How to Start the Keto Diet: A Beginner’s Guide
Are you wondering how to start the keto diet? You’ve heard about the benefits of following the keto diet but don’t know where to begin? You want to give keto eating a shot to see if it can really change your life as it has for many, many other people but it’s confusing? This short guide is for you. It’s the beginner’s guide on how to get started on ketogenic eating, even if you are just learning about it.
There are lots of why you might want to get started on the ketogenic diet. Weight loss is one of the huge ones and so a lot of people get going for that reason alone. So we’re going to help you make this super simple for you so that you’re not confused. We know a lot of people are so confused when they first learn about the keto diet but it’s really not as confusing as it seems.
When people first start learning about the ketogenic diet, they’re bombarded with information and talk about things such as macros. Macros? What the heck they are those? How do you count them? What are net carbs? All that stuff. But we’re here to make this really easy for you.
Approach the keto diet as a sustainable lifestyle change
One great thing about the ketogenic diet is that it can be the start of a new way of life. Not in a cult-like way either – you don’t have to be part of a clique to do keto. It can be a private thing if you wish. When you’re following a ketogenic lifestyle – and it is a lifestyle – it’s actually sustainable, unlike other diets. You can lose all of this weight and never go back to eating junk. It just becomes a healthy way of living – like getting enough sleep, exercise, having meaningful relationships – keto eating is just part of a good life equation. This is something you can literally do for the rest of you life and you can do it easily. It’s going to make your life great because, as you’re going to see, you’re going to feel amazing on the ketogenic diet.
And you can fall off the wagon now and then, that’s OK. You’re human. You can go on vacation sometimes there isn’t keto food, no big deal. Sometimes, you eat what’s available, it happens. That’s life and that’s okay – just resume when you can.
The keto diet really can be a new way of life – if you want it to be. It’s not really a diet – it’s a way of eating. You can make it a true, new lifestyle.
So basically, keto means you’re eating high fat, moderate protein, low carbohydrates.
The traditional food pyramid is broken!
Now if you have the standard Western diet, you’ve probably been eating based on outdated, incorrect advice. (Remember the food pyramid? That’s starting to be seen as just plain wrong). Old advice would tell you to eat low fat, lots of fruit and vegetables, low calories, moderate protein and a lot of carbs.
The correct food pyramid is inverted
And so your diet might be full of carbs. Cereals – things you think are healthy. But we’re here to tell you those types of foods are not healthy at all. They’re not good for you. Most of us have grown up on incorrect nutrition information. The problem is, it’s so deeply ingrained that we don’t feel confident about leaving that false information behind (better the devil you know)
But the fact is, there is now a huge whole shift in the world of nutritional advice. The first food pyramid came out 45 years ago and subsequent updates are still 25 years old. What we understand about nutrition has changed a lot since then – so it’s time to update your knowledge. And you’ll have to shift your mindset around that too because I know a lot of people get started and they’re so afraid to start eating fat.
It’s so scary because you’re told you fat, it will make you fat, right? And you believe it. But the complete opposite is true. If you feed your body fat and your body starts running on fat as its primary fuel source, you know what happens? Your body is burning fat for fuel – it becomes fat-adapted, i.e. it looks to burning fat as the first option.
Another thing, the ketogenic diet works because people get full. You actually end up eating less because fat is satiating. You feel full on the keto diet – no more hunger pangs. Traditional diets make you hungry and miserable. That’s not the case with ketogenic eating because the food is satisfying. You’re never hungry, never deprived. The only time you go without eating is if you decide to do so because you still feel full.
And that’s the other thing. You can actually follow your body’s lead and start learning when you’re actually hungry or if you’re eating for other reasons like stress or boredom. On keto, you’re not going to have the same reaction to eating. You’re going to learn to eat when you’re hungry because you’ll be more in touch with your body. It’s powerful stuff.
How to start the keto diet
We don’t recommend that you start by tracking your macros (protein, fat and carbs) right away. And there’s a reason for that. The main reason is because you don’t want to get overwhelmed and it can be super overwhelming when you first start getting going into this and learning about new things and trying to do it all at once. If it’s too overwhelming, you’re going to give up.
So, here are the steps we recommend to ease you into the keto diet.
Step 1. Preparations before starting the keto diet
Get everything out of your refrigerator or kitchen that is going to be a trigger food for you. Remove all sugars and carbs. Stock up on keto foods from this keto grocery list.
So if you have cookies lying around, give them to work colleagues. Get rid of them. You want to remove temptation – why make it difficult on yourself? Don’t rely on willpower, just avoid the temptation in the first place.
Resist the temptation to “use everything up” to avoid waste. Just donate it or ditch it. Yes, you shouldn’t waste food but this is a one-off special situation. Start with a clean slate.
Step 2. Cut out almost all your carbs
You can get great results doing it the way that we recommend, which is just start with your net carbs. The first rule is: only eat 20g (preferable) to 50g of net carbs a day. What are net carbs?
Total carbs (g) – Fibre (g) – Sugar Alcohols (g) = Net carbs (g)
Our bodies can’t break down fibre and sugar alcohol into glucose so they’re not going to increase your insulin levels. Insulin is a fat-storing hormone and that is what you want to avoid. For this reason, many people on a low carb diet don’t count them toward their total carb count.
If you eat 20 net carbs or less a day and you’re going to see some rapid weight loss. It’s that simple. You’re going to get into ketosis (that’s when your body burns fat for fuel, not sugar). You’re going to start feeling great.
Step 3. Eat more real foods
So you’ve cut out all that sugar, you cut out all bread, cereals and pasta. With these types of carbs, you’re getting a lot of calories but not much nutrition. You’re not really feeding your body. Stop eating these things. So what do you eat instead?
You’re going to start eating green leafy veggies, fresh meats, cheese, eggs, healthy fats. You also limit your fruit intake because fruit is very high is sugar. These are the things that you want in your diet. You can eat a few berries but be sure to include them in your daily net carbs. You want your diet rich in foods that are really good for you and so you’re not going to be eating as much packaged foods, you’re going to be eating more real foods.
So that is one of the reasons why the ketogenic diet is so amazing for your health because the foods that you’re eating is going to be loaded with much more nutrition and nutrients.
Here’s a quick overview of what you can and can’t eat under the keto diet:
Keto foods you should eat:
You should base the majority of your meals around these foods and ingredients.
- Meat like red meat, steak, ham, sausage, bacon, chicken or turkey.
- Fatty fish including salmon, trout and tuna, pastured or Omega 3 whole eggs, grass-fed, butter, and cream.
- Unprocessed cheese such as goat cheese, cream cheese, blue cheese or mozzarella.
- Nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds or chia seeds.
- Healthy oils especially extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil.
- Low carb vegetables: tomatoes, onions and peppers, and most green leafy veggies will do.
- Healthy herbs and spices
Foods you must avoid:
You should should avoid these foods under any circumstances.
- Sugary foods such as soft drinks, juices, smoothies, cake, ice cream, sweets, and anything that contains sugar (artificial or natural).
- Fruits. This includes whole fruit and fruit juice
- Grains or starches including wheat-based product, rice, pasta or cereal.
- Beans or legumes such as peas, kidney beans, lentils or chickpeas.
- Root vegetables and tubers, for example, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots or parsnips.
- Products labeled low fat or diet
- Unhealthy fat – the kind found in vegetable oils, mayonnaise, and other products.
- Alcohol. An occasional glass of wine won’t hurt your diet though. (The perfect beverage choices for the ketogenic diet are water, coffee, and tea. Just avoid sweetening those up with sugar. You can add a small amount of milk or cream to your coffee though).
Step 4. Start tracking your macros
Once you’ve experienced that initial weight loss and have an early win on the board, you will feel motivated and ready to take the next step: start tracking your macros.
What’s a macro? Macronutrients (“macros”) are molecules that your body uses to create energy for itself – primarily fat, protein and carbs. They are found in all foods in varying amounts, measured in grams (g) on the nutrition labels.
- Fat provides 9 calories per gram
- Protein provides 4 calories per gram
- Carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram
In the standard ketogenic diet, typically about 5% of your energy coming from carbs, 70%-75% comes from fat and the rest comes from protein. So the keto diet comprises a low amount of carbs, a high amount of fat and a moderate amount of protein.
Use an app to track your macros
To make tracking your macros easy, we recommend you use an app like MyFitnessPal. Download the app. Start entering in the foods and it will show you what your macros are. There are several apps that can do this including: KetoDiet App, Total Keto Diet, Carb Manager Low Carb Diet Tracker and Senza.
So you start balancing your macros with your chosen app. Eventually, you’ll become familiar with certain ingredients and you’re going to get into a rhythm. You’ll start to get a feel for what your macros are without even putting it them into the app – but this takes a bit of time. So just use the app to begin with.
Step 5. Avoid certain vegetables
So you may be wondering, “If I’m eating all green leafy vegetables, I’m not eating any carbs. Where are these carbs coming from?” Vegetables. Yup, vegetables are a source of carbohydrates so they count towards your daily limit of 20-50g of net carbs a day.
However, there are some vegetables that are keto-friendly and others that are not. Simply follow this basic rule: do not eat vegetables that grow underground. No potatoes, no carrots, no turnips, no swedes. The reason for this is that these types of vegetables are very high in starch. It’s like eating small packets of sugar – basically it’s the same thing.
So you want to stick with vegetables that grow above ground. Typically green and leafy. Cauliflower, asparagus, broccoli, lettuce, spinach, green beans – all great. But avoid peas – they’re high in sugar.
As you get a feel for the diet, you can start to adapt it to the foods you like. You will be able to substitute some of the foods when you’re out and about. It can feel daunting to begin with but it will come with practice.
Step 6. Plan ahead to avoid the keto flu
When you cut out carbs and sugar and start eating the ketogenic way, you may experience the “keto flu”. It’s not real flu. It’s a collection of symptoms associated with your body adapting to the new diet.
You can lessen – or even avoid – these symptoms by ensuring you have enough potassium (take a supplement), magnesium (take supplement at bedtime as it will also help with sleep), and sodium (a good seal salt is sufficient). You need to make sure you’re salting your food because under the keto diet your body flushes out more water and with it, the sodium. So stay topped up.
You may notice under the keto diet that you sleep less. This is actually a sign of improved energy levels. You just don’t need as much sleep anymore. Your body is running on clean, real food and because it has an abundant, steady supply of fuel (fat) at all times, you won’t feel tired and lethargic. And as you lose weight, your body’s starting to function the way it needs to function. All of a sudden you’re going to be thriving off of less sleep just naturally.
And so, if you notice you’re maybe waking up earlier, go with it. Just get up and start your day. If you’re waking up at like 4AM, that will eventually level out and, and your body will find its level. Don’t stress about it.
So you’re getting going on the ketogenic diet. You’re making sure you’re taking your electrolytes, you’re making sure that you’re staying within your, the 20 net carbs or less a day, which you can use with your chosen app. You’re on your way!
The next step is optional: intermittent fasting.
Step 7. Intermittent fasting (optional)
You may have heard about intermittent fasting in relation to the ketogenic diet. Is it something you have to do? No, it’s not. However, it may be something you find yourself naturally doing because under the keto diet you are eating more satiating fats that you may decide to skip a meal because you’re just not hungry.
Intermittent fasting is amazing because it gives your body a chance to heal itself, clean itself up, to get rid of reserves of fat and to give your body a chance to heal various inflammations. Also, it’s a great way to help with fat loss and weight loss.
16 hour fasting window, 8 hour feeding window
There are various types of intermittent fasting. The easiest way to start is with the 16:8 intermittent fast. You don’t eat for 16 consecutive hours; you have an 8 hour feeding window. That’s it. You start eating at a specific time during the day and then you stop eating eight hours after you start and then you go 16 hours without eating and then you eat again.
When you get going on your ketogenic journey, you’re going to find that you’re just naturally not as hungry and a lot of times we’re not as hungry in the morning. So you can use that to your benefit to follow an intermittent fasting type of lifestyle.
We don’t recommend you start intermittent fasting this for at least two weeks into the your keto diet and to your keto lifestyle (and remember, it’s entirely optional).
If you decide to fast, how strict should you be? Some people can be very strict – only drinking water. Others will drink tea or coffee. Others still will consider anything less than 50 calories during the fasting period is still considered fasting. It’s up to you.
Don’t be a slave to fasting
Anyone can do intermittent fasting. You just have to follow your body and see what works for you. Don’t force yourself to intermittent fast if you don’t want to. If you’re hungry, just eat. Listen to your body. And remember, you don’t have to fast if you don’t want to. It’s good if you can do it every now and then but don’t worry if you don’t. You will still enjoy all the benefits of the keto diet. Intermittent fasting is just for those who want to be more disciplined in their eating (or their life); break the grip food has on them; want to see results quicker; or who just think, “Why eat if I’m not hungry?”
Now the other thing is some people intermittent fast every day. Some people do it three times a day. Some people only do it at the weekend. And some don’t do it at all! Whatever works best for you. And you don’t have to start fasting at any specific time. So long as you observe the 16:8 hours ratio.
If you are planning to do intermittent fasting, we suggest do it 2-4 weeks after you’ve been on the keto diet. It will be overwhelming otherwise.
One last thing, try to aim to have only two meals a day because the less you are snacking in between your meals, the better. We love to snack, right? Sometimes we snack because we’re bored, whatever. Don’t do it! Don’t snack!
Have your first large meal at 1pm – large because you don’t want to be hungry and tempted to snack in between your meals. Then have your evening meal at about 7pm if you’re stopping eating at 8pm. Then go the 16 hours again fasting. Make sure you’re getting enough electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium).
Now you know how to start the keto diet. There’s no rush, go at your own pace. You’ll get there in the end. Our advice – and hope – is that you make ketogenic eating a real lifestyle change, not just a temporary fad diet.