The potential for rapid weight loss has put the ketogenic diet — a.k.a. the keto diet — on the map, but its overly restrictive rules have ruffled a few feathers. Between the dreaded “keto flu” and the challenge of keeping up with the high-fat macro requirements, many people who start the keto diet may quickly find themselves wondering how to come off the keto diet.
What’s the Keto Diet?
The keto diet is a super-trendy, high-fat diet that allows you to consume around 75 percent of your calories from fat. Sounds fantastic if you love avocado bacon bombs, but there’s a catch: You have to limit carbohydrates to 20 to 55 grams per day. To put that into perspective, a medium banana has 27 grams of carbohydrates — so you’ll hit your carb limit pretty quickly.
The idea is that this way of eating will help you reach ketosis, a state in which your body burns mostly fat instead of carbs. This can trigger rapid weight loss at first — but it’s only temporary.
And this diet is full of controversy. “Ketosis is a survival mechanism — it’s not an ideal place to be long-term,” says Andrea N. Giancoli, MPH, RD, and nutrition manager at Openfit. “A diet this restrictive in carbs means you’re probably not getting all your vitamins and minerals from food. In the past, people who medically required this diet were following it under the watchful gaze of an entire medical team.”
3 Reasons Why You Might Decide to Ditch Keto
As a fellow dietitian, I understood the keto diet controversy — but I underwent a one-month keto journey in an effort to stay open-minded and empathize with what dieters were going through.
When you first start keto, you may love cutting loose and gobbling up as much fat as you want. Bacon, avocado, cheese, cream, olive oil — if it’s high-fat, it’s on the table. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy these foods. And I ended up losing five pounds in the first two weeks, which is a huge loss as a petite 5-foot-2 gal.
But I stopped the keto experiment after a month. I couldn’t imagine my life centering around food in such a restrictive way — and there are a few key drawbacks that make it hard to stick to keto long-term.
1. Unsavory Side Effects
Adapting to ketosis is mentally and physically demanding. During the first week, I felt tired and groggy and suffered a minor headache, all symptoms of what is aptly named “the keto flu.”
I was also thirsty all the time and needed frequent trips to the bathroom to accommodate this new relationship with my water bottle. And I didn’t feel like I had enough energy to exercise. Granted, some folks adapt to ketosis over time, but getting over this hump is a big reason why someone might quit keto.
2. Lack of Flexibility
Following the keto diet at home is hard enough — but carbs seem like they’re in everything when you’re out at a restaurant. The keto diet is a social kick-in-the-pants whenever you want to enjoy a night out with friends, unless you actually enjoy explaining your dietary choices in detail to everyone at the table. If you travel often, or you eat on-the-go a lot, you’ll need serious willpower to stick to a keto diet.
3. Health Concerns
Shedding a few pounds might feel great, but the number on the scale is only one aspect of your overall health. If your keto diet is lacking in essential nutrients, that can obviously be a problem. And experts don’t fully understand the implications of following a high-fat diet long-term, but they do know that a high-fat diet tends to be high in saturated fat, which can raise LDL cholesterol levels and increase your heart disease risk, according to the American Heart Association.
5 Tips for Coming Off Keto the Right Way
Maybe you’ve toyed with the idea of weaning off keto, but you’re concerned about what that would mean for your waistline. There’s no way around it: You will likely gain back some of your pre-keto weight.
You may also experience some discomfort while your body readjusts to a balanced eating plan. “You should be prepared for GI distress such as gas, bloating and constipation,” Giancoli says. “But the human body is awesome and will adapt as you come off the diet.”
Here are a few tips that can help you ease out of ketosis smoothly while maintaining some of that hard-earned weight loss.
1. Take it slow with carbs.
Too many high-carb foods all at once can cause blood sugar highs and lows, which can lead to fatigue, irritability, dizziness, and lightheadedness. Everyone reacts differently, so reintroduce carbs slowly and watch for any unwanted symptoms.
2. Choose high-fiber foods.
Whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits are the best bet for reintroducing carbs to your diet — their high-fiber content can protect against a spike in blood sugar. And stay well-hydrated, because water helps fiber pass more pleasantly through your digestive system.
3. Watch your portions.
Keto-friendly foods are high in fat and provide a moderate amount of protein, which helps curb appetite. Once you reintroduce non-keto foods, you won’t be able to rely on this appetite-suppressing effect — but hunger is a normal feeling, and you don’t have to be afraid of it. Just watch your portion sizes, and eat balanced meals that include lean protein and healthy fats.
4. Don’t forget to exercise.
You may feel an uptick in energy after reintroducing carbs, so put that energy to good use and ramp up your workouts. Along with good eating habits, a well-rounded exercise routine that includes both cardio and strength training is a powerful tool for maintaining a healthy weight.
5. Practice self-care.
Starting and stopping any diet can feel emotionally exhausting. “Nearly all diets fail, because most are designed to fail,” Giancoli says. “You will always be at risk of regaining weight if that diet doesn’t fit into your lifestyle. The key is to focus on long-term lifestyle changes, not short-term weight loss.” Preach!
When you come off keto, that’s a good time to reflect and find your bearings. Take note of what worked and what didn’t on your keto journey. (Did you find a few low-carb snacks you actually love?) There’s no one-size-fits-all diet that works for everyone, and it may take a little experimentation to figure out what works best for you.