So you want to start the ketogenic diet, but you’re a bit confused as to how to get started? Well, hopefully I can help with this Keto Diet Quick Start Guide! Let’s start with the basics…
What is the ketogenic diet?
Simply put, the ketogenic diet is a low carbohydrate, high fat diet. The purpose of the diet is to switch your body’s main fuel source from glucose (i.e., sugar) to ketone bodies, which are a byproduct of burning fat as fuel.
Being in ketosis is perfectly normal, as the human body has the ability to burn both ketones and glucose as fuel. Without this ability, humanity would have gone extinct long ago. So be assured that when you hear someone say, “Ketosis is dangerous!” they clearly have no idea what they’re talking about. 🙂 In fact, babies are born in a state of ketosis, and they remain in ketosis as long as they’re fed only breast milk (i.e., the food that nature provides for them, which is about 55% fat). Think of all of the development and growing that goes on during that time in a baby’s life, and you’d be silly to make the argument that ketosis is dangerous.
What does a keto diet look like?
When people talk about a keto diet, they often talk about “macros.” That word is an abbreviated form of saying “macronutrients” — fat, protein and carbohydrates.
For the keto diet, most people suggest a ratio that looks something like this:
- 70% of calories from FAT
- 20% of calories from PROTEIN
- 10% of calories from CARBOHYDRATES
Those numbers may vary slightly depending on who you ask, but the general guideline shouldn’t be too far from that.
What I have discovered from personal experience is that that ratio is a good place to start, but as your body gets used to burning fat for fuel (i.e., becomes “fat-adapted”), which can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks, it may be necessary to change those ratios a bit. After all, if your goal is to burn stored body fat as fuel, then it might be logical to reduce the amount of fat that you’re eating in your meals since your body will always burn dietary fat first. And once you reduce your dietary fat intake, then you might need to increase your protein.
It’s important to keep in mind that the exact ratios that work for someone else may not work perfectly for you. Everyone’s body and metabolism is different, so it takes some patience and tweaking to find exactly what your body needs.
Helpful Tip: Use An App To Keep Track Of Macros
In order to figure your macros, I highly suggest using an app. The one I use is called Carb Manager, which you can find right here. There is a free version and an upgraded version with monthly fees that has more bells and whistles, but the free version works just fine.
Simply download that app, head to the “settings” section, and add your height, weight, weight loss goals, etc. On the “macros” section, set it to 20 grams of net carbs, and it will figure the rest.
It may take a few days to get used to using the app, to thinking about food in terms of “macros,” and to learn what a balanced meal looks like, so don’t get frustrated and give up!! Even if it takes a few days to get the hang of figuring macros, it’s fine. As long as you have cut out sugar, grains, pasta, cereals, fruit, and processed foods from your diet, you can give yourself grace for a few days to understand how the macro ratios translate to what you’re actually putting on your plate.
NOTE: If you do not not want to use an app on your phone, but still need help figuring your macros (i.e., how much protein, fat, and carbohydrates you should be eating every day), you can click here to use this online macro calculator.
The Main Thing To Remember About “Macros”
Once you put your info into an app and figure your macros, you need to keep these things in mind:
- Carbohydrates are a limit— Most people strive for 20 net carbs per day or less. In other words, the “20 net carbs” is a limit that you don’t want to exceed, but there’s no need to strive to hit 20 net carbs per day as a goal. If you only eat 5 net carbs in a day, that’s perfectly fine. Any number from 0 to 20 is fine.
- Protein is a goal — The human body can survive just fine without any carbohydrates. There’s literally no such thing as an essential carbohydrate. However, there are such things as essential amino acids (essential = your body cannot make its own so you must get it via your diet; amino acids = the building blocks of protein). So simply put, you cannot survive without protein. Once you figure your macros, you need to reach that protein number every day. Do not cut protein out of your diet.
- Fat is a lever — The fat macro is neither a limit, nor a goal. You don’t need to limit the amount you eat, nor do you need to strive to hit some arbitrary number each day. Instead, fat is the tool that you use to keep yourself feeling full and satiated. If you find yourself getting hungry between meals, that means you’re not eating enough fat. There’s NO REASON to be hungry between meals on a keto diet. This is not a low calorie or starvation diet. You should feel comfortably full and satiated after meals, so if this is not happening, simply eat more fat.
What foods are NOT allowed on a ketogenic diet?
The bottom line is that you want to cut out high carbohydrate and processed foods. You’ll want to avoid the following:
- Grains: This includes bread, pasta, wheat, rice, cereal, corn, etc.
- Sugar: This not only includes table sugar, but also honey, agave nectar, maple syrup, turbinado, fructose, etc.
- Fruit: All fruit should be eliminated in the beginning (with the exception of lemon and lime juice for your water and tea), but some fruit can be added back later, such as some berries and melons.
- Starchy Vegetables: This includes potatoes, yams, beans, etc.
- Harmful fats: This includes processed vegetable oils like corn, sunflower, safflower, soybean, and canola oils.
What foods are allowed on a ketogenic diet?
- Animal protein: This includes beef, lamb, chicken, fish, seafood, and eggs. And it’s okay to eat fatty cuts of meat!
- Non-starchy vegetables: This includes leafy greens like spinach, lettuce, and kale. It also includes cruciferous veggies like cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, etc. A quick Google search for a specific veggie’s nutrition info will help you determine if it’s low-carb or high-carb.
- High-fat dairy: This includes hard cheeses, cream cheese, full-fat cream, and butter.
- Nuts and seeds: This includes pecans, macadamias, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and many others that can be included.
- Sweeteners: These include stevia, erythritol, xylitol, and monk fruit.
- Fats: This includes animal fats, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, etc. Since fat makes up 70% of the keto diet, it’s important to understand which ones are healthy, and which ones are not. This is a great article that thoroughly explains good and bad fats for a ketogenic diet.
Additional Helpful Tips:
Since I’ve been doing keto for a year now (off and on), I have my own tips to pass along:
- Eat as all-natural as possible. Not everyone has the budget to load up on organic veggies, grass-fed beef, free-range chicken eggs, etc. But if these things fit into your budget (or if you can just work a few in), I highly suggest it.
- Try to eliminate anything that comes pre-prepared, pre-packaged. Now that the ketogenic diet has become so popular, food companies are starting to see dollar signs in their eyes by marketing “keto” products. But so often, those keto products are filled with hidden ingredients that aren’t healthy. Atkins’ products are a prime example of this. These pre-packaged food-type substances can be deceiving, touting low net carbs, while being filled with preservatives, fillers, and hidden sugars that can throw you out of ketosis and/or stall your weight loss.
- Eliminate snacking between meals. One reason that so many of us struggle with weight is that we have become accustomed to eating constantly throughout the day. Eating spikes a hormone called insulin, and you cannot lose weight if you’re continually spiking your insulin throughout the day. So it’s best to keep your eating to no more than three meals per day, and avoid snacking between meals.
- Eliminate sweets at the beginning. For most of us, when we start keto, our first thought is “but do I have to give up sweets?” We panic a bit because we’re addicted to sugar, and thee thought of giving those up seems impossible. So we head to Pinterest and search for “keto desserts.” And lo and behold, there are THOUSANDS of them! We rejoice! And before we even begin planning our keto meals, we start planning what desserts we want to try. I suggest that you not do this. 🙂 Try giving your taste buds a break from sweets altogether, even if it’s just for a few days.
- Be careful with those keto-approved sweeteners! If you do decide to try a keto dessert, be very attuned to how it affects your body. I’m convinced that while some people can tolerate xylitol and erythritol quite well, others can’t, and may experience a plateau in weight loss as a result. I think I’m one of those people. So just be aware, and if you find your weight loss plateauing after eating keto sweets, you might want to try cutting out the sweets and seeing how your body responds.
So are we ready to get started! I’m excited!
I plan to follow up with a list of my favorite keto resources. There are so many people and places where you can find information, so it can get pretty overwhelming. But I have a few go-to people and resources on my list, so I’ll share those with you.