Today, I typed up this informational packet that I can share whenever someone asks me how they can get started with Keto. I’m keeping a hard copy in here for reference.
WHAT IS KETO?
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? If you’re going to embark on this “keto lifestyle” journey, you have to know what “keto” means. “Keto” (short for “ketogenic” ) when referring to a way of eating generally refers to a high fat/very low carb diet. But that is a very general definition (we’ll talk about that later).
More scientifically speaking, “ketogenic” is a term used to describe a diet that replaces carbohydrates with fats as a source of energy. With a high carbohydrate diet, our bodies run on glucose (which is essentially a fancy term for “sugar”). When carbohydrates are severely restricted, our bodies will start to burn fat and produce “ketones”.
“So I have to eat fat to burn fat?!” Yes, that’s exactly it. This concept seemed crazy to me, too, at first. Why would I eat more fat? That’s the stuff I need to stay away from! Our culture is so accustomed to “low-fat” everything that we are scared of eating healthy fats. That’s a key distinction.
If you still don’t believe me, I would encourage you to do more research into what actually causes weight gain (sugar) and read more about the process of using fat for energy. I would highly recommend reading The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung. It is not specifically a “keto” diet book, but has a great explanation of weight gain/loss and uses good studies to support its claims. It’s fat-scinating (oh my…what a terrible pun!).
Let me try to boil this down to a few basics to keep in mind.
- The keto diet is a high fat, moderate protein, low carb diet.
- Your diet should consist of roughly 70% healthy fats, 25% protein, and 5% carbohydrates.
- Examples of healthy fats include coconut oil, olive oil, butter, animal fats… etc.
- Most of your carbohydrates should come from green leafy vegetables.
- You can’t have sugar (not even brown sugar… and before you ask me about “healthy” cane sugar, that’s a no, too).
HOW TO START
Step 1. JUST DO IT!
Seriously, the most important step in starting the keto diet is to decide to just do it. There are so many reasons to delay. You might feel unprepared to start on the keto diet because you just don’t have enough information. It might be a “bad” time of year because holidays are coming up and you’re going to cheat anyways. Maybe you just went grocery shopping and you don’t want all your carb-heavy foods to go to waste.
Starting this new way of eating is only going to get harder if you keep delaying. So start with what little information you have. Start even if Christmas is only two days away. The sooner you get into the “keto mindset”, the sooner you’ll start seeing results and feeling better.
Step 2: Cut the Carbs
You might not be ready to track every single morsel of food that goes into your mouth. That’s ok. But what you CAN start doing right away (today!) is counting your carbs. The magic number for most “ketonians” is 20g of carbs. If you can keep your carbs under 20g/day, you’re well on your way to “ketoville”.
You don’t even need an app if you want to count your carbs. Because the number 20 is so low, it’s so easy to just keep a tally in your head or on a sticky note, or in the “Notes” on your phone. If you prefer to be super precise or you’re just bad at math (like me), you can use a tracker like “My Fitness Pal” or “Carb Manager” (both offer free versions).
Make sure you are reading the labels of literally every food item you are planning on eating. There are so many carbs in so many foods and when you are just starting out, it can be shocking how quickly they add up if you don’t read labels carefully. Obviously avoid simple carbs like bread, pasta, rice and grains (yes, even whole grains like quinoa) altogether. Other categories that are high in carbs include fruit, dairy, legumes, and root vegetables.
Net vs Total Carbs
There are two “camps” of carb-counters on the keto diet: net carb-counters and total carb-counters. Counting total carbs is going to be much harder and require you to be more disciplined and selective in the foods that you eat. I would say that most people on keto count net carbs.
To count total carbs, simply refer food label and record the “total carbohydrates” number. (insert avocado nutrition facts picture. ) In the picture on the right, for example, you would calculate your total carbs for eating an avocado as 17g, meaning you would have 3g left for the day if 20g is your goal.
To count net carbs, subtract the amount of fiber from the total carbs. Referring back to the nutrition facts for an avocado, we can subtract 13g of fiber from 17g total carbs and get 4g of net carbs, meaning you would have 16g left for the day if 20g is your goal.
Because starting keto is hard enough as it is, I would recommend counting net carbs over total carbs.. Later, after you’re used to eating this way, you might want to try being more strict and counting total carbs.
Step 3: Fat is your Friend
Because fat has been demonized in our society, it is going to feel weird to soak your food in a bunch of healthy fats. On the keto diet, though, because you are severely limiting
your carbohydrates (which is where your energy usually comes from), you need to really focus on increasing your consumption of healthy fats. A lot of times, when ketonians see a stall in their weight loss, it’s because they need to add more fat to their diets.
So, push through the mental barrier of feeling guilty for eating fat and enjoy that extra butter on your veggies!
Step 4: Calculate Macros
In your first month of being on keto, I would highly recommend plugging everything you eat into a tracker like “My Fitness Pal” or “Carb Manager”. If you’re like me, you’ll find this to be very tedious and annoying and time-consuming. And it is. But it is also super beneficial and important to see exactly what is in the food you’re eating. Your eyes will be opened to the lies and deception of the marketing world of various “health” foods.
Secondly, to maximize your results, use a keto macro calculator to calculate how many calories you should be getting in each of the macronutrient categories. (Remember, on keto, you should get about 70% fat, 35% protein and 5% carbohydrates. As you lose weight, you will have to re-calculate these goals.
Sticking to these numbers can get you some amazing results if you have the patience for it. But if you try it for a month and you just can’t stand it (like me), you can always go back to counting just your net carbs. If you LOVE tracking things like this (you weirdo), you can be even crazier and start tracking your micronutrients! But don’t ask me how to do it ‘cause I ain’t got time for that!
Step 5: Avoid the Keto Flu
In the first few days of eating keto, your body will go through a transitional phase as it switches from using carbohydrates to using fat for energy. During this time, you may experience some flu-like symptoms such as headache and fatigue. This is commonly called the Keto Flu. To avoid these symptoms, make sure you do the following:
- Stay hydrated.
Drink insane amounts of water.
- Supplement your electrolytes.
A lot of people like to buy supplements at a pharmacy, but you don’t need to go buy magic pills to get your electrolytes in. You can supplement by adding pink salt to your food, and making sure you eat foods that are naturally high in potassium (like avocados) and magnesium (like almonds and spinach).
- Don’t restrict your calories.
When you are just beginning, don’t try to restrict your caloric intake too much, Focus on limiting your carbs, but when you are hungry, eat and eat fat, specifically. Fat will make you feel full and will make your brain less foggy. Try drinking a bulletproof coffee or making some fat bombs!
- Get extra sleep
Plan on going to bed early or sleeping in when you are starting keto. First of all, if you’re fighting hunger pains, sometimes it just helps to go to bed early so you don’t have to face those midnight snack cravings. Secondly, your body is going through a major shock in transitioning, so help it through that process by getting plenty of extra rest.
LAZY vs. STRICT
There are two sides of a “keto spectrum”, if you will. Lazy Keto and Strict Keto. You don’t necessarily have to decide which side you’re on, but you will inevitably fall closer to one side than the other and you need to be prepared for the “other” side judging you and your every move.
If you want to be super hardcore about your weight loss and health goals and you like tracking all the things, then strict keto might be for you. Generally, with strict keto, you want to avoid processed foods and keto-fied “junk” food like Halo Top Ice Cream. You want to stick to organic, grass-fed, unprocessed foods and you want to make sure you’re hitting all your macros. Basically, your diet is going to be even more restricted than with just regular keto (you won’t be able to make recipes that call for cream cheese, for example).
With lazy keto, there’s more flexibility in the types of foods you eat. The focus is not so much on avoiding processed foods (although that happens kind of naturally as a result of not eating carb-y foods) but more on keeping your carbs low. So, if you had enough carb allowances at the end of the day, you might make yourself a keto dessert with sugar substitutes and almond flour.
It can be tricky to navigate the whole spectrum of different levels of strictness when it comes to keto. Here’s a few things to keep in mind:
– Lazy keto is going to be easier to maintain.
– Lazy keto is going to be easier on your wallet.
-Strict keto may produce results faster.
-Strict keto is the “ideal” to strive towards (in my opinion).
If I could do strict keto (emotionally and financially), I would. But the reality is, sometimes I just want to eat something that tastes sweet and if it’s going to make or break my diet, I’d rather have a lazy keto treat every once in a while than try to be so strict only to cheat really badly later. So find a balance that works for you and shut out all the haters who are going to say you’re doing it the wrong way.
NEXT LEVEL: INTERMITTENT FASTING
When you have adjusted to the keto lifestyle and your body is running efficiently on fat (after the first month), you can start adding in periods of fasting, or fasting intermittently. There are several benefits to fasting, but if weight loss is your number one goal, you’ll notice it start coming off even faster.
Start by simply restricting your eating times to a 12 hour window (8am to 8pm). Eat three solid keto meals per day and don’t snack in between meals. When your body has adjusted to that, cut out breakfast and eat within an 8 hour window ( 12pm – 8pm), still no snacking in between meals. This second step is commonly referred to as 16:8 intermittent fasting and is, in my opinion, fairly easy to do.
If you want to bump it up even more, you can do OMAD (one meal a day) and just eat once a day. This is what I currently do. It takes a while to build up to this point, so don’t be discouraged if you can’t get there right away. I think it took me about a month to fully adjust to OMAD. There were days when I would eat just the one meal and then the next day at lunchtime I felt like I was going to faint so I ate a small lunch. I just kept on trying to have just one meal a day until I could consistently do it.
WEIGHT LOSS AND HEALTH BENEFITS
If you’re here, you’ve probably already heard about the benefits of eating a ketogenic diet. It’s a great way to lose weight, but it also may help reduce the risk of cancer, improve heart health, reduce seizures, reduce inflammation and improve other areas of your health.
You need to keep in mind, however, that everybody is different when it comes to these health benefits. If your goal is to lose weight, you can ask about someone’s results, but remember that their body is totally different from your own and they might be able to lose ten pounds a month while you can only lose 5. There’s no magic equation that applies to everyone, so set realistic goals and keep track of your progress by taking pictures, recording your weight and measurements, and checking your blood work periodically.
EXERCISING ON KETO
In the first week of doing keto, I would suggest NOT exercising as your body will be run down from the transition. A lot of people who lose weight on keto never exercise. So, if you have a health issue that prevents you from exercising, you can still expect to lose weight just by changing your diet.
If you CAN exercise, though, go for it! You’re going to feel more energized, reduce your levels of stress (which can contribute to weight gain), and tone your body.
“WHAT CAN I EAT ON KETO?!”
The most common questions I get from people when I mention I’m on a ketogenic diet is “can you eat this? Can you eat( fill in the blank)?” It’s actually really simple once you get the hand of it but it does take a while to become familiar with all the DO’s and DON’Ts. Thankfully there is a wealth of information on the internet and a whole lotta keto recipes on Pinterest. But for now, just take a look at this list.
SAMPLE MEAL PLANS
Below are some meal plans I found online. Unfortunately, I’m afraid my own meal plans won’t be super helpful because I only eat once a day. I would recommend just keeping it really simple at first. It can be overwhelming trying to make keto cookies, for example with substitute sugar and flour and weird ingredients that you have to order online. Just keep it easy and work your way up to the fancy recipes. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with grilled steak and asparagus and bacon and eggs.
Note from the author
Hello, and welcome to my blog. I hope you have benefited from reading this post. Please be aware that all of the information I share comes from my own personal experience being on the ketogenic diet. I have been eating this way since May of this year and have lost 40 pounds so far. However, I’m not a doctor or scientist and cannot make recommendations for your specific health concerns. But I do hope I can offer some insight and encourage and motivate you to start your own journey towards a healthier you. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment below.