You think our waistlines are expanding aggressively by the minute from our broken food system? You’re right, but I have worse news for you. We have a much larger and damaging obesity epidemic that’s harder to spot.
In the age of the Internet, individuals are chowing down on the informational equivalent of Snickers bars and Big Gulp. This is leading to dangerous amounts of what I like to call mental obesity.
This epidemic is fueled by the urge to profit. The internet is now a game of attention. Those who have the attention win, both in readership and profits. This creates a system where even large media outlets get things wrong and overstate their positions… all to drive more clicks and sell more ads.
The result is our information system mirrors our food system.
The sweeter, saltier, fattiest, tastiest snacks get the most attention, and so do the most contentious, fact-free diatribes. Just as food manufacturers try to make junk food as addictive as possible, large scale media outlets strive to keep us hooked on misinformation.
When people are physically obese, it isn’t their fault. It’s because the whole system is working against them. Surfing the web looking for solutions to a problem can be just as challenging as looking for real food in a grocery store.
Here’s a common scenario: people trying to improve their lives reach out and grab some “definitive” article or guide on a topic looking for a truth they can use to take action, but quickly realize it’s insubstantial, impractical, and even confusing. They reach out for another one, but it’s the same story. This leads to people not knowing where to look, getting confused by frivolous claims (If “research shows,” it must be good!) and chowing down things they shouldn’t.
This is the plight of the hopeless individual trying to improve their life. This is how we’re starved with full plates at the buffet of information called the internet.
INFORMATION JUNK FOOD EXAMPLE
The most recent article on Vox titled “The keto diet, explained” is a great example of information junk food.
It takes a trendy topic (keto), and – contrary to the title – explains nothing about it. At best, it fails to grasp what a ketogenic diet is. At worst, it confuses people with wrong conclusions and assumptions.
I’ve dedicated my life to finding the truth in what creates optimal health and helping others along that path. A ketogenic diet isn’t the only way to become healthy, but an extremely safe and effective tool in doing so that I’ve used with countless patients. When junk articles like this are released by major outlets, I receive dozens of emails and comments about them on why people are now thinking about quitting or not trying something that can greatly improve their lives.
WHAT VOX GETS WRONG
Because I’ve received dozens of confused messages about this Vox piece, I’ve decided to tear down it so you can get the facts straight. My hope is that by drawing attention to the absurdity of this information junk food, you’ll have a better understanding of what to include in your information diet going forward.
1. NOT ACTUALLY EXPLAINING KETOSIS OR A KETO DIET
Even though the article is titled “The keto diet, explained,” it does not (even one time) tell you anything of substance about the diet.
Throughout the article, Belluz states the fact that according to the “experts,” adopting a ketogenic diet should help you burn “an extra 400-600 calories per day,” which actually isn’t linked to or supported by any actual claim or quote.
With this preface, she can cherry pick studies if they don’t show supporting evidence. She attempts to do so by linking to a study that supposedly proves switching to a ketogenic diet doesn’t have much impact on weight loss.
The 2016 2-month study done on 17 overweight and obese men compared the energetic and body composition effects of switching from a high-carb diet to a ketogenic diet. Belluz’s main conclusion was: “that short-lived increase in calorie burn amounted to about 100 extra calories per day — much less than the 400 to 600 calories promised by low-carb gurus”.
However, she fails to mention that:
- In total, people actually burned an extra 300 calories per day during the ketogenic diet period, which lasted 4 weeks. But not 400 like the “experts” say! Too bad! Ketosis sucks. Womp!
The 100 calories she mentions doesn’t reflect the full-picture at the end of the study.
To make matters worse, this isn’t even what any legitimate expert would say how ketosis works.
No one who actually understands anything about how weight loss or ketosis works (aka an actual expert) would say that a ketogenic diet works by magically burning more calories. Ketosis works for weight and fat loss because you are using an entirely different fuel source (fat) for energy, instead of carbohydrates.
This means we should focus on the effects on fat loss instead.
In the study cited, despite high levels of ketones in the blood, fat loss started to slow down after a few days. This led the writer to conclude that “the researchers did not find evidence of big benefits regarding energy expenditure or fat loss after switching to a low-carb diet.”
However, it’s important to remember the study only explored the short-term effects of ketosis on fat loss (4 weeks).
In newer studies published after this one that also looked at the effects of the ketogenic diet on obese subjects but on the long-term, the effects on fat loss are significant:
- In this 2017 study, 20 obese people followed the ketogenic diet for 4 months. Fat mass decreased by 16-18 kg when measured by 3 different standardized methods. There was no loss of muscle mass.
- In this study, 22 obese patients who followed a low-calorie keto diet for 2 years lost 8.8 kg of fat mass, including visceral fat.
- In this study (published just 4 months ago), 10 adults with metabolic syndrome were on the keto diet without exercise for 10 weeks. Body fat decreased significantly, even more than for those on a standard american diet who exercised.
These are trials on overweight patients for a fair comparison with the study in the Vox article. Healthy people and men who do resistance training also have a body fat reduction without diminishing muscle mass on a ketogenic diet.
To sum up, Vox’s take on the caloric and fat loss effects of the keto diet is misleading because the study cited isn’t the most up to date, it’s short-term, the conclusions drawn by the journalist are incomplete, and other evidence that suggests beneficial effects is completely overlooked.
2. FACTS ARE NOT HYPOTHETICAL
Belluz goes on a rant of stating that basic physiology is just a mere “hypothesis,” which again is ludicrous. “Eating carbs drives up insulin production, the hypothesis suggests…” right, this is not a hypothesis though, this is a physiological fact. Your body literally secretes insulin when you eat carbs.
She then goes further to say that “But when you replace carbs with fat, you subdue hunger, boost calorie burn, and melt away fat. With fewer carbs, your body also doesn’t produce as much insulin — and that increases the rate of ketogenesis and decreases the body’s need for glucose.” And mentions that this might be all fine and dandy, except that it’s a hypothesis.
But it’s not a hypothesis. It is science. It is how the human body works and is what she clearly described earlier in the article stating that “we’d pass out and die” if we didn’t have this process of generating ketones from fat.
Note the link she inserts over the word hunger when explaining the “hypothesis”. This is a research article that does conclude (not hypothesize), that a ketogenic diet reduces appetite. Madness.
In the meta analysis, researchers concluded: “individuals adhering to ketogenic low carb diet were less hungry and had a reduced desire to eat.”
That’s right, the writer linked to a scientific review that confirms the “hypothesis” she is talking about.
Now, there’s a reason she’s throwing the word hypothesis around when talking about facts, and it’s not a good one.
If you read the article, you’ll realize the writer is attempting to explain the Carb-Insulin Model (CIM) proposed by Dr. David Ludwig and Mark Friedman few years ago, which is in fact still a hypothesis. However, the model is based on solid irrefutable facts like glucose uptake and ketogenesis. The only hypothesis are the specific solutions proposed by the CIM, not the science it’s based on.
Unfortunately, the writer doesn’t make this distinction, and proceeds to label actual facts as hypotheses.
3. ATKINS IS NOT THE SAME THING AS KETOSIS
Several points in the article address the Atkins diet, or a “low-carb” diet, and a ketogenic diet as the same thing.
This is just not factually true. I’ve already gone in depth on this (here and here), but the long story short is Atkins only reduced carbohydrates with his famed diet, while ketosis is a literal metabolic state. These are just two separate things. You need to actually make and utilize ketones to be in a state of ketosis.
Just like a high carbohydrate diet doesn’t mean you are automatically diabetic, a low carbohydrate diet doesn’t mean you’re ketotic.
This difference is crucial because ketones work not just as an energy metabolite, but as a signaling molecule as well. They can turn on and off different genes and have countless other benefits, which we’ll get into later.
None of this matters to Belluz, who has taken on the responsibility of explaining the keto diet to the world yet can’t separate the fact that Atkins and general “low carb” are not the same thing as ketosis.
This leads herto incorrectly tab a study looking at an Atkins diet over three other “fad” diets of the time as she headlines in this article “Keto diets don’t seem to help people lose extra weight in the long run”.
This is the study she picked:
Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN Diets. We’re looking at data that doesn’t say anything about the ketogenic diet on an article attempting to explain what a ketogenic diet is.
And she even included this graph:
You don’t need to be a scientist or doctor to read these results. This clearly shows a 12-month period following an Atkins diet to be beneficial. All that improvement, and Atkins IS NOT EVEN the same thing as a ketogenic diet! Imagine if they actually measured ketones in this study and it was a ketogenic diet (hint: they didn’t and it wasn’t).
Despite this positive evidence, her conclusion was grim:
“All diets perform equally miserably”.
Well, unfortunately for Belluz, I can read. And I did.
The actual research, which is actual science, actually says “Conclusions: In this study, premenopausal overweight and obese women assigned to follow the Atkins diet, which had the lowest carbohydrate intake, lost more weight and experienced more favorable overall metabolic effects at 12 months than women assigned to follow the Zone, Ornish, or LEARN diets.”
As if lumping in Atkins and the ketogenic diet together isn’t enough misinformation, Belluz continues to draw contradictory conclusions throughout the article that manage to leave the reader more confused than before.
4. IT IS IMPORTANT TO ACTUALLY READ STUDIES IF YOU CITE THEM
She continues on this rant as if she can’t read more by saying “Other big studies comparing popular diets of different macronutrient compositions, like the one I mentioned above, consistently suggest that the very low-carb approach isn’t a sustainable solution for weight loss,” which is just wildly untrue.
The first linked study — about popular diets– concludes “poor sustainability and adherence rates resulted in modest weight loss and cardiac risk factor reductions for each diet group as a whole.”
Note that every single diet had poor adherence, not just the low carb. Still, this isn’t enough to stop Belluz from singling out the low carb approach to fit her narrative.
The second linked study — about macronutrient composition in weight loss diets– concludes that “trials of low-carbohydrate diets have reported a very low incidence of urinary ketosis after 6 months, suggesting that in most overweight people, it is futile to sustain a low intake of carbohydrates.”
This means several weight loss studies using a low carb approach have failed to put people in ketosis. If people aren’t in ketosis, they’re simply not following the ketogenic diet. But because Belluz believes low carb = keto, she uses these findings about low carb diets as a valid argument against keto.
She then cites yet another study incorrectly by saying “A review of the research on weight loss for different types of diets, published in the Lancet in 2015, found that people on low-carb diets lost 1 kilogram of additional weight after one year compared to people on low-fat diets — again, a marginal difference.”
The scientific review actually concludes that “In weight loss trials, low-carbohydrate interventions led to significantly greater weight loss than did low-fat interventions.” Significant. As in actually statistically significant. Which means scientifically meaningful. Which means worth doing.
She’s purposefully downplaying the effects of a high-fat, low carb diet by cherry picking data from the comprehensive review and conveniently ignoring the review’s conclusion.
This is exactly what promoting an agenda looks like.
5. KETOSIS IS NOT THAT HARD
Belluz’s biggest argument against ketosis (But why is she even doing that? Isn’t she supposed to be explaining it?) is that it doesn’t work because it’s too hard to not eat junk food. It is not, in fact, scientific fact that if something is “hard to do” that it isn’t effective.
To back herself up, Belluz states “But again, these benefits seem to disappear in the long run on average, probably because very low-carb diets — like many other fad diets — are hard to stick to. In our food environment, it’s extremely difficult to avoid eating foods like bread, cookies, or pasta for months on end.”
The logical conclusion here is that ketosis simply doesn’t work because we are just weak willed little peasants who can’t resist cookies, cake, and bread.
What?! Why don’t we try to solve the problem of our awful food choices then? This mental laziness is akin to concluding that if the air is polluted by chemicals, breathing must not work. We should just not breathe. Excellent solution.
This mentally obese conclusion is met again later in the article with Belluz stating “So keto ends up performing a lot like other diets for weight loss: It can help the few who can stick to it, though not necessarily for the reasons proponents suggest. And it fails or is abandoned by everyone else.”
So, it does work if you stick to it, but not due to the reasons her imaginary “experts” have told us. And apparently almost no one sticks to it, so it doesn’t work. Shouldn’t an article titled “The keto diet, explained” actually explain why it does work?
As someone who has been in and out of ketosis and has helped hundreds of thousands of people do the same thing, I can tell you it’s not that hard.
Some people are stricken with diseases like epilepsy or diabetes and have no other choice for effective interventions but a ketogenic diet. Let’s not be surprised when Belluz does not agree with that statement.
6. YES, KETOSIS IS EFFECTIVE AT TREATING TYPE II DIABETES
Belluz speaks in length about how impressive ketosis is at treating and reversing type II diabetes, citing actual studies that do such, such as this one:
But she immediately contradicts herself by saying that the idea of ketosis reversing T2D is going “a step too far” because supposedly there’s no evidence for it. Wrong (again).
I could keep doing this, but you get my point.
She then cites articles that, again, have nothing to do with ketosis but instead with general “low-carb” recommendations (not the same thing), showing that the body’s ability to tolerate carbs is diminished.
This links to a study that aimed to find if a short bout of exercise improved people’s ability to process glucose after consuming a high fat diet. If you’re wondering what the hell that has to do with a ketogenic diet and diabetes, the answer is absolutely nothing. The subjects were healthy young men, they parameters of physical performance, and they didn’t measure if they actually entered ketosis.
While she’s citing irrelevant findings, she omits novel and comprehensive research that says diabetes can be reversed with nutritional ketosis, such as this study.
The study finds that “Glucose regulation with restored insulin sensitivity facilitated through clinically regulated, benign dietary ketosis (BDK), may significantly reduce, regulate and reverse the adverse pathologies common to MetS and obesity.” Ketosis can actually overturn many conditions that lead to diabetes:
This means a true ketogenic diet can restore insulin sensitivity. Insulin sensitivity can help reverse type II diabetes because diabetes is insulin resistance.
7. NEVER ENDING MISINTERPRETATION
I’m sure you’re sick of reading about incorrectly cited articles here, but let’s just finish up with one more ridiculous example.
Stephan Guyunet is quoted by saying “There’s not a single historic traditionally living human population that was in chronic nutritional ketosis.”
He said this while referencing a study that writes, verbatim, “Such a diet would have led the populations to be in a permanent state of ketosis, where metabolism is mainly lipocentric (ketone bodies)…” This is not a joke, folks.
Belluz chimes in that the Inuit were not in ketosis (even though the study very clearly says they were), because they have a gene variant that prevented them from “overproducing ketones.”
What does the scientific article say about that? That the mutation “could be protective against overproduction of ketone bodies.” As in, helpful to not enter ketoacidosis, which is harmful, but not the same thing as ketosis. And not the same thing as “they weren’t in ketosis.”
Tip: when linking to research articles, you should probably actually read them.
If people think that ketosis is just something that they can’t control and is baked into their genetics, why even try?
8. FEAR SELLS: THE SIDE EFFECTS OF KETOSIS
Belluz and Vox go deeper into fear mongering mode with the summation that “staying on keto for a long time may lead to kidney stones, high cholesterol, constipation, slowed growth (in young people), and bone fractures.”
WHOA! Running on fat as fuel will surely kill you.
Wait. That linked page has no references:
Misinformation based upon misinformation based upon misinformation is the ultimate junk food of the Internet information diet. But apparently just like cake, candy, and cookies it is just too damn hard to avoid.
A media publication as large as Vox, that takes health claim information without citation and spreads it to shift people from making a potential radically positive change in their life to being scared of something is flat out irresponsible.
9. GOOD LUCK (AKA BEWARE)
Belluz ends the keto explanation article with a defeated compromise and the following words: “If you have diabetes, it might be worth talking about the ketogenic diet with your doctor. But if you’re going keto to lose weight, buyer beware: In the long run, it looks a lot like other fad diets.”
So, ketogenic diets won’t work for fat loss because you’re too lazy to stick to them, maaaaybe diabetes and yeah sure seizures whoop de doo, but nothing else. Right?
The science points to a tremendous amount of benefits to a ketogenic diet, such as:
Increased weight loss (lol sorry, Julia)
Ketone esters increase brown fat in mice and overcome insulin resistance in other tissues in the rat.Oral β-Hydroxybutyrate Supplementation in Two Patients with Hyperinsulinemic Hypoglycemia: Monitoring of β-Hydroxybutyrate Levels in Blood and Cerebrospinal Fluid, and in the Brain by In Vivo Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
Increased cognition and mental performance
Effect of a ketogenic meal on cognitive function in elderly adults: potential for cognitive enhancementbeta-Hydroxybutyrate fuels synaptic function during development. Histological and physiological evidence in rat hippocampal slices.
Increased exercise performance
Assisting in cancer treatment
Reduction in anxiety
Improvements in Alzheimer’s treatment
Improved cardiovascular health markers
Decreased blood sugar and diabetes control
THE KETO DIET, ACTUALLY EXPLAINED
This article was definitely a lot to take in so I’m not going to bombard you with more information. Hopefully you’re conviced that a ketogenic diet is a safe and reliable nutritional approach for weight loss, blood sugar management, and much more.
If you’re just getting started, you might have many more questions. That’s totally fine. Search here or on PerfectKeto.com for answers, where my team and I try to answer everything about the ketogenic diet in a truthful way.
What does this all mean?
This article isn’t me saying a ketogenic diet is for everyone. Nutrition and lifestyle live on a spectrum, and most of the time it is muddy and gray. You need to test to see what works for you for your goals. Look at subjective measures on how you feel, look, and perform. Look at objective measures like blood work, hormone tests and gut panels. Eat quality food above all else.
Am I biased? I run a company that is focused on making a ketogenic diet accessible and maintainable, so of course I am. We all are. The difference is in presenting the truth. I don’t care about being right or generating click-bait articles, I care about having as much truth as possible. I change my mind all of the time when I’m presented with better models of truth. When we sensationalize our information and writing for traffic, we may get a few more ad impression dollars, but we abandon truth, lie to ourselves and everyone loses.
The writer who ignores facts begins building patterns of hiding from the truth which undoubtedly spill over to other parts of their lives. The researchers who spent years of their lives dedicated to finding answers get misquoted, misinterpreted and their value abandoned.
Worst of all, those who are looking to really make meaningful change in their lives remain confused and end up hopeless.
The biggest question to answer is how do you stay mentally fit amongst the barrage of informational junk food?
Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet and don’t believe everything you think to be true. Accept only the truth and be open to changing your mind.
Sometimes it’s not fun to eat the salad, but skipping the mental Big Macs and deeply investigating a topic will improve your mental health more than you can imagine.