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Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard of the keto diet. Often touted as a miracle weight loss diet, the keto lifestyle is generating a lot of buzz. Keto is actually short for ketogenic.

The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-carb diet that focuses primarily on calories from fat. There are many health benefits and weight loss promises associated with this diet, but there are also many risks. The keto diet might actually make it easier to hide an unhealthy relationship with food.

Part of the problem with the keto diet is that it’s incredibly restrictive in terms of what you can eat, how much you should eat, and perhaps more importantly, what you can not to eat. These restrictions could pose serious problems for people struggling with eating disorders.

Experts are concerned that the keto diet encourages extremely restricted eating in people with unhealthy relationships with food. It could also make it easier to conceal certain eating disorders, such as binge eating.

Ketogenic Diet 101

Basically, a ketogenic diet is a high-fat, moderate-protein, and low-carb diet. This means that most of your calories and food intake is made up of high-fat foods, and you’ll be minimizing (if not eliminating) carbs. Yes, you’ve seen the concept of low carb diets (cough, Atkins, cough) before, but the Keto Diet is different. This involves replacing that drastically reduced carb intake with fat.

The idea is that your body will enter a state called ketosis when you become efficient at burning fat for energy – because you have no carbs to process. The result is increased energy, weight loss, reduced inflammation, and improved brain function, to name a few. Instead of your body burning glucose (from carbs) to create energy, it burns ketones (from fat), which are believed to increase your metabolism, reduce hunger, increase muscle mass, and improve heart health.

The Keto Diet is quite specific in terms of proportions and precisely what you can and cannot eat. Your meal breakdown should be around 70-80% fat, 20% protein, and a lean 5% carbs (almost nothing) in the form of whole grains, crackers, chips and sugars, and a minimum of fruit.

So if carbs are pretty much off limits, what can you eat?

Batches healthy protein and high fat foods. Think fish and seafood, cheese, avocados, poultry, eggs, nuts and seeds. Vegetables are fine, but only the low-carb variety — non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, and spinach. Yogurt is great too, but go for full-fat yogurt and not fruit-flavored products loaded with hidden sugars. Berries are fine if you’re craving fruit, as they’re packed with antioxidants and fiber, but low in carbs. Caffeine is allowed, but opt ​​for unsweetened coffee and tea.

While this diet is undoubtedly strict when it comes to what is and is not allowed, some experts claim that nothing is really off limits on the keto diet.

According to registered dietitians Emily Stone and Laura Dority, MS, RD, LD, with Keto Knowledge LLC, the keto diet is less forbidden and more about how you choose to “spend” your carbs. “The exact amount needed to achieve ketosis can vary from individual to individual, with carb prescriptions ranging from 10 to 60 grams per day. This total is net carbs (total carbs minus fiber),” said Stone. Eat well. It’s also important to note that if you’re an athlete or are super active, you can eat more carbs while still reaching ketosis.

Ketogenic Diet and Eating Disorders – What’s the Connection?

eating disorders, for definitionare “serious conditions linked to persistent eating behaviors that negatively impact your health, emotions, and ability to function in important areas of life,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

Although there is a wide range of eating disorders in terms of manifestation, most eating disorders involve focusing too much on your weight, body shape, and food, leading to dangerous eating behaviors. .

Here’s where things get a little tricky.

Eating disorders can be extreme and often include unhealthy behaviors surrounding the way a person eats and their relationship with food. But some might argue that extreme diets in which an individual is deprived of an entire food group (in the case of the Keto diet, carbohydrates) are also extreme behaviors involving food, especially if the goal is weight loss. rapid or drastic weight.

We are not saying that the Keto diet and eating disorders go together or that the Keto diet could cause an eating disorder. But some fear it’s a slippery slope.

A healthy mindset is essential for any dietary change, especially one that requires diligence, commitment, and detailed tracking of calorie intake. Consider how much effort it takes to calculate macronutrient ratios, like you have to on the ketogenic diet. It’s not as simple as “eat healthy foods“, or “stick to as much fresh produce as possible” or “avoid processed waste”. The Keto diet is specific. It’s strict. It requires hyper-focus on every bite and every calorie you put into your body.

This rigidity could trigger unhealthy behaviors or fuel an unhealthy relationship with food already in place. In fact, this overwhelming and unhealthy obsession with healthy eating has a name – orthorexia.

Orthorexia was coined in 1998 and describes the obsessive actions taken to maintain a healthy diet. “It’s a relentless obsession with the foods you eat to the point that it prevents you from enjoying your life and induces stress,” says author and leading functional medicine expert William Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC

It’s completely understandable that some people go from strict dieting to obsessive eating habits, especially on a diet like the Keto Diet. “I’ve seen the most well-meaning people become obsessed with perfectly following the conventional keto diet, and that stress ends up doing more harm than good,” Cole says. Mind, Body, Green. “The desire to be healthy is not bad. It’s when it becomes obsessive that it becomes a problem,” he says.

Additionally, some experts are concerned that the Keto Diet may actually lead to or exacerbate binge eating disorder, which involves eating large amounts of food and feeling unable to stop.

Because the Keto Diet is so restrictive in terms of what you can eat, it often results in weight loss. But for people with bulimia issues, knowing they can eat as many high-fat foods as they want can lead to overeating and worsening symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, restricting your diet can make the problem worse and lead to more binge eating.

Although that sounds a bit backward – restricting your diet should actually encourage you to eat less – many people who want to lose weight are drawn to restrictive diets that end up backfiring.

“People with binge eating who want to lose weight may consider the Keto diet as a way to achieve that goal,” says Johnny Williamson, MD, medical director of Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center. But because they are often vulnerable to poor eating habits, the Keto Diet could potentially both encourage these dangerous behaviors and help mask these habits that can be masked as healthy dietary restrictions.

It’s not necessarily that the Keto diet can cause an eating disorder, but “it’s possible that people who are vulnerable to developing an eating disorder may identify with the keto diet and then use its principles. to take action and manage their eating disorder behaviors,” Williamson explained to Everyday health.

Think of it this way, any extreme deprivation or extremely restrictive diet can border on eating disorders if taken too far or if a person is already vulnerable to such behaviors. For people who are already struggling with eating disorders and unhealthy relationships with food, it can quickly become dangerous and obsessive.

Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

To be clear: the benefits of a keto diet are numerous. Preliminary research suggests that the Keto Diet may improve risk factors for heart disease, help reduce symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, lead to a significant reduction in seizures in people with epilepsy, and more. It has also been shown to increase energy, improve brain function, promote weight loss and reduce inflammation.

While we shouldn’t overlook these benefits, as with any diet, there are also risks.

There are the risk nutrient deficiency, liver and kidney problems due to the high fat content, and an increase in “bad” LDL cholesterol, which may be linked to heart disease. And then, of course, the risk of triggering eating disorders in some cases.

So what’s the bottom line? As with any diet, approach the Keto diet with caution; do your research, be responsible, and pay attention to how your body feels. Understand that there is no one size fits all approach to health and weight loss.

If the Keto Diet is doing more harm than good to your health and eating habits, it’s time to switch to a more balanced diet. Make sure you are informed about your food choices and the pros and cons of your actions. Always consult your doctor or a registered dietitian to discuss drastic nutritional changes.