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The ketogenic diet—comprised of high intake of fat, moderate intake of protein, and extremely low intake of carbohydrates—has been around for decades, first used therapeutically in the 1920s to treat children with epilepsy.1,2 It’s grown in popularity again in recent years, not for only medical purposes (including medication-resistant epilepsy, chemotherapy3, and diabetes4) but also for an effective means for rapid weight loss and a host of other health benefits, such as improved energy and mental clarity.5
But critics of the ketogenic diet (and there are plenty) are apt to say that the model of keto is so darn challenging that a majority of people simply aren’t able to adhere to it. True, some studies on a high-fat, low carb diet’s effect on various medical conditions have been marred by non-compliance to the diet, and in general the diet is certainly a drastic divergence from the so-called Standard American Diet and many other food philosophies out there, including Paleo and Atkin’s.6
Understandably, the ketogenic diet seems pretty strict by any standards. But if anyone’s tried to scare you away from trying it because "too hard," we’ve got a few things to consider. After all—the clear benefits of keto can drastically outweigh the benefits.
The claim: Keto is hard because you have to be very restrictive of what you eat.
Yes, you have to cut out certain foods from your diet while eating to enter and stay in ketosis—that metabolic state where your body converts body fat into molecules called ketones which are then used as fuel, instead of the "preferred" model of converting carbs into sugar for fuel.
But if you think about it, even when you remove fruit (other than occasional berries), grains, potatoes, legumes, and sugary processed foods (read: most junk food), you’re still left with rich and nutritious choices:
- Meats and organ meats
- Healthy oils
- Nuts and seeds
- Butter and full-fat dairy products
- Low-carb veggies (think green)
Even the occasional piece of dark chocolate or small glass of wine may be acceptable! The point is, you can still enjoy a widely varied and healthy diet while following ketosis, and you may find that eventually you don’t even miss your old "staples" like rice or pasta (which really only taste good when things like butter, herbs, and meat are mixed in!).
The claim: Keto is hard because you’ll have tons of sugar cravings.
This may be true only in the beginning, when your body is transitioning from a glucose-burning machine to a keto-burning machine. Being aware of this possibility—along with drinking lots of water and loading up your plate with filling veggies and healthy fats—will help combat these cravings, and they should lessen over time.
In fact, your body becomes so efficient on ketosis and your blood sugar levels tend to become so steady that you may find your appetite to naturally decrease anyway—another benefit of keto for people trying to lose excess body fat.5
The claim: Keto is hard because it’s difficult to maintain the diet while also maintaining a social life.
It’s actually quite a bit easier to go out to eat while maintaining keto than you may think. Consider these simple substitutions:
- A glass of club soda with a small squeeze of lime juice, or a small glass of wine (instead of aalcoholic drink)
- An extra side of green veggies instead of the typical sides of mashed potatoes, fries, or onion rings
- Olive oil and vinegar instead of salad dressing
- A burger without the bun (especially if you can get it with extra cheese!)
- French onion soup (minus the croutons) instead of tomato, lentil, or noodle soup
If you’ve noticed, a lot of these substitutions are arguably healthier than the original menu items! Truthfully, if you’re committed to keto, eating out with friends and family only requires minor adjustments and at most maybe some planning ahead of time (it’s super helpful to look at the online menu before you get to the restuarant if there’s one available).
The claim: Keto is hard especially when other people in your home aren’t following it.
To be fair, this one just may come down to pure willpower.
In an ideal world, you’d be able to remove every non-keto friendly food from your house so you won’t be tempted by the sugary, high-carb snacks in the fridge, freezer, or pantry. But you can’t—and for the sake of respect probably shouldn’t—"force" anyone else in your household to hop on the keto train with you if they’re not genuinely interested in trying it.
Of course, roommates and family members may become keen to try ketosis anyway after seeing all your amazing results—but that’s an ideal outcome as well, not necessarily an expectation!
Remember, though, that the deeper you get into ketosis and the more "used" you get to it (metabolically and mentally), the easier it will be to "resist’ those sugary, starchy, carb-loaded foods anyway. Ultimately, you may just need to review your reasons why for adopting keto—is it to lose body fat? Improve your energy? Prevent or manage a chronic illness? Boost your physical performance? If your why is solid, the how will be much easier to carry out.
The claim: Keto is hard if you workout.
Your body can adapt to burning fat as fuel and still be able to perform well athletically. In fact, some research6 even suggests that athletes on a ketogenic diet are afforded unique benefits compared to their typically-eating active peers, including delayed fatigue and increased rate of fat burning.
One thing that will make exercising on keto easier is to adjust the way you consume your carbs depending on the type of exercise you’re doing. For instance, you may need to eat slightly more carbs right before or after a long endurance workout. You may also need to adjust your keto diet to have a slightly higher carb intake if you are an elite competitive athlete who trains multiple times and multiple hours per day.
But the overall consensus is that it’s totally possible to perform low- to moderate-intensity exercise while on the ketogenic diet, and that your body can adapt to burning fat as efficiently if not more efficiently than burning glucose for energy, even during physical activity.
To be clear, the ketogenic diet is challenging. But is it inhibitively hard? We’ll argue no—or at least, this depends on how inspired you are to actually stick it out for a given period of time.
The bottom line is that if we can assume you’re medically cleared to experiment with it (which only you and your doctor can really figure out) and if you’re genuinely interested in trying it, then a ketogenic diet could be one of the most rewarding and beneficial challenges you could ever try.
About the Author Nate Arnold
I started this website because it was hard to find trustworthy, evidence-based information about the ketogenic diet. Information that was published and peer reviewed by respected scientific journals. After years of research, I'm sure you'll achieve great results in a healthy way following my advice. I do my best to translate scientific research jargon into plain English. Remember, it's always a good idea to consult a doctor before starting a new diet!