Keto. Like it or not, keto is a four letter word. See k-e-t-o. Now that we had our morning math, we can move along. Like most four letter words, you can use the term keto when you are ecstatic as f#+& or when you are as angry as $&!+. Some people absolutely love keto and all of the awesome health benefits it provides. Others speak of it as yet another demon fad diet that is sure to end this new civilization that is drowning itself in coconut oil. Those people, I can assure you, either want to keep you sick in order to keep their pockets full, or they tried keto and did it wrong.
Keto is a wonderful way of life where you load up on healthy fats and have more energy than you have ever had in your entire life, while dropping pounds you thought were permanently wedged onto your butt violently by the force of a Mack truck. More importantly, with keto you eat real food. Unfortunately most of us have never eaten a real food based diet before. Poor June Cleaver is rolling over in her grave to fix you some pot roast and green beans with extra butter and salt. (June Cleaver is dead, right? I didn’t just kill her off for the sake of keto, did I?) While I am not of a fan of the keto fascists of the world telling everyone exactly how they should keto, if you are still eating mostly processed, fast, cheap and easy foods, you are doing it wrong. Mama always said you are what you eat. Please don’t be cheap and easy. Let’s save that for whoever is pulling rank in Tiger Woods’ bed these days.
Sure, you can lose plenty of weight pulling into McDonald’s every night, ordering a Mc-something or other and whipping off the bun in a furious keto rage. Many do this, many lose weight, many have well preserved insides from all of the additives in their food. But the keto lifestyle, as I see it, is a lifestyle of optimal health. Just a tidbit of information, optimal health does not come with a side of fries that you plan to lick the salt off of before you toss them into the trash. Come on, have you done this? People don’t really do this, right?
Let me back up for just a second. Many of you reading this already know the basics of a ketogenic diet. Believe it or not, there are those reading this right now that have no idea what keto is. They do exist! This is the part where I explain keto coated in all of it’s saturated fat glory.
A well formulated ketogenic diet typically consists of a macro-nutrient breakdown that amounts to something around 75-85% healthy fats, 10-20% protein and less than 5% carbs. I know what you are thinking. Wholly guacamole, did she just say only 5% carbohydrates? What kind of animals live like that? We have all heard the “experts” recommend a carb based diet for years! Blasphemy, you say!
Umm, have you seen the health of our nation lately? Seems to me the experts are only experts in making us all sick, unhealthy shells of our former vibrant selves. Let’s all just quit listening to the experts long enough to experiment with our own health, instead of being lab rats for the experts. Dramatic? Yes! True? Yes!
My Keto Story:
Before I get to all the good stuff on how to start a ketogenic diet of your very own, let me regale you with the first time I heard about keto and had to rush to try it for myself the very next day! And scene:
My first son just turned 18 months. It was an exciting time for our little family of three since he just started walking the week prior. When I heard about keto on my favorite health podcast, it sounded like the exact, perfect diet I needed in my life at that very moment. I already spent the previous year or so working on my digestion and watching my body slowly shed the layer of fat that once cuddled my first born. In the podcast, the hosts talked about how quickly and easily your body can shed unwanted fluff with a ketogenic diet. Summer was right around the corner and mama wanted out of her maternity bathing suit! I decided to try keto the very next…come on, say it with me now – I waited to start until Monday!
We ALL know about Monday diets. Hurry up and shove as much junk into your face as you can until Monday rolls around, then be as strict as you possibly can be. Well, at least until Tuesday, when you’ve surely lost ten pounds from all of your hard work on Monday! The only thing worse than a Monday diet is a stupid New Year’s Day diet. I mean, really? Why start your brand new you after a night of chugging bubbly and staying out until 4 am to run around the tundra half naked while banging on pots and pans while screaming Happy New Year!? Don’t even get me started on all of the alcohol sweat I have had to endure at the gym in order for people to keep their New Year’s resolution. Nothing says health like puking out the gin after a good run!
Tangents. Everywhere I look I see tangents!
Ok, so my son was 18 months, just started walking, the day was Monday and my husband was headed off for another week long business trip. I was determined to start my ketogenic diet, but I really had no clue what to eat for breakfast, little lone the rest of my life. My son woke up a little fussy that day and needed to be held a lot that morning, so I grabbed for something simple – sunflower seeds and a few pieces of dark chocolate. I settled onto my couch, son in one arm and a decent first keto meal in the other. As I reached for my first bite of delicious 88% dark chocolate, I felt a jerk on my other arm, followed by projectile vomit spewing from my sweet baby.
Projectile vomit. Everywhere I look I see projectile vomit!
This was the first time my little angel ever had a real sickness in his whole life, and I had to figure it out all on my own because my husband was traveling. Of course my husband was traveling. My son, who had been walking around the house with his hands in the air like he just didn’t care for an entire week, suddenly had to be held all day long and carried everywhere. I dreaded leaving him on the floor for even just a few minutes to use the bathroom. He looked like such a sad, wounded little bird. Breaks a mother’s heart. And for those of you who are not parents, please know times when your kids are sick are among the most stressful times around. Who has time to fry up bacon and eggs when you have to tote a projectile vomiting toddler with you everywhere? I did not know exactly what foods constituted keto foods yet, but I am sure any breakfast fried up with a side of toddler vomit was definitely not keto. Ha. Can you see me asking on the keto boards if toddler vomit is keto?
It is hard to say for sure, but I am pretty confident I ate sunflower seeds and dark chocolate for almost every meal that first week. Not only was I determined to stick with my new ketogenic diet, but by day four I felt like I was hit by a train. Body aches, oh how my body ached. Migraines. I felt hot, I felt cold. Basically I felt like death. And I still had this projectile vomiting buddy attached to my hip every waking hour of the day.
Somehow I stuck with the keto diet for the long haul. Well, at least for another few months until I became pregnant with my second child. I did what many people do on a keto diet – I kept my carbs low and then ate stuff with fat in it. Did I ever reach ketosis in those few months of my first go around? Mmmmm, I dunno. I never tested. The pee strips were purple, but that’s about as scientific as I got. There were times when I felt more energy than I had ever felt in my life. I actually felt the urge to clean my house during toddler naps, rather than put my feet up and catch up on the housewives. Anyone who knows me knows I love me some Bravo. My first son was saying Andy’s name long before he acknowledged his daddy. But I actually had so much energy that I couldn’t sit still long enough to make it through another argument about who Ramona said hello to first.
Then came my second pregnancy and a strong aversion to meat. So long ketones, I’ll miss you. I promise to still write to you from time to time.
After my second pregnancy, I was determined to get back to a ketogenic diet. I had an entire new layer of fat to de-fluff and this time I wanted out of my maternity clothes before people started asking when my baby’s Irish twin was due. This time around there was much more information out there, so I decided to make my new keto diet much more official. No more meals of sunflower seeds and chocolate for this girl!
How to Thrive with Keto:
Now that I am a seasoned ketonian, below are some of the things I learned that may be helpful to a beginner. I do not go into all of the basics of a keto diet since there are countless articles and books on this, but here are some tips I had to figure out that might help you:
1. Keep your fats high: Like even way higher than you think is high. You don’t want to go overboard and eat a stick of butter with every meal, but know only adding a teaspoon of mayo over a dry chicken breast is only going to make you hungry and miserable. If you want be hungry and miserable, why even keto? Go measure a dry piece of broccoli or something.
2. Change Your Mindset: If you are new to keto, but not the dieting world, change your mindset. Quit working out hours upon hours each day. Stop measuring every calorie you put into your mouth. I lost more than 60 pounds after my second baby easy peasy by going for walks every now and then and making sure I was keeping my carbs low. Other than that, no stressful workouts; no calorie obsession. This reset both my mind and my body to feel great while eating the most food I have ever eaten in my life. Not only the most food, but the most delicious food. I swear, I lick the bowl every time I cook. And I can…because I don’t count calories!
3. Listen to your body: Your body truly knows what it wants. If you are hungry, eat some fat. If you feel like you need protein, eat that too. If you really want to eat the entire bag of BBQ chips washed down with a Coke, STOP! You have gone too far! If you are still dealing with these kinds of cravings after being on keto for a few weeks…
4. Fix your digestion: This was actually my first step and a step I would honestly recommend to anyone before they start any diet, but I get it. Supplements are expensive, fixing digestion takes work, no one wants to take lots of pills. Been there, I totally get it.
Fixing my digestion cleared up so many health problems for me and I do not believe I ever would have stuck to a low carbohydrate, high fat diet without this step. Trust me, I have been trying since the early 2000’s. I finally did the work I needed to because taking natural health supplements costs way less now than pretty much even one day in the hospital waiting for my double bypass surgery when I am only forty-something years old. All of the high quality coconut oil in the world means nothing if your body cannot digest it. (To learn more about correcting your digestion, take the almost free four week digestion course found here.)
5. Keep your pH levels in check: Something else along the lines of working on your digestion is keeping your pH levels in check. This was something I had to learn the hard way. Every single time I did a low carb diet, I was always getting colds. No, I do not mean keto flu. I was continually getting sick when I was eating the healthiest I ever had. Before I finished asking myself what was the point, I found an article about pH levels on a keto diet. Your saliva pH drops way too low, and boom! Runny noses and sore throats for days. The article suggested raising your pH by drinking lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. Neither tastes great on their own, so I make a tea with 1 tbls apple cider vinegar, 1 tbls lemon juice and ½ tsp of salt in hot water. It does not taste great the first few times you drink it, but I like it a whole lot better than going through a box of tissues every day for a week.
6. Keto Flu: Before you even start keto, stock up on avocados, magnesium and a high quality celtic sea or pink himalayan salt. You know the constant bathroom breaks you are taking after dropping a significant amount of carbs from your diet? I have good news. You are not pregnant!!! You are losing electrolytes like crazy, so have them ready to consume on day one.
If you DO want to get pregnant, keto helps that as well. Let me go all Oprah for a second – YOU GET A KETO BABY! And YOU GET A KETO BABY! I got my keto baby at the advanced maternal age of 36. Thankfully he was planned. And don’t try to tell me age 36 isn’t advanced. I saw it on the doctor’s paperwork with my own geriatric eyes!
7. Quit obsessing about macros: I swear, if I see the word macros one.more.time, well, there isn’t really anything I am going to do, but just know it makes me mad. Ketones make me feel so happy, so quit ruining that for me! One of the best parts about a ketogenic diet is you do not have to obsess so much about the macros. Sure, you can’t go hog wild and eat an entire hog, but don’t we all understand that already? Let’s all put the macro calculators down and start listening to our bodies a little bit more. Some days you need a little bit more protein than others. Some days you are going to eat all the fat, while others you might not want to eat at all. The world is your oyster, but only if oysters are keto. I never checked into that.
My general rule for starting out is to keep your carbs right around 20 (total, not net – net is for cheaters and nobody likes cheaters. Sorry, they just don’t) and keep your fats high. Eat fat until you no longer feel hungry, but not until you are stuffed. At the beginning, the protein will just kind of fall into place. You may need to tweak it down the road if you stall or lose your ketones, but just keep it reasonable and there is no reason to obsess.
8. Too Many Keto Cooks Whipping Up Advice: As with anything that becomes popular, there are far too many keto cooks in the kitchen. One keto group tells you to strictly limit your fat so you only burn your body fat (this friends, will never work); while another keto group tells you to only eat a strict caloric keto diet below 1200 calories (that friends, will never work). A different group tells you that you need boot camp workouts until your legs fall off (come on? Don’t you like having legs?); while a different group will tell you with keto you can lose weight with a simple fasted walk every now and then (THIS ONE! This one is absolutely true! Follow the group that tells you this)
My point is, too many keto cooks in the kitchen is just confusing everybody and no one is getting it right and everyone is failing miserably. Ok, not everyone – I have had pretty good success, but I do not trust every Tom, Dick and Jimmy in the keto groups. If we are talking Jimmy Moore, however, I trust him.
Quit asking random keto groups questions hoping to get the answer you want to hear. No, you cannot eat a triple hot fudge sundae on Monday and get back into ketosis by Tuesday. How do you even know the experience level of these people that really just want a friend, so they throw out random answers? You are risking an incorrect answer that will throw you into the keto death spiral and return you to sipping Slim Fast. (Is Slim Fast still a thing? Maybe they will jump on the bandwagon and make keto Slim Fast soon. Please don’t buy that). Find the smart people who have had success. Ask those people. I am probably one of those people. Try me.
9. Keto is a lifestyle, not a diet: We have all heard this, yes? If you are just looking to lose a few pounds and then return to your former high processed food life, don’t bother. It doesn’t even make sense to do that. Getting into ketosis isn’t always the easiest process and sometimes not the most fun. (I mean, unless you are doing it with a coach, ahem).
Be into keto for the positive health benefits keto brings – amazing energy, amazing inner healing, amazing weight loss and amazing health gains. In order to make keto your new lifestyle, you need to make it convenient to your life. Prepare to keto. You have to have keto foods in your fridge ready to eat so you are not reaching for the junky stuff. This is not a diet you can cheat on willy nilly. It just doesn’t work that way, so be prepared and make it fit your lifestyle or else prepare for a miserable keto experience.
10. Don’t Wing It: Do not just wake up one day and decide today is the day you keto and you are going to push through the keto aches and pains no matter what. If you are not already well into your keto diet, break in slowly. There is no reason to rush the rest of your life.
Start by reducing your carbs to a manageable level at first so your body has time to adjust to it’s new fuel of fat. Start reducing your eating window to 12 hours per day. (This actually used to just be normal; now some view it as insane to go 12 whole hours without a lick of food. Do we need to discuss June Cleaver again? Man, that seems like so long ago that we talked about her. Did anyone google if she is still alive yet?) If you are still trying to figure out what I mean by reducing your carbs, check out my beginner’s blog. I swear it is not the length of this book, er, blog.
11. Keep Keto Simple: If you are just beginning keto, everybody has got to chill on making replacements for our old favorite junk foods. The more exotic ingredients you bring into your keto diet, the more slippery that slope becomes to just fall back into your old habits. Until you really have this keto thing down, maybe just eat some bacon. Eggs are good. Have you tried eggs lately? Veggies, butter, red meat, pork, salad greens, olive oil, avocados. I can go on and on and on. Keto is all about the real foods! Real foods are yummy; just try real foods for a while. Use herbs and seasonings. Find some recipes for keto sauces made from fats like heavy whipping cream, pesto and butter.
Sure, I eat fat bombs some days as meals, but I grew into that. I started with the real food, and once I knew what it felt like to be in ketosis, I then began experimenting with all of the keto goodies. I instinctually knew if there was a sweetener or ingredient that was spiking my insulin because I first knew how amazing I felt before I ate the sweetener, and how crappy I felt after. But you need to know this for yourself for awhile before you can make that determination.
It all goes back to listening to your body – but you cannot listen to a body that you never gave a chance to heal because you HAD to have a bread replacement or bust. If you feel this way, go back to the part where I talk about digestion. Once you fix your digestion, bread starts to taste like cardboard. (former bread addict here; don’t touch the stuff now).
12. Tune Out The Keto Naysayers: The very last thing I want to say to all of my keto beginner friends is quit worrying about what other people think about your new diet. Don’t waste the time arguing with them about how you are going to go into immediate cardiac arrest if you go anywhere near that juicy steak with melted garlic butter. (Sorry vegans, that’s mostly you. There aren’t vegans here, are there? My husband has this “dad joke” he loves to tell – want to know how to tell if somebody is a vegan? Just wait five minutes, they will tell you). Now that we all had a good laugh at Moby’s expense, why raise your stress levels arguing on the keto boards over the minutia on how to keto correctly? That is NOT how to keto correctly: stress = cortisol spike = weight gain.
How about you keep doing you and let the results speak for themselves. I know people that gasp in horror when I tell them I just downed 75 grams of saturated fat for lunch. These same people are on five different medications and are at least fifty pounds overweight. Me? I take my natural digestive supplements. Some vitamin C. I am definitely the healthiest I have ever been. So don’t argue. Let them live their medicated lives; you live your coconut oil truth.
So that, all of that up there, is some of the things I wish I knew when I first started my keto. I know you already forgot half the stuff I said, so go back and read it again when you have another hour to kill. Maybe take notes this time so you don’t have to keep wondering about June Cleaver. And if you have no idea who June Cleaver is, don’t tell me. It is my birthday this week; I don’t need another excuse to feel old. I still remember the days when I was good at making people feel old!
PS, let’s all thank June Cleaver because she totally inspired this blog.
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