Starting the ketogenic diet may be the most daunting part (understandably). Not only does it counter what most of us have been taught about what a “balanced” diet is, it’s more involved than simply counting calories. This a cold turkey, changing-the-whole-way-your-body-operates decision. Starting the diet is a commitment. To actually reap the benefits, it must be stuck with pretty consistently.
Below are a few tips and insights to get you started.
The first step may be the hardest. You’ve got to stop eating carbs. Now, I know, not necessarily all together, but in order to remain in ketosis, most people have to drastically cut their carbohydrate intake. I tracked my macros (more on the below, don’t worry) a few days before starting keto, and I went from eating 200+ grams of carbohydrates a day to 30-40 grams.
This means no bread, rice, beans, starchy vegetables like potatoes, essentially anything with added sugar in it, etc. Most vegetables have some carbs in them. The goal initially (in my opinion, for a smooth transition) is to have 90% of your daily carb intake come from vegetables. This is a good way to get your veggies in and make sure you’re not overdoing it on not-so-wholesome forms of carbohydrates.
This is going to be tough for most people. We love the sugary stuff and the dopamine we get from it. Most of our food staples involve carbs and starches. It’s tough, but it’s worth it. If you limit your daily carb intake to 30-50 grams, mostly coming from vegetables, and fill the void in your diet with good fat, you’ll get great results.
Think about how this works for a second. Your body can either burn glucose for energy (by ingesting carbohydrates) or ketones (by ingesting fat). If you’ve limited your carbohydrates drastically, your body is going to need an energy source. This is where fat not only becomes good, but necessary. If you are afraid of eating fat, try to get over it. Just remember that your body is now using the fat in a good way.
So, as you start to eliminate things like bread, rice, processed sugars, etc. from your diet, introduce good fats. Foods like bacon, eggs, dairy products, avocados, nuts like almonds and macadamias, and oils like MCT oil (TKC recommends this brand).
When you start eating (around) 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbohydrates, your body will enter ketosis and you’ll begin to notice a difference.* If you want to be absolutely sure you’re in ketosis, you can buy ketone test strips. But, as a rule of thumb, with this ratio, you’ll almost assuredly be in ketosis soon. Sometimes it can take up to 2 weeks of following the diet to enter full ketosis, but for most, it only takes 3-4 days.
How to Track It
It’s pretty hard to eyeball the golden 75-20-5 ratio. I suggest using the free app MyFitnessPal. Once you download the app and register, log the food you eat and track your macros by pressing “more” then scrolling down to “nutrition.”
*What to Expect
If you’ve heard about the ketogenic diet, you’ve probably heard about the dreaded keto flu. The truth is, the keto flu is not universal and is felt in varying degrees, or not at all, depending on the individual. You might not feel anything, or you might feel like you got hit by a truck. Even if you have the worst symptoms (lethargy, headache, etc.) it will be temporary. For me, about 3 days in I had 1 day of simply being sluggish with a headache.
This “flu” is only a combination of minor dehydration, carb withdrawals, and your body keto-adapting. The key to getting over it is staying hydrated and replenishing electrolytes with salt-rich, keto-safe foods like bouillon broth, salted almonds, pickles, or olives. Even if your keto flu is the worst in recorded history, it won’t outweigh the benefits!