Keto has been a fairly popular topic lately and I have found that many people are confused about exactly how it works and what it entails. Many people are interested in this way of eating but often find conflicting or confusing information once they start researching it. Keto is not a new diet in terms of how long it has been around – people have been eating Keto for a very long time, but it is fairly new to the mainstream population. This article on keto diet basics is here to help you cut through a bit of that confusion.
My husband and I first started following the keto way of eating about a year ago. It was at the tail end of summer when we realized that our life, as we were living it was not taking us down a good path. neither of us was happy with the way we felt or the way we looked. As parents of young children, we realized that not only were we miserable and unhappy with our current situation we weren’t setting the best example for them either. Not only that but it was pretty obvious that continuing along our current path would mean we were unlikely to be around for them as long as we would like.
Something had to change and although Keto sounded pretty drastic at first it turned out to be a way of eating that we could follow and keep up with without too much trouble. Keto might sound confusing when you first start out but at its core, it’s very straightforward and simple.
Keto Diet Basics
What exactly is Keto?
Keto is a way of eating in which you teach your body to rely on fat instead of sugar (carbohydrates) for fuel. Keto is considered a high fat, moderate protein, low carb diet. When you follow a Keto diet you enter a state called Ketosis. In this state, your body uses fat to produce ketones. Ketones then become your bodies fuel.
You can think of Keto as being a low carb diet on steroids. Where most low carb diets tend to restrict carb intake to 150g of net carbs or less a Keto diet restricts you to around 20g of net carbs a day. There are several different versions of Keto but at its core, Keto simply means entering a state of Ketosis which is possible just by restricting carb intake. What version you choose to follow is a personal choice but rest assured there are success stories in every category!
Why is Keto High Fat?
Because you are no longer relying on carbohydrates for your energy you have to fuel your body somehow! Our bodies have a nifty survival trait built in for just this problem. When we run out of sugar (consider our ancestors and how they relied on a hunter-gather lifestyle where carbs were likely seasonal at the best of times) our bodies break fat down into ketones. Ketones are perfectly capable of fueling our bodies.
Since you are no longer eating carbs you need this extra fat to keep energized throughout the day. This does not mean you should eat nothing but bacon. Bacon is great! But, the majority of your excess fats should be healthy fats such as those found in nuts, avocados, grass-fed butter and coconut oil.
Why is Keto Moderate Protein?
Protein is a tricky beast. Too much protein and your body will convert the excess to sugars. this, of course, will result in keeping you out of ketosis. Too little protein and you will be endlessly hungry and potentially begin to lose muscle mass.
How much protein you should eat exactly depends a great deal on your individual lifestyle. If you lead a more active life then you will require more protein. There are many online calculators you can use to help you determine just how much protein you should be eating.
How Exactly do I follow a Keto Diet?
No matter what type of Keto seems right for you the basics remain the same.
- Learn how to calculate Net Carbs. Net Carbs are calculated by taking the Total Carbs and subtracting the fiber and sugar alcohols.
- Restrict your carb intake to 20g of net carbs per day or less. While some people decrease carbs slowly many find it easier to just go cold turkey and suffer through the cravings. Our starter kit might help you get going!
- Make sure you are getting enough electrolytes. Adding them to your water or even drinking a cup of chicken, bone broth or pickle juice will help hold the Keto Flu at bay. If you do get the keto flu the symptoms can be managed by following some of the tips listed in this post.
- Settle in for a while. Becoming fat adapted is your ultimate goal. This process can take a month or as little as two weeks. The stricter you are with your carbs at the beginning the faster this process will go. Making sure you are giving your body plenty of healthy fats will also encourage it to make the switch from carbs to ketones quicker. The first few weeks of Keto are often the hardest. You might feel tired (eat your fats and get your electrolytes!) and you will likely be missing your carbs. Hold fast and stay the course, soon you will have the energy to spare and the cravings will fade.
- Expect to lose a good bit of weight fairly quickly. This beginning weight loss is mostly from water retention. Don’t be discouraged if it slows down after this initial loss.
After a While
Alright! So you have been Keto for a little while now, you are past the worst of your cravings (some will probably still be around) and hopefully, you stayed strong through the Keto flu if you got it! While some people use ketone strips to judge their state of ketosis I prefer to simply go by how my body is feeling.
Ketone strips are okay if you need that mental check but remember – they are somewhat inaccurate. Ketone strips only measure the excess ketones your body is not using. When you produce ketones your body uses what is required and flushes the rest out through urine. The measurements you get using ketone strips do not necessarily mean you are ‘out of ketosis’ just because they are measuring low.
Ketone blood level testers are a lot more accurate if you are okay with pricking your finger daily.
Signs of Ketosis without testing
- Decreased Appetite – A lot of people say that the way they experience hunger changes once reaching Ketosis. This is likely because what you thought was ‘hunger’ before was actually a carb crash. Now that you have increased your fat intake, met your protein goals and started eating more healthy vegetables without the carbs you no longer have to worry about the crashes. If you are still hungry a lot then you might need to increase your fat or protein intake.
- Increased Energy and Mental Clarity – Ketones are great fuel for your brain. Although you might have felt foggy and tired for the first few weeks on Keto this generally passes quickly. Once you officially enter Ketosis most people find that their focus and energy levels improve dramatically. If you were used to feeling tired and sluggish most afternoons then you might notice a big change. Following a ketogenic diet is also very good at regulating blood sugar levels and the lack of ups and downs from a typical carb fueled diet might have something to do with the stabilized energy levels.
- Increased Thirst – This is a pretty common symptom for many people in Ketosis. Because fat cells carry a lot of water but have to release that water to be turned into ketones you will end up excreting more water than before. The loss of sodium and other electrolytes due to this process is often while people experience keto flu. Drink your water, add some salt to your meals and keep your electrolytes up.
Why did my Weight Loss Slow Down?
Did you love that initial loss of weight? Most of us do! That quick initial loss often makes people discouraged later on, however. Suddenly they are only losing a fraction of the weight and they feel like nothing is working. They might even go a few weeks with little to no weight loss at all!
This is normal. And it’s okay.
I went three weeks with absolutely no change to my weight and I started to get a bit frustrated as my husband was not experiencing these problems. But I stayed the course, continued to eat healthily and soon the weight started to drop again. Weight loss after that initial burst is often slower (though in some people these bursts, known affectionately as ‘whooshes’ continue to happen periodically) it’s important to trust the system and keep going. You did not gain the weight in a month and it won’t leave that quickly either.
If you are truly worried then you might consider following some common online tips to ‘break a stall’. These can include anything from intermittent fasting to recalculating your macros or excluding dairy and artificial sweeteners. You might have to experiment a little bit because Keto is not a one size fits all way of eating. All of our bodies are different!
Keto might seem complicated but it quickly becomes a way of eating that is simple and natural feeling. Although keeping your carbs under 20g a day seems daunting at first it’s not too hard once you learn the recipes and foods that you like. If you follow the basics and remember to keep a healthy mindset about the whole process without being too hard on yourself or your body then you will see results.