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Unless you’ve been living on a remote island in the middle of the South Pacific, you have likely heard of the keto diet by now. This way of eating, more a lifestyle change than an actual diet, is currently sweeping the world. From movie stars to stay-at-home moms, gym instructors to Wall Street bankers, people are increasingly turning to keto as a way to up vitality and reduce health problems.
While many people understand the proposed benefits, however, they aren’t as certain about the transition. Are you just supposed to wake up one morning and be ON KETO? The idea seems a little extreme to most, and therefore it can prove daunting or discouraging.
The good news: You don’t need to feel intimidated. Keto is a forgiving lifestyle, in that you can transition intelligently and maintain it relatively easily once you reach full ketosis. Once you do, in fact, you will probably find it is much easier to maintain this way of eating than your current diet, which requires constant resisting of treats and beating of cravings.
But first, that transition we talked about. Let’s discuss why you should consider keto in the first place and take a look at preparing the environment, after which we’ll discuss transitioning. From there, we’ll discuss on-the-go eating and dealing with some of the less pleasant – but very temporary! – side effects of keto.
Ready to learn more about your new, better lifestyle now?
Before we begin, it may help to gain a quick understanding of why you would even consider keto in the first place. Because the transition is more difficult than other proposed methods of dieting, many people need the motivation of understanding why keto is so much better.
In a nutshell, other methods of dieting all rely on the same basic premise: fewer calories in, more calories out. Some diets cut carbs on the correct assumption that they cause weight gain and unhealthy insulin spikes. However, no other diet proposes removing carbs from the diet completely. Keto does, with the result that the body stops using glucose (a sugar molecule) as it’s primary energy source, and starts using ketones – another molecule produced in the liver – for fuel. This is called ketosis.
This has several excellent benefits, including:
- Increased fat loss
- Fewer cravings
- Increased endurance
- Less fatigue
- Strong, toned physique
- Neurological optimization
Once your body stops counting on carbohydrates for energy and starts producing ketones to keep that fuel tank topped up, you’ll experience dramatic increases in your vitality and verve. Sounds pretty good, right?
Preparing the Keto Environment
As with any lifestyle change, you are much likelier to be successful if you take the time to prepare your environment first. If you’re trying not to eat Cheetos, don’t keep Cheetos in the house. The same goes for al non-keto-approved foods, such as breads, pastas, sweets and fruit. If you live alone, this is easy-peasy … just get them out.
However, if you have a partner who is not taking the keto approach, live with roommates or have a family, chances are you will experience a bit more challenge in preparing the environment. That’s okay. Here are the most important steps to take:
- Get rid of as many carbohydrate-based foods as possible. If you have a family, cut out all the junk food; they don’t need to eat that stuff anyway. Options you want to keep on hand for kids, such as crackers or pasta, should go on one shelf that you know you’re not allowed to touch.
- Place all alcohol in one place as well. While you may be able to get away with a drink here and there once your body is in full ketosis, you have to avoid it while starting out. Signal your brain that it’s off-limits in the same way you do with the carb-based foods from the above step.
- Stock up on tasty keto foods. Nut butters, coconut flakes, carb-free beef jerky and other fun snacks will satisfy your tummy and your palate, making it easier for you to resist the other foods you’re not allowed to have. Again, put them all on one shelf with a sign that they belong to you and you alone. (You may choose to share, of course.)
- Buy an array of oils, such as avocado and walnut oil, to make cooking and dressing salads easier and more interesting.
- Pack the freezer with meat and veggies, so you have easy access to approved foods whenever you want them.
- Buy lots of eggs, nut butters, full-fat cheese and other keto foods and stick them in the fridge. During the early days, while you feel hungry and grouchy, you’ll want lots of satisfying snacks on hand, such as brie or cheddar.
No environmental preparation is foolproof. Once you take these steps, however, you have a much better chance of sticking to your keto plan.
What Does Transitioning to Keto Really Mean?
So now the question becomes, what does it really mean to transition to keto? Truthfully, it’s not as complicated as you might think. Some people do take a cold-turkey route to keto, but others are nervous about that. If you’re among the former group, more power to you. However, if you want to make sure you make a transition that lasts, it’s helpful to take a slower approach.
That means slowly cutting out carbohydrates over a period of a few weeks. Start with the “bad” ones first, such as the midmorning donut and late-night ice cream. Then cull the bread and pasta, following which you should remove potatoes and chips from your diet. Eventually you’ll remove the fruit as well.
Once you do this, you’re basically on keto. However, it makes sense to replace your lost foods with keto foods before you eliminate them completely. Start eating lots of nut butters and whole nuts in preparation. Make steamed and sautéed vegetables on the regular, using plenty of oil to cook and dress them. Sub in coconut and cheese to keep you full. Once you’re used to turning to these types of foods rather than carbs, get rid of those carbs altogether.
You may also wish to take steps such as:
- Taking a keto supplement to help your body produce and process ketones for energy
- Making a little more time for resting and napping during the early stages, as you will feel more tired while your body makes the switch
- Keeping keto “sweets” on hand, such as the detox cookies in this post
Making Plans for On-the-Go Nutrition
While you’re on the go is the hardest time to maintain a specialty way of eating, so it’s best to prepare ahead of time. If you get “caught” hungry with no good options in sight, you will have a hard time sticking to your plan. The detox cookies are a great snack to prepare ahead of time, as are the other snacks in that post. You can also stash approved snacks in your purse or backpack, such as:
- Nuts and seeds
- Seaweed (nori is great)
- Coconut products
- Dried meat
When in doubt, you can usually buy paleo-approved snacks while out and about. Just check that they don’t contain honey, which is great for those on the Paleolithic diet (because it could be gathered back in caveman times), but not so awesome for those who are trying not to ingest carbs (considering honey is pure sugar). Just read the ingredients and you’ll be fine.
Dealing with the Keto Flu
Before you reach full-blown ketosis, you will have to go through a few intermediary stages. Some of these are excellent, such as waking up one morning and noticing considerably more energy. You may also notice an alleviation of your allergy symptoms, the disappearance of the 2 o’clock slump and better digestion.
Other signs you are entering ketosis include:
- Keto breath, which has been compared to the scent of nail polish remover, though to stem from the increased acetone produced during ketosis
- Dry mouth or increased thirstiness
- Reduced appetite and a decreased need to graze
At first, you will also experience the keto flu. This is one of the most common side effects of early ketosis, and while not actually a “flu,” it does have some of the same signposts: lightheadedness, faintness, nausea, stomachaches and irritability. This is all a reaction to your body’s loss of carbs, on which it has heretofore counted as its primary energy source.
The best approach to dealing with the keto flu is to take it in stride. It is normal, and it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. So handle it as you would handle any flu: by eating healthy foods that nourish you and drinking plenty of liquids. Bone broth is a two-for-one, and it settles your stomach, so start there. Then add lean proteins and gentle fats, such as almond butter.
Resist the urge to sub in some carbs just to “get you over the hump,” though. Even a minor amount of added carbohydrates can stop ketosis and make it so you have to start all over again. The only thing worse than one bout of keto flu is two, so keep moving forward. Soon enough, all those unpleasant symptoms will abate, and it will just be you and your new, healthy lifestyle.
Staying Motivated Over the Long Haul
We would be remiss in our duties if we didn’t admit that keto is a commitment. Despite the proposed benefits, it’s not always easy to stand by while others enjoy birthday cake or happy hour treats. While there do exist keto-approved versions of both, sometimes your motivation will simply become strained.
When that happens, it’s important to give yourself a little boost. Remember those keto snacks, above? Be sure to keep some of those on hand. Also, keep yourself full of protein at all times, even if you don’t feel particularly hungry. Especially when you’re headed to an event, be sure to fuel up.
If it still feels difficult to stick to the diet, especially in the early days, find a support group. Lots of people are making the same shift you are, even if those people don’t live next door or work in your office. Just hop online and reach out, or send us a message here. We would be happy to provide you with extra resources to keep your Rolodex stocked with other keto fans, so you can all support one another in that happy, healthy lifestyle!
About the Author Nate Arnold
I started this website because it was hard to find trustworthy, evidence-based information about the ketogenic diet. Information that was published and peer reviewed by respected scientific journals. After years of research, I'm sure you'll achieve great results in a healthy way following my advice. I do my best to translate scientific research jargon into plain English. Remember, it's always a good idea to consult a doctor before starting a new diet!