Whenever you try out a new diet, it can always be hit-or-miss about whether it fits with your lifestyle (and, spoiler: most don’t). In the case of the Ketogenic diet — a high-fat, moderate-protein, and low-carb diet with approximately 80 percent of your calories from fat, 15 percent from protein, and only 5 percent from carbohydrates — some folks have really connected to it, making it a permanent part of their lifestyle. Others have found that the guidelines aren’t the right fit for their families or their bodie or, simply, that they are out to have a different relationship to food.
After trying this hyped-about trend for five months, I discovered keto should probably stand for “Keep Efforts Tediously Obedient.” This diet is not easy and it’s certainly not convenient if you already have a busy schedule. Here are the reasons I finally kicked it to the curb.
I needed to employ my inner geek
You may think you can ditch bread, add an avocado and some cheese and you’re fine, but keto is a science for a reason. Math is not my favorite activity, so for the first few weeks I avoided any arithmetic and didn’t see any change to how my body looked or felt.
Turns out, without a certain amount of fat your liver will not produce ketones. So while you may lower your carb intake, unless you’re accounting for your macros, your fat consumption may be less than what your body needs to trigger this metabolic state. You must calculate and keep track of your macros daily.
I spent a lot of time studying the fine print
Because your carbs have to be low, you have to watch for America’s dirty little secret: There is sugar in almost everything from taco seasoning to salami to salad dressings, and even peanut butter. The time you spend at the grocery store reading labels is going to be significant until you find which brands you can rely on.
I learned what “no sugar” really means
You may be fine to give up cookies, candy, and a coffee sweetener but no glucose also means no lactose (milk and yogurt) and extremely limited fructose (fruit). We don’t normally think of these nutritious sources as hazardous substances, but these too are types of sugars that fuel insulin and the production of glucose. While there are a decent amount of alternatives to milk, the only fruit you can have are strawberries and blackberries. Which leads to:
Three words: no more juice
When you’re fighting that cold or flu or maybe just need some post-workout hydration, say good-bye to your quick juice bar run. While two types of berries with almond milk are okay, you have to watch for the hidden ingredients that are higher in carbs. Most juice companies offer keto options but the net carbs usually start at 5g and can go to over 20g. That’s already a minimum of 30 percent of your daily carb total. Is it worth it?
The DIY factor is intense
Since keto is so specialized, you are now your own customized kitchen of convenience, shackled to prepping and planning not just meals but snacks and desserts as well, from scratch.
While keto has grown in popularity, it’s not quite mainstream enough to be offered at local grocery stores. So unless you’re willing to buy expensive items in bulk, your low-cost course of action is to do some research and start making everything yourself, from bread to crackers, sauces, and even pudding.
Congratulations! Being your own chef is your new second job. (These keto recipes can help you get started.)
I haven’t had children but hemorrhoids are hereditary in my family. Without grains and legumes, and veggies being a third wheel to fat and protein, finding roughage is an impediment to deal with.
For a woman who is on a high-fiber diet, The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends consuming 25 grams per day. The best fiber to carb ratio you can find is 1:1, which comes from chia seeds or oat fiber. Even arugula and spinach are 1:1.5.
Thus, if you are aiming for a maximum of 20 carbs per day, you’re never going to get the amount of fiber that you need.
There was no rest for the weary
A few weeks into this transition I had such vivid dreams about consuming bread or potato chips that I’d wake up feeling bummed out as if I had actually indulged my cravings.
Keto is not short-term. There is no such thing as a “cheat day” or “taking a break” because that means you’re going to kick yourself out of ketosis.
On average it takes about a week for your body to use up the glucose it had and produce the ketones that will use fat to burn as energy, so you’ll have to start all over to get back in. One meal, or one day, is not worth an entire week.
A version of this story was published July 2019.