The Ketogenic (Keto) Diet is known for fast weight loss, better energy and focus, and a reduced risk of insulin resistance. This is achieved through the strict removal of sugar, the restriction of carbohydrates, and the increase of protein and dietary fats. This diet isn’t for everyone, but those who it works for, love it.
Getting to that place of “loving it” takes overcoming some pretty large hurdles though: resisting cravings, avoiding drive-thrus, and for many, an uncomfortable period of withdrawal from sugar.
If you’re interested in trying out the Keto Diet for the first time, or have tried before but had trouble getting through the tricky first month, this article is for you. Based on personal experience, research, and my patients experiences, the following are some of my best tips for success on the Keto Diet.
Make a plan and plan ahead
Waiting until you are hungry (or hangry) to decide where your next meal is coming from is a good way to end up in the fast-food lane. Here are three ways to set yourself up for success:
- The cheapest and most effective way to eat well is to use your kitchen. Pull recipes for more than a few days at a time and go shopping. This way you never get caught without dinner and end up calling the pizza guy. Don’t want to cook every day? Cook several dishes at once and pop them in the fridge for later! Side notes: Slow and pressure cookers are the heroes of busy home-cooks. There are also some awesome apps out there that can help organize your menu!
- Pack snacks! Even the smallest errand might land you stuck in traffic and hangry so you should always have easy keto treats at hand. I recommend beef sticks and small packs of nuts. When you can, hard-boiled eggs are nature’s best snack!
- Lastly, have a back-up plan. At some point, you’re going to get caught without a meal and snacks won’t be enough. Knowing where a back-up plan is will keep you on track without stress. Whole Foods stores have a fantastic salad and hot-food bar with all the ingredients listed.
Eat your veggies
Type “keto recipes” into any search engine and you‘ll get thousands of hits, but most are exclusively animal-based with vegetables barely making an appearance.
This hyperfocus on the protein dishes leaves out so many important and great-tasting nutrients. Vegetables offer vitamins and minerals like no supplement or animal product can.
Remember to include dark leafy greens in your daily diet such as kale, romaine, spinach, and arugula. They offer Vitamins K, A, C, as well as folate, magnesium, and so much more. You can enjoy dark leafy greens at every meal either steamed, baked, sauteed, or as a fresh salad without disrupting ketosis.
While you should cut out potatoes and reduce high carb/low-fiber starches like butternut squash, there are still plenty of other vegetables you can enjoy. Eat the rainbow by bringing in a variety of vegetables such as summer squash, beets, and green beans. Bake a tray of carrots and serve one or two on a bed of greens. They are a flavorful and attractive side to the main course as well as a great source of beta carotene, vitamin K1, potassium, and antioxidants.
Enjoy dairy, but not too much
I’m about to become unpopular for saying this, but dairy is way overused in keto diets! No matter how delicious and “allowed” cream cheese and heavy whipping cream are, it is important to watch your intake, here’s why:
It typically only takes three or four days of the diet for the liver to begin producing ketones (ketosis), but it takes far longer for the body to use fat as fuel efficiently. This stage is called fat-adaptation. Fat-adaptation can take between one and three months and sometimes longer!
Unfortunately, many people don’t get past the first week of the diet. Instead of dairy-fat being used as fuel, a lot of it would have gotten stored away in the body.
Dairy can be consumed in small amounts at any time, but wait at least a few weeks before deep-diving into the wonderful world of cream cheese and heavy cream. Even then, pay attention to how you feel. Different folks can handle different quantities of dairy, if any at all.
Exercise has a variety of health benefits but I mention it now for two specific reasons:
- Exercising helps burn off carbohydrates and sugar, therefore aiding the transition to fat-adaptation.
- Muscle will help burn fat and give a natural lift. As fat is burned off, excess skin tends to sag. Building muscle will help tighten the skin and give a lift throughout the body. Acupuncture can help with loose skin as well, especially for the face.
Whatever the type of exercise you choose*, if it is new to you, start slowly and ease into it. Warm up before you exercise, stretch after, and listen to your body the whole time. Working with a personal trainer or joining a fitness class is the best way to stay on track and avoid injuries.
Whether or not you work out, replenish your electrolytes daily for the first month of the Keto Diet. The first weight that is dropped is water-weight and electrolytes go with it. You’ll avoid very painful midnight calf cramps by staying on top of it!
*Before beginning a new exercise routine, check in with your doctor for a physical exam and a discussion about your plan. We at Apex Sports Medicine can help you with this!
Schedule a break
When things get hard, it helps to know it won’t last forever. Some keto-plans advise to take a break weekly, others monthly, but the most common plan calls for a break once every three months. Whatever the plan, it is good to set and take planned breaks.
When that scheduled break arrives, go and enjoy those healthy carbs but go easy on the sugar and alcohol. Sugar is highly addictive and alcohol creates cravings for refined foods, like pizza.
The very next day, get back on that new, clean lifestyle. You can do it!
What we haven’t talked about
Quitting sugar is hugely beneficial to one’s health but can be a difficult process, both emotionally and physically. This subject deserves its own article altogether. Be on the lookout, as we will cover this in the future. In the meantime, if you have any questions or need help, we’re here for you.
By Dr. Mary Froeba, DAcOM LAc
- What is fat adapted. Keto-mojo. [Online] [Cited: January 10, 2020.] https://keto-mojo.com/article/what-is-fat-adapted-how-long-it-takes/.
- Electrolytes tips and concerns. hvmn. [Online] [Cited: January 10, 2020.] https://hvmn.com/blog/ketosis/keto-electrolytes-tips-and-concerns.
- How to tighten loose skin. Healthline. [Online] [Cited: January 20, 2020.] https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-tighten-loose-skin.
- Ketogenic Diet Enhances Neurovascular Function with Altered Gut Microbiome in Young Healthy Mice. National Institute of Health. [Online] April 27, 2018. [Cited: January 27, 2020.] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29703936-ketogenic-diet-enhances-neurovascular-function-with-altered-gut-microbiome-in-young-healthy-mice/.
- Spinach Nutrition. Good Housekeeping. [Online] [Cited: January 20, 2020.] https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/diet-nutrition/a19500845/spinach-nutrition/.