People use a ketogenic diet most often to lose weight, but it can help manage certain medical conditions, like epilepsy, too. It also may help people with heart disease, certain brain diseases, and even acne, but there needs to be more research in those areas. Talk with your doctor first to find out if it’s safe for you to try a ketogenic diet, especially if you have type 1 diabetes.
Disclaimer: In this weight-loss guide, we recommend a low-carb diet, as it appears to be more effective than other diets. While a low-carb diet has many proven benefits, it’s still controversial. The main potential danger regards medications, especially for diabetes, where doses may need to be adapted. Discuss any changes in medication and relevant lifestyle changes with your doctor. Full disclaimer
Young males sometimes lose weight faster than this, perhaps twice as fast. Post-menopausal women may lose at a slower pace. People on a very strict low-carb diet may lose weight quicker, as well as those who exercise a lot (a bonus). And if you have an enormous amount of excess weight to lose you could start out much faster — although initially, some of the weight you lose will be due to water loss.
In addition to improving your health, maintaining a weight loss is likely to improve your life in other ways. For example, a study of participants in the National Weight Control RegistryExternal* found that those who had maintained a significant weight loss reported improvements in not only their physical health, but also their energy levels, physical mobility, general mood, and self-confidence.
Insulin is a hormone that lets your body use or store sugar as fuel. Ketogenic diets make you burn through this fuel quickly, so you don’t need to store it. This means your body needs -- and makes -- less insulin. Those lower levels may help protect you against some kinds of cancer or even slow the growth of cancer cells. More research is needed on this, though.
First reported in 2003, the idea of using a form of the Atkins diet to treat epilepsy came about after parents and patients discovered that the induction phase of the Atkins diet controlled seizures. The ketogenic diet team at Johns Hopkins Hospital modified the Atkins diet by removing the aim of achieving weight loss, extending the induction phase indefinitely, and specifically encouraging fat consumption. Compared with the ketogenic diet, the modified Atkins diet (MAD) places no limit on calories or protein, and the lower overall ketogenic ratio (about 1:1) does not need to be consistently maintained by all meals of the day. The MAD does not begin with a fast or with a stay in hospital and requires less dietitian support than the ketogenic diet. Carbohydrates are initially limited to 10 g per day in children or 20 g per day in adults, and are increased to 20–30 g per day after a month or so, depending on the effect on seizure control or tolerance of the restrictions. Like the ketogenic diet, the MAD requires vitamin and mineral supplements and children are carefully and periodically monitored at outpatient clinics.
The ketogenic diet reduces seizure frequency by more than 50% in half of the patients who try it and by more than 90% in a third of patients. Three-quarters of children who respond do so within two weeks, though experts recommend a trial of at least three months before assuming it has been ineffective. Children with refractory epilepsy are more likely to benefit from the ketogenic diet than from trying another anticonvulsant drug. Some evidence indicates that adolescents and adults may also benefit from the diet.
When you’re eating the foods that get you there (more on that in a minute), your body can enter a state of ketosis in one to three days, she adds. During the diet, the majority of calories you consume come from fat, with a little protein and very little carbohydrates. Ketosis also happens if you eat a very low-calorie diet — think doctor-supervised, only when medically recommended diets of 600 to 800 total calories.
"When going out for fast food, I used to get the large-size value meal. Now, I satisfy a craving by ordering just one item: a small order of fries or a six-piece box of chicken nuggets. So far, I've shaved off 16 pounds in seven weeks, and I'm on track to being thinner than my high school self for my 10-year reunion later this year." —Miranda Jarrell, Birmingham, AL
For patients who benefit, half achieve a seizure reduction within five days (if the diet starts with an initial fast of one to two days), three-quarters achieve a reduction within two weeks, and 90% achieve a reduction within 23 days. If the diet does not begin with a fast, the time for half of the patients to achieve an improvement is longer (two weeks), but the long-term seizure reduction rates are unaffected. Parents are encouraged to persist with the diet for at least three months before any final consideration is made regarding efficacy.
Based on this, researchers from the University of Alabama conducted a study with a small group of obese men with prediabetes. They compared a form of intermittent fasting called “early time-restricted feeding,” where all meals were fit into an early eight-hour period of the day (7 am to 3 pm), or spread out over 12 hours (between 7 am and 7 pm). Both groups maintained their weight (did not gain or lose) but after five weeks, the eight-hours group had dramatically lower insulin levels and significantly improved insulin sensitivity, as well as significantly lower blood pressure. The best part? The eight-hours group also had significantly decreased appetite. They weren’t starving.
Because people with type 2 diabetes are at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, there’s a specific concern that the saturated fat in the diet may drive up LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol levels, and further increase the odds of heart problems. If you have type 2 diabetes, talk to your doctor before attempting a ketogenic diet. They may recommend a different weight-loss diet for you, like a reduced-calorie diet, to manage diabetes. Those with epilepsy should also consult their doctor before using this as part of their treatment plan.
Around this time, Bernarr Macfadden, an American exponent of physical culture, popularised the use of fasting to restore health. His disciple, the osteopathic physician Dr. Hugh William Conklin of Battle Creek, Michigan, began to treat his epilepsy patients by recommending fasting. Conklin conjectured that epileptic seizures were caused when a toxin, secreted from the Peyer's patches in the intestines, was discharged into the bloodstream. He recommended a fast lasting 18 to 25 days to allow this toxin to dissipate. Conklin probably treated hundreds of epilepsy patients with his "water diet" and boasted of a 90% cure rate in children, falling to 50% in adults. Later analysis of Conklin's case records showed 20% of his patients achieved freedom from seizures and 50% had some improvement.
The day before admission to hospital, the proportion of carbohydrate in the diet may be decreased and the patient begins fasting after his or her evening meal. On admission, only calorie- and caffeine-free fluids are allowed until dinner, which consists of "eggnog"[Note 8] restricted to one-third of the typical calories for a meal. The following breakfast and lunch are similar, and on the second day, the "eggnog" dinner is increased to two-thirds of a typical meal's caloric content. By the third day, dinner contains the full calorie quota and is a standard ketogenic meal (not "eggnog"). After a ketogenic breakfast on the fourth day, the patient is discharged. Where possible, the patient's current medicines are changed to carbohydrate-free formulations.
The final possible issue behind stubborn weight issues may be the main stress hormone, cortisol. Too much cortisol will increase hunger levels, bringing along subsequent weight gain, especially around the midsection. The most common cause of elevated cortisol is chronic stress and lack of sleep (see tip #11), or cortisone medication (tip #10). It’s a good idea to try your best to do something about this.
If you have type 2 diabetes there is another diabetes drug that can result in noticeable weight loss: the “low-carb in a pill” drug Farxiga (called Forxiga in Europe). Unfortunately, this pill has an increased risk of ketoacidosis, probably especially for people on strict low-carb or keto diets, and it’s not recommended to take this drug while on a strict low-carb diet.
This might be because the body increases insulin secretion in anticipation that sugar will appear in the blood. When this doesn’t happen, blood sugar drops and hunger increases. Whether this chain of events regularly takes place is unclear. Something odd happened when I tested Pepsi Max though, and there are well-designed studies showing increased insulin response when using artificial sweeteners.
In general, losing weight by following a healthy, nutritious diet — such as the Mayo Clinic Diet — can reduce your risk of weight-related health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and sleep apnea. If you already have any of these conditions, they may be improved dramatically if you lose weight, regardless of the diet plan you follow.