The ketogenic (keto) diet has been gaining popularity recently. Proponents of the diet say it can aid in weight loss, improve heart and brain health, and may even prevent cancer. However, there are also potential dangers from following this diet. 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 where it burns 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.
However, being in a state of ketosis does have some uncomfortable side effects, and could even cause health issues.
Does Keto Cause Eating Disorders?
While there’s no scientific evidence that the keto diet can cause an eating disorder, dieting can be harmful for individuals who are at risk for 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, severely restricting carb intake causes intense cravings that can trigger a binge eating episode.
The Relationship Between Keto Eating Patterns and Disordered Eating
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,” and this 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 an attitude of 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 individuals 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.
Can the Keto Diet Help Those with Binge Eating Disorder?
Some proponents of the diet claim that it helped them overcome binge eating disorder. They say that the high fat content of this diet helps them feel satisfied and makes them less likely to binge. Some also say that this diet helps them feel in control of their eating behaviors.
Eating disorder experts agree that recovery is a complex process involving therapy, nutritional counseling, and other proven treatment methods. If someone has been diagnosed with any type of eating disorder, the keto diet poses a major risk of relapse. Despite claims that this diet helps with eating disorders, experts strongly caution against it.
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 they first start the diet, a condition that causes headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, weakness, irritability, and muscle soreness. When individuals are in ketosis long-term, many adverse health effects can result, including:
- Electrolyte imbalance
- Kidney stones or kidney damage
- Heart damage
- Muscle loss
Many experts agree that 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, they recommend following a balanced diet for health.
Could My Keto Diet 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’s having on your life. Read more about the link between diets and eating disorders in our Nutrition and Health blog category.