The Insider’s Guide to Going Keto
Here’s the thing – when you’re hungry, decision making is impaired. The brain actually actively works against you to stick with any sort of structured eating that does not involve the donut sitting in the break room. The job of the brain is to help you find fuel to keep it (and your other vital organs) running and unfortunately it does not care about the high school jeans you’re trying to fit into.
Over the years I’ve helped hundreds of people follow a ketogenic diet and have learned what derails even the most motivated individuals. With a little awareness and some planning, these pitfalls can be easily avoided. To stay on track and be successful set up your environment for success. Remove common barriers and make it as easy as possible to stick with it.
- Schedule sleep.
A quick primer on sleep and hormones - in absence of sleep the body will move heaven and earth to feel energized. Unfortunately for you, this means increasing your hunger hormone (ghrelin) and decreasing your fat burning hormone (leptin). And because simple carbohydrates like bread and potatoes provide the quickest source of energy that is what you’re going to crave. To avoid the needless snacking, schedule your sleep to get 7-8 hours. If you have a hard time winding down, set an alarm to go off about an hour before you need to get in bed to give you a head start.
- Keep your motivation close by and use visualization.
Staying motivated to reach your goal is paramount to following the diet even when you don’t feel like it. Whatever your motivation, keep things around that remind you of it. Use pictures, quotes, those high school jeans, literally whatever reminds you of the end goal you’re trying to reach. Visualizing the end goal and even the habits required to achieve it (ex. exercise, avoiding stress eating etc.) increases both effort and commitment.
Stay hydrated and incorporate extra electrolytes.
Staying hydrated and maintaining electrolyte balance on a keto diet takes a little extra effort. Electrolyte balance is vitally important to nervous system function, particularly running involuntary muscles like the heart and digestive tract. If you’re dehydrated or running low on sodium or potassium, you’ll likely be tired and possibly even light headed. Stay ahead of this by drinking at least 2 liters or more of caffeine free, unsweetened fluids daily. Choose mostly water but herbal tea, unsweetened plant milks, and broth contribute to hydration as well. Looking for an easy marker of hydration status? Urine should be pale yellow in color. Incorporate unsweetened electrolytes – often sold in drops or tablets that are added to water.
- Have a plan A and a plan B.
Take a few hours each week to look ahead and create a “plan A” for meals and snacks. You don’t have to be a meal prep ninja, but make sure to have plenty of supplies for throwing easy meals together like prewashed salad greens, steam in the bag vegetables, precooked proteins (hardboiled eggs, grilled chicken, ground meat etc.), avocados, salsa, nut butters, vinaigrette based dressings etc. Then put “plan B” in place – what are the options when time is limited or the day doesn’t unfold as planned? Often fast casual restaurants have menu items that can be customized – think grilled fish and steamed broccoli, salad with chicken, burrito bowl on lettuce instead of rice etc. Stash nuts and protein shakes at work, your gym bag and in the car to tide you over for unexpected delays.
- Embrace the fat.
During a ketogenic diet the body by definition is using fat for fuel. The diet is generally higher in fat for this reason. Without adequate fat to run your system, you may feel sluggish. Adding olive oil to a salad or stir fry is simple enough but what about in between meals or at breakfast time? Medium Chain Triglyceride (MCT) oil may be just the thing to have on hand. MCT’s are digested quicker than other fats. Because of their size, MCT’s bypass the body’s more laborious digestive process and make their way to the liver and into circulation relatively quickly to be used for energy.
- Stock your freezer and fridge with the senses in mind.
Sweet, savory, salty, crunchy, hot, cold, hearty, light etc. Consider your eating habits and plan accordingly. When I get home after a day in clinic I want something cold and bubbly paired with salty and crunchy. Because I know this about myself I can incorporate snacks that will both fit my meal plan and be satisfying. My favorite? Ice cold passionfruit seltzer water paired with crisp veggies and guacamole.
Getting amazing results from the keto diet isn’t rocket science but don’t skip the planning! Taking time before starting, getting the week planned out and setting your environment up for success pays off in the long run.
Now that we've talked about having visual reminders for your goal...maybe you should print out or save this handy infographic 😉
Lindsay Malone, MS, RDN, CSO, LD
Lindsay Malone is a Functional and Integrative Medicine dietitian empowering individuals to take charge of their health with evidenced-based nutrition information.