Tried and tested by Halle Berry, Vanessa Hudgens and other celebrities, the keto diet is a low-carbohydrate, high-fat eating plan that leaves little room for errors and has a well-known reputation for rapid fat loss. For 26-year-old Maurishire Akabidavis, that diet should have been a great way for her to finally take control of her eating habits. However, a year later, she is among many former practitioners that expressed reservations for this highly restrictive eating plan.
Registered dietitian Scott Keatley told Women’s Health that a typical ketogenic diet focuses on cutting carbohydrates and upping fat intake to force your body to use the latter as a form of energy. He explained that within the first week, your body will be operating on such little sugar that it has to start “gobbling up” fat for energy instead.
For many, a keto diet helps shed unwanted weight within a short amount of time, which is a good thing. However, as in many other dietary plans, the diet has some side effects that might make you think twice before planning on practicing it:
A one-time big fan of keto, Jenna Jameson recently opened up about the challenges of the diet. She started doing keto in April 2018, reportedly losing 80 pounds. However, the model wrote in an Instagram post that she decided to take a break from keto and live her “best carby life,” admitting to her followers that she had gained 20 pounds. “The weight came back fast and furious. I know a lot of people are quitting keto because it’s hard to maintain, and after a year and a half I concur. Not sure if I’m going to go back full force or just calorie count.”
Jenna has since restarted the diet, but she has also been candid about the fact that it’s been harder to stick the second time around. According to registered dietitian Juliana Shalek of The Nutrition Suite, this kind of yo-yo dieting is common among those following super restrictive eating plans, and when you do make a mistake, you will likely regain weight quickly.
“When we restrict certain carbs such as bread and pasta and eventually start adding them back in again, we tend to overeat these foods,” Shalek told Women’s Health. “I’ll have people that lost 12 to 15 pounds initially and then when they started incorporating those carbs, they gained that back plus some.”
Seattle, Washington-based blogger Carolynn Tulluck, who started keto in January 2017, found the low-carb diet to be completely draining. Her goal was to stick to a 20 gram/day carb intake, hoping to lose the 25 pounds she recently gained.
In the first month of the diet alone, Carolynn lost 15 pounds. However by April, she found that she hit a plateau and was experiencing massive fatigue and seriously low energy during her workouts. She could not keep up with her usual cardio exercises or weightlifting and decided to pause for a while.
Carolynn restarted her diet a year later after regaining the weight, only to find herself in desperate need of a carb fix one day and downed a honey stick just to boost her energy levels. That’s when she realized that keto was not sustainable.
Keatley said that low energy is a common side effect of the diet, with many of his clients complaining of feeling tired and sluggish. “You’re not burning that sugar quickly any more. Instead, you have to wait for that fat to be broken down to conserve energy,” Keatley explained.
Though most adjust to the low energy levels, Carolynn could not. She now considers herself a flexitarian, eating red meat on occasion but focusing on plant-based and vegetarian meals as much as possible. “I feel so much better, even just in the stress of not having to count carbs so religiously,” Carolynn said. “I’m spending less time focusing on the macro breakdown and just trying to eat as healthy as possible.”
Shalek found that when people cut out carbs, they overeat them later. For people with a history of binge eating, that can be a major problem. That is why weight loss surgeon Matthew Weiner of Detroit-based A Pound of Cure encourages focusing on cutting out processed food and eating whole foods rather than eliminating entire food groups from a diet, something the keto diet requires. This helps in weight loss without having to practice restrictive eating.
Amy Rothberg of the University of Michigan found that most of her patients who complain about the keto diet have experienced the keto flu, a combination of unpleasant symptoms that make them feel hot. She said they all “feel terrible, […] like they have the flu—headaches, nausea, constipation.” In addition, you may also experience vitamin deficiencies. Keatley said that without grains, you are “greatly” reducing your intake of B vitamins.
However, these symptoms usually occur during the first week of the diet, when your body is getting used to the shift in energy sources and the reduced carbs. As you get used to restrictive eating, you tend to gradually become weaker. If you are willing to lose weight at a slower (but more sustainable) pace, Keatley recommends increasing carb intake to at least 45 to 60 grams to get over the keto flu and other body-shocking side effects.
The lower your carbs, the lower your fiber levels. Keatley said that fiber is what helps keep your digestive tract going, without which you can experience uncomfortable constipation.
Described by Weiner as “basically a Pepto-Bismol commercial,” incorporating carbs back into your diet after consistently having been on keto can cause you to experience gas, bloating and diarrhea.
Shalek recommends ensuring that your diet is rich in carbohydrates high in fiber to avoid gastrointestinal issues.