Mental Health Plartform.

Do I need help doing keto if I have a mental illness?

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Changes in diet can be hard and challenging even for people who do not identify as having a mental illness. There are a lot of reasons you may benefit from professional help transitioning to a ketogenic diet and many different kinds of professionals that can help you. Some of these include ketogenic nutritionists, ketogenic dieticians, ketogenic informed mental health counselors, nutritional psychiatrists, functional psychiatrists, or other low carb diet informed prescribers who work in the mental health space.

Introduction

In this blog post, we will discuss some of the factors you might want to consider if you have a mental illness, and how they inform your decision about whether or not to use a ketogenic diet specialist. And, if you decide that a professional would be helpful, you can read on and learn about the different types of professionals you could work with as you use a ketogenic diet as a treatment for your mental illness.

Reasons you may want a ketogenic diet professional

A lot of people do the ketogenic diet on their own, often to lose weight or to improve their diabetes. They do all kinds of variations on the ketogenic diet with carbohydrate intakes varying from 20g total to 100g total per day. And as long as they are producing at least a little bit of ketones throughout the majority of their day, we call it a ketogenic diet.

Psychiatric symptoms need the right macros

But people using the ketogenic diet for mental illness (or neurological disorders) often need a slightly stricter version, at least in the beginning. Sometimes if we are not careful with the carbohydrate consumption we recommend for someone with mental illness, they may not have levels of ketones at high enough or for a long enough period of time to truly test the diet out as a treatment for their symptoms. We are changing the primary fuel source for the brain. And so it becomes very important to produce enough ketones through dietary fat to keep the brain happy and not exacerbate symptoms because of an energy deficit in the brain.

So if someone goes to any of the many excellent diet coaches out there, they may be told that 50g of total carbs a day is “doing keto” because they are focusing on your weight loss, and perhaps not on the diet it must be used for the treatment of mental illness. They may even recommend you restrict your dietary fat intake prematurely because they are focusing on that weight loss and trying to help you lose weight.

I wouldn’t want you to think you had tried a ketogenic diet to treat your psychiatric symptoms and that it was unsuccessful when all you may have needed was some help to find the right type of ketogenic diet to find relief. The ketogenic diet may not work for you. But it would be a shame to walk away prematurely without the benefit of the customization and support you both need and deserve.

It takes a good three weeks of very consistent therapeutic carbohydrate restriction, in the form of 20g (maybe 30g max), for you to get some idea of whether a ketogenic diet might be helpful for your individual psychiatric symptoms.

Keto and medications are a big deal

Another reason you may want to work directly with a ketogenic diet professional is if you are on psychiatric medications. This is a very important factor in your decision-making and should weigh heavily in your decision about whether to attempt keto on your own or with professional help. Ketogenic diets are such powerful mental health interventions, that your medications may need to be adjusted during the first few days or weeks of the diet. Keto and antidepressants; or keto and other medications for diabetes, blood pressure, and a few others need to be monitored carefully.

Sometimes you need to go down on a few medications simultaneously, and that’s complicated. And sometimes, if you are not working with a professional and you have a worsening of symptoms, you will not have anyone helping you watch out for side effect potentiation and you will give up early, thinking the diet is making you worse. There are some instances when it is in fact your ketogenic dietary therapy creating symptoms and you need some additional supportive bridge medications or supplements to support your healing journey.

So you can see, if you are on psychiatric medications, it is particularly wise to work with a ketogenic professional who is able to modify your medications or work with a prescriber who will, and has experience with the ketogenic diet and psychiatric medications. And if you cannot find a prescriber, you can find a ketogenic mental health professional to coordinate and work with a prescriber with whom you already receive care. This could be a ketogenic dietician or even a ketogenic informed mental health counselor (like me).

Lifestyle change is hard

You may also really benefit from working with a ketogenic informed mental health professional to assist you. They will be able to help you work through any issues that come up while making a big lifestyle change like the ketogenic diet. Sometimes big lifestyle changes bring up feelings of resistance and it can be good psychological work to explore those with someone who knows how to move you through those potential obstacles.

I have written some blog posts about some of the psychological aspects of the lifestyle change involved in ketogenic dietary therapy, and how mental health counseling can help. You can find those here:

If you have decided that it would be helpful to find a ketogenic dietary professional, then read on. I will go through the different types of mental health professionals you may find trained in ketogenic dietary therapies that could help you on your journey to better mental health.

Ketogenic diet professionals

Luckily there are a lot of different types of mental health professionals trained in ketogenic diets that can help you. We will go through and describe each one, and provide resources below that could help you find one to help you on your mental health journey.

Ketogenic nutritionist or dietician

A ketogenic nutritionist is a nutritionist that has been trained to use the ketogenic diet to treat neurological disorders. As you may have read before, the ketogenic diet has been used for over a century to treat epilepsy, and it is now used for diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and ALS.

A ketogenic nutritionist may also go by the term ketogenic dietician. Many work in hospital settings, but many provide services outside those institutions. A ketogenic nutritionist or dietician cannot help you adjust your medication, but they can work closely with your prescriber. And they are often very clever at addressing any issues you might have in implementing your new diet (e.g, shopping, meal prep, budgeting). These professionals will be able to give you the correct macros that will ensure you have plenty of brain energy and the nutrient support you need to feel better.

If you choose to work with a nutritionist or a dietician, be sure to clarify with them that you are looking for someone with experience providing help with ketogenic diets specifically. Not all nutritionists and dieticians understand that ketogenic dietary therapy is being used outside of epilepsy treatment for mental illness. Find one that is not going to discourage your use of it because they are not keeping up with the research literature on this topic.

Nutritional psychiatrist

A nutritional psychiatrist is an MD or Licensed Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, who is able to monitor your medications and adjust them as needed. Some focus on dietary interventions and medication, and others include psychotherapy work with patients. One of my favorite nutritional psychiatrists, Georgia Ede, MD has a great quote:

The most powerful way to change your brain chemistry is through food, because that’s where brain chemicals come from in the first place.

Georgia Ede, MD – https://www.diagnosisdiet.com/blog-parent/category/mental-health

This is how a nutritional psychiatrist will approach your ketogenic dietary treatment for mental health. There will be some baseline tests run, and there may be supplements, but there will not be a focus on supplements as the mechanism by which you will change your brain chemistry and function.

Functional psychiatrist

A functional psychiatrist may or may not be well-trained in the use of ketogenic diets, but many of them are. They may have a focus on tests and supplementation over dietary therapies and you will have to ask them if they are comfortable helping you try one for your mental illness. They work to evaluate and correct what is causing your mental illness and they will likely have some advanced and well-thought-out recommendations for supplementation, both as a primary treatment and to support your ketogenic diet. They are good at ferreting out underlying causes of mental illness that traditional psychiatry does not. Functional tests and supplementation can become expensive, as they are not usually covered by insurance in the US. If you want to explore using a ketogenic diet or just explore options to traditional psychiatry on your mental health journey, a functional psychiatrist is a great potential resource.

Mental Health Counselor

A mental health counselor (or therapist, they are called different things in different places) can be an excellent choice. A keto counselor of sorts!

Full disclosure, this is the kind of ketogenic professional I am (About Me).

A mental health counselor can see you bi-weekly or weekly, which will help you monitor your symptoms and help you overcome any practical or even psychological obstacles you are facing as you attempt a ketogenic diet for your mental health. A mental health counselor can practice both nutritional psychiatry and functional psychiatry (without the medication component; I know, because that’s what I do). They can coordinate your care directly with your prescriber regarding possible needs for medication adjustments and even preliminary medical testing that might be helpful in tracking your progress.

Using a ketogenic informed mental health professional like a mental health counselor or therapist means that you can get evidence-based psychotherapy while you are using your ketogenic dietary therapy for your mental illness. The two are very complimentary. You can read more about how they can work together here. Be sure to find a mental health therapist that understands ketogenic diets. There can be problems finding one that is current in their understanding of the use of ketogenic diets for mental illness. You can read more about why that would be a problem here.

Finding a Ketogenic Professional

  • Chris Palmer, MD’s website has a directory of ketogenic dieticians here
  • The Charlie Foundation has a list of ketogenic dieticians here.
  • Society of Metabolic Health Practitioners Provider Directory is a directory of all kinds of ketogenic informed healthcare practioners. If you want someone who can help with medication adjustment be sure to find someone who is a prescriber, such as an MD, DO, Licensed Physcians Assistant, or Licensed Medical Nurse Practioner. Bonus if you can find one near you or via telehealth that specializes in psychiatric or neurological conditions.
  • Find a Low-Carb Doctor at DietDoctor.com also is a directory of ketogenic informed healthcare practitioners. Just like the directory above, you will want someone who can either adjust your medications, or help you knowledgably monitor your symptoms with you and help you advocate with your current prescriber as needed.
  • You can search for a functional psychiatrist in your area or via telehealth at a great organization called Psychiatry Redefined.
  • If you want to see someone in person, you can type in the search term for what you are looking for and add “near me” next to it into your favorite search engine.
  • Don’t beccome discouraged if you cannot find someone near you! Lots of independent ketogenic practioners us telehealth. Just type in the search term for the type of professional you are looking for. You will find a variety of great telehealth professionals able to help you meet your goals.

Conclusion

Finding a ketogenic health professional like a nutritional or functional psychiatrist, ketogenic dietician or nutritionist, licensed mental health counselor, or another ally with training in mental health can be really helpful.

I want you to know all the ways you can feel better.

But more importantly, I want you to know that you deserve a higher level of support and encouragement as you try to make big changes to help treat big issues.

If you are curious about how a ketogenic diet might help treat the underlying mechanisms of specific disorders, I have written carefully researched individual posts on Depression, Anxiety, ADHD, Alcoholism, PTSD, OCD, GAD, Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, and many more. I add new ones all the time. So if you do not see the disorder you are interested in, please search the bottom of the main page.

Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or I can help you on your wellness journey. You can contact me here.

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