The ketogenic diet (aka “keto”)- is a high fat, moderate protein, low carb diet designed to force the body into ketosis.
Ketosis is the process the body undertakes when the body’s preferred fuel source (glucose) is no longer available.
To enter ketosis from diet alone, it is recommended that a person consume no more than 50 net grams of carbohydrates per day while consuming high amounts of quality fats.
From an evolutionary standpoint, ketosis makes perfect sense.
Fat is the storage system for when readily available fuel (carbohydrates) is not available.
When we lived as hunter gatherers, we could spend the warmer months and longer days eating our fill of berries and honey and hunting to stock up for the winter. Then when the cold months came we had both an internal (fat) storage system as well as a supply of dried foods to live off.
The problem is that in modern society, our berries and honey are available 24-7.
They are marketed to us in such a way that most of us eat them in excess and many have become addicted to the “feel good” effect carbs have on the brain. Some argue that the ketogenic diet could be a cure for the obesity epidemic two-thirds of the world struggles with.
But IS it an actual cure?
The ketogenic diet has been studied extensively for the last 90 plus years. It has demonstrated usability and effectiveness in the treatment of epilepsy, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, autism, and some cancers.
However, some studies have demonstrated that women who exist on very low carb diets long term have diminished menstrual cycles or lose their cycles altogether. And if it were the cure for obesity and carb addiction- what do we do to address the underlying causes of unmanaged eating habits?
And what about looking at the big picture?
Being on keto doesn’t negate alcohol consumption, poor sleep habits, lack of exercise, or poor stress management strategies.
This diet does not by default make one “healthy”. Eating your vegetables, minimizing sugar consumption, getting regular exercise, friends and family, getting 8 hours of sleep a night, sunshine, minimizing alcohol- these things make you healthy.
I’ve had the keto conversation enough times now that I realize people are seeking simplicity, and a diet that makes them feel good and perform at their best.
I’ve also had people bring up “this athlete or that athlete” who are crushing life on keto- and my question is always this: what if they were consuming carbs- could they be crushing it even more?
I believe there can be a time and a place for keto in a healthy person’s life.
If you like what keto has to offer- align it with how it might work from a biological standpoint. Take a few months in the winter to cycle off carbs. Do some heavy lifting, minimize cardio, sleep for 10 hours a day, take some ice baths, and hibernate. Even add in some intermittent fasting days. This compliments your biology- it is calming, restorative, and healing.
However, if it’s the middle of summer, you’re training your butt off in Crossfit, and you’re spending your days living life- eat your carbs.
Choose clean sources- cruciferous vegetables, yams and sweet potatoes, rice, fruit- and find a ratio of carbs to your other macros that fuel your workouts, brain, and life while helping you feel good and minimize fat storage.
Don’t choose keto because your friend is doing it, or it’s the new buzz word.
Educate yourself on how keto and ketosis works. Learn more about why our bodies go into ketosis and train your system to become fat adapted while still using carbs as fuel when necessary. Having the appropriate level of carbs in your diet is far more sustainable, realistic, and will set you up for success in your athletic endeavors. It also helps you avoid the guilt trap of trying to stick to a challenging way of eating that does not always align with real life.
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About the author
Shawna Norton is on a mission to help make good nutrition simple and doable. She holds a B.S in Kinesiology, her CF-L1, and is a Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Health Coach. She works as a Nutrition Coach and Weight Management Specialist, Crossfit Coach, and General Manager at Crossfit Humanity in San Diego.
Because of how passionate Shawna is about health, movement, and nutrition, she has returned to school to complete her M.S. in nutrition and human performance. Once completed she will begin the process of becoming a registered dietitian and join the fight with organizations like Crossfit Health to help people live the healthiest lives possible.