Keto is great! So how do I start?
Ketosis is the state in which your body is out of glucose for fuel so it starts to break down fat into ketones for fuel. This process can take anywhere from 48 hours to a week or more if you’re pokey about dropping carbs from your diet. Metabolic problems like diabetes or PCOS can also interfere with your ability to efficiently enter ketosis, which is unfortunate because ketosis has beneficial effects for both of those diseases as well.
So if you’re interested in keto regardless of your metabolic condition, you’ll want to achieve the state of fat burning as quickly as possible. Thankfully with some planning you can do this reasonably easy, entering ketosis within about 48 hours. I’m also including a little bit about avoiding the dreaded “keto flu” that you might have heard about. After entering ketosis, it takes between 2-4 weeks to become fat adapted, which is where your body is primed to burn fat for fuel.
Fat adaptation makes being in ketosis even easier, as your body is much more easily able to metabolize fat. This provides better energy, better sleep, and ramps up your weight loss. You might not be in ketosis by the time you finish this article, but if you read it every night for the next few days, you will be (assuming you follow the advice)!
There are 6 rules which we will go into more detail about but essentially:
- Make a plan – plan your meals, plan your exercise, and plan for what happens when events fall outside of your plans
- Cut your carb intake to 20g net (total carbs minus fiber) per day
- The day before you start, get a good workout with weights into your schedule
- Eat some healthy fats every day
- Why not fast a bit, eh?
- Eat protein!
1 – Make a plan
People need plans to make big changes – you can’t just haphazardly jump into keto any more than you’d haphazardly jump into carpentry or raising exotic birds. You need to plan; plan your meals, plan your exercise, plan your macros, and plan for what happens when your plans get shaken up. At minimum, make these plans:
- Make a keto meal plan – remember, no starchy vegetables, no simple carbs, no sugar, no bread, no pasta, and nothing derived from any of the prior items. This includes fruit, too – though fruit can be healthy, for at least your first 2 weeks you need to avoid it all. Stick with meat, leafy green or cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, lettuce, spinach, etc). Also avoid nuts because while they’re keto, they’re super easy to overeat. Add in healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, tallow, and eat plenty of eggs, too. Lastly, look online for simple but delicious keto recipes. I have some kicking around this website, too, and will be adding more in the coming days. Regardless, make a meal plan for at least 2 weeks.
- Plan the day you’re going to start – make sure it’s after any very imminent social engagements where you think you simply can’t avoid carbs. Graduations, birthdays, weddings – if you’ve got one in the next few days or a week, wait until afterwards but if it’s 2 weeks or more away, start sooner.
- Write out some exercise plans – even if it’s just a walk, 30 minutes of activity a day will help burn up any floating carbs in your body and get you into fat burning mode faster. There’s also a wealth of benefit to regular exercise, improving mental health, blood pressure, blood cholesterol, digestion, sleep, anxiety and so on. Exercise is one of the most important things you can do for your health, so make some plans to include it in your new keto lifestyle.
- Plan for the unexpected – maybe your in-laws are coming into town or you have a PTA meeting. Whatever it is, have a back-up meal plan that you can cook or heat up quickly so you don’t fall off the wagon. The first 2 weeks of keto are crucial and formative, so you have to be as strict as possible. The cravings for sugar subside dramatically after 2 weeks and you’ll start seeing weight loss so it becomes easier to stay adherent but you have to make it those first 2 weeks. Plan, plan, plan.
- Plan to avoid temptation – the easiest way for a person to exert willpower is to not have to use willpower in the first place. I know that sounds weird but several studies indicate that those people who claim to be good at exerting their willpower are people who are actually good at simply avoiding temptation. If you know that drinks after work with your colleagues will lead to you eating half a McDonald’s, then don’t go.
Planning will help you when you end up in icky situations, like what to eat after a long day, or if you’re out and someone springs birthday cake. In addition, planning to start keto will help crystallize it in your mind, making it easier to follow through.
2 – Cut your carb intake to under 25g a day
Keep your carbs as low as possible, with an upper ceiling of 20-25g net carbs, and these should almost all come from plants. What I mean by net carbs is the total carbs minus the fiber. So if you’re eating an avocado, you’ll notice it has about 12g of carbs, which is just a ton when your limit is 20g. The avocado also has about 10g of fiber, however, so we can subtract those out and you’re left with 2g of carbs and a wheelbarrow full of healthy fat.
3 – Workout, everyday
There are plenty of studies that indicate that exercise is not just good for you but utterly crucial. In addition to the myriad of health benefits exercise provides, it has a profound effect on your brains’ health as well. People who exercise regularly report better sleep, better cognition, better memory, and less mental health related difficulty. I’m not suggesting exercise will cure your mental health but it has had a profound effect at lessening my own anxiety and depression.
The reason you want to work out to get into keto quickly is because exercise will help break down your stored glycogen faster, which will in turn make your body use ketones more quickly.
4 – Eat healthy fats
As I mentioned before, healthy fats like avocado are incredible for this diet. One of the most useful fats, however, are medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs. The short reason is because your body simply can’t store them as fat, so they’re converted to energy almost immediately in your blood. This gives you a burst of energy you can actually feel, so taking them around your workouts can give you a good pump. Some sources of medium chain triglycerides are:
- Coconut oil
- MCT oil
- Palm kernel oil
Coconut oil is probably the most accessible, but MCT oil is showing up in grocery stores more often. The only warning is that you should start with a lower dose – 1/2 to 1 tablespoon. MCT oil and even coconut oil taken straight can provide you with great energy but it also can cause some stomach distress at first. Better to ease into it.
5 – Give fasting a try
The night before you start, stop eating at around 8. You can do earlier but assuming you go to bed sometime before midnight and get up before 9, stopping your eating at 8 is good. This begins your fasting window earlier and while fasted, your body will scour your blood for any free-floating sugar to use for energy. Even if you do end up eating breakfast at 9, you’ll still have expanded your fasting window and that’s a great thing.
The benefits of fasting is another post entirely, but the main thing you’re concerned with here is using up your excess blood glucose and tapping into your glycogen stores as quickly as possible. While I don’t advise fully fasting 16 hours on your first day of keto at all, you won’t be hurt by extending that fasted window a bit. After you’ve been in ketosis for a few weeks, you should definitely try intermittent fasting as it will really ramp up your weight loss.
6 – Keep your protein intake high
Protein is satiating and it’s necessary for basic functioning. Since you’re going to be depriving yourself of carbs, there’s no reason to cut your protein down as well. The average person who isn’t working out hardcore should aim for about .6 grams of protein times their lean body mass daily. This ends up being about 60-100g for an average person looking to lose weight.
This might feel like a lot but it will keep your hunger down and ensure your body doesn’t cannibalize your muscles. As you get stronger from your workouts, you’ll want to increase your protein intake further. Some great sources of protein for keto are:
- Grass fed meats, especially organ meats like liver
- Cold water, little fish like sardines, mackerel, and anchovies
- Chia seeds
- Eggs, eggs, eggs – I can’t say enough about how healthy eggs are
- Tofu if you’re vegetarian (stop, there is nothing wrong with tofu, it’s all nonsense, tofu is healthy, full stop)
Things you don’t need to do
I rail on stupid extra stuff all the time, so I want to keep this short. Essentially avoid all of these things:
- Urine test strips or even worse, a ketone blood tester. If you’re following the 20g of carbs a day protocol and exercising, you will get into ketosis. There’s no reason to pee on little $15 strips of paper to figure out if you are or aren’t. Honestly those strips only measure ketones in your pee, which means ketones you’re not using for energy, which can happen simply if you’re eating too much fat. Waste of money, full stop, and the same goes for shakes, wraps, and all the other MLM nonsense out there.
- Keto products are a waste of money mostly, particularly when you’re just starting out. This includes BHB salts, ketone analyzers, wraps, teas, tinctures, and Magical Keto Chickens (I made that last one up, sure). You can have a healthy keto diet with eggs, veggies, meat, and water, so don’t let someone else insert themselves between you and health by selling you crap.
- I suggest avoiding the scale, at least for a while. Weigh yourself at first, but also take measurements of your body with tailor’s tape. Get your neck, chest, waist, hips, thighs, calves, and bicep area. The scale might not go down for weeks but your clothes will fit better and your measurements will decrease. The scale measures muscle, water, bone, and fat, but your clothes and tape measure fat loss, so stick with them. Also, obsessing over the scale will only make you sad.
- In the same vein, avoid comparing yourself to other people. This isn’t a race, it’s about getting healthy for you. Instagram is the fakest crap that ever faked a fake, so don’t look at gorgeous people on there who “do keto” and assume you’re lagging behind. Those people were likely hot before they ever heard about the keto diet, and they will be after. Theirs isn’t a struggle to measure your own by.
Ultimately, keto is like anything else; it’s all about a journey with yourself and achieving your goals. Apply yourself daily, with these rules and you’ll see results. You’re not racing or competing against anyone else, so stick with it, one foot in front of the other, and you’re going to succeed.