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What is Keto? The Healthiest Diet You Should Try

What is keto

More and more people are asking, “What is keto?” or “What is ketosis?” because so many are losing weight with keto, performing better in the gym, enhancing brain function, boosting energy, and so much more!

You wouldn’t put diesel in a gasoline engine and expect it to run well, but that is exactly what Americans are doing every day. We fuel our bodies with processed, pre-packaged foods that evolutionary science has proven makes our bodies stop running efficiently.

I was guilty of this for much of my life.

What is keto?  Inside my journey…

I remember sitting in the library at age 16 when I tried on my friend’s jacket and  I heard a boy sing, “fat girl in a little coat.”

I was humiliated.

That was the catalyst for change.

Following the insult, I restricted fat and worked out constantly.

Ironically, this left me fat and frustrated, and I decided to focus on dialing in my nutrition.

I’d heard about losing weight with keto or ketosis, and after decades of being told by marketing geniuses that “fat-free” was the way to lose weight, eating real fat was scary for me.

Losing weight with keto helped me feel better

That first week of keto weight loss was remarkable. On keto, I slept deeper, felt calmer and better than I ever had in my life!

I no longer questioned, “What is keto?” I was living it. 

Keto helped me feel better. Now, I understand the biochemical reasons why restricting fat is counter-productive to creating optimal health.

Growing up, I believed that good-tasting foods made you fat. It was almost too much to imagine that I could thrive and have healthy body composition while enjoying butter, avocados, grass-fed cheeses and meats, and even sugar-free (keto-friendly) cheesecake.

But it has been over five years of keto: five years of my body feeling amazing and never feeling deprived!

I traded in a lifetime of over-exercising and restriction for a nutrient-dense, fat-filled diet and lost weight in the process. 

Does the keto diet really work?

Absolutely!

My weight loss was a challenging goal to achieve, but once I found the right foods and ditched the fake foods, the weight loss I had struggled with became easy.

I learned the secrets of the hormones insulin and leptin.  By evolving toward a very low-glycemic, high-fat (not just high-protein) diet, I re-sensitized my biochemistry toward these essential hormones, which turned off severe food cravings.

Best of all, losing weight and body fat with keto required a lot less self-deprivation than what I was suffering from when I wasn’t losing weight.

The nutrient-rich, relatively high-fat dietary approach I have developed for myself by way of exotic, little-known replacements for typical high-glycemic starchy foods and sugar are what finally gave me total peace with food, something I never imagined possible! 

Keto Weight Loss
Maria Emmerich: Before and after losing weight with keto

Keto Basics: All You Need to Know

The ketogenic diet is a high fat, moderate protein, low carbohydrate diet that has amazing health benefits, including energy, body fat loss and a healthier brain.

Keto History

The keto diet was developed in 1921 by Dr. R.M. Wilder at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to treat patients with seizures.  Once anti-seizure medications came onto the market, the keto diet was practically forgotten about for close to 70 years.

In 1994, an episode of Dateline NBC documented Hollywood film director Jim Abraham’s son Charlie and their treatment of Charlie’s seizures. Charlie didn’t respond to seizure medications so Jim, a frustrated father, went looking for other answers.He discovered the ketogenic diet, and Charlie was soon seizure-free.

The Abrahams family started the Charlie Foundation to raise awareness of the ketogenic diet as an option for managing intractable epilepsy. Since then, the ketogenic diet has received increasing attention in the media for its profoundly beneficial impact on body composition, cognition, hormone regulation, inflammation reduction, and so much more.

The Benefits of Keto

By following the ketogenic diet lifestyle, you learn how to eat to balance your hormones, sleep better and feel better. 

Keto-aligned foods keep you satisfied as help you reach your body composition goals.

You can even get to enjoy desserts again without stress; after all, we also need to enjoy the richness of life!

The Science of Keto

In the coming years, you can count on hearing more discussion around the dramatic impact of the ketogenic diet. The Eating Academy (a research group lead by Gary Taubes and Dr. Peter Attia) is researching the effects of true ketogenic diets.

I write true ketogenic diets because in the past, low-carb diet studies really weren’t “low-carb” and were often times not well formulated.

They may have been lower in carbohydrates than the RDA recommended 300 grams per day, but lowering to 150 grams a day is not low-carb, and it’s certainly not ketogenic. The diets used in these studies also contained too much protein, and far too little fat.

Furthermore, many studies only last two weeks or less, which is not nearly enough time for the subjects to achieve ketosis. Some people can achieve ketosis in that timeframe, but many cannot. It varies from person to person.

What is Ketosis

What the Ketogenic Diet is NOT

The ketogenic diet is NOT a high protein diet. I know this sounds crazy, but it’s true. When you eat too much protein, a process called gluconeogenesis occurs which turns protein into sugars.

So, basically, over-consuming protein is similar to eating lots of carbs.

The ketogenic diet is NOT simply a sugar elimination diet. It is a low-carb diet, and that is an important distinction.

Everyone knows that sugar is bad for us, but most people have misconceptions about which foods turn into sugar. 

Foods that turn into sugar include:

  • Grains like wheat, oats, rice, and quinoa
  • Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn
  • Fruits such as banana, mango, pineapple

In other words: Carbohydrates.

Keto avoids most of these carbs, opting for highly low-glycemic varieties, like leafy greens.

The Number One Roadblock of Keto

The number one roadblock I find individuals run into on keto?

Thinking they can eat more carbs than they can.

As a nutritionist, I used to be pretty laid back about the amount of carbs I advised my clients to consume.

I thought, of course they can eat spaghetti squash; they were eating white pasta, so changing to the squash is an improvement. 

But in many cases, switching from pasta to spaghetti squash did not clear up their insulin issues. My clients’ metabolisms were too damaged to handle that amount of starch, no matter what the source!

We are not in Kansas anymore, Toto…

True, our ancestors could eat root vegetables and more starch than the clients I see today, but our ancestors did not have the same damaged metabolisms that modern day humans have.

After all our years of consuming “food” filled with fructose, food dye, MSG, pesticides, and the other chemicals found in foods today, we need stricter guidelines because our cells are so damaged.

(I have had a handful of clients who were 115 pound females and(normal weight for their height, but still had very high blood sugar levels – enough to necessitate being put on insulin!)

I believe, we are all, in an evolutionary sense, predisposed to becoming diabetic, (which means we should all be restricting carbohydrates to some degree). 

How do I do keto (the right way) to lose weight too?

You can transform your body with keto too. How to do it the right way?

Losing weight on keto is much simpler in theory than it is in execution. 

That’s why, in the next few articles in this series, we dive deeper into the nuts and bolts of insulin resistance, and take a look at how you can transition to a ketogenic lifestyle.

The Ketogenic Diet Part 2: Sugar, Insulin, and Inflammation
The Ketogenic Diet Part 3: How to Become Fat Adapted
The Ketogenic Diet Part 4: Avoiding Common Side Effects of Ketosis

Avocado image licensed under the Creative Commons.

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Maria Emmerich

Maria Emmerich

Maria Emmerich is a wellness expert in nutrition and exercise physiology. She shares a passion for helping others reach their goals of optimal health. She struggled with her weight throughout childhood and decided enough was enough. She decided to study health and wellness so she could help others stop wasting their time being discouraged with […]