The ketogenic, or keto, diet has recently grown in popularity. Proponents of the diet say it can aid in weight loss, improve heart and brain health and may even prevent cancer, however, it is important to talk about the potential dangers of following this diet. Read on to learn more about the keto diet and its correlation with disordered eating habits.
What is the keto diet?
The goal of the keto diet is to force the body into a state known as ketosis, which causes it to burn fat instead of carbs for energy. This is achieved by following a high-fat, low-carb diet with an adequate amount of protein. The keto diet has been found to reduce seizures in people with epilepsy.
Being in a state of ketosis, however, does have some uncomfortable side effects, and could even cause health issues.
Can keto cause eating disorders?
While there’s no scientific evidence that directly ties the keto diet to causing an eating disorder, dieting can be harmful for individuals who are at risk for developing an eating disorder. The restrictive nature of the diet mimics the behavior of many eating disorders. For those who struggle with any type of eating disorder or even disordered eating habits, severely restricting carb intake causes intense cravings that can trigger a binge eating episode. Because of the restrictive rules of the keto diet, it can also lead to obsessive thinking about food which can be an eating disorder symptom.
What is the relationship between keto and eating disorders?
The goal of keto is to severely restrict intake of a certain food group — carbs. This restriction may reinforce the concept that carbs are “bad,” which can cause anxiety around eating foods that contain carbs. Anxiety around food is a common symptom in many eating disorders.
Here are some other ways keto eating patterns mimic disordered eating patterns:
- The keto diet teaches you to ignore your cravings and your body’s signals. Carbohydrates are a vital part of a healthy, well-balanced diet. When you severely restrict your intake, you will start to naturally crave carbs. The keto diet teaches you to ignore this craving. This may contribute to a disordered relationship with food.
- It intensifies obsessive thoughts around food. The intense cravings for carbs can quickly turn into obsessive thoughts about foods containing carbohydrates. Some people have reported fixating on foods rich in carbohydrates while on the diet.
- It creates rigid rules about what to eat and what to avoid. Rigid rules about food are another characteristic of many eating disorders. Creating these rules for yourself may negatively affect your attitude towards food.
- It can cause you to fixate on weight loss. Many people follow the keto diet for weight loss. This focus can quickly become a fixation that can contribute to a disordered view of your own weight and body image.
- It’s difficult to stick to and can set you up for feeling like a failure. Many individuals have trouble sticking to this—or any—restrictive diet. This can lead to a feeling of failure if you don’t adhere to the diet perfectly. For those of us who have had an eating disorder in the past or may be at risk, this shame and guilt can trigger other eating disorder behaviors such as over-exercising and purging to “compensate.”
What is the relationship between keto and binge eating disorder?
Some research has shown that the keto diet may be useful in treating binge eating disorder. It is suggested that the high fat content of the keto diet can make us feel more full and satisfied after eating, which may prevent the urge to binge. Those of us who follow the keto diet may also feel more in control of our eating habits and behaviors, which helps combat disordered eating.
Recovery is a complex process involving therapy, nutritional counseling and other proven treatment methods. The keto diet poses a major risk of relapse in those of us who have been diagnosed with an eating disorder in the past. If you have or are currently struggling with an eating disorder, consult with your treatment specialists prior to trying a new diet like keto.
What are the adverse health effects of the keto diet?
When unmonitored by physicians, the keto diet can be dangerous even for those who are not at risk of an eating disorder. Many people experience the “keto flu” when first starting the diet—a condition that causes headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, weakness, irritability and muscle soreness.
Being in ketosis long-term can cause adverse health effects, including:
- Electrolyte imbalance;
- Kidney stones or kidney damage;
- Heart disease or damage;
- Muscle loss;
- Fatty liver;
- Low levels of protein in the blood;
- High cholesterol.
While keto can aid in weight loss and may be beneficial when used for a short period of time, this dieting method is not sustainable. Instead, it is recommend to follow a balanced diet for optimal health.
Could my keto diet actually be an eating disorder?
If you or a loved one currently follow a keto diet, it’s important to consult with a physician. Your doctor can help you monitor eating habits and attitudes towards food. If you feel you are starting to drift towards disordered eating, it may be time to reevaluate the keto diet and the effect it is having on your life.
Seeds of Hope offers teletherapy appointments for intensive outpatient and partial hospitalization programs, psychiatric evaluations and more for adult eating disorders or teen eating disorders. For more information, give us a call at 610-644-6464.