The ketogenic diet is more than just about weight loss but about overall health. It’s a lifestyle change—a process that takes time, that has its share of learning curves, that is both challenging and rewarding.
Mistakes are part of that process, and understanding why they should be avoided and how they can be avoided is key to making the keto diet work for you.
To help you start off (or get back) on the right track, here are six keto mistakes that you should add to your don’ts list. Get started on a ketogenic plan here.
Overloading on protein
Fat—not protein—is your primary source of energy in a keto diet. So you need to keep your protein intake in check. Otherwise, any excess protein will be converted into sugar. This in turn will raise your glucose levels and make it more difficult for your body to reach and maintain ketosis.
On average, 70 to 80 grams of protein is ideal. And at the end of the day, protein should account for 25 percent of your macros. In terms of food options, steer clear of lean meats. Go for higher-fat proteins such as bacon, beef short ribs, barbecue pork, ground lamb, liver pâté, sardines, salmon, eggs, cheese and sour cream.
Not everyone finds it easy to embrace a high-fat diet. It can be particularly hard on those switching from a low-fat diet. They’re used to avoiding—perhaps even fearing—fat so they might find doing the opposite strange, if not overwhelming.
Remember, in ketosis, eating fat helps your body burn fat. As counterintuitive as it may seem, this is how the keto diet works. So set aside your fat phobia. And stop seeking “low-fat” alternatives. Make room for butter, bacon and avocado in your meals. Use coconut oil for cooking and seasoning. Treat yourself to some gelatin and dark chocolate. With fat accounting for 70 to 80 percent of your daily macros, you’re likely to get lean quicker.
Going low on salt
With the keto diet, salt is a must. This is because your body is at risk of a salt imbalance due to the release of sodium in your body. In fact, this also results in fatigue, nausea, headaches and lightheadedness during your first few days on the diet.
To overcome such symptoms faster and help your body adjust, add salt to broths and dishes. With a daily intake of at least two teaspoons, you can kick off—and conquer—your keto journey in good spirits.
Oh and mind your magnesium, potassium, and Vitamin D intake too. Your body needs plenty of these while you’re on a keto diet.
Filling up on the wrong kinds of food
Yes, one of the things that make the keto diet stand out is the freedom it provides. However, this does not mean that you can overeat, or that you can indulge in any fat or protein source as long as you stay away from carbs. You still have to be conscious of and smart about your choices.
For instance, oils may be rich in fat, but not all of them are keto-friendly. Vegetable and seed oils, in particular, are no-nos because they will cause stress on your system that can stall results. They are not as healthy as coconut, grass fed butter or olive oil and tend to mess up your efforts to reach ketosis.
The same goes for those packaged “keto-approved” bars. Such processed treats may seem like quick and easy fixes, but having them often holds you back. Always try to avoid artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose which are made from hard-to-digest chemicals and have unknown long-term effects. To get far on a keto diet, you should focus on whole foods instead.
Not drinking enough
On a keto diet, not being able to drink plenty of water can threaten your health. Why? Water is dispelled much more quickly when you’re in ketosis, and thus electrolytes are also excreted through your urine at a faster rate. To prevent an imbalance, those electrolytes need to be replaced right away.
Small amounts of coconut water is a reliable option for replenishing electrolytes, as are low-sugar Gatorade and bone broth. The bonus: These can help you beat “keto flu.”
Bonus: Carb Creep
Eating too many carbs is definitely an issue and you have to find the range that works for your over time. Many experts say less than 50 carbs. Some doctor-led programs say less than 20 total carbs (basically lettuce only). Many books such as Dr. Atkins allow 30 net carbs which means that subtracting the fiber from the total carbs. It is good to keep a food journal the first few weeks to stay on track with carb intake and again if you hit a plateau. Sometimes people eat way more carbs than they think they are consuming.
Going in half-hearted
Taking on the keto diet is no walk in the park, especially during the initial weeks, which can leave you feeling miserable. During this period, some are tempted to step off track. Others give up altogether.
Thing is, your body needs time to adapt to a keto diet. The transition from sugar burning to fat burning is not a simple change. Sometimes it takes up to a month or so. But it’s definitely worth the wait. So commit to it. And go all in. With discipline, determination and patience, your efforts will pay off and you’ll see results.
It may not be simple, easy or quick. But the keto diet delivers; you just have to do your part in helping your body adapt. Learn from other people’s mistakes. And embrace the highs and lows alike.