Keto Quickstart Guide: Turn Your Body Into a Fat Burning Machine

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By David Rose

Would you like to lose weight on the ketogenic (keto) diet, starting today?

What you'll find here is a concise, simple guide to doing just that. The information you'll read in this article has been used by hundreds of people to start losing weight with keto and turn their body into a fat-burning machine.

I have made this guide simple on purpose. When you're a beginner, I believe it's more helpful to simplify rather than provide a lot of technical detail or scientific background. The wonderful thing is that you can see amazing results just knowing a few basic things.

First, what exactly is the ketogenic ("keto") diet? It is a type of low-carb high-fat diet. It requires specific daily macronutrients ("macros") (carbohydrates, fat, and protein).

The most important aspect of the ketogenic diet is to get your carb intake low enough for a long-enough period of time that your body goes into a state of ketosis. That's where your body becomes adapted to burning fat instead of carbohydrates as the primary source of energy.

Carbohydrate Limits

Generally speaking, most people should aim to consume no more than 20 - 30 grams of carbs per day when starting out. If you are insulin resistant, or want to be certain of attaining ketosis, try to get below 20 grams. After becoming keto-adapted you may be able to get away with higher carbs, such as 50 grams. (Side note: The transition to ketosis actually begins at 100 grams, where the lower you go below that level, the deeper the ketosis, but as the brain adapts to using ketones you have to aim lower.)

Some people may want to ease into a ketogenic diet. In reality there isn't any middle ground; you are either in ketosis or you aren't. However, to get used to the idea of limited carbohydrates you could simply try various low-carb recipes to find foods and recipes you like. When you're ready to get serious, jump in and start tracking and limiting carbohydrate intake. You may see some weight loss even before you officially start keto because you have introduced low carb meals into your diet.

If you're serious about doing a full ketogenic diet, you'll need to get into the habit of checking every Nutrition Facts label on any food product you buy, to see carbohydrate content. Many people use apps like Carb Manager, MyFitnessPal, or Chronometer. There are others.

Keep in mind that Nutrition Facts labels include Dietary Fiber in the Total Carbohydrate count, but because fiber is not digestible into glucose, you can subtract it (we call the resulting number "net carbs"). It gives you more carbs to work with, which can make the diet easier to do.

You can also subtract some sugar alcohols. You can completely subtract erythritol. For other sugar alcohols, subtract only half the amount.

What You Can and Can't Eat On Keto

Because this is a quickstart guide, I don't have room for big long lists of specific foods -- so I will give you the quickstart version.

It's very important to focus on what you CAN have on the keto diet -- rather than what you are missing -- because there are a lot of delicious keto foods and recipes out there for you! So let's start with that.

Here are the main keto-friendly food categories:
  1. PROTEIN and FAT Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds, and oils. So, it's "yes" to bacon, fatty fish, steak, butter, cheese, heavy cream, greek yogurt.
  2. VEGETABLES Any veggies; just avoid the starchy veggies as I'll talk about below.
That list may seem short, but the truth is you can do a lot with those two categories.

Now, for what to avoid.

It should be obvious by now, but on the ketogenic diet you should avoid any food or recipe that will put your total carb count for the day above the limit.

To help keep carb intake in check, avoid these keto-unfriendly foods:
  • Foods with sugar (sucrose, glucose, sucrose, lactose, corn syrup, rice syrup) and especially sugary treats (cookies, ice cream, candy, etc)
  • All grains and grain flours (wheat, rice, corn, breads, bakery items, etc)
  • Most fruit (exception: berries are okay in small amounts and/or if you track the carbs)
  • Milk and regular yogurt
  • "Starchy" vegetables (potatoes, corn, peas, carrots, beets, and most beans). As a rough rule, below-ground vegetables (roots/tubers) are too starchy.
  • Any other high-carb food that makes you question if it's too much for your limit or takes a huge chunk of your carb allowance for the day.

Protein

Although limiting carbs is the key to ketosis, protein is also important to get right.

Some people are concerned that too much protein will get converted to glucose (a process called gluconeogenesis) and knock them out of ketosis. However, scientific studies don't show that being a problem. Furthermore, protein is crucially important for many vital functions including preserving lean muscle. Consuming too little can lead to fatigue, weakness, hunger, and even hair loss or brittle nails.

A ketogenic diet is naturally high in protein, so chances are you aren't actually deficient. Just don't try to limit your protein intake. Instead, make sure you're getting enough.

How much protein do you need? Macro-tracking apps or calculators can give you a good estimate. If you want to calculate protein yourself, here are some guidelines.

For highest accuracy, your protein intake should be based on your LBM (lean body mass: everything except fat mass). But total body weight can be used for those who aren't athletes or very fit. The RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) is 0.36 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight (0.8 g/kg). That should be considered a bare minimum. Keto diet macros are typically 5% carb, 25% protein, 70% fat. When you crunch the numbers, eating 25% of your daily calories as protein is often a lot more protein than the RDA amount, often 50% to 100% more. That's actually okay, because diets with at least 25% of calories as protein have been shown to be easier to adhere to. So a good protein goal will probably end up between 0.36/lb and 0.72/lb for the average person who isn't doing a lot of exercise.

Fat

Fat is primarily used as a caloric buffer, meaning, after carbs and protein are accounted for, you eat fat for long-term satiety (feeling full for longer) or to adjust caloric intake.

Tracking apps and some uninformed keto dieters make it seem like you "must" get a certain amount of fat in your diet because keto is a "high-fat diet", but the fact is, you don't HAVE to. Eating more fat doesn't boost ketones. Our bodies have plenty of fat already :-) Forcing yourself to eat extra fat when you're not hungry is just adding calories you don't need. In fact, if you're wanting to lose more weight on the keto diet, you should consider lowering your fat intake.

Are there any fats bad for the keto diet? Technically, no. To reach ketosis and become fat adapted all you have to do is get carbs down to a certain limit as we've talked about. The type of fat you eat makes no difference. For general health, however, it's a different story and a debatable topic too big to discuss here.

The only fats everyone 100% agrees are bad for health are the trans-fats (includes anything with "hydrogenated" in the name). If you want to be extra cautious about fats for health reasons you may want to avoid soybean, canola, safflower, and sunflower oils. The saturated fats you'll be eating on keto from natural sources like fish, meat and dairy are of course keto-friendly. Extra good "super fats" include extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, MCT oil, coconut oil, grass fed-butter, or red palm oil.

A Few Questions And Answers

Q: How much should I eat?
A: Well, the amazing thing is if you stick to keto-compliant foods and you limit carbs to the keto range, you can eat as much as you want -- meaning, until you are full. If you are hungry or have cravings, first make sure you are getting plenty of protein. If you're still hungry between meals, boost your fat intake or eat high-fat snacks.

Q: How strict do you have to be?
A: You can still lose weight and gain health benefits by generally following a low-carb lifestyle, but by definition, unless you're in ketosis, you're not following the keto diet! And to get into ketosis you have to be strict. Just depends on what you want.

Q: How much weight will you lose?
A: If you are strict, you could lose 5 - 10 pounds in the first week or two. It's mostly water weight from carbs being burned off but it's still pretty exciting to see :) After that, it depends on the person. Some continue to lose more slowly. Others stall for a few weeks while becoming fat adapted. Just realize weight loss stalls and plateaus are normal during the weight loss process.

Q: Any suggestions for getting started?
A: It's very helpful to have a lot of keto diet recipes, so start gathering them. That makes eating, planning and tracking a lot easier because you can simply start making and eating keto recipes.

Q: Are those keto breads really keto?
A: If they're truly keto, they're made from almond flour, coconut flour, psyllium husk flour or other non-carb ingredients. Be careful of store-bought or commercial keto breads. They may not actually be keto friendly. Always check nutrition facts labels.

Q: Are those keto dessert recipes really keto?
A: If they're truly keto, they're made using various non-caloric/non-carb sweeteners. I recommend SweetLeaf Stevia but others can work okay too.

Q: In my tracking app, what macros (carbs, protein, and fat) do I need to reach?
A: The only macro number you should try to actually reach is protein. Protein helps avoid the breaking down of muscle for energy if calories get too low and helps fill you up. You definitely don't need to hit the carb number because it's an upper limit. In other words, zero carbs is fine! The fat macro is an estimate: if you are hungry between meals, eat more fat, up to the suggested number; but there's no real need to try to reach it. Remember that app calculations are just estimations so don't get too concerned about them. Bottom line: the most important thing is getting carbs low enough. After that, follow your hunger for fat and don't skimp on the protein.

Q: How do I measure ketones? How do I know if I'm in ketosis?
A: First, measuring ketones is a moving target. Ketone levels vary naturally according to time of day, when you have eaten, what you have eaten, when/if you have exercised, level of keto adaptation, among others. Second, ketone measuring devices aren't always very accurate. Ketone strips that you urinate on are the most popular method. The problem is that ketones in the urine simply indicate an overproduction of ketones, where the excess is expelled into the urine. It's possible for the body to be in complete ketosis but use up all available ketones. Some people only ever see trace amounts. The simplest way to know if you're in ketosis is to check for certain signs or "symptoms". In the beginning, the "keto flu" (see below) is an indication. After adaptation, some people may have "keto breath" (varies, but it could smell fruity, sweet, or like acetone). Positive indicators include reduced hunger, weight loss, increased focus and energy.

Adjustment Period

On the keto diet, there is an adjustment period that can last from around a week to several weeks or more, where you may feel tired and have lower energy while your body adjusts to a complete fat-burning metabolism. Also, ketones act as a diuretic so you will lose more water than usual, and along with it, electrolytes (sodium, potassium, and magnesium). This electrolyte loss may manifest itself as the "keto flu". You may feel fatigued, tired, faint, maybe a headache, insomnia; some people may even feel like they have the flu or a cold. Inadequate protein intake has remarkably similar symptoms.

Here are some helpful tips during the adjustment period:
  1. If you're feeling really tired or low energy, be sure your protein intake isn't lacking. Also keep your fat intake high. You may supplement with MCT oil, coconut oil, or try a keto "fat bomb" recipe.
  2. Replace electrolytes to help avoid the keto flu. It's also very important to your general health to keep electrolytes in balance for regulation of muscle contraction including heart muscle. So I highly recommend taking an electrolyte supplement from the very beginning. This one from Jigsaw Health is perfect. Drinking bone broth (chicken or beef broth) regularly also helps.
  3. Be sure to drink plenty of water — especially when starting out.

Get Started

Use the information above and start taking action today. You've just learned all the most important points you need to know about the keto diet. What are you waiting for?

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