If you’re looking for a new diet, you’ve probably heard about the ketogenic diet, or keto diet for short. This diet has been around for decades, but it’s exploded in popularity in the past few years. As a result, there’s a ton of keto diet information – and misinformation – floating around the web.
You’ve likely seen some social media posts and videos where someone lost a ton of weight on the ketogenic diet. But what is it, and how does it work?
In fact, the ketogenic diet is surprisingly simple. Here’s how it works.
What is the Keto Diet?
The ketogenic diet is a low carb, high fat diet that was created to put your body into a state of ketosis. In a state of ketosis, your body relies on fat byproducts called ketones instead of sugar for energy.
There are many applications to the ketogenic diet, but the most obvious is weight loss. By putting your body into a state of ketosis, you encourage it to burn all fat, including the fat in your belly.
To get your body into this state, the first thing you need to do is limit your carbohydrate intake. For most people, this means less than two to four grams per day, but that number can vary based on body weight and other variables.
Am I in Ketosis?
Cutting carbs is relatively simple, but how do you know whether or not your body has gone into a state of ketosis? One way is to buy some urine test strips and track your ketone levels. But strips can be messy to use, and once you’re in ketosis, what do you do with the remaining 90 strips from your 100-pack?
Another way is to pay attention to your body. When you go into ketosis, you’ll experience some symptoms. Here’s a list, but keep in mind that not everybody experiences the same symptoms in the same way.
- Loss of energy. This is the most common symptom, and almost everyone experiences it over the first few days. Because your body is not yet in a state of ketosis, your liver is not able to process enough fat to make up for the lack of glucose. As your liver adjusts, this will go away naturally.
- Digestive problems. As with any dietary change, switching to a ketogenic diet is going to affect your guts. For some people, this takes the form of diarrhea. Others may become constipated. As your body gets used to your new diet, this should go away. If you experience constipation beyond the first week, consider increasing your fiber intake.
- Insomnia. For the first few days to weeks of your diet, you may have a hard time sleeping, or you may wake up often during the night. This will also go away naturally.
- Mental fog. Mental fog is partially caused by the lack of glucose. However, it’s also caused by an electrolyte shortage. Consider an electrolyte supplement to get you through the first week or two.
- Loss of appetite. You may feel like you’re eating less than you usually do. This is normal. In fact, the foods that you’re eating are richer than your normal diet, so you’re getting full faster.
- Bad breath. Unfortunately, your body expels some ketones through your breath, which can lead to a nasty case of “please don’t breathe on me”. Get used to carrying a pack of (sugar-free) gum.
Put together, these symptoms are called “keto flu”, and form one of the biggest obstacles for new keto dieters. Electrolyte pills, caffeine, and plenty of potassium are the best treatment.
About Ketogenic Macros
If you’ve done some reading about ketogenic diets, you’ve probably heard about ketogenic macros. A “macro” is just a fancy term for breaking down your calories by source. For the purposes of the keto diet, macros divide calories into carbs, protein, and fat.
There is no one single ketogenic macro that everybody uses. There are actually a few different common macros. Here’s a quick look at each of them.
The Standard Ketogenic Diet
The Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD) is the most common ketogenic diet. It’s effective for weight loss, as well as for most disease treatments. The calorie breakdown is as follows:
- Fat: 75%
- Protein: 20%
- Carbohydrates: 5%
The Cyclical Ketogenic Diet
The Cyclical Ketogenic Diet is a modified keto diet with off days that allow for higher carb intake. It’s frequently used by body builders and fighters, who need the extra carb energy to power through intense training.
The exact schedule can vary, but this usually means spending five consecutive days on the SKD and then switching to a high carb diet for two days.
The High-Protein Ketogenic Diet
The High-Protein Ketogenic Diet (HPKD) is a higher-protein macro that’s favored by athletes. The calorie breakdown is as follows:
- Fat: 60%
- Protein: 35%
- Carbs: 5%
Be very careful with this one. If you drop much below 60% fat, you risk getting knocked out of ketosis.