Getting started with keto (also known as low carb high fat or LCHF) is a lot easier than one might think. While some may think it unhealthy or difficult, it’s truly neither when you take the time to research and do it right. That said, please note that the information below is merely my own thoughts and in no way should be misconstrued as medical advice. You should ALWAYS consult your doctor before starting a diet or making any lifestyle changes.
Keto – lots of information, not a lot of carbs
Between 2011 and 2012, I lost about 200 pounds doing a ketogenic diet, coupled with weightlifting. My friends were flabbergasted because not only was the change dramatic, it was pretty swift. My doctor was floored at how much my A1C and cholesterol improved. I was just happy to not be huffing and puffing from walking around, honestly. I started my approach to weight loss with a basis in an old “Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution” book that my mom had given me earlier in 2011.
At that point, I and I think a lot of other people called it “low carb” or Atkins colloquially. Truthfully, there’s a difference between low carb and keto, but noobs don’t really need to be concerned with pedantic nonsense. What matters is getting healthy and fit, right?
So as I said, I’d lost a lot of weight on keto before, and then because of anxiety medications, I’d gained 70 pounds back, putting me back at 325. I’ve lost part of that, but I’m still sitting, stalled at 302. Enough being enough, I’ve decided to go back at the keto diet hardcore. I’ve had several friends reach out to me about a ketogenic diet plan, and I send them links I like, but I really want my own experience and information in one, concise place. There’s a TON of information out there about keto, most of it selling nonsense like raspberry ketones or other stupid garbage. My goal with this series of blogs is to be as informative as possible so someone who wants to try keto can get up and get going asap.
You can follow along with my own weight loss, too, if you want. I’ll post updates here as weight comes off, along with no-nonsense breakdowns of my diet and exercise. I see people in pain everyday from being very overweight. They suffer from diabetes, gout, PCOS, heart disease, and a host of other awfulness, and if my journey helps even one other person, that’s a big deal.
So what is keto?
Keto is short for ketosis, a state in which your body burns fat for fuel instead of glucose. Though we tend to think of our bodies burning carbs for energy as a default state, that’s not really the case. We’re set up for both a glucose metabolism or a lipid metabolism, but it appears that humans run best on small amounts of natural carbohydrate, moderate amounts of natural proteins, and abundant amounts of healthy, natural fats. Your liver metabolizes stored fat (triglycerides) into ketones, which it uses for fuel, and it can do the same for nutritional fats.
Your body preferentially burns carbs when they’re available, but this shouldn’t be construed as a preference for that energy type over fat. It’s simply that carbs are a great quick source of energy, for things like sports, where you need access to fast-burning fuel. Rather, certain parts of your body seem to prefer a fat metabolism over sugar. Traditionally, our ancestors wouldn’t have had access to the constant, dizzying array of processed carbs that we do, and so would rely on hunting and foraging for food. In evolutionary terms, we’re simply not built to handle a non-stop supply of sugar, and this can be blamed for most modern diseases.
Why is keto beneficial?
So when the body is burning fat preferentially, it has some pretty profound effects on our entire system. Over the course of time, these effects compound and can drastically heal a broken system. After just a few days, you’ll notice:
- An end to the cycle of ingesting carbs and getting hungry again within a few hours
- An overall reduction in hunger cues as your insulin starts to go back to normal
- A drastic reduction in weight – sometimes 5 or more pounds – due to your body flushing a lot of water (as glycogen is stored with water in the muscles and liver). This should relieve a lot of bloating as well
- Increased mental clarity, and this is for a variety of reasons, but again chiefly due to the fact that blood sugar should begin to stabilize in all but the worst cases of diabetes
After about 2 weeks, you’ll notice:
- Typically about 10-15 pounds of total weight lost. This shouldn’t be construed as all fat loss, because again, a lot will be water weight as tissues release retained water, but still potentially half will be fat.
- You’ll likely only be eating when you’re actually hungry, and hunger cues should be in-line with energy needs. This will also allow you to fast, which has its own therapeutic effects
- The dreaded “keto flu” that you may have heard of (fatigue, irritability, mental fogginess, poor sleeping) will have abated in most people, though truthfully all of those symptoms are the result of poor electrolyte balance and can be alleviated with sodium, magnesium, and potassium.
Between 1-3 months, you’ll notice:
- Ease of further restriction of calories, though I use the term “restriction of calories” loosely; it’s likely you’ll find yourself missing meals and not realizing it, or simply not being hungry. This is the magic of keto, as it really helps you diet and not feel like you’re dieting. This lends further anecdotal credence to the fact that it’s the natural way to eat for humans.
- At this point, your body should be “fat adapted”, meaning you’ll find exercise and other daily tasks much easier than when you were first starting out. Basically, your everyday tasks should be easier to focus on and perform than the first couple weeks of keto, and certainly more than when you were in a sugar burning metabolism
- Weight loss will be largely effortless at this point, as long as you keep your carbs down.
3 months +, you’ll notice:
- Assuming you stuck with the carb restriction, at 3 months your weight loss will either be done (like, you’ve hit your goal) and you’ll be maintaining, or you’ll be steadily losing without much thought to calories.
- This is the point where the therapeutic effects are really in-gear. A reduction of A1C, fasted blood sugar, insulin response, and other liver enzyme markers associated with fatty liver disease should be noticeable now. This path is now a road to whole-body health.
Is keto for me, though?
Chances are good that yes, keto is for you, even if you’re in shape, young, and “healthy”. Heart disease and diabetes are insidious, and there are stories about Olympic-class athletes nearly developing type 2 diabetes despite being very physically fit, because they bombarded their bodies with sugar to keep up with their workouts. Here’s a short list of diseases and conditions keto can possibly help with:
PCOS – heart disease – diabetes type 2 (treatment and reversal) – diabetes type 1 (management) – depression – anxiety – a wide array of mental health disorders – autism – epilepsy – gout – arthritis – fibromyalgia – ADHD – Parkinsons – Alzheimers – fatty liver disease – general weight loss needs
How do I start keto?
It’s really easy, though I recommend picking a start date and planning ahead. As with any life change, poor preparation can lead you back to your old, bad habits very quickly.
- Pick a start date, and make a meal plan for about 2 straight weeks.
- The night before you officially “start”, stop eating around 8 pm.
- That same night, I highly recommend 30 minutes of physical activity. Something as simple as walking for half an hour (or as long as you’re able) can be beneficial in burning out more glycogen from your liver and muscles, getting you into ketosis faster
- Start the day-of with some fasted exercise. Again, walking is fine, but a jog or some moderate intensity weight work would be great.
- Stick to your eating plan; make sure you are getting 3-5 GRAMS of sodium a day (3.5 – 5000 mg). Pickle juice is great here, as is egg drop soup with soy sauce (just make it yourself to avoid cornstarch). Get plenty of spinach, avocado, and/or salmon to supplement potassium (don’t actually take potassium supplements unless you’re working with a doctor, as potassium can be dangerous in too high or too low amounts). Supplement some magnesium glycinate, too – pills work best here.
- Make sure you’re drinking a lot of water. Keto make you pee a lot because you don’t store nearly as much water, so you’ll need to stay on top of your hydration
- Slow down your exercise a bit while you adapt. Crossfit will be really hard to maintain the first couple of weeks on keto, as will any kind of significant running. I jog 1-3 miles when transitioning to ketosis, but it sucks, I won’t lie. Like, even more than running sucks by itself, so listen to your body
- Keep your carbs around 20g net (which means total carbs minus fiber) or 50g total. Get these from non-starchy vegetables, nuts, seeds, or high-fat dairy. Eventually you’ll be able to add berries back into your diet, but omit all fruit these first 2 weeks
- It’s a good idea to add in some intermittent fasting, if you feel able. Stop eating around 8 pm and don’t start again until noon. This allows your body to burn out damaged cells, burn off any lingering glycogen, and enter a deeper state of ketosis to burn more fat.
That’s it! I’ll be following my own advice this week and we’ll see where this takes us. Come back next week for more keto tips and to see how this goes for me as well. Don’t forget to share with others who can benefit from keto!