What are some of your goals when you start a new diet?

For some, it’s about improving performance. For others, it’s about getting a mental boost by adding / eliminating certain foods. It might even be a means to prevent or exacerbate medical conditions, like type 2 diabetes.

But for many, a new diet plan is about losing weight. And boy are there a plethora of options to choose from.

During celebratory periods, where bountiful meals are a fixture of the season, we may be prone to putting on a few pounds. Which is why every January, you’ll likely hear numerous ads for the latest “fat burning” nutritional strategies—Atkins, Zone, Paleo, Whole30, Detox, South Beach, or even the Twinkie Diet (in which a nutrition professor ate primarily snack foods and lost 27 lbs)—that promise to help eliminate excess weight as you head into the new year.

OK, maybe not the Twinkie Diet, but you get the picture.

Fad diets tend to target individuals that are vulnerable to the idea that they may need to shed a few pounds to look and feel better. Celebrity “testimonials” no doubt only sweeten the appeal.

Unfortunately, popular diet crazes often over-promise and under-deliver.

They advertise quick-fix weight loss solutions with little effort and, in many cases, have restrictive or eccentric food choices (like the cabbage soup diet, which claims you’ll drop 10lbs in a week).

Furthermore, many of these diets often fail to produce long-lasting healthy changes associated with said weight loss due to their dietary criteria simply being unsustainable or so complicated to adhere to that they, ultimately, discouraging continuation.Hankey2017

But don’t fret—not all nutrition strategies fall short of expectations. That’s especially true with the keto diet, despite the attention it has received the last few years.

We’re here to show you that a ketogenic diet is different by shedding light on some often overlooked aspects that tend to cause confusion.

Hopefully highlighting these issues will help you identify some facets of your diet that need tweaking in order to stay on track with your weight loss goals and attain long-term health.

Why Chose a Keto Diet for Weight Loss?

Many diets—especially low carb diets—tend to cause a sudden initial loss of weight. While exciting at first, it is important to know that most of this is water weight and not fat loss.

Carbohydrates, stored as glycogen in the body, are usually stored with a lot of water (2-3g of water per 1g glycogen).Brooks1996 Depleting muscle glycogen stores releases this water (a lot of which you sweat out when exercising) and hence that instant dip in the number on the scale.

A ketogenic diet in particular has a daily net carb intake of <5 % (about 50g for the average individual) with a focus on consuming more fat and a moderate amount of protein. It is often confused with an Atkins diet due to the foundations of both diets being built on the principle of low carbohydrate intake.

Whereas an Atkins diet gradually reintroduces carbohydrates, a ketogenic diet maintains a constant low-carb / high-fat state in order to remain in ketosis—a metabolic state in which fatty acid breakdown products, known as ketones, are used as the body’s main fuel source.

Increasing fat consumption (70% - 80%+ on a keto diet), therefore, provides sufficient substrate for the body to use for the production ketones (in the liver) for energy.

It is important to note that while a keto diet limits carbohydrate, total energy consumption in terms of caloric intake doesn’t necessarily have to change. The calories from carbohydrates are simply replaced with foods containing high-quality fats, such as avocados and salmon.

So while a ketogenic diet may initially be seen, in some sense, as restrictive, it also allows you to eat nutrient-packed meals made from a wide variety of delicious whole foods.

And from a high level, the proven health benefits of keto are numerous. To briefly summarize, in addition to weight loss, a keto-based diet has also been shown to improve a number of health related issues including decreased hunger / increased satiation, a decrease in fat mass / increased lean muscle mass, and improved insulin sensitivity / diabetes control.Stubbs2018,Volek2002,Boden2005

Keto Diet Considerations

As with many lifestyle changes, in order to get the most out of your weight loss journey, one has to make concerted efforts and sacrifices.

Losing and then maintaining a healthy weight while on a ketogenic diet requires the combined effort of three key factors: being cognizant of the foods you eat, how much of them you eat, and also making sure you get enough to sustain your goals.

Be Mindful of Your Food Choices (Especially Hidden Carbs)

The goal of a ketogenic diet is to get into a state of ketosis, or fat utilization for energy.

In order to lose weight on a keto, you must allow your body to stay in a state of ketosis. This is accomplished, as mentioned in our brief refresher, by limiting your total calories from carbs to no more than 5 % of your total daily calories.Masood2019

You may be surprised to learn that a lot of foods you wouldn’t think have a lot of carbohydrates actually do!

For example, although almonds are a great keto staple, other nuts like cashews should be avoided as they carry more carbohydrates than fat. Also be sure to consider “net carbs,” which are the total number of carbs remaining after subtracting the total amount of fiber.

Root veggies are another tricky food to incorporate. While nutrient-rich and chalk full of fiber (we’ll get to that in the next few sections), starchy vegetables like carrots (~6g / 5% carbs), sweet potatoes (~29g / 20% carbs) and beets (~9g / 10% carbs) can actually put you over your daily carb intake with a single serving and should be limited on strict keto diets.Bartz2002

Lastly, while keto is achievable for those who don’t consume meat, a key culprit in slowing your keto weight loss goals may be consuming soy-based products.

Soy products, while not inherently bad on the carb front (only around 1.2 net carbs) and a good source of plant protein, do tend to be highly processed, as is the case in tofu.Lusas1995

Ultimately, what it comes down to is being diligent in reading the labels of the foods you purchase and also being mindful of the macronutrient amounts that you consume to ensure you choose the right items that point to the symptoms and signs of ketosis.

Don’t Over-Eat to Compensate for a Lack of Carbs

The simplest equation to answer the age-old question “How do I lose weight?” can be illustrated as: Calories In < Calories Out

This means that when you’re dieting, you have to burn more calories / energy than you consume. Since 70% - 80% of your calories come from fat on a ketogenic diet vs. 5% from carbs, the initial period after starting can be a definite shock to your metabolic system. This is often referred to as the keto flu.

You might feel hungry and lethargic (low energy levels) as a result of suddenly removing all those carbohydrates. That’s totally normal—you might even feel slightly famished because of the removal of the normally satiating carb-heavy foods.

Snacking is OK! There’s a number of keto food items that can help curb those hunger pangs.

What’s not good is thinking that just because a food or snack (bar, shake, crisp, etc.) is keto means that you can eat them in abundance. Some foods, while healthy and totally keto, still pack a substantial caloric punch and may cause weight gain.

Let’s take an avocado, for example. Having an avocado, as a side dish to your breakfast or in a salad loaded with nutrient-rich greens, is a great way to get some healthy fats into your diet.

However, consider the fact that 1 cup of sliced avocado is also nearly 300 calories!

The same principle applies for consuming too much protein. While a keto diet does increase the fat while lowering carbs, protein intake still remains moderate.

Adding in a scoop of protein powder to your morning shake is a great way to start the day. However, it’s important to read the label closely because not only are a lot of them loaded with sugar, but they are also calorically dense–upwards of 200 calories per serving!

Too much protein can also cause your body convert extra protein into glucose via a metabolic process known as gluconeogenesis.Schutz2011

As would be the case if you consumed carbohydrate-laden foods, your body would then turn to this newly formed glucose rather than burn fat for its primary fuel source (due to an easier conversion to ATP) and effectively kick you out of ketosis.

With USDA caloric recommendations being around 2,000 calories per day, having 10% - 15% of your caloric allowance in one small snack or drink might not leave you with much wiggle room for what foods to eat later on in the day. That’s why it’s so important to consider where you chose to “spend” your calories.

In order to stay in ketosis, consider adding in some keto friendly, sugar free snacks like nuts, natural beef jerky, coconut chips, or having an extra serving of non-starchy veggies with your meals. Adding a scoop of collagen protein to your morning coffee or making a shake with MCT oil or MCT oil powder can also be a delicious and calorie-conscious way (only 80 calories per scoop) to satisfy cravings while still keeping your keto weight loss goals on track.

Don’t Under-Eat to Try and Lose Weight Quicker

While you don’t want to eat too much, you also want to make sure you’re eating enough to nourish your body! Remember, keto restricts carbohydrates–not food!

Not eating enough during the day leaves you hungry and if this persists for an extended period of time, it will slow your metabolism.

A ketogenic diet works along the same metabolic principles as how your body would react during a period of starvation. When little energy is consumed or available, your body goes into “survival mode” to breakdown stored fuel sources to keep you alive. First, it breaks down available glycogen before converting to using fat and ketones (the predominant ketone body being BHB).

However, as seen in the seminal 1950s study on starvation by Ansel Keys, once your body burns through its stores of glycogen and fat, it will eventually start breaking down protein and use amino acids for fuel, resulting in muscle wasting. This leads to a number of cellular issues that can be physiologically harmful and eventually fatal.Keys1950

Simply put, without enough calories, your body has to fight itself to ensure survival.

Now that we’ve covered that, let’s discuss the keto flu in more detail.

It’s a short-term side effect of a high-fat diet resulting in a general feeling of lethargy and associated “flu-like” symptoms including stomach pain, confusion, irritability, diarrhea and constipation (due to a lack of fiber), lack of focus, and food cravings that are signs that your body is adjusting to being in a low-carb / ketosis state.

Our bodies have evolved over the millennia to adapt and self preserve. During times of insufficient calorie intake, there is a substantial drop in metabolic respiration and a cessation of weight loss done to protect vital organs of your body and to allow you to continue normal bodily functions.Doucet2001

Therefore, while you may think that eating less will help you lose weight faster, you’re actually slowing your progress down. The body needs energy and nutrients to function optimally. Even on a keto diet where there is a limit on carbohydrates, it is important to be mindful to hit all of your macronutrients through the consumption of nutrient-rich foods.

Optimize Your Weight Loss Goals

Any big life change or commitment can be a challenge to adapt to initially. But that doesn’t mean it has to be a miserable experience.

There are a few things to keep in mind so that you avoid being discouraged from sticking to your weight loss goals.

Set Realistic Expectations

What a lot of people do when they jump on a diet—keto or otherwise—is have unrealistic expectations in unrealistic time frames.

As mentioned earlier, a sustained loss of fat mass (not just water weight) happens gradually over time. When undertaking keto for weight loss, it is critical to set realistic expectations if you want to implement this diet as a long term change for improved health.

This is done through proper management and a commitment to eating whole nutritious foods that meet your macronutrient needs.

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Weight Loss

Each person’s diet and weight loss journey is different. You can’t expect a man’s weight loss to be similar to a woman’s and you cant expect someone who’s obese to lose weight in the same way as someone who’s looking to tone up.

A healthy weight loss amount varies depending on your weight loss goals and how much weight you have to lose. A normal weight loss individual should aim to lose about 0.5-1 pound per week, whereas a heavier-set person should aim to lose 1-2 pounds per week. In order to lose that amount, an approximate 250-500 or 500-1000 calories must be burned, respectively, more than what you consume.

This can be accomplished through properly adhering to a ketogenic diet as well as incorporating regular exercise. What is not healthy is to remain sedentary and compensate for the lack of physical activity by under eating (or not eating at all).

Consider Logistics

A ketogenic diet—like any diet—takes effort and commitment to not only start, but also to maintain long term. This means making the time and effort to properly consider what foods you’ll eat, when, and if they fit your keto macros.

We’ve compiled the ultimate shopping list that you can refer to as a guide when out shopping for foods that fall within the purview of a ketogenic diet. Be especially on the lookout for foods high in fiber (seeds and nuts), rich in vitamins and minerals (leafy greens), and good sources of protein and healthy fats (fatty fish like salmon) to incorporate into your keto meal plans.

Also take the time to prepare your meals rather than eating out, where the temptation to make poor dietary sources becomes greater. We’re all busy. So, if time is limited, take a day to look up some great keto recipes and meal-prep a week’s worth of meals. If you’re constantly on the run, you can check out our recommendations for keto-friendly shakes and smoothies that incorporate keto-friendly ingredients like collagen protein and MCT oil powder to help you boost the keto profile of your meals on-the-go.

Hopefully these tips and considerations will be in the back of your mind as you aim to implement and incorporate keto as part of you fat loss crushing goals!

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