Although science continues to prove that lifestyle changes over time are the key to lasting results, can the ketogenic diet (KD) induce quick weight loss? KD in clinical settings is traditionally used to treat various diseases, namely pediatric epilepsy, however, it has become increasingly popular as a strategy for weight loss. Not only does the research show that KD as a nutritional approach has a solid physiological and biochemical basis for effective weight loss and management, but it also can help improve several risk factors for cardiovascular disease (1). While this may be true, the physiological mechanisms are a subject for debate among health professionals. While a period of the KD can be beneficial for controlling hunger and improving fat metabolism while reducing weight, it is best to be supervised by a physician to monitor kidney function and lab work.
I decided to try KD myself, so I could speak from personal experience as it is a hot-button topic in my field. For about two months, my calories came from about 10% carbs, 30% protein, and 60% fat in a slight calorie deficit (about 250-500 calories). Almost all of my carbohydrates came from a wide variety of vegetables, but I was mindful of the number of starchy types (i.e., corn, potatoes) I consumed. Protein came from powders, eggs, cheese, yogurt, and fish. Finally, fats came from nut butter, fatty fish, eggs, coconut oil, and avocado.
I did enjoy aspects of the diet; I had a lot more energy, especially during my 7 am workouts, I didn’t crave carbohydrates, I never felt hungry or bloated, and I was able to eat a LOT of nut butter (which I love). What I didn’t like was that I often had to eat foods I didn’t enjoy or want to eat (like a spoonful of coconut oil) to reach my fat goals, and if I ate even a serving of fruit, it would account for my entire carbohydrate allowance. I often felt I was displacing nutrients from fruits and vegetables for nutrient-poor fatty foods to hit my fat goals. KD also took a lot of planning and preparation.
As far as weight loss and body composition, I did not feel that this diet was superior to the 40% carb 30% protein and 30% fat diet that I have been following for years. I did worry that I would lose muscle, but I actually gained approximately 4 pounds of muscle. My body fat percentage went from about 29% to 25%, and my weight stayed stable throughout the diet. My hydration status didn’t change much over that period (aka weight changes were not related to bloating or water weight).
So would I recommend KD? In a recent 12 month study of 609 overweight adults, there was no significant difference in weight loss between a healthy low-fat diet vs. a healthy low-carbohydrate diet (2). The study also showed negligible differences in genetics and blood sugar control in between groups. My advice? Follow whatever diet you can stick to long-term and whatever makes your body feel best! I will be continuing lower carb, but with a better balance between fats and carbs as that is the most manageable for me!
1. Paoli A. Ketogenic diet for obesity: friend or foe? Int J of Env Research and Pub Health. 2014; 11(2):2092-2107. Web.
2. Gardner CD, Trepanowski JF, Del Gobbo LC, et al. Effect of low-Fat vs low-carbohydrate diet on 12-month weight loss in overweight adults and the association with genotype pattern or insulin secretion: the DIETFITS randomized clinical trial. JAMA. 2018;319(7):667–679. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.0245