Hey there!! I thought I'd write a keto for beginners mini-series for anyone out there that's curious about the keto diet, what some of the benefits are, and how it may be useful for both weight loss and wellness in general.
You’ve likely heard about the keto diet and may have an idea of what it's all about and I also find that there's a lot of confusion so here we go!
Disclaimer, I am not a Doctor and I don't have any medical training I'm just sharing my health and wellness experience in the event it helps educate/inspire you.
Also, I have no agenda in sharing this with you other than I simply want to share information that I feel may be helpful for you to live your best life.
I consume a large amount of information due to the fact that I drive a lot for my career and I have enormous amounts of energy and I crave learning so I’m constantly listening to books, podcasts, reading recipes, etc about various topics I’m interested in and health and wellness is something that I love and I’m happy to share with you. If keto isn’t for you but you still get some good nuggets then that’s awesome!
In 10 years we may be on another health journey that’s not keto so just putting it out there that I don’t have any agenda with keto.
Health is wealth in my book and it can be taken from you in an instant. I’ve had muscle issues in the past that kept me from doing things I love, I’ve gained weight and went on a 30 pound weight loss journey in my 20’s, my husband had tonsil cancer back in 2016 which was one of the hardest things to go through, and I’ve had various family members and friends that have and are on difficult health journeys.
Nobody wants to wake up and feel less than their best and a lot of us just don’t have the knowledge or the time to figure out how to feel better, and frankly we are taught so many things that are just plain wrong that we don’t know where to start a lot of times.
If I can take what I’ve learned and share and it helps you then my mission is complete, so let’s dive in!
Nutrition's Role In Health
Oddly enough, when I was about 10 years old, I was watching a documentary with a father that had a son that was suffering from epileptic seizures and the doctors didn’t have a cure. They were pumping tons of medication in him and he was still having seizures on a daily basis. The dad did a ton of research and started changing up his son’s nutrition to a super high fat diet and the seizures started decreasing.
I’m not sure if at the time they called it keto but that documentary and that family’s story has stuck with me to this day about how food and nutrition play a vital role in our health and how unfortunately, medicine is not always the answer.
My Keto Journey
My keto journey began about 2 years ago when a girlfriend of mine mentioned it at lunch one day. She was loading up on avocados and sour cream on her eggs and claimed it was helping her lose some extra pounds and she was never hungry, and I was intrigued. Then another friend of mine started talking about it and was selling a supplement related to keto so I decided to do some research and give it a go! I'm always up for a new way to be healthier but I was struggling because I had always been taught to avoid fat and I wasn't understanding how eating MORE fat was going to help me get/stay lean and lose any LBS, can I get an AMEN!
I have gone on various resets and cleanses over the years to get in tip top beach body shape and lose some fluff and I usually just end up getting really skinny and losing my lean muscle and shape. I also find that the results aren't very sustainable in the long run and let's be real I'm usually having major hunger pains!
I really like having a sustainable plan that I can maintain throughout the year and integrate it as part of my lifestyle versus doing something extreme for a few weeks and then switching back. Usually I stay about the same weight year round and put in a little extra effort during the months when I'm in a swim suit.
Starting Out On The Ketogenic Diet
When I first started out on keto, my goal was to see what it was about and hopefully get a bit leaner than I currently was to see if it worked. All I heard was "low carbs and high fat" so like many keto newbies, I thought cool, I'll just load up on cheese and bacon!
While you will feel and look leaner when you ditch the carbs, after about a month, I realized that while I was leaner, the foods I was eating weren't all that healthy. I was eating a lot of processed lunch meats and cheeses which were considered "keto good" because they were zero or low carb but in my heart of hearts knew that wasn't how I wanted to continue on this journey but I could see the benefits of consuming less carb so I started doing some research.
I read up on the diet and the science behind it so I could better understand what was going on inside my body when I ate carbs, cut carbs, ate fat, etc. I knew that cutting carbs like bread, chips, pasta, etc was healthier for me but I really didn't understand why, and I still had reservations about eating large quantities of fat based on prior programming and what I was taught in nutrition class.
So what is the ketogenic diet?
The Ketogenic Diet
In a nutshell the ketogenic diet is a very low-carb, high-fat diet with moderate amounts of protein. Sometimes people get it confused with the Atkins Diet which was big oh back I think in the late nineties, early 2000’s and that’s primarily focusing on low-carb but to my knowledge doesn’t have an emphasis on replacing the carbs with high quantities of fat.
When you limit your carb intake and replace carbs with fat, over a period of time, your body starts breaking down stored fat through a metabolic process called ketosis (more about this down below)
So basically the keto diet enables your body to burn fat for fuel. But we’re going to nerd out a little bit more so you can get the full picture because understanding the science behind it will really help you internalize the impact it has on your body both from a losing weight/fat standpoint and also from a wellness perspective with what's going on internally.
First of all, let’s talk about some of the benefits that are showing up with a ketogenic lifestyle/diet.
Health Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet
When doing my research, I did read a lot about various benefits that people were experiencing on the ketogenic diet. Some of the top benefits was reducing inflammation throughout the body, providing better mental clarity, reducing blood sugar spikes and crashes, helping to regulate hormones, and losing weight, just to name a few.
There’s also research that is showing that a ketogenic diet can lead to significant health benefits for those with Type 2 Diabetes and insulin sensitivity in addition to a ton of other diseases.
Studies are also showing a positive correlation with the ketogenic diet for improving blood pressure and raising HDL which is the "good cholesterol" versus a low-fat diet.
There's also promising research showing that following the ketogenic diet can lower inflammation in both the body and brain and there’s growing research showing that cancer cells which have a strong dependency on glucose are affected when there’s not enough glucose in the body to fuel them meaning when there’s less glucose present they can’t survive.
And that’s just scratching the surface on the benefits that are coming to light for a ketogenic diet. Needless to say, I was super excited to embark on a new journey that would be good both for my body on the outside and the inside.
Let me pause right here and just note something that is very important to me for everyone to understand and I'm going to be doing more posts on this in the future. Inflammation is so prevalent out there due to our diets and stressful lifestyle and while like stress, inflammation isn't a "disease" just like stress it causes so many horrible diseases that if we can intentionally focus on ways to lower and fight inflammation internally, that results in huge benefits as far as how we age, fight disease, and live our best life. Ok...off my soapbox for now...
Your Body On Carbohydrates
So let’s talk first about what happens when you eat food that is high in carbohydrates because this was news to me and I thought I was pretty informed in the area of nutrition. When you eat food, your body converts that food into energy, and when you eat carbohydrates, your body converts those carbohydrates into a sugar called glucose which is absorbed into the bloodstream with the help of a hormone called insulin. That glucose then enters your cells and provides energy to them. (Insulin helps control your blood sugar levels and is produced by an organ in your body called the pancreas.)
That right there was something new that I learned when I started doing more research. So think about it…you get up and eat breakfast. Say you have a piece of toast or oatmeal, your body is processing those carbs that you may think are healthy, as sugar and you’re getting a potential blood sugar spike that you may not have realized thinking you were making a healthy choice.
Now there are different types of simple and complex carbs and some foods have more carbs than others, but just the realization that if I eat oatmeal instead of eggs, my blood sugar would spike higher with the oatmeal than with the eggs gave me insight into what was going on inside my body even when I thought I was being healthy!
So another example, think about when you hit the candy bowl or eat one of those snack packs out of a vending machine. What happens when you eat a bunch of carbs like that is your blood sugar spikes because you’ve got all that glucose getting pumped into your bloodstream, and then your pancreas pumps out insulin to control your blood sugar, and your body burns the sugar AKA glucose as a quick fuel. Once it burns it up usually you'll feel a crash of energy or wind up getting more sugar cravings and the pattern continues.
That my friends is called a sugar rush. That's why you can eat a snack pack of carbs and 30 minutes later be hungry again.
Any extra glucose that your body doesn't need at that time gets stored in the liver and muscles to be used at a later time for fuel and this stored glucose is called glycogen (that’s important – we’ll talk about glycogen in a bit).
So now that you have a clearer idea of what’s going on inside your body when you eat carbohydrates, let’s talk about how your body uses different fuel sources.
As I mentioned above, when you eat food, your body processes that food and uses it for energy otherwise known as fuel. When your body is looking for energy, it starts by looking for any glucose that’s hanging around in the bloodstream because out of all the fuel options, glucose is the quickest and easiest for your body to burn. It's the path of least resistance for your body.
Then if it doesn’t find enough glucose, your body moves on to look for glycogen, which is the glucose that is stored in your liver and muscles.
The best analogy for your body and the fuel sources I've seen is think about the last time you went camping and went to go start that campfire to roast s’mores. When you start that campfire, you need something dry that will light quick, right? So you hunt for some dry leaves, pine needles, newspaper, etc. Then once you get that lit, you generally root around for some twigs and dry pieces of small wood to get the fire going a bit stronger and once those pieces of wood get going for a bit, then you can set a nice big piece of firewood on top and since the fire is more established, instead of the log snuffing out the fire, the fire is burning strong and steady enough to light the larger piece of firewood and then you have your fire burning bright for the rest of the evening.
With me so far? Ok great…in this example, carbohydrates are like the dry leaves, pine needles or newspaper. Protein is the twigs or small dry pieces of wood that help keep the fire burning, and fat is the big piece of firewood.
So like your body, when you start a fire, you want to start with what will burn the fastest with the least amount of energy. Pine needles/dry leaves require just a spark, right? They are dry and they light up super quick and they burn out super quick. To keep them going you have to keep adding more pine needles or some twigs.
Then you have protein, or your twigs, that light up after a bit and then continue to burn longer than the pine needles, give off some heat but it will require either more pine needles to keep the flame going or once the fire gets hot enough, putting a log on it to keep the fire going for the long haul. So like the fire, if you just have carbs or protein, they burn up relatively fast and continuously need to be replaced for energy.
Now to get the big piece of firewood lit, you can't just light it first, you have to let the heat build from the fire and then get the log lit and once it's lit it can go much longer and burn much hotter than the other 2 sources of energy. So in your body, when we get to this state where we are burning fat for fuel instead of protein or carbohydrates, we are in a metabolic state called ketosis which is where the body is now burning fat for fuel.
So how do we get this state of ketosis and why is it something that people on the ketogenic diet want to achieve?
So to recap, ketosis is the metabolic state that the body is in when it goes from burning sugar for fuel/energy and switches over to burning fat for fuel. Think of it like your car switching over from using gasoline for fuel over to electricity.
Life As a "Sugar Burner"
Before going into ketosis, you have likely been a “sugar burner” because naturally on the standard American diet, we have so many carbohydrates in our food that even if you try to eat healthy and clean your body has ample amounts either in the bloodstream or being stored for later use.
As a "sugar burner" you may be experiencing the following and honestly you may not realize you're suffering from them until you get into ketosis like me.
There were things I didn't realize I was experiencing because they were my "normal" and then once I was in ketosis I could look back and see the difference in how I felt.
- Brain Fog or Trouble Concentrating
- Mood Swings
- Night Sweats / Trouble Sleeping / Waking Up Not Feeling Rested
- Energy Spikes & Crashes
- Not Being Able To Lose Weight / Not Being Able To Lost That Last 5-10 LBS
- Pain In The Body Due to Inflammation
Being in ketosis means you’ve burned through that sugar and now your body has switched over to converting fat into a chemical called ketones which your body can then use as fuel.
Life As a "Fat Burner"
Once you convert over to being a "Fat Burner" here are some things you will likely experience. Honestly I've experienced each and every one of these benefits and that's why the ketogenic lifestyle is so much more to me than just a way to lose some pounds. I'll go into detail on the benefits I've experienced below but here's a quick list.
- Reduced Hunger / Appetite Suppressed
- Less Mood Swings
- Decreased Brain Fog / Easier Time Concentrating or Focusing
- Decreased Cravings
- Better Sleep & Waking Up Feeling Rested
- Weight Loss / Feeling & Looking Leaner
- Over Time Decreased Pain in Body From Inflammation
- Higher Levels of Energy
What Are Ketones
Real quick, let’s talk about ketones and what they are because not only are they in your body, you may hear about exogenous ketone supplements that you can buy and drink usually by mixing with water.
When your body realizes that there’s no glucose or glycogen to use for fuel, it signals the liver to start breaking down fat to be used for fuel. Your liver converts the fat into “ketone bodies” which is a type of acid, and these ketone bodies can then be used by the body as fuel.
These ketones then get sent to our cells mitochondria which if you recall from high school biology gives us energy. The beauty with this kind of energy is that since we are getting our fuel from fat, remember back to the campfire analogy, the energy is going to burn longer, more steady, and stronger, so we won't get the energy crashes, cravings, etc.
Exogenous Ketone Supplements
One of the ways I was first introduced to the philosophy of keto was via a friend that was selling a exogenous ketone supplement product. You can go online and search different products but basically the claim behind these supplements is it helps get the body into ketosis faster than just by restricting carbohydrates so it may help support you getting into and staying in ketosis longer.
I’ll review some of my favorite exogenous ketone supplements in another post as I do like to supplement my daily routine with exogenous ketone supplements usually in either a capsule or powder form.
I would point out that it’s not a replacement to the nutrition side of things but it can help enhance your journey and your goals.
Testing Ketone Levels
If you’re serious about getting into ketosis, you can test your ketone levels a few different ways.
Urine Test Strips
You can buy urine test strips and test your urine to see if you’re body is in ketosis – I’ve done this method personally and it’s nominal to buy the test strips.
Blood Glucose Meter
The other way is to test your blood ketone levels with a blood glucose meter. It's a bit more expensive than the urine strips and it's also more accurate.
So now that we've talked about the what and some of the why of ketosis, let's talk about how to get into ketosis
How To Get Into Ketosis
To get into the metabolic state of ketosis where your body is utilizing fat for fuel, we start with working to get the amount of carbohydrates down so that your body will deplete the glucose and glycogen stores in the liver and muscles, and then move on to converting fat for fuel and energy
So here's what I learned after doing keto kinda wrong for the first year and I learned it after reading multiple books and if finally hit home.
For your body to get into that state of ketosis where it's converting fat and burning that fat for fuel, you have to create the right environment.
Commit for a period of time
You have to set the stage for your body to convert over from burning carbs (sugar) to burning fat. It's like your car running on gasoline and now you want it to run on electric energy....you can't just switch over instantly, you have to convert over, and the way you do that is to intentionally lower your carb intake very low AND DON'T CHEAT because you have to get your body to burn through all the glucose and glycogen stores to then start the process of adapting to using ketones and fat for fuel rather than glucose. This happens in the first few days where your body starts adapting and while there are some side effects like brain fog, keto flu, etc that can come up it's totally worth it to get to the other side!
Think of it like being on a coffee or caffeine sabbatical. If you set a goal to stop drinking caffeine for a week, and the first day get a caffeine headache because your body is addicted and it’s craving the caffeine and you have a weak moment and grab a cup of coffee, the headache goes away but you lose that day because you got your fix and you’re back to being addicted.
You have to give yourself enough time for your body to basically detox off the caffeine so it’s no longer craving it so that it can adjust. Same with keto and limiting your carbohydrates. If you have a cheat meal or day and your body hasn’t been depleted of the glucose and glycogen, it’s just going to burn that for fuel instead of working itself into the metabolic state of ketosis and you are set back however long it takes to burn that fuel. If you feel brain fog, irritability, keto flu, it's simply your body's response to not getting what it's used to and honestly it's an eye opener to how addicted our bodies are to certain things like sugar.
Once you get through that stage and stick to the low carb high fat protocol, you will start to experience the benefits of being keto adapted, likely within a week to 10 days and they continue to show up 2 and 3 weeks out as you continue with the program.
That's the key guys...I would see some good results in the mirror and then have a cheat meal and wouldn't stick with it for a set period of time so I initially didn't get the full benefit of getting into ketosis. Once I read Chalene Johnson's 131 Method book, and Dr Axe's Keto Diet. Everything clicked about being on it longer than a few days...I guess you could say I’m a slow learner.
I thought I’d share some of the benefits that I’ve experienced on the ketogenic diet over the past year and a half. Some of them have been subtle and others have been almost immediate.
Benefits I've Experienced on the Ketogenic Diet
Brain Fog Lifted
I didn’t even realize that I had brain fog until I had days when I was starting to get into ketosis that I experienced a certain mental clarity that was somewhat foreign to me.
Positive Shift in Mood Swings, Night Sweats, & Hormones
A month into it I realized that and I wasn’t having my weekly or monthly emotional meltdowns over random things and I was feeling happier emotionally. That was a huge eye opener because legit I thought I was going crazy and my husband did too!
Another thing I’ve noticed is days and especially nights when I don’t indulge in carbohydrates or sugar, I sleep better, I wake up feeling way more rested and I don’t have night sweats. I was getting to the point where I was literally waking up at 2am 4-5 nights a week completely drenched in sweat and at the time of writing this I’m 37 years old, so that was when I was 36. My doctor checked confirmed that all my hormones were where they needed to be so she wasn’t sure why I was experiencing those. I had also been getting my cycle every two weeks (lovely I know) and after being in ketosis it’s back to a monthly routine.
Easier time focusing and concentrating
I tend to be a serial multi-tasker and I can get really frazzled if I’m trying to concentrate on something and there’s noise or distractions in the background. I find that I have an easier time staying “on task” and not hopping around to other things and I can focus and concentrate easier
Getting Leaner while keeping lean muscle
One complaint I have when I’ve done cleanses or other nutrition plans in the past is while they are effective I lose my shape in my bust and my booty and everything gets flat and I get skinny. On the ketogenic diet I keep my lean muscle and shape and get lean so I have my abs, my arms and back have definition and my legs are toned from my workouts which is how I like to look but the extra fluff is gone which I appreciate
No cravings & No hunger throughout the day
I’ll talk about the specifics about what I eat in a day but as far as just the concept of being hungry, feeling satisfied and having cravings, other than the transition from being a sugar burner to a fat burner, I don’t really experience hunger at all and very rarely do I have cravings. I’m still human so yes, I want chocolate and French fries before my cycle starts but it’s super easy to pass up the desserts etc on a daily basis which hasn’t been that way in the past.
I know this was a super long post and if you’re still reading, good for you and I hope this provided some insight that you can use to help you on your health and wellness journey.
Want more? Head to my Keto for Beginners Part 2 where we discuss the nutrition side of things so you can set your self up for success!