The term “fad diet” is defined as a popular weight-loss plan that promises positive dramatic results, but is actually unhealthy, does not cause long-term weight loss and can even threaten overall health. In a culture where having a skinny body can often be mistaken as having a healthy body, it can be difficult to judge what foods or diets can truly keep you healthy and happy—not just help cut weight. In the midst of fad-diet promises, what tried-and-true, nutritionally based diets can provide results in terms of weight, but also overall health?
Some of the options include the ketogenic diet (high-fat, low-carb), the paleo or “caveman” diet (veggies, fruits, meat and no gluten), Whole30 (30 days of veggies, fruit, nuts and meat), the mediterranean diet (vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, whole grains, seafood, limited dairy and red meat), and the more radical option of intermittent fasting (described as more of an eating pattern than a diet), which aims to control the hunger cycle through timing when you eat instead of what.
Notice that these options all include a mixture of fresh, whole foods like vegetables, fruits, and meat, with limited processed food included. While all of these diets have pros and cons, and each has their own problems and arguments for and against them, they each aim to shape a healthier lifestyle that includes fresh foods instead of commercially available processed food.
Nutrition has changed drastically in the past century as more research and data has become available on what is “actually” good for human bodies. After World War II studies came out linking diets high in saturated fats with heart disease. With fats having a higher calorie per gram count than carbohydrates or protein, some people reduced their intake of healthy fats like those in olive oil and avocado. In an unexpected effect, these people gained weight due to their increased intake of carbs to make up the caloric difference.
As research progressed, it was discovered that healthy fats, like monounsaturated fats, can decrease the risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol. Healthy fats now comprise the majority of the popular ketogenic diet, which promotes a high-fat, low-carb diet with aims of putting the body into ketosis. While the word may seem intimidating, ketosis really just means the body burns fat for energy instead of carbohydrates—but the body can only get to this point by greatly reducing carbohydrate intake. That means no bread, fruit, starchy vegetables like potatoes, processed foods, rice or grains—just lots of vegetables, dairy, all varieties of meat, fish, nuts and seeds, eggs, and plenty of oils and fats.
While somewhat controversial medically, and notoriously hard to stick to because of the extreme diet restrictions, many people have found success with the keto diet! I’ve asked Hope College Tabitha Burrink (’21) to share her experience and how being keto has changed her lifestyle.
Burrink, like many others who switched to the keto diet, wanted to lose some weight but wasn’t seeing any changes with eating healthy and working out. “My Dad did keto one year and he lost so much weight,” Burrink said when I asked her why she decided to go keto. “We have a very similar body type so I decided to go all in and try it out.”
The abundance of sugar and refined carbohydrates present in grocery stores with easy access has caused many (if not nearly all) people to be addicted to sugar. When starting the keto diet, it’s common for people to go through a sort of “withdrawal,” often called the “keto flu,” where they feel sluggish, easily annoyed, have headaches and can be fatigued for a few days or weeks as their body transitions from burning carbs to fats. As Burrink puts it, “I am [was] a carb addict so it was like weaning myself off of a drug. I was tired all the time, short tempered, wasn’t sleeping much because I was constantly hungry (all of these things are normal).”
The good news is, after the slump when fats begin to be used for energy, the mood switches. “I had so much extra energy. I would work out and then sometimes do another workout that day because I had endless amounts of energy,” Burrink told me. While having so much energy sounds incredible, the body must remain and ketosis (by not consuming large amounts of carbs) to continue in the state.
Instead of taking a “cheat day” or “cheat meal,” Burrink makes small exceptions for herself by “having ketchup with a meal, a glass of lemonade mixed with water, a piece of 72 percent dark chocolate, or at Cook or Phelps I will have raspberry vinaigrette on my salad.” Meanwhile, I (along with many other college students, I’m sure) am eating Frosted Flakes at 11 p.m. on the couch. But with Burrink’s method, “by letting myself have these little things daily I cancel out my cheat day to balance out the ketosis.”
Surprisingly, Burrink told me she “doesn’t miss carbs or sugar whatsoever. There are great substitutes that I don’t ever miss them.” She also shared some recipes for keto pumpkin bread for when a bread craving hits or keto cookie dough (yum!). Her secret keto weapon? “Always keeping a keto protein shake on me no matter what. I always have one available in my car for when I’m away and get hungry. I can easily mix it with water and poof! I have a whole meal.”
While the keto diet doesn’t require exercise for results, Burrink has incorporated that into her lifestyle, so I wondered how she stayed accountable for her workouts and diet. Burrink chose an interesting, new method to keep herself accountable, using herself as her accountability partner. “I started posting things on my Instagram story as accountability posts when it comes to working out,” she said. “I do this so that I can look at it later on and it makes me feel better about myself. After 24 hours it disappears, so I want to post another one, which makes me workout again.” She has been doing this for over 100 days!
Using social media as a form of accountability also affects Burrink’s followers. “I am constantly getting told in-person or through DMs that I have inspired someone to start going to the gym which also inspires me to keep going,” Burrink said.
Burrink’s workouts have helped her stay committed and improve her overall health along with the diet. “Once you get into a routine, working out becomes as easy as getting ready in the morning,” she said, also mentioning that her workout routines all say “go until you can’t anymore.” She writes down how many reps of each exercise she completes each week to watch herself improve, and she’s now adding on cardio at the end to train for a 5k.
Three months into the keto lifestyle, Burrink has already lost a total of 35 pounds and “feels amazing,” not only physically but mentally. “I’ve had mental health issues and because of keto and working out, I have been able to go completely off my medications. This is just my scenario and I don’t recommend going off medications ,but my body responded well to ketosis that I was able to go the natural route with my treatment.”
Her excitement in sharing how being keto has changed her life was evident throughout everything she said to me. “Even if keto isn’t for you, just start small and go for a walk because all you have to do is get started, which is the hard part for most people.” Follow her on Instagram (tabitha_burrink) if you’re interested in hearing more about her journey or have any questions!
When asked about her future plans with keto, Burrink responded, “I’m not sure how long I plan to continue keto, I guess I’ll reevaluate after a year.”
Some people choose to slowly reintroduce healthy carbs into their diet in exchange for some of the fats, relying on the healthy habits formed during the diet (like working out and eating fresh foods) to keep the weight off.
If you or someone you know would like to learn more about nutritional needs or has been struggling to eat enough to sustain themselves, the Hope College Health Center offers nutrition counseling appointments with registered dietitian Lindsey Fick. She is available on Mondays and could further address any concerns about nutrition and help create a diet plan personalized to your needs.
The key part of any diet is forming a healthy lifestyle that allows you to meet your goals with your physical body, like weight or muscle tone, but also keeps your mind happy and your belly full. Eat well to live well!