A nutrition trend quickly gaining steam is Keto. The Keto Diet or Keto Way of Eating is extremely low carb, moderate protein, and high fat. It can be overwhelming to sift through all the information related to keto online. This article outlines the basics of keto, things you need to know, and tips and tricks to get started.
I ate keto for a year and definitely saw weight loss results. I lost 35 pounds in about 6 months. I read anything and everything I could get my eyes on. I reached out to people I knew had tried it and read countless testimonials on social media from people with astonishing and inspiring success stories. I searched for credible sources that could give me concrete answers to my medical-related questions, as I still wasn’t convinced it was “healthy”.
Truth be told, I am still not 100% sure it is “healthy”, in the long term. But you know what I KNOW is not healthy? Being overweight, and being depressed, having social anxiety, and eating processed, sugar-laden food. Life is all about calculating risk versus perceived benefit and making informed choices.
I was going to include a summary of the medical and anecdotal information I have learned along the way, but I changed my mind. I do not want anyone to think I am giving medical advice, and everyone’s medical status is so different. Professionally, it is important to note that I am NOT giving medical advice, and I DO recommend that everyone’s weight-loss journey involves a medical professional.
Eating keto does change metabolic processes in your body, and I would recommend getting baseline blood work done so you can see how it is impacting you on a biological level – good and bad. This will help you to keep making informed decisions as you progress.
So, without further ado, it’s time to get started.
The Keto Diet or Keto Way of Eating (KWOE) is very low carb, moderate protein, and high fat. It involves putting your body into a state of Nutritional Ketosis so that it uses fat for fuel instead of glucose or glycogen stores. When the body is “starved” of glucose, it looks for other sources of energy for survival. With a keto diet, the body has ample fuel available in the form of fat.
The term “ketosis” means simply, the production of ketones. These ketones are used by the body as energy and any excess is excreted through the kidneys in urine. In the beginning, you can test for ketosis using Ketone Strips purchased online or at your local pharmacy. They are cheap and can help motivate you and keep you on track.
Be aware, over time, as your body becomes more efficient in using ketones for energy, more will be used up and less will be excreted. This doesn’t mean you aren’t in ketosis anymore; it just means you are using up all the excess. For this reason, urine keto strips are considered less reliable. You can also get blood and saliva monitors – but I can’t be bothered. If I’m not eating carbs, I know I’m in ketosis. If I eat too many, I know I’m not. It’s not going to change what I’m doing. But in the beginning, I loved knowing it was working. To each their own!
First, download a nutrition calculator app like MyFitnessPal or Carb Manager. Carb Manager is similar to MyFitnessPal, which many people are familiar with. It can be customized to your macronutrient “macro” needs and will help you track what you are eating.
Put in your height and weight, and set it to “keto” (not “high protein keto”). Set a 20-25% calorie deficit. Your macros will auto-populate and you will be ready to start tracking!
My biggest tip here is to read every label you can, so you start seeing how many carbs are in things you eat often. Also, play around with the app to see the carb count in common foods. Pay attention to the serving size so you are comparing apples to apples, oranges to oranges….and nuts to nuts! For example, 1/4 cup of cashews is 10 net grams of carbs, while a 1/4 cup of pecans is 1 net carb. Making easy substitutions makes a world of difference!
You will have MANY, ‘SHIT – I shouldn’t have eaten that!’ moments. Forgive yourself and move on. There is a lot to learn, and it will get so much easier, very quickly! Try to look things up before you eat them. That won’t always happen and that’s ok!
NOTE: “Net Carbs” are Total Carbs minus fiber minus sugar alcohols. These are sometimes called “Diabetic Carbs”. Net Carbs are what your Macros are referring to.
In the beginning, you can focus primarily on Net Carbs (aim for under 20 per day), with little concern for protein, fat, or total calories. The important thing in the first couple of weeks is learning what you can and want to eat, adapting your body, and enjoying some fabulous new recipes! Try not to stress about what you can’t have and instead, enjoy what you can. Don’t starve yourself or go without, or the change won’t last. As you become adapted to keto, you can set goals to hit your total fat, not go over your protein, and stay within your calorie limit. But you will lose weight in the beginning even if you aren’t being strict.
On that note, you will likely hear the terms, “Strict Keto”, “Clean Keto”, “Lazy Keto”, and “Dirty Keto”. These are very unattractive and derogatory names for pretty simple concepts. They are ALL effective and admirable in their own way. Do what fits best into your lifestyle and fits YOUR priorities.
Strict Keto is trying to hit all your macros every day. This gets easier over time as you learn how to piece together meals and balance your day. Don’t expect strict keto in the beginning.
Clean Keto is basically just not eating processed food or artificial sweeteners.
Lazy Keto is when you focus primarily on staying below 20 carbs a day (or whatever your carb goal is). This is what I recommend you start with. You can tighten things up as you go along.
Dirty Keto is when you allow artificial sweeteners and processed foods, as long as they fit your macros.
Most days I was definitely Dirty and Lazy! 😉
Next, go shopping for high-fat foods you like. Stock your fridge so you always have something to grab when you are hungry. You must bring food with you everywhere you go, it is so much easier. Fat is expensive and most grab-and-go restaurants pad their meals with carbs, carbs, and more carbs – they’re cheap! We live in a culture that equates quantity with value. Try getting breakfast with your morning coffee. Everything in the window is tempting and totally off-limits. Avoid these places until you get more control and detox from sugar addiction. Side note: “side egg, side sausage” is how you can order at these places. But is it worth $4 or more for minimally satisfying breakfast sandwich components when there are so many other AMAZING food options on keto?? Not usually. Not for me anyway!
One of the hardest parts of keto is detoxing from sugar. You need to be prepared because the “keto flu” is real. It hits people differently, but it’s shitty regardless (sometimes literally). Drink lots of water, and eat whenever you’re hungry. Keep your electrolytes up. You may need to supplement magnesium. It helped me when I would get headaches with the keto-flu. And eat lots of pickles! High in sodium and keto-approved! Some even swear by drinking pickle juice – you, do you!
If you stay hydrated and stay committed, it’ll only last a few days. It was never so bad that I would miss work or anything. I did need Advil for the headache a few times, and the nausea sucked. But it is short-lived and worth it. Once you’re through, it’s generally smooth sailing, and you’re already shrinking!!
- Download The Carb Manager App – set up your macros
- Track everything BEFORE you eat
- Stock up on high-fat foods (a variety of cheeses, pepperoni sticks, avocados, nuts…)
- Drink lots of water!