The keto diet is hands down the most talked-about, most searched-for, and most sought-after diet in 2019. Yet, chances are, for every person you’ve heard rave about how effective it is at blasting away pounds, you’ve heard another person complain that the food formula didn’t work at all.
This dramatic difference in results made researchers at the University of Iowa curious. When they looked more closely, they realized: “Most studies of the ketogenic diet for weight loss have taken place in small numbers of patients or in only male mice,” says E. Dale Abel, MD, PhD, chair of the University of Iowa Department of Internal Medicine. So Dr. Abel and his team decided to design an experiment that would uncover whether there’s something specific about women’s bodies that affects keto diet success.
Their surprise findings: Female hormones interfere with the keto diet. In their study, Dr. Abel and his team fed male and female mice the same keto diet for 15 weeks. The male mice lost weight and had improved blood-sugar control, but female mice gained weight and had worse blood-sugar control. Suspecting estrogen, specifically, was behind the difference, the scientists repeated the experiment on female mice without estrogen-producing ovaries. “After we removed the ovaries from female mice,” says Dr. Abel, “the females on the ketogenic diet lost weight.” In other words: Without estrogen, the keto diet worked.
Many women over 45 mistakenly think their estrogen levels are low. The truth is, estrogen levels don’t stop being problematic around (or even after) menopause. In fact, more than 75 percent of women over the age of 45 have a hormonal imbalance known as estrogen dominance.
“Often, we think of perimenopause and menopause as the years when our estrogen is dropping, so it can be confusing to hear this term ‘estrogen dominance,’” explains Sara Gottfried, MD, author of Brain Body Diet ($12.99, Amazon). “But ‘estrogen dominance’ does not mean an excess level of total estrogen; it means that the level of estrogen is higher in proportion to its partner hormone, progesterone — even when, overall, estrogen levels are in decline.”
This imbalance sets off a chain reaction in the body that instructs fat to take up residence around the belly, hips and thighs — even if you’re following a keto diet. The traditional keto diet can worsen this hormone imbalance and make weight loss all but impossible.
More than 75 percent of women over 45 don’t see success on the keto diet because imbalanced hormone levels keep pounds glued to their frame. Fortunately, enjoying “smart” carbs reverses hormone havoc to make weight loss effortless — and, according to diet and nutrition expert Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, it only takes two weeks to see amazing results!
“Because the plan is based on a combination of tried-and-true weight-loss principles and new metabolism-boosting strategies, you can experience substantial changes in a short period of time,” she promises. “And you won’t feel deprived or hungry, making it easy to stick to.”
Each day you’ll enjoy three filling meals and one snack that deliver the metabolism-boosting healthy fats common on a keto diet, along with the revolutionary “smart” carbohydrates that balance hormone levels to make the diet even more effective. “Most of these carbs come from fruit and vegetables, which are a rich source of antioxidants and phytochemicals that neutralize excess hormones,” says Gittleman.
“Additionally, they provide a healthy daily dose of fiber that binds to excess hormones and escorts them out of the body.” It couldn’t be easier: Follow the plan outlined in the sample day at right for 14 days to rebalance hormones and kick-start slimming. For even more impressive results, try incorporating some of these slimming suggestions:
Keep your glass full. “Drinking plenty of fluids helps the body flush excess hormones,” explains Gittleman, who suggests drinking at least 10 (8 oz.) glasses of water daily. Tired of “plain” water? Gittleman recommends herbal tea or cran-water (1 oz. of unsweetened cranberry juice combined with 7 oz. of water)—they’re both rich in plant compounds that support hormonal balance.
Add chia seeds. These little gems play a starring role in this two-week plan because they help the body flush excess estrogen to promote weight loss. “These neutral-tasting tiny seeds can be incorporated into any meal,” assures Gittleman. “They are also packed with fiber and healthy fats that work synergistically to help you feel full longer.” Tip: If you feel constipated or low energy at any time during the two-week plan, just add 2 Tbs. of chia seeds into a smoothie or sprinkle them over a meal or snack — their rich stores of soluble fiber help get things moving to restore your vitality.
Swap your sweetener. Artificial sweeteners may have zero calories, but research shows that they disrupt hormone balance by killing off good bacteria in the gut. The exception: stevia, which has been shown to help balance hormone levels and dial back hunger. You can add stevia to any of the recipes outlined in the sample day.
Pick healthy indulgences. On days when your sweet tooth is nagging, try Gittleman’s easy pudding in place of a snack or meal. It’s loaded with healthy fats and smart carbs to speed slimming. To make one serving: In a blender, combine 1⁄2 of an avocado, 11⁄2 Tbs. of almond butter, 1 cup of protein powder, 4 Tbs. of cacao powder, 1⁄4 cup of unsweetened coconut milk, 1⁄2 tsp. of vanilla extract, a pinch of cinnamon, a pinch of sea salt and stevia to taste. Chill 30 minutes. Sprinkle with 1 Tbs. of chia seeds before serving. Note: Because this treat is high in calories, Gittleman recommends enjoying it no more than twice a week.
Try a mini fast. “Recent studies are overwhelmingly in favor of eating all of your calories for the day within eight hours. Intermittent fasting has been shown to help train the body to burn fat for fuel, which is what we’re aiming for on a keto diet,” explains Gittleman. “To get the benefit and really challenge yourself, pick two days in a row and restrict your eating window on both days.” For example, you might fast until noon, eat all your meals between noon and 8 — and then repeat the following day.
A sample day to get you started
Breakfast: Serve up 2 eggs and 2 slices of turkey bacon with a side salad. Or blend 8 oz. of coffee with 3 Tbs. each of protein powder, cacao powder, and full-fat coconut milk.
Lunch: Enjoy 4 oz. of chicken, fish, lean beef or tofu alongside an arugula salad, roasted asparagus, kale, green beans, spaghetti squash, spinach, tomatoes or zucchini.
Snack: Top a salad with 2 oz. of chicken and 1 Tbs. of chia seeds. Or blend 8 oz. of water, a handful of arugula, 3 Tbs. of protein powder, 1 Tbs. of chia seeds and 1⁄4 cup of frozen berries.
Dinner: Toss together shredded cabbage and carrots with 1 Tbs. of lime juice, 1 Tbs. of vinegar and 2 tsp. of hempseed oil. Or snack on veggie sticks, an apple, plum or 1⁄2 cup of berries.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.