A Dr. Snee Special Report: The Keto Diet

T-shirt Idea: “Nutritionists take it by the pound!”
T-shirt Idea: “Nutritionists take it by the pound!”

As an online doctor,* I get a lot of questions about diet, especially this time of year when everyone’s trying to lose weight in time for wearing wedding formal wear and swimsuits. Which diet works best, which one’s healthiest for you, which one requires the least math, which one lets me eat the same s**t that made me fat in the first place, etc.

So, rather than answer every single letter, I’m going to devote the next several Dr. Snee columns to reviewing fad diets. Together, we (but mostly I) will explore a trendy diet:

  • What it claims to do.
  • What it really does.
  • How you’re probably being mislead with — what we call in the medial community — bullshit.

This week’s fancy diet is the Keto Diet.

Before we begin, let me just say outright that you can pretty much lose weight on any diet, so long as you have either consumed fewer calories than required for daily sustenance or burned enough calories to meet that threshold through exercise. Case in point: the guy who lost 27 pounds by eating nothing but junk food just by controlling how much he ate.

Not pictured: health
Not pictured: health

The real question is whether your diet is just a means to lose weight or if you’re changing your eating habits to become healthier. And believe it or not, those two criteria can be different goals. Yes, healthier people generally aren’t overweight, but not being overweight doesn’t mean you’re healthy.

So, if your goal is to lose weight, then congratulations: chances are that, if you follow your trendy diet and somehow reduced your caloric intake, then your trendy diet worked. But if you think your trendy diet also makes you healthier than a boring old diet from Health class? Then it’s time to evaluate what you’re really eating, in today’s case, as part of a balanced keto diet.

What is the Keto Diet?

Technically, it is nutrition, in that it provides some of the necessary food material to support life.
Technically, it is nutrition, in that it provides some of the necessary food material to support life.

The ketogenic or, when there aren’t enough carbs in your system to power through the whole word, keto diet is an actual medical diet … that manages epileptic seizures.

Basically, you eat a high fat, adequate protein and low carb diet, which causes the body to burn fat instead of carbohydrates. Normally, you need carbs to produce glucose, which is what the brain uses for energy. The lack of carbs on this diet forces your liver to work with what it’s given, producing fatty acids and ketone bodies (the namesake of the diet) to fuel the brain instead. And when you have enough ketone bodies in your blood, you’ve achieved ketosis, which is a state where science demonstrates you will have fewer seizures.

Also, one of the side effects just happens to be weight loss.

Why the keto diet is bullshit

Don’t kid yourself. You’re this guy.
Don’t kid yourself. You’re this guy.

It’s the Atkins diet, wrapped in low-carb science-y justification. Anyone who says otherwise is just embarrassed to admit they’re on Atkins, and it isn’t 2002.

That’s not to say it doesn’t work. The Atkins diet works, just as almost any other diet works, too, when it comes to weight loss. But, since the weight loss is a side effect of ketosis, then it’s probably not good for you.

You see, scientists discovered the keto diet in the 1920s while trying to figure out why fasting seemed to prevent or reduce seizures in epileptics. Once medications were invented, they stopped using the diet because it caused retarded growth, bone fractures and kidney stones in kids — the ones most likely to be on the diet in the first place. Oh, and they have a 60 percent higher concentration of lipids in their blood and 30 percent higher cholesterol. In other words, it turns kids into Season 8 Dan from Roseanne.

It’s the most difficult job in the world … other than spending a lifetime learning medicine so as not to kill people.
It’s the most difficult job in the world … other than spending a lifetime learning medicine so as not to kill people.

The diet only came back because, later in 1994, anticonvulsant drugs weren’t working on a Hollywood producer’s kid. He discovered a reference to keto in a medical guide for parents, and found the only hospital in America still using it: Johns Hopkins. The diet worked, and the whole affair became a Meryl Streep movie called … First Do No Harm because, if there’s anything Lifetime Movie of the Week viewers love, it’s to be proven smarter than doctors just by being moms.

While most of those side effects don’t affect adults who are done growing, there’s still the factor of higher blood lipids and cholesterol, along with constipation and — get ready to cross your legs — kidney stones. That’s right: you’re losing weight despite the calcifications amassing in your urinary tract, getting ready to be birthed into the world through a hole that’s about one-third of an inch wide. And hardened poop.

Verdict

It’s a hard diet to maintain even for epileptics because people keep sticking high carb pencils in their mouths every seizure. (Seriously, though, don’t do that.)
It’s a hard diet to maintain even for epileptics because people keep sticking high carb pencils in their mouths every seizure. (Seriously, though, don’t do that.)

Unlike other low carb diets, the keto diet is pretty difficult to maintain. The daily carb counts are so low that it requires massive substitution with cheese- and meat-based products. And those just contribute more to the negative side effects. (Along with some pretty ripe body odor and farts so dense that they wear hats at the dinner table.)

In fact, the actual diet is so bad for you that, when done properly and not off of some web site with questionable before and after pictures, it requires the assistance of a dietician, a neurologist and a registered nurse to make sure it works properly and doesn’t kill you.

Again, the keto diet works when it comes to weight loss. But, Jesus, man: at what cost? Even the people who actually need to be on a ketogenic diet are only doing it because they don’t have any working alternatives. There are other diets. Maybe try any of those.


*Rick Snee is not, in any way, a licensed medical professional or an actor that plays one on television. His only qualifications are high school and college biology (101 and 102), reading Men’s Health (2001-2003), and a systematic exposure to almost all health hazards (1981-present), but no medical training whatsoever. He’s just really opinionated, which is good enough for blogging. To submit yer own questions to Dr. Snee, Guynecologist, post comments below or email the good doctor.