What is Keto?
The keto lifestyle is a high fat, low carb, moderate protein diet. Most people follow the Standard American Diet, which is high in carbohydrates and low in fat. When you eat something that is high carb, your body will produce glucose and spike insulin. The problem with that is since glucose is the easiest molecule for your body to convert for energy, it will use the glucose over dietary and stored fat. When you limit your intake of carbohydrates to a very low amount, your body will enter into a state of ketosis.
Ketosis is a perfectly natural state that your body enters when it thinks it’s not getting enough food. People who severely limit their calories or do prolonged fasts will also enter the state of ketosis. This is simply our body’s way of not allowing it to starve itself. When you enter the state of ketosis, your body breaks down fats in the liver and converts them to ketones. These ketones are then used for energy instead of glucose.
Have you ever eaten a high carbohydrate meal and had a sudden burst of energy only to crash and hour or so later? Well, one of the benefits of using ketones for fuel instead of glucose is ketones are a slower burning fuel source. Because your body is utilizing a constant stream of energy from the production of ketones, you don’t experience the crashes after eating.
Benefits of Keto!
Like us, many people start a keto diet for the weight loss benefits but here are numerous other advantages to living a High Fat, Low Carb lifestyle. Joe started on keto to lose weight and lower his risk of a heart attack, but decided to make it a permanent lifestyle after experiencing some of these benefits. Studies have shown some other health benefits of keto include:
- Weight loss
- Increased energy
- Increased focus
- Decreased hunger and feeling more satiated
- Lower blood sugar levels
- Lower blood pressure
- Improvements to skin
- Helps with arthritis.
- Lower risk of cancer
- Lower Triglycerides
- Helps with diabetes
- Better cognitive function
- Helps with epilepsy
Where to start!
Let’s start off by saying we’re not doctors or nutritionists. Any information we have on our website, YouTube channel or social media is from our own research and personal experiences. We recommend that before you make any kind of lifestyle change, including starting a keto diet, you consult your physician. There are a lot of physicians who now recognize the benefits of eating a High Fat, Low Carb diet. LowCarbUsa.org has a great list of medical practitioners who support the ketogenic lifestyle.
Now that we got all that out of the way, let’s talk about the next hurdle. This is a marathon to good health, not a sprint. You need to be in this for the long haul. Switching from the S.A.D. (Standard American Diet) to the Keto diet is a huge change both mentally and physically. For years, you’ve been feeding you body carbohydrates, which is essentially sugar. The craving for sugar and carbohydrates doesn’t go away over night. It’s going to take some time to get used to eating lots of healthy fats, and not eating all the sugar, starches, and grains. Because you are so used to eating all those carbs, we recommend starting a keto diet a little differently than what other people might suggest. That doesn’t mean other people are wrong. It’s just that in our experience, our method makes it a little easier to stay on this diet. With all that said, let’s get into the initial steps for starting your keto journey.
Step 1: Clean out your pantry!
One of the best ways to deal with the temptations of all the carbohydrates and sugars is to simply get rid of them. If possible, get rid of anything that may tempt you. This includes rice, potatoes, cereals, crackers, sugar and flour. There are so many items that have hidden sugars. Can you believe they even add sugar to pickles? If you’re like us and don’t want to throw out what you used to consider perfectly good food, donate it to a local food bank. Replace the potato chips with pork rinds and cheese crisps. Toss out the flour and get yourself some almond flour. There are a lot of substitutes on the market for the high carbohydrate products in your cabinets.
Step 2: Throw out your scale!
The scale can be your worst enemy on the keto diet. You’re going to find that in the first couple weeks you will probably lose some weight and then hit a stall. This is normal. Your body is still adjusting and figuring out that it should burn fat for fuel. When most people go on a diet, they lose muscle and fat. But you will be burning fat. One pound of fat is much larger than a pound of muscle. Since you’ll be burning fat and retaining your muscle, the inches will come off before the pounds. Rather than worrying about the scale, we suggest you take bi-weekly or monthly pictures and measurements. Rachel is one of the biggest testimonies to this. Over a period of 3 months, she only lost 4 pounds but went from a size 8 to a size 2. She was constantly getting frustrated at the scale even though she was shrinking away. When she finally looked at pictures of herself, she couldn’t believe it.
Step 3: Use our macro calculator!
For the first 2 weeks, we aren’t going to worry about hitting all of our macros but you definitely want to have an idea of what your goals are after you are fat-adapted. When you plug all of your information into the calculator, you will have a good idea of how much protein and fat (fuel) you should be consuming in order to lose, maintain or even gain weight. We suggest not consuming more than 20 net carbs or 40-50 total carbs as the energy portion. Remember, the lower the carbs, the more success you will have since your body doesn’t have to burn through them before getting to the fat. Also, don’t be afraid of protein. Your body won’t use the calories in protein unless it has other fuel.
Step 4: Get a food log app!
Most of the food you eat shouldn’t have a nutrition label, so a food app will help you find out the amount of fat and carbs in each food. In addition, using a food log app will help you with accountability as well as make it easier to track your macros. You’ll be surprised how many hidden carbs and sugars are in foods. We used My Fitness Pal for a while. But, my issue with MFP is that a lot of the information in there is user generated and sometimes wrong. In addition, My Fitness Pal doesn’t track net carbs. Lately we have been using Cronometer. It has keto tracking, good food nutrition information and will track a lot more than MFP, including how much Omega 3 and Omega 6 you consume. It even has a place for you to enter your own recipes.
Step 5: Keep your net carbs under 20 and your total carbs under 40!
Even though we’ve put our information into the macro calculator, for the first 2 weeks just focus on keeping your net carbs under 20 and your total carbs under 40. Doing that will ensure you get into ketosis. Net carbs are the total carbohydrates in a food item minus the dietary fiber and sugar alcohols. Now that doesn’t mean consume a bunch of foods that have 15 grams of sugar alcohols because that will end up slowing your progress (and probably cause some gastral distress. Most of your daily net carbs should be coming from vegetables. Things like spinach, kale, cauliflower, zucchini, broccoli and avocados. The rest of your carbs will come from things like dairy, eggs, spices, a few nuts and maybe a small desert or fat bomb at the end of the day (if you have room left in your macros). With all of the “Keto products” that are being released, our suggestion when calculating carbs is to use the total carb figure for all processed foods and net carbs for your veggies. Unfortunately, companies don’t have your best interest in mind and they will manipulate the numbers to get you to buy their products. The lower you get your total carbs, the faster you will get into ketosis and the more success you will have.
Step 6: Don’t worry about calories!
We know this sounds weird, and goes against everything we’ve been told. Ultimately calories still matter, but not in the way we’ve been led to believe. That “calories” that matter are the fat and carb ones but we’re not going to count them. All we’re going to do is count the grams by keeping it equal to or slightly lower than our protein goal. Even though you have “stored” fuel on you body, you still need to consume some and we suggest eating at least 80% of your energy goal.
For the first couple weeks though, we don’t even want you to worry about that. As we said earlier, it’s going to be hard enough to ditch the carbs. You’ve spent years eating a high sugar, high carbohydrate diet. The cravings aren’t going to go away overnight. For the first 2 weeks, worry about eating less than 20 net carbs (40 total), hit your protein goal and eat till you’re full. If you get hungry between meals, add a little fat, that will help you get fat adapted. Our philosophy is that if you can get the carbs out of your system and get into ketosis, it will be easier to adjust your macros after you’re more comfortable. You’ll find that protein will fill you up and the fat will keep you full and don’t eat as much. As a result, the calories will work themselves out.
Step 7: Eat your protein!
Even though for the first 2 weeks we’re going to focus mainly on carbs, you still want to make sure you’re eating enough protein. If you don’t consume your protein, you won’t get full, your hair will begin to fall out and you may start to lose muscle. Also, don’t worry about gluconeogenesis, which is a process where your body creates glucose from the excess protein. Gluconeogenesis is demand driven, not supply driven. Amy Berger has a great article about protein and gluconeogenesis.
Step 8: In the beginning, eat fat!
If you’re feeling hungry in-between meals add some fat to your meals. Not just any fat though, good healthy fat. Things like coconut oil, mct oil, avocado oil, cod liver oil and butter (preferably grass fed). You’ll be surprised how satiated you’ll get from putting a tablespoon of butter in your coffee. On the other hand, if you’re having trouble getting full during your meal, increase the protein, which will fill you up during the meal. Once you’re fat adapted, (about 2 weeks) you can start cutting back the fat to about 80% of your “energy” goals so your body goes after the body fat
Step 9: Don’t quit snacking!
If you are a snacker, don’t try to give it up right away. This is another place where we differ from other keto people. Our feeling is that if you are used to snacking, your brain is still going to want it, at least when you first get started. Instead of quitting the snacks, switch over to healthy keto snacks like a Keto coffee, a hardboiled egg, a fat bomb, or even pork rinds. You can also snack on nuts. But be careful: the carbs in nuts creep up on you. If you are going to use nuts, we suggest sticking with Pili nuts, macadamia nuts or pecans, in that order. Pili nuts have 22g of fat in a serving and only 0.2 net carbs. Macadamia nuts are the next best option with 23g of fat in a serving and 2 net carbs. Perfect Keto has a great article that goes over 46 healthy keto snacks that won’t kick you out of ketosis. You can find that article here. As soon as you can, start eliminating the snacks so that you aren’t eating anything in-between meals. Remember, you won’t be able to lose fat when you are spiking insulin and every time you eat (including fat and protein), you spike insulin.
Step 10: Avoid the sweets!
There are lots of recipes on the internet for incredible keto-friendly sweets. Things like fat bombs, chocolate, cakes and cookies. This suggestion ties in with what we said earlier. You’re trying to re-train your brain. If you can, for the first couple weeks, try to get by without “keto sweets.” This way you won’t be continually feeding the sweet tooth you had before. Once you’ve gotten more into the swing of things, the occasional keto cookie or brownie isn’t bad. But in the beginning, it can be a slippery slope.
Step 11: Drink lots of water!
One of the side effects of living a ketogenic lifestyle is that your body reduces the amount of water you store. When you eat carbs, your body stores the glycogen in the liver with water. Since you’re not eating carbs, you don’t have all that glycogen, so your body dumps the water. That’s one of the reasons you’ll probably lose several pounds in the first 2 weeks. The bad news is you can dehydrate easily. But the good news is that’s one of the other reasons eating High Fat Low Carb is so beneficial: less inflammation.
Step 12: Electrolytes!
Since your body is dumping water, it’s also dumping electrolytes and we need those to function. If you only replace the water and not the electrolytes, you’ll flush the electrolytes that you do have and get even more dehydrated. You need to make sure you’re consuming a lot of potassium, sodium and magnesium. Salting your food well with a good mineral salt like Redmonds Real salt is a great place to start. You can also get a lot of the potassium from green veggies and avocados. We like to use Redmonds relyte whenever we are feeling a little cramped or run down. It tastes great, is zero carb and contains a lot of electrolytes that you need.
Step 13: Have fun and don’t quit!
Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint. You’ll probably see some results early on, but getting completely fat adapted can take weeks or even months. That doesn’t mean you won’t be losing weight or inches but it does mean that a “carb cheat day” early on could set you back weeks. Keto is not like a standard diet where you can cheat and then go to the gym or count that food as part of your calories for the day. This was the first diet that Joe didn’t cheat on because he knew cheating once would result in couple of weeks of feeling like garbage. The good news is that after you’ve been doing it for several months, your body gets really good at being able to utilize fat. Instead of quitting or cheating, have fun with it. If you feel like you want to have a fun night out or reward yourself, buy a new outfit. If you want to reward yourself with food, have a “calorie cheat day,” where you eat a 15 ounce steak instead of a 6 ounce one. Joe likes to have fun teasing people. People will say things like “don’t you miss bread” and he will answer back “not really cause I get to eat a pound of bacon instead.” Start coming up with your own zingers to answer people when they make comments. It really leaves them dumbfounded when they ask how you lost so much weight and your answer is, “I eat a stick of butter every day.”
Final Step: Fine tune everything!
After the first couple weeks, you should be over the keto flu and settling into your new lifestyle. Now’s the time to start trying to hit your macros. You may have already started hitting them without even trying. After you start focusing on your macros, start listening to your body and tweaking things until you feel optimal. We’re always playing with our ratios and types of protein and fat to see what makes us feel optimal. The longer you do it, the more in tune with your body you’ll feel. Now that we’ve been living the keto lifestyle for a while, we tweak the types of foods we eat and experiment with new ones like sardines and liver.
What’s the Keto Flu?
The keto flu is a side effect from starting a keto diet. You may have even experienced it if you ever tried to severely restrict your calories or fasted. As you lower your carbohydrates, your body will begin converting your dietary fat and stored fat to ketones. The problem is your body doesn’t quite know what to do with them yet. Fat is normally only a secondary fuel source for our body. So, for a couple days, your body goes though a withdrawal-like phase.
The best way to avoid the keto flu, or at least minimize it, is by taking in a lot of electrolytes. This can be done with the food you eat (leafy green veggies and avocados), Pink Salt, or an electrolyte replacement drink. You see, in addition to your body not knowing what to do with the ketones, its also losing water and electrolytes. When we lose electrolytes, we feel sick. Some of the symptoms you may experience are:
- Muscle cramps
- Poor concentration
- Stomach pain
- Muscle soreness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Sugar cravings
But don’t worry, the keto flu only lasts 2-5 days for most people and when you get past it, you will feel incredible. Our suggestion is to plan your keto start day around one of your days off. Usually the second day is the worst.