The goal on a ketogenic diet is to get into ketosis, to balance your appetite hormones and to melt fat at a rate of 1 to 2 kilos per week. In the first week, you may lose 1 – 2 kilos through eliminating fluids but after that, it will be mostly fat.
You do not need to count any calories on a keto diet.
Remember that it usually takes 2 to 5 days getting into ketosis. But for some people it might take 4 weeks for that to happen, especially if you are carbohydrate sensitive, insulin resistant, you have type 2 diabetes, or are severely overweight.
For most of us, however, ketosis becomes real around days 2 to 5.
You can stay in ketosis as long as you want and the only way to fall out is if you don’t eat enough fats, you eat too much protein or too many carbs. If you fall out of ketosis either on purpose or by accident, for any reason, don’t beat yourself up or feel bad about it. You’re usually only 12 hours away from re-entering ketosis if that is your choice.
Remember that intermittent fasting, for example eating dinner at 6 in the evening and not eating anything until lunchtime the next day will put you in ketosis to start with, so you are on the right track.
You will not need snacks because the meals are very satisfying and you will get enough nutrients but if you experience any cravings, adding a tablespoon or two of olive oil or butter to your meals will help. If you feel like having a snack a hard-boiled egg or a handful of biltong (with fat) works well.
For breakfast have two to three eggs with 2 tablespoons of butter. On weekends have a classic bacon and eggs breakfast or 2 eggs with one tablespoon butter, 1 tablespoon olive oil, slices of avocado and one tablespoon avocado oil. Alternatively, have a Bulletproof Coffee for breakfast. (You can Google the recipe)
If you are not hungry when you wake up, feel free to skip breakfast or just have a cup of bulletproof coffee. Reduced hunger is common on a keto diet, so don’t worry about skipping any meal.
You will need to drink lots of water every day. Especially in your first week. The water is not meant to do anything else but hydrate you. It’s not supposed to keep you from being hungry because that’s what the food is for. Be careful with other beverages especially if they contain sugar or sweeteners. Green tea is fine. So is coffee and alcohol but we recommend you omit these completely in the first 2 – 3 weeks.
In the first few days have a glass of water with ½ teaspoon of salt early in the morning. Or if you can’t stomach the saltwater (I can’t) add more salt to your meals. Or have a teaspoon of Marmite in a cup of hot water (my personal favourite). The extra salt for a day or two will help with the typical “keto-flu” symptoms you may experience.
Snacks and beverages are the main two things that would knock people out of ketosis by accident. You can also drink almond milk and coconut milk but pay attention to the carbohydrate content and the added sugars. Also, make sure the products do not have any extra additives.
When starting on a keto diet it might be necessary to take magnesium and potassium supplements. Vitamin D is also often necessary especially if you’re over 50. Another option is to ask your pharmacist for an electrolyte supplement.
We do not recommend changing your exercise program in the first 2 to 3 weeks. Just keep on doing whatever it is you are doing right now. Even if it is nothing. You can re-assess in two to three weeks.
Sleep enough – for most people at least seven hours per night on average – and keep stress under control. Sleep deprivation and stress hormones raise blood sugar levels, slowing ketosis and weight loss a bit. Plus they might make it harder to stick to a keto diet, and resist temptations. So while handling sleep and stress will not get you into ketosis on its own, it’s still worth thinking about.
Eating out in the first week or two is not recommended.
After starting a ketogenic diet, how do you know if you’re in ketosis? It’s possible to measure it by testing urine, blood or breath samples. But there are also telltale symptoms, that require no testing:
Dry mouth and increased thirst. Unless you drink enough and get enough electrolytes, like salt, your mouth may feel dry. Try a cup or two of saltwater, marmite with hot water, or bouillon daily, plus as much water as you need. You may also feel a metallic taste in your mouth.
Increased urination. A ketone named acetoacetate may end up in the urine. This makes it possible to test for ketosis using urine strips. It also – at least when starting out – can result in having to go to the bathroom more often. This may be the main cause of the increased thirst (above).
Keto breath. This is due to a ketone body called acetone escaping via our breath. It can make a person’s breath smell “fruity”, or similar to nail polish remover. This smell can sometimes also be felt from sweat when working out. It’s often temporary.
Other, less specific but more positive signs include:
Reduced hunger. Many people experience a marked reduction in hunger on a keto diet. This may be caused by an increased ability of the body to be fueled by its fat stores. Many people feel great when they eat just once or twice a day, and may automatically end up doing a form of intermittent fasting. This saves time and money, while also speeding up weight loss.
Possibly increased energy. After a few days of feeling tired (the “keto flu“) many people experience a clear increase in energy levels. This can also be experienced as clear thinking, a lack of “brain fog” or even a sense of euphoria.
Keto “Side Effects”
When you suddenly switch your body’s metabolism from burning carbs (glucose) to fat and ketones you may have some side effects as your body gets used to its new fuel, especially during day 2-5.
Symptoms can include headache, tiredness, muscle fatigue, cramping, difficulty focusing (“brain fog”), lack of motivation, irritability, and heart palpitations. These side effects are short-lived for most people, and there are ways to minimize or cure them.
The main cause of the keto flu is that carb-rich foods can result in water retention (swelling) in the body. When you start a low-carb diet much of this excess fluid is lost. You may notice increased urination, and with that, some extra salt is lost too.
This can result in dehydration and a lack of salt before your body adapts. This appears to be the reason behind most of the symptoms of the keto flu.
You can reduce or even eliminate these symptoms by making sure you get enough water and salt. One simple way to do this is to drink a cup of bouillon, broth or saltwater 1-2 times per day.
Disclaimer: Our wellness coaches are not medical doctors, dietitians, nutritionists or fitness trainers. But they are trained wellness coaches and as such is uniquely positioned to help you make lasting lifestyle changes with the least effort.