The Keto diet has been talked about a lot recently. Short for Ketogenic, the Keto diet is a concept of eating high fat, low carb, and moderate protein. This nutrition method is not new – even though it seems like the most recent fad. It has actually been around since the 1920’s. It was created by researchers working at John Hopkins Medical Center to successfully treat epileptic patients. Once pharmaceutical drugs for epilepsy came to market, the Keto diet was all but forgotten. It was pushed even further from mind in the 80’s when the fat free craze hit.
Fat, protein and carbohydrates are the only three macronutrients (macros) that exist. For macro, think big. These are large particles and they contain calories. On the flip side, micronutrients (micros) are small. They are things like vitamins and minerals and
do not contain calories.
When adopting a nutrition method that focuses on macros, like the Keto diet, it is important to have an understanding of these macros and how they affect your body. Carbs will spike insulin and ghrelin, making your blood sugar unstable and resulting in greater feelings of hunger more often. It’s why you can eat a carb heavy meal and feel hungry an hour later! It’s also what creates the greatest amount of body fat retention. Protein doesn’t spike insulin as much as carbs, however it is important to note that your body can only use so much protein and the rest is also stored as body fat just like too many carbs. Fat is the only macro that does not affect blood sugar, and in fact helps maintain a healthy even blood sugar level.
The Keto diet is unique because it does not rely on strictly counting calories, extreme exercise, or requiring lots of willpower! Instead, it works because it actually changes the fuel source your body uses for its primary energy. Typically, most Americans have a body that is conditioned to run off of glucose (sugar) for energy. Our Standard American Diet (SAD) is high in processed carbohydrates and high in added sugar, so we are sugar-burners. With the Keto diet, we retrain our body and condition it to instead become a fat-burner by burning dietary fat and eventually body fat for energy once a state of ketosis is reached.
In the absence of glucose, which is normally used by cells as a quick source of energy, the body starts to burn fat and produces ketones instead. Once ketone levels in the blood rise to a certain point, you enter into a state of ketosis — which usually results in quick and consistent weight loss until you reach a healthy, stable body weight.
There are actually several health benefits, both mentally and physically to practicing a ketogenic nutrition method. In fact, research is showing this approach to be highly effective in treating and preventing many major illnesses and diseases such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, PCOS, and even cancers. Additionally, it is proven to slow signs of aging and results in healthy hair, skin, and nails.
So how does one begin a Keto lifestyle? First, always check with your doctor before beginning any drastic nutrition or exercise changes. After that, I always recommend my clients ease into it. Start off by doing a week or two of clean eating – basically reducing highly processed packaged foods in favor of more natural whole food. Eliminate fast food, fried food and junk food, along with beverages like soda, juices, and even sports drinks. During this time get into the habit of tracking your food. I personally use My Fitness Pal for this. Keeping a log of your food will help you really see what you are consuming so you can be more aware of it!
From there the next step would be to start working on your macros. In My Fitness Pal you can change the view so you can see a pie chart with the percentages of macros you consume for the day. To work towards a Keto lifestyle, you want to aim for 70% fat, 20% protein, and 10% carbs. I do not recommend counting grams, as that can be much more overwhelming and difficult to stick to long term for most people, whereas the percentage method allows for more flexibility while still getting amazing results!
This means that 70% of the total daily calories you consume are coming from healthy fat sources like nuts, eggs, coconut oil, and even dairy. Then, 20% of your calories are coming from good protein sources like chicken, beef, and seafood. And 10% would come from carbs, usually vegetables. Keep in mind that many food items will contain a combination of macros, so entering them into My Fitness Pal is helpful to see how a food item is affecting your percentages overall. A good illustration of this is eggs. An egg contains around 62% fat, 36% protein, and 2% carbs, therefore affecting all three areas.
But remember, you are aiming for 70/20/10 for the day as a whole, not each meal. One meal may be higher in protein for example, which is fine. But you want to aim for these totals as a daily goal. I also caution you here – do not stress about this! There is no
such thing as perfection. This is simply a target to aim for. Get as close as you can, as often as you can, and you will be in a really good place for transitioning to fat burning.
I want to address a phenomenon commonly referred to as “The Keto Flu”. Maybe you have tried a Keto lifestyle and felt really sick so you assumed it wasn’t good for you and stopped. This is actually very common and very normal to experience! Your body will go through a sugar detox as you drastically reduce carbs, and that means you will likely feel sick for a period of time. The good news is its temporary! There are also ways you can help alleviate some of the symptoms.
What are the symptoms? Most commonly people will experience headaches, fatigue, lack of energy, muscle weakness or pains, poor sleep, constipation or diarrhea, nausea, brain fog, moodiness, shakiness, irritation, and even hot flashes. For most people these symptoms will last from 2 days up to 2 weeks. If it lasts longer you may want to evaluate if something else could be going on.
To help relieve symptoms you can transition more slowly, reducing carbs and increasing fats gradually over the course of a couple weeks. Or if you still want to jump all in, you can help by making sure to stay very hydrated (half your body weight in ounces of water per day minimum) and consume enough electrolytes by adding sodium, magnesium, and potassium to your water. I would also recommend reducing your exercise or even stopping completely temporarily while you transition.
Hopefully this helps you see how you can get started with trying the Keto diet if you feel it would be beneficial for you and your goals!
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