So you’ve heard about keto, you’ve researched it, and you’re ready to try it: what’s the first step? Here are some tips on how to start a keto diet, to set you down the path to fast, safe weight loss.
Ketosis is the state in which the body, deprived of easy glucose energy, ups its production of ketone molecules as an alternative energy source. This happens when you eat very few carbs and moderate amounts of protein, both of which can be converted to blood sugar.
The liver creates ketones from fat, and so the goal of the ketogenic diet is to switch the body’s fuel source from blood sugar to fat, first the fats you’ll be eating on the keto diet, then the fat stores in your body. Weight loss is a benefit of this metabolic state, but so are reduced feelings of hunger and a steadier supply of energy that may cause you to be more focused and alert. Intermittent fasting can produce this state as well, but on the keto diet you don’t have to fast (though you may want to), you just have to change what you eat and stick to it.
Because you’re manipulating your blood sugar levels on a keto diet, be wary if you’re not feeling right at all or if your feeling of malaise extends beyond typical keto flu symptoms, and consult a doctor if you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes before attempting keto. If you’re ready to go, however, check out these tips to get ready.
The macronutrient ratio for the keto diet falls within these ranges: you’ll want 60-75% of your calories from fat (the more the better), 15-30% of your calories from protein, and 5-10% of your calories from carbs. It can be a drastic change when you first begin, so here are some tips to help the transition and get you to a state of ketosis as quickly and painlessly as possibly.
I know: we’re starting out with an obvious one, but it really is important, because you’re going to need more water on keto. Why? On keto you’ll excrete more salt, and with less salt in your body, you’ll retain less water. Don’t worry about any specific number of glasses. You’ll know you’ve had enough when your urine is a pale light yellow color. Don’t worry about this being too much of a chore after a while either, because once you begin super hydrating, your body will become accustomed to it, and will crave the extra water.
Like we said before, you lose salts on keto, so it’ll help to put some of them back. A lot of people have a salt intake that’s too high due to all the carbohydrates they eat: higher carbs mean higher insulin, which leads to a higher sodium-to-potassium ratio due to insulin’s influence on the kidneys. On a low-carb ketogenic diet, you’ll have lower insulin levels, and your kidneys will kick out more salt because of it. It’s recommended to try and get 3-5 grams of natural salt from your food, and using Himalayan sea salt (the pink kind) can help. Just 1 tablespoon of Himalayan salt is worth 2 grams of sodium and can easily be sprinkled on your food. Drinking broth can also help, as it will up both your salt and your water intake: two for two, definitely worth trying!
We did mention that intermittent fasting can help you get into a state of ketosis faster, but it can also be good practice to get you into the habit of keeping keto in the first place. Go low-carb with your diet a few days in advance of fasting to avoid a hypoglycemic episode. It’s recommended to start with a 12-16 fasting phase first, then slowly build up to a longer 18-20 hour phase. While fasting, stay hydrated with organic coffee, herbal tea, and coconut oil or its concentrate, MCT oil. The oil will help your blood sugar stay stable and up the production of ketones.
MCT or medium-chain triglyceride oil can be ingested throughout the day by adding it to your coffee, using it as a keto-friendly base for dips or syrups, or including it in any keto recipes that call for it. MCT oil is converted immediately into ketone bodies for use as energy, and though it’s derived from coconut oil, it is not the same thing. MCT oil is a pure form of the medium-chain triglycerides (capric and caprylic acids), while coconut oil has only 15% MCTs. You can cook with MCT oil instead of olive oil, drop MCT oil into a glass of water for consumption (it’s tasteless), or just do a shot of it when you need it (before bed helps you oxidize fat as you sleep).
If you’re eating keto to lose weight, you’re probably looking into exercise options too. When you do get your fitness, consider incorporating high-intensity exercises, which will help activate the GLUT-4 receptor in the liver, a glucose transport molecule that will work to store sugar from the bloodstream as glycogen in the liver and muscles. Compound exercises that use multiple muscle groups are the best for stimulating GLUT-4 receptor activity, but any kind of regular exercise will help you feel better and lose weight faster and if you are an athlete, read this guide on the cyclical ketogenic diet.
Though keto is a low-carb diet, that does not make it a high-protein diet. Too much protein intake can lead to kidney stress, and in extreme cases of working out too hard, even rhabdomyolysis. Outside of that, excess protein will turn to glucose, undercutting your keto intentions. Your protein needs will be dictated by your personal composition and your level of exercise. If you’re doing intense resistance training, you’ll need more protein for muscle growth, while someone doing aerobic exercise, not so much.
Your carb intake on keto will be low, but not zero. Choosing wisely will help you stay fit and reach your weight-loss goals. Go for non-starchy vegetables, or low-glycemic and antioxidant fruits like lemons, limes, and berries. When you do allow the occasional starchy veggie in (carrot, yam, pumpkin, sweet potato), just make sure that when you get your carbs they’re worth it: packed with nutrients so you can maintain your healthy levels of vitamins and minerals.
Constipation may become an issue, especially when you’re beginning a ketogenic diet. The lack of fibrous fruits and veggies, combined with possible dehydration, is unfortunately the perfect recipe for getting bunged up. A ketogenic remedy for this is to correct your gut bacteria with fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, apple cider vinegar, etc. Magnesium supplementation may help too, as well as a green smoothie each morning to keep up your potassium and calcium levels.
Sleeping poorly will increase your stress hormones and cause problems with blood sugar regulation. Do right by yourself: go to sleep at night, in a dark room (use ear plugs and/or a sleep mask if need be), for at least 7 hours a night if not more. Aim for closer to 9 hours if you’re especially stressed out). The more you sleep, and the more regularly you stick to your bedtime, the better you’ll feel and the less stress you’ll experience.
Be aware that chronic stress will affect your ability to maintain a keto state. If you’re going through tough times, maintaining a state of ketosis may have to be put on a back burner, but if you’re able to reduce your stress, the keto diet will improve your overall health and give you the ability to control your weight. Developing relaxation and self-care habits, starting with good sleep, will improve your energy levels and your life.
Transitioning to a high-fat diet like keto will almost certainly come with some side effects. Knowing the symptoms of what’s referred to as “keto flu” will help you worry less about what you’re feeling and give you the tools to alleviate any discomforts. You may feel sluggish, have maddening carb cravings, or experience keto brain fog, among other side effects like:
These are among the symptoms you may experience, and if they’re interrupting your life, you might consider taking a few days off the keto diet before returning to it, or you might prep for keto flu by getting BHB oil supplements in capsule or powder form. BHB oil breaks down and gets released as free ketones in your bloodstream right away. That quick access to ketones can help get you through the initial transition to keto, speed up your journey to ketosis, and boost your energy while you wait for your body to get in gear.
Remember that it is a journey, and that your health comes first above all else. Keeping hydrated and taking the right supplements may help lessen feelings of fatigue, grogginess, fogginess, soreness, and cramping—just make sure you’re listening to your body’s needs.
It will take a little practice to get into the swing of this new diet and develop your keto meal plan. You may be learning the best way to meal plan for the first time or creating new kinds of shopping lists for the ingredients that make up keto meals. It might take a while to get the hang of learning just what it takes to eat enough healthy fats while keeping to a moderate protein intake and reducing your total carbs, and that’s okay!
You may find it useful to use an app to track fitness goals or to log your net carbs. You may find it helpful to sit down and compile your own food list of go-to keto foods. It might take a few attempts and practice runs before you get there, but with a little dedication, and armed with these helpful tips, you’re well on your way to perfecting your diet plan and achieving the keto lifestyle, plus all the benefits that come with it. Best of luck!