The ketogenic diet has been a popular topic lately and love it or hate it, it’s here to stay. The ketogenic diet, also known simply as “keto”, is a high-fat, moderate-protein and low-carbohydrate diet. While most who start the diet are doing it initially for weight loss, many find that the benefits extend beyond that. They range from a reduction in seizure frequency for people with epilepsy to better glycemic control for people with diabetes. Research on the ketogenic diet has a been a hot topic as well, with over 300+ research studies and reviews published in 2018. You can also read my last blog post about how the ketogenic diet may influence the microbiome [the collection of microbes in the gut] here.

I started a ketogenic diet three years ago and have learned a lot throughout my journey. Keto turned into a lifestyle for me and has simply become about overall health to me.  Over time, and through my own triumphs (and failures), I’ve compiled a short list of tips for the keto beginner. I also polled my wonderful keto community on Instagram to confirm some of these tips in order to share them with you.

*The ketogenic diet is safe for most individuals but like any diet, it isn’t for everyone. Be sure to speak with your personal health professional to make sure it is right for you. I spoke with my doctor, who was extremely supportive, and got the clearance from him that it was okay to proceed with keto given my own health history.

One ketogenic diet breakfast: Fried egg, bacon and avocado, spinach and bulletproof coffee.
One ketogenic diet breakfast: Fried egg, bacon and avocado, spinach and bulletproof coffee. Credit: Larisa Blinova.

Do your research, be prepared and set realistic goals

There are plenty of resources out there on how to start keto, how to eat keto, what to do and what not to do. It’s important to go through it all and make the right, informed decision for yourself. When I was thinking about starting, I went to my local library and read books about keto. I went online and read personal stories and advice on Reddit. I read all of the scientific literature I could find. I wanted to give myself a base of what to do and what not to do. I also prepared grocery lists, saved recipes and planned out my meals. I wanted to make sure that I had what I needed to succeed. Set yourself up for success by getting familiar with your new lifestyle and being prepared so that there is no room for failure.

When you’re ready, set some goals. My first goal was to rid myself of a sugar addiction that I had been battling all of my life. I wanted to see myself let go of this addiction as I knew overconsumption of sugar and processed foods was driving the inflammatory processes of my autoimmune disease sky-high. I will be honest and say that weight loss was not my primary goal but it was a welcome bonus goal that I easily completed with my first goal.

Don’t forget to electrolyte.

Electrolytes, electrolytes, electrolytes

The body relies on electrolytes for many important functions such as body temperature regulation, muscle contractions, neurological functions and energy production. The main electrolytes focused here are sodium, potassium and magnesium.

During carbohydrate restriction, glycogen stores will be depleted and the body will shift from retaining water to dumping it at a high rate. Sodium in the body will also be depleted faster with the water loss that occurs. At this point, the body will seek to stabilize its levels of sodium and to do this, it will shrink blood volume. When water, sodium and blood volume depletes, the kidneys will then start dumping potassium in order to maintain balance with sodium.

While the body goes through this stabilization period, one may experience symptoms such as irritability, brain fog, muscle cramps, sugar cravings, dizziness and fatigue. This is what is known to many as the “keto flu”. In order to avoid these symptoms, it is very important to supplement the diet with the three electrolytes that undergo the most depletion: sodium, magnesium and potassium. It is important to note that all electrolytes should be supplemented mostly through whole food sources, however this is especially true for potassium as overdosing on potassium supplements can be extremely dangerous.

Guidelines for recommended electrolyte consumption for adults over the age of 18:

I make sure to keep variety in my diet in order to meet some of these numbers. For sodium, I add unrefined salt to my meals. For magnesium, I make sure to include spinach, pumpkin seeds, unsweetened dark chocolate and avocados in my diet. For potassium, I include full-fat dairy and fatty fish such as salmon. When necessary, I do supplement my diet with an electrolyte powder in order to make up for any deficiencies, but this isn’t necessary.

In addition, make sure to drink water to thirst. Overconsumption of water may lead to even more electrolyte depletion.

Keep it simple and focus on REAL food

I found a lot of success in the beginning stages of my keto journey by keeping my meals simple and I made sure not to overcomplicate things for myself. I focused on filling my plate with real food versus packaged products. I shopped the outer aisles of my grocery store and focused on quality rather than quantity. I was eating for my health and wanted my food choices to reflect that. Due to budget constraints, I couldn’t always buy organic vegetables, meats and dairy (none of which are required on a ketogenic diet) but I did what I could and stocked up when there were sales available to me.

I did find some convenience foods that were the right fit for me. I make this point because there are a lot of products marketed as “keto” and it is important to remember that because it is labeled as such does not mean that you need it to be successful. Find the right food and products that bring you nourishment, joy and fit YOUR lifestyle.

One thing you may start to notice is that there are different approaches of keto that people take. There are individuals who eat keto and practice intermittent fasting. There are individuals who eat keto and eat only one meal per day. There are individuals who count macronutrient ratios. There are individuals who take a carnivore keto approach and those who are dairy-free. In the beginning, ignore all of these variations and keep it simple. As you go along, you can experiment with and make the changes that fit you and your goals!

It’s not about what you can’t eat…

Get rid of a scarcity mindset

The mere thought of cutting carbohydrates from the diet is enough to discourage some individuals from even attempting the keto diet. I admit, I first attempted a ketogenic diet a couple of years prior to this time and I was miserable. I kept thinking about all of the food that I couldn’t eat. I would longingly stare at others’ meals and wish that I could eat the same. I kept focusing on all of the things that I couldn’t eat and slowly tortured myself with thoughts of “cheat meals”. I  lamented with others about this new diet that I was trying and threw pity parties for myself because I couldn’t eat ABC or XYZ. With that being said, my first experiment with keto lasted only a month. Why? I had a scarcity mindset. I was being extremely negative and therefore I set myself up for failure.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing too much on the foods that are cut from one’s plate. I encourage you to look at everything you CAN eat and embrace it. When I speak with others about my diet, people are often surprised to hear that I eat plenty of the following: different types of fats such as ghee, coconut oil, avocado oil and olive oil; fatty cuts of beef, chicken and pork; fatty fish like salmon; an abundance of leafy, green vegetables like spinach, kale and bok choy; cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage; different types of squashes and low sugar fruits such as berries, cucumbers, zucchini and avocados. I eat nuts such as almonds, walnuts and macadamia nuts and enjoy eating full-fat dairy products such as cheese, heavy cream and butter. The foods that I just mentioned are based on my personal preference. But it’s important to know that a ketogenic diet is abundant in many different types of fat, protein, low carbohydrate vegetables, low carbohydrate fruits, nuts and more. It is also extremely easy once you become accustomed to this way of eating to make substitutions for your favorite baked good or weeknight dinner.

As long as you stay under your personal set carbohydrate limit, you will have success. For some this limit is 30 total grams of carbohydrates per day (not taking fiber into account) and for others it is under 20 net grams of carbohydrates. Net carbohydrate count subtracts the amount of fiber from total carbs for the day.

For example, you might use this calculation: 40 grams of total carbohydrates consumed for the day – 25 grams of dietary fiber = 15 net carbohydrates consumed for the day.

Focus on progress, not perfection

Whether weight loss is your goal or not, stay consistent to see results and meet your goals. Be patient with yourself. We all know that nothing happens overnight and that it is about the progress that you make. The journey to health is not linear and is filled with twists and turns along the way. Consistency and patience pays off with a ketogenic diet.

Find support but love YOUR journey

Find other people who are on a ketogenic diet journey with you. There are many groups on social media platforms, internet forums and in-person meetup groups filled with other people that are living the same lifestyle. LifeOmic even has an app that combines a great community of people who eat keto and fast! (note: keto and fasting are not mutually exclusive! Anybody can use this app for tracking their fasting times.) Having a strong support system around you will help tremendously.

For some, it’s easy to compare your journey and your results with that of someone else. You may see someone doing something a certain way and you wonder why you can’t. You may wonder why you aren’t losing weight as quickly as the next person or why your health issues seem to persist longer than somebody else’s. Do not discourage yourself in this manner. Every individual is just that, individual. It is up to each one of us to find what works best for us and our bodies. Focus on the person who matters most, YOU. By doing this, you will be ensuring your own success.

LIFE Fasting Tracker app.

LIFE Fasting Tracker app.

What are some other tips for keto beginners that you think are important? Comment below!