Curious about the ketogenic diet? One of our writers tested out the diet for two weeks and has all the details.
What if I told you there was a way to eat more bacon, more cheese, and more avocado and still lose weight and potentially improve your skin? When I first heard of the ketogenic diet I also thought it was too good to be true. In fact I was extremely skeptical. It just didn’t make sense—eat more fat to lose weight?
So I set out to find the answer, to see whether or not this diet was as good as it sounded. For two weeks I went all in and this is what I learned:
The break down of ketosis and the keto diet
Essentially, the ketogenic diet is based on the process of putting your body into something called ketosis. Ketosis is when your body is producing ketones for energy. J. Renae Norton, a clinical psychologist and eating disorder specialist, explains, “Ketosis is a natural process the body initiates when there aren’t enough carbs, so it uses fat for energy instead. In this state ketones are produced from the breakdown of fats in the liver.” The diet was originally developed back in the 1940s to reduce seizures in epileptic patients. Over time people began to adapt it for weight loss and other health-related lifestyle changes (South Beach Diet and Atkins, to name a few.)
So how is Keto different from all of the other low-carb diets out there? “Paleo or Whole30 recommends avoiding grains and legumes (as well as dairy) so they’re another version of a low carbohydrate diet but they allow other foods that contain carbs, like fruit and starchy vegetables,” says Brooke Alpert, author of The Sugar Detox. “So these diets will not put your body into ketosis.”
The reason for cutting down on carbs is the way our body processes them. “When you eat something high in carbs, your body will produce glucose and insulin because glucose is the easiest molecule for your body to use as energy,” explains Norton. “If you have glucose, you also have to have insulin to ferry it around. The problem is that when glucose is being used as the primary energy source, the fats we eat are not needed for energy and we will store them as body fat.”
By eating a variation of 70% fats, 25% protein, and 5% carbs you limit the carbohydrates available, and make fat the go-to energy source. What I personally like about the keto diet is although it may seem restrictive, it focuses on the content of your calories rather than restricting your calories intensely like some other diets. It’s also only meant to be used as a temporary diet plan in order to get your body fat down and insulin balanced. Anywhere from two to four weeks, when needed, is about all you should do.
The picture above shows me on the left before I started the keto diet and the picture on the right is me two weeks into the diet. The biggest change I saw in my skin was with the area under my eyes. Even though I swear by the Skinfood Royal Honey Eye Cream morning and night, I truly felt like the keto diet made me look less tired and worn out.
I also have fairly dry/combination skin, and while only slightly noticeable, I do think consuming such a high level of fats helped with my dry patches. The most important thing is that my skin felt smoother and had more consistent days than it normally does, especially considering the ever-changing fall weather.
Overall, I felt pretty good, and did not having such drastic dips in energy. Anyone who has been there with the daily 3pm espresso routine knows what I’m talking about. On the downside, I live in a 5 floor walkup and definitely felt a bit light headed on the first couple of days going up and down stairs, which is not typical for me. To compensate I made sure to drink more water and ensure that I was dividing my calorie count not just toward meals but also among snacks, such as a half avocado or a handful of nuts.
The diet can help manage breakouts
When your body enters ketosis, your body is using slow-burning fats rather than fast-burning sugars. This means your insulin levels are more consistent. In addition, removing sugars—and ineffective carbs that turn into sugars—will on its own help with managing skin concerns such as acne and oil production. This of course is not solely thanks to keto diet, but the diet does keep you away from these foods. Another theory behind the keto diet is the increased intake of healthy fats can have beneficial implications for your hair, skin, and nails.
“Making sure that you are eating the healthiest fats is key,” says Norton. “Coconut oil is probably one of the best foods on the planet. It doesn’t really work that great putting it on your skin, contrary to what most people believe, but it’s great for your skin and hair if you are eating it. Avocado is another excellent fat. Avoid foods fried in hydrogenated oil and all soy products. Soy is an endocrine disruptor, which can definitely cause a breakout.”
While there are many studies on the effect of ketogenic diet on epilepsy, there are some starting to be done on its effect on weight loss and skin. “The science behind ketogenic diets is strong when it comes to specific disorders, especially epilepsy,” says Alpert. “Newer studies have shown it to also be effective for weight loss and even some trials showing positive effects on cholesterol.” Norton adds, “There is also research to back up the positive impact of a ketogenic diet on skin, especially when it comes to clearing up acne.”
The actual diet:
So what can you eat on Keto? Keto can be an investigation in the beginning, especially when trying to figure out what is OK to eat on it. Here’s a general guideline:
- A lot: Beef, fish, leafy greens, avocados, coconut oil, hazelnuts, pecans, mushrooms
- Some: Tomatoes, broccoli, zucchini, bacon, cauliflower, cheeses.
- None: Rice, bread, sugar, starchy vegetables, alcohol, heavily processed foods.
As someone who has encountered many diet fads, and nutrition philosophies, I think the food you eat on the keto diet is hands down my favorite. Sometime “dieting” can put you in a deprivation mentality, with calorie counting and missing your favorite foods. On the ketosis diet, there is a lot less of that. Bacon, egg, avocado, and cheese are all part of the green light list. For example, this was a typical day’s meal plan:
- Breakfast: 2 eggs, 1tsp coconut oil, salt/pepper, 1tbsp ricotta, 1pc parma ham.
- Lunch: 1 cup zucchini noodles, 1tbsp ricotta, ¼ cup shrimp, squirt of lemon, 1tbsp pancetta, 1tsp coconut oil, red chili flakes.
- Snack: ½ avocado with olive oil and sea salt
- Dinner: Keto cheesy burger, ¼ cup cauliflower mac and cheese, mashed ½ avocado.
“You have to watch the protein almost as much as you watch the carbs,” says Norton. “I think that people can also be confused about the fats. This is not a free pass to eat whatever fats you want. The good fats are unrefined coconut oil, real olive oil, ghee, and of course 100% grass-fed animal fats.”
The first couple of days I would recommend using an app, such as My Fitness Pal, or creating a note sheet where you can input the composition of each food until you get the hang of things. It helps to learn what foods are more efficient sources of fat and protein and which ones have a surprising amount of carbs! For example whole milk still has approximately 8g of carbs per cup while heavy cream has none.
You can still go to brunch! But you really can’t cheat.
Like every person trying to stick to a diet, I had a moment of weakness and ate a brownie at my friend’s birthday. It seemed harmless, and man, I really wanted one. But unfortunately, on the keto diet, a cheat day is more than just a day—it throws your whole body out of the ketosis process and you have to revamp. “It is true that this is a diet in which you really cannot cheat as the consequences are worse,” says Norton. “When you are eating this much fat, and you cheat with some carbs, you are going to pack the pounds right back on a lot faster than if you cheated on a low calorie or low fat diet.” The same goes for weaning yourself off the diet. Norton recommends lowering fat first, then introducing fruits and other non-keto foods.
The good news is that Keto is one of the easier food plans to eat out with. If you stick to meats with minimal to no sauce, and light sides like steamed veggies that are low carb, you are in the clear. If you go out to brunch, ordering a potato/bread-free version of your favorite staples is usually Keto-approved (You can get eggs Benedict minus the bread or an omelet with mushrooms and cheese.)
Whatever lifestyle you prescribe to, diet can have a big impact on skin. Eating whole foods, eating less sugar, and finding the right routine for your skin can all help improve your skin. Just like when you use a new product, be sure to look for signs from your body to let you know if it’s working or not.