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The list goes like this:

  • Gastrointestinal disturbances (diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, constipation, GER)
  • Inflammation risk
  • Thinning hair/hair loss
  • Kidney stones
  • Muscle cramps or weakness
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Low platelet count
  • Impaired concentration/cognition
  • Impaired mood
  • Renal tubular acidosis
  • Nutrient deficiency
  • Disordered mineral metabolism
  • Poor growth in children
  • Skeletal fracture
  • Osteopenia/osteoporosis
  • Increased bruising
  • Sepsis, infection, bacteria overgrowth
  • Pneumonia
  • Acute pancreatitis
  • Long QT intervals
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Shift towards atherogenic lipid profiles (including hypercholesterolemia and hypertriglyceridemia)
  • Heart arrhythmia
  • Myocardial infarction,
  • Menstrual irregularities and amenorrhea
  • Death

Any American or (New Zealander) who spends any time in front of the television is quite accustomed to -barely- listening to a similar laundry list of all the horrific things that you can expect if you take this, that or the other WONDER Drug.

The Implied Promise- Which is a Lie

As you watch happy, healthy, hearty people of a certain bounce around like Energizer Bunnies, the promise of the drug is demonstrated visually ( YOU TOO CAN LOOK AND LIVE LIKE THESE ACTORS) as by law, the side effects are barely whispered in your ear. Most of us pay no attention whatsoever. The visual promise is far too enticing. So many of us head off to the doctor to demand said wonder drug, blissfully bypassing the potential realities.

However the above list of side effects isn’t for a drug. It’s for a diet. The Keto Diet.

The Keto Diet, which like just about all other fad diets, is currently enjoying great popularity. Popularity that may well be founded in certain groups which have a specific medical disorder. As for application across the board to everyone? Hardly.

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If It Worked For Me, Then It’s Good For EVERYBODY

While on a website for over sixty women the other day, during a discussion about weight loss and management, one of the women weighed in with that breathless enthusiasm of the newly converted. She exhorted everyone else to start it right away. She had given the Keto diet a try, it had produced results. Perhaps it had. However, the problem with a diet like this, as with so many others that require such drastic shifts, she likely has no clue about what the diet is doing to her body. Telling others to begin a diet like this one is like practicing medicine without a license. Fasting is good for us, too- in controlled ways. Fast for weeks and month, you’ll die. You can die on a Keto diet too, depending on how your particular metabolism responds. Or if you happen to have thyroid problems which a great many of us do after a certain age. One in five women over 65 has hypothyroidism, and younger women are much more likely to have a thyroid issue than men. Many don’t even know it. So if these people go on a Keto diet for weight loss it could cause serious complications if not a march to the morgue.

What You Get to Eat- or Not Eat

The Keto Diet typically recommends about 75% fats, 5% carbohydrates and 20% proteins. Compared to how most of us eat, this is a very radical change in eating patterns. Lots of times a dietary shift will give us short term results. I bought a Keto Diet book by athlete Mark Sisson. My first response was that first, I didn’t have the time to spend hours in the kitchen making his recipes. Nor could I possibly afford many of the ingredients. On top of that I seriously doubted, having reviewed all this recommended ingredients, that I could sustain that style of eating for any protracted length of time. It’s not what works for me. Sure I can fast for a little while. But as I’m not troubled by autism or epilepsy (for whom the diet has well-documented value) this just isn’t for me. It’s effectively a fad-and one which is unsustainable for most folks unless our unique metabolism is suited to it.

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The Problem With Fads

My real issue with the Keto diet is that just like any other extreme, it can give a false positive. If a little fasting works, then lots and lots of fasting is even better, so goes the thinking. There are some bodies that should never be subjected to that much fat intake. Others simply need more carbs due to their genetic makeup. Food is a drug. It’s medicine. It has been so since the dawn of time. There are certain foods that are toxic for one person and healing for another. I can’t eat onions and garlic because I’m a bleeder. You may not be able to tolerate acidic foods. If you travel to some of the world’s most remote places, certain foods that those isolated people eat could be devastating to your GI tract. Others could be a tonic. You don’t know until you try- and therein really lies our truth.

Fads are just that: like fashion, they come and go, and can sometimes leave a lot of damage in their wake. When it comes to diets, anecdotal evidence can be hugely convincing. When a friend shows up svelte after weeks on the Keto diet it’s natural to want to replicate those results. Where we fall down is finding a way of eating/being that is sustainable for a lifetime. From what I’ve researched on the Keto diet, this isn’t sustainable for most of us- if for no other reason that the majority of us aren’t endurance athletes, have autism or epilepsy. Our bodies- each one of them a unique universe with widely varying needs depending on our lifestyles, body types, age and activity level- have varying demands as different as every single snowflake. And I don’t use that term in its current insulting implication- but as a statement of the beauty of our tremendous individuality and the fact that our bodies deserve to be treated as treasures.

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We primarily focus on our goal. Fifty pounds, thirty pounds, whatever. When we’re done with an extreme diet- which we are only too glad to be done with- the moment we change the food mix, our bodies will return to its previous set point. We yo-yo. I spent much of my early years doing just that. It’s hugely unkind to our bodies, and if we’ve been obese once, the body will fight to get that fat back. Sucks.

Governmental Guidelines Don’t Work

The great frustration that has dogged not only government scientists as well as food manufacturers is coming up with dietary recommendations that are relevant to all of us (see Good Calories, Bad Calories, Gary Taubes). We have a history in this country of special interests pushing their agendas, scientists doing poor quality research in order to underscore what the government had already decided in order to get funding, the Holy Grail of science, and some hard core researchers who decided to die in a ditch over their findings despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. We now know that the FDA food pyramid was all wrong for most of us. However what food pyramid is right for each of us individually is impossible. Basic general guidelines- dump the sugar, eat more vegetables and fruit, minimize the alcohol intake- probably work. But individually the foods that feed your unique and remarkable body are going to be completely different from mine. To diet we add the need for regular exercise which is the true Fountain of Youth, and along with the foods that work best for US as individuals, we have a shot at normalizing our body weight.

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Even then, what constitutes the right body weight for each of us as individuals is as varied as we are. It depends. The notion that a perfect body weight looks a certain way (starved models who exist on booze and cigarettes or steroid injecting bodybuilders aren’t what I’m addressing here) is a lie. Our journey is to find the food, supplements, exercise plan that works for the body you were born with. What that looks like, feels like, and how it works is a life long exploration- if for no other reason that each decades, even half decade, our bodies and needs change. Life happens. We evolve. We get ill or injured. Our weight changes. We move. We are constantly evolving. Our caloric needs change as we age, and our activity levels shift. For example, I ended up getting far more active as I aged- not what I might have expected, but it’s what happened. We simply can’t predict. It’s as much a constant tinkering and retooling as buying and caring for a fine vehicle. And that’s precisely what it is- unless we abuse it.

Our bodies are remarkable machines. For anyone who’s ever abused their diets, their bodies and their minds in their youth (think, binge drinking, recreational drugs) it’s unbelievable how our bodies withstand such onslaughts. As we age, we can’t stave off that kind of abuse the same way. Subjecting our bodies to extreme diets like Keto or Paleo simply because of the implied promise of weight loss is another insult if your body isn’t right for this kind of diet. As the list above indicates, it could cripple or kill you.

All in the name of weight loss.

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Ultimately being fit, rather than thin, is the point. There is an inevitability to how the body changes as we age. While I am a huge proponent of exercise, not everyone is going to put in the work that I do. That’s my lifestyle. However, anyone can be more fit given more movement and better food choices. The latter is up to us to discover what works best for the body we were given. Fit is being able to be active, thrive, enjoy life and all it has to offer for our entire existence. We may not have bodies that were ever meant to be svelte. Happily there are plenty of folks who find a little (or a lot) of padding hugely attractive. Thank heaven.

Before you launch into a Keto or Paleo or garlic clove for breakfast diet, do your due diligence. Have your blood work done. Understand what conditions you’re living with before you ever engage in a radical diet like this. The point is NOT to just to drop weight. The point is to be healthy, with food as our medicine and movement, sweet free movement, as our play.

That’s how you end up looking like those highly paid actors on the drug commercials…without the drugs.

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