Ask anyone what the buzziest diet of 2018 is, and their answer would almost undoubtedly be the ketogenic diet. Keto success stories are peppered throughout Instagram and have infiltrated pop culture. (After following the diet himself and losing a considerable amount of weight, Vinny from Jersey Shore made his Instagram handle @ketoguido.) But even though it works temporarily in terms of weight loss, it isn't sustainable in the long term and, because it's such a high-fat diet, is disadvantageous to your overall health. In fact, U.S. News ranked it the worst diet (tied with the Dukan Diet) of 2018.
First, let's understand how this low-carb, moderate-protein, and high-fat diet works.
"Ketogenic diets cause our bodies to burn stored fat as fuel by affecting two hormones: insulin and glucagon," explains nutritionist Kelly LeVeque. "Restricting carbohydrates from the diet decreases insulin and increases glucagon. As a result, our bodies quickly move from storage mode to burn mode. We release triglycerides from fat cells and burn FFA, producing ketones as brain fuel. In addition to insulin and glucagon, a number of other hormones are also affected, all of which help to shift fuel use away from carbohydrates and toward fat."
Eat fat to burn fat? Sounds like a good deal. But eating such a scarce amount of carbs is actually depleting your body of the fuel it needs. Remember: Carbs aren't always the enemy.
"When you are on the keto diet, you drastically cut your carbs to only 20 per day," says nutritionist Lisa Drayer. "That's less than one apple! The keto diet is just not sustainable over the long term. It doesn't teach you how to acquire healthy eating habits. It's good for a quick fix, but most people I know can hardly give up pasta and bread, let alone beans and fruit."
Not far behind keto and Dukan was popular diet Whole30, another highly restrictive diet that's high in meat and sodium intake.
"While parts of the Whole30 diet are okay and it can definitely lead to weight loss if you follow it properly, I’m not a fan of anything that eliminates food groups," says Benjamin Suyematsu, V Shred lead trainer; expert in nutrition and kinesiology; and an American College of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer. "This is especially true if you don’t plan to eliminate foods for the rest of your life. Once the 30 days are over, you have no rules to follow, and if you turn back to what you were previously doing, the weight will come right back."
So What's the Answer?
Really, the key is to avoid a "diet" altogether and consider a lifestyle change instead.
"As a certified nutritional coach who supports hundreds of people with fitness, diet, and nutrition, I do not believe in cutting anything out of your diet or making it restrictive," says Ali Wells, a registered nurse and V Shred lead trainer, expert advisor, and certified nutrition coach. "I have seen too many times in my years of practice where food restrictions only cause people to feel like they can't have something, and it makes the urges and cravings stronger for that food." Instead, Wells recommends eating the right portion sizes and mindfully eating (wherein you listen to your body and figure out its needs). She also encourages treating foods as nourishment by focusing on clean, fresh-from-the-earth eating, but still allowing for some "bad" foods for balance.
Suyematsu agrees. "My best advice is to follow an 80/20 rule: 80% of the time, your food is coming from whole-food sources, protein intake is adequate, carbs are not too heavy, and you have a good balance of healthy fats mixed into your diet. The other 20% of the time can include indulgence meals or more lenient types of meals," he says.
What Will a Typical Day of Eating Look Like Using These Methods?
Breakfast: 2 hard-boiled eggs, 1 cup spinach with chopped strawberries
Morning snack: Protein shake made of 1 scoop whey protein and 8 ounces skim or almond milk
Lunch: Chicken Salad with 6 ounces chicken breast, 6 to 10 spears asparagus, romaine lettuce, and red wine vinaigrette
Snack: 1 cup Greek yogurt, mixed berries for flavor, and 1 ounce nuts
Dinner: 6 ounces lean meat, 1 to 2 cups vegetables, 1/2 cup brown rice or quinoa
Breakfast: Whole eggs, avocado (or nuts), and toast (or oatmeal)
Snack: Apple and almond butter
Lunch: Leafy greens, chicken (or another lean protein), shredded cheese, salad dressing, vegetables
Snack: Beef jerky, fruit, and mixed nuts
Dinner: Salmon (or lean protein), broccoli (or another vegetable), avocado (or use olive oil to cook the salmon or broccoli)
What Are Some Other Lifestyle Changes You Should Make?
"Factors like sleep, stress, adequate water intake, consistent intentional movement, and mindfulness or meditation have all been shown to increase the positive response your body has in burning fat," says Jenn Hyde, V Shred lead trainer, exercise physiologist, and certified sports nutritionist. In other words, she wants to see a full-body approach to your diet rather than solely focusing on your food intake.
Second, take baby steps. According to Gerald Mayes, V Shred lead trainer, NSCA-certified personal trainer, and ACE-certified health coach, people who make small changes, like committing to walking 10,000 steps per day, are more likely to keep up with a healthier lifestyle as opposed to trying to make several major changes at once. "Over time, figure a solid 90 days, you will have revamped your entire life," he says. "Where people go wrong is they try to change everything all at once and become overwhelmed."
Next, ask yourself if you're truly hungry or if you're eating because you're bored or filling an emotional void. "Practicing eating until you're no longer hungry, but not eating until you're full, takes some time to get used to," says Wells. "Eating in this manner is incredibly useful in sustaining a healthy weight in the long term."
Also, don't drink your calories. "We often fail to realize how many calories are in alcohol, soda, and even fruit juices," says Suyematsu. "Stick to water as the primary liquid, and you can flavor it naturally with fruits, mint, or other natural flavor enhancers."
What If Your Main Goal Is to Lose Weight?
Measuring your calorie intake is key when trying to shed excess pounds. Says Hyde, "This is where customization to each individuals approach is imperative. Restrict too much and your body will respond by holding onto calories and preserving your fat mass. Overestimate calorie need, and no change will occur, or worse, you will gain undesired weight." Finding the right daily calorie intake with the help of a health professional on top of the previous lifestyle changes will help you reach a healthy goal weight.
Before following a new meal plan or lifestyle change, please speak with a doctor or nutritionist to ensure it's safe for you.