This guide will give you step by step instructions for how to get started on the keto diet. If you are looking for an easy, no nonsense guide that provides easy instructions and is not filled with a bunch of scientific babble or sales pitches, you are in the right place.
WHAT IS THE KETO DIET?
Simply put, the ketogenic diet is a diet low in grams of carbohydrates.
The keto diet recommends not consuming more than 20 grams of net carbs per day and eating higher fat (including saturated fat)
I personally think that 20 grams of carbs is too low for some people and I think 20-40 grams of net carbs per day is a good range and helps people stick to the keto way of life easier.
If there is only one thing I want you to remember, it is being too rigid and extreme will cause you to fail. The old saying holds true "slow and steady wins the race"
A traditional standard American diet recommends several servings of whole grains a day and a diet low in saturated fats.
For reference, a regular slice of whole grain bread has 12 grams of carbohydrates and a serving of whole grain pasta has 39 grams of carbohydrates.
On the other hand, a whole chicken thigh or a hamburger patty has zero grams of carbohydrates.
As you can see in the below nutrition label, this food has 37 grams of carbohydrates in ⅔ cup.
This would not be a keto diet friendly food.
WHAT ARE NET CARBS?
NET CARBS = TOTAL CARBS - FIBER AND SUGAR ALCOHOLS
When we pick foods to eat, we look at the net carbs. That would be the total carbs minus any fiber or sugar alcohols.
When you read your food label, find foods that have low net carbohydrates (start with less than 7-10).
WHAT CAN YOU EAT ON THE KETO DIET?
I am so glad you asked!
Here I have a free printable pdf keto food list that breaks it down by section in the grocery store. This does not include keto pre-packaged foods (more on those later), but Whole Foods you will find in most grocery stores.
A quick summary of keto friendly foods would be
- Any and all meats
- leafy green and non-starchy vegetables (e.g. no potatoes corn, beans, or peas)
- Berries in moderation
- No sugar dairy products
- Nuts and seeds in moderation
- no sugar beverages
- animal and certain vegetable Fats (avocado, coconut, and olive oil)
- some sugar alcohols (erythritol, monk fruit, stevia)
HOW TO GET STARTED
I would recommend cleaning out your refrigerator and pantry to remove all tempting foods. If you have family members that are not keto, this will be a little harder.
You can do 1 of 2 things:
- Get them on board
- Let them eat what they want and try your hardest not to be tempted by their foods.
IMPORTANT: Stock your fridge and pantry with keto friendly foods including easy grab and go snacks. Prep ahead some recipes that you can have ready to go and portioned out for the week. Now when you have a temptation, you can stick to the plan more easily.
I like to make one of my easy keto meals and then portion it out into containers for lunch all week.
TRACKING YOUR FOOD INTAKE
Finding an easy solution to tracking your carbohydrate intake is one of the hardest parts of getting started.
I have used online tools like My Fitness Pal and Carb manager. Carb manager would probably be the best tool for the job and it's free!
- First we need to track our carbs. If you are doing true keto, then this is less that 20g of net carbs (I prefer around 35g).
- Next we need to keep an eye on our protein intake. .7g per pound of goal bodyweight is adequate unless you are a body builder.
- Lastly, our fats will fill in the gap.
DO I NEED TO COUNT CALORIES?
Generally, yes. I know you have probably heard that calories don't matter on the keto diet.
The people that are saying this are probably significantly overweight and when they started eating keto they didn't need to count calories and the weight just fell off.
This is more than likely because they were consuming at a significant calorie surplus to maintain their current weight.
So if someone is 400 pounds they would need to consume almost 4,000 calories a day to maintain that weight. They were probably eating a lot of empty calories that included soda and carbohydrates.
If they remove the empty calories and start eating keto friendly foods, they would naturally be eating far fewer calories because keto foods are nutrient dense and more filing.
So if you have a lot of weight to lose (150 pounds+), you probably do not need to count calories right away. When the weight loss stops is when the calorie counting needs to start.
The easiest way to determine your calorie needs for weight loss is to multiply your goal body weight by 10-12
Multiply by 10 if you are pretty sedentary throughout the day.
Multiply by 12 if you are active.
CALORIES = GOAL BODYWEIGHT X 10-12
I love this video from Jordan Syatt that explains determining your goal weight and your calories to lose weight.
LET'S BREAK IT DOWN
I have a goal weight of 150 pounds
I am pretty sedentary throughout the day (desk job) so I'm going to use the calorie multiplier of 10.
That's easy, 150 x 10 is 1500. So I will try to stay under 1500 calories a day.
I know from past weight loss efforts that 1500 calories a day is good for me and I will lose weight.
I'm going to eat under 35 grams of net carbs per day because I know that if I go lower, the keto diet is impossible for me to stick to.
You could stop right here and you would be all set.
I like to set a protein goal because I want to make sure I get enough protein. This would be good for you if you tend to not eat enough protein throughout the day.
Now I am going to figure my protein intake as .7 X my goal weight
That would put my max protein at 105 grams per day. 150 X .7 = 105
My Daily Nutrient Goals to reach 150 pounds
35g Net Carbs
NOT LOSING WEIGHT ON KETO?
If you have been trying to lose weight on keto and it's just not happening...keep reading.
Have you given it a good chance?
Everyone should lose an initial 5+ pounds when you first start the keto diet. This is the stored glycogen depleting from your muscles.
After that, you should only expect to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week (unless you are in an extreme calorie deficit or you have a lot of weight to lose)
Are you really in a calorie deficit?
Sometimes people fall victim to what I like to call calorie creep.
You lose weight initially then you gradually stop.
This is sometimes due to your portion sizes slowly increasing over time.
What once was a real serving of peanut butter or almond butter has now increased to 1 ½ servings. Or you are calculating a serving of cheese, which is ¼ cup, but you are actually eating ⅓ cup.
Since keto foods are calorie dense, they need to be measureD to be sure your calculations are accurate.
This can be accomplished by using measuring cups and spoons, or a more accurate method would be a food scale.
Weight will fluctuate due to stress and hormones. And that doesn't just mean stress from life, eating at a calorie deficit is stressful to the body and increases cortisol production. Cortisol increases water retention.
Think of your daily or weekly weight as data. If you chart the data on a plotter, there should be a downward trend. If you see after 90 days there is no downward trend, re-evaluate.
IS THE KETO DIET RIGHT FOR YOU?
I personally think the keto diet can be beneficial to anyone. I list the benefits to following a keto lifestyle down below.
You can do the keto diet as a vegan, vegetarian, or dairy free.
Those following vegan would eat much more fats, nuts and seeds, and low starch vegetables. You would also find that closer to 40 grams of carbs a day more beneficial.
The keto diet is also perfect for picky eaters and those with a sweet tooth.
I have several dessert recipes that are delicious and easy to make!
"KETO FOODS" TO AVOID
The reason I put keto foods in quotations is because there are a growing number of pre-packaged foods labeled as "keto" when they should be avoided.
This would include foods that start with a really high carb count and then the carb count is reduced by adding fiber to the ingredients. This is what I would call keto junk food and it should only be eaten occasionally.
BENEFITS OF THE KETO DIET
According to this study "Six months of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet led to significant weight loss and histologic improvement of fatty liver disease."
And this study determined that "Individuals assigned to a VLCKD (very low carb ketogenic diet) achieve a greater weight loss than those assigned to a LFD (low fat diet) in the long term; hence, a VLCKD may be an alternative tool against obesity."
MAKING THE KETO DIET SUSTAINABLE
When it comes to any diet, it isn't successful if it isn't sustainable.
You may be wondering why I haven't mentioned macros or ketosis.
In my opinion, those measures make this diet unsustainable.
My tips for making the keto diet sustainable:
- Eat low carb foods you enjoy and keep them stocked
- Meal prep meals that will keep you from going off plan
- Do not do an extreme calorie deficit. This will only lead to hunger and binge eating
- Don't feel guilty for having a treat - but you still have to be very consistent to make significant, lasting changes
The truth is, it is very hard to stick to any diet because we live in a world with hyper-palatable food. That is food that is highly processed and filed with salt, sugar, carbs, and fat.
You just have to make the decision to say "no" much more often than you say "yes."