beginning keto: how to start a high-fat, low-carb way of eating

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keto for beginners

I’m not a really big fan of fad or overly popular diets – even the long-lasting ones like Atkins have always felt too restrictive to me. I always preferred to work out, and then eat whatever I wanted because I “deserved” it. But lately, I haven’t had the time or temperament to work out as frequently, and it showed in a 20-pound weight gain over the last six months or so. I’d heard often about the keto diet and the science behind it and started doing some research. The same day I started reading up on it, both my boss and a close friend mentioned that they were doing it, so I took it as a sign.

(Let it also be said that this meal plan includes a lot of things that are not “diet” foods, like bacon, cheese, and a shitload of eggs. So when I say “diet,” don’t think “weight loss plan,” think “way of eating.)

While we aren’t too far into it, I’m really enjoying it and not struggling too badly with it! I thought I’d talk a bit about my experience so far and mention a few tips for anyone else who might be considering starting on it as well.

What is ketosis?

In short, ketosis is when your body burns fat for fuel instead of glucose. Your body learns to do this on a high fat, low carbohydrate diet.

I’m not going to go on too long about this because there are smarter people who have studied this much more extensively, but the basic answer is: science.

But like… why though?

Why, though? Because a lot of people have seen really awesome results – for inspiration before starting, I frequented r/keto almost non-stop in order to convince myself that I could do it and be successful. It’s full of progress pics, sure, but it’s also full of meal inspiration – photos of things that made me feel like I could not only make them, but be happy and satisfied with the meals. It helped me start thinking about food as fuel rather than something to do because it would make me happy or cheer me up. After all the reading and prep, and knowing that I’d have support from my friendos and boyfriend, we decided to start the week after my (EXTREMELY GLUTTONOUS) work trip. I wasn’t going to give up maple crepes.

Beyond that, one of the biggest concerns I had was how easy it would be to cook. I rely on a lot of pre-made meals when I’m not with my chef boyfriend, so I didn’t think there would be freezer meals available in a pinch, but I was super wrong – Trader Joe’s and Aldi, once again, for the wins.

What’s a net carb?

Total Carbohydrates – Fiber – Sugar Alcohols = Net Carbs. It’s pretty easy to calculate once you get used to it.

lou malnati's crustless pizza
Crustless pizza. Oh yes.

But like, where’s the crunch?

Honestly, I haven’t been missing the texture of crunchy things really, but it does seem like there are a lot of mostly “mushy” textured meals. In a pinch, pork rinds are a great snack and super crunchy (they’re also pretty much the MVP of keto,) super crispy bacon, baked cheese, kale chips… there are really a lot of ways to mix up the texture of meals.

Ummmm… where are my sweets?

God gave us sugar alcohols so that we can continue to enjoy our sweet things. “Fat bombs” are little nuggets of pure joy that are often just a bite of something sweet. (There are a lot of balls, which opens an excellent opportunity for a lot of dirty jokes. These are my favorite balls.) Depending on your net carbs for the day, you can also make up a cute, fatty little dessert like whipped cream with berries or cream cheese and jelly (which tastes like cheesecake) or dump some Stevia into your iced coffee. Not that I have to put packets and packets into my coffees because I miss Dunkin’ Donuts, but whatever. There’s probably a substitution or keto version of anything, including bread.

Can you drink?

You can – really dry wines and straight spirits are recommended, or super low-carb beers. This was the hardest thing for me to give up because I really, really love beer. I’ve learned to love Michelob Ultra, and my old favorite, tequila and soda water. Whiskey, gin, vodka – these are all still fair game at zero net carbs.

keto restaurant meal
Keto restaurant meals: bunless bacon cheeseburger with guacamole and side salad with olive oil, and a bleu cheese steak salad in the background

I can’t cook so how do I keto?

Still possible! I don’t love cooking either because it feels like it takes so much time out of your day, but there are a lot of shortcuts. A lot of them do involve some level of meal prep, but cooking and preparing have started to feel quite meditative to me, so maybe you’ll start to enjoy it too. I’m planning to do a post on my favorite quick and easy keto meals, but if you really prefer to eat out, it’s easy to do that too.

Gadgets? Do I need gadgets?

Nah. After you start out, you might find that some things will make your life easier – I’ve found that I want a kitchen scale to be more precise with portions, and boyfriend wants to get a spiralizer for nights we want zoodles but didn’t pick any up at the store – but truly, the only things you need to start eating keto is a good tracking method. I use the app Carb Manager, but Lose It and MyFitnessPal also track macros. I do also sometimes sketch it out by hand in my bullet journal because that makes it easier to look back on for future meal planning.

I did grab a pack of meal prep Rubbermaid food storage to make lunches easier since my lunches are usually leftovers that are eaten in a rush, and these are a nice way to help feel a bit more organized, but it’s totally optional.

How do I start?

We started by using Diet Doctor’s 2-week intro plan. It’s nice because it provides an interactive weekly shopping list that will update the quantities based on the number of people you’re shopping for, and it has you duplicating every dinner for an easy lunch the next day. From there we felt prepared enough to start planning out our own meals, but there are certainly other meal plans you could continue using, or even longer-term options for sale through Diet Doctor’s website.

One thing that I found the most helpful was that I made a spread in my bullet journal of good, keto-friendly snacks that I have stocked in my house so I don’t eat something sugary or carby. Apparently “perfect keto” means eating enough fat that you don’t want to snack, and some days I hit that, but I’m still finding myself hungry between lunch and dinner. (My next move is to color code it depending on which of my nutrients or macros is low, but, ya know, that’s not for everyone.)

Anything else I need?

I’m not being funny here or joking around, but here’s a list of things I desperately needed that no one told me about:

And just as a note… tuck away a book or something in any bathroom you use often.

If you travel a lot, it’s easy to keep keto, but it can require more preparation. Grab some keto snacks to keep in your bag (things like low-carb nut butters, low-carb jerky, almonds, and coconut oil are really good to keep with you). Hard boiled eggs are fairly easy to find (even at gas stations) and can be easily batch made and kept in the fridge wherever you’re staying. Salad bars at grocery stores, hospital cafeterias, and even restaurants are good choices as long as you stick to the low-carb choices.

Honestly, it’s not as hard or intimidating as it sounds. I’ve really enjoyed it, and every day I find a new recipe or food that I want to try out. I lost five pounds in the first week, and I’ve continued to lose 2-3 pounds every week since we started.

Have you ever tried a “non-traditional” way of eating? What was your experience? Any suggestions for bathroom reading materials?