Trigger warning: This column mentions eating disorders.
At long last, the pervasive idiocy known as the keto diet is fading from society.
Fewer keto guidebooks litter the shelves. Ridiculous videos of people replacing sandwich bread with sliced bell peppers have disappeared from social media. The nosy neighbor has stopped telling you about how great he feels on keto, probably because he got tired of lying.
But if history stands as evidence, this is not the end. Atkins, paleo, juice cleanses — there have been countless fad diets in the past, and unless we change the way we think about food and weight loss, there will be countless more in the future.
It’s not just about the annoying books and TikTok videos. Fad diets are extremely harmful to the body and mind; they promote a culture of disordered thoughts, malnourished bodies and a toxic competition for who can endure more of both.
The great tragedy is that everyone who falls for the scheme thinks they’re being healthy.
Keto is a prime example of this miseducation going mainstream. The diet, created over a century ago, was never intended as a weight loss method for the general public. It was prescribed as a treatment for epilepsy before proper medication existed, as it can reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures.
The diet requires its followers to receive 75% of their calories from fat and only 5% from carbohydrates. For comparison, a standard diet is 20% to 35% fat and 45% to 65% carbohydrates.
After just a few days of following this composition, the body is sent into a metabolic state called ketosis, which means it starts breaking down fat instead of its preferred glucose.
Sounds great, right? Wrong. Ketosis is not a secret pathway to fat burning. It’s actually a method the body uses to survive famine in the absence of proper energy sources. And if someone forces their body to stay in ketosis for too long, dangerous side effects can occur.
When trying to meet the lofty fat requirements for a keto diet, many people consume too much saturated fat, increasing their cholesterol and risk of heart disease. Keto also lowers blood pressure, so people already on the lower side can see their blood pressure drop to dangerous levels. And all the regular signs of malnutrition — headaches, mood swings, dizziness — are often present as people go through ketosis.
And there’s the obvious fact that keto followers must all but abandon several healthy, essential foods, like whole grains, fruits and low-fat dairy. As with any diet that cuts out entire food groups, keto often induces detrimental nutrient deficiencies.
Once the fad energy fades, people usually revert to their previous eating habits and end up gaining all the weight back. They put their bodies through hell and ruin their relationship with food for little to no lasting results.
The only party that stands to gain is the people selling those books. After they try and fail to keep up with the latest fad diet, people’s insecurities won’t disappear — but they’ll absolutely be commercialized.
We need to be prepared for whatever fad diet comes next. The only foolproof way to lose weight is to follow a healthy, balanced diet and get frequent exercise to create a sustainable calorie deficit. But the fixation on weight loss itself is part of the reason fad diets maintain their grip on society. The qualities of a body in ketosis stand to prove that being slim isn’t always the same as being healthy.
Intuitive eating — asking what the body needs to feel good, even if that means a cookie every once in a while — is far more sustainable than intensely restricted plans from the internet. If people learn to see all food groups as a source of energy instead of an enemy, they can prevent downward spirals into disordered, avoidant eating patterns.
Promoting healthy attitudes and constructive health journeys is the only way to get rid of fad diets once and for all. Keto was the latest, righteously defeated boss in this game — but the human body can only play for so long.
Talia is a sophomore in Media.