7 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting Keto

Last week was my three-year keto-versary. WHAT. Yep, I’ve been largely sugar-free and high-fat for three whole years. This felt like a good time to revisit some of what I’ve learned along the way. We’ve got a ton to cover, so let’s jump right in.

1. It’s all about those electrolytes

Whether you’ve officially “gone keto” or you’re just cutting carbs, electrolytes are a key part of your success plan. Specifically, you need to watch your potassium, sodium, and magnesium. Why? Ever heard of a little stumbling block called keto flu (or carb flu, or low-carb flu)? It’s that exhausted, headachy, slightly nauseated feeling that hits usually sometime in the first 48 hours of slashing your carb intake. This is due to the initial glycogen dump and resulting water loss that takes place as your body adjusts to running on a new fuel source (that’s you; you’re the fuel source). Everything is shifting, your levels are out of whack, and your body is BIG MAD.

Keto flu is wanting to stab your spouse and eat a dozen croissants, but you’re too brain-fogged to decide which to do first, and you’re preItty sure you don’t have the strength to pick up a knife or a baked good, anyway, so you just sit and stare and let the hate flow through you. 

But since stabbing is frowned upon, and eating croissants is just going to bring you back to the starting line, I recommend replenishing your electrolytes instead. If you would like to throw ridiculous amounts of money at this problem, the free market has indeed made that possible, but I prefer the $5 plan: grab some pink salt, “lite” salt (potassium), and a lemon. Put ¼-½ tsp of each into a glass of water, give it a healthy squeeze of lemon, and drink. It tastes very much like lemon Gatorade.  

Speaking of which, I don’t love Powerade Zero and Gatorade Zero for this. One, it’s full of stuff you don’t need in your body, and two, the electrolyte levels are really not that great, compared to what you can get done in one glass of the homemade stuff. I will drink it in a pinch, or when I just want some extra flavor, but it’s not the best beverage for the job. 

If you’re feeling shaky and stabby, try whipping up a batch of this stuff. I’m willing to bet you’ll feel brand new in about 15 minutes.

Where’s the magnesium?? I’m so glad you asked! I like to do one or two servings of Natural Calm magnesium supplement every day. You can add it to your keto-ade, or you can drink it separately.

2. It’s not about the bacon

I know, the idea of bottomless bacon is one of the few things that makes going low-carb bearable, but hear me out. A full half of the fat in bacon is oleic acid–a term you might know from hearing the media sing the praises of heart-healthy olive oil for the last few decades. It has  a good protein::fat ratio for traditional protein-moderate keto. It has salt, and you surely remember how important that is to a low-carb diet. 

But here’s what else it can have: sugar–especially brown sugar or maple syrup–and ntirates/nitrites, which absolutely are associated with a higher risk of certain cancers. So, if bacon is going to be part of your keto success plan, eat it in moderation, and always check the ingredients. Whenever possible, reach for the sugar-free and naturally cured varieties. As a bonus, the cost of the good stuff will probably help you limit the quantity you consume. 

3. Fat consumption is not a goal

I’ve heard So Many People say “I tried/wanted to try keto, but I had trouble getting all my fats in.” Let’s turn this right on its head. The ketogenic diet is not about hitting fat “goals” or maintaining macros to the penny. Protein is a goal, carbs are a limit, and fat…is leverage. Fat is what you eat when you’ve maxed out your carbs, you’ve hit your protein goal, and you’re still hungry. Further, the more high-quality fats you can add to your meals, the more likely you are to be satisfied until it’s time to eat next. You’re less likely to need snacks. You’re less likely to get hangry.

If you’re new to the keto jive, increasing your fat intake can be very helpful. It helps get your body used to using fat for energy instead of sugars, which makes a great bridge to getting it to burn the fat you really want it to burn, which, since you’re reading this, I’m assuming is already on your person. You are a walking fuel source, my friend. All you have to do is help your body turn on the burners. 

If some days you find yourself not hungry enough to meet your macros, that’s fine. Listen to your body. If it’s sending you a fullness signal, don’t keep shoveling in fuel just because you didn’t eat all your allotted calories. Let your body go to its self-contained pantry (your backside) and burn something you stored back in days gone by. You can’t burn excess fuel if you keep giving yourself everything you need via mouth. Our bodies will always choose food calories over stored calories, because they’re faster and easier to access. If you don’t need them, don’t eat them. Give your body a chance to do the thing. 

4. Carbs are a drug (and you will relapse) 

With no disrespect to those struggling with actual drugs, carbohydrates are unbelievably addictive. Sugar lights up the same neural pathways as cocaine. It triggers a blood sugar spike and crash cycle that leaves us forever looking for the next hit. We are trained to become addicted to excessive carbohydrates from birth on, and they are getting sneakier and sneakier about getting us to eat them. Carbs are not only readily accessible everywhere you go, people will push them on you at every opportunity. But I made this cake myself! It’s a special occasion! You have to live a little! You’re making such great progress, this won’t throw you that far off track! 

Is it any wonder that we stumble and fall? And when we do, it is so hard to stop. After all, now that you’ve eaten the pizza, you really want something sweet, and wait, are those chips? Oh, you’ve missed chips. And salsa. And margaritas. Of course, every time you go off-track, you have to start the process all over again (carb flu, anyone?). You should give yourself some grace to enjoy special things here and there, because keto is not a crash diet; it’s a long-term lifestyle commitment, and special occasions are a part of life. Which leads me to…

5. Scrap the substitutes and change your palate

It’s a jungle out there.

Keto brownies. Keto cinnamon rolls. Keto maple syrup. When you first start keto or any low-carb way of eating, it’s tempting to obsess over Pinterest and find all the “healthy” versions of your favorite splurge foods. Oh, you think, I can still have whatever I want, if I just make it this way. So you spend big on powdered erythritol, almond flour, and flavor extracts, and start whipping up every dessert that strikes your fancy. 

But here’s the thing about keto copycats: First, they are not going to taste like you are expecting. The aftertaste of the sweeteners, the texture of the baked goods, it’s all going to taste different than you’re used to, especially if you have only recently bid adieu to the real deal. If you ate a bakery cake on Sunday night and start Monday off with some kind of Franken-keto pastry-like confection, you’re gonna have a bad time. The dichotomy between what should be and what is may be enough to send you into a cravings tailspin. 

Second, keto treats are typically extremely calorie-dense, so portion control is a must. Which leads me to my final point on this: If you’re new to keto, take this as an opportunity to reset your palate. As I mentioned above, if you grew up in the Western world, you have been literally trained (by corporate food conglomerates, yay!) to crave these types of foods constantly. This is your chance to do a factory reset on your whole relationship with food. Do yourself the favor of breaking those physical and emotional chains to sugar. Focus on nutrient-dense, whole foods, and save the Copycat keto Girl Scout cookies for further down the road.

6. It’s perfectly possible to have a healthy keto pregnancy

This section turned into a novel, so I’m giving it its own post. For now, I said what I said. 

7. Listen to how you feel and screw the rules

That siren you hear is the keto police, coming to pick my ass up for telling you the dirty little secret. There is no perfect version of keto. Not everything works for everyone. You may need to hold to a strict 20g net carbs a day to feel your best, or you may thrive at 50g. Maybe a few berries a day keeps you sane, or maybe those juicy little morsels trigger a downward spiral and you need to avoid them right now. Whole foods only vs dirty keto. Intermittent fasting or not. Bulletproof coffee or caffeine-free. There’s an argument for and against everything. 

The only way to figure out what works for you, is to get in the game and try. We all want to know the perfect formula, the foolproof way to get the results we want. But our bodies are different. Our metabolisms are different. Our goals, our psychological histories, our relationships with food…yep, different. Mi keto is not su keto. 

They’ll have theirs, and you’ll have yours, and I’ll have mine…and together we’ll be fine!

Mix it up and play with different methods until you’ve found something that works for you. Even that may even evolve over time, so be willing to flex if you need. By all means, research all the ideas and explore what works for different people…and then take what works for you and leave the rest. Get back in touch with your body and listen to what it needs. I promise, it will tell you. Especially if you can break the sugar spell that is on your brain. 

These are the seven things I wish I had known about keto before I started. What about you? Are you a keto pro who has a wealth of info to share? Are you just getting started and have a question I didn’t address? I want to hear from you! Go nuts (or nut-free, if that’s how you roll).

Hey, this is a keto post…where’s your before and after shot? Eh, I’ve posted it before. And this way of eating is about so much more than weight. I’m long since into my preferred jeans size, but the real victory is in recovering my health, the increased energy, and breaking my sugar addiction for good. Oh look, there’s an eighth thing I wish I’d known: one day, weight loss would become the least important part of this whole experience.

Oh, fine. Here:

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