How To Start A Ketogenic Diet the Right Way + 3 Costly Mistakes To Avoid
As you may have heard, the ketogenic diet (keto for short) has been exploding in popularity over the past few years. According to Google Trends, interest in the ketogenic diet has more than doubled in the last year alone.
But before you give keto a try, keep in mind that it’s way better to start a ketogenic diet the right way and avoid the mistakes others make. That way you can enjoy the benefits of the diet faster and with better results.
Keto diets were first used about 100 years ago to help epileptic children. Now, this diet sees use in helping people lose weight, gain mental focus and energy, get rid of digestive issues, treat type 2 diabetes, and even potentially prevent/cure cancer and neurological diseases.
However, while the benefits of a ketogenic diet are substantial, in this article I’ll show you exactly how to properly use a keto diet in order to reap its full benefits.
The Basics Of A Ketogenic Diet
As explained in this article, a ketogenic diet focuses on putting your body into a metabolic state called “ketosis.” What this generally means is that your body uses fat – rather than sugar – to generate energy for your body.
In order for your body to switch into this state, the typical advice is to eat a diet low in carbohydrates, high in fats, and moderate in proteins. (Hence why bone broth is very keto-friendly.)
How To Start A Ketogenic Diet
A keto diet is pretty simple in theory (low carbs, high fat, moderate protein). But that doesn’t necessarily tell you exactly what to eat, what to avoid, or how much to eat.
So What Exactly Can You Eat on A Ketogenic Diet?
- Healthy fats, e.g., coconut oil, butter or ghee, lard, tallow, bacon fat, olive oil
- Meats, including organ meats
- Fish and Seafood
- Non-starchy vegetables (especially green leafy vegetables)
- Some berries
So a typical day’s meal might look like this:
- Breakfast – eggs with bacon
- Lunch – cup of bone broth with chicken salad
- Dinner – steak with sauteed veggies followed by a keto dessert
Here are some other meal ideas from proponents of a ketogenic diet….
Stephen Phinney has a MD from Stanford University, a PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry from MIT, and did post-doctoral work at Harvard. He’s been researching ketogenic diets for decades and is the co-author of Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living. His example meal plan is:
- Breakfast – black coffee and sausages
- Lunch – salad with greens, tuna, olives, blue cheese dressing
- Snack – nuts, broth, cheese with celery sticks
- Dinner – tomato bisque, steak, green beans, mushrooms.
- Dessert – maple walnut ice cream made with sucralose/xylitol
Dominic D’Agostino, who is an Assistant Professor in Pharmacology and Physiology at the University of South Florida and studies neurological disease prevention, eats eggs, sardines, oysters, and broccoli for breakfast.
Those are just a few examples, and the possibilities are endless. For more ideas, here’s a free 7-day ketogenic diet meal plan.
Potential Hazard: “Carb Flu” and How To Get Over It
When you first start a ketogenic diet, you might feel tired, moody, and even slightly nauseous – this is pretty common.
These symptoms typically arise because your body is adjusting to using ketones after having been so dependent on carbohydrates for most of your life.
While carb flu typically lasts less than a week or two, you can do a few things to get over it faster and to minimize how bad you feel:
- Drink more water
- Take some MCT oil or exogenous ketones
- Take in a bit more healthy fats and protein
- Consider adding a bit of clean carbs like sweet potatoes or fruit into your diet to ease that transition
After the initial transition period (often referred to as the fat-adaptation or keto-adaptation period), most people find they gain a ton of mental and physical energy. They don’t have energy crashes in the afternoons and they often sleep a bit less but wake up feeling refreshed. They also tend to eat less because they don’t feel hungry or have cravings.
When you’re first getting started, it can be helpful to use a blood or breath ketone meter. What these meters do is measure the amount of ketones (the energy source your body is switching to) in your blood or your breath. Knowing those amounts and seeing how they increase or decrease depending on what you’re eating daily can often be a motivating and helpful indicator of the transition occurring in your body.
3 Big Mistakes To Avoid on A Ketogenic Diet
Now that you’re thriving on a ketogenic diet, there are still a few issues to watch out for in order to get the most out of your diet.
#1 Not getting enough salts (sodium, potassium, and magnesium)
While we typically get lots of sodium on a regular diet (because most processed foods contain high amounts of added sodium), most people find that when they go keto and cut out processed foods, they are actually low on sodium.
You might not think of low sodium as a problem, but it usually results in fatigue and cravings, so make sure you get sufficient amounts.
Potassium (like sodium) is often excreted more when you’re on a ketogenic diet, so it’s also important to make sure you replenish your potassium especially if you’re active. You can add more potassium into your diet by eating spinach and avocados.
Finally, magnesium is a mineral that many of us are deficient in to begin with. Many people point to soil depletion as the potential reason for our widespread deficiency. Since magnesium is so important for sleep and mood as well as our muscles and general well-being, it’s also good to make sure you are getting enough.
One good way to add in more of these minerals to your ketogenic diet is to drink some bone broth – it contains sodium, potassium, and magnesium.
#2 Not eating enough greens
One of the keys of a ketogenic diet is to eat fewer carbohydrates. Many people interpret this to also mean avoiding all vegetables.
Please don’t do that.
It’s true that some vegetables like onions or mushrooms contain a fair amount of carbs, and you might want to generally limit them.
However, for good gut health and to ensure you get plenty of vitamins and minerals, it’s important to keep eating a lot vegetables. There are many ways to get more veggies into your diet. Salads, sautes, and green smoothies are all easy and quick to make.
#3 Not exercising
Exercise is one of the components of a healthy lifestyle that many of us skip when we’re trying a new diet. It can be mentally hard to stick to keto during the first few weeks and that makes going to the gym seem awful.
However, it’s good to try to do some exercise if you can manage it. It’ll often help you get keto-adapted faster and help you lose fat (rather than muscle).
Walking is one of the simplest options, but you can also do body weight exercises like pushups, situps, and squats at home.
How Long Do I Have To Stay Keto For?
There’s really no set rule for how long you have to stay on a ketogenic diet.
Many keto proponents think of it as a tool for aiding weight loss or mental clarity. Many will do a ketogenic diet for several weeks and then you can be in a Paleo diet for a few months and then back to a ketogenic diet.
However, if you’re using a ketogenic diet for therapeutic purposes, then you may need to stay on it for longer – that’s something to discuss with a health practitioner.
Personalizing Your Ketogenic Diet
One of the best things about a keto diet is that many people in the community love figuring things out. There’s a lot of self-experimentation and sharing of data and ideas.
Some people do better on a slightly higher fat ketogenic diet while others can eat slightly more carbohydrates. Intermittent fasting is also an area that many people on a ketogenic diet experiment with.
This is an exciting growing field that’s helping a lot of people, so if you’re ready to give it a try, keep an open mind and have fun improving your body and mind.