Ketogenic diet helps cancer survivor lose weight

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Photographer Ali Shryock captures priceless moments in her newborn photo-shoots. But the bends and squats needed to create perfect poses are now a lot easier -- Ali has lost 65 pounds since May. 

"I still don't really believe it, but it’s happening," she said. 

A cervical cancer survivor, Ali also struggles with PCOS, a hormonal imbalance making it tough to control blood sugar and weight. Then she discovered the ketogenic diet -- keto for short. 

"Now that I have been doing this for five months, it’s more of a way of just eating. It is not a diet for me. It's adaptable to my everyday life," Ali explained.

Keto diets cut carbs like sugar, flour, rice and even fruit. In Ali's kitchen, slices of zucchini replace pasta in her lasagna. Pumpkin muffins are made with coconut flour and cream cheese. But along with her food, she drinks keto shakes every day.

Dominic D’Agostino developed the supplement at the University of South Florida and licenses it to companies for retail sale. 

"It helps you control your appetite instead of your appetite controlling you," he explained.

Keto diets shift your body's fuel source from sugar to ketones. Ketones are the breakdown products of fats. And while the sugar-deprived body will produce ketones naturally, the supplement adds to those levels. It helps stave off the keto flu as your body transitions. 

"The brain goes through what I call a glucose withdrawal and you become cranky, you become irritable. The ketones more or less keep your brain happy by supplying a steady fuel flow to the brain," D'Agostino continued.

Keto diets also make hormones that regulate appetite like insulin, leptin and ghrelin work better. 

"You inadvertently lose weight due to the fact that you don't have as much cravings for sugary foods," D'Agostino offered. 

However, some nutrition experts, like registered dietitian Sarah Krieger, question how long most people could maintain such a restrictive diet. 

"If someone told me I couldn't eat some of my favorite foods that were not on that diet, I would start to think about them all the time. You can do it for a little while, maybe a week or two, but then you’re like, ‘Wow I really miss oranges,’" she said.

It’s bananas that Ali misses. She replaces what many consider healthy options with indulgences like butter and whipping cream. 

"It was a little tough for me to retrain my mind and think, well, a little of this is actually OK." 

Ali believes her hormones are stabilizing, but there is no way to know if it's due to the weight loss or the diet.

The keto diet can have some drawbacks. Some versions of the diet led to kidney stones, electrolyte disturbances and digestive problems due to a lack of fat-busting enzymes.