The keto diet and intermittent fasting: how to start
The keto diet and intermittent fasting are a powerful combination for improving your health. We’re not just talking about weight-loss although, of course, that’s a big reason why people start keto – but also the numerous health benefits from adopting a keto diet.
The average non-keto person will like have breakfast, lunch and dinner with snacks in between each. They’re basically grazing all day. We’ve all been there and so we are familiar with the side effects of eating like this:
- Feeling tired/sleepy after eating
- Gaining belly fat
- Carb/sugar cravings
- And some may also experience high blood pressure, diabetes, anxiety and depression.
These side effects all have one something in common – they are either the result – or the cause – of high insulin (creating a vicious cycle). Excess belly fat/body weight, a high-carb, high-sugar diet and lack of sleep (made worse by anxiety/depression) can contribute to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance occurs when excess glucose in the blood reduces the ability of the cells to absorb and use blood sugar for energy. This increases the risk of developing prediabetes, and eventually, type 2 diabetes.
The keto diet and intermittent fasting: a perfect match
We can fix the problem of insulin resistance and elevated insulin levels through the keto diet. And while you can lower insulin with just the keto diet alone, many people combine ketogenic eating with intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting (IF) is an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. Intermittent fasting doesn’t specify which foods you should eat (but since we’re doing keto, we’ll stick with keto) but rather when you should eat. In this respect, it’s not a diet in the conventional sense but more accurately described as an eating pattern.
Common intermittent fasting methods involve daily 16-hour fasts (known as 16:8) or fasting for 24 hours, twice per week (known as 5:2).
Fasting has been a practice throughout human evolution. Ancient hunter-gatherers didn’t have supermarkets, refrigerators or food available year-round. Sometimes they couldn’t find anything to eat. As a result, humans evolved to be able to function without food for extended periods of time. In fact, fasting from time to time is more natural than always eating 3–4 (or more) meals per day.
Keto diet and intermittent fasting combats high insulin levels
We’ve seen above the problems that can arise from having high insulin levels. A ketogenic diet will lower the carbs and sugar and that will reduce the insulin level in your body. Keto alone is perfectly capable of lowering your insulin but when you combine it with intermittent fasting, you have a powerful combination that produces very quick results.
Intermittent fasting works because you’re eating less frequently. (You still eat the same amount, you’re just eating less often). Why does this matter? Because every time you eat, you trigger the release of insulin. So, by (a) reducing carbs and sugar, and (b) eating less frequently, you really drive insulin down and that will start eliminating many of the symptoms above.
Starting intermittent fasting on the keto diet
While you can jump in at the deep-end and start fasting immediately (say 16:8 – fasting for 16 hours, having a non-fasting window of 8 hours), you may find it easier if you change your eating habits gradually.
Keto diet and intermittent fasting #1: Stop snacking
The first thing you can do is to quit snacking. Just have three meals a day. You will immediately notice some changes. Day 1-3, you will typically feel some symptoms of low blood sugar and that would be light-headedness, hunger, Cravings maybe a headache. Realise this is temporary. If you give up right here, you can lose the benefits of all the great things down the road.
So just realise it’s going to happen and just hang in there. Ensure you stay hydrated and – importantly – your electrolytes (potassium, magnesium and sodium) and B vitamins stay topped up, will make the process much smoother. Potassium is important to help reverse insulin resistance and to counter constipation which you may experience when you first start the keto diet (and try changing the vegetables you’re eating). Also, make sure you’re consuming about a teaspoon of sea salt (not table salt) every day. Sodium helps with fatigue.
Now this is rare but some people might experience higher levels of uric acid and notice a little pain in their lower back. This is easily countered by having some lemon juice in your water.
Keto diet and intermittent fasting #2: Start to increase your fat intake
Fats play a key role in the keto diet because they are the fuel source that will eventually replace sugar but also because they help satiate hunger. You want to eat just enough fat to keep you satisfied as you go from meal to meal, without snacking.
Unlike many, unsustainable diets where you’re just constantly hungry, keto will satisfy you but only if you keep your intake of healthy fats high.
Remember, the whole goal is to accustom your body to go from burning sugar for fuel to burning fat (ketones). This is called keto adaptation and it’s the whole point of the keto diet.
Keto diet and intermittent fasting #3: Start having breakfast later and later
When you wake up, ask yourself “Do I really need to eat right now?” You may be slightly hungry but do you need to eat this instant? If you can hold off for a while longer, do so. Keep pushing breakfast time back. The goal is to push breakfast back far enough that it’s basically lunch time, i.e. you’re now down to only eating two meals a day, not three. (You can immediately see – before the benefits of the keto diet itself has kicked in – you’ve already cut back on your meals and that will help with weight loss and insulin resistance). Don’t eat if you’re not hungry!
#4. Don’t track weight loss
Weight is a lousy indicator of progress. It’s only natural that most people judge their progress – or lack of – through how much weight they lose. What you will often find is that as you start keto you will notice dramatic weight loss early on. It’s exciting and life is good. However, fast forward a few weeks and some people may find that the weight loss slows and they lose motivation. They think keto has “stopped working”. It hasn’t, they’re just using the wrong measure.
Weight is not a good measure because a lot of people who start a keto diet are overweight, they’re loaded with fat and have relatively little muscle density. As you shed fat and, combined with an exercise routine (even a moderate one), you will start to gain heavier, denser muscle. So your weight loss slows – you may even put on weight – but it’s actually lean muscle you’re putting on.
Instead of tracking your weight, you should track your body measurements: in particular your waist (measure across your belly button), chest (across the nipples), both biceps, both thighs and hips (where your trousers naturally sit) – these are a better indicator of success.
#5. You don’t need to stockpile calories
There’s no need to store calories. You may think that because you’re going from three meals to two, you might get hungry and so you’ll be tempted to eat more to stock up. You really don’t need to do this and it’s a trick of the mind. You’ll find two things: (1) if you can ride out the initial hunger pangs for 10-20 minutes, they will disappear, and (2) you will find that even though you may be hungry, when given the opportunity you will just eat until you’re full and you’ll feel back to normal. There’s really no need to gorge.
#6. Don’t let a bad day make you quit
If you fall off the wagon, just get back on. You may have an off day and find you eat too many carbs or whatever and find you’re out of ketosis. Just chalk it up to experience and get back on track. Don’t give up just because you had a bad day. If you quit, you will be back to where you were, trying other diets that didn’t work for you and being miserable a few weeks down the line. Aim for progress, not perfection. You may have a few false starts and stumbles along the way. No big deal. Just get back on your horse and try again.
#7. When you eat, eat
Make your meals nutrient-dense. When you do eat, make sure you’re eating real food, high in healthy fats and moderate protein. Eat enough to be full – don’t under-eat, don’t over-eat.
You’re not actually doing a low-calorie diet. You’re eating less, but you’re keeping your calories high (by consuming more fat).
#8. Expect an increase in cholesterol
Higher cholesterol on the keto diet is nothing to worry about. It’s fair to say that fat is widely misunderstood. Fat is composed of triglycerides and cholesterol. So, yes, as you increase the fat in your diet, your cholesterol may rise temporarily. But only approximately 10% of the cholesterol in your body comes from your diet – the rest is made by your body.
So, if you eat more fat (cholesterol), your body makes less. If you eat less, your body makes more.
Your body makes about 3,000mg of cholesterol daily. Cholesterol is needed to make hormones (especially testosterone) and for nerve, eye and brain health. It also helps with healing arteries. (This is perhaps where cholesterol got such a bad reputation. Post mortems of people who died from cardiovascular disease showed cholesterol in their arteries and so cholesterol was deemed the cause. The fact is, cholesterol accumulates in the arteries in an attempt to repair arterial damage. Cholesterol is the good guy but gets the blame!)
#9. Cleansing the body through autophagy
If you can manage it, 18-22 hours intermittent fasting is where you start to burn some serious fat. Your body enters a process called autophagy. Autophagy (“auto” means self and “phagy”, i.e. “self-eating”) is the body’s way of cleaning out damaged cells, in order to regenerate newer, healthier cells. Your body also starts to clear out bacteria, fungus, candida and mould – it’s going into self-cleaning mode. If you can do it, try to reach this stage twice a week.
Your skin is going to start looking better; your mood will improve; your cognitive function will improve and your cardiovascular function will be much better. All-in-all, you will be in much better shape than the high-carb, high-sugar, three-meals-a-day eating regime you’re use to.
#10. From here, one meal a day is actually quite easy
As you go from three meals a day to two, you will find that some days you will even have just one meal a day. And often this won’t even be a conscious effort – the 16:8 fasting window just works out that way. You will find more often than not you’re having one main meal and maybe a light snack then it’s time to fast again. After a couple of weeks, it just becomes natural.
There is actually a very light, positive feeling to eating like this. You can feel yourself getting healthier. And keto combined with this intermittent fasting can actually be quite fun, believe it or not. You can see and feel the progress you’re making and you just feel so much better now that you’re not drowning in carbs and sugar!
SIMPLY FOLLOW THIS PLAN AND YOU WILL SUCCEED!
The 28-Day Keto Challenge is a well-crafted plan that gets you through your first month. You’re never left to figure things out on your own. Nothing is left to chance. This 28-Day Meal Plan guides you every step of the way! And it’s more than a plan. It’s also a challenge. It’s designed to stretch you and see what you’re made of. With our help, you will be unstoppable!