The Ketogenic Diet and the Silent Observer

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It’s been almost 5 years since I’ve touched this blog.

Why now? Let’s take a step back.

I started my ketogenic journey way back about a decade ago. If you’ve read my article “Journey to Blogland”, you have the low-down of where my dieting story began. I’ve been varying degrees of curious, hopeful, skeptical, downright obsessed, underconfident, overconfident, and everything in between for the last 12-14 years.

For the majority of that decade, I was that crazy guy on an insane diet that was unheard of. “Eat lots of fat? Don’t eat carbs? That’s a death wish!” I had a true passion for finding the truth despite the opinions people held against me. Let’s put it this way: Although I co-own a very successful, award winning might I add :), creative advertising agency (shameless plug) that I’m proud of and proud to be a part of, there were fleeting moments of existential crisis when I seriously considered doing what felt more noble- dedicating my life towards changing what the world knew about common health and nutrition. I felt that the type of science and conduct that landed us where we are today (generally sick and in pain) was not only damaging, but cruel and unfair to those who can’t find the time to sift through the noise and figure it out on their own.

Since my last blog post, I’ve managed to inspire others to explore the diet for themselves. Some of my closest friends are now proponents of the lifestyle. A common trait amongst all of them is that they are self-proclaimed skeptics. These types of people that tend to understand the diet best because they take what I say with a grain of salt and look into it themselves. The last few friends that I “converted” went on to spread the wisdom to their own network.

And then something weird happened…

(taking a page from the noteworthy Peter Attia here with this graph…)

Up until 2016, nobody had any clue that this diet even existed and was being studied (and yes, it was being studied).

At the time of writing Eric and Kassey from Keto4Karboholics are sitting in the same room as some of the keto greats such as Stephan Phinney, Jeff Volek, and Tim Noakes who you may have seen referenced in the recent Netflix release of The Magic Pill.

At the time of writing Eric and Kassey from Keto4Karboholics are sitting in the same room as some of the keto greats such as Stephan Phinney, Jeff Volek, and Tim Noakes who you may have seen referenced in the recent Netflix release of The Magic Pill.

Around the end of 2017, it almost became too easy to convince people to try out the diet. In early 2018, I couldn’t go a month without overhearing someone in public talking about this “new keto diet” they are on. You would think this is a great thing, right? However, as surprised as you might be in hearing this, I am not so sure. On one hand, this new found popularity gave people the confidence and a platform to talk about it. Two of my best friends from college even went on and started Keto4Karboholics, which currently has 20K+ FB followers and 50k+ Instagram followers; they‘re doing amazing things there. The keto surge may have even lead to increased funding for the well-intentioned scientists/researchers studying the ketogenic diet. On the other hand, there could still be a “dark side” to this happening so quickly. I had incredibly mixed feelings.

…so much so that I expressed my concern to a friend. She responded with something along the lines of (heavy paraphrasing), “I get where you are coming from. But, I’ve tried every diet under the sun in the past and this one is the only one where, if you listen to how people talk about it, you’ll notice that the entire conversation is more intellectual at its core and revolves around science and the quality of the science.” After this conversation, I decided it’s in the general population’s hands now, and there is nothing I can do that would change the trajectory of the ketogenic diet’s public opinion.

What was “the concern,” you ask? Let me explain. In my years of research (head down in literature, reading scientific studies and paying out of pocket for access to some of these studies), my eyes were opened to so many sound and repeatable scientific conclusions. These conclusions weren’t seeing the light of day anywhere besides in journals used primarily within academia and by pharmaceutical companies. I held the strong opinion that in order for the principles behind the ketogenic diet to be taken seriously, the information has to come from the bottom up. It has to be written in textbooks and taught in school. It has to become part of the standard education that physicians get and the standard of care that they implement. It has to be accepted by the government (because, yes, the USDA officially standardizes these things). Yes, I had that much faith that given enough time, the scientific community that was promoting these ideas would be able to break down the iron wall that is “politics, agriculture, greed, and bias.” That is how incredible the research conducted was (and is).

The insane thing is – all of the known human pathways that make the ketogenic diet logical, and maybe even ideal, are and have been taught in schools all along. But- these classes have been taught with so-called scientific facts that’s are not actually facts at all, rather widely unproven and widely outdated theory. If the language surrounding most of these commonly taught concepts is just seen through a different set of lenses, it becomes so apparent that maybe we’ve been wrong all along. In fact, we most likely were.

Letting go of the wheel

Fast forward to today and I’ve taken my hands completely off of the wheel. Whatever is going to happen to this wealth of information is going to happen. The information got out too soon in my opinion. The danger in the general public trying a ketogenic diet right now stems from this: we aren’t all skeptics. Skeptics are the ones that will dig into it themselves and find that there is actually something there. Skeptics are the ones that will find “the right way” and “the wrong way” and be able to implement this with success. The rest of the population simply doesn‘t have the time, training, drive, or guidance to do this. They will follow the guidelines too loosely, leading to almost guaranteed failure. One of the things we know about keto is, if done incorrectly, it can actually have the opposite effects that you’re hoping for.  Before you know it, this “keto diet” will once again be buried in the past as the fad diet of 2018.

As an aside, I will say, kudos to those of you out there educating and guiding the rest that are going to try it out one way or another.  You’re doing a great thing!

If the science behind the ketogenic diet made it into general education first, it becomes the new conventional wisdom. Doctors can work with their patients and tweak the details of individual treatment as opposed to getting them to change their entire way of approaching health. People would have a basic  understand of how nutrition actually works. Think about it; In elementary school, were you taught the food pyramid (or “My Plate” depending on your generation)? In health class, were you taught about calories? Were you taught “simple sugars and complex carbs?” These concepts have been drilled into your head so much so that it’s hard to be open minded about anything else. So when you start a new diet and see one article that sounds like the diet will kill you, you second guess your decision and go back to your old ways.

Anyway, I’ve been a silent observer for the past 2 years. I’ve been listening to the conversations surrounding the ketogenic diet. Watching products pop up on shelves at Whole Foods, observing companies spawning left and right (again, for better or worse) waiting to capitalize on this. Watching how some people are still struggling, despite going on what they think is a well formulated ketogenic diet. Watching people waiver and completely unsure of what is true and false.

And now his watch has ended

And finally today, I woke up to a message on my phone from a fellow ketogenic friend asking: “At the risk of opening Pandora’s Box, curious to get your thoughts on this: Low-carb, high-fat diets could knock years off lifespan, 25-year study suggests

This is a direct response and attempt at taking those non-skeptics that decided to loosely try out the ketogenic diet and guarantee that they will reverse their decision and never look back.

And just like that, I can’t be a silent observer anymore. I hope that we can change this together. Let’s push one another to challenge everything and think critically. Let’s change the message from “keto is something you should try” to “keto is something you should learn about.” Let’s start from there and see what happens.

And about that new study… to be continued…
(and I promise, you won’t have to wait as long as it takes George R.R. Martin to finish a book)

Yes, I am indeed the asian with the cheese bowl. I am also a huge nerd and love science. My real job as the co-founder and technical director for Inphantry keeps my nerdiness factor at a record high. In my spare time, I am obsessive about diet and nutrition. Maybe even too obsessive... Keep reading and I'm sure you will pick up little bits of who I am along the way!

One Comment on "The Ketogenic Diet and the Silent Observer"

  1. This is a very well articulated response to a somewhat delicate subject within the dietary/medical community. To your point, there is definitely a need for a bottom up approach to stimulate appropriate concern and equally appropriate conversation regarding the failings of our currently recommended dietary models. However, a top down approach is equally important for the long-term implementation of system-wide change. That is the hardest part. How do we get the people responsible for the proliferation of 30+ years of misinformation to swallow their pride in the interest of helping those they swore to do no harm to? How do we get them to admit they are only human and that the best way forward is to look at a new approach to dietetics and the overall view on nutrition? That’s the million dollar question! Again, great article Derek.

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