What is the Keto diet?
What is keto? Keto (which is short for “ketogenic”) is primarily based on eliminating all sugars, sugary ingredients, processed foods, and refined carbohydrates from your diet. Keto can be a long-term lifestyle change and not just a quick-fix diet. A lot of people do keto to lose weight. However, many people continue with a keto lifestyle long-term, because of the numerous health benefits. Especially those who are curing or controlling type 2 diabetes.
Keto is a Non-Restrictive Way of Eating
A keto diet is not as restrictive as some people believe – I haven’t found very many dishes that I can’t replicate with a “keto” version. Keto has helped me overcome sugar cravings and beat bad food habits. That’s one of the best things about following a keto and low-carb diet. Your whole outlook on food, plus your taste buds change so much, so it really can be life-changing.
Why Do So Many People Love Keto?
Keto is simply making small changes to the everyday foods on your plate. By reducing and changing the type of carbs you consume, you can effectively use fat stores to make energy. There is a biological process at the cellular level to this, but at its basics, that’s what happens. Even if you have very limited mobility, keto can work to help you lose excess pounds and achieve a healthy weight, without the need to exercise. So, if the gym is not your thing, keto definitely could be! It is all about the food on keto. Making the right choices, while enjoying what you eat.
“How can cutting out carbs result in weight loss and a smaller clothes size?”
So, What Is Keto & How Does Keto Work?
A traditional carbohydrate-filled diet means your body uses carbs as its primary source to make energy. Your body is constantly using energy to breathe, sit, sleep, stand, exercise, digest food, everything your body does, 24 hours a day… Your body breaks down carbs into glucose and when that is in your bloodstream, your pancreas makes insulin to deal with the glucose. Glucose is used to make energy. But, what does that have to do with weight loss and health?
The Fat Storage Hormone
Insulin is produced every time you eat so that your body can use glucose to create the energy you need. Insulin is often called the fat-storage hormone. It tells your body to use the carbs (glucose) and store everything else. When you reduce your carb intake, you lower your insulin levels.
Using Fat Stores
When you significantly lower your carb intake, your body needs to use another source to make enough fuel to function: Fat.
Instead of releasing insulin to deal with the glucose, your body, specifically your liver, starts to make things called ketones. And to make ketones, your liver uses your fat cells. And then those ketones signal our cells to start making the energy we need. So that’s what we call being in ketosis. Pretty much. That’s a very unscientific explanation! But, you get the idea? Everything is related to biological responses in our body, our hormones and our cells.
Following a keto diet can help you to LOSE body fat and help achieve your weight loss goals. Your body isn’t using as much glucose (carbs) and starts to use fat as the primary source to make energy.
Intermittent Fasting & Ketones
It is worth noting that as well as a lack of carbohydrates, fasting also causes your liver to create ketones. You don’t necessarily have to be following a keto diet in order to make ketones. Another thing worth noting is that it doesn’t matter how deep you are in ketosis, or how many ketones you make. There is no point in chasing those higher ranges of ketone production, it really doesn’t make a difference. As long as there are ketones sending signals to your cells to release energy, then it’s all good! Ketones are used as a direct source of energy for your brain, unlike the rest of your body. Our brains love ketones!
Getting into ketosis and losing stored body fat takes time and it varies from person to person so be patient! It does not happen overnight.
The keto lifestyle isn’t just for weight loss; it is designed for overall good physical and mental health & well-being too. Originally developed in the 1920s to help control epileptic seizures in children, it also helps control blood glucose levels in adults with diabetes. Some other positive benefits of keto can include:
- improved energy levels
- better more restful sleep
- improved mental clarity and focus (no more brain fog)
- better mood/emotional stability
- reversal of Type 2 Diabetes
- burning body fat
- maintaining muscle mass
- decreased hunger levels/stable appetite
- decreased cravings
Read my blog, 15 Benefits of Keto, for more information on the benefits of keto.
That’s about it really – Your body uses fat as part of the process to release the energy you need to live (both dietary fat AND body fat). Just remember this though – A keto diet is not an excuse to eat fat in abundance. A healthy balanced keto diet is the way to make this a healthy, long-term lifestyle.
How To Guide – The Basics
To start with, avoid:
- Sugar (the obvious one) and sugary foods like honey, syrup, and fructose (there are around 65 various names for sugar!)
- Other carbohydrates like bread, wraps, muffins, panini’s, seeded loaves, pasta, rice, grains, whole grains, potatoes & other starchy vegetables, and anything made from wheat-based flour.
- Anything made with corn, especially high fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners (very few sweeteners do not actually impact your blood sugars, but there are a few suitable for keto which doesn’t impact them).
- Legumes, so that’s chickpeas, beans of all kinds (pinto, kidney etc), peanuts (no they are not actually nuts, they are legumes… BUT some people eat peanut butter and peanuts)
- Most fruits: Fruit = Fructose = Sugars. 1 apple could put you over your carb allowance for the entire day and stop ketosis. It’s all about the carbs and sugars. Berries, for example, are good low-carb fruit, but in limited amounts. These are all things you will learn about as you go along.
What are the types of keto?
There are really only 2 different approaches to keto when you look at it – and it depends on what type of food you choose to include in your keto diet. You can follow clean keto, or what has affectionately become known as “dirty” keto. And, believe it or not, both can help you lose weight. And you can mix it up and do a bit of both.
Clean Keto? Or Dirty Keto? Maybe Lazy Keto?
Clean, or strict keto, eliminates all the bad foods, with no exceptions – No sugar, no refined, starchy carbohydrates, no processed meats, no sweeteners, and no diet drinks. It is a very “clean” way of eating. Plus most people track all food and drink intake on a diet app of some sort – protein, fats, & carbs.
Dirty keto means all of the above and you might still track everything, but you do consume some of the foods and drinks that a clean keto diet does not allow. For example, things like processed meats, possibly whole milk, peanuts, diet drinks, and sweeteners. You might also include snack bars that are suitable for keto and even shakes. That type of thing. You will still limit your carbs in the exact same way.
Are you lazy? No! What this means is you don’t bother to track your food intake. You will still keep an eye on your carbs and limit that, but you don’t bother tracking your food or pay much attention to macros. It is a great approach if you are aware of portion sizes and if you make sure you eat sufficient amounts of protein.
Eye Balling Food Portions
If you are new to any of this, I don’t recommend eye-balling your portions, especially when weight loss is your goal. I have said this before, keto is not an excuse to eat copious amounts of fat, you don’t need to and it is not required to get into ketosis. So tracking your food is a good tool to use to learn about portion sizes, and how much of each macro is on your plate.
But do they all work? Yes! Each approach has its own pros and cons, but it is up to the individual to find the method that suits their overall lifestyle the best. Keto is NOT the same as a low-carb diet. Keto does eliminate certain things completely, rather than just limiting them to smaller amounts. For example, you can’t include bread in very small doses, just because it fits in with your carb allowance for the day.
If you find it too restrictive, then a low-carb diet might suit you better.
The Protein Myth
Another thing worth mentioning is that I do not agree with the school of thought that limits protein on keto. The old phrase, high fat/moderate protein/low carb is misleading. You should not be reducing or limiting your protein intake, in fact, I believe you should be prioritising your protein over fat. Especially, as we age, we need more protein in our daily diets, and that is something most people do not realise. And if anyone tells you that if you eat too much protein it will turn into sugar, they don’t understand how their body works at all.
Gluconeogenesis is a process that is going to happen anyway, and it does not prevent you from being in ketosis. Plus, you’re not going to be eating your entire body weight in meat, are you?! Let’s be realistic here.
The only thing that will affect ketosis, is carbohydrates. End of story. So if you want to eat that huge steak, eat it! (Source)
What happens when I start keto?
When you significantly reduce your carb intake, a lot of stored water is lost. All that bloat and puffiness goes. Carbohydrates need water to do their job. Fewer carbs going in means there’s no need for your body to retain so much water anymore.
This means you might pee a lot and more often.
There, I said it.
Sometimes you can feel like you are never off the loo. Maybe you might sweat a bit more too. Occasionally, you might get the runs (not nice) but you have just switched off your main source of energy and your body needs to accommodate for it. Your body needs to get used to that and there is an adjustment period. It does settle down. It’s a symptom of “keto flu” – a common occurrence in the first few weeks while your body adapts.
Water, water, everywhere
Losing water weight is a relatively fast process, losing body fat takes much longer. Most people see quite significant losses on the scales on keto in the first few weeks, then it slows down. That is normal. Weight loss is not a linear process – it does not just go straight down. Sometimes it goes back up, so do not be alarmed or put off by this. If it concerns you, then put your scales away and ignore them for a month. Weekly weigh in’s are probably one of the worst things you can do, they can demoralise and they don’t even give you an accurate picture of your fat loss journey.
Weight goes up… Weight goes down
If you are going to weigh yourself, expect to see fluctuations and do not be disheartened about it. Fat loss is a funny thing on keto, you might see visible changes, for instance, your clothes might feel looser, your waistband may not feel as tight, and belt holes move. But the scales seem to stay around the same number for while.
Fun fact, while I’m on the subject: Fat cells break down to about 20% water, and 80% carbon dioxide so if you think about really, you are breathing out most of your body fat! Sort of… 😉
How long does it all take?
It can take 4 to 12 weeks on a keto diet for most people to see significant changes in their body shape and size. Depending on your starting point, and overall general health. Some people can see up to a stone (14lbs) lost on the scales within the first 2 weeks. And some people might see 2 or 3 lbs. Remember a lot of that is excess water and gut bacteria – FAT LOSS TAKES TIME.
Getting started on keto
Don’t feel overwhelmed, it can be simple to get started.
- Clean out your fridge and cupboards – it can be easy to slip back into old habits so get rid of the tempting foods – this will make it easier to resist any initial sugar cravings (cravings do pass and decrease the longer you are in ketosis).
- Drink more water – on keto is it important to do that. Stay hydrated, you might pee a lot and this is normal. It takes a few weeks for your body to re-adjust but it will settle down.
- Get your electrolytes sorted out – Read more about them in my blog.
Other things you can do, but aren’t strictly necessary…
- Track your food with a notepad and pen, or a food diary app (I use MyFitnessPal, the free version, and although this is a calorie-focused app, it does the job of tracking your macros as well and it’s simple to set up). You should at least count your carbs (I recommend a max of 20g net carbs per day for fat loss).
- Read the labels on your food to establish how much you are eating. Weighing and measuring your food helps you to get this right when you first start.
The Keto Basics
How many carbs? 20 grams to 50 grams of Net carbs, or less, for optimal nutritional ketosis and fat loss results.
Proteins & Fat allowances? You should get your own personal “macros” calculated (calories, carbs, protein & fat amounts) based on your age, height, weight, current body fat %, and activity level: There are numerous online calculators that do this for you. I use this calculator for weight loss and maintenance – Maria Emmerich.
And I have also used this calculator previously with good results as well – Ruled Me. Note that this calculator gives you a higher fat allowance – but you do not need to use it all.
A good rule of thumb is to have your fat allowance around the same, or slightly lower than, your protein when weight loss is your goal. I had the most success losing weight like this.