If you’ve been wondering, “what is keto?” then you’re in the right place! In this beginner’s guide, you’ll get all the info you need to learn about what is the keto diet plan and how to get started!
What is Keto?
Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past couple years, you’ve likely heard buzz about the keto diet.
Fans of keto rave about it’s supposed benefits: weight loss, diabetes control, lower risk of chronic disease, mental clarity, and boundless energy.
But perhaps you’re still wondering, “what IS keto?”
What is Ketosis and How it Works
In simple terms, the keto diet is a low-carb, moderate-protein, and high-fat eating plan.
On a normal Western diet, the body takes the carbohydrates and sugars that you eat and turns them into glucose, which it then uses for energy.
However, when you limit your carbohydrate intake, as on a ketogenic diet, your body will start to run out of its normal fuel source (glucose). Instead, your body will start to break down fat into molecules called ketones, and uses those as its new energy source.
This metabolic state where the body burns fat for energy is known as ketosis, and often results in drastic weight loss. That’s because the body is burning fat more rapidly!
It usually takes about 2-4 days before your body enters ketosis. However, everyone is different, and for some it may take up to a week or so.
If you’ve already done your research and want to give the ketogenic diet a try, you probably have questions about where and how to start. To help you out, below is a quick and easy step-by-step guide covering all the essentials of low-carb eating.
I’ll also fill you in on my own experience and if keto really works!
Starting the Keto Diet
If you’ve been thinking about starting the keto diet, here are five important things to know first:
1. How to Calculate Keto Macros
The cornerstone of the keto diet is its macronutrient ratio, i.e. the balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
Keto macros are generally broken up into the following percentages:
- 70-80% of calories from fat
- 20-25% of calories from protein
- 5-10% of calories from carbs
However, it’s important to think of these numbers as simply guidelines, or estimates to put you on the right track. Some people can eat more carbs and be successful, while others need to keep their carb intake to a minimum.
Your personal keto macros ratio will depend on your age, sex, activity levels, and overall health.
To calculate your keto macros, it’s helpful to use a keto diet calculator, which you can find online and as a feature of many keto diet apps.
Maintaining the proper ratio of macros is important in order to start and stay in ketosis , which is a metabolic state of enhanced fat burning — and the primary goal of keto.
Related: How many carbs can you eat on keto?
2. What Foods You Can Eat on Keto
On a keto diet, you can enjoy a variety of different foods, though there are a few you’ll want to skip. Knowing what foods are ideal will help you eat within your keto macros and stay well-nourished at the same time.
Foods encouraged on a keto diet include:
- Most oils
- Fatty cuts of meat
- Full-fat dairy
- Oily fish
- Nuts and seeds
- Most vegetables, especially leafy greens and those lower in carbs
- Nut milks (unsweetened)
- Low-carb sweeteners
Foods to avoid on keto include:
- Cereal grains
- Pasta and bread
- Starchy vegetables
- Most fruit
- Dairy milk
TIP: Keep in mind that this is not an all-inclusive list — click here to learn more about the foods you can eat on the keto diet.
Another important thing to remember is that there are no “bad” foods. Of course, like any eating plan, you’ll want to stay away from sugar and junk food.
However, the main thing to watch out for on the keto diet is staying within your daily carb allowance. This is generally between 30-50 grams per day for most people.
For example, potatoes aren’t a “bad” food, but at over 30 grams of carbs each, they’ll eat up a huge chunk of your daily carbs. That’s why starchy, high carb vegetables and fruits are usually avoided in order to stay in ketosis.
One more thing: You might see memes online or hear people talking about only eating meat and cheese. However, eating a variety of foods is critical to help you get all the vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber you need to stay healthy. So be sure to branch out and try more than just meat and cheese!
3. Starting the Keto Diet — Why Meal Planning is Key
Once you know your keto macros and which foods can help you meet them, it’s time to jump right in and get started!
TIP: Before you start the keto diet, you may consider to downloading helpful apps such as MyFitnessPal or KetoDiet. These will assist you in tracking your keto macros intake, among other features.
When you’re looking into how to start keto diet, we recommend creating a meal plan for each week. Meal planning ensures that you know what you’re eating each day, so you’re less likely to give into temptation or grab cheat food when you’re in a hurry and hungry. Meal planning saves money too! Need a boost with your meal planning? Check out my Ultimate Meal Planner Bundle and get your new keto meal plan on the right track today!
Another benefit to making your own meals is that restaurant and ready-made meals are rarely keto-friendly. So, when starting the keto diet, stick to homemade for the best results!
3-Day Sample Keto Meal Plan
To help you get an idea of what keto-friendly meals look like, here’s a 3-day meal plan sample:
- Breakfast: Keto Egg & Sausage Cups
- Lunch: Keto Egg Salad Wraps
- Dinner: Walnut Crusted Salmon with Broccoli
- Breakfast: Peanut Butter Low Carb Protein Balls
- Lunch: Cheese roll-ups and chai latte
- Dinner: Oven Baked Chicken with Cauliflower Rice
4. How to Avoid the “Keto Flu”
Drastically cutting carbohydrate intake can be a shock to the body. That’s why it’s often recommended to slowly transition into the keto diet.
Many dieters tend to go through what is popularly termed “the keto flu.” It’s essentially a range of flu-like symptoms that happens within the first two weeks of the keto diet.
Experts believe the keto flu is a result of fluid and electrolyte imbalances , which happen when your body is weaning off carbs.
Symptoms of the keto flu include:
- Brain fog
- Muscle cramps
Luckily, the keto flu goes away on its own after a couple days. However, it’s no fun at all while you’re in it!
The following preventative measures can help lessen “keto flu” symptoms:
- Consuming 3-5g of sodium, 3-4g of potassium, and 400mg of magnesium daily .
- Staying hydrated by drinking water, eating soup, enjoying smoothies, and consuming water-rich vegetables like cucumbers.
- Taking an Aspirin or other mild painkillers to manage headaches.
- Taking melatonin supplements to sleep better.
- Taking MCT oil, which is proven to increase ketone production and reduce keto flu .
Other temporary side effects of keto:
- “Keto Breath” — A strong, fruity smelling breath that’s a result of acetone (a type of ketone) leaving your body through the lungs. Like the keto flu, keto breath tends to disappear once your body becomes used to the diet. In the meantime, you can mask it with sugar free gum or breath mints.
- “Keto Rash” — A red, itchy rash that appears on areas where you tend to sweat the most, like your face, back, and chest. The keto rash is believed to be a result of ketones exiting through sweat and irritating the skin, however, it is relatively uncommon in most dieters .
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, take them as good signs that you’re in ketosis and your diet is working. However, if you don’t experience any of these side effects, you may still be in ketosis (and just lucky!) Keto test strips are a helpful tools to make sure you truly are in ketosis.
5. Learn How to Maximize Your Results
Many keto dieters end up adjusting their diet to meet their own specific goals, needs, and limitations. Once you’ve become familiarized with the ketogenic diet and its effects on your body, you’ll have the knowledge and confidence to do some tweaking like:
- Adjusting your macros — Athletes and fitness enthusiasts can often increase their carb intake to up to 100g per day without being kicked out of ketosis. Similarly, many learn how much protein and fat they should eat for optimal health and performance.
- Changing your diet — The keto diet is not one universal diet. You also have the cyclical keto diet, the targeted keto diet, modified Atkins, and so on. Which you choose is up to you since all have something good to offer.
- Adding keto supplements — MCT oil, collagen peptides, electrolyte supplements, fiber powders, exogenous ketones, and other keto supplements are not necessary for this diet to work. But many keto dieters find they make their low-carb journey easier.
- Fasting intermittently — Intermittent fasting (IF) is quite popular among keto dieters. This eating pattern involves skipping meals and eating within strict “feeding windows.” The reason it’s so popular is that it helps lower calorie intake and balance out blood sugar levels. IF is also linked to deeper ketosis and longevity. Click here to learn more about how to get started on intermittent fasting.
Note: You may have heard that keto is simply the Adkins diet, but repackaged and renamed. Check out keto vs. Atkins to see if this diet is best for you.
What is Keto? Final Thoughts and MY Experience…
If you have all the facts, delicious recipes, and the right guidance, going keto is a lot easier than you might expect!
My husband and I started the keto diet in January of 2019. At the time, I was still working on losing the almost 50 pounds I gained with my 3rd daughter (who was born 6 months prior).
My husband did not really have a lot of weight to lose, but he wanted to tone up and feel better in his clothes.
Our weight loss results after our first 2 weeks:
- Me: 10 pounds
- Husband: 20 pounds
Needless to say, we were very happy with our results! However, you may notice that like many diets, men tend to lose weight faster.
That’s why I recommend reading up about keto for women first, so you can avoid common setbacks and maximize your results.
Our weight loss results after 6 months:
After almost 6 months of keto (with a few cheat days here and there), I’m only 3 pounds away from my pre-baby weight and my husband is down 2 clothing sizes!
Because we are so close to our goal weights, we are not as strict as we were in the beginning. I find that a targeted keto diet works best for me, because I exercise almost every day. If I limit my carbs too much (less than 40-50 grams a day), I experience keto flu symptoms.
How I feel:
I love the way I feel because I rarely get that bloated feeling that you sometimes get after eating a big carb-heavy meal. No more “carb coma!”
Once you get past the first week, your cravings for sugar and carbs aren’t nearly as bad. Making keto-friendly desserts helped me a lot, especially in the evenings when my cravings were strongest. Here are a couple of my favorites:
Like I mentioned earlier, I do eat some carbs before a workout so I have enough energy. A handful of cashews or half an apple are my go-to pre-workout snacks.
Also, since I am near my goal weight, I am less strict than I was in the early days. This makes it easier to stick to the keto diet. Actually, I don’t consider it a “diet,” but rather a way of eating. I focus on eating a variety of real foods, and eating fewer empty carbs.