Thinking of starting a ketogenic diet? This high-fat, low-carb diet is all the rage, and Instagram is brimming with success stories about “going keto.”
So, what is “keto”exactly?
The ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet that seems to grow more popular by the day.
Even celebrities have jumped on the keto bandwagon. From Kelly Ripa to Kourtney Kardashian, Hollywood stars gush about its body-transforming effects. Halle Berry is also a keto enthusiast, and she says the secret is training your body to burn fat by not feeding it any sugar.
Many people do see success in just a short period of time (like in the “28-Day Keto Challenge“), but without a road map it can be difficult navigating the challenges that the keto diet presents. Learn more about the challenge here.
Though this diet plan seems new, it’s been around for nearly 100 years. It started as a natural way to treat epilepsy but fell out of favor soon after its discovery. According to Alix Turoff, R.D., new anti-seizure drugs were an easier and more effective way to treat the condition.
This diet also has similarities to the Atkins craze that peaked in popularity in the early 2000s. To follow the Atkins Diet, you could eat all the fat and protein you wanted as long as you severely limited your carbohydrates. There was no calorie restriction, and the diet became a mockery of health, with people eating entire sticks of butter and pounds of bacon.
The ketogenic diet is distinct from the Atkins Diet in that it does entail counting calories, and it advocates for eating real food, not processed food. Still, the rules are strict, and it’s easy to “fall out of ketosis” if you’re not following the principles to the letter.
If you’ve been looking for a way to burn fat, get ripped, or regulate your hormones, you’ve probably heard that the keto diet can help. We’ll discuss the top six mistakes people make when they’re starting the ketogenic diet and give you tips to overcome them.
Avoid these common keto mistakes to make your transition as smooth as possible.
Pro Tip: Exercise is a vital component of any fitness or weight loss plan. Not sure what workouts you should be doing? Try the Aaptiv app and get personalized recommendations and fun exercises that you can do anywhere. No gym required.
1. You’re not eating enough fat.
The intention of the keto diet is to force the body to run on fat, as opposed to glycogen (sourced from carbs). When the body reaches this stage, it’s called ketosis. As a result, you need to be eating a significant amount of fat.
If you’re not used to eating a lot of fat, you may find it difficult to hit your required amount. The first 30 days are critical and this step-by-step 28-day keto plan was designed for you to lose weight.
However, general guidelines stipulate 60–75 percent of your food should be from fat, 15–30 percent from protein, and five to ten percent from carbohydrates. To work out your personalized split, try using an online calculator.
It’s a good idea to plan your meals and moderate your fat intake until you can estimate the number of fats in your meals by eyeballing portions.
As you adjust your diet, it’s a good idea to measure your ketones to ensure you’re entering ketosis. Ketosis is a delicate balance, and you can throw yourself out of it unknowingly. If you “fall out of ketosis,” you could sabotage your entire diet without even knowing it.
Dr. Nick Sudano says that people come to his office daily complaining that “keto doesn’t work” for them. The first question he asks them is whether they measure their ketones, and the answer is almost always no.
To know if you’re in ketosis, you must measure your ketones. If you’re not, then you’re just guessing. There are three ways to measure your ketones:
- Urine tests measure acetoacetate. This test will tell how you many ketones are being passed into your urine, so it’s useful as you’re starting keto. However, after a couple of weeks, you stop excreting acetoacetate, so you’ll need another method to ensure you’re still in ketosis.
- Breath tests measure acetone. This is often referred to as the “sweetness” that’s on your breath. While this test is quick and doesn’t require you pee on a strip, it’s hard to get consistent results.
- Blood tests are the most accurate way to test if you’re in ketosis. You can do these tests at home by pricking your finger and using the appropriate device.
2. You’re eating too much saturated fat.
One of the common keto diet mistakes that people make is eating too much saturated and trans fats. Yes, the keto diet is a high-fat diet, but there is still a difference between the types of fats that you should eat.
Healthy fats are the ones that should make the up the most of your fat intake.
The American Heart Association recommends that you limit your saturated fat intake. Too much saturated fat can increase your “bad” cholesterol, and, therefore, your risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
While it is impossible to completely eliminate saturated fat from your diet, don’t let it make up the majority of your diet.
On the other hand, healthy fats, which are monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fats, are the ones that raise your “good” cholesterol. So, stock up on your nuts, avocado, and fatty fish intake. Your body will thank you for it.
We’ve been trained to be afraid of fat, but that doesn’t need to be the case, especially on the keto diet. Again, the key is consuming the right types of fats.
According to doctors and nutritionists, including Kelly Kennedy, RD, some of the best fat sources you should be consuming on this diet include:
- Wild-caught salmon
- Olive oil
- MCT oil
- Coconut butter
- Grass-fed beef tallow oil
The fats that you should avoid at all costs are:
- Vegetable and canola Oils — They are high in omega-6 fats, and they oxidize and become rancid. These oils also contain trans fats, which raise your “bad” LDL cholesterol and increase your risk of coronary artery disease. Foods containing trans fats include many processed foods.
- Dairy — This food group is thought to cause inflammation, acne, allergies, skin conditions like eczema, congestion, asthma, sinusitis, IBS, constipation, and weight gain. Mark Hyman, M.D., warns that dairy is only a suitable item to consume if you’re a calf.
Not surprisingly, there’s disagreement in the medical and nutritional community about the ratio of fat to protein you should be consuming. Most of what you’ll read online advocates for more fat than protein, but some of the more reputable sources say the opposite is true.
Some sources recommend that 60% to 80% of your calories come from fat, and others say those percentages should be allocated to protein instead. We turned to Harvard Health for a definitive answer, and what we gathered is that consuming healthy, whole foods is the way to go.
If you are going to consume the majority of your calories from fats and proteins, make sure they are unprocessed and “clean.” By clean, we mean eating meats that are grass-fed and pasture-raised, avoiding dairy, and staying away from processed junk foods.
It’s also probable that individuals respond differently to these ratios, and you might need to experiment to see what works for you. How do you discover this? By testing your ketones (see the next mistake below).
3. You’re avoiding fruit and vegetables.
Too many people focus on restricting carb intake to the point where they don’t eat their vegetables. Don’t do this. Vegetables are critical to your health, even if you’re on the keto diet.
They also contain micronutrients and fiber, so you don’t want to miss out on them. Make sure that you’re eating your veggies, especially the non-starchy kinds. Cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, and mushrooms are great options.
Fruit also becomes the enemy for people following a low-carb diet. But, just like with vegetables, they are an important factor in your health. While some fruits are higher in carbs, there are also alternatives, such as berries, that are delicious and are low in carbs.
Eating your servings of whole foods, such as fruit and vegetables, is important. Don’t just rely on products that are marketed as “keto-friendly,” because chances are, they are also processed.
While it is okay to indulge a little, you want to make sure that you’re eating as much whole food as possible. That includes your fruits and veggies.
Dr. Anthony Gustin, Co-Founder of Perfect Keto, says, “I would ten times out of ten rather have you eating a diet composed of 90 percent real food carbs and not have a single ketone in your body than eating a heap of processed junk.”
He emphasizes food quality. Whatever food plan or diet you choose to follow, this is an important factor.
To ensure you’re keeping your carbohydrate consumption in check, we recommend tracking them, almost to the point of compulsion. Too many carbohydrates on the ketogenic diet are a big no-no. If you overindulge, you’ll be “kicked out of ketosis,” says WBFF Pro, Daniel Ventura. This pitfall is one of the hardest to avoid because carbs are in just about everything.
Before consuming anything, check labels for the number of carbs. If you’re eating unprocessed foods, which is what we recommend, use an online food calculator like this one from WebMD. Use their search function and find out the calorie and carbohydrate content of any food imaginable, from fruits and vegetables to French Fries at McDonald’s.
As a general rule, your net carbohydrate intake should be limited to 30 grams per day. Notice we said net and not total. This is important because you only need to calculate the number of carbs absorbed by your body. Healthline has a handy formula for this calculation:
Carbs -Fiber = Net Carbs
Let’s say we’re trying to figure out how many net carbohydrates a serving of blueberries has. One serving has 11 grams of total carbohydrates and 2 grams of fiber, so one serving of blueberries has 9 net carbs. Knowing that you can only consume 30 grams, you’ll want to budget wisely.
4. You’re consuming too much protein.
The keto diet typically stipulates moderate protein. Another one of the common keto diet mistakes people make is consuming too much protein.
This hinders the ability to enter a state of ketosis because excess protein will be converted to glucose by the body, which you don’t want on a keto diet.
Additionally, in general, consuming too much protein may cause kidney issues so make sure you have a good kidney support.
Though a high-protein intake doesn’t cause kidney issues in those with normally-functioning kidneys, studies have found it may exacerbate kidney issues in people who already suffer from mild kidney abnormalities.
Like with your fat intake, monitor your protein intake to make sure that you’re eating the right amount of protein for you. You don’t want to go to all this work to limit carbs and increase fat, only to derail your progress because of your protein intake.
The right fat-to-protein ratio can be controversial, and it’s hotly debated among nutritionists. The controversy stems from a process called gluconeogenesis (GNG). This process happens when the body creates its own glucose from non-carbohydrate sources.
Many nutritionists believe that if you eat too much protein, it results in gluconeogenesis and your blood sugar spikes. While this is true, what’s important to note is that in the absence of carbs, both protein and fat intake can cause GNG.
First, let’s get a grip on what gluconeogenesis is. Dr. Anthony Gustin, DC, defines it as a metabolic pathway that allows your body to make glucose, even the absence of carbohydrate consumption.
The word sounds like a mouthful, but it’s a combination of three concepts. Once you understand the origin of the word, it’ll roll off your tongue, so let’s break it down:
- gluco-: glucose
- –neo-: new
- –genesis: origin or creation
The rationale that’s caused this “fear” of gluconeogenesis is that when you’re in ketosis, your body should be running on ketones, not glucose. While that’s true up to a point, you do need some glucose to perform vital functions in your body.
Here’s where it gets interesting. On a ketogenic diet, you’re not eating sugar, and your carbs are extremely limited. Therefore, your body doesn’t have a ready source of glucose at its disposal. When this happens, your liver and kidneys will convert the fat and protein in your system to make glucose for energy.
So, you don’t need to be afraid of fat or protein on the diet, but it’s smart to maintain the nutritionist-recommended balance with a higher concentration of your calories coming from fat.
People tend to load up on protein over fat because it’s more filling. Plus, it can be lower in calories. But remember, counting calories isn’t the goal of the ketogenic diet. The goal is to enter ketosis, and to do that, you need to up your fat intake while drastically reducing the number of carbs you eat.
Many people what to know how much fat on keto they should consume. Remember, the goal is to use your existing stores of fat to lose excess weight, so you shouldn’t be afraid of either fat or protein on this diet.
As we stated earlier, 60–75 percent of your food should be from fat, 15–30 percent from protein, and five to ten percent from carbohydrates. You can use a food calculator to plan your meals using this framework as a guideline:
- Plan your fat consumption first to make sure you’re getting the proper ratio.
- Decide how you’re going to allocate the limited amount of carbohydrates you’re allowed to eat.
- For the calories that are still left over, fill them in with protein.
Before dismissing protein altogether, it’s important to note that protein also has a thermic effect on your system — it takes energy for your body to convert that food source to fuel. To put it into perspective, a 100-calorie serving of protein takes 25 calories to convert to energy in your body. By contrast, 100 calories of fat require only about two calories before it’s ready for you to use.
If you’ve hit a plateau on keto or you’re not losing weight at all, take another look at your balance of fat and protein consumption. You may need to rebalance your fat and protein levels.
If you limit your protein intake too drastically, especially if you’re a woman, you could encounter the following:
- Stalled weight loss
- Thyroid problems
- Hormonal imbalances
- Hair loss
Again, the amount of protein each person needs will vary, but you may need more if you’re an athlete trying to build or maintain muscle, Dr. Gustin warns.
When done correctly, the ketogenic diet can have astonishing effects on your health and weight. Don’t forget to stay active with Aaptiv app. From strength training workouts to warm-up and cool-down stretches, there’s something for everyone.
5. You’re not drinking enough water.
Due to the restriction of carbs, you lose a lot of water in the body. So, make sure that you drink more water to prevent dehydration.
A common side effect of the ketogenic diet is constipation, but it is preventable. Dr. Sudano says that for every gram of carbohydrates you consume, your body holds four grams of water. Overall, this effect can be a good thing because your body is going to shed excess water weight. The problem occurs when you lose water that your body needs for vital functions like digestion.
Make sure to up your water intake if you’re feeling stopped up. Start by drinking 64 ounces of water a day, and then increase it if you’re still not regular after a few days.
Keep your water bottle on you at all times, as it’s easy to get sidetracked and forget to drink. Don’t let your thirst be the only indicator to have some water. If you’re thirsty, it means that you’re already getting dehydrated, and we want to avoid going down this path.
If your urine is on the yellow side, then drink up! It means that you are not drinking enough water. You want it to be light or pale yellow.
6. You’re having too many “cheat meals.”
Unfortunately, on a keto diet, you can’t really have a cheat meal like you may be able to do on other diets.
This is because a cheat meal will typically be high in carbs. This will take you out of ketosis and then you will have to start all over again to get your body back into it.
You can try having low-carb versions of your favorite meal, such as cauliflower crust pizza. Or, if you want to order it from your local pizza store, choose thin crust over thick or deep pan. This way, you can indulge, while still staying as low-carb as possible.
If you do cheat, keep in mind that just a single transgression is likely to throw you out of ketosis, and you’ll have to begin the process again. It can take a minimum of two to four days to get back on track (make sure you test your ketones), so ask yourself if the pizza is worth it before you indulge.
For different ideas, try looking online for some keto recipes. You’d be surprised which foods have keto-friendly recipe adaptations. There’s even a way to make Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups compliant with keto!
If you’re up for a challenge, see how much weight you can lose on the “28-Day Keto Challenge“.
Another way to have a cheat meal on the ketogenic diet is to actually make the meal is worthwhile. Don’t just mindlessly snack, but really just eat something that you’re craving and enjoy every bite of it.
Then, you can get back to your keto diet stronger than ever.
While it’s true that the keto diet involves eating lots of protein and fat with very limited carbohydrates, it doesn’t mean you can eat in infinite quantities. Like any diet, its success depends on you achieving a calorie deficit. At the end of the day, you must burn more calories than you consume if you want to lose weight.
According to a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, achieving a daily calorie deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories per day is the ideal amount for achieving safe and healthy weight loss of one to two pounds per week.
To help you achieve a calorie deficit, make sure you get plenty of exercise. The Aaptiv app has hundreds of workouts to choose from, and more are added frequently, so you’ll never get bored. It’s like having a personal trainer right on your phone!