The Ketogenic Diet: A personal experience
One of the latest crazes to hit the world of nutrition and weight loss is the ketogenic diet. This diet, as usual, has been popularised by celebrities and influencers.
The diet is simple: cut out carbs to an extremely low portion of your meals, and increase proteins and have as much fat as you want, and you will lose weight at an incredible rate.
There are also several health benefits to be achieved once your body is in ketosis – where the body switches from burning sugar to burning fat as fuel.
As someone who struggles with a tight schedule to eat properly and exercise, I decided to give it a go.
And here’s my take on the keto diet.
I lost about 10 pounds in six weeks, which is not bad for my frame.
ROUGH EARLY DAYS
The first three or so days were rough, as my body made the switch from burning carbs to burning fat. I experienced low energy and weakness, as the stores of carbohydrates in my liver and muscles were used up.
But then I entered ketosis, and my energy levels normalised and my concentration and focus improved.
Your body normally draws on digested, then stored sugar for energy. Once this is insufficient to meet its energy demands, it begins to burn stored fat. The breakdown of stored fat leads to energy-rich molecules called ketone bodies and the process by which they are formed, ketogenesis. It is these ketone bodies that my carbohydrate-deprived body would now rely on for sustenance.
My liver was producing ketone bodies from fat as an alternative energy source to glucose. My brain decreased its reliance on glucose to burning ketone bodies. So whenever my blood sugar would fall, I would not get hunger headaches or have difficulty concentrating.
As I was eating less carbohydrates and mostly fats and protein, I felt full for longer periods of time. There was no rush of Insulin into my bloodstream to drop the high levels of glucose after a high-carbohydrate meal, and in so doing, dropping the levels too low, leading to hunger and low energy. Although the proponents of the keto diet say that you do not restrict calories, I found myself eating less anyway.
LOADS OF FAT
In order to keep up with the high-fat diet, keto practitioners add butter and oil to a lot of meals. Even coffee. You can eat loads of bacon, fried food and all the eggs and fatty steaks that you want. The fat is supposed to push you and keep you in a state of ketosis.
Cheating on the diet and having more than 25-50g of carbohydrates per day takes you out of ketosis and you have to start from scratch. So no bread, rice, pasta, very few types of fruits and in small portions. Even some vegetables like onions are to be limited because of the carbohydrate content. Juices and sweetened drinks are clearly out.
The diet is a dream for persons who love meat. But you lose what you usually eat your fat and protein foods with – carbs. This is replaced by vegetables, keto-friendly breads, biscuits and pancakes.
The diet was especially difficult in Jamaica, as our regular ‘box lunches’ are carb heavy. Lots of rice, ‘food’ and sauces. Fried chicken is rolled in flour, gravy is poured on everything, and the cookshop staff looks at you funny when you ask for only vegetables. Many times when one says no carbs, just salad, you end up with a box full of pasta.
My dear helper, Coleen, took it upon herself to go to the shop to buy flour when I refused to buy any because “soup cyaa cook without dumpling”.
I had to be constantly defending my diet because Jamaicans were convinced that “that alone cyaa hol’ a big man like yu”. And then there was Easter with bun and cheese, quickly followed by mango season. I missed bananas and every now and again I would feel for some carbs, kicking me out of ketosis if I overdid it.
But discipline aside, the main reason I was able to last a while on the keto diet was because I developed carb intolerance, getting bloating and severe diarrhoea whenever I ate carbs. This a side effect of keto experienced by some persons when they reintroduce carbs into their diet, due to changes in the gut and its bacteria during the low carb period.
Eventually the requirements were too much and I reintroduced carbs but stuck to the low carb diet.
Despite the health benefits of the keto diet on cholesterol levels and seizures, I figured I could survive eating almost like a regular person.
The supposed metabolic advantage of the keto diet over a low-calorie diet has never been proven, despite persons continuing to claim that when you are in ketosis you are going to burn more fat. The truth is, calories do matter. Keto doesn’t make you burn fat more than anybody else eating the same calories. Remember that, every time someone tells you to use more butter and eat more fat calories in order to lose more weight while on the diet.
The ketogenic diet works because you consume fewer calories as you are full for longer periods. The initial weight loss is largely water and stored carbohydrates in the muscles and liver. You will lose fat but it will still be dependent on you eating fewer calories than you need to go through your daily activities.
Overall, the keto diet is recommended, as it has sound scientific principles, but be careful of the self-proclaimed gurus regurgitating what other uninformed gurus are spouting without supporting data.
Dr Alfred Dawes is a general, laparoscopic and weight-loss surgeon; Fellow of the American College of Surgeons; senior medical officer of the Savanna-la-Mar Public General Hospital; former president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org