There’s a lot of buzz about the 30-Day Keto Challenge, and people all over are touting the benefits of cutting carbs. But what you’re probably wondering is “should I try it?” Before you dive headfirst into the diet challenge that popped up on Pinterest, let’s talk about what the keto diet is, how it works, who it’s best for, and if it’s sustainable!
Hi, I’m Jamie, a Registered Dietitian of 8 years. My passion is helping women find the balance with food, without obsessing over the scale or calorie counting! Together, we ditch that discouraging feeling of constantly trying to be “healthy,” but ending back at square one – Every. Single. Time. Instead, I teach you how to build healthy habits you’ll actually want to stick to.
Speaking of new healthy habits… let’s talk about the keto challenge and whether or not it’s truly the healthiest choice for you.
What is the keto diet?
The ketogenic diet, or keto diet, is a low-carb diet. Eating keto probably means focusing on a higher fat intake than you’re used to. While there are different variations of Keto and how to do it, many recommend the following ratios of fat to protein and carbs.
- High fat (70-80%)
- Moderate amounts of protein (15-20%)
- Very low carbohydrates (5-10%)
To put into perspective just how low these carb recommendations are, let’s compare them to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommends:
- Fat (20–35%)
- Protein (10–35%)
- Carbohydrates (45-65%)
Umm… that’s a big difference! Just as an example, on the keto diet, a little over one cup of cooked pasta would go over your daily carb allowance.
How does the keto diet work?
When you switch to the keto diet, your body can’t use glucose from sugar as its main energy source anymore – it isn’t available. And if you’re thinking “I don’t eat much sweets”, that doesn’t actually matter – all carbs break down into glucose, even salty ones like potato chips.
When your body doesn’t have its preferred fuel (glucose!), it breaks down fat to produce ketones, which become your main energy source.
It’s an all-or-nothing diet that only works if you continue to eat very low levels of carbs. The day you start, your body begins using up its stored glucose, eventually depleting it. The process takes a few days to a week, and you may even come down with the keto flu. People who’ve tried keto report headaches, nausea, fatigue, constipation, and brain fog.
If you make it through that process without reaching for a carbohydrate treat for relief, your body will finally go into ketosis (using ketones for energy instead of glucose).
But the balancing act doesn’t stop there. You have to make sure you don’t eat too little protein, or your body will break down muscle for energy (yikes- we don’t want that!). You also can’t eat too much, or your body will rely on protein for fuel instead of fat, and you won’t stay in ketosis… It’s a touchy balance.
The keto diet as treatment
Today most people are drawn to keto for weight loss, but it was actually created for patients with epilepsy when doctors realized it could reduce or stop seizures.
So, if it was created as a treatment, why are so many people testing the waters of keto life for weight loss?
Why is keto suddenly popular?
The keto diet was used in clinical settings at first, but it has gained momentum with the general public because it also helps with weight loss… but only if you stick to the diet. And while the idea of eating as much bacon as you want might sound appealing, it’s not so easy to cut out carbs.
And there are no “cheat days” allowed on the keto diet. If you eat more than 50 grams of carbs your body will no longer be in ketosis. To get back into it, you have to cut the carbs again and wait days or a week to start the process all over again.
Is keto sustainable?
This is the most important question to consider when you’re trying to decide if you’re going to try the keto diet. Is it sustainable?
Cutting out carbs might be doable for some people, but if you’re not one of those people, you’re definitely not alone. Cutting out carbohydrates means cutting out healthful foods like fruits, starchy vegetables, whole grains, and legumes- that seriously limits your options!
When it comes to making healthy changes to your life, consistency is most important. Sticking to the keto diet is no different. If you’re feeling too restricted and you’re unable to stick to the diet long-term, any “results” you see aren’t going to last.
When a diet is unsustainable, you’ll often end up weight cycling- losing and regaining weight. Weight cycling is definitely not healthy for your body. Unfortunately, this is the case for many who have tried keto before.
Do I have to cut carbs to be healthy?
No, you don’t have to cut out carbs to be healthy!
For so many people, cutting out carbohydrates just isn’t realistic, and it’s also completely unnecessary. If you tried keto and were unable to cut out carbs successfully, you’re not the problem! A lack of willpower isn’t what’s holding you back: it’s biology! Carbs are important and healthy, and your body knows it and signals your cravings to bring on the carbs!
Carbs have been wrongfully shunned by celebrities and influencers for years, but they’re a great source of energy that fuels your body and supports your health. They have a bad reputation for causing a sugar rush, then leaving you hungry shortly after indulging. For example, simple carbohydrates like candy, brownies, or foods with added sugars are broken down quickly, leaving your body wondering “what’s next?”
On the other hand, complex carbohydrates are broken down slowly, make you feel full longer, contain fiber, and don’t spike blood sugar as quickly. Complex carbs are foods like fruits, starchy vegetables, whole grains, and beans.
What if I feel out of control around carbs?
You might feel like a 30 day keto challenge will give you control over your carb cravings, but I am afraid that the chances of this working are slim.
If you feel like you have to just cut out carbs completely, you’re not alone. But the problem isn’t carbs. If you feel starved after eating them, your body is saying “psst… I need more nutrients!”
So, instead of locking the cookies in a cupboard, let’s take a look at what’s making you feel out of control and how you can fix it.
1. You’re not eating enough
If your belly is screaming “give me more!” you might not be eating enough during the day. Whether it’s an overly restrictive diet or a hectic workday that prevents you from eating, not getting enough food can drive your body into energy-seeking mode. And the fastest way to get a boost is by eating carbs.
2. Skipping meals
Have you ever skipped lunch and felt absolutely starved by the time dinner rolled around? You might have even loaded up your plate with a heaping tower of spaghetti and finished Every. Last. Bite. (and still wanted more, to your amazement).
When you go too long without food your body overcompensates and you chow down more than you imagined you could. To avoid this, I like to keep a balanced snack in my bag or car when lunch or dinner feels SO far away. This leads me to balanced meals…
3. Not prioritizing balanced meals
Did you know a serving of protein keeps you satiated longer than eating the same amount of fat or carbs? Or that fat is the macronutrient that takes the longest to digest?
Think of your digestive system like a squirrely little toddler. Without enough “fun things” to do, they go out looking for something else, much like your digestive system looking for quick energy to burn.
A carb-heavy meal doesn’t keep your stomach “busy” for long, and the meal is digested quickly. To slow down digestion and cause a steadier rise in blood sugar, I recommend balancing your carbs with healthy fats like avocado, nuts, seeds, fish, or chia seeds, and lean protein like chicken, Greek yogurt, beans, fish, or beef.
4. Hyper-focusing on cutting carbs
If you’ve ever been told “I know a secret that I can’t tell you,” it’s almost impossible to stop thinking about it, right? The same is true of carbs! If you know you “can’t” have them, it’s hard to ignore how much better a slice of fudgy chocolate cake would taste than your salad.
Science has proven restricting yourself from carbs can actually cause you to fixate on them more. In this study, participants were ordered to keep their carbs low and only eat during certain periods of the day. The result? Feelings of “lack of control, thoughts or preoccupation with food,” and ”guilt from cravings and/or for giving in to them” arose. Sound familiar?
A vote for carbs!
There are a lot of opinions out there about carbs, but the bottom line is you can enjoy them and support your health. Studies have shown complex carbs like whole grains, non-starchy vegetables, whole fruits, and legumes can actually have protective effects on the body. And that simple carbs like sugary drinks, cakes, and candy should be eaten in moderation to avoid negative health outcomes.
How to patch your relationship with carbs
If you’ve been running from carbs, it might be time to heal your relationship with them. Instead of trying to remove them from your life, switch your focus to adding nutrients. A great way to enjoy a cookie and get more out of your snack is to crush it up into Greek yogurt. Now you have healthy fats and protein with your carb!
Another way to give your body more nourishment is by adding fiber. Shopping for bread? Instead of looking at which has more carbs, think to yourself “which type would give me more healthy fiber?”
Moderation and mindfulness can also be helpful, and the two go hand in hand. Being present with your food can also keep you from overindulging. Set the phone down, turn off the TV, and turn your attention to your food – I promise you’ll enjoy it more, and probably be satisfied more easily!
The big picture
As a Registered Dietitian, I’ve seen countless women try keto, lose weight, and then gain it back – often plus some when the restrictions become unsustainable.
If you’re desperately looking for a solution to weight loss, you don’t have to kick carbs to the curb (not even for 30 days). Instead, I encourage you to find a healthy way to enjoy them without shame, guilt, or fear with the tips mentioned above.
If you want to start conquering your carb cravings without cutting them out, make sure to grab my free Conquer Your Cravings course. You’ll learn exactly how to get started, and there’s a free balanced snack guide in there, too!