Can you really lose weight eating gobs of butter on the keto diet?


At this summer’s Burning Man festival, Jackson Heights resident Nina Ho stumbled upon an almost miragelike scene: a congregation of lean, beautiful men drinking sugar-free margaritas.

The desert gathering was part of Kamp Keto, a workshop bringing together devotees of what’s known as the ketogenic diet, a high-fat weight-loss craze that’s reached critical mass among everyone from anti-aging Silicon Valley biohackers to NYC residents struggling to fit into their skinny jeans.

“My mind was blown,” says Ho, a 31-year-old graphic designer, who had dropped 10 pounds on the diet before heading to the festival for her wedding. “I was proud to see that [Kamp Keto] existed.”

A new best-selling guide expands on the ketogenic eating approach that 24-year-old Daniel Piserchia followed to drop 10 pounds this year.Stefano Giovannini

Though ketogenic eating has been around in some form since the 1920s, when it was found to curb symptoms of epilepsy in kids, the diet’s Burning Man presence is just the latest sign of its trending status. Celebs such as Kim Kardashian, Gwyneth Paltrow and LeBron James are reportedly fans. A Reddit community devoted to ketogenic eating recently soared to over 400,000 users. Prepackaged foods such as snack bars and “keto pizzas” are now hitting supermarkets en masse.

The diet centers on fatty foods such as bacon, butter, coconut and avocado. All told, they should compose 65 to 75 percent of a person’s daily intake, says nutrition guru and former performance athlete Mark Sisson, author of the new best-seller “The Keto Reset Diet” (Harmony Books). In theory, filling up on fat gives the body little choice but to burn its own stored fat, a state known as “ketosis.”

As for the rest of the diet, protein sources such as steak and salmon account for 15 to 25 percent, while carbs are capped at 10 percent — mostly in the form of low-starch veggies such as broccoli and kale. You can forget pretty much everything else: Absolutely no grains, grain-based products or sweeteners are allowed. Fruit is essentially forbidden, and only small sips of liquor are sanctioned.

Although fans say that ketogenic eating sparks rapid weight loss, the diet is also sparking concerns from some doctors and nutritionists.
Dr. Rekha Kumar, an endocrinologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian, says the diet can leave people lacking in critical nutrients — due to both low intake and metabolic changes that occur as a result of the dietary shift.

“A person on a ketogenic diet can experience low levels of electrolytes such as sodium, potassium and magnesium,” she says. “Constipation is also a concern due to lack of fiber.”

Plus, those who shed pounds quickly on the diet — through a mechanism that isn’t well understood by scientists, despite the theory — are likely losing lean muscle mass, which can slow down the body’s metabolism. As a result, people have to eat less and less to maintain their slimmed-down physiques, she says.

Kumar adds that ketogenic believers often point to a 2004 study in which 83 obese volunteers lost an average of 32 pounds after 24 weeks on the plan. “But when we look at larger, longer-term studies of very low-carb diets lasting one year or longer, the benefits are basically equivocal,” she says. In other words: “If you look at who can maintain that weight loss, it’s a very small percentage of people.”

That hasn’t stopped NYC clients from asking registered dietitian Alissa Rumsey about ketogenic dieting.

“I started hearing it mostly from athletes, but in the last six to eight months I’m seeing more of the general population saying, ‘What’s that? Should I be doing it?’ ” says the Flatiron-based Rumsey. “I usually tell them, ‘No, I don’t think you should be doing that.’”

Nevertheless, ketogenic eating holds promise, says Dr. David Ludwig one of the country’s foremost obesity experts and a nutrition professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“We’re really at the dawn of research into the ketogenic diet beyond specialty applications [such as diabetes and epilepsy],” says Ludwig, whose latest book, “Always Hungry?” (Grand Central Life & Style), advocates for a low-carb plan that is similar to the ketogenic diet but with fewer restrictions. “There’s a strong case to be made that the high-carbohydrate diet has been a prime driver of the obesity epidemic and other chronic diseases.”

Michael Perina lost 90 pounds in four months on the diet in 2011 (above). When his weight rose again — to 364 pounds — he used a different diet plan to drop to his current 190 pounds (below).Courtesy of Michael Perina
Annie Wermiel

Perhaps time will tell: Ludwig’s New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center recently received a massive $12 million grant to investigate ketogenic dieting in depth.

For believers such as Sisson, 64, personal improvement is the only proof needed.

“It was a natural progression,” he says of the two-month keto plan he tried in 2016 after years of following a paleo diet. “The reality is that I’m a performance-based person, and I’m always looking for the next big thing.”

In his case, the results were profound. “I had more energy and more strength; my cognition was better; and my attachment to hunger and appetite diminished,” he says. “I just felt like, if I … noticed these types of changes, imagine what people who had some work to do, how they could benefit.”

Sisson says the ketogenic diet of today is a “kinder, gentler” version of its late ’80s/early ’90s incarnation, which was frequently lumped in with the high-fat, high-protein Atkins Diet and called for the use of special “keto strips” that tested urine for metabolic byproducts called ketones.

Still, nonathlete ketogenic dieters who spoke to The Post had mixed reviews.

When Michael Perina, a 30-year-old Staten Islander and owner of a 3-D printing company, dropped 90 pounds on the diet in its emerging days in 2011, he thought he had found the silver bullet for his lifelong struggle with weight.

Never mind that he developed fatigue and flulike symptoms. “I was losing a pound a day, so I didn’t care,” he says.

It took him just four months to drop the weight. But soon after, he found his food choices slipping, causing his appetite to roar back — and emotional eating to spike.

“If you mess up one day, you feel like you’ve messed up for good,” he says. “It was depressing, and that depression drove me to eat again. It was a downward spiral.”

Nina HoStefano Giovannini

Perina’s weight climbed back to 364 pounds. He blames the diet’s “all or nothing mentality.”

Today, he’s slimmed back down to 190 pounds thanks to a far less aggressive calorie-counting plan, full of nutritious foods that were banned on his keto regimen. He also exercises in the morning, before his four sons wake up for school.

Daniel Piserchia, 24, has had better luck since he started intermittently following a ketogenic diet in February, when he learned about the trend on Reddit. Though he weighed a relatively healthy 170 pounds, he worried that his sedentary job at an accounting firm would catch up with him. In lieu of joining a gym, he decided to give the keto diet a shot.

“I wanted to [control my weight] in the simplest way possible in the shortest amount of time,” says Piserchia, who lives in Astoria.

He lost about 10 pounds in a month. And though he’s a smoker, drinks socially on weekends (when not in ketosis) and rarely exercises, he says he feels healthy, alert and is spending less on food. He says he’s found a way to make keto part of his lifestyle by planning around carb-filled events such as parties.

Ho, who says she’s preparing to enter a fifth ketogenic spurt with her husband, admits that after two years on and off the diet, she’s sick of certain aspects — such as the constant bacon, believe it or not. Ketogenic dieting also takes a bite out of her social life, since dining out is usually out of the question.

“It would be a lot easier if more people were doing it,” she says.


A day of keto eating

Here’s a sample day on the trendy weight-loss plan, adapted from nutrition guru Mark Sisson’s new best seller, “The Keto Reset Diet.”

Keto_Coffee_Tea_Duo1a
Breakfast: Fast until lunch, or sip coffee with a pat of butter for creaminess.

Shutterstock

Keto_Macadamias_Choc_Duo1a
Lunch: Half a baked avocado, preferably with an egg in the center, plus ¹/₂ cup of macadamia nuts and 2 squares of unsweetened 85- to 90-percent-cacao chocolate.

Getty Creative; Alamy

Keto_Carnitas_Slaw_Duo1a
Dinner: Main dish: slow-cooked carnitas. Sides: coleslaw dressed with avocado-oil mayo, sour cream and apple cider vinegar, as well as steamed cauliflower mashed with 1 tbsp. of butter and 1 tbsp. of sour cream.

Shutterstock


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Can you really lose weight eating gobs of butter on the keto diet?

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