So you tried the ketogenic diet, the trendy low-carb, high-fat eating plan. By emphasizing high-fat meals (all the avocados! ), this diet induces ketosis, in which your body burns fat for energy rather than carbohydrates. Many people lose weight as a result of this switch, but most don’t (or shouldn’t) remain with the keto diet long-term unless they’re on it for medical reasons. Here’s why, as well as how to get off keto safely if you’re thinking about it.
What Exactly is a Keto Diet?
Before we start, we must first be clear on what a Keto Diet really is. Also known as Ketogenic Diet, a Keto Diet is a very low-carb, high-fat diet. The ketones are released by the body when fat is burned as a source of energy. This particular weight-loss method is known to be effective for those with epilepsy. Ketogenic diets are designed to force the body into a metabolic state referred to as ketosis, which has a number of benefits. It’s been reported that ketosis can help: Reduce insulin levels and improve insulin sensitivity, which helps fight obesity and diabetes by lowering excess weight and blood sugar levels. Keto Diets can also help to control epileptic seizures.
A New York Times article about the ketogenic diet published this month summarizes, “Keto is a low-carb, high-fat regimen that offers many health benefits for people with seizure disorders, diabetes and other diseases.” This particular weight-loss method has been around for decades but is becoming more popular recently. Keto Diets are also known to be an efficient way to help athletes and bodybuilders maintain a high-performance level. This is because the diet is high in fat and low in carbohydrates. Keto diets can produce a variety of benefits for people who suffer from certain diseases.
One major benefit is that it helps to reduce seizures and epileptic symptoms, according to the New York Times article. It also lowers blood sugar, cholesterol levels and blood pressure. In addition, the article states that “Keto is a type of low-carb, high-fat diet that helps the body enter into a metabolic state called ketosis.” This metabolic state is characterized by “a shift from burning carbohydrates to burning fat.”
Now that we’ve learned a bit about what Keto Diets really are. Let us focus at the matter at hand, how can one person get off of Keto Diets safely? Is it possible? Let’s find out.
Why Do People Go Off Keto Diets?
“Life usually gets in the way,” says Shoshana Pritzker, R.D., C.D.N., C.S.S.D., a registered dietitian and sports nutritionist. She adds that for most individuals, how long they can stay on keto is determined by how long they can say “no” to usual social snacks and drinks. You know how sometimes you just want to let go and eat some processed carbs?
There may also be health implications to consider. “We’re really not sure what kind of health issues, if any, may occur from a long-term state of ketosis (i.e., years and years),” Pritzker adds. And it doesn’t stop there. “A person may wish to discontinue keto dieting if their lipid panel worsens,” says Haley Hughes, R.D. “If a person at high risk for heart disease consumes more saturated fat and cholesterol sources while consuming less fiber from whole grains, beans, fruits, and starchy vegetables, they may see increased cholesterol levels.” There are also special concerns for those with type 1 diabetes and those on insulin, who may not be a good fit for long-term keto dieting.
Finally, coming off keto might be as simple as reaching your goal—weight reduction, performance, or otherwise—and being ready to return to carbs. Whatever your reason for abandoning the keto diet, there are a few things you should be aware of ahead of time.
How to Come Off Keto Diets the Right Way
Unfortunately, shocking your system with a few pieces of pizza is not the best way to come off of keto. Instead, you’ll need to conduct some mental preparation.
Make a strategy. “One of the main challenges with dieting in general (whether keto or another diet) is what happens when you stop?” says Pritzker. “Most people just end up reverting back to their prior way of eating, which wasn’t working for them before, so why would it work now?” This is especially true if you went on keto to lose weight. “Your best option is to have a strategy for what you’re going to eat and how you’re going to start integrating carbs back into your diet.” If you’re not sure what your goals are right now or how to achieve them with your diet, see a nutritionist.
Learn about portion sizes. “As with any tight diet, going back into your typical eating style can be tough,” says Nutritious Life founder Keri Glassman, R.D., C.D.N. “After restricting carbs for so long, you’re more likely to overdo them once you allow yourself to have them again.” The first few times you consume carbs post-keto, go for a single portion size and stick to it.
Begin with whole grains. When you initially break up with keto, instead of going straight for pasta, donuts, and cupcakes, go for plant-based carbs. “Instead of processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages, I would reintroduce whole grains, beans, legumes, fruits, and non-starchy vegetables initially,” Hughes adds.
Slow down. “Try introducing carbs softly and gradually,” Pritzker suggests. This will assist you in avoiding any G.I. Discomfort (think constipation) that may result from resuming carbs. “Begin by introducing carbs to one meal each day for a few weeks and watch how your body responds. If everything is going well, add carbs to another meal or snack.” Continue adding carbs one meal or snack at a time until you’re comfortable eating them throughout the day.
What to Expect When Stopping Keto Diets
Even if you do everything correctly, there are still physical impacts, both positive and bad, to be aware of while discontinuing a ketogenic diet.
You may experience blood sugar swings. “It’s difficult to forecast how someone will react to coming off the keto diet,” says Yummly’s head of nutrition and health, Edwina Clark, R.D., C.S.S.D. “Some may see modest affects, while others may discover that their blood sugar jumps then drops after their first carb-moderate meal.” Blood sugar fluctuations can cause jitteriness, mood changes, hyperactivity, and weariness; consult your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.
You could gain weight. (But don’t be alarmed.) You might not! “Weight fluctuation is always possible, but weight gain will be determined by a variety of factors, including how your body metabolizes carbs, the rest of your diet, exercise, and other factors, according to Glassman.
It also depends on how long you’ve been on keto. “Much of the weight lost while eliminating carbs is initially water weight,” Pritzker explains “When you restore carbohydrates, you also introduce more water; for every gram of carbohydrate, you get 4 grams of water. This can give you the impression that you’ve gained a lot of weight quickly, even though much of it is likely water retention.” This type of water weight gain affects everyone coming off keto, but those who have been on it for a shorter period of time and lost only a small amount of weight on the diet may notice it more.
Bloating is a possibility. However, it is just transitory. “The most typical issue that people have is bloating and digestive troubles due to the reintroduction of fibrous meals,” explains Taylor Engelke, R.D.N. While foods like beans and sprouted bread are healthy, your body may need to adjust to digesting them again. This should go away in a few days to a few weeks.
You might have more energy than usual. “People may have had more energy after reintroducing carbohydrate into their diet because glucose (found in carbs) is your body’s primary fuel source,” Hughes explains. You may also notice improved performance in HIIT and endurance workouts. Furthermore, because the brain uses glucose to function, you may feel better psychologically. “Many people report having a significantly improved memory and feeling less ‘foggy’ with focus or performance at work,” Engelke says.
You might feel more hungry. “The keto diet’s high-fat and moderate-protein combination makes it extremely satiating,” explains Glassman. As a result, many people who attempt keto have a decreased appetite. “You may feel hungry after each meal when they begin to contain less fat and more carbs, which tend to breakdown faster,” she says. Clark recommends combining carbs with both protein and fat to combat this and ease your shift. “As you reintroduce carbohydrates, this can help slow digestion, increase fullness, and prevent blood sugar spikes and crashes.”