to know what keto might look like for you? Here’s a keto-approved recipe to get you started:
For more on the Ketogenic Diet, pick up The Ketogenic Bible: The Authoritative Guide to Ketosis wherever books are sold on May 30.