I tried the keto diet to help my epilepsy and it changed my life

Dennis follows a ketogenic diet to help relieve symptoms caused by his epilepsy.

My name is Denis. I am 15 years old and I live in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. Two years ago I started the keto diet for epilepsy relief and it changed my life. Here is my story …

I was 7 when I was diagnosed with epilepsy. I was too young to know what it really meant or to understand how it made me different from others, but I knew something was wrong. For as long as I can remember, I have struggled to find the right words and to get my ideas across. It was like my mind was in a million different places at once.

I also had seizures, which most people probably think of when they hear “epilepsy”. I would lose consciousness for half a second to five seconds – not long enough to lose my balance or pass out, but long enough for me and the people around me to notice. I never thought much of them, however; they were just something that happened sometimes.

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My family and I came to the Epilepsy Center at Boston Children’s Hospital for help after trying a few medications and treatments that didn’t seem to work and had bothersome side effects. We caught up with Dr Jeffrey Bolton, who suggested that I try the keto diet.

Keto – or the ketogenic diet – is a low-carb, high-fat diet. When the body is forced to use fat for energy due to less carbohydrates or sugars, ketones are produced. These ketones, which the brain can use as an alternative energy source, have an anti-epileptic effect on the brain. This can lead to better seizure control.

Ketosis is complicated, but Dr Bolton explained it to me in a way I could understand. At the same time, he treated me like an adult and told me that trying keto was 100% my decision. He also said that in order for the keto diet to be effective, I need to be 100% committed.

Keto is a low-carb, high-fat diet that puts your body in ketosis, which is when there are a high number of ketones in your blood.

Keto is a huge change in the way you eat and it takes some getting used to. My first two weeks were pretty brutal – it was hard to give up on the chips and crackers – but now I wouldn’t want to go back to how I ate before. On a typical day, I’ll have bacon and eggs for breakfast, meat and cheese for lunch, and I’m a big fan of the Caesar salad with lots of dressing for dinner. I have found almonds to be a great substitute for crisps.

The Boston Children’s team is monitoring me closely to make sure I’m getting the right nutrients and helping me manage my medications, which work with keto to help balance the neurotransmitters in my brain.

Dr Bolton also helped me identify my triggers and control them as much as possible. It turns out that sleep deprivation and long hours staring at a screen can cause a seizure for me, so I wear blue light-blocking glasses when I’m in front of my computer and make sure I get enough sleep.

clear sky

Epilepsy kept me from going through many of the typical childhood things like sleepovers and different sports. But having limits also had a silver lining: it sparked my interest in theater, and this year I was in a huge stage production for school. I also practice piano and paddleboarding and skiing is my most important thing.

If I could give anyone who has epilepsy or anything that limits what they do or eat one piece of advice, it would be to always make their quality of life a priority. It can mean doing difficult things. For me, it was adjusting to the keto diet. Everything is different for me now. Before, it was as if I was seeing through a fog. Now the sky is clear.

Learn more about the Epilepsy Center.

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