Happy New Year! Let the 20s begin again; and if we’re all going to fit comfortably into all those slim fit, dapper or chic 20’s outfits (if you haven’t heard, we’re all supposed to start dressing like it’s the 1920s again), then we need to shed some of this holiday ‘baggage’- And a lot of people are planning on starting their weight loss resolution with the ketogenic diet, which is still trending due to its unparalleled success.
So, given our family’s experience with this lifestyle over the past few years, and with my experience with nutrition and health- both through personal research and through a slightly more in depth understanding of the underlying metabolic mechanisms a microbiologist- I wanted to put together a helpful guide to get people started on the right path.
How to Get Real Results with Keto
Whether you’re trying keto for the first time, getting back on the train after taking a holiday break, or considering giving it another go after an unsuccessful attempt, there are some crucial points to follow and some basic ideas to understand.
First of all, Keto isn’t a magical weight loss solution. I prefer to describe it as a tool, and like with any tool, how well it works has a lot to do with how you use it. The reason keto works so well for weight loss, is because it keeps you from experiencing extreme cravings even when in a caloric deficit. Translation: you don’t get the uncontrollable urge to binge eat while reducing how many calories you take in. There are lots of explanations out there for why it works, but this is the only one fully backed by current publications.
Understanding this is important. For one, it gives you a better understanding of how keto is actually helping you. Calories are still important when you are trying to lose weight. One of the many benefits of a ketogenic lifestyle is that you’ll likely consume fewer calories without even trying to. I would even encourage you not to worry about calories for the first few weeks, just watch carbs. On a second point, if your extreme cravings never go away while trying keto, then something isn’t working right- most likely taking in too many carbs, or an underlying condition- such as a metabolic or liver disease- is making keto harder for you.
And now for the rules.
Eight weeks, so if starting as a new years resolution, that’s from January first until February twenty sixth.
Stick with it for eight weeks. This means all in. Eight weeks straight of no cheat days, lots of carb counting, and healthy eating. Absolutely, under no circumstances should you take any risks with foods that might put you over your carbs or start psychological cravings.
Psychological cravings are different from physical food cravings, and a psychological craving is something you’ll understand very well when you buy a pint of ‘low carb’ ice cream and end up eating the whole thing in one day. Just stay away from any kind of sweets or treats as much as possible for eight weeks. Just don’t buy them.
Fat bombs are the safest exception to help carry you between meals in the first few weeks if you need a snack. Fat bombs are by no means necessary, they are super trendy in the keto communities, but real foods are always the best foods. And on that note, if you must use an alternative sweetener then stick to natural alternatives such as stevia (liquid only, the powdered stevia has hidden carbs), monk fruit extract (also liquid or absorbed in erythritol), and erythritol (erythritol is a sugar alcohol, don’t let its inclusion in this list make you believethat other sugar alcohols are okay- they are not).
Plan Your Meals
Always know what you are going to eat. Before beginning your eight week journey, plan out every day for the first week, and then plan the next week before the first is done. This seems a daunting task if you’re not accustomed to planning meals in advance, but it gets easier with time. By the third week you’ll gain a little more flexibility as you become practiced with what this process actually looks like. And by the eighth week you’ll feel like you could literally eat whatever you want, whenever you want and still stay thin and feeling great. I can’t explain how this comes to pass exactly, but to put it as simply as I can; taking control doesn’t give you limitations, it removes the unseen obstacles that were limiting you all along.
Counting macros is something you’ll hear a lot amongst the keto communities. This is where it comes in to play, meal planning.
You need to stay below 20 g (grams) of carbohydrates every day for the whole eight weeks. Some people of smaller stature might need to reduce this to 15 g, but don’t be afraid of carbs, especially complex carbs- we absolutely need them, and once you are fully fat adapted (fully in ketosis) then you’ll likely have days where you have to make sure you’re getting your carbs rather than trying to avoid them.
The other two macronutrients (or macros) are proteins and fats. There’s some mixed opinions about how these should be balanced: the most middle of the road answer for a keto diet is 65:30:5. This means 65% of calories from fats, 30% from protein, and 5% from carbs. From here it can get more complicated, I’ll do my best to be as clear as I can.
Food labels present nutrition facts in grams (g), not calories. Fats have about 9 calories per gram, while proteins have about 4 calories per gram, and carbs also have about 4 calories per gram. So in order to meal plan within the 65:30:5 ratio, you have to convert calories to grams.
If this is the route that you wish to take, then you’ll want to use a macro calculator. A few of the most popular choices are from ruled.me, WholesomeYum, and perfect keto. Once you know the approximate macros you need to be aiming for, you can start planning meals. Keep a food diary, and use apps to help.
If counting macros is where you draw the line, then don’t, instead just count carbs. Be sure to get lots of nutrients, eat lots of greens, and keep your carbs at 20g or less, and you will get to ketosis. However, you will feel better if you balance your macros, so do consider circling back around to this if it’s not where you choose to start.
Daily maintenance, this seems a funny way of putting it, but it’s simply apt. There are things you must do daily when starting a ketogenic lifestyle. Some of this will become habit, some will become unnecessary as you become accustomed to the diet, and some will require some continued attention if you decide to continue in ketosis after the eight weeks is done.
First, counting carbs. Using a food journal app, or calorie counter can assist with this. But either way, you must become familiar with the nutrition facts on food labels, or become well practiced with googling ‘nutrition information’ for each peice of food you think about eating.
On nutrition labels, you’ll find a section called Total Carbohydrates , below this there might be a breakdown of different types of carbs: e.g. sugars, fibers, and sugar alcohols. These should all add up to equal the same number as the listed total carbs; any unlisted carbs are likely starches and can be considered equivalent to sugars for how they are processed in your body. Fibers and sugar alcohols are not digested well in the body, if at all, and are often not considered as part of your daily carbohydrate count. Subtracting fiber and sugar alcohols from the total carbs gives a number referred to as Net Carbs. Net carbs are what is your concern in ketosis. Fiber doesn’t need to be counted against your daily carbs, and sugar alcohols can be cut in half, or ignored all together if it’s erythritol.
Second on the maintenance list is water. And lots of it. You flush a lot of water out of your system on a low carb diet, to keep it simple, for every gram of glycogen your body stores it stores 3 to 4 grams if water, and in ketosis, you store no glycogen. So embrace your inner vsco girl and start carrying a water bottle everywhere you go. Don’t push water, but you will be thirsty often, and will need to keep water available at all times.
Third maintenance point is electrolytes: magnesium, potassium, sodium, and chloride. This follows naturally from the previous point. Flushing lots of water means flushing out a lot of electrolytes, and electrolytes we want to keep. Sodium and chloride are easy enough, that’s just salt, use it. Potassium and magnesium can be harder to come by naturally. As you become fat adapted and more accustomed to a ketogenic lifestyle you will be able to get these primarily from dark leafy greens (spinach, yums). However, in the first few weeks, I very strongly recommend taking supplements of both of these electrolytes. This, combined with lots of water will lessen what is know as keto flu.
Keto flu is a term used to describe the discomfort that some people experience as they transition away from using carbs and into using ketone bodies as a fuel source. You might experience nausea, constipation, headaches, frustration, irritation, fatigue, muscle cramps, and muscle weakness. This can last for just a day to as long as two weeks. For most it’s just 2 to 3 days, if at all. I helped my wife and daughter in ketosis with no symptoms at all, I myself experienced head aches, irritability, muscle aches and extreme muscle weakness (I couldn’t lift a 25 lb weight for even a single bicep curl), the muscle weakness lasted about a week and a half, the rest was only a couple of days.
These symptoms can be lessened by taking in ample amounts of water and taking electrolyte supplements, as well as eating lots of natural healthy foods. Get your fats and proteins from healthy sources like salmon, chicken with olive oil, with asparagus, spinach or broccoli. Consume lots of fats for the first week: olive oil, coconut oil, good palm oils, and butter. Giving your body all of the tools it needs in abundance to help with the transition.
Set a goal of eight weeks, absolutely no cheat days, no slip ups. Just pure low carb, real food, clean eating- avoid sweets. Plan your meals, keep your carbs below 20g a day, keep a food journal to log your carb intake (or your calories and macros if you choose to go that route- and I hope you do), drink lots of water, and keep your electrolytes up. Expect to experience some keto flu symptoms in the beginning, but stick to your goals. If you should fail to keep up the hard work for the whole eight weeks, don’t give up, start again- it won’t really be starting all over, but treat it like it is and go until you see the results you want. Best of luck to all, and as always, do life your way- I’m only here to help guide, not direct or lead. It’s all you from here.