Does The Cyclical Keto Diet Work?

Though the keto fad itself is a couple years old at this point, the diet itself is even older. In their book Epilepsy and the Ketogenic Diet, Dr. Carl E. Stafstrom and Dr. Jong M. Rho underscore the origins of the diet as we know it today as a treatment for childhood epilepsy. A Men's Health article explains that keto was first used for weight loss in 1972, pushed by Robert Atkins — who went on to found the Atkins Diet.

It regained popularity in the early 2000's thanks to chat boards and, later, Reddit threads. The diet was soon touted as a miracle diet. It was the most-Googled diet of 2018 and the "no-carb-no-sugar" diet ranked at number eight in 2019. Keto was back on top in 2020 according to U.S. News and its search ranking is still going strong in 2021.

Of course these numbers are for the general keto diet, not the cyclical diet specifically. And for good reason. The cyclical diet is only one of several keto variations and they all have the same problem as general keto: There is no proof they work.

"We don't know if it works in the long term, nor whether it's safe," is the warning from Kathy McManus, a registered dietician and director of the Department of Nutrition at Brigham and Women's Hospital — associated with Harvard. McManus warned against this "miracle diet" in an Harvard Health Publishing article on whether keto was worth a try.

More research is needed to prove the safety — and benefits — of keto

As popular as the keto diet has become, McManus is absolutely right. There are almost no studies on cyclical keto. And though there are currently 196 ongoing trials related to keto, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the results aren't promising.

In 2019 the Journal of Clinical and Scientific Research published a review of all the research at the time on keto and its effect on weight loss. The review found that while people in these studies reported rapid weight loss (about 10 pounds in 2 weeks on average), it was all found to be water weight.

The review also found that people could not maintain a ketogenic diet for an extended period of time and suffered increased insulin resistance more often. Insulin resistance, according to the Obesity Medicine Association, has long been identified with weight gain.

As tempting as the up-front weight loss from keto — cyclical or otherwise — might be, the evidence just isn't there. The studies that currently exist do not point to weight loss benefits that people cannot get from a balanced diet and regular physical activity. And until more research is done, the risks outweigh the benefits.