Image courtesy of Diet Doctor
The term ‘one-size-fits-all’ is certainly not applicable to all areas of life, and diet might just be one of them. Just like there are different clothes to suit different heights and body shapes etc, not all diets get the thumbs up from everyone. Case in point: last month my husband, Jacques, and I tried keto and had two very different experiences. Keep reading for a little background on keto, how we came across it and the results we both got.
What is keto?
I am far from a keto expert (and anyone who knows me knows that I usually shun very prescriptive diets), but here is my basic lay-man’s definition of keto (warning: it’s not super sophisticated):
Keto, AKA the “Ketogenic Diet”, is basically a high-fat (did I hear that right?), low-carb diet where you restrict your food to only 50g or less of carbohydrates a day and aim for over 50% of your food to be made up of fats. (Seems too good to be true until you realise pasta and bread are on the no-no list.)
The idea is that your body, deprived of carbs, is forced to burn your fat, meaning that you’re supposed to lose weight fast because your body enters a state of “medical ketosis”. Full disclosure: the creation of this definition is not the result of hours and hours’ worth of research. My method was more learn-on-the-go and I simply borrowed a bunch of keto recipe books from the library and clicked “follow” on the top 10 results when I typed “keto” into the Instagram explore bar (these had helpful YES and NO food lists for keto, complete with images).
If you want to ask an actual keto expert, they might say something like this:
“The ketogenic diet is a very low-carb, high-fat diet that shares many similarities with the Atkins and low-carb diets.
It involves drastically reducing carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat. This reduction in carbs puts your body into a metabolic state called ketosis.
When this happens, your body becomes incredibly efficient at burning fat for energy. It also turns fat into ketones in the liver, which can supply energy for the brain” (R Mawer, Heathline, 2018).
Heathline also states that keto can:
- Help you lose weight
- Help prevent diabetes, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s diseases and some types of cancer
- Give you overall health and wellness
And these results aren’t necessarily based on gender.
As well as these benefits above, friends of ours (both male and female) have also reported:
- Improvement of skin conditions like acne, psoriasis, rosacea, dermatitis and eczema
- Reduced/no bloating
- Higher muscle tone (even when not exercising as frequently)
- Improvement of previous bowel conditions and overall level of bowel comfort
There is so much information out there and while there are those cautioning that keto hasn’t been around long enough for adequate research and medical trials to be conducted, it’s clear that keto works really well for some people.
Lifestyle changes vs crash diets
I have always believed that crash diets, diet pills, smoothie replacements and anything too drastic is not sustainable and therefore not good for your overall health. The focus shouldn’t be weight loss, rather making realistic and permanent lifestyle changes that positively impact your overall and long term health. I’m not planning to never eat a slice of cake again because I know that’s not realistic, but I’ll do my best to make healthy, balanced decisions.
Just like one workout in a year of junk doesn’t make you healthy, one cheat meal in the midst of an overall healthy lifestyle doesn’t make you unhealthy. I still believe in the general adage of “everything in moderation” and don’t plan to take a drastic approach in the long-term. Another general rule I agree with (even if I don’t always follow it 100%) is minimising sugar and processed foods, which pretty much every diet you research would agree with. Let’s eat real food, people!
Why we decided to do keto
Since getting married, we had both put on a bit of weight (me more than Jacques) and decided we need a bit of a reset – a cleanse, if you will, to get us on the right track of healthy eating again. Having been in retail a long while, I love my wardrobe and was sad to find that most of my clothes were feeling uncomfortable and tight. I bought a few new things in a bigger size but decided I should do something about it as part of maintaining an overall healthy lifestyle – I just didn’t know what.
I also think it’s interesting to note that during this time I was in one of the fittest phases of my life – working out 5 times a week and able to run 10k in under an hour. I’ve always believed that your weight is 80% diet, 20% exercise and this proves that.
We had some friends over for dinner who, when we asked about any dietary requirements, said they were doing keto. I left the cooking to Jacques because he’s had more background in different diets and healthy alternatives. I assumed they wouldn’t eat dessert so when they offered to bring it, I was surprised. What was this diet where you didn’t have to give up meat, dairy, wine or dessert?
Jacques’ overall experience
Jacques was loving keto. He was losing weight, enjoying the rich high-fat foods (if you’ve met a few Afrikaans men, you’ll know how they feel about meat), and felt like CrossFit was getting easier by the day.
Here it is in his own words:
“On keto I found gymnastics and weightlifting movements were a little easier as I was less bloated which helped with flexibility and overall training. I had a solid understanding of what my body responds to but a restrictive diet brought some clarity to nutritional concepts I had once applied to my training.’’ – Jacques
On the other hand, I was not having such a good time. There were whole aisles that I skipped at the supermarket because they were full of carbs (pretty much anything unhealthy is carb-heavy) but along with the tight restrictions, I was not enjoying how rich this high-fat diet was and a lot of the key foods on the keto approved list that I had previously loved were starting to repulse me (i.e. egg, avocado, bacon).
I thought to myself, “Well, at least it’s helping me reach my goals, right?” Wrong. I stepped on the scales after three weeks of keto and I had put on weight.
That was when I started to notice some of the other “symptoms”, if you will, that I was experiencing and started to connect the dots over a chat with a female trainer at the gym. I left the gym and made a list. These may not all be related to keto but I had noticed some distinct changes in the last month:
- Not enjoying food (sometimes skipping meals because of a lack of options or simply not finding anything appetising)
- Gaining weight
- Menstrual dysfunction
- Skin breakouts (I’ve had skin trouble in the past but this got noticeably worse)
- Struggling with workouts/exercise
- Not feeling good about myself
- Distracted and finding it hard to concentrate (usually I can remain very focussed)
- Increased irritability and mood swings (difficulty controlling emotions)
Not what you want when you’re trying to be healthy and feel better.
Some facts and figures
Once I had made this list I started researching keto in relation to different genders and came across a few interesting articles.
Here is a much quoted study from the University of Iowa when looking at the different effects of keto on males and females:
“Dr. Abel and research assistant Jesse Cochran fed male and female mice either a ketogenic diet or a standard diet. The keto diet comprised 75 percent fat, 3 percent carbohydrates, and 8 percent protein by mass, while the control diet consisted of 7 percent fat, 47 percent carbohydrates, and 19 percent protein.
After 15 weeks, the researchers found that the male mice on the keto diet maintained blood glucose control and lost body weight. The female mice, however, gained weight.
These female mice also had poorer blood sugar control compared with the female mice that ate a standard diet. According to the authors, “[they] developed impaired glucose tolerance.” (I Godfrey, Medical News Today 2019).”
Apparently a lot of other women experienced similar things to me and higher levels of oestrogen can make it more difficult to lose weight on a high-fat diet.
- One of the things about keto is that there isn’t supposed to be any cheat days. You have to do it 24/7. We decided we didn’t want to be rude when people invited us over and cooked for us, so we weren’t on it 100% for that reason, which I admit may be one of the reasons I didn’t experience those results (but I’m not willing to change that value I hold just to lose weight).
- Keto is not necessarily good for every man and bad for every woman. People need to try different things and see what works for them (as well as consulting a doctor when necessary).
- I understand anyone who would read this and think that I didn’t try keto for long enough to really give it a fair go. Again, I’m not an expert, but when I was feeling so terrible on keto, I was eager to switch to something that would actually work for me and make me feel better (more on what I tried next in a later post).
In summing up…
In conclusion, I found that keto didn’t work for me and I won’t be continuing it, but have seen from both statistical and anecdotal proof that it can work for both some men and some women (although it seems to me more commonly for men). If you’re considering the keto diet, I hope this was helpful for you. As always, I recommend doing your own research to decide what works for you, your body and your lifestyle.
Image: Shevtzoff, E 2018, ‘Keto Salami and Brie Cheese Plate’ Diet Doctor, https://www.dietdoctor.com/recipes/keto-salami-brie-cheese-plate, accessed 6 June 2019.