What Going Keto Can Do for You (and What it Can't)

Runner Squatting Down Preparing to Take Off
Thinking about going Keto?
Here's what you can expect.

The other day, I got a lengthy comment on a 5-year old post about whether Keto can actually damage the metabolism. 

At the time I wrote that post, many people within the low-carb community believed that going too low in fat would prevent the state of ketosis and negatively affect your metabolic rate, so the post lays out how the body stores the various nutrients you eat and discusses the three aspects of metabolism in general.

If you haven't read that post yet, you can find it here.

Since the reader wasn't familiar with ketogenic diets, other than what she'd read or heard online, that prior post left her confused about what low carb can and cannot do for her. Perhaps you're feeling the same way.

Like most overweight individuals, she's looking for a quick solution to her emotional, mental, and physical issues; and she's hoping that going low carb can improve her overall nutritional, emotional, and especially her mental state.

She doesn't like being overweight.

Being overweight often comes with a lot of baggage about yourself that you hear from your own thoughts or others, agree with, and assimilate into your belief system, but this particular person also has celiac disease, so she's dealing with the effects of malnutrition and starvation on top of her mental and emotional state.

For that reason, she's learned that "just eat healthy" isn't enough. Eating gluten free (or maybe not, she didn't actually say if she had gone gluten free yet) causes her to crave and binge. Gluten does that, but so does trying to cut back on carbs if you don't go low enough.

The body has a will of its own, and she's frustrated. It won't do what she wants it to do.

She's uncomfortable because she's enduring a lot of systemic inflammation and pain, due to the celiac disease, and the discomfort has heightened the necessity of doing something about her weight.

She's afraid of not acting on her impulses to diet. And afraid of what might happen if she doesn't get the weight off super quick.

In her mind, losing the weight is the solution to her problems with celiac, but she's also afraid of making a mistake.
  • Is going keto the right thing for her to do or not?
  • Will it help her to be gluten free?
  • Can it give her the benefits that she wants?
She's attracted to the benefits of a low-carb diet, but she is afraid of the price. She wants the luxuries that she sees others enjoy, the pleasant side of the Keto equation, but is afraid of the negative aspects and consequences of dieting.

She's afraid that a low-carb maintenance diet might not be as glorious and fulfilling as she has imagined it to be. So in this post, I'm going to address what you can reasonably expect to receive by going low carb, as well as what you cannot.

Pinterest Image: Fried Egg with Salsa and Lean Bacon

State of Your Health

Since the original question came from someone with celiac disease, let's start with the state of your health.

Your health condition is the most important factor in determining whether a low-carb diet will work for you, or not. Ketogenic diets use the starvation pathway, the alternate metabolic route the body takes when glucose is scarce. It's important to understand that.

The body prefers to use glucose over other fuel sources because it's easier, not because it's healthier, so don't run away just because I used the strong term "starvation." Starvation needs to be understood for those with celiac disease, hyperthyroidism, if you've been dieting long-term, or have another health condition that affects your nutritional state adversely.

I don't want to gloss over the fact that dieting can be hard on the physical body under certain conditions. Dieting throws the body out of balance. But then, if you're overweight, chances are good that the body is already out of balance.

Low carb can correct that balance.

However, if you're coming to Keto already in starvation mode, which most celiacs are by the time they're diagnosed, or if you have severe insulin resistance, implementing a huge caloric deficit can backfire on your goals. If you're looking for fast weight loss, it's probably not going to happen.


Because you have to heal the body before it will let you lose much body fat.

Yes, there are exceptions.

When I was 19, I lost weight super fast on Atkins, but as I got older and the body incurred more damage from the untreated celiac disease, losing weight on low carb grew more and more difficult. In 2007, I hardly lost any weight at all on Atkins Induction.

I didn't lose significant weight until I eliminated gluten and cut back on dietary fat because I wasn't digesting fats very well, due to the celiac. Plus, my family doesn't have the genetics needed to digest a high-fat diet. Hence, I have a higher carb requirement than the average low-carb dieter does.

Healing should be your top priority.

And healing isn't peculiar to low-carb diets. Any weight-loss diet that limits calories or nutrients, especially protein, will put a certain degree of stress on the body. Stress always means higher cortisol levels and, therefore, slower fat loss.

The key to making Keto work is to discover what foods are stressing out your body.

YOUR body.

For those who are severely insulin resistant or diabetic, that means taking your carb level down as low as you can tolerate.

Meat Kabobs

For those who are not insulin resistant, but are insulin sensitive, or can't make the amount of enzymes needed to sustain a high-fat diet, it means finding the best carbohydrate and fat level for you.

Anything out of your personal carbohydrate and fat tolerance will cause stress. So don't fall into the trap of expecting the same results that others are getting. Your personal success on Keto is directly related to finding the best carbohydrate level for you.

That may or may not fall within the low-carb community's definition of a ketogenic diet.

Doesn't matter.

My own best level is 60 carbs a day. That's the level I feel best on. The low-carb community calls that a moderate-carb diet, rather than keto, but I don't care. Sixty to 120 carbs a day is what works best for me, and keeps me relatively vertigo free, so that's what I eat.

DO what's best for you. DO what's best for your health. Give yourself permission to heal.

Benefits of Going Keto

The reader I mentioned above has heard about many low-carb benefits, and she wants to experience those for herself. Most of what she heard was accurate. Keto:
  • controls your appetite and cravings
  • can heighten cognitive function, thanks to ketones
  • improves retention of lean muscle mass
  • increases metabolism, due to the extra protein
  • improves digestion for those who can't do grains
  • stabilizes blood glucose levels
  • improves insulin sensitivity
  • can correct cholesterol imbalances
  • lowers systemic inflammation
  • makes eating gluten free easier
  • eases depression due to malnutrition
  • upswing in energy production
All of these benefits make weight loss easier to accomplish, but there are no guarantees. The body is a complex organism and what works for one individual won't necessarily work for another.

One of the clues that low carb is right for you is how your body and mind react to traditional weight loss diets.

If typical dieting results in cravings for sugar and carby foods, if eating carbs makes you tired and lethargic, if you get a bad reaction to grains or carby foods, you're probably not eating what your body needs.

Since ketogenic diets are based on protein, fats, and vegetables, severely cutting down on carbs and sugars can have a tremendous affect on your appetite and feeling of well-being. Keto is a nutritionally sound way of eating, so health corrections can happen quickly and easily without a lot of thought.

An average low-carb meal consists of:

a protein source or two
a salad and/or vegetables
and some dietary fat

So, you don't have to overthink this.

Smoked Turkey Breast, Cole Slaw with Mayo
Average Low-Carb Meal:
Smoked Turkey and Cole Slaw

When you go keto, life suddenly opens up to greater creative possibilities because you don't have to always worry about what you're going to eat next. The nutrient density of a low-carb diet takes care of the need to mentally balance what you eat.

You can enjoy your food more, and actually begin to LIVE instead of diet.

What Keto Can't Do for You

Some of the ideas on the web about ketogenic diets is totally off base, even from prominent individuals within the low-carb community itself. While it appears that low-carb weight loss is faster than for other weight-loss diets, that isn't always the case.

If I take my carbs down too low, for example, my weight loss stalls fairly quickly, so the speed at which the fat comes off depends on:
  • the state of your health
  • your emotional condition
  • your activity level
  • what you believe about low carb
  • what you believe about yourself
  • the amount of food you eat (calories)
  • how much dietary fat you're eating
  • the particular adaptions the body has made to dieting
The body doesn't forget.

Any adaptions the body makes to dieting is recorded in the unconscious mind, so it can be pulled out and used at a future date, if needed.

This is why yo-yo dieting results in slower and slower weight loss. Prior adaptive programs are reused by the body to correct the imbalance you've created by cutting down on carbs and calories, so weight-loss slows fairly rapidly.

These prior adaptions don't make weight loss impossible, but they do make weight loss slower because the body's goal or purpose is to maintain balance. Everything it does is with balance in mind.

If you upset balance by dieting, the body will adapt and continue to adapt until it brings the energy imbalance into balance again.

This is why I sometimes refer to dieting as a game.

Your role in the game is to try and reach goal weight before the body discovers a way to create energy balance. If you win the game, great. You can move into any maintenance program that works for you.

If the body wins the game, you'll permanently stall partway to goal. In that case, you'll have to start the game all over again and upset the balance from the point you were at when you plateaued. The plateau is your new normal.

A lengthy plateau is maintenance, but the idea of maintenance can be misleading.

You can maintain due to eating too few calories, carbs, or fat as easily as you can maintain due to eating too many because anything out of balance causes a stress reaction. And stress always increases cortisol and other stress hormones.

Increased stress causes glycogen to be broken down into glucose by the liver and tossed into the bloodstream. Thus, reversing the benefits of ketosis until that glucose is used.

So, stress heaped upon stress can make it almost impossible to lose the weight because the liver will be consistently storing glycogen and breaking it down into glucose to handle all of those imaginary emergency situations.

Which problem you have depends on what you're eating and how much you're exercising at the time you stalled.

This is what I'm facing right now.

I lost half of the weight I regained, last year, but ever since moving to Texas, I've plateaued. The body has equalized. It doesn't want to give up any more body fat.

Part of the problem for me might be the fact that I was stuck in a motel room for several weeks, where activity was limited to a daily walk -- when the weather was nice. With only 150 square feet of living space, if that, there wasn't much room to get up and move.

For that reason, I'm giving the body a month to readjust to normal life, now that we have moved into a small, two-bedroom house, before I change anything.

Eating low carb also won't correct mental and emotional issues tied to your personal belief system.

While some people do experience increased cognitive benefits from burning ketones for fuel, not everyone does. I don't. The brain gets more fuzzy when I feed it ketones instead of glucose. Expecting to experience what others do is a recipe for disappointment.

Keto can't change the way you feel about yourself, either. Self worth might be tied to how you look, but many continue to struggle with feelings of insecurity and inferiority even after they ditch the weight. This is because feeling inferior is rarely due to how you look. It's due to what you think or feel about how you look or what others think or feel about how you look.

If it were due to weight itself, then everyone who is overweight would go into a depressive state and that just doesn't happen.

(For more info, see our post: Is Self Worth Determined by the Size of Your Jeans?)

Depression is a sign that you are not accepting something in your life. There's a false belief hidden in your unconscious mind somewhere, something you haven't seen and dealt with.

In this case, the woman who commented on the prior post is overweight and don't like being overweight. She feels inferior because she isn't like everyone else. She doesn't like life's challenges, so she's trying to blame the feelings of disharmony on being fat.

She thinks that getting rid of the fat will cause her feelings of insecurity to disappear. Probably not. The challenges of living with celiac disease are not going to go away just because you get thin.

Clinical depression can be chemically driven (I'm definitely not saying that it can't). But most of the time, especially when we're talking about being overweight, depression results from not accepting something in your life.

You are overweight and want things to be different, so you're struggling to change what is going on into how you think it ought to be.

You should not be fat, your belief system says. You should be thin. So, you struggle to achieve that imaginary state of being that will miraculously appear when you're thin. Right now, you're not thin, so you feel sad, frustrated, and depressed.

Stay there, in that internal state of conflict, struggle, and resistance for too long, and you're bound to move into the state of apathy, where you feel it's useless to even try and diet. You go reclusive, back away from the world, and withdraw into yourself where you can play the victim and feel sorry for yourself. Your body is mistreating you. The world is against you.

Some people can even get suicidal tendencies or thoughts if the depression goes on long enough, so you want to catch yourself if this is where you are and reevaluate. What's the use of living becomes the mantra, and can obviously be a dangerous state of mind.

Low-carb diets can't fix any of that.

Only YOU can fix that.

However, low carb does improve chemical imbalances in the brain which can then make it easier for you to fix your thoughts and feelings about yourself and others, but you still have to do the mental and emotional work yourself. You have to break down useless thought patterns and emotional habits of reacting.

Low carb won't do it for you. It can't. Changing how you think requires you to find those false beliefs, re-examine them, and then evaluate their current usefulness and maturity regarding what you want for yourself today.

The Price of Being Thin

Being thin comes at a cost.

Maintenance isn't easy, especially if you've ever been more than just a few pounds overweight.

A dieted-down body reacts differently than someone who has never been fat. Metabolism will be slightly depressed. Always. There's no getting around that. Some of the adaptions the body makes during the weight-loss process are permanent adaptions.

Rate of metabolism is one of them.

While maintaining lean body mass can help with that, the amount of calories you can eat after dieting down to a healthy weight will be LESS than other people who weigh the same amount as you do but have never had to diet.

That's just the way it is. You will never be able to eat like other people do without regaining your weight back.

That doesn't mean that maintenance will be a miserable condition. Well, maybe it will be if you see anything less than what you were able to eat before dieting as misery. But it does mean that you'll have to make permanent adjustments to your attitude and find ways to make low carb a way of life, rather than making it just another weight-loss diet.

Some people do this by accepting a higher weight than they originally wanted to weigh. This is the choice that I have made.

Others find joy in maintenance by going into keto with the realization that they can never go back to eating a ton of carbs. They are happy with that decision and their body is happy eating only a few carbs per day, as well.

These are the two extremes, and you can fall anywhere on that spectrum.

However, at the beginning of your low-carb journey, there is no way to know where you'll end up. But it's the same for any weight-loss diet. The only way to maintain your losses is to permanently change how you eat and think.

The weight-loss process is to discover what foods, and in what quantities, will enable you to weigh what you want to weigh. What you're doing right now isn't working for you or you wouldn't be seeking another way. Ketogenic diets offer you another way.

Whether you accept the opportunity to do something different and see what happens is up to you.

And only you.