Introduction to Keto - A Quick Start Guide Last Updated: Oct 20th 2018

Image Credit: Ataberk Guler

There are so many diets and trust me, I’ve tried most of them. For the first time since I started this weight loss struggle in 2000, I have found something that is working for me and I feel amazing! That something is a ketogenic diet. I know, I know, Keto is a buzzword at the moment and while it definitely has its supporters, it also has a lot of bad press. What I know is from my own research and my own journey. This information is not intended to be a medical recommendation, and, like with any diet or exercise program, you should seek a Dr.’s approval before starting.

What is Keto?

Keto is short for ketogenic, in short, it is a body status in which your body is burning fat instead of carbohydrates for energy. You can induce a ketogenic state, or ketosis, in your body by consuming less than 20g of carbs daily. Now, this amount varies per person, some people can eat up to 50 or more grams and still be in ketosis and others, like myself, need to be stricter and keep that 20-gram goal.

It is really important that you don’t mistake ketosis, a perfectly normal body state, for ketoacidosis, a potentially fatal condition that is especially a risk for those with Type 1 diabetes, it doesn’t have anything to do with Keto; however. I have seen many times when folks have gotten these two terms confused and were very concerned that a ketogenic diet could bring on ketoacidosis or even encouraged it. That just simply isn’t true.

While we are discussing some fallacies about Keto, another is that you need to buy expensive products that will put ketones in your body to get you into a ketogenic state. Not only are these not needed, but there is also no evidence that they work, they are expensive, and they are often peddled by Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) companies, something I personally try and avoid.

To follow a Keto diet, you simply consume fewer than 20 grams of carbs a day. That’s it. Of course, there is a healthful way to do this to ensure that you are getting the nutrients and vitamins that you need and the actual weight that you may lose is due to a caloric deficit, not the state of ketosis itself. Ketosis is helpful for many people to curb the cravings that make sustaining a caloric deficit long term difficult.


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Low Carb Dinner

So where do we start?

That’s a great question. Personally, I started by weighing myself and taking measurements of my chest, waist, hips, thighs, biceps, and neck. I also sucked it up and took before pictures in my underwear and sports bra. I felt vulnerable and scared but ready to get started.

I then read a ton of blogs, facebook group posts, and googled articles about keto and how to go about it. I wanted to prepare myself as much as possible. While I hope that you will use this site as a resource, there’s a ton of great information out there about keto and eating healthy. I believe that using lots of great high-quality sources, researching anything that sounds a bit iffy, and talking to your doctor to make sure you are heading in the right direction is the way to go.

Once I was ready to start I figured out my macros.

What are macros?

Macros are macronutrients and for Keto, the ones that you are concerned with are Carbs, Protein, and Fat. To track these correctly you need to know what your targets are. To find these, I utilized the KetoGains macro calculator which I found through a super helpful Facebook group, Real World Keto. I chose this group because it focused on the science behind Keto and had an active and inspiring community.

Once you know what your macro goals are it helps to understand how you use them. The limit for carbs is exactly that, a limit to stay below. You can eat less than the recommended amount but should try to not go over. The limit for protein is more like a goal, you should try to eat all of your protein grams each day. This will help you fill full and give you good energy.

Finally, the fat macro should be seen as a lever to help with satiety. If you feel hungry increasing your fat, up to your limit, can help you feel full and keep you from overeating. If you don’t have an issue with hunger, you don’t need to eat all of your fat allowances. Now, this may run counter to what you’ve heard or even what you’ve practiced with Keto. It is after all, well known for its “fat bombs”, plentiful bacon, and coffee with butter (eww).

The original ketogenic diet was created for children with severe epilepsy and was not for weight loss. For the medicinal effects those children needed, high fat was the name of the game to keep them at healthy weights and to treat their epilepsy. If you are following a keto diet with a goal of losing fat, you don’t need tons of extra dietary fat, just enough to keep you full and within your calorie deficit goal.

Keto for weight loss is high fat in the sense that a higher percentage of your calories will come from fat as opposed to carbs or even protein. That’s because fat is very calorie dense and of course you are eating very few carbs. However, it doesn’t have to be tons of butter, heavy cream, or bacon. You should aim for high quality natural fats like avocados, cheese, whole eggs, fatty fish, and nuts, always keeping a close eye on your caloric intake.

Now, there are people who do eat extremely high fat and, yes, they can lose weight, as long as they are maintaining a calorie deficit; however, maintaining that deficit while eating a high amount of fat is difficult and the calories that could be utilized to get in some good lean protein and green leafy veggies are going to that fat. If your goal with Keto is weight loss, you want your body to be burning the fat that you have, there is no need to provide it with an excess of dietary fat.

It’s important to realize that as you lose weight, you’ll need to re-figure your macros. I generally do this about every 15-20 pounds I lose just to make sure I am still eating correctly. Also, when I figure my macros, I always use the sendentary setting because, even though I exercise fairly regularly, it’s not a super hard work out and I don’t add calories in that I burn. If you are a person that does extreme workouts and needs additional calories for fuel, then of course you can change those settings.


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Getting Started

What next?

Once you have your macros lined up and you understand your goals, it helps to have a tracker such as MyFitnessPal or CarbManager. Both of those have free options in the App Store. You should be strict on tracking, especially starting out because most people are not aware of exactly how much they are eating or what the nutritional values are of what they eat.

To accurately log what you eat, you should carefully measure your servings and the most accurate way is with an inexpensive kitchen scale. If you don’t have one, use measuring cups but be careful to not overfill them! If you use an app to track the nutrient information, always be aware that the information is often provided by other users and may not be accurate.

Another helpful piece of the keto puzzle is to make sure that you are maintaining adequate electrolytes, namely sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. You can get these from the food that you eat and you can use supplements.

Making sure that you have enough of these is key to avoiding, or lessening the effects of the “keto flu”, a period of feeling irritable, tired, dizzy, and/or nauseous during the transition from burning glucose to becoming fat adapted and running your body on fat. It can be a few days to a couple of weeks long and usually starts rather quickly after beginning keto.

If you’ve been on keto for awhile and start feeling this way, check your electrolytes! For a quick guide on electrolytes while on keto please check out this PerfectKeto article.

My Keto Journey

I started following a ketogenic diet on March 17, 2018. I weighed 210 pounds, 20 pounds down from my highest weight. That first 20 pounds was lost through the stress of moving my family several states away for my husband’s new job. Once we were settled in our new home in the desert, the daily pain and fatigue that came with my autoimmune disorder was so much better, most likely due to the arid climate, that I thought it was well past time for me to really get healthy.

Over the last 6 months I have lost another 56 pounds and am now 154 pounds. I am no longer diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, my blood pressure and cholesterol are in normal ranges, and I feel amazing! I’ve had a long journey with several serious health issues over the last 18 years including a stroke in 2003, chronic Lyme disease, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, and a slew of other things. For the first time in my adult life, at the age of 38, I feel amazing!

Now, it’s not all keto, I am much more active now, but without the weight loss and improvement of my health symptoms thanks to keto, I wouldn’t be able to be. I sometimes feel like I’m a bit over-enthusiastic but I’m seriously so very excited for what I’ve gained through keto that I want to share it with the world!

My journey isn’t over, I still have weight I’d like to lose and I’m starting a strength training program to firm and tone my body and get some real muscles! I hope that you follow me through the rest of my journey and if you need some help getting started or have questions along the way, let me know!

I’m going to include before and after pictures of me, although that is terrifying, yikes! I really want you to see what can be accomplished, in a relatively short time using a ketogenic diet. To be clear, I have not used any type of keto supplements or products at all. My results are from diet and a little exercise alone.


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Current progress on keto

And You’re Off!

This has been a down and dirty guide to getting started. I will be following up this article with ones that get more in depth with topics such as keto friendly meals, eating out while staying keto, how to keep yourself accountable, and keep you updated on my own journey. Please let me know if you have any specific questions or would like to share your own tips!