Ketogenic Diet 101

A ketogenic, or keto, diet is a low carb diet where the body produces ketones in the liver to be used as energy. By lowering your intake of carbs, the body is induced into a state known as ketosis, a process that the body initiates to help us survive when food intake is low. During this state our body produces ketones produced from the breakdown of fats in the liver, and burns ketones as the primary energy source instead of carbs.

What’s the difference between a low carb and keto diet? Usually, the main focus in low carb dieting is to keep the carb and fat intake low and the protein intake high. Keto diets emphasize a higher fat, moderate protein, and low carb intake. Many people, including me during my show prep, have experienced low carb side effects, but do not when they are on a keto diet. Some of these low carb side effects include:

  • Low energy and fatigue
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Hunger pangs
  • Weight gain

Your body needs to burn a source of macros for energy—it usually breaks down carbs or proteins to create glucose as its primary energy source. In a keto diet, you are shifting the macro fuel source to burn fat as a source of energy. With that said, your body doesn’t automatically convert to this type of energy source overnight. When your body is accustomed to running on carbs and then you no longer provide that carb source, you’re probably not going to be a happy camper in the early stages. Switching from burning carbs to burning fat is a different process for everyone and is not as simple as just limiting carbs. There can be a few reasons why people starting a keto diet give up too soon and write it off as something that doesn’t work for them.

1. Carbs are too high.

Everyone’s body responds differently to different levels of carbs, fat, and protein. You’re going to have to track your intake for a while to see where your metabolic switch over is. Maybe your body can handle 25 grams of carbs per day before getting out of ketosis, whereas someone else may be able to tolerate more or less than you. If your carbs are low enough and you’re still not in a keto state, then your calories may be too low.

2. Calories are too low.

You may be putting your body into starvation mode if you’re not eating enough food/calories. When this happens, your ability to burn any type of food source will be very difficult. In a keto diet you can’t just remove a whole food source and not replace it. More often than not, increasing your fat macro will be enough, as well as slightly increasing your protein. I recommend using a food tracking app to help you manage and adjust your macros. People who have trouble finding their body’s happy spot often err on the side of too much protein. Once they adjust this and increase their fat macros, they were more successful.

3. Protein is too high.

Protein can turn to carbs in a process called gluconeogenesis (GNG). GNG is a metabolic process where the body makes glucose, a necessary body fuel, from non-carb sources such as protein (amino acids), lactate from the muscles, and the glycerol component of fatty acids. When this happens, your carbs are too high and, again, you won’t be in ketosis. Once you find your sweet spot, your energy will increase and you will be feeling a lot better. If you’re an easy gainer looking to lose some extra love, give a keto diet an honest try.

Remember that keto is high in fat, moderate in protein, and very low in carbs. Your nutrient intake should be around 70% fats, 25% protein, and 5% carbohydrate. This is just a ball park figure—everyone’s body requires different macros so you may need to adjust these numbers.

Foods to generally avoid

  • Sugary foods
  • Grains or starches
  • Fruit
  • Beans or legumes
  • Root vegetables
  • Low-fat products
  • Unhealthy fats
  • Alcohol
  • Sugar-free diet foods

Foods to generally eat

  • Meat
  • Fatty fish
  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Healthy oils
  • Healthy fats
  • Low-carb veggies

How to get into ketosis

  • Restrict carbohydrates
  • Restrict protein to moderate levels
  • Eat enough fat
  • Avoid snacking when not hungry
  • Add exercise/cardio
  • For some people, add intermittent fasting

A keto diet can be great for the overweight and diabetic, especially those who are looking to improve their metabolic health. It may be less suited for athletes or those wishing to add large amounts of muscle or weight. For example, keto dieting is not beneficial for a hard-gainer body type like mine. As with any diet, talk to your doctor or a nutritionist before starting keto. This may be a great option for you and your lifestyle, but will only work if you are consistent and stick with it long term.