Do you want to lose weight fast, keep it off, and not feel hungry along the way? If so, then the keto diet and intermittent fasting might be for you!
After babies number four (currently 3 years old) and five (currently 18 months), I had put on quite a bit of weight, and I wasn’t able to get it off no matter what I tried. I got a gym membership, then a home membership, and started working out regularly, but it didn’t help me to lose weight. (*I did get noticeably stronger and got rid of my back pain though.)
I tried eating less and made lots of big salads, but I just felt hungry all of the time. It seemed like the only way I could lose weight was to starve myself. Then I discovered keto.
In just 2 months, I have lost 20 pounds (which is 10 pounds below my pre-pregnancy weight), and I have gone from wearing maternity and size 16 pants to fitting into my size 8 shorts that I haven’t been able to wear since before I got pregnant for Julian (baby #4). (*To clarify, the before picture is actually me 30 pounds heavier. It took me a year and a half to lose the first 10 pounds and only 2 months to lose the last 20! Also, because I have more energy and I’ve been more active, I’m sure I’ve gained plenty of muscle along the way.)
I never thought that losing weight could be this easy…and fun! I’m not hungry because my body has adapted to burning my stored fat for fuel, I get to eat amazingly satisfying meals, and seeing the scale go down just about every day is a huge motivator!
My husband has recently joined me on this keto journey, and he lost 14 pounds in one month! My mom is joining me as well and lost 4 inches off her waist in just a few weeks. We both talk about how we don’t feel like we’re trapped in our fat suits anymore. 🙂 It seems as though everyone I know is messaging me and joining me on this keto journey, and so even though I’m still aspiring to reach my goal weight, I have learned A LOT and wanted to share some tips and tricks for anyone looking to get started on the keto diet.
What is the Keto Diet?
A keto diet (short for ketogenic diet) is basically a diet low in carbs and high in fat with a moderate amount of protein. When you stop eating carbs, your body depletes it’s glycogen stores and goes into a state of ketosis where your liver converts stored fat into ketones that your body (including your brain) can use as fuel.
There are macro calculators out there that can help you to make sure you are getting the right macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) for your body type, but basically, you want to keep your carbs to less than 20 grams per day. Watch out that you don’t go on an all you can eat protein buffet either! When you eat too much protein, your body can convert it to glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis.
So basically, on the keto diet, you’re trying to eat as much fat as possible! This sounds great, but it can be a hard adjustment at first because you can have butter but no bread, cheese but no crackers, and eggs but no toast. Also, keep in mind that you want healthy fats (the more saturated the better) like coconut oil, butter, and ghee not the trans fats found in shortening and margarine or rancid vegetable oils that can lead to a fatty liver.
You can dive right into the keto diet, or you can enter it gradually. I have always struggled with hypoglycemia (where I get light headed, dizzy, and fatigued if my glycogen stores are depleted), so I gradually reduced my carbs over a period of several weeks.
Basically, I would go as long as I could without eating carbs, but if I started to get dizzy or lightheaded even after eating a fatty snack like a hard boiled egg or cheese stick, then I would eat an apple slice or one of my homemade sourdough muffins. After several weeks of doing this, I was eventually able to eliminate all carbs and cure myself from hypoglycemia.
I like how Mark Sisson describes how you can either be a sugar burner or fat adapted. If you’re fat adapted, then your body can easily switch to using stored fat for fuel, but if you’re a sugar burner, you’ll be hungry as soon as your carb heavy meal has been digested even if your body has extra stored fat that it could use as fuel. Being in a state of ketosis will help you to become fat adapted.
Another great resource is Dr. Berg. He has short informative videos on YouTube that can help you get started on the keto diet and answer all of your questions along the way. I like the way he explains how it’s insulin that’s making us fat. Insulin is needed to shuttle glucose into our cells and when insulin is present, the hormone sensitive lipase needed to break down stored fat for fuel is suppressed. So whenever insulin is present in our bloodstream (i.e. because we’ve consumed glucose), we cannot access our stored fat, and that is why we need to cut the carbs.
How to Know if You’re in Ketosis
You don’t have to be in ketosis to lose weight, but if you are you can lose weight very very quickly. There are also different stages of ketosis, so you could be in it a little bit, a moderate amount, or all the way.
You’ll know if you’re in ketosis if your weight starts to drop rapidly, but you could also purchase these strips to detect ketones in your urine. You may also detect a fruity smell in your breath (like overripe apples) due to the acetone which is a by-product when fatty acids are broken down for energy in the liver.
Another sign that you’re in ketosis is being crazy thirsty and having a dry pasty mouth. Especially at the beginning of a ketogenic diet, insulin levels drop, and the kidneys release their water stores. Once in ketosis, your insulin stores are not tapped into as often causing the body to release more fluids than it did before. Because of this, you’ll want to drink plenty of water, but I’m going to talk about that more in the section about avoiding the keto flu.
What to Avoid
The great thing about the ketogenic diet is that you don’t really need to add anything, you just need to take things away! Start by eliminating everything in your diet with sugar. Read labels and watch for hidden sugar in things like sauces and dressing. I didn’t realize how much sugar my kombucha had until I took it away and felt extremely hypoglycemic. Once I eliminated kombucha, my fat really started to melt away rapidly!
Natural sugars like honey and molasses need to be eliminated too. All grains including wheat and corn need to be eliminated. So no bread, no chips, no cookies, no tortilla wraps, no oats, and no cereal. Root vegetables like potatoes and carrots are high in carbohydrates and should be avoided as well. Check out what Dr. Berg has to say about vegetables here, but I eat vegetables low on the glycemic index liberally. The high fiber content of vegetables doesn’t cause your insulin levels to spike and you need the potassium and magnesium so you don’t get dehydrated.
Many fruits are high in carbs and need to be avoided, but avocados, olives, coconuts, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, tomatoes, and lemons are very low on the glycemic index and are okay to have in moderation.
Nuts are high in fat, but have carbohydrates in them too sadly. Macadamia nuts, pecans, and brazil nuts are at the lower end and you should really stay away from cashew and pistachio nuts, but I have decided not to mess around with nuts at all. Beans are another food that you might think would be good but are actually high in carbohydrates.
As far as alcohol goes, you want to avoid beer and sweet wine. Dry wine only has about 2-3 grams of carbohydrates so you could have a glass or two of that, but avoid sweet dessert wines. Spirits on their own have no carbohydrates, but watch that the mixer doesn’t have any sugar. We enjoy drinking spiked sodas like White Claw or Truly that have only 1-2 grams of carbohydrates and 100 calories per can. Dr. Berg explains how alcohol kills liver cells, can lead to a fatty liver, depletes b vitamins, dehydrates, and blocks fat burning for several days. So technically, you really shouldn’t drink while on the keto diet. I have so far and lost the weight, but if I hit a plateau, I will probably cut it out.
You’ll probably make some mistakes at first and that’s okay. I’m constantly googling “how many grams of carbohydrates in _____” and learning more every day.
What to Eat
Learning how to cook keto meals and making sure you plan ahead is very important on the keto diet. Every day, I go to Pinterest and pin keto meals that I would like to try. Some people like finding keto substitutes for their favorite meals and desserts, but I prefer to not remind myself of those things and just avoid them all together. I have found that by avoiding sugar and carbohydrates, I have completely gotten rid of my sweet tooth. Eating something sugary actually sounds gross to me now.
Trying to eat as much fat as you can seems enjoyable, but it’s hard to grasp how to make that happen at first. I basically think of meal planning as tons of vegetables, some protein (the fattier the better), and as much fat as possible. Good sources of fat are cheese, butter, coconut oil, heavy whipping cream, sour cream, olive oil, and so on.
I’ll talk more about grocery shopping and meal ideas in a minute, but first we need to talk about the most important part of this whole diet. The Diet Doctor has some great visual articles about what to eat and not to eat.
The beautiful thing about being in ketosis is that you can go longer without food because your body is using it’s own fat for fuel. To see rapid weight loss, I highly recommend eating only during a certain window of time. My husband and I stop eating at about 7 pm and then try to go as long as we can before eating the next day. At first, it was hard to skip breakfast and we would be starving by about 10 am. But now, we don’t even feel hungry until about noon.
At noon, we’ll break our fast with a good meal, have some snacks or our next meal about 4-6 hours later, and that’s it. So basically, we only eat two meals a day.
It feels kind of weird to not eat so much food, and sometimes I just honestly miss eating. But our grocery bill has gone down because we don’t need as much food and we have more time during the day for other things since we’re not preparing and eating food as often. I highly recommend watching Dr. Berg’s video about intermittent fasting. He explains how to gradually get into it over a period of time.
Eat When You’re Hungry
The important thing to remember is that you’re not starving yourself. You have to get really in tune with your hunger cues and eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. Don’t eat because the clock is telling you to eat. Don’t eat because someone left food on the table. Don’t eat because other people around you are eating. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full…it’s that simple. *When you have stored fat to use for fuel and you still feel starving in between meals or shortly after eating or when you keep eating and eating not noticing when you are full, that is because of leptin resistance and going on a keto diet will help to fix that.
Fat is far more dense than carbohydrates, so you’ll need to eat far less by volume in order to feel full. And keep in mind that you are eating fat to train your body to burn fat for fuel. If you are doing the keto diet to lose weight, then you want your body to use your stored fat for fuel. So try to eat as little as possible and let your body burn that stored fat. Dr. Berg has a great video that explains how much fat you should be eating here.
One of the main things I have learned on this diet is how much I would snack all day even when I wasn’t hungry. Part of this is because I’m feeding five growing children and they seem to eat non stop all day. So I would have a bite of their pancakes, eat the rest of their eggs, a nibble here, and bite there, and I honestly had no idea how much I was even eating in a day.
Now, I just have a rule that I don’t snack. I’ll have a cup of coffee in the morning with heavy whipping cream (no carbs), drink a cup of Echinacea Immune Support tea, drink water with electrolytes, and then when I’m hungry, I’ll sit down and eat a really good satisfying meal.
Grocery Shopping and Meal Ideas
I’m not the type of person who plans weekly meals and then shops accordingly. I just make sure my fridge and freezer are stocked with plenty of really awesome nutrient dense foods. I try to buy grass fed, pastured, organic, raw, and local whenever I can, but I don’t stress about it if it’s not available or too expensive. I’m always trying to improve the quality of our food while keeping everything else in life in balance.
I like to make sure I always have ground beef, maybe a roast, chicken legs, thighs, breasts, a whole chicken, wild caught salmon, cod filets, pastured eggs, plenty of good fatty dairy like sharp shredded cheese, sour cream, heavy whipping cream, tons of fresh seasonal veggies like bell pepper, lettuce, celery, cucumber, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, zucchini, onions, and garlic. I also make sure I have plenty of butter, coconut oil, olive oil, mayonnaise, and avocado and use as much as I can whenever I can. For seasonings, I use tons of Real Salt (your body needs salt), garlic powder, onion powder, oregano powder, basil powder, cayenne powder, and Bragg liquid aminos.
First Meal of the Day (Breakfast)
Since my husband and I don’t eat until noon for our first meal, sometimes we prefer a breakfast type of food, and sometimes we feel more like a lunch or dinner option.
You could do bacon and eggs (with melted butter and cheese) every day for your first meal and be just fine, but I like mixing it up with some savory omelettes with fresh garlic and veggies or some egg muffins with fresh ground beef and fresh herbs and tomatoes from the garden.
I pretty much always have a huge tray of fresh cut up veggies with some homemade ranch and hard boiled eggs with sharp cheddar cheese cubes ready to go at all times. If we leave the house, I’ll pack some of these up for my husband and I to snack on so we’re not tempted by fast food. Sometimes I don’t have time to make a meal and having these snacks around is a life saver.
Second Meal of the Day (Lunch/Dinner)
I really like making soup and it’s a wonderful meal to prepare ahead of time that can last all week. White chicken chili (with no beans and add extra vegetables like zucchini and bell pepper), broccoli and cheese soup, good old chicken soup with lots of chicken and veggies, and ground beef chili (no beans) are my favorites.
I try to do a lot of salads with lots of homemade dressing and have some chicken kebabs or grilled chicken cut up into cubes ready to go. Grilled chicken legs or thighs are good fatty sources of meat that taste incredible. Pair that with steamed broccoli or asparagus smothered with butter and salt and you’ve got a savory meal! Another great meal is to cook a roast with a tons of onions and then smother with sour cream and salt. Delicious!
BLT lettuce wraps with lots of mayo are really good, and I love making chicken stuffed with cheese and veggies too. One of my favorite meals is buffalo wings with tons of blue cheese dressing and celery.
Avoid the Keto Flu
During a ketogenic diet, your body will release more water and retain less because of the decrease of insulin. Along with losing the water, you’re losing the minerals found in water at a higher rate and so you can quickly become depleted of key minerals that your body needs to function properly. This is why it is very important to add electrolytes to your water and to eat plenty of vegetables. The most relevant electrolytes in this context are sodium, potassium, magnesium, chloride, and calcium. If you can afford it, these electrolytes provide everything you need to stay perfectly hydrated.
My husband and I like making a special water using these amazing water bottles with lots of ice. The water not only provides the electrolytes we need, but helps us to feel satisfied throughout the day. To make the water, add about a teaspoon of Real Salt (a great electrolyte), a tablespoon of freshly squeezed ginger (great electrolyte and boosts the immune system), 1/2 of a lemon or lime squeezed (for flavor and vitamin C), plus a dash of cayenne pepper (speeds up the metabolism). *Keep in mind that the lemon and ginger will add about 2-4 grams of carbs. I was drinking like 3 of these and when I started tracking my macros, I realized it was adding up to be too much. Apple cider vinegar has no carbs and amazing health benefits (like lowering blood sugar) and would work great as well if you can stand the taste!
To help your body more quickly transition into ketosis and avoid the keto flu, you can get some exogeneous ketones. This supplement is expensive, but my husband and I like having some on hand for when we have a cheat day and eat a bunch of pizza or something. Then the next day, we’ll put a scoop of this in our coffee and get right back into ketosis.
I would also like to mention that a really good probiotic is a very good idea to help repair your gut health. I love using Bio-Kult probiotics. If you are starting to feel under the weather, these vitamin C capsules are AMAZING. I also like to always have some Wellness Formula immunity boosters on hand to combat any illness.
The keto diet is way more than just weight loss. The standard American diet is full of foods that cause inflammation and a whole slew of other health problems including diabetes and heart disease. Our ancestors did not rely on such sugary meals for sustenance and our bodies are designed to be more efficient when fat is the source of fuel, not sugar.
People have asked me if I’ll stop doing the keto diet once I’ve reached my goal weight, and I’m kind of on the fence. Sometimes, the willpower to resist pizza and chips is too great, and I have to tell myself that this is only temporary, but then other times I can’t see why I’d ever want to go back to the way things used to be. (*Two year update: I gradually slipped back into eating carbs and gained back almost all of the weight I lost. I am now committed to make keto my way of life!)
The energy I have is actually kind of surprising to be honest! I used to take the kids to the park, sit on the bench, and watch them play. Now, I’m riding my bike with them everywhere, running laps around them at the park, throwing them up in the air, and never seeming to run out of energy. It feels like I have a work out routine built in to my every day way of life. (*On a side note: while picking up things off from the floor…which I do about a gazillion times a day, I squat instead of bending over, and now my legs are super strong!)
I am very thankful to have learned about the ketogenic diet, and I just want to share these amazing results with anyone who will listen because it not only changed my life…it made my life worth living, and I hope it can do the same for you.