Is the keto diet sustainable in the long term?
Is the keto diet sustainable? We hear this question a lot and we find it rather odd.
Is exercise sustainable? Is looking after your mental health sustainable? What about being tolerant and getting on with people? Or holding down a job? How about staying out of jail, not stealing or avoiding drugs? These are odd questions wouldn’t you agree?
If you’re unmotivated then no diet is sustainable
The fact is, there are many things we do in life without question because they are good for us or not doing them will, in the long-run, create bad outcomes. The keto diet is no different. It’s about investing in your health. So when people ask “Is the keto diet sustainable”, what they’re really asking is “Is my health sustainable?” If you’re lazy, unmotivated or feel the need for everything to be fun, then keto is probably not sustainable for you. But if you see it as a healthier lifestyle, something that will benefit you overall or you’re an adult with who can delay gratification, then yes, keto is sustainable.
When people ask is the keto diet sustainable, a part of them is really asking, “Is the keto diet easy to stick with?” or “Is the keto diet enjoyable” or even, “Will the keto diet become boring?” That is the underlying question. There is an expectation that the keto should be easy, or fun, or varied or comfortable. We can’t promise those things but if you’re asking can an individual eat a keto diet for the rest of their lives, then the answer is yes but, as with anything worthwhile, it requires discipline. Not a huge amount – but some.
Choose your difficult
Yes, keto can be difficult but do you know what else is difficult? Being miserable about your weight, suffering self-esteem issues, battling with the resulting mental health challenges, being unhappy in yourself, having diabetes. Those things we’d argue are much harder than sticking with the keto diet.
Choose your difficult. Choose which battle you want to fight: having the discipline to eat ketogenic foods (from the thousands of keto recipes out there) or to go back to struggling with the issues that brought you to keto.
If you want something enough – if you have a big enough reason to motivate you – then you will stick with something. Many people come to keto because they want to lose weight, or reverse their Type 2 diabetes, or have more energy or a host of other reasons. For some of these people, keto is their “last chance”. They tried every other diet and it hasn’t worked for them. And so if not keto, then what else? That is sufficient motivation for many to stick with keto. If you have a big enough reason why you want to do something, you’ll do it.
Ask yourself, “Can I eat less than 20g of carbs a day?”
That is what it really comes down to. Can you eliminate most carbs from your diet? The answer is clearly yes. You may not be happy doing it, you may really crave carbs sometimes or feel like a cheat day – but could you do it? Is it possible to do it? If we were to say you could never eat gluten again, could you do it? Gluten is in most things we eat. Could you do it? Well, if you were celiac, you would have to do it because otherwise you are likely to face an early death.
Now, for some 20g is too low – people’s physiology is slightly different. In cases like this, you can increase your daily carbs up to 50g a day (and a maximum of 100g a day). So, can you eat 50-100g of carbs a day? If your life depended on it, or if there was a million dollars at stake, could you do it?
Is the keto diet sustainable? There’s no counting calories, so yes!
Calorie-restriction diets do not work. They go against your biology and biology always wins. Not only does it not work, calorie-restriction is bad for you.
You’re likely familiar with the now-defunct show The Biggest Loser. This series put obese contestants on insane workout programs and crash diets. No surprise, they lost a huge amount of weight in a short amount of time and it made for engaging reality TV, if that’s your thing. (One of the early trainers on The Biggest Loser, Jillian Michaels is a vocal critic of the keto diet).
Guess what? There has never been a Biggest Loser reunion program? Do you know why? Because when the camera went away and people went back to their old lives, nearly every contestant put weight back on. Many contestants went back to their former size. Calorie-restriction is not sustainable – yet that is the diet that many people are touting as superior to the keto diet.
Is the keto diet sustainable? Heck yes, when compared to starving yourself. Most people quit diets because they cannot cope with the constant hunger pangs. It’s torture. On the keto diet, there are no hunger pangs – you eat until you’re full.
You don’t count calories on the keto diet. You can if you want to and some people set daily calorie intake limits – which is perfectly sensible – but not necessary. The keto diet is so high in satiating fat that you generally feel full and stop eating before you reach any sensible daily calorie limit. Once you’re in ketosis, you’re burning fat 24/7 and so fat loss comes naturally without counting calories.
Give your body a chance to adapt to keto
If you’re not use to eating a lot of fat and then you flood your system with it, chances are your body is going to reject it. You may feel nauseous and you may even vomit. This is a sign that you have increased your fat intake too quickly. Give yourself a couple of weeks to adapt to the higher fat content in your diet. Concentrate more on cutting your carbs, not adding fat at this stage.
As you crave carbs or get hungry, eat some bacon – the high fat content and salt is very filling. And it’s a simple way to start getting your body use to more fat.
It’s not a question of is the keto diet sustainable but how you go about it. Give your body the chance to adapt to keto.
Recognise you’re going through withdrawal symptoms
Cravings are a withdrawal symptom. Chances are you’re addicted to carbs and sugar – most people are. Most of us have grown up with excessive carbs and sugar in our diets and so to simply give them up in one fell-swoop is not easy. Like any addict, if you go “cold-turkey” you will experience some powerful kickback in form of:
- Cravings. You will find yourself craving sugar and carbohydrates like bread, pasta, and potato chips.
- Anxiety/Irritability. Feelings of anxiousness may also be accompanied by nervousness, restlessness, and irritability. You may feel like you have less patience than usual and are on edge.
- Trouble sleeping/fatigue. Some people experience changes in their sleep when detoxing from carbs/sugar. You might find it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep through the night.
- Low mood. Feeling down is a common carb withdrawal symptom. Along with low mood, you may also notice a lack of enjoyment in things you once found pleasurable.
- Cognitive issues. You may find it difficult to concentrate when you quit carbs. This can cause you to forget things and make it hard to focus on tasks, such as work or school.
There are things you can do to lessen carbs and sugar withdrawal symptoms:
- Don’t have cheat days. Cheat days are a get-out clause and show you’re not fully committed to the keto diet. (You can build up to quitting by introducing more fat and eliminating more carbs in the two weeks running up to going full keto, but when you quit, stay quit.)
- Eat more protein and healthy fat. Protein and fat kill cravings.
- Eat a few healthy vegetables – but not too many, they contain carbs – to take the edge off cravings.
- Drink more water and keep your electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium) topped up.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners. This is similar to having cheat days – it will keep you mentally and emotionally dependent on “sweetness”. Eat some dark chocolate when cravings hit.
- Get enough sleep.
- Manage your stress.
Taste and variety
Your palate will adapt. Think back to the types of foods you ate as a child – are they still what you eat now? For many of us, the answer is no. Foods that we once loved we no longer find appealing. And similarly, foods that we once hated often become firm favourites. For example, many people find dark chocolate unappetising because it’s “bitter” (try a slightly lower cacao content to begin with…). This is because they’re used to the high-sugar content of milk chocolate. But with a little perseverance, they find things to appreciate about dark chocolate – the texture, the flavour, the subtlety – and their taste buds adapt and prefer it to the sweeter milk chocolate variety (or like it just as much).
Speaking of changing palates, here’s a major point to consider. Sugar is addictive – the more you have it, the more you want it. However, the opposite is also true. If you can avoid sugar for long enough, your body will no longer crave it and will seek out savoury foods. If you can ride out the cravings (which is really just withdrawal symptoms), you’ll find you don’t really miss it after a while.
Introduce new foods to your diet and give them a chance. If you can’t get on with a food type, find another. There are hundreds to choose from and an unlimited combination of meals you can have. Even a fussy toddler will find lots of meals they would like.
Make it easy and repeatable
Is the keto diet sustainable depends on how simple or complex you want to make it. We suggest simple. The simpler something is, the more sustainable it is. There are literally thousands of keto meal recipes out there. That’s a lot of variety – but it’s also a lot of work – and if you don’t enjoy cooking, or if you’re on a budget, then keep it simple.
You’re not running a keto restaurant. You don’t have to be a whizz in the kitchen. What do make and enjoy eating now? Make that – without the carbs. Here is an extensive list of keto substitutes for common non-keto items. And if you’re the type of person who is happy to eat the same thing regularly, even better! There’s no need to put on a wondrous, ever-changing carousel of keto foods each night. Just find five staple, go-to meals that you enjoy and which are easy to make.
The next step is to batch cook. Make large quantities that you can freeze. That way, you’re only cooking at, say, the weekend to sustain you all week.
The easier you can make the keto diet, the less brainpower and effort you need to figure out what to eat, the more sustainable it will be. Check out our custom keto meal plans.
Prepare for temptation
It’s important to not be caught off-guard without keto food when you’re on the keto diet. You may find yourself out to lunch or at a friends house or going to a meeting and suddenly you’re confronted with sugar and carbs with nothing to fall back on. In order to make keto sustainable, you need to make it “reality-ready”. So, make sure you have keto food on your person at all times.
If you’re relying solely on willpower, it will fail you. You need to think practically and have keto food to hand at all times. (Boiled eggs is a great go-to.)
Is the keto diet sustainable? Yes, if you stop living in the past
Think of the keto diet as starting a new relationship. While it’s tempting to compare your new partner to your ex, that’s just a recipe for disaster. There are new things to enjoy in any new relationship and it’s important to recognise and appreciate what’s good or great in the new setup. Similarly, there may be things you miss about the old relationship even though that relationship was bad for you. Stop going back to your ex! i.e. carbs and sugar. It’s not going to end well.
When you start keto, it’s easy to keep thinking back to the carbs and sugar and miss those things. (Because you’re an addicted going through withdrawal symptoms). One way to get over this is to recognise the joy carbs and sugar brought you but also to acknowledge the harm they are causing.
Verbalising it helps, “I love and miss carbs but they were raising my blood sugar levels and putting me at risk of diabetes” or “I really miss sugar but it was making me obese and miserable so it’s time to let it go” – or whatever it may be for you.
So, is the keto diet sustainable?
So, going back to the original question, “Is the keto diet sustainable?” That’s like asking, “Is looking after yourself sustainable?” The answer is yes but it requires conscientious effort:
- Have a big enough reason to do keto (physical, mental, emotional) and remind yourself of that when things get challenging
- Have a mature approach – keto is not always going to be exciting, fun, comfortable. If you’re not a fan of cooking, see keto simply as correct, healthy sustenance and nothing more.
- Recognise cravings as withdrawal symptoms that need to be resisted, like any addiction.
- Keep it simple. Have a few go-to recipes to hand and cook in large batches
- Plan for temptation – have keto foods to hand at all times
- Give your body and palate time to adjust to keto