We’ve all been there; sitting on the couch, devouring that last cookie, then remembering (in horror) summer is around the corner and we live in one of America’s most beautiful beach cities. But fret not, our society assures us, there is a quick fix to get that coveted swimsuit-ready body. Fad diets are becoming increasingly common in our culture, which so strongly prioritizes physical appearance, but what if health is an issue deeper than physical appearance?
Ketogenic diets have become quite popular for their ability to help individuals lose weight fast. Followers of the Keto diet are limited to consuming no more than 10 grams of carbohydrates per day; less than there are in oranges. Our bodies will utilize fat to produce energy if carbohydrates, the main fuel source for intense exercise, are severely limited. So even if you do achieve your dream beach-bod, you probably won’t have enough energy to enjoy it. Logistically, it’s very difficult to consume less than 10 grams of carbohydrates per day while still getting enough calories from other nutrients to meet our bodies’ metabolic needs. It is common for participants in low carb, high-fat diets to develop Relative Energy Deficiency Syndrome (RED-S) because their bodies are not receiving sufficient fuel. RED-S is characterized by impaired physical performance and overall health according to The International Olympic Committee’s most recent consensus statement.
The Keto diet is especially unrealistic for active populations and frequently results in RED-S symptoms including decreased strength and endurance, depression, irritability, altered focus, decreased immune health, and hormonal imbalances; it’s like PMSing without the period, since RED-S may also cause menstrual dysfunction. Participants in Ketogenic diets often consume excessive levels of fat and not enough protein, which may lead to an increased breakdown of protein for energy, causing loss of lean body mass. So say goodbye to those hard-earned gains.
While the Keto diet is more practical for less active individuals, it still may not be the healthiest method of weight loss long-term. A literature review by Shane Bilsborough, a well-established researcher in human nutrition, found that long-term adherence to low-carb diets may cause heart impairments, kidney damage, and osteoporosis. In ketosis, our bodies become more efficient at utilizing fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. Once carbs are reintroduced, the body continues using fat for fuel and excess carbohydrates are stored as fat. Rather than this intense diet regimen marked by drastic weight fluctuation, we may benefit more from consuming 45 to 65 percent of daily calories from carbohydrate, as recommended by the USDA. This, in combination with regular exercise, offers benefits like mood improvement and prevention of chronic disease.
A final aspect generally overlooked in the discussion of fad diets is preference. Preference matters and our quality of life is important. We should have a slice of cake on our birthdays or a burrito from time to time. We can still lead healthy lives when we are active and fuel our bodies well with an appropriate balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
Noelle Sernett is a third-year athletic training major at PLNU.