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by Kelly Bejelly

Americans tend to go to extremes in order to achieve the ideal physique. From major tummy tucks to non-invasive CoolSculpting (which offers results in as little as three weeks), countless adults are willing to do just about everything to attain the perfect body. But getting a handle on your health and improving your physical form often comes down to the old adage: you are what you eat.

That’s one reason why so many people have embraced the ketogenic diet (or keto, for short). While 66% of Americans are currently on a diet of some kind, keto is one that’s generated a lot of buzz over the past couple of years. It originally started out as a way for those with epilepsy to prevent seizures through their diet, but now it’s caught on as the Next Big Thing in weight loss. The idea is to eat a significant amount of fats but only a small amount of carbs — a concept that theoretically forces the body to derive energy from fat (from both what you eat and what’s already stored) instead of carbohydrates. Essentially, it tricks the body into using fat for fuel, allowing you to shed excess weight.

Even nutrition experts say cutting back on carbohydrate intake has a lot of benefits on the body. However, the keto diet is a lot more restrictive than many other weight loss plans. It may be more difficult to follow for a lot of people, meaning that the endless cycle of weight loss and weight gain may continue for those who tend to struggle. It requires a lot of discipline — and a lot of adjustment, especially during the initial stages. Because you won’t be ingesting nearly as many carbs, people might report they feel sluggish or may be more prone to dehydration. Like with any diet, there are risks and potential benefits to consider prior to starting. And then, of course, there’s the common concern about what you can actually eat while on keto.

When you’re on the keto diet, anywhere from 70% to 80% of your daily calories will actually come from fats. That means bacon, sausage, eggs, cheese, chicken, and seafood are all welcomed. Coffee is fine (though you’ll need to substitute your cream and sugar for butter — yes, really), as are some specific types of vegetables. Lettuces, kale, spinach, and even microgreens (which are only one to 1.5 inches long) are a-okay, as are Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, cauliflower, zucchini, spaghetti squash, broccoli, and cauliflower. Some fruits are forbidden, but tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and avocados are keto-approved. You can also have peanut butter, almonds, and even dark chocolate while on the keto diet — so you don’t actually have to give up everything you love. That said, you might miss pasta, bread, and real sugar before too long, especially if you suspect you have an addictive sweet tooth.

When making the commitment to keto, you’ll want to understand the importance of eating whole foods and cooking for one’s self. There are some keto-approved packaged snacks, but just because it’s keto doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you (assuming it contains preservatives and other additives). And although you can go out to eat while on this diet, you’ll have to plan ahead and will likely need to customize your order (much to the chagrin of waitstaff and chefs).

Sticking to a strict diet is never going to be a walk in the park. But for many people, keto can provide a way to take control of their eating habits and lose weight in a new way.

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