This is part 2 in my 3 part series What the Heck is the Keto Diet? If you missed Part 1 where I went over the basics of a ketogenic diet, then you can find it HERE. You definitely want to read it first, especially if you are totally new to keto.
Now, on to today's topic: Getting Started. Let me just say, I think I'm about to blow your mind with this … are you ready? The best way to get started on a keto diet is...
Ok, ok - so I know that's kind of a cop out, and of course I'm going to elaborate and give you some solid information and tips to get going, but at the end of the day you just have to decide that you want to do it, and then follow that choice up with actions! There is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ keto diet. I am constantly trying new things and learning more information. When you are starting, go with what you know and follow keto as you understand it - then adjust the plan as needed!
With all that said this article is how I recommend starting keto. This is a mixture of how I started myself as well as how I wish I had started if I'd only known then what I know now.
This article should in no way be taken as medical advice and you should ALWAYS consult your physician before beginning any nutrition or fitness program. This is simply a description of my own personal experience
Before you start:
- Do your research - But only a little! Keto is a hot topic right now, and there is so much information out there. There are differing perspectives and it can be a bit confusing, so don't worry about knowing every little detail, just know enough. I love the book Keto Clarity by Jimmy Moore and Grain Brain By Dr. David Perlmutter (you can find both of these books HERE!) I also LOVE this podcast from Chalene Johnson. It's a great overview of the keto diet, that is super easy to understand.
- Create a meal plan. I will go over the macros in a bit, but I think it's super helpful to have the first week figured out ahead of time. I also recommend sticking with simple, easy to prepare, recipes at first since you may be lacking energy as you begin to adapt.
- Get rid of any temptation from your house and prepare your pantry. Now is the time to clean out your cabinets, fridge and freezer (yep, I see that Ben and Jerry’s you are trying to hide in there) Remember what I said about the first week being full of cravings? Well I wasn't kidding, so do your future self a favor and get rid of it! Also, go ahead and stock up your fridge, freezer and pantry with some keto friendly foods. Remember to replace low fat products with their full fat counterparts. You can check out THIS LIST to see some of my favorite keto foods, plus some other staples.
- Find some accountability - This is super important so please don't skip it! I recommend finding 2 sources of accountability - one source that involves another person and one that is just for you (like a tracking journal or checklist). When looking for an accountability buddy, my suggestion is to find someone who is either A) also on the same path as you in regards to health and fitness and/or B) that you are close to, but not too close. Let me explain B for a minute ... You want your accountability buddy to actually HOLD YOU ACCOUNTABLE. You want them to feel comfortable calling you out on your BS, right??? Sometimes our closest friends and our spouses/significant others are too quick to just let things slide because they don't want to hurt our feelings. On the flip side, if they do call you out, it can lead to tension in the relationship which is also no good. If you are struggling to find someone who fits that bill - then I encourage you to plug into the keto community on Instagram!
"Macros" is just short for macronutrients and they are what makes up the caloric content of food. The 3 categories of macronutrients are carbohydrates, fat, and protein.
When you are eating a keto diet, you will need to keep your carbohydrates super low - start with 20g of net carbs or less per day. To find net carbs, simply subtract fiber and sugar alcohols from total carbs. This will represent 5-10% of your total caloric intake. View your carbohydrate macro as an MAXIMUM. You do not have to eat 20g of carbs - actually you want carbs as low as possible.
Your protein will need to stay moderate, at about 15-30% of your caloric intake. Thanks to gluconeogenesis- your body can convert excess protein to glucose, and too much glucose prevents you from getting into ketosis. You should aim to hit your protein macro every day. You likely will never hit it right on the money, just try not to go over or under by much.
Fat should constitute about 60-75% of your daily caloric intake. Since your carbs and protein are being kept much lower then a traditional diet, you will be using fat for energy and to fill in the caloric gap. You do not have to hit your fat macro, simply eat fat to satiety.
To find your specific macros you can use one of the many keto macro calculators out there (just google it). They will likely all give you slightly different numbers. Just pick one that seems most reasonable to you. Remember, you are going to be adjusting YOUR plan as you go, so your starting point isn't as important as just getting started!
If you are like me, the idea of planning out every calorie for the day is really overwhelming. That's why I 100% recommend starting keto by only tracking your carbs. Spend your first week just focusing on keeping your carbs below 20 net carbs. Try not to overeat protein, and eat as much fat as you want but don't stress about it.
As you move into weeks 2 and 3, I recommend beginning to track you calories along with your carbs. There is a big myth that when you are eating keto, calories don't matter - unfortunately that is FALSE. I do believe that you can get away with having higher calorie days here and there vs traditional diets, ultimately if you want to lose weight you need to be eating at a caloric deficit.
Weeks 4 and beyond, you can start tracking all your macros and calories. I personally use the free version of my fitness pal. I feel it has most of the foods I eat already saved and the recipe builder is super easy to use. To track net carbs on my fitness pal, simply scroll to the bottom of the diary screen and select nutrition. From there select nutrients. You will see a line for carbs and a line for fiber. Subtract fiber from carbs and voila - you now have net carbs!
This is something I get asked about all the time. Keto is so popular right now qand supplement companies are taking full advantage. You will see the name "keto" slapped on just about anything. The truth is, you don't need any of it! There is no short cut for getting into ketosis and most (if not all) of these products are a complete waste of money.
The only supplementation that I recommend is electrolytes. DRINK ELECTROLYTES, then drink some more, and for good measure add a touch more. Seriously though, many people talk about having the “keto flu” when transitioning to a ketogenic diet. It comes with aches, pains and just generally feeling rotten. Most of this can be attributed to an electrolyte imbalance.
When you begin eating a low carb diet, you start producing less insulin. This causes your kidneys to excrete more water. Along with the water, go vital minerals aka electrolytes. If you are constantly replenishing those electrolytes, you will minimize the ill effects of this transition. Electrolytes are always important when eating a ketogenic diet, but they are absolutely critical the first couple of weeks. I personally use Mio with electrolytes and ZipFizz for electrolyte supplementation. I use Mio throughout the day, and ZipFizz whenever I need an energy boost.
Your first week of keto may not be the best time to start a new fitness program. If you are feeling good, then it's fine to add a little exercise. But, it might be wise to hold off on starting any intense exercise program until you are a week or 2 in. If you feel like you need to get moving, this would be a great time to practice yoga or maybe just do some walking.
If you are already working out daily, it's totally fine to keep it up. be prepared that the first few weeks you may notice a drop in your performance as your body is still adjusting.
I love streaming workouts at home from beachbody on demand. Its super convenient and they have something for everyone. You can try it FREE for 2 weeks by clicking HERE and selecting the quarterly option! The 3 week yoga retreat is an amazing program and would be a great way to get moving your first few weeks!
I recommend that you start testing your ketones around day 3. Among the keto community this topic is a bit controversial, but I think that there is a huge benefit to testing when you are first starting out. Not only is it super motivating, but it gives you a better idea of how ketosis feels. The urine strips are not super reliable, but for beginners they are fine in my opinion. I recommend just testing once per day - usually in the morning. These are the strips that I use
Beyond the first few weeks testing isn't necessary. Over time, the strips may actually give you a falsely negative reading which can cause a bit of panic! For long term testing, look into a blood or breath meter. You can find a good blood ketone meter HERE, and a breath meter HERE. But remember, testing beyond the first month or so isn't really necessary.
I addressed how I handle cheat days in part 1 so you may already know what's coming 🙂 if not, here goes ... I recommend that you abstain from high carb cheat days. Trust me, they will not be worth it in the long run. You can, and some research suggests that you should, practice "caloric" cheat days. These days you will keep your carbs below 20, but eat as many calories as you like.
There are SO many keto recipes out there for all kinds of delicious and decadent foods and most restaurants pretty easily accommodate a keto diet. Also, as daunting as is sounds now, once you are solidly in ketosis, your cravings will seriously decrease. if you do eat high carb foods - you may be surprised that they no longer taste appealing to you.
Assess your progress and modify as needed - Take account of how you are feeling and how you are progressing toward your weight loss goals. Remember that a healthy and sustainable weight loss is about 1-2 pounds per week for most people, so again -DO NOT BE DISCOURAGED if you aren't seeing huge numbers. Particularly if you have health conditions that make losing weight difficult.
With that said, don't be afraid to adjust your plan or try new things. Find YOUR keto and then find it again.
Drop any questions that you have below and if you decide to give keto a go, be sure to let me know how it's going for you!
CLICK HERE to check out part 3 of this series, where I address common misconceptions surrounding the keto diet!