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Are you ready to start your ketogenic, low-carb diet?
Starting any diet is hard because you are suddenly conscious of what you are putting in your mouth. The keto diet is no different.
In some ways, starting the keto diet may be even more difficult because you are turning down a majority of the foods (high in carbohydrates )we eat a lot in today’s society.
It might be scary to try to make this huge change.
Don’t worry, though, read this article and you’ll find the tools to prepare both physically and mentally to start your keto diet.
1. Talk to Your Healthcare Professional
Your healthcare professional, aka your physician, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, or certified nutritionist, is a wealth of knowledge.
Their job is to listen to your concerns and give you medical advice based on your individual needs.
I only provide you with information and our research based on what we can find.
What you learn in this article should not be considered as medical advice. Please read our full medical disclaimer here.
Your healthcare professional can help you determine whether the ketogenic diet is safe for you.
Some people have genetics that may make it more beneficial for them to have a low-carb diet.
Current recommendations advise people with certain conditions to be careful with (or avoid entirely) the keto diet.
They include the following conditions: https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/ketogenic-diet/what-are-benefits-risks-keto-diet/#whoshouldavoidketo https://www.nationalmssociety.org/Living-Well-With-MS/Diet-Exercise-Healthy-Behaviors/Diet-Nutrition/Low-Carb https://www.diabetes.co.uk/keto/keto-diet-safety.html
- Type 1 Diabetes
- Eating Disorders
- People with their gallbladder removed
- Thyroid Disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
- People taking these medications: insulin, glibenclamide, gliclazide, glimepiride, glipizide, tolbutamide, nateglinide, repaglinide
Talking with a certified nutritionist is also beneficial because they can help you fill any nutritional gaps.
2. Understand Your Ketogenic Diet
Before you embark on your healthy lifestyle goals, it is important to understand what this diet is all about.
The ketogenic diet (keto for short) is a low-carb diet. The goal is to limit the number of carbohydrates you eat every day to 20 grams.
The point of limiting the number of carbs you eat is to introduce your body into ketosis.
Ketosis is a state in which your body starts using fats for fuel instead of carbs.
Your body’s default is to use carbs.
Therefore, the keto diet is also a diet where you are increasing the number of fats that you eat every day.
We have a guide that goes into more depth about the keto diet. Check it out here.
Make it Yours
You should notice that this section says ‘your’ ketogenic diet and not ‘the’ ketogenic diet.
To have the best success on the keto diet, you need to have a goal and how you want to achieve it.
Keto is popular because many people have lost weight on it.
If that is what you want, then make it your goal.
If you are doing keto because you want to decrease your cravings and appetite, then make it your goal.
After making your goal, figure out what success looks like to you.
Going back to the weight loss goal, how much weight do you want to lose?
Or will seeing your love handles disappear meet your requirements?
Making a goal and picturing your success gives something to focus your attention on.
With that focus, you are able to make any adjustments along the way.
To summarize this section, you need to understand what the ketogenic diet requires. Then you need to know what you want to achieve with this diet.
3. Know What Foods to Look For (and Which Ones to Avoid)
On the keto diet, you want to increase your fat intake to replace the carbs that you are decreasing.
The goal is to look for foods that are high in fats and low in carbs.
This list is a general overview of the foods you should look to eat:
- Meats and poultry: Think chicken, sausage, bacon, turkey, beef, etc. Watch out for the pieces with the most fat as these are the ones you want. Also, focus on grass-fed and wild meats.
- Vegetables: Leafy, green vegetables are your best bet. Think spinach, lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, etc.
- Fish: Finally, it’s okay to eat those fatty fish. Think salmon, shellfish, tuna, etc.
- Eggs and dairy: These are a large part of your diet because of their high-fat content. For eggs, you’ll want to find the cage-free eggs. For dairy, most of your focus is on cheese that went through little processing. Think cheddar or mozzarella or vegan soft cheese.
- Healthy oils and fats: Healthy means saturated and monounsaturated fats. If butter is your friend, your friendship will grow. You can also consider things such as avocados, lard, ghee, or bacon fat. For oils, think avocado oil, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil.
- Nuts, seeds, and nut butters: almonds, walnuts, coconut, hazelnuts, and their nut butter.
- Beverages: coffee (we’ll come back to this later), herbal teas, bone broth, mineral water, nut-based drinks like almond milk.
- Meatless Proteins: If you are trying to avoid meat while on keto, there are some options. Think tofu, tempeh, seitan.
On the opposite end, you want to avoid foods that are high in carbs and low in fats.
This list is a general overview of the foods you want to avoid:
- Starches: In other words, this means your grains. These are pasta, potatoes, cereals, rice, corn, wheat, etc. They are some of the most significant sources of carbs, and even small servings of these foods might stop ketosis from occurring.
- Sugary foods: when you think about sugar, you’re most likely thinking about sucrose. Well, sucrose is a type of carb, so it has to go. From sodas and desserts to ice cream, and even ketchup you eliminate.
- Fruits: After seeing that you have to cut out sugar, I’m sure some of you were hoping that fruits didn’t count. Unfortunately, most fruits are high in sugar content. Even if its natural sugar, sugar is still sugar. The few exceptions include avocados, raspberries, and coconut.
- Unhealthy oils and fats: Avoid a lot of those trans fats, polyunsaturated fats, and other processed fats. For oils, avoid ones like canola, peanut, and sunflower oil.
- Alcohol: If you were thinking of drinking your way through the keto flu, then you’re out of luck. A lot of beers and wines have a lot of carbs. If you can’t get rid of them entirely, sticking to hard liquors such as vodka or gin might be safer bets.
- Beans & legumes: In other diets, they may be considered healthy, but here they aren’t. These include peas, lentils, and chickpeas.
- Root and tuber vegetables: As opposed to leafy, green vegetables, these vegetables are high in carbs. The deeper underground they grow, the higher the number of carbs they have. These include sweet potatoes, carrots, and yams.
- Diet foods: Despite their name, these foods tend to be highly processed and contain a lot of sugar.
These are general overviews of what you should or should not eat on the keto diet.
There is an article where we look deeper into this topic here.
4. Know the Side Effects
Going on the keto diet is all sunshine, especially in the beginning.
There are some side effects that you may experience as your body adjusts to using fats as fuel.
Besides knowing what the symptoms are, you also need to know some ways to mitigate them.
The Keto Flu: The One to Look Out For
If you’ve done enough research on the keto diet, then the keto flu should not sound unfamiliar to you.
The keto flu is the most significant side effect that you should prepare for before you start the diet.
You encounter this flu in the period during which your body is switching to using fats as fuel.
For many people, this period can last from between 3 to 10 days. Others may experience a shorter or longer period.
Some signs that you are encountering the keto flu:
- brain fog
Some ways to help you get through the keto flu better:
- Take it easy during exercise
- Increase your water intake
- Increase your electrolytes, such as potassium and sodium.
- Salt your foods
- Drink bone broth
- Eat vegetables such as kale and asparagus
- Get as sleep as possible
- Increase your fat intake
Learn more about the keto flu and other side effects in our Ultimate Guide to the Keto Diet.
5. Define Your Stance on Fats
For years, nutrition experts have warned us against eating a lot of fats.
They have told us that an excess of fat contributes to cardiovascular and heart disease.
Now, studies, such as this one, report that restricting fats does not lead to lowered cardiovascular risk. https://openheart.bmj.com/content/3/2/e000409.long
Additionally, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics stated that there is no conclusive evidence of a definite link between saturated fats (like in butter) and cardiovascular disease. https://www.eatrightpro.org/news-center/on-the-pulse-of-public-policy/regulatory-comments/dgac-scientific-report
Does this mean that all those years of avoiding fats were wrong?
Although new research is coming out saying that fats are no longer the menace of healthy eating, unhealthy fats such as trans fats should still be avoided. https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/ketogenic-diet/steps-beginners-should-take-before-trying-keto-diet/
So, before you enter the keto diet, you need to determine how you feel about fats.
This diet requires that you eat a lot of it to maintain ketosis.
If you aren’t comfortable with that thought, it might be hard to thrive on keto.
You might benefit from taking small steps in increasing your fat intake.
Instead of dramatically shifting to eating a lot of fats, you make small adjustments a bit at a time.
This approach also helps if you are worried about limiting your carb intake.
Want to know a little more about this topic? Read our fats section in this article.
6. Understand How Protein Fits In
This article defines the keto diet as a low carb, and a high-fat diet.
Where does that leave protein? Right in the middle.
It is essential to understand that your protein intake has to be moderate.
One of the mistakes that people make is that they eat a lot of fats and a lot of protein.
Why don’t you want to eat a lot of protein on keto?
An excess of protein can break ketosis.
When your body gets a lot of protein, it starts converting some of that protein into carbs.
So even if you are limiting the number of carbs you are eating, your body doesn’t see it that way.
Too much protein and you are sabotaging your keto diet.
7. Reorganize Your Food Environment
We are more likely to eat the foods that we come into contact with.
To decrease your chances of binge-eating on high-carb foods, try to remove these foods from your home.
Clean out your closets and throw away all the processed food.
If you don’t leave alone and can’t get rid of all your temptations, consider the following tips:
- Hide high-carb foods in a place that you are less likely to go when you are scavenging for food
- Put keto-friendly food in easily accessible places that you can reach
- Plan your meals ahead of time. You are less likely to break the diet if you have food ready to warm up.
- Find keto versions of the foods you like. This idea can help you decrease the chances of having to cook twice if you live with multiple people.
8. Get Comfortable with Cooking
If you plan to go on the keto diet, you should get comfortable with the idea that you will be cooking a lot.
Besides focusing on limiting your carbs, the keto diet is supposed to help you achieve healthy eating.
You won’t get that eating processed or fast-food.
Many of those foods are high in carbs anyway, so they can’t even serve as your comfort foods.
Cooking and baking will be the main tools you will use to feed yourself on the keto diet.
If it has been a while (or never) since you’ve cooked for yourself, start small.
Don’t try to attempt complex or complicated recipes if you might not have the skills that they require.
But don’t worry, either.
We live in a world with Google and Youtube.
There are multiple places where you can gather the information you need to increase your cooking chops before you need them.
9. Look for Recipes
This step might seem like a no-brainer, but that doesn’t mean you should overlook its importance.
You don’t want to wonder on day one what you are supposed to eat.
That might send you to eating the familiar foods that you know you should be avoiding.
The great thing is that there are so many keto recipes out there, so it shouldn’t be too hard.
Here are places to explore:
- 55 Keto Dinner Recipes
- The Keto Recipes
- 400+ Easy Keto Recipes
- 17 Vegetarian Keto Recipes
- 101 Best Keto Vegetarian Recipes
- Easy Keto Vegetarian Recipes
- 27 Delicious Vegan Keto Recipes
- 15 Vegan Keto Recipes
- 17 Vegan Keto Recipes
It is also helpful to find keto versions of foods you already enjoy.
For example, all you pizza-lovers out there might want to try one (or all) of these keto pizza recipes:
As you can see, there is a lot of things you can try with keto.
10. Consider Calculating Your Macro Amounts
Macronutrients are a significant part of our food. They are protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
Calculating your macro amounts means figuring out your daily intake of each of these nutrients.
Why would you want to figure out those numbers?
Your macro amounts give you something to focus on when deciding what you’ll eat every day.
It is especially helpful to know what your carb intake will be on the keto diet.
It can be easy to go over your carb limit and kick yourself out of ketosis.
If you have a better idea of what your limit is, you can lower the chance of that happening.
Calculating your macros also helps you find guidelines that apply better to you than the general guidelines.
These calculations account for various factors such as your weight, age, and activity level.
The best thing is that there are already calculators available to help you get these numbers.
There are two that I found to be great:
- Ruled.me has a great ketogenic calculator. https://www.ruled.me/keto-calculator/ I found it very easy to use. You need your height and weight ready. Don’t worry, though. You can switch between imperial and metric measurements. The questions are clear and have explanations. There is also a faq section underneath the calculator if you have questions.
- Wholesome Yum also has a great ketogenic calculator. https://www.wholesomeyum.com/the-best-free-low-carb-keto-macro-calculator/ It has similar features to the ruled.me calculator with a faq section for questions. I liked this calculator because it is both a keto and a low-carb calculator. You can compare your macros amounts on both diets, for those who are deciding between either diet.
Here are some ways to determine your body fat percentage as well;
- You can use scanners as a DEXA scan found at gyms or your healthcare provider’s office
- Skin calipers are tools you can use at home
- This method using tape measurements.
- It’s not as accurate, but you can also estimate your body fat. Ruled.me has a helpful guide for men and women here. https://www.ruled.me/visually-estimate-body-fat-percentage/
11. Learn How to Read Nutrition Labels
On the keto diet, you want to be eating foods that don’t sabotage your diet.
While you may want most of your focus to be on whole foods, there might be some things that you can only obtain through a package.
That’s why the nutrition label is one of your greatest allies in the grocery store.
The problem is that nutrition labels can be tricky.
Certain words placed on packages make it appear that the product meets your standards.
Some do, most don’t.
Fortunately, once you know how to look, the nutrition label becomes a wealth of information.
What’s even better is that new FDA guidelines help make it less confusing.
12. Tell Your Family & Friends
Tell your family and friends your plans to start a keto diet.
As the people closest to you, they can help you remain accountable for reaching your goals.
Telling them also helps everyone (including you) adjust to new habits due to the diet.
You might have to refuse a lot of things during gatherings. If they know what your plan is, they are less likely to take it personally.
Your friends and family might be worried about you if they know that it’s a high-fat diet.
Therefore it is a great time to explain to them about the research you’ve done.
If you’ve talked with your healthcare professional already, that would be even better.
The underline goal for you embarking on this journey is that you want a healthier eating lifestyle.
According to this study, adults who had a family that supported healthy eating lost more weight.
Those who didn’t have that support gained more weight. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/oby.20814
It also helps to join communities of people who are also on the keto diet.
In these communities, you can ask questions and address any concerns. You can also find quirky tips that others have tried that you might not find anywhere else.
Here are some options for support groups:
There are also many more opportunities if you sign up for recipes from some of the recipes websites above.
13. Know When to Stop
The keto diet gained its popularity because it achieves the goals of many people.
It has also become a lifestyle for people who have been on a diet for years.
Due to that popularity, it can be easy to go into this diet with the mindset that it is all or nothing.
While it is great to push yourself to succeed, try not to push yourself too far.
During the diet, you should always be listening to your body.
Some people may encounter symptoms that don’t go away even after it seems like they have tried everything.
If this sounds like you, this may be a sign that the keto diet isn’t right for you.
This was my personal experience after going through with the diet for about six months.
I started to develop unexpected symptoms and had to stop despite my success. (Learn more about my experience in the ‘My Experiences’ section here)
If you do have to quit the keto diet, try not to take it too hard.
It just means that the keto diet isn’t right for you.
There are multiple avenues to a healthy eating lifestyle, and keto is just one.
And that should be the primary goal you want to achieve.
Now let’s summarize the tips you need to know before you start the keto diet.
- Talk to Your Healthcare Professional.
- Understand Your Ketogenic Diet
- Know What Foods to Look For (and Which Ones to Avoid)
- Know the Side Effects
- Define Your Stance on Fats
- Understand How Protein Fits In
- Reorganize Your Food Environment
- Get Comfortable with Cooking
- Look for Recipes
- Consider Calculating Your Macro Amounts
- Learn How to Read Nutrition Labels
- Tell Your Family & Friends
- Know When to Stop
It may seem like there are a lot of things that you need to consider before you start a ketogenic diet.
That’s why you shouldn’t rush into it.
This diet requires significant changes and a lot of commitment to maintain it.
By considering these tips and steps, you are taking one step towards ensuring you have the best keto experience that is possible for you.
You can also read our other articles that you may find helpful:
- Ultimate Keto Food List
- Ultimate Keto Guide
- Keto-Friendly Sweeteners
- Reading Nutrition Labels
- Keto-Friendly Veggies
I hope you enjoyed this article.
Let me know any thoughts or questions below.
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