Despite the massive amount of dieting fads out there today, dieting is truly simple in theory. You simply have to eat less calories than you burn through exercise. When you do this, you enter into a caloric deficit and loss fat. However, that is not at all how dieting is marketed today. Modern diets are overly obsessive about the type of foods you eat as foundation instead of how much you eat as foundational. Moreover, modern diets often include a phobia for carbohydrates. One such diet is the keto diet.
I have never heard so many mixed reviews of a diet as I have with keto. Some people swear by its success, and others come off it swearing it was a miserable experience. So what gives?
Well let’s explain what the keto diet is all about. The keto diet is all about decreasing almost all carbohydrates and adding in high amounts of healthy fats such as mct oil, grassfed butter, olive oil, etc. The point of the keto diet is to try to get your body to burn fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. Well that’s at least the claim, but let’s take a look at an interesting study on the keto diet.
This study took 20 overweight subjects put them on either a keto type diet or a moderate carb and moderate fat diet. Both diets had the same amount of daily calories at 1,500 and nearly the same amount of protein. Here is a breakdown of the calories and macronutrients:
At the end of 6 weeks, the results showed that there was little difference in the amount of fat loss between both groups.
“In terms of weight and fat loss, at the end of 6 weeks both groups had lost roughly the same amount of weight (6.3kg for the ketogenic diet, and 7.2 kg for the non-ketogenic diet; this was not statistically significant). As well, the loss of body fat was the same (3.4 kg in the ketogenic diet and 5.5 kg in the non-ketogenic diet; again this was not statistically different even if the non-ketogenic diet seems to have lost ~4 pounds more fat). There was no significant change in fat free mass for either diet.”
Hunger levels were shown to be similar, debunking the common perception that fats are more filling than carbohydrates.
“Hunger ratings improved for both diets with no difference between diets. An oft-heard claim is that ketogenic diets cause hunger blunting due to the presence of ketones or what have you; but this study does not support that. Given that protein is the most filling nutrient, the effect seems to be mediated by the increased protein content, not decreasing carbohydrates per se.”
As this study demonstrates, how you divide your fat and carbs does not matter as long as you are hitting your proper caloric intake. In order to ensure ultimate success on a diet, you simply need to know your caloric goal and meet it. Yes, you can probably reach a caloric deficit without counting your calories. However, it really is not that much of an additional effort. You have exact control over your success, and you can be sure that there won’t be any surprises when you step on the scale. While the study did not measure this, I would be curious to compare the enjoyment level between the keto group and the moderate group. From my personal experience, the keto diet is nowhere near as enjoyable as a flexible dieting strategy. However because the keto diet is so unenjoyable, that seems to be why it is successful. Let’s be honest no one is more pumped to spend their calories on tablespoons of oil than some delicious carbs. Fat is also more calorically dense, so your overall volume of food on a keto diet will be less. The good side of that is that binging levels are brought down. But I would argue that craving levels shoot up. On the other hand, a flexible diet can lead to temptation to binge on carbohydrates. However in my experience, it’s much easier to spend some calories on a food I’m craving and still hit my calories than to go so long without the foods I love.
With all that being said it is ultimately your personal preference. Some people have terrible energy levels on the keto diet, and some people aren’t affected. Some people enjoy a keto approach; some people hate it. You ultimately have to play around with it and decide. The main takeaway, though, is that the keto diet won’t produce a metabolic advantage over a moderate diet with carbohydrates, as this study demonstrated. Whether you prefer the keto diet or a moderate dieting approach, it all should be done while counting calories to ensure ultimate success. So please, let’s end the carb-phobia.