Diet & Weight Loss
The ketogenic—keto—diet is an increasingly popular eating plan that promises big results. However, it’s not the easiest diet to follow, and these early mistakes can sabotage your weight-loss goals.
You don’t track your carbs
The goal of a ketogenic diet is to force your body to stop burning its favorite fuel—glucose from the carbs you eat—and start burning fat stores for energy. The body does this by converting the fats to ketones—a state called ketosis. Keto dieters accomplish this digestive feat by cutting way back on their carbohydrate intake. But to do it right, it’s not enough to just guesstimate your carb intake; you could get it wrong and undermine all your efforts. “If you are a beginner to the ketogenic diet, counting carbs is an absolute necessity to avoid frustration in the future,” says Steven Santo, a spokesman for Kegenix/Real Ketones, a keto supplement company. Track your food intake with an app like MyFitnessPal or LoseIt, or just use old-fashioned paper and pen. What you learn may surprise you. “You may be wearing ‘carb-blinders,’ meaning you are unaware of how many carbohydrates you are really consuming in a day,” says Santo. “If you can’t see the number of carbs sneaking into your day, you may be eating many more than you think.”
The average daily goal for keto is 20 grams of net carbs. Net carbs are the total carbs in a given serving of food, minus the carbohydrates that are supplied by fiber. You’ll find carb grams quickly add up, even when you’re choosing the best low-carb foods, like spinach and avocado. Keeping your body in a quasi-keto state can be hard on you, warns Santo: “This will leave you feeling sluggish, foggy, and discouraged,” he says. “It will most likely cause a weight plateau, and maybe even weight gain.” Here’s what it’s really like to be on a keto diet.
You aren’t getting enough fat
Keto runs counter to many of the low-fat diet fads of the 1980s and 1990s: It actually emphasizes fat. “That is hard to comprehend because we don’t eat anything that’s pure fat, says Kristen Mancinelli, RD, author of The Ketogenic Diet. “We don’t eat a stick of butter or a spoonful of olive oil or even a nice cup of lard. That would be unpleasant, so we really have a hard time wrapping our heads around this concept of the ketogenic diet.”
In order to succeed on a keto diet, 60-80% of your food intake will be healthy fats, according to Sara Gottfried, MD, author of The Ketogenic Diet in Women.
“That means you’ll eat avocado, coconut oil, meat, and cream of coconut, olives, and olive oil, animal fats like bacon or chicken fat, butter, fatty cuts of meat, fatty fish like salmon and sardines, as well as nuts and seeds,” Mancinelli says. Dairy is allowed on keto, she adds, but it has to be heavy cream. Milk, even full-fat, isn’t keto-approved.
You’re eating too much protein
Getting your macronutrients—fat, protein, carbohydrates—in balance ensures your body has the best sources of energy. “The ketogenic diet for ‘nutritional ketosis’ is 20 percent protein, 5 percent carbs, and 75 percent fat,” says Jake Crandall, a trainer and CEO and founder of Okie Crossfit in Tulsa, OK. “If you go too high in protein, you’re effectively on the Atkins Diet and are low-carb. You’ll achieve weight loss, but not the health benefits of being in ketosis.” But you can still benefit from the 15 best Atkins diet foods for weight loss.
Many people don’t realize that too much protein can actually prevent ketosis. “If an individual eats too much protein, it will undermine efforts to get into nutritional ketosis,” says Catherine Metzgar, PhD, RD, a member of the clinical team at VivaHealth and a type 2 diabetes educator.
The best way to have a real picture of what you’re eating is to track it daily. Some smartphone apps are designed to help you track everything you eat. Once you have daily goals in mind, you can monitor your food plan for potential pitfalls. Don’t miss these 13 things doctors want you to know about the keto diet.