Keto beginner tips
Alright so yes, I really am the worst and least consistent blogger ever, but these boys keep me busy! Y’all already know how much I love the keto lifestyle and the benefits of it, but Marcus and I get questions from people all the time since we’ve been doing this thing for about a year and a half now.
Long backstory short: we started doing this the day after my last marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon, in October of 2017. I hate the sugar/carb roller coaster associated with running, and I never found a decent fueling strategy in 6 years (at that point) of running that didn’t leave me feeling awful. I bought The Ketogenic Bible on Amazon while sitting in the DC airport to head home, and we started shifting our eating and reading every scientific resource we could. Marcus and some other Reddit users have compiled over 90 scientific studies in a Google doc. I mean it when I say we thoroughly research this stuff!
So anyways, I was pregnant just a few weeks later with Tucker and after lots of food aversions and a weird metallic taste in my mouth in the first trimester, I settled back into keto in the second trimester. I then stayed like 98% keto throughout the rest of pregnancy because ultimately, my goal was still to be a fat adapted runner. Pregnancy was actually the perfect “time off” of running to work on fat adaptation. I obviously didn’t really have goal races or paces, so I was able to just keep running at whatever pace I could and let my body continue to get used to ketones and fat as fuel versus glucose. All this to say– weight loss was never really an A goal for us with our keto lifestyle shift. Yes, I had a super healthy pregnancy with only about 18 pounds gained, and Marcus dropped about 45 pounds, but we knew weight management was a by-product of the keto diet as a result of healing and the body’s increased ability to mobilize body fat. Insulin resistance is so much more detrimental than we realize, and the Standard American Diet is truly killing us. Lots of people realize this, but keto is thought of as a fad diet– a “quick fix” that’s unsustainable. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Not only has a keto way of eating been around for as long as people have been eating, it’s also been heavily researched with more studies going on ALL THE TIME.
Anyways– here’s my tips for beginners!
EDUCATE YOURSELF! You do not have to read every book and study out there if it doesn’t interest you, but you should have a clear of understanding of what a ketogenic lifestyle is. Do NOT rely on a Slimfast product, a GNC employee, your aunt who lost 70 pounds, or a random blog (YES EVEN MINE) to teach you this. The ketogenic diet is scientific, but it is also heavily marketed right now. There is also a ton of pushback from the industries that stand to lose out when people cut carbs. I’m lookin’ at you, cereal companies. If you don’t think there is major industry pushback to protect the bottom dollar of the Standard American Diet, sorry, you ain’t “woke.” Therefore, you’re going to hear a lot of people questioning you when you take this way of eating on. If you aren’t confident in your knowledge, it’s not only difficult to make food choices, it’s also difficult to explain to your neighbor why you aren’t eating the meatloaf she’s pushing on you at the potluck. To her, meatloaf appears keto-friendly! But she isn’t thinking about the oodles of bread crumbs, worchestershire, ketchup, etc. that adds up quickly in a dish like that.
Commit to at least 60 days. Yes, COMMIT. I don’t care if you heard about someone dropping 20 pounds in two weeks and now they eat some carbs again, this is not what the science says. To get into ketosis only takes a few days of restricted carbs, but fat adaptation takes months. Your body has a really hard time with that shift if you’re cheating early on. Your body has decades of easy peasy sugar-burning, so it wants to keep doing it that way if AT ALL possible. You literally have to be prepared to starve your body of that fuel source to force adaptation. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a shortage of body fat to fuel my body… my body just hasn’t really had to tap into that much since I’m always stuffed full of carbs! (Before I started keto 😉
Rely on whole foods, not “keto approved” versions of things. In Whole 30, Melissa Hartwig refers to a notion with food called “sex with your pants on.” I love her crass way of describing having your cake and eating it, too. A keto lifestyle benefits a SLEW of people (I’d venture to say almost all people), but it’s tough to achieve those goals of weight loss or gut healing or inflammation-reduction if you’re just trading one version of a food for another. Keto bread? Awesome. Keto cake? Yum. Keto cheesecake?! HELL YEAH. This is not what makes up a keto life, SORRY!! Again, so much of this is ruined by marketing. There are now so many “keto-friendly” sweeteners and bars and shakes and products, but what’s actually, truly “keto-friendly” is consuming high quality meats, cheeses, non-starchy vegetables, and oils. FOOD is what needs to be on your plate. When in doubt, keep meals simple. I’m guilty of having lengthy Pinterest boards full of recipes and fat bombs, but each person has to find their own balance with those things. It’s not difficult to cook up some chicken thighs and creamed spinach or eggs and bacon, so don’t make this tougher than it has to be.
SODIUM & MAGNESIUM & POTASSIUM, oh my! You must must must mind your electrolytes. First, if you are the least bit afraid of salt and hypertension, throw that out of your mind. (I will argue until I’m blue in the face that it is the processed foods that are high in sodium that are an issue, not the sodium itself.) Then salt your food some more. Buy high quality salt like a pink Himalayan salt or Celtic sea salt without caking agents, make or bone some high quality bone broth, and take that stuff in generously every single day! I drink Ultima replenisher, sole water (salt water saturation), and supplement with magnesium citrate. This is a non-negotiable because you will feel like hot garbage once your body starts flushing these things much more readily than it did when you ate lots of carbs.
Eat protein to goal, fats to satiety, and as close to zero carbs as possible. “But can’t I have X amount of net carbs per day?” Yes and no. If I tell you to consume 30 grams of total carbs per day or less, how often do you think you’re going to hit the OR LESS side of that? It’s very natural when eliminating carbs to want to have as many as you possibly can and still see results. It’s a slippery slope when you can have a keto treat that only has 4 net carbs, but again, in those early months your body is NOT wanting to shift away from carbs as a fuel source. Once adapted, your carb tolerance will likely go up (a little, per Phinney & Volek), but in the first few months is not the time to be mega close to your threshold. Plus, it’s really tough to know how many you can tolerate since everyone is very different in their level of insulin sensitivity. So try to make your only carbs consumed be the ones from non-starchy vegetables, low sugar fruits, and nuts. Because you’ll be amazed how quickly even those add up!
Take measurements, and don’t weigh often. The scale will drive you insane, I don’t care what anyone’s rationale is for getting on it. The scale gives about as accurate a picture of weight as a random stranger looking at you and guessing your weight. This is even more true for keto because your hydration fluctuates so much easier! It is absolutely not insane for me to see a 5 pound difference in the same day, so I pay verrrrrrrrrrry little attention to the scale. So use a measuring tape and measure! Or find a way to get your body fat % measured. Those are much more accurate and give you a way better idea of what’s going on in your body.
Learn what mindset/mentality works best for you, and play to your strengths! This is big in my opinion. Keto taught me a lot about myself, as did Whole30, and I know that I’m actually a pretty good “moderator.” That means I’m good at having a nibble of something here or there and not going crazy. I can have a single serving of Halo Top (1/4 of a pint!!), a couple squares of Lily’s chocolate, etc. Those things are satisfying, and I like being able to have a little something sweet and make it last a long time. Marcus, on the other hand, is more black and white– an abstainer. If he is or isn’t eating something is kind of an all or nothing thing. If he opens a Lily’s bar, he’s a threat to eat the entire thing. So it’s much easier for him to just not have certain foods or sweets at all because then it isn’t a temptation. He simply abstains. Try to figure out which type you are, and follow through on that approach!
There are certainly a million different things I’d like to say to anyone starting a keto lifestyle, but the biggest takeaway should be to stick with it! Avoid that “off the wagon” mentality if you have some sort of slip, but also remember that every single thing you eat is a CHOICE. And that should empower you to feel confident in the choices you make for yourself every single day 🙂