There’s no question that the ketogenic diet offers many benefits to people who choose to follow that lifestyle. In fact, we are huge fans! The impacts range from weight loss and improved body composition to decreased risk of developing life threatening illnesses. But like most things in life, there just cannot be a one-fits-all approach to keto – especially, if you are a woman. So let’s review some of the aspects to be considered.
Note: this is not medical advice, so please consult your doctor before taking any actions.
It’s may be not a good idea to enter ketosis if you are:
- Pregnant or lactating (or trying to get pregnant)
- Lacking a gallbladder
- Have pre-existing issues with the liver, kidneys or pancreas
- Recovering from an eating disorder
- Under 18 (children in general)
- Struggling with irregular menses
The female body is a complex place, home to many different compounds and many different processes that men just don’t have — (and frankly, they’re probably quite thankful for that). So things that work for men, just don’t have the same effect for women. That’s not to say that the diet doesn’t work for women in general, because it does. Some women, however, will not find it beneficial to be on an ultra low carbohydrate plan like keto permanently.
Some authorities in the nutrition field recommend women cycle in and out of ketosis, if your goal is weight loss. Once keto stops working for you, try switching to consuming more healthy carbs – like sweet potatoes, quinoa, a moderate amount of fruit in season. Try alternating between ultra low carb and paleo/primal every 3 months and see if it works better for you.
In any case, if you are a woman who wants to try the ketogenic diet, there are many articles online to guide you through the process and ensure success, both physically and mentally.
Mark Sisson provides great articles directed at those following the ketogenic diet. Specifically for topics on women and the keto diet. Here’s a quick recap of Mark’s main points:
- Consume extra fat for the initial week – helps to upregulate fat burning, ensures there isn’t a caloric deficit, and breaks the barrier of thought that says “fat is bad”. Ensure you eat fats that boost AMPK, like marine fat, extra virgin olive oil, and palmitoleic acid (found in macadamia nuts).
- Don’t purposely try to restrict your calories – eat until you’re not hungry anymore.
- Experiment carefully with fasting – start slow. But fasting is necessary to burn fat and lose weight, despite being male or female. Be cautious about jumping into intermittent fasting and watch out for warning signs (weight gain, insomnia, reduced physical performance, infertility, amenorrhea, excessive hunger).
- Avoid nutrient-poor “fat bombs” – choose things like eggs with mayo, avocado or guacamole, collagen enriched smoothies, nut butter on veggies, olives, raw cheeses.
- Don’t be a drill sergeant – make sure you’re pretty strict during the first 3-4 weeks of getting into the fat-burning zone (fat adapted), but once you’re there, there’s no need to micromanage. Keto improves metabolic resilience so your body will bounce back if you stray a bit.
- The best advice doesn’t always work – when keto isn’t working for you, it’s probably because your body is under stress and needs more. Sometimes it’s more food, and sometimes is more carbs or protein. Women, specifically, are much more sensitive to these metabolic changes than men.
- Keep your protein adequate – too much protein can impair ketogenesis, but it’s also necessary to keep your body functioning properly.
Familiar with Robb Wolf? If you’re not, he’s definitely someone who should be on your resource list. His article Females, Carbohydrates, and Hormones gives you the lowdown on how carbohydrates affect the female body. Here are the key takeaways:
- Carbohydrate intake could be the missing puzzle piece to hormone balance, weight loss, quicker recovery, thyroid support, and energy levels
- It will take some experimentation to find the right balance
- Moderate carbohydrate intake may be needed is you: are active (high intensity), are struggling to recover from workouts, have adrenal insufficiency, have irregular menstrual cycles, have been on a low-carb diet for a while, are pregnant or nursing
- Less carbohydrates may be okay if you: have specific health conditions (PCOS, fibroids, endometriosis), have SIBO or other yeast overgrowth, have diabetes or are insulin resistant, have a neurodegenerative disorder, or have cancer
- Attaining hormone balance requires you to convince your body that it’s not in any form of danger – could mean sleeping more, exercising less, reducing stress, etc.
- Leptin plays a key role in hormone regulation – there’s a certain level of leptin needed to maintain proper hormone levels and menstrual cycle
- Carb cycling is a good option for people not ready to consistently bump up their intake
We know there’s a lot of conflicting information out there when it comes to women’s health. Just to reiterate, the keto diet has quite a long list of benefits, and it’s a great lifestyle to change if you’re looking to change your body composition, improve your brain function, boost your energy, among many other things. But there may be times when the ketogenic diet just isn’t suitable for you. Don’t let that get you down. Remember, each body is unique and what works for someone else may not work for you.
As for my personal experience with ketosis, I lost 15 kg of body fat on keto in 4 months and then it stopped working for me. I started including more carbs (mostly seasonal fruit) to my diet to let my body know: “we are not starving”. At the time of publishing this article, I am switching to keto again to further improve my body composition.
If you are a woman and keto stops working for you, take some time to really tune into your body and see how you feel and how your body is responding. Try adding more healthy carbs to your diet. Journaling can be a great tool to track your progress. Be sure to work alongside a trusted functional medicine professional to ensure your health and safety!
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