For the last two months, I’ve had to use my knowledge of biology more often than at almost any other point in my college career. If I had a penny for every time I’ve had to explain the term “ketosis,” I’d probably have about thirteen cents. I never thought so many people would be so interested in what I eat, but since starting a diet in January, I’ve received a surprising number of questions about it.
I’m on the ketogenic diet. In a sentence, the keto diet is a super low-carb, moderate-protein, and high-fat diet. Essentially: cheese, butter, bacon — good. Bread, sugar, grains — bad. The point of the diet is to force the body into a state called ketosis, where it uses substances called ketone bodies to fuel itself instead of glucose (a sugar). When the body uses glucose, its preferred energy source, more insulin is produced, and insulin causes the body to store and retain fat. In ketosis, the body can more easily use the body’s fat stores as energy.
“But how can a bunless bacon cheeseburger be good for you, but brown rice be bad?” you might ask. Many people have. It seems very counterintuitive to consume 75 percent of your daily calories as fat and expect to somehow lose weight, but the system works.
You see, fat is not the enemy, despite what prevailing culture says. In 1980, the Food and Drug Administration produced its first “Dietary Guidelines,” which specifically told people to “avoid too much fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.” They weren’t wrong on all fronts — saturated fats and cholesterol-laden foods can contribute to heart disease and high cholesterol. But healthy fats, such as mono and polyunsaturated fats, can actually have heart benefits. Because you ideally consume less than 20 grams of carbs each day on keto, and only moderate amounts of protein, fats help keep you satiated. The diet isn’t just for people looking to lose weight. Ketogenic diets are utilized by the medical community to help control certain types of epilepsy and Type 2 diabetes and are being investigated in their potential benefits for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients.
Dieting is an interesting thing. It’s kind of a lose-lose-lose. Certainly you lose weight if you do it right, but it’s also easy to lose confidence and lose your will to continue. Not only do you not get to eat the things that you want, but there’s also a surprising amount of judgment that goes along with starting and maintaining a diet. There’s nothing fun about being “that person” at a restaurant who asks for no buns on their burger or sends back the basket of tortilla chips, but there also isn’t anything fun about people questioning your motives and methods for choosing to go on a diet. While I don’t mind answering questions about how my truly confusing diet works, I do mind being interrogated about why I think I need to lose weight. While they might be truly well-meaning in their assessment that my weight is fine, that assessment is ultimately mine to make.
I also mind when people express abject horror at my giving up bread, potatoes and candy. Trust me, I already know how much it sucks. Being reminded doesn’t make me feel better about it. I never would have thought that my choices to be actively healthier would make me feel actively judged, but since January I’ve felt this weird unspoken pressure to eat like everyone else. Now, two months into it, I can see the reasons why quitting a diet would be so easy, and food is really not the biggest cause. I understand the keto diet isn’t for everyone, nor is dieting in general. But it is hard, and it’s especially hard to maintain self-control when everyday situations and interactions are constantly pushing against you. I hope that someday, doing something for your health will be encouraged and supported more than it seems it is today.