Fairly recently, the diet was introduced as a weight-loss diet by an Italian professor of surgery, Dr. Gianfranco Cappello of Sapienza University in Rome. In his 2012 study, about 19,000 dieters received a high-fat liquid diet via a feeding tube inserted down the nose. The study showed an average weight loss of more than 20 pounds in participants, most of whom kept it off for at least a year. The researchers reported a few minor side effects, like fatigue.
This is a well-known phenomenon with nearly every type of diet: If you relax the rules even a little bit, you suddenly find yourself overeating. Making entire food groups—such as grains, sugar, and other carbohydrates—off-limits helps make them even more attractive, Macri says. This type of reaction goes beyond a psychological reaction—it can also be physical, she says. “Serotonin is one of the feel-good brain chemicals, and when serotonin decreases, such as it does when you’re on a strict low-carb diet, the brain is on high alert for any kind of reward,” she explains. Let some sugar or bread into your diet, and you could be overcome with a desire for more, Macri warns. “This makes it much more likely that you’ll overeat or even binge on those foods.” 

One downside to a ketogenic diet for weight loss is the difficulty maintaining it. “Studies show that weight loss results from being on a low-carb diet for more than 12 months tend to be the same as being on a normal, healthy diet,” says Mattinson. While you may be eating more satiating fats (like peanut butter, regular butter, or avocado), you’re also way more limited in what’s allowed on the diet, which can make everyday situations, like eating dinner with family or going out with friends, far more difficult. Because people often find it tough to sustain, it’s easy to rely on it as a short-term diet rather than a long-term lifestyle.
There are three instances where there’s research to back up a ketogenic diet, including to help control type 2 diabetes, as part of epilepsy treatment, or for weight loss, says Mattinson. “In terms of diabetes, there is some promising research showing that the ketogenic diet may improve glycemic control. It may cause a reduction in A1C — a key test for diabetes that measures a person’s average blood sugar control over two to three months — something that may help you reduce medication use,” she says.
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