Does the keto diet live up to its hype? I tried it to find out

I lost inches and it was a breeze to follow the first few weeks, but giving up carbs is not something I can live with!
Updated 01 Apr, 2018

I'm a carb monster. I see bread, I eat it - even if it's someone else's.

Now imagine how I felt when a relative proposed I follow keto - naam toh suna hi ho ga?

Let me rewind: in September last year my collarbone surgery led to two months of bed rest. I was advised to avoid all forms of exercise till the bone formed, at best I could control my food intake as a means of weight management.

For someone like me, who loves exercise and food with the same intensity, this was a nightmare.

Post surgery a relative came to visit with a MASSIVE chocolate cake and asked what I was eating to heal and recover. "Oh, stocking up on lots of protein, some complex carbs and lots of fruit and yogurt," I replied with a confident hand wave.

He shook his head and said, "Keto." In that moment I was Jon Snow and I knew absolutely nothing. That was the beginning of my keto journey... after I stuffed my face with cake, obviously.

So what is the ketogenic diet?

Keeping it super simple: Keto is a low-carb, high-fat diet with a moderate intake of protein.

When on low carbs, the body goes into a metabolic state called ketosis which forces the body to function on (and burn) fats instead of its primary energy source, carbs. The body produces ketones in the liver to use as fuel as carbs are not available to breakdown into glucose, therefore utilising the stored fat in the body - making the body shed fat.

It takes the body roughly two days to a week to go into ketosis.

When I Googled keto, my heart stopped and I did a Bollywood-style 'nahiiiii'.

I couldn't eat my favourite foods (scratch grains, fruit, sugar), and I immediately thought: "Is it even healthy to completely omit carbohydrates from your diet?"

I'd soon find out.

Letting go of an essential food group had me worried. But since I couldn't workout for the next two months, I figured, what better way to give up processed sugars than go cold turkey? Killing two birds with one stone. Also, hello? A diet which gives me a free pass to load up on cheese, butter and peanut butter, I'm in!

I began working on my keto meal plan with help from websites and came up with a basic structure. To keep my metabolism up I made sure I was eating every three hours (four meals a day in small portions).

Breakfast: two scrambled eggs fried in desi ghee, topped with desi makhan and cheese. Green tea.

Mid-day snack: a bowl of yogurt/ a small green apple with peanut butter. (I know apples aren't keto-compliant, but this website said if I really wanted to eat one, I could... and I'm goin' with it.)

Lunch: two kebabs/ Xander's Bresaola salad/ Evergreen's Pumpkin Ricotta soup/ assorted vegetables cooked in desi ghee/ yogurt with spinach.

Afternoon snack: nuts/ carrots and cucumbers with cottage cheese/peanut butter and green tea.

Dinner: repeat of lunch.

Let the hunger games begin!

Disclaimer: I didn't follow keto to the T. I wasn't counting macro-nutrients (calorie count of food intake), I was simply careful about what was on my plate and tried to keep up with the diet as best as I could.

For the next two months I was that annoying friend who keeps throwing 'keto' around like it automatically fit me into the ranks of royalty, 'Mein keto, aur ap?'

Bear with me.

The first week broke me. Seriously.

It was a real challenge keeping my hands off sugar.

Dessert (read: sugar) is a must-have post-meal, it's something I've always lived by, courtesy my father. But this diet wouldn't even let me eat fruit, let alone sugary desserts.

I'd walk mindlessly into the kitchen and open the fridge every few minutes to gape at the Forbidden Fruit in wonder and sorrow.

But I thought, 'This too shall pass.' And stuck to the diet.

Those seven days were painful. My mind would only think of food I couldn't eat and I noticed my energy levels waning, I was sleeping a lot more during the day. I felt lethargic, which was a little troubling, but then again I was bed-ridden so I couldn't do much either.

On the other hand, Nusrat Hidayatullah of the 42 Day Challenge, who has done keto thrice now for a three to six month period, said she truly enjoys following the keto diet. She told me, "People are really miserable for the first week. I had elevated energy levels [on the diet] and I loved it. The clarity my mind got. I eventually didn't crave sugar and I enjoyed that way of living because I could have lots and lots of saturated fat, it gave me a break form my regular structure. I will keep doing it."

Wish I could say the same...

By the second week I got into the groove.

My body was getting accustomed to keto food. I had survived the worst. If I could stay away from sugar for a whole week, I could do this and I refused to back down.

Bonus, my sweet tooth was behaving, my mood swings were gone and I wasn't as hyperactive as I used to be when I was consuming sugar - this was by far the best feeling!

My energy levels were also up in comparison to the week prior (phew!), and I was beginning to warm up to keto. The idea of following through with the diet didn't make me want to scream with agony.

As certified nutritionist Zoha Matin tells me, keto helps cut down added sugar, however, she warns that people with diabetes are more susceptible to diabetic ketoacidosis when on keto.

An excess production of keto acids could be harmful as it disturbs the acid/base balance in the body - however, this applies to everyone, not just people dealing with diabetes.

Diabetic ketoacidosis is a life-threatening complication in which "when cells in the body are unable to get the sugar (glucose) they need for energy, they burn the stored fat - which sees an increase in ketone build up in the blood, making it more acidic."

The third week passed by like a breeze.

I was in my element. I was avoiding non-keto foods effortlessly. I saw bread and I didn't eat it! Success!

In fact, I didn't want to eat anything non-keto; my mind steered clear of other foods and I lost all my sugar cravings. Just the thought of sugar made me gag. Keto sorcery, I tell you.

Cravings aside, I observed that my body was responding in kind to all the non-carby foods; my stomach went flat, from 26 inches to 24. I was pretty much shrinking and I went down a dress size, easy.

However, Zoha's words would soon put things in perspective. "My biggest concern is that although people can follow keto short term to lose weight but they will gain it back. They need to watch their vitamin and dairy intake, and take mineral supplements," she told me.

The fourth week went pretty okay...-ish.

Everything was going fairly stable and by that I mean boring.

I was still careful about my food intake, but I wondered how long I could keep this up. I wanted to follow the diet for at least two months, but now I was getting tired of the low-carb policy.

Forget sugar, I wanted to eat regular food. I wanted to share the same food my family and friends ate, especially when going out to eat. (There were only a couple of places offering a keto menu.)

I also noticed I was gaining inches everywhere, my stomach was no longer as flat as it was early on into the diet. The satisfaction level was just not the same anymore.

I was slowly beginning to lose interest in keto. I was getting weary of it. Maybe I needed to change my diet plan? Maybe I needed a bit of experimentation?

According to Zoha, I gained weight because I wasn't counting my macros and caloric intake, so I wasn't following through as required. The amount of yogurt I was consuming on the diet was possibly taking me above the carb limit. I was unaware that it is a source of carbohydrates, though not high in calories. Yikes.

Fifth... sixth, seventh and eighth week were a slippery slope and I eventually fell off the bandwagon.

It got difficult, I'm not going to lie. I started whining to myself when I saw bread. I wanted to eat it but couldn't.

My cravings (and laziness) got to me and I was ordering from Xander's and Evergreen almost everyday, making keto heavy on the pocket.

Gradually, my interest in the diet began to fade and I wasn't as eager to follow it. I cracked under pressure.

I'd break off a piece of bread here, pinch off a piece of mithai there and not feel guilty or bothered. I was slowly letting go of the diet without realising it. I thought to myself, 'It's just a pinch, I'm still on keto. Itnay sey kuch nahi hota.'

Denial works wonders. But what I didn't realise and refused to come to terms with was that I could no longer keep up with the diet. I was done.

Why was I doing this to myself when I wasn't feeling it, I wondered.

And that's when the big question hit me: Do I really want to continue with keto?

... and I found myself saying, no.

Verdict: I won't try keto again.

Personally, I would never make this diet a lifestyle - I don't feel it's sustainable. Although staying off sugar was the most rewarding part of the diet... and the flat stomach, I'm not going to lie!

Zoha explained that keto is a diet most dietitians including herself, won't necessarily recommend, because "we don't believe in a restrictive diet, we believe in an adaptive diet you can sustain for the rest of your life."

And though people follow it to lose weight, the nutritionist says "studies show that sedentary people who followed a moderate carb diet vs people who followed a low carb diet can still lose the exact same weight with caloric control."

However, Nusrat believes sustainability is all about willpower. "Sustainability is a personal thing. It's not very challenging to follow these diets. The challenge people will feel is withdrawal from carbohydrates, that's something you'll have to put up with. Keto is basic and simple to follow. The fact that you can't have a cheat meal and no sugar is what pulls people down."

My main concern was not eating carbs at all, and because I lead a very active lifestyle, this was an immediate red flag. Zoha agrees. She says, athletes would not recommend keto as they're always loading up on carbs; performance-wise keto is not the best diet to follow.

Nusrat though, says that "80% of the way you work and feel is based on what you eat. Keto is very, very effective even without a workout, but if you do workout especially in the morning on an empty stomach, a morning workout it'll push you further into the ketogenic state, because you're in the ketogenic diet. As long as you have enough caloric intake throughout the day, nothing more than the regular deficit in your body, because you're eradicating a complete energy source."

Her advice to those looking to go low-carb: be really careful about the right supplements, vegetable and dairy intake. See a dietitian and see what works for you. This diet can cause deficiencies as it's highly restrictive. I wish people are following it in a healthy way and counting their caloric intake.

For me, keto was supposed to help maintain my weight, did it help? No, I lost weight and then gained more back. Was I feeling particularly energetic during those two months? Not really. My energy levels were low-ish and mood, stable. Did I find it easy to prepare keto meals? Nope. It was problematic looking for keto compliant ingredients. And then it just got annoying.

While it isn't something I'd swear by, there are some trainers who do believe that Keto works wonders. Nusrat is one of them. She followed through with her diet and she absolutely loved it, "As the days rolled on I began to notice some remarkable changes within my mood and energy levels. The improvement in my physical functionality – well, that was just cherry picking! All systems go and I threw in some INTERMITTENT FASTING!"

If anyone asks me: been there, done that, not doing it again. If it works for you and others, great, but it's not something I would ever go back to.

Sorry keto, it's not you, it's me.


Sheeda Tully Mar 22, 2018 01:41pm
You missed the main point. Some bodies can take carbs just fine. These bodies burn carbs efficiently. Other bodies don't use carbs and store them as fat. Keto is ideal for the latter type. If you are in the second category, then you may not have been able to lose weight despite calorie restriction and exercise. If that is the case, keto is the way forward. You don't have to cut out all carbs. Restrict it to 10 to 20 % of your intake.
usman Mar 22, 2018 02:05pm
Truly awesome article :) I tried the Dukan diet and quit within one month but somehow I managed my weight and waist and did not let it expand for the last 5 years. I did only a few things without any exercise: I quit lunch and ate meals twice (Breakfast: 1 boiled egg, 2 dates and one cup of milk. Dinner: Full fledged meal or sometime Big Mac or 3 / 4 slices of pizza or one full plate of nihari with 1.5 naan or chicken biryani with diet coke) and 4 to 5 cups of green tea including one cup of green tea with 1 spoon of lemon before going to bed. It work for me to maintain my waist and weight but never let it reduce. So for reduction, exercise is needed with my self developed diet. I choose this option to have one tasty meal per day and cut big options in breakfast or lunch. it worked for me but DON'T sleep right after dinner....
Khurram Mar 22, 2018 02:12pm
For most people in Pakistan Keto is impossible to follow not because of having to cut sweets, desserts and fruits - that is the easier part. The most difficult thing to cut for a common man here is to avoid rice and roti (flour) from the diet. They are a must lunch/dinner item in almost every household in Pakistan. They can't just eat meat and saalan (gravy) alone without rice or roti and hence carbs are unavoidable for them.
IAB Mar 22, 2018 02:15pm
Ketosis is dangerous and leads to the body using up the body's own proteins. It also effects the heart as heart is a protein as well.Low carbohydrate levels cause blood sugar levels to drop and the body begins breaking down fat to use as energy. Ketosis is actually a mild form of ketoacidosis. Ketoacidosis mostly affects people with type 1 diabetes. In fact, it is the leading cause of death of people with diabetes who are under 24 years of age
Abdullah Mar 22, 2018 02:33pm
I’d stay away from any diet that stopped you from eating fruit, which are some of the most nutritious foods on the planet. While a low carb high fat diet may be good for losing weight and slimming down, Its not great for your arteries and cholesterol, not to mention your kidneys and liver which have to break down all that fat. I agree there are some good fats out there but desi ghee is not one of them. I think a wiser approach to losing weight is to focus on long term health goals rather than quick 30 minute fad diets. Eating smaller portions, eating more fruits and vegetables, eating less processed and friend foods, eating less meat and exercising regularly are not only the best ways to lose weight but are the best ways to live a long, happy healthy life. Just my two cents.
Fried Chillies Mar 22, 2018 02:37pm
Take it for what it's worth. A visit to the doctor and all the reading were pretty shot, blood pressure high, sugar touching higherside, salt, triglycerides, udl, hdl all wrong. 60 days of strict keto combined with walking stairs 3 floors thrice a day....Goes from 82kgs to 67. The strategy is simple but doubt it will sell in Pakistan. Lots of vegetables aka subji 80% of your lunch and dinner 20% meet. 15 min cardio MUST you will see fat melt away. Most important ingredient 'RESOLVE' and 'DISCIPLINE'
Khurram Mar 22, 2018 02:39pm
Btw, best way to lose weight without having to do rigorous exercise is INTERMITTENT FASTING! It really helps, if you do that for 12-16 hour a day, by skipping a meal. It will initially be tough but within a week or so, your body will get used to it and you won't feel hungry any more.
Kumar Mar 22, 2018 03:30pm
If you burn all the energy from carb (unlikely), you dont need a keto diet. If you have borderline or high blood sugar, keto is the way to go! Egg, Chicken, vegetables, protein shake and occasional cheat meal (Biriyan!!). I've been on it for 2 years, in my 50's, am lean and mean, and blood biochemistry is better than in college (too much booze, babes and other sins). Don't forget to weight train for full benefit. Also look at High Intensity Interval Training and Intermittent fasting for quick benefit. When you like what you see in the mirror...the diet is sustainable!
Tikka Mar 22, 2018 03:41pm
Keto is okay to follow one day a week.
Fried Chillies Mar 22, 2018 04:38pm
@Tikka its a lifestyle for those who seek sustained results
Rajeev Samuel Mar 22, 2018 06:26pm
You missed the real main point of keto. Carbohydrates cause cancer, heart disease, fatty liver disease, diabetes, obesity and probably acid reflux, IBS, ALS, MS and Alzheimer's. Carbohydrates are now the #1 leading cause of death.
Rehan Mar 22, 2018 07:02pm
@Khurram exactly. Our meals are not solids. Eating keto is going to be very heavy on the pocket of a common man
Misty Mar 22, 2018 09:34pm
@Rajeev Samuel There is a difference between complex carbs such as veggies/fruits and sugar. Veggies/fruits protect against cancer. You need to be careful about giving health information on this site. Google Dr. Fuhrman for the nutritarian diet that is based on complex carbs and reduces diabetes, cancer, heart disease, etc.
Flippy Mar 22, 2018 11:11pm
Every body is different. For some, low food intake does the trick to lose weight while for others smaller meals through out the day and exercise. Sticking to one diet will not help you lose weight and if you do, you are most of the time starving yourself. Eat everything but in moderation. Exercise every 3 or 4 times a week. Eat the good stuff (cakes, brownies etc) twice a month or whatever suits you as long as you burn calaroies. I think 70/30 (70% diet, 30% exercise) ratio works best for some one who is busy. If you are a food lover like me then 60% diet and 40% exercise. This roughly amounts to 1 hour 30 minutes exercise and 2 cheat days a week. In my experience, there is no right formula that you can continue to follow in hopes to lose weight. Ideal time frame to lose weight is 1 year to 2 year depending on your goals. I was hear 200 kg and over the course of 2 years I lost 110 kg. I started with limiting my intake and slowly switched to salads and other healthy items.
Zoha matin Mar 23, 2018 01:09am
@Abdullah yes ! Exactly !! What “healthy” diet would exclude fruits!! They’re rich in so many heart healthy antioxidants!
Fried Chillies Mar 23, 2018 01:11am
@Rehan misconception. Cut the meat part of the description and replace with vegetables. Now reevaluate if Keto is expensive. Essentially the fundamental thing is humans should revert to eating food consumable in its natural form without processing or modification. Nature has blessed us with everything we need in all tastes. But humans jacked up the system and in turn ourselves
Zoha matin Mar 23, 2018 01:26am
Im the nutritionist featured in this article. I’d just like to reiterate/ clarify a few things as I read these comments. (1) Nutritional Ketoacidosis and Diabetic ketoacidosis are different. The latter harmful version of ketoacidosis affects just those people with diabetes. Nutritional Keto acidosis, which happens to people following the Keto diet correctly, occurs at levels that are not harmful to the body - so nothing to really worry about. However, those following the Keto diet (properly - in its strictest form) do not get enough antioxidants/certain nutrients in their bodies since they (1) completely cut out fruit and (2) vegetables are minimal. Getting enough fibre - a carb which is VERY VERY important to your digestive system - is a big issue with this diet. Sure, this diet can be sustained by certain people. Sure, it helps them lose weight...but it’s certainly not the HEALTHIEST diet long-term and puts people at risk of vitamin or mineral deficiencies, which can be quite harmful to one’s health. So essentially just be aware that you’re following a slightly dangerous way to lose weight short-term. My 2 cents : I think the reason that the majority of Keto diet supporters are so impressed by this diet is because for the first time they started eating a little bit healthier and went into a calorie deficit to be able to lose some weight. No matter what diet you follow - moderate-carbohydrate or low-carbohydrate - a calorie deficit is ultimately what will cause you to lose weight! Vigorous scientific studies done comparing different diets on weight loss show this, time and again.
Zoha matin Mar 23, 2018 01:54am
As the Nutritionist who commented on the keto diet in this article, I'd like to clarify a few things. 1) Diabetic ketoacidosis and nutritional ketoacidosis are different. Diabetic ketoacidosis is quite dangerous but occurs only in diabetics. Nutritional ketoacidosis occurs in those people STRICTLY following the keto diet - and it's effects are negligible in the body - so nothing to be too concerned about. 2) Sure, some people can sustain the keto diet for many months and like it. Sure, people lose weight when following this diet. If that's your only goal and this works for you short-term - you do you. However, if you're concerned about your health, this is not the HEALTHIEST diet to sustain long term. There are a number of concerns but I'll keep it brief - a lack of fiber is definitely an issue. Also, which 'healthy' diet excludes fruit anyway!? I'm just not convinced. On top of that, the diet promotes more healthy fat to make up that 80% but I know most people in this country are focusing on the meat and animal fats only - very high saturated fat content there which has effects long-term that you can't see short-term. My 2 cents- I believe that the majority of keto diet supporters have probably just eaten a little healthier (given up a ton of added sugars, cut down unhealthy processed carbohydrates) and gone into a caloric deficit for the first time. What they are seeing on the scale or feeling in terms of energy levels are effects of THOSE positive changes, not their % macro (carb, protein, fat) shift. People believe that keto has the magic formula.. but it's just another diet confirming what scientists have known for ages. It's ultimately the CALORIC DEFICIT that dictates weight loss, not the % macros. Numerous vigorous scientific studies show that those who follow a moderate-carb diet vs those who follow a low-carb diet lose the same amount of weight, when it's the same caloric amount. There surely is more than one way (some healthier than others) to achieve those results.
Manoj Mar 23, 2018 04:34am
KETO : where body consumes itself !!!
Har Mar 23, 2018 04:34am
I was in the clinic of a leading cardiologist for a research project. His assistant happened to be an Indian. While undergoing test we started talking and came to desi ghee. I told her the ghee in USA is waxy no flavour (I know the cows here are fed all types of animal waste). She agreed but surprised me that she gets her regular supply from India. A cardiologist consuming desi ghee regularly. It will be a big joke in India.
alexander the GREAT. Mar 23, 2018 06:58am
@Rajeev Samuel Mr. Rajeev.Do you have any credible and authentic evidenceproof about the claims against carbohydrates?
Sheraz Khan Mar 23, 2018 07:54am
Hi, Good article, but keto is about a complete life style change... I believe keto diet in Pakistan is a bit difficult when home made garam garam roti, daal chawal or Biryanin type dishes are waiting for you... difficult to resist! I shed from 84 kg to 72kg in 2 months time but my life style is totally changed now... I start cooking myself, kept cooked protein handy all the time bake vegetables and put some calculated proteins that's my meal every day.... But I'm happy with my flat belly, it feels awesome... I might never give up on keto but I improvised it with having little carbs in the morning say one slice only (that's my doctor's recommendation). After 40 - less carb is the way to go... Coming Ramadan if anyone tries keto - 15 to 20 kg drop in weight is guaranteed..... (excluding sugar patients) ... Goodluck
M Wasim K Mar 23, 2018 09:34am
The easiest way to lose weight is to think you are a poor person (well it really helps, if you are) and then skip afternoon meals (difficult in beginning, just like you are fasting) and in night you can eat moderately, and yes you can eat bread (roti and sometimes nan) don't over eat in the night. Eat rice here and there a few mouthfuls. Stop sugar intake (limit a spoon in your morning tea or coffee). Never drink softdrinks again or juices from the market. These are nothing but sugar. Drink water instead. Fruits are necessary for fiber so eat fruits but not binge eating. And walk to do your regular chores. Don’t ask people to do your chores, do it yourself. Get off your sofa or couch and move around. That’s it, you’ll loose weight.
Hemant naik Mar 25, 2018 05:30pm
@M Wasim K Well Said