New health problems, culinary dread, and a short-term view may be your body and brain’s way of asking for something new.
Just because a diet is trending or your coworker/brother-in-law/neighbor swears it worked for them doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for you.
“People often feel pressured to jump into the latest diet trend due to social media hype and marketing,” says Maria Zamarripa, RD, a functional medicine dietitian in Denver. The ketogenic diet (or keto diet for short) isn’t actually unique in this regard. “History has shown us that these trendy diets will come and go throughout the years,” she adds.
Right now, we’re heavy into keto, a very-low-carb, moderate-protein, and high-fat diet. The idea behind the diet is to switch your body from a carb-burning one to a fat-burning one, a state called ketosis or being “keto adapted.” There are many reasons why people go on keto. Though it was originally developed as a diet for children with epilepsy, it has expanded into potentially treating other health conditions, including type 2 diabetes. But when a diet is trendy, it’s usually the potential weight loss benefits that make it popular.
If you’ve been following keto (or keto-ish) since committing to it around New Year’s, you may be at the point where you’re thinking it’s not right for you after all. And that’s okay!
Here are eight signs that you should consider giving up on keto (though the advice applies to any diet):
1. Your Doctor Told You That Keto Is Dangerous for Your Health
Let’s just say that if you didn’t talk to your healthcare team before trying a restrictive diet like keto, you may be unnecessarily imperiling your health. That’s because while some doctors may recommend keto as a treatment for certain conditions, there are some people who shouldn’t go on it.
For instance, because the keto diet doesn’t allow many foods that are high in fiber (beans, many fruits, whole grains), Zamarripa does not recommend that someone with a personal or family history of digestive health conditions, including colon cancer, go on this diet. Fiber helps protect against digestive diseases, she says, which is supported by information from the National Institutes of Health.
In addition, if you currently have or have a history of an eating disorder, an extremely restrictive diet may be harmful, she says. Having kidney disease or type 1 diabetes may also make the keto diet dangerous for you.
In sum, if you’re on keto and seeing that your health condition is not improving (or is getting worse), you’d be wise to stop and ask your primary care doctor what eating plan best suits your personal health.
2. Being on Keto Has Led You to Not Enjoy Food Anymore
Regardless of any underlying health condition you might have, we all have different dietary preferences — and factoring them into your diet decision can help you find one you’ll be successful with. Did you eat many tasty and healthy foods like fruits, whole grains, or sweet potatoes before keto? “Don’t try to ignore that and go against what your body wants. You’ll be able to eat like that for a limited amount of time, but eventually you’ll feel restricted,” says Megan Ware, RDN, who is based in Orlando, Florida. Fat may be filling, but if you’re not eating much because you don’t like pouring it all over your food, it’s not a long-term solution.
3. You’re Sneaking in Cheat Days on the Keto Diet
The need for a cheat day may happen because you feel overly restricted or because you don’t like what you’re eating on keto. Either way, needing a cheat day is a sign that keto isn’t right for you. Not only does a study published in February 2019 in the journal Nutrients suggest that keto cycling could damage blood vessels but it’s also not a healthy mentality to live in. “This is your life, and you get to decide how to live it. If every Monday you’re starting your diet over again, you’re not doing the right thing,” says Ware. The best healthy diet is one that you can follow for the long haul.
4. Your Family Just Doesn’t Understand — and That’s Making This Diet Complicated
If you’re on such a restrictive diet that you can’t attend family gatherings or you can’t eat the food that friends or family are serving — and thus have to eat alone before or after — you may feel socially isolated. “Food plays a key role in our culture and social connections, and it should be enjoyed,” says Zamarripa. If keto is taking away your ability to connect with loved ones, reconsider.
5. You Simply Don’t Feel Healthy on the Ketogenic Diet
When you go on keto, everyone will warn you about the keto flu, a time when your body is adjusting to fat burning and you often have symptoms of illness. You should start to feel better after a couple weeks, but if you still feel awful, you may not be properly fueling your body.
It may also be a good idea to work with your doctor and get lab tests taken after being on keto to see how your body is responding. Those can give you a clue that things aren’t going as planned.
Ware has tried keto. She experienced a significant jump in her cholesterol levels, and she had never had high cholesterol before. “There’s a debate on what higher cholesterol numbers on keto mean, but for me, this was another sign that my body didn’t like eating this way,” she says.
6. Once You Started Keto, Your Period Became Irregular or Went Away
You expected that keto might be the fix that would make your whole body feel better, but you haven’t had a period for a couple months. (And you’re not pregnant.) It may be your diet. “The ketogenic diet may affect hormonal signaling,” says Zamarripa. Losing your period after beginning a new diet is a sign that it’s too restrictive, she says.
7. The Keto Diet Isn’t Resulting in the Weight Loss You Thought It Would
Your friend has bragged about all the weight they lost effortlessly on keto, while the needle on your scale is barely going down. No matter what diet — keto or not — you follow, know this: It’s not you. “People feel guilty that they can’t lose weight on a diet. It’s not that you’re failing the diet, it’s that the diet is failing you,” says Ware. “The arbitrary set of rules that diets set are not based on you and what’s best for your lifestyle, preferences, and genetics.” The good news is that a registered dietitian can help you figure out another eating approach that has a stronger likelihood of helping you meet your health and weight loss goals, so don’t lose hope.
8. You Feel Like You Can’t Wait to Stop Being on the Keto Diet
Honestly, if you’ve been doing keto since New Year’s, you’re on a longer track than most. “After three months on keto, many people come to me and say, ‘Now I’m looking for something more sustainable,’” says Ware. For any diet you embark on, ask yourself if you’re going to eat like this for the rest of your life. If the answer is no, it’s time to move on.
So You’ve Decided to Stop the Ketogenic Diet — What Now?
If you’ve had enough of keto, you have options — many of which have been researched and proven to be sustainable and healthy. Here are three diets to consider:
The Mediterranean Diet This anti-inflammatory style of eating has a food list that leans heavily on olive oil, legumes, vegetables, and fruits, and includes occasional dairy and meat like poultry and fish. “The Mediterranean diet is one of the most evidence-based and health-promoting eating patterns,” says Zamarripa. Important, though, is the focus beyond food and into social connection at mealtime, she says.
WW (Weight Watchers) This commercial diet is ranked as the No. 1 diet for weight loss in U.S. News & World Report’s 2019 diet rankings. Not only does WW aim to help members eat better (many foods, including fruits and veggies are zero points), it also fosters connection and provides support.
Flexitarian This semivegetarian diet wins accolades because it’s not entirely restrictive (see “flex” in the name), and there’s evidence that it helps followers lose weight and improve their health by reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, according to a review published online in January 2017 in Frontiers in Nutrition.