The ketogenic diet involves limiting carbs to less than 50g per day and making fat your primary source of energy. Because keto is radically different from how most people eat, many consider it a lifestyle change rather than a diet.
So, how does one start this low-carb, high-fat lifestyle and why?
Starting the keto lifestyle involves making some major changes to how you shop for and prepare food. Your body will also switch to a metabolic state called ketosis on keto, and this will have a major impact on many areas in your life.
Are you prepared for the big changes to come when you finally decide to go low-carb? Consider this step-by-step guide to make your transition as easy and safe as can be.
1. Research the Diet
The keto diet comes with a strict set of rules you just have to follow if you want keto to do its magic. One of these rules is limiting carbohydrates, usually to fewer than 50g per day. You also need to up your fat intake to stay well-nourished. Another important thing is to keep your protein intake moderate since too much protein can kick you out of ketosis. There are countless other nuances to going keto you’ll learn during your keto journey.
A good way to start your research is by reading keto blogs and checking out online low-carb communities. The most reliable sources of information, however, include scientific journals and educative books like The Ketogenic Bible by Jacob Wilson and Ryan Lowery or The Keto Diet by Leanne Vogel.
2. Make a Shopping List
Your fridge and pantry are probably filled with foods not allowed on a keto diet like pasta, rice, beans, sugar, and potatoes. You’ll need to replace those with keto-friendly ingredients like butter, coconut oil, bacon, avocados, and coconut flour. Since you’ll likely be making the majority of your keto meals at home, it’s a good idea to stock up on ingredients for the first week or month.
Since keto isn’t very forgiving with diet mishaps, you’ll have to plan what you need to buy. Research keto diet foods and add them to your shopping list. Make sure to include keto staples like almond and coconut flour, almond milk, and butter, since these are fairly versatile in keto cooking.
3. Make a Meal Plan
Keto beginners do best when planning meals ahead. That’s because inexperienced dieters are still learning about keto macros, avoiding nutrient deficiencies, and other things that play part in maintaining a balanced keto diet. Only after being on this lifestyle for a while and building a large enough food repertoire will you be able to eat more intuitively.
But for now, make a keto meal plan that includes a nutrition facts table. There are plenty of free keto recipes and cookbooks online to get you started. Alternatively, you can borrow ready-made keto meal plans that you can easily find on keto blogs. If making a personalized meal plan, use a calorie counter, a diet tracker app, as well as keto calculator apps to ensure your diet is balanced in all the right nutrients.
4. Prepare for the Side Effects
Switching to a keto lifestyle means better health, seamless weight loss, and greater energy levels. But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Keto beginners will often go through what is popularly called “the keto flu.” As the name implies, it causes short-term, flu-like symptoms, such as headache, fatigue, muscle aches, and nausea.
Researchers believe these adverse effects are a result of dehydration and electrolyte imbalances that can happen when first switching to this diet. Luckily, drinking up to 100 oz of water and taking electrolyte supplements helps prevent the keto flu. Also, consider making your switch to keto gradual and supplement your diet with 3.000-5.000 mg sodium, 3.000-4-000 mg potassium, and 300-500 mg magnesium.
5. Measure Your Progress
Whether your goal is weight loss, disease control, or better performance, you should measure your progress. As a first step, most dieters measure their ketone levels or simply check for signs of being in ketosis. Ketosis is the primary goal of the keto diet and from which all keto benefits are derived. Ways to check for ketosis include using ketone urine strips, a ketone blood meter, and checking for ketosis signs and symptoms.
Once you’re sure you’re in a constant state of ketosis, measure your weight, your blood glucose, or other parameters to see if the diet is working. If, say, you’re not seeing any changes in your weight despite being on this diet for weeks, it may be time to do some tweaking. For example, you may need to lower your calorie intake or exercise more (exercising burns calories).
6. Speak to Your Doctor
If you’re planning to manage a condition, such as diabetes with the keto diet, let your doctor know. The keto diet is known to lower blood glucose levels, so medication adjustment is necessary for anyone taking insulin. You may also want to let your doctor know you’re switching to a low-carb lifestyle if you suffer from any other medical condition, and they’ll monitor your biomarkers.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the keto lifestyle is not for everyone. People with rare medical conditions such as pyruvate carboxylase deficiency, porphyria, and fat metabolism disorders should never follow the keto diet. Researchers also think keto may not be safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
7. Go Beyond Diet
As already said, keto is more than a diet, it’s a lifestyle. While the keto diet alone is proven to be quite effective for weight loss and diabetes, a total lifestyle overhaul is necessary to make the most out of this diet. From regular workouts to improving your sleep schedule and reducing stress, there are plenty of things you need to include alongside your diet to boost metabolic health.
Other things to consider when switching to a keto lifestyle include eating organically grown and raised, avoiding processed foods. Organic foods are not only denser in important nutrients, but they’re also free of pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, and other potentially harmful compounds.
8. Have a Backup Plan
Most people don’t want to follow keto indefinitely. A life without carbs is also unimaginable for most. Once you reach your goals with the keto diet, you need to have a plan in place that will help you maintain all those benefits you gained. Luckily, there are countless ways to do just that.
For example, you may switch to other low-carb plans, such as Atkins, paleo, or even the cyclical keto diet. You may switch to your usual way of eating, but this time focus on whole grains, legumes, and not eating refined sugar and flour, i.e. eating only healthy carbs. But all in all, what your backup plan will be is up to your personal preferences and needs.
Anyone who made the switch to the keto diet knows it’s more than just a diet. Eating primarily fat while restricting carbs, which are the major nutrients of most diets across the globe, requires major lifestyle adjustments. If you’re planning to go keto, it’s a good idea to plan everything to avoid diet mishaps and unwelcome surprises.
Follow the simple tips and tricks laid out here and you’ll have a foolproof transition to low-carb living. From planning your purchases and meals to being prepared for side effects and having a backup plan, going keto can smooth sailing if you do it right.
- Masood W, Uppaluri KR. Ketogenic Diet. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499830/
- Phinney S. How much sodium, potassium and magnesium should I have on a ketogenic diet? Virta Health. – https://blog.virtahealth.com/sodium-potassium-magnesium-ketogenic-diet/
- Yancy WS Jr, Foy M, Chalecki AM, Vernon MC, Westman EC. A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet to treat type 2 diabetes. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2005 Dec 1;2:34. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1325029/
- Smith J. Ketogenic Diet Indications and Contra-Indications. News-Medical. S018 Aug. – https://www.news-medical.net/health/Ketogenic-Diet-Indications-and-Contra-Indications.aspx
- Sussman D, Ellegood J, Henkelman M. A gestational ketogenic diet alters maternal metabolic status as well as offspring physiological growth and brain structure in the neonatal mouse. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2013 Oct 29;13:198. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4231349/
- Abbasi J.Interest in the Ketogenic Diet Grows for Weight Loss and Type 2 Diabetes. JAMA. 2018 Jan 16;319(3):215-217. – https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2669724
- Mie A, Andersen HR, Gunnarsson S, et. al. Human health implications of organic food and organic agriculture: a comprehensive review. Environ Health. 2017 Oct 27;16(1):111. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5658984/
Author: Sofia Norton, RD
Bio: Driven, dedicated and team-oriented professional with more than 6 years of experience providing wellness and nutritional support in various capacities. After Sofia learned about “food deserts” as a kid, she became determined to devote her life to like to making healthy foods accessible to everyone, regardless of income or location. Sofia has traveled around the world, teaching nutrition to communities in extreme poverty.