Last year I started the ketogenic diet (keto). I started it for two reasons: to lose weight and to control my migraines. After having four migraines in one week I decided enough was enough. I literally couldn’t function. On the keto diet, I don’t get migraines and I feel super awesome! What’s not to love?!
What is The Ketogenic Diet?
The ketogenic diet was initially discovered/established to help children with epilepsy. The keto diet supports brain function. Migraines are said to be a mild form of epilepsy and that is why migraine sufferers have found relief on a keto diet.
Put simply: the keto diet is very low carb and very high fat with moderate protein rounding out your daily intake.
This diet works to put your body into a state of ‘ketosis’, which is where your body uses ketone bodies for fuel instead of glucose (sugar). Did you know your body could do that?
The human body is designed to quickly switch to glucose burning during times of plentiful carbohydrate consumption. Running on glucose means that the body can make use of all of the extra glucose you’re consuming but not using straight away. What does it do with it? It stores it away. And that’s how we get fat. In a nutshell. Gary Taubes has a fabulous book that I highly recommend that you can find on Amazon that talks about the science of it all. It’s a quick read and I really can’t recommend it enough!
In ketosis, the body switches to using that stored fat for fuel. Back in hunter gatherer days this was a perfect system. The natives would plump up in summer when berries, roots, tubers, and other high sugar fruits and vegetables were plentiful. Then they would burn all of that off over the winter when they were living off of game meats and any stored foods. Lean times and plump times. 🙂 But, even during the plump times for those natives they were switching back and forth between ketosis and glucose burning – sometimes within a day.
What do I eat?
The keto diet is so simple. It’s a restricted diet, but I find freedom in that. I don’t need to plan a different dinner for every day of the month. Or a different lunch for every day of the week. Or three different breakfast options. I eat the exact same thing for breakfast every day and have for almost a year. I’m not bored of it at all! It’s tasty and nutritious.
- All unprocessed meats (no sugars used in processing, or very little): beef, bison, deer, elk, rabbit, pork, etc (organic and grass fed/pasture raised)
- All unprocessed fowl: duck, chicken, turkey, etc (organic and pasture raised)
- All unprocessed fish (no sugar cured or sugar smoked): salmon, tuna, oysters, mussels, crab, etc (wild caught or sustainably farmed in the case of shell fish)
- Eggs (pasture raised is a must)
- Butter (grass fed and pasture raised is a must)
- Coconut oil (organic and unrefined)
- Low starch vegetables in moderation and with butter or other approved oil: spinach, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, mushrooms, etc. See a list here.
- Very limited fruits after two solid weeks in ketosis: blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, etc. Low sugar fruits. I think avocado is a fruit and that can be eaten daily in the correct portion (1/3 or less).
- Nuts can be eaten as part of small snacks or in recipes, but they are to be in very small quantities.
- High fat dairy products: cream, cheese, butter, etc. Some people find they don’t tolerate dairy or it causes them to crave sugar; or it flares up medical issues or stalls weight loss. I recommend keeping dairy limited. Butter is the exception here as it is nearly pure fat.
Here’s a link to a more comprehensive list of what foods to eat or avoid: Ketogenic Diet Food List
How to Get Into Ketosis
The whole goal of the ketogenic diet is to be in ketosis. So how do you get there?
To be burning fat for fuel it needs to be your primary source of food.
The ketogenic diet usually looks like:
- 70% of your calories from fat
- 25% of your calories from protein
- 5% of your calories from carbohydrates
There is such a thing as a ketogenic calculator! You enter in some information about you (height, weight, activity level, etc) and it tells you what your macros (the percent of fat, protein or carbohydrates) should be and roughly how many calories you should consume daily.
Regarding your macros: there are two types of ketosis. Nutritional ketosis and medical ketosis. Nutritional ketosis is where you want to be if you want to lose weight, pump up your workouts, treat diabetes, and feel fabulous. Medical ketosis is what people with cancer, epilepsy, severe migraines, autism, ADHD, etc use to treat, prevent and cure those diseases. The difference is that nutritional ketosis keeps your blood ketone levels at a lower range than medical ketosis. To achieve this, in medical ketosis you need to adjust your macros so that your fat intake is closer to 80%. In nutritional ketosis 60-70% is ideal. You can play with your macros and see where you feel best and see the best results.
After a number of days (this is different for each person – it could be 2 or it could be 7) of very limited carbs your body will switch over to burning fat for fuel and you will be in ketosis.
How do you know if you’re in ketosis?
There are a number of ways to test to see if you’re in ketosis. In our house we use urinalysis sticks and a blood ketone meter.
When you’re just starting out and/or have a fair amount of weight to lose you’ll get good enough results with the urinalysis sticks. If you’re not overweight or if you’ve been doing keto a while (OR you’re doing medical keto as a treatment for various ailments) then the blood meter is a better indication of whether or not you’re in ketosis.
There’s more information here about tracking ketones/ketosis, but for me simply testing my urine and/or blood helps me to keep track and know what’s working and what isn’t. If I get kicked out of ketosis or the readings go down, then I can look at what I ate yesterday and figure out what’s affecting me.
Once you’ve been using the pee sticks or blood monitor for a bit and you’ve been solidly in ketosis you’ll start to know if you’re in or out of ketosis just by how you feel. The pee sticks are cheap and easy to use, so I use those frequently. The blood monitor isn’t expensive, but the stips are, so that I use less often. Maybe once or twice a week.
My husband isn’t overweight at all and he doesn’t register ketones on the pee sticks because his body is utilizing all of the ketones for fuel and he’s not ‘spilling’ them into his urine. He’s able to use the blood monitor to check his levels. Even if you still have weight to lose you may or may not be spilling enough ketones to register on the pee sticks, as well. So the blood monitor is a nice tool to have. I have found the strips for a good price on ebay!
The First Two Weeks
The first two weeks can be a mixed bag. Some people say it SUCKS. Some people notice physical improvements and weight loss right away and have no complaints. Some people are in the middle. The bottom line is this: you have to get through the first two weeks. And unlike some other diets – you will have more success if you dive in feet first instead of easing into a ketogenic way of eating. So, instead of trying to just lower your carbs each day until you reach a ketogenic level, just jump right in and start low carb. You will feel much better much quicker if you do.
The first week can be particularly hard. As your body makes a huge change from using glucose to ketones for fuel you’re likely to feel something. A lot of people experience ‘keto flu’ in the first week – which is just as it sounds: flu like symptoms with less energy than you may be used to. I haven’t had this any of the times I have entered ketosis, but I have heard many, many people talk about experiencing it, so I figured it was worth mentioning.
One thing that I have dealt with in the transition into ketosis is the cravings and mood swings. About end of day 2 and definitely on day 3 I start getting serious sugar/carb cravings and get really moody about it. Just have to power through! Will power is required only for the first week or two, I have found, and then after you’re established in ketosis you don’t crave sugar anymore.
Another thing to be on the look out in the first two weeks: weight gain. It happens for some. Others lose a large amount of weight in the first two weeks. Others just a couple pounds. It’s another mixed bag! But, for some people the transition causes weight gain of a few pounds, but again – just have to power through these first two weeks to see the real results on the other side.
Don’t get hungry!
In the first two weeks it’s SO IMPORTANT to not let yourself get hungry. I’m serious. That’s when the shit hits the fan! This is so important. Especially for the first week – it’s so critical! I cannot stress this enough! If you are not in ketosis or just on the verge and you let yourself get hungry your body/brain is going to go overboard on your carb cravings. You’re going to get all moody and cravy and then pissed off and you’re going to throw your hands up and say “F THIS!” and eat cookies and cake. Trust me. Ask me how I know. Take my word for it!
I do suggest tracking your food intake (with something like My Fitness Pal or Fitday.com or whatever you like) at least for the first month so that you can get a solid grasp on how many carbs you are actually eating each day. The first week, however, because it’s so important to not let yourself get hungry, don’t hold too tightly to your daily goals – EXCEPT FOR CARBS. Keep the carbs where they should be. But, if you’re starting to feel hungry EAT SOMETHING! Pepperoni with cream cheese is a great low carb snack that’s really quick. Have another bullet proof coffee/tea. Eat a pat of butter. Whatever works! Just don’t have a rumbling tummy.
And you’re going to be hungry. If you’re aiming for 1,800 calories a day (which is another topic entirely – calorie goals are just a ballpark and have almost no real bearing on weight loss within a ketogenic diet – baring eating 6,000 calories of cream cheese in a day or something equally silly) and are still hungry that’s totally fine. Seriously! Eat more! Eat 2,500 calories every day the first week if you need to. Listen to your body. You might feel like you’re eating so.much.food. But I promise it will even out. Once you’re in ketosis and you have gotten through the first two weeks your appetite will lessen dramatically and after a good month or two (when you enter keto adaption) you may find that you can’t even get yourself to eat 1,000 calories some days! It sounds too good to be true, but I promise it’s a reality!
The last few times I’ve fallen out of ketosis (after our last vacation and then again after some holiday over indulgences!) I have used an ‘egg fast’ to get back into ketosis very quickly and with less fuss. You can find more information about egg fasts on the web, but it’s essentially this: you eat eggs and fats and little else. For me this looked like:
2 eggs for breakfast, lunch and dinner fried in butter and topped with a sprinkle of cheese or a dollop of homemade mayonnaise.
Bullet proof tea with each meal
I had none of the craving issues I have had in the past and was back into ketosis within 24-48 hours.
So, then what’s keto adaption?! That’s when your body is perfectly happy to burn ketones instead of glucose for fuel and you having a few more carbs daily or a carb heavy meal once or twice a month is not going to send you out of ketosis resulting in you having to work hard to get back in again. For most people, keto adaption is obtained after being in ketosis for a couple months or more.
It’s a tricky thing. You don’t want to test this out before you can be reasonably sure you’re keto adapted. The results can be awful! Your body will rebel and you’ll feel awful AND you’ll have to go through the whole sucky first and perhaps second weeks all over again! Totally not worth it. Again, ask me how I know!
My deepest piece of advice with regards to keto is this:
Do not cheat in the first two months of starting keto. Not once.
It’s hard. I know! It really is. But see how fabulous you can feel and tell me honestly if that dumb cookie is worth it? It’s not. You know what it tastes like and, honestly, it’s not even going to live up to what you THINK it tastes like. Your taste buds will have changed a bit with doing keto and even stuff you might have absolutely loved before now are quite bland and perhaps even nasty.
For some people, keto adaption allows you to up your daily carbs. For example, initially you might need to stay under 20 carbs to keep in ketosis, but once keto adapted you might be able to stay under 30 carbs. Or maybe even 40 or 50 carbs! It’s different for everyone and you need to track your food intake and monitor your ketone levels and how your body feels to know where your threshold is.
The Beauty of Keto
For me, the true beauty of the ketogenic diet is keto adaption. Once in that place, you can have your cake and eat it, too. Literally!
Keto lets you stay healthy (you’re going to feel so amazing!), lose weight, get rid of cravings, AND enjoy a ‘treat’ every once in a while. It’s imperative not to abuse this, though, and indulge. Once a month is a good amount (once you’re keto adapted!) and that allows you to go out to eat with friends or be treated to a meal in someone’s home without feeling like the odd one or having to make all kinds of special requests or substitutions to a dinner host.
With that said: my family has chosen to cut gluten out entirely. And that’s not too terribly hard a restriction to get around anywhere you go. Especially now. Gluten does some nasty things to my son (diarrhea, eczema, and awful moods) and it gives me some awful digestive upset.
ALSO with that said: It’s not hard to eat keto at restaurants! Almost anywhere you go will have a meat option that you can get grilled or fried (without breading!) and served with a side of buttered vegetables. And no one is going to think twice about it, it’s a common thing to order a steak and steamed veggies!
AND ALSO with that said: some people chose to just not do cheats at all, keto adapted or not! Because even if you’re keto adapted you may find that 1) you’re just not interested in high carb foods anymore! 2) it’s just not worth risking falling our of ketosis 3) it’s not worth risking feeling like crap after a cheat meal or 4) cheat meals stall weight loss (which is the issue for me).
For me, the ketogenic diet has been a lifesaver in more ways than one. Last year I lost 40 pounds in a little under six months (with more cheats than I would like and I plan to cut cheats out while I lose the rest of my weight) and I only had 1 food related migraine (I had a cluster of four migraines one other time before we realized that running our gas fireplace was causing those ones) in 2014! Which was a miracle for me as a mother of a toddler.
I have the goal to lose another 40 pounds in 2015 and to hopefully not have a single migraine!
Other than weight loss and keeping the migraines at bay, ketosis helps me to feel fabulous. I have energy and my moods are more stable. All it takes is a weekend of cheat foods and getting bumped out of ketosis to remind me why I love being in ketosis!
To see some results from others, check here to visit Diet Doctor’s website and see the reader submitted testimonials.
If you’re interested in doing keto, you’ll need more information than what I have posted here. Here are some of my favorite links. Click around and soak up all the information like a sponge. It’s okay if you’re overwhelmed – I was at first, too! Just take it all in and re-read things and give yourself some time to absorb it all and formulate a plan. Unlike other diets where you can ease into it, you will be much more successful on keto if you can start it with 100% effort.
http://www.dietdoctor.com/ (click around the different topics under the diet doctor headline: health and weight loss, videos, etc. Lots of good info, just not a great layout)
http://www.ruled.me/ (has lots of ads for their services, but if you’re overwhelmed or can’t commit to researching a bunch, consider buying their menu plans and other services! It could really help you!)
In case it wasn’t obvious, this is in no way medical advice and/or a replacement for medical advice. You need to do your own research to see if the keto diet is right for you. Talk with your doctor, but do know that keto flies in the face of what most medical professionals have been taught, despite what science has proven (and disproven). If you have diabetes and are on insulin, you will need to be so very careful with your carb levels and insulin doses so that you don’t get too low blood sugar. The keto diet can treat (and from what I have read from others with first hand experience: cure) both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes so long as careful consideration is given to insulin doses and your blood sugar is closely monitored. Your insulin dose will almost certainly need to be adjusted and hopefully one day you can discontinue its use! 🙂
Edited to add:
I do take a few different supplements to go along with our ketogenic diet and I will plan to make a post about that soon! My supplements are very important to me and I believe them to be one of the pillars of my success on the ketogenic diet.