At first blush, though, keto can appear to be an extreme diet choice.
While many dismiss keto as a “fad,” studies have shown that this high-fat, low-carb diet can help curb food cravings, promote weight loss, lower blood sugar, and improve cholesterol levels.
And if you’re just trying keto for the first time, you may be overwhelmed by all the rules and restrictions, finding it impossible to begin, never mind stick to it.
But with a little planning and preparation, you can enjoy the benefits of keto for yourself. Here are 10 tips to help first-timers get the most out of their keto experience.
Do your homework to decide if keto is really right for you
If you’re thinking of trying keto, start by doing plenty of research on what the diet entails so you know exactly what you’re getting into. The idea behind the keto diet is to send your body into ketosis, a metabolic state where your body shifts its primary source of fuel from carbs to fats.
But in order to trigger ketosis, you have to eat very few carbs and significantly more fats than you may be used to. Make sure to read up on which foods contain fats, proteins, carbs, and other key macronutrients so you’re clear on what to expect while you’re on the diet.
Also, keep in mind that eating keto can be dangerous for people with certain health conditions. According to UChicago Medicine, anyone with pancreas, liver, thyroid, or gallbladder conditions should not attempt a keto diet. So before starting any new diet, always check with your doctor to make sure it’s the right fit for you.
Decide how strict you want to be about it
The keto diet is restrictive by design—you have to eat the right balance of macronutrients in order to catalyze ketosis in your body. But following a super-strict eating regimen isn’t feasible or sustainable for everyone.
Luckily, you don’t have to follow the diet to a tee in order to reap its benefits. Research has found that eating fewer carbs can help you shed extra pounds and lower your triglycerides. You can still lose weight with a modified or “lazy” keto diet where you eat keto-friendly foods but don’t track your daily macronutrient intake as closely.
It’s up to you to decide how strictly you want to follow the keto guidelines. If you’re new to keto or you’re daunted by how restrictive it is, you can choose a more relaxed approach and still improve your overall health.
Set up your living space for success.
When you’re on a keto diet, you’ll probably be eating at home more often than not, so you’ll want to stock your home with keto-friendly foods. If you have processed snacks, treats, and other junk foods in your pantry and fridge, throw them out (or at least stash them somewhere out of sight).
It may not seem like a big deal to leave a bag of chips sitting in your cupboard, but when you get hungry, stressed, or tired, you might not always have the willpower to stick to your diet. More than likely, you’ll reach for the first food you can get your hands on and go to town. Getting rid of forbidden foods ahead of time eliminates the temptation to stress-eat or binge on anything unhealthy.
Think about how you’ll navigate challenges
Keto diets aren’t always easy to maintain. If you want to stick with yours, you have to plan for and anticipate the kinds of everyday challenges that might come up. Think about what you’ll do in the evenings when you come home from a long day at work and you have no energy for cooking. Get some healthy snacks that you can munch on when food cravings set in (and they will).
Social situations can also throw a wrench in your diet if you’re not careful. If you’re going to a party, plan ahead to make sure you’ll have food that you can eat (even if that means bringing your own meal or eating beforehand). And if you’re going out to dinner, check the menu or call the restaurant ahead of time to make sure they can accommodate your dietary restrictions.
Plan your meals ahead of time
One simple way to keep yourself on track with your diet is to plan out your meals on a weekly basis. When you’re at home, you can follow a simple keto meal plan. But while you’re traveling or attending events, plan to take snacks and pre-made meals.
Learning some beginner-friendly keto recipes can be a great way to kick off your first meal plan. You can keep your plan simple at first and add different recipes into the rotation when you feel like mixing things up. Or you could even try a keto meal delivery service like Green Chef to take the hassle out of planning and preparing your meals.
Regardless of how you do it, when you plan your meals in advance, you’ll avoid decision fatigue and reduce the temptation to eat something off-limits.
Ask for support from your family and friends
Having your loved ones’ support can make a world of difference when you’re on a diet. Studies have shown that social support makes us much better at sticking with diet and exercise programs.
Before starting your keto diet, let your family and friends know that you’re doing it. Have an open, honest conversation with them about your goals and intentions for the diet, and let them know ahead of time that you may need to eat different foods from them at mealtimes so they know what to expect.
They may or may not agree with your new diet, but let them know that their understanding means a lot to you as you move towards a healthier lifestyle.
Ease into your new diet
A true keto diet is a dramatic change from the way most people eat. Even if you’re planning to follow a strict keto lifestyle, keep in mind that it’s okay to ease into it. You don’t have to overhaul your whole diet right out of the gate.
With a keto diet, you are essentially re-training your body to shift from one primary fuel source to another. The change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time for your body to adjust and you will probably make a few mistakes along the way. Begin with small changes, give yourself time to get used to them, and then gradually make more changes until you’re eating the way you want to be eating.
Track your macronutrient intake
Monitoring your exact intake of carbs, proteins, fats, and other macronutrients may feel unnatural at first, but it can help keep you on track with your diet. Many people consume far more calories and carbs than they realize, and starting to track your consumption patterns can make you more mindful of the way you eat.
Some keto dieters like to use apps to track their stats and watch themselves progress over time. Feel free to experiment with different apps and options to determine what’s right for you.
Expect some side effects
When you start any new diet, you might feel a little tired and grumpy as your body adjusts. Keto is notorious for causing “keto flu”—an array of not-very-fun symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, mental fog, muscle soreness, and indigestion. Not everyone experiences keto flu, but those who do can end up feeling pretty lousy.
Choose a time to start dieting when your schedule is fairly quiet and you don’t have too many prior commitments. And if keto flu symptoms start to set in, start drinking extra water and taking electrolytes (such as sodium and potassium) to help your body recover as quickly as possible.
Know when to call it quits
Keto can be a wonderful diet for some people, but it’s not for everyone. If it’s not working for your body or your lifestyle, don’t try to force it—there are other ways of eating that could be a better fit for you.
In the long run, keto diets are also not sustainable for most people. Ideally, you should only go on a keto diet for short periods of time when you need to lose weight or “reset” bad eating habits.
A good long-term goal is to move towards a healthier diet over time with fewer sugars and starches. Make a plan for how you’ll eat after you’re off your keto diet so that you don’t lose all your hard-earned gains.
Starting a keto diet is a challenge, but if you’re willing to invest the time and energy into doing it right, it can be life-changing. Do your research ahead of time, make a plan, expect that you’re going to hit a few speed bumps along your path, and be prepared to handle them when they come. It won’t always be easy, but if you need a helping hand, these Keto meal delivery services should do the trick.