What to expect on a ketogenic diet
If you’re considering a ketogenic diet, you’ve likely decided that it's time to make some major changes to improve your health. Food is a very personal and emotional thing for many people, so being willing to change how you eat is a big first step! Whether you want to lose weight, increase your energy, get rid of the brain fog, or generally feel awesome, going ketogenic will most likely help you get there.*
Keto people are die-hard enthusiasts, and if you decide to join the tribe, you’ll soon find out why! But first, if you’re not sure what a ketogenic diet is or how it can benefit you, learn the basics here:
10 things to expect on a ketogenic diet
If you’ve decided you want to try a ketogenic diet, the following are some important points to keep in mind before you get started. Take some time to familiarize yourself with common challenges so that you’ll know what to expect and be able to give yourself the best chance for success during the adaptation period.
- During the induction phase, plan to eat around 20 grams of carbohydrates per day. Your meals should consist of high-quality proteins, fats, and leafy greens or green vegetables. See the keto foods list for good sources of all of these. You can use an online calculator to determine your exact carbohydrate goal, but 20 grams is a good baseline (mine was 25, but I was usually closer to 20).
- It’s net carbs that matter. What are net carbs? Net carbs are your total carbs minus the fiber and any sugar alcohols. Calculating net carbs is easy: most food labels list total carbohydrates with fiber right underneath. If you’re tracking your macros with an app that doesn’t calculate net carbs for you, you’ll need to keep this in mind when looking at your daily totals. You can also refer to the keto foods list when planning meals.
- Give yourself at least a month to become fat adapted. You may get into ketosis fairly quickly, but this is just the beginning. You’re training your body to switch from using its accustomed energy source (glucose) and completely changing the way it uses and stores energy. This takes time. Be patient.
- You may feel sick. Your body may experience symptoms of carbohydrate withdrawal, including dizziness, weakness, fatigue, nausea, and generally feeling crappy. Don’t give up! For most people, these “keto flu” symptoms subside after a few days, and you’ll come out on the other side feeling much better.
- You may also get keto diarrhea. This can happen if your body isn’t used to digesting all of the fat. I didn’t experience anything too severe, but I have heard others say that you should never trust a keto adaptation fart. Consider yourself warned. Like the keto flu, this typically improves after a few days.
- You’ll likely notice changes gradually. For me, some of the first things I noticed were that my appetite decreased and my sinuses started clearing up. It took a few more weeks to really experience the increased energy and mental clarity that are hallmarks of the keto diet.
- You will lose water weight in the beginning. Don’t be surprised if you experience rapid weight loss the first couple of weeks. While this is bound to be exciting if weight loss is your goal, keep in mind that losing actual fat takes time. You can expect to lose about 1-2 pounds of fat per week. Also, if you start eating carbs again, you’ll gain the water weight back, so it’s best to approach keto as a lifestyle rather than a temporary weight-loss solution.
- You will need to drink a lot of water. You’ll also pee more than usual. Not just because you’re drinking a lot of water, but because you’re losing water weight. Just plan on drinking water all the time. If you think you’ve had enough water, drink some more.
- You will need to replenish your electrolytes. It’s a good idea to take magnesium and potassium supplements. You can also use a lot of salt on your food. When you’re keto adapted, your body won’t retain salt like it used to, so don’t be afraid to salt your food! You can also drink chicken broth or bone broth (or even pickle juice) to help supply your body with electrolytes.
- Not everyone will be supportive. Some people may try to tell you that being in ketosis for a long period of time is dangerous (it’s not) or that you need carbs for energy (you don’t). Don’t let them sway you. There is plenty of scientific evidence that supports the benefits and safety of a low-carb diet. (For an in-depth explanation, I recommend The Art and Science of Low-Carbohydrate Living by Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney.) It may be wise to share your new diet with only a few trusted individuals at first. Let your results speak for themselves.
If that seems like a lot to process, don’t worry. It will all make sense as you get accustomed to it. Eat healthy meals, drink lots of water, and keep your net carbs low. In the beginning, I recommend keeping meals simple. Don’t worry yet about everything that you can and can’t eat. Pick a few favorites, or follow the meal plan in my 5-Day Keto Start Guide. Get yourself fat adapted, and then you can have fun experimenting with different low-carb recipes.
*I say “most likely” because there is no one diet that works for everyone. Forty-five percent of white Americans are genetically predisposed to benefit from a low-carb diet, while 39 percent do better on a low-fat diet, and the rest fall somewhere in the middle. Listen to your body and do what’s best for you.