For many people, the ketogenic diet is a great option for weight loss. It is very different from ordinary weight loss diets, and allows you to eat a diet that consists of foods that you may not normally expect on a weight-loss plan.
Keto Diet Definition
The ketogenic diet, or keto, is a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet that in medicine is used primarily to treat difficult-to-control (refractory) epilepsy in children. The diet forces the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates. Normally, the carbohydrates contained in food are converted into glucose, which is then transported around the body and is particularly important in fueling brain function.
However, if little carbohydrate remains in the diet, the liver converts fat into fatty acids and ketone bodies. The ketone bodies pass into the brain and replace glucose as an energy source. An elevated level of ketone bodies in the blood, a state known as ketosis, leads to a reduction in the frequency of migraines and epileptic seizures.
Can you already see how keto also helps in shedding weight? How many diets are there where you can start your day off with bacon and eggs, loads of it, then follow it up with chicken wings for lunch and then steak and broccoli for dinner. Sound too good to be true, huh?
Does the Ketogenic Diet Work?
Most beginners struggle with finding out whether the keto diet really works. The truth is, keto diet for beginners is not the magic solution to weight loss. Indeed, there is some consensus that you may gain weight just as fast as you lost it on keto.
As with most diets that drastically reduce or eliminate certain food groups, the keto diet has been shown to aid in weight loss. This is likely due to the satiating effect of high-fat foods. When you feel full, you have less of an appetite and end up eating fewer calories.
However, while weight loss is shown to occur in short-term studies, the research is mixed on whether or not keto diets lead to greater fat losses when compared to higher carbohydrate diets. Research also shows that while fat loss occurs, so does lean muscle mass loss since you’re consuming less protein than you normally would.
So yes, you may lose weight rapidly when you start the keto diet, but unless you follow the plan strictly and stay in a state of ketosis, gaining that weight back is very likely. The keto diet isn’t calorie-restricted, but the types of foods you can eat are significantly restricted, meaning you’ll probably have a hard time sticking to it for the long-term.
How to get started
How Does a Keto Diet Work?
Here’s how a ketogenic diet for beginners promotes weight loss:
- Higher protein intake: Some ketogenic diets lead to an increase in protein intake, which has many weight loss benefits.
- Food elimination: Limiting your carb intake also limits your food options. This can noticeably reduce calorie intake, which is key for fat loss.
- Gluconeogensis: Your body converts fat and protein into carbs for fuel. This process may burn many additional calories each day.
- Appetite suppressant: Ketogenic diets help you feel full. This is supported by positive changes in hunger hormones, including leptin and ghrelin.
- Improved insulin sensitivity: Ketogenic diets can drastically improve insulin sensitivity, which can help improve fuel utilization and metabolism.
- Decreased fat storage: Some research suggests ketogenic diets may reduce lipogenesis, the process of converting sugar into fat.
- Increased fat burning: Ketogenic diets rapidly increase the amount of fat you burn during rest, daily activity and exercise.
It is very clear that a ketogenic diet can be a successful weight loss tool compared to the recommended high-carb, low-protein and low-fat diets
Types of Keto Diets
There are several versions of the ketogenic diet, including:
- Standard ketogenic diet (SKD): This is a very low-carb, moderate-protein and high-fat diet. It typically contains 75% fat, 20% protein and only 5% carbs.
This is the most common approach to keto and involves sourcing 75 percent of calories from fat, 20 percent from protein, and 5 percent from carbs. That means limiting carb intake to about 20 to 30 grams (g) of carbs per day, Shapiro says. It’s important to note that while this is the keto diet that most people follow, it’s not the original, or therapeutic, version of keto that an article in Canadian Family Physician shows can help children with epilepsy. That diet consists of slightly different percentages: 80 percent of calories from fat, 15 percent from protein, and 5 percent from carbs.
This plan is best for people who are looking to accelerate their weight loss and tap into the other reported health benefits.
Some people should not follow the standard version of keto (or any other version either), including pregnant women, people with diabetes (at least not before discussing it with a physician), and those with a history of kidney stones. This is because ketosis may result in bad breath, dizziness, constipation, and low energy levels (commonly called the “keto flu”) for the first few weeks. More concerning, drastic weight changes, from keto or otherwise, can increase your risk of mortality. Weight cycling, also called yo-yo dieting, may put particular strain on the heart, suggests a study published in February 2015 in Obesity Reviews.
- Cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD): This diet involves periods of higher-carb refeeds, such as 5 ketogenic days followed by 2 high-carb days.
On cyclical keto, also called keto cycling, you’ll cycle in and out of keto — usually on the diet for five days, followed by one or two days with more carbs. The point of keto cycling is to make it easier for someone to follow through with the diet plan. Every five to six days you can have the carbohydrates you’ve been entirely restricting. There’s no set protocol of what your carb days should look like, but do not go overboard because that will make it more difficult for the body to return to ketosis.
Cyclical keto is recommended for people who have a tough time sticking to keto. It can be helpful if someone wants to take a break and have carbs. That may not be easy for everyone. It may, however, promote carb binging. You may have heard keto cycling recommended for athletes, who use the extra carbohydrates to fuel their workouts or competitions. But no existing published science backs this up, though studies, including an April 2018 study published in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, have shown that the keto diet does hinder exercise performance.
You should, however, hold off until you’ve adapted to keto, which means your body is used to turning to fat for fuel, before adding these high-carb days, as it can slow down the possible benefits and results of being in ketosis. Kizer notes that keto cycling can cause fluctuations in body water, which can lead to dizziness. It can also be hard on the heart for those with some cardiac conditions.
- Targeted ketogenic diet (TKD): This diet allows you to add carbs around workouts.
You’ll follow the keto diet as usual until 30 to 45 minutes before exercise — then it’s time to eat about 25 g of carbs. The idea is that you’ll have just enough carbs to fuel your workout and still be able to return to ketosis easily after you cool down. Choose carbs that are easy to digest (for instance, white bread or white rice) and be sure not to add calories to your daily total — simply redistribute them.
This diet is best for those who frequently engage in intense, muscle-building workouts, according to Torchia. We’re talking high-intensity exercise like running, swimming, or playing tennis for hours on end, Torchia says. Hitting the gym at a moderate pace a couple of times a week likely won’t cut it.
However, do not to try targeted keto until you’ve been following a standard keto diet for a month or two. This practice is called ‘keto adaptive,’ and once your body is used to using fat as fuel, it can go back and forth more readily with moderate carbs. Also, do not try this (or any version of keto) before talking with a physician if you have diabetes and are insulin dependent, as it could lead to a too-low blood sugar level.
- High-protein ketogenic diet: This is similar to a standard ketogenic diet, but includes more protein. The ratio is often 60% fat, 35% protein and 5% carbs.
This version of keto calls for upping the protein intake just a bit. Protein should make up about 30 percent of calories, with the other 65 percent coming from fat and 5 percent from carbs. Aim to source your protein from both animals (meat, fish, and dairy) and plants (nuts and seeds).
The high-protein keto diet is ideal for people whp need protein to help protect muscle mass, like bodybuilders and older people who need to prevent muscle breakdown. It’s also a good option for those who show signs of a protein deficiency. Those signs include a loss of muscle or thinning hair, according to the subcommittee on the 10th edition of the federal recommended dietary allowances.
However, those with kidney issues need to be careful not to increase their protein intake too much. People with kidney disease may experience waste buildup in the blood if they have too much protein, according to the National Kidney Foundation. High-protein keto may not be right for you if you’re following the diet for therapeutic reasons. The reason protein is limited at all [in keto] is because the goal in therapeutic keto is to treat epilepsy and to have high ketone levels. Protein will not kick you out of ketosis if you have a lot, but it will definitely lower the amount of ketones in your blood. Since slightly more protein shouldn’t affect your body’s ability to stay in ketosis, this version of the diet delivers the same weight loss benefits as standard keto.
However, only the standard and high-protein ketogenic diets have been studied extensively. Cyclical or targeted ketogenic diets are more advanced methods and primarily used by bodybuilders or athletes.
The information in this article mostly applies to the standard ketogenic diet (SKD), although many of the same principles also apply to the other versions.
How to Stick to a Keto Diet
If you want to benefit from a ketogenic diet as a beginner, follow these basic rules:
- Eliminate carbs: Check food labels, and aim for 30 grams of carbs or fewer per day.
- Stock up on staples: Buy meat, cheese, whole eggs, nuts, oils, avocados, oily fish and cream, as these are now staples in your diet.
- Eat your veggies: Fat sources are high in calories, so base each meal on low-carb veggies to fill your plate and help keep you feeling full.
- Experiment: A ketogenic diet can still be interesting and tasty. You can even make ketogenic pasta, bread, muffins, brownies, puddings, ice cream, etc.
- Build a plan: It can be hard to find low-carb meals for when you’re on the go. As with any diet, it is important to have a plan and go-to snacks or meals.
- Find what you love: Experiment until you find the ultimate keto diet for you.
- Track progress: Take photos, measurements and monitor your weight every 3 to 4 weeks. If progress stops, try reducing portion sizes slightly.
- Replace minerals: Ketosis changes your fluid and mineral balance. For this reason, salt your food and maybe take electrolytes or magnesium.
- Try supplements: To boost the ketogenic process, you can take ketone salt supplements, MCT oil (5–10 grams twice a day) or use coconut oil regularly.
- Be consistent: There is no shortcut to success. With any diet, consistency is the most important factor.
Is the Ketogenic Diet Safe?
There is sufficient solid evidence showing that a ketogenic diet reduces seizures in children, sometimes as effectively as medication. Because of these neuroprotective effects, questions have been raised about the possible benefits for other brain disorders such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, sleep disorders, autism, and even brain cancer. However, there are no human studies to support recommending ketosis to treat these conditions.
The Keto diet has shown particular usefulness in some genetic syndromes, including Dravet syndrome, infantile spasms, myoclonic-astatic epilepsy, and tuberous sclerosis complex The ketogenic diet is indicated as an adjunctive (additional) treatment in children and young people with drug-resistant epilepsy. It is approved by national clinical guidelines in Scotland, England, and Wales, and reimbursed by nearly all US insurance companies.
Weight loss is the primary reason many of you use the ketogenic diet. Previous research shows good evidence of a faster weight loss when patients go on a ketogenic or very low carbohydrate diet compared to participants on a more traditional low-fat diet, or even a Mediterranean diet. However, that difference in weight loss seems to disappear over time.
A ketogenic diet also has been shown to improve blood sugar control for patients with type 2 diabetes, at least in the short term. There is even more controversy when we consider the effect on cholesterol levels. A few studies show some patients have increase in cholesterol levels in the beginning, only to see cholesterol fall a few months later. However, there is no long-term research analyzing its effects over time on diabetes and high cholesterol.
Side Effects of the Keto Diet
This eating pattern is not recommended for individuals with:
- Pancreatic disease
- Liver conditions
- Thyroid problems
- Eating disorders or a history of eating disorders
- Gallbladder disease or those who have had their gallbladders removed
Plus, there are both short-term and long-term health risks for all people associated with the keto diet. Short term health risks include flu-like symptoms. For example, upset stomach, headache, fatigue and dizzy spells. This is called the “keto flu.” Some people also report trouble sleeping. Cutting back on high-fiber vegetables, fruits and whole grains also can increase risk for constipation. Often keto dieters must take a fiber supplement to help stay regular, but this should be discussed with a health care provider.
Long term health risks of the keto diet include kidney stones, liver disease and deficiencies of vitamins and minerals. To limit carbs, many nutrient-rich vegetables and fruits are cut out. Thus, intakes of vitamin A, C, K and folate are usually low.
The high fat nature of the keto diet is very controversial. A considerable body of research has shown that diets high in saturated fat may increase the risk for heart disease and other chronic health problems. The risk that keto dieters might be taking with regards to their long-term cardiovascular health has not been fully studied.
The keto diet can also impact your enjoyment of food and how you experience food-centric events, like family dinners, brunch with friends, or happy hour with coworkers. Because keto requires strict adherence that doesn’t allow wiggle room for occasional splurges, it can get in the way of enjoying everyday life.
This type of restriction might even make you a bit obsessive, where you have to track every last gram, macro, never allowing yourself to ‘splurge’ on anything containing carbs or sugar in fear of knocking you out of ketosis.
So, yes, it could promote weight loss, but there are several other methods to losing weight successfully that don’t involve restricting entire food groups, counting every last carbohydrate, counting your percentage of fat and protein intake daily, and being limited to meat, dairy, eggs, avocado, coconut, and low-carb vegetables.
Why am I Not Losing Weight on the Ketogenic Diet?
- Not achieving ketosis
Usually, when a person does not lose weight on the keto diet for beginners, it is because they have not achieved ketosis, most probably because of not cutting back enough on carbs. According to a 2019 article by Wajeed Masood and Kalyan R. Uppaluri on the ketogenic diet, carbohydrates should represent only 5–10% of a person’s calorie intake.
Specifically, most keto diets require a person to cut down to between 20 and 50 grams of carbs each day.
Sometimes, a person may feel as though they have drastically reduced their carb intake but they may still be eating enough carbs for the body to produce energy from glucose, which will ultimately prevent the body from achieving ketosis.
A beginner who is not losing weight on the keto diet may benefit from purchasing a home testing kit. These kits contain test strips that check for the presence of ketones in the urine. A positive result indicates that the body is in ketosis.
Another option is to use a small machine called a ketone breath analyzer that detects ketones in the breath. Home testing can be a helpful way for people to ensure that they are actually entering ketosis. People can use this information to make dietary changes that will help them achieve their weight loss goals.
2. Not counting calories
Keto beginners often forget to count their calorie intake. A person who eats more calories than their body can burn is unlikely to lose weight. People who consume too many calories may gain weight, even if they are in a state of ketosis.
High fat foods tend to contain many more calories than those that are high in carbohydrates and proteins. It is, therefore, important that people keep track of the number of calories that they consume.
Sticking to a balanced meal plan with keto-friendly foods only can help a person work toward their ideal weight.
3. Not getting enough exercise
Exercise is an important part of staying healthy. Exercise also stimulates the body’s metabolism and burns calories. It is, therefore, a great tool for dieters.
Exercise may be especially important on a keto diet, as the high fat foods that a person eats contain many calories. Burning calories through exercise can help a person reach their desired weight.
4. Too Much Protein
Many low carb diets allow for a moderate amount of protein. Some people mistakenly think that any low carb, high protein diet is a keto diet. However, this type of diet is unlikely to cause ketosis because the body can break down excess proteins into amino acids and convert them to types of sugar.
A person who is on the keto diet for beginners will get most of their calories from fat, which should represent about 55–60% of their calorie intake. This fat intake leaves little room for protein. If protein makes up more than 35% of a person’s diet, it is unlikely that they are going into ketosis.
5. Too Much Alcohol
Many alcoholic drinks, including wine and beer, are high in carbohydrates. Most forms of the ketogenic diet do not permit you to consume such types of alcohol that are not keto-friendly.
Hard liquors, such as gin and vodka, are lower in carbohydrates, meaning that they are generally acceptable on a keto diet. However, these drinks are very calorie dense. As such, even these options can prevent weight loss.
Drinking alcohol is an easy way to increase calorie intake without providing the body with nutrients.
6. Excessive Snacking
Even when a person has an approved keto diet recipe plan in mind, if they succumb to continual snacking, this can greatly increase their calorie intake. A snack may help prevent hunger pangs, but it can easily sabotage weight loss efforts.
7. Too Many Carbs
In the keto diet, several types of carbohydrate are acceptable, including nuts and dairy. These foods are typically high fat, nutrient dense foods that make a great addition to a keto diet. However, they also contain carbohydrates.
Eating too many of these foods will keep a person from achieving and maintaining ketosis.
A high stress lifestyle can also stop a person from losing weight on the keto diet, especially among beginners. As one 2012 studyTrusted Source notes, stress can cause changes in hormone levels, which can lead to weight gain or difficulty losing weight.
Chronic stress may also cause people to crave comfort foods. These foods add extra calories to the diet.
9. Medical Issues
Sometimes, a person may be doing everything right and still be unable to lose weight on the keto diet. In some cases, this may be due to an underlying medical condition that is causing weight gain or preventing weight loss. Alternatively, a medication that a person is taking for the underlying condition may be causing increased appetite as a side effect.
Some conditions that can contribute to weight gain include:
- high insulin levels
- Cushing’s syndrome
- polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
You should see a doctor if you are unable to lose weight despite adhering to a strict diet and exercise plan. The doctor may carry out tests to determine what is preventing weight loss. Treating the underlying condition may resolve the issue. Remember, always seek medical advice and diagnosis before trying any weight loss program.
Sample Keto Diet Plan
There are a lot of keto-friendly meal ideas for beginners out there. Kalyn’s Kitchen even has a nice collection of keto-friendly breakfast ideas.
To help get you started, here is a sample ketogenic diet meal plan for one week:
- Breakfast: Bacon, eggs and tomatoes.
- Lunch: Chicken salad with olive oil and feta cheese.
- Dinner: Salmon with asparagus cooked in butter.
- Breakfast: Egg, tomato, basil and goat cheese omelet.
- Lunch: Almond milk, peanut butter, cocoa powder and stevia milkshake.
- Dinner: Meatballs, cheddar cheese and vegetables.
- Breakfast: A ketogenic milkshake (try this or this).
- Lunch: Shrimp salad with olive oil and avocado.
- Dinner: Pork chops with Parmesan cheese, broccoli and salad.
- Breakfast: Omelet with avocado, salsa, peppers, onion and spices.
- Lunch: A handful of nuts and celery sticks with guacamole and salsa.
- Dinner: Chicken stuffed with pesto and cream cheese, along with vegetables.
- Breakfast: Sugar-free yogurt with peanut butter, cocoa powder and stevia.
- Lunch: Beef stir-fry cooked in coconut oil with vegetables.
- Dinner: Bun-less burger with bacon, egg and cheese.
- Breakfast: Ham and cheese omelet with vegetables.
- Lunch: Ham and cheese slices with nuts.
- Dinner: White fish, egg and spinach cooked in coconut oil.
- Breakfast: Fried eggs with bacon and mushrooms.
- Lunch: Burger with salsa, cheese and guacamole.
- Dinner: Steak and eggs with a side salad.
Always try to rotate the vegetables and meat over the long term, as each type provides different nutrients and health benefits.
Foods to Avoid in the Ketogenic Diet
Any food that is high in carbs should be limited.
Here is a list of foods that need to be reduced or eliminated on a ketogenic diet for the mere reason of not being keto-friendly:
- Sugary foods: Soda, fruit juice, smoothies, cake, ice cream, candy, etc.
- Grains or starches: Wheat-based products, rice, pasta, cereal, etc.
- Fruit: All fruit, except small portions of berries like strawberries.
- Beans or legumes: Peas, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.
- Root vegetables and tubers: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, etc.
- Low-fat or diet products: These are highly processed and often high in carbs.
- Some condiments or sauces: These often contain sugar and unhealthy fat.
- Unhealthy fats: Limit your intake of processed vegetable oils, mayonnaise, etc.
- Alcohol: Due to their carb content, many alcoholic beverages can throw you out of ketosis.
- Sugar-free diet foods: These are often high in sugar alcohols, which can affect ketone levels in some cases. These foods also tend to be highly processed.
Keto is a highly successful method of weight loss. When you eat a very low amount of carbs your body gets put into a state of ketosis. What this means is your body burns fat for energy. How low of an amount of carbs do you need to eat in order to get into ketosis? Well, it varies from person to person, but it is a safe bet to stay under 25 net carbs. Many would suggest that when you are in the “induction phase” which is when you are actually putting your body into ketosis, you should stay under 10 net carbs.
If you aren’t sure what net carbs are, let me help you. Net carbs are the amount of carbs you eat minus the amount of dietary fiber. So if on the day you eat a total of 35 grams of net carbs and 13 grams of dietary fiber, your net carbs for the day would be 22. Simple enough, right?
So besides weight loss what else is good about keto? Well many people talk about their improved mental clarity on when on the diet. Another benefit is having an increase in energy. Yet another is a decreased appetite.
One thing to worry about when going on the ketogenic diet is something called “keto flu.” Not everyone experiences this, but for this that do it can be tough. You will feel lethargic and you may have a headache. It won’t last very long. When you feel this way make sure you get plenty of water and rest to get through it.
If this sounds like the kind of diet you would be interested in, then what are you waiting for? Dive heard first into keto. You won’t believe the results you get in such a short amount of time.
The ketogenic diet is quite restrictive, especially for beginners. Research supports this eating pattern for epilepsy when managed along with a health care team, since its treatment can be very complex. However, with regards to the keto diet as a tool for weight loss and other health benefits, the jury is still out.
For a personalized weight management plan that meets your individual needs, be sure to consult a registered dietitian, nutritionist, or medical doctor, who can create a personalized weight loss program based on your unique health and nutrition needs and goals.