7 Step Keto Quick Start and Troubleshooting Guide
It’s been 4 years since the keto diet cured my back pain. Then it went ahead and cured my sleep habits, my migraines, my reflux, my plantar fasciitis, my menstrual cycle, and my depression. Suffice it to say, keto changed my life.
I’ve written a keto quick start guide that is the least you need to know to get started eating keto. If you just want to jump right in and get started without a lot of extra details this keto quick start guide is for you. Additionally, at the end I’ve included a troubleshooting checklist for if you have any problems along the way.
If you want to dive into the science of the keto diet Ruled.me has some good info.
If you’re looking for fancy recipes, I Breathe I’m Hungry is a favorite site of mine.
If you want to know EVERYTHING about keto, it’s all out there. It’s a popular diet right now, and there’s a wealth of available information. Here’s one book you can try (affiliate link): Keto: The Complete Guide to Success on The Ketogenic Diet, including Simplified Science and No-cook Meal Plans
But if you want to jump right in, this keto quick start guide has the info you need right now.
#1 – Keto is a low carb, high fat (LCHF), moderate protein diet.
Keto is not just low carb. It’s not just meat. It’s a (very) low carb, high fat, moderate protein diet.
Here’s what that means:
CARBS: Eat no more than 20g of carbohydrate a day. Later on in your process you may decide that eating more carbs works for you, but you are guaranteed to be in ketosis if you are under 20g a day. Note: in the United States, if you’re looking at a nutrition label, you can subtract the amount of fiber from the total carbs to get net carbs. Net carbs is the important number. Fiber doesn’t count.
FAT: Focus on foods that are higher in fat. This is your energy source. This is what helps you feel full. Fat is not bad for you. It doesn’t make you fat. It doesn’t “clog your arteries”. Every time you eat add fat to the meal. Common ways to add fat are avocados, oils, butter, bacon grease, dressings, cheese, sour cream, and cream cheese. Choose fattier cuts of meat like chicken thighs instead chicken breast or ribeye instead of sirloin.
PROTEIN: Don’t go crazy on protein. There are different schools of thought on how much protein you should be eating. Ketovangelist recommends 50-75g a day for women. I go 2-3X that with no apparent problems. Just remember that your focus is fat, not protein.
What NOT to eat:
- No grains and starches: bread, pasta, rice, oats, flour, potatoes. Just forget they exist.
- No added sugar: juices, ice cream, cookies, pastries, sodas.
- No carby alcohol: beer, cider, liqueur.
- Very limited fruits. The lowest carb fruits are berries, and you still have to count closely.
- Count carbs on all vegetables. Some of them are off the table like potatoes, but all of them you should pay attention to the carb count.
- Same with nuts and seeds. Most of them will work in moderation. Count to be sure.
Here’s a post from a reputable source that talks in depth about what to eat and what not to eat.
#2 – Macros and Tracking
How will you know if your fat is high enough and your carbs are low enough? You’re going to track what you eat. Later – like months later – in your keto efforts you will slack off on tracking because you already know the carb counts of the main things you eat. But in the beginning you HAVE to track. (Unless you’re only eating meat and cheese, which is called Zero Carb).
Most people track their food using an app like My Fitness Pal or you can go the other direction and use pen and paper, but either way, you can’t evaluate what you’re eating if you don’t know what you’re eating. And in the beginning keto is pretty weird. You might think, I can eat all the broccoli I want, right? But even broccoli adds up, and you have to track for awhile to really understand how it adds up.
You will hear the word “macros” in keto conversations a lot. Macros are macronutrients – carbs, fat, protein – and we’re talking about your ratio of carbs to fat to protein. There are “keto calculators” out there that will help you determine an ideal ratio for yourself (here’s one from Ruled.me and here’s one that also gives you per meal macros). Or you can stick with a general guideline which is 5% carbs or less, 65% fat or more, 30% protein or less. Your tracking app will give you cool charts for how your macros stack up.
If you use a calculator or other guideline to give you a protein target, then your tracking gets easier. You want to be under 20g carbs, hit your protein target, and everything else is fat.
If you hate the idea of tracking, at the very least you have to count carbs so you don’t go over 20 and then you need to make sure you are focusing on fat at every meal.
#3 – CALORIES
Even if your long-term plan includes calorie reduction, when you first start keto it’s important not to do that. You might be tempted when you look at a calorie count on your tracker or the calorie limit from your keto calculator. However, when you start keto you are making a DRAMATIC change to your eating and cutting out 70% of the food you used to eat. Your body may freak out a bit, and your brain may freak out a bit. It’s really, really important to get all the calories you need for the first couple of weeks, and it’s really easy to accidentally undereat.
In a keto diet, your calories come from fat. You may experience some fat aversion the first week or so. This is because you’re not used to eating that much fat and also because you’re trying to give yourself an excuse to eat more carbs. Think of it as withdrawal. If you need to stick to low-fat chicken breasts or veggies without drenching them in extra fat, do that for a few days. But if you do that you need to pay even more attention to simply getting enough food.
#4 – WATER and ELECTROLYTES
There are different schools of thought on how much water you need while on a keto diet and why, but most conclude that you need to be drinking more water than you’re used to. Especially the first couple of weeks when your body will be dropping the water molecules it stores with your stored glucose, you may need MUCH more water. One guideline I have heard is to drink half your weight in ounces of water. Drinking water keeps you hydrated, factors into your feelings of hunger/satiety, and picking up a water bottle habit helps some people with craving withdrawals.
There are also different schools of thoughts about electrolytes. You may want to read up about electrolytes and keto. To get you started the minimum daily recommended intake for the three electrolytes is 5000 mg of sodium (salt), 1000 mg of potassium, in the form of potassium chloride or potassium sulfate, and 300 mg of magnesium. You can track these with My Fitness Pal to see how much you’re getting from your food.
To get extra electrolytes you can drink broth daily, add salt or a substitute to your food, take a multivitamin for magnesium and potassium, or take supplements. There are low-sodium salt substitutes that use potassium instead, so those can be helpful.
Keep in mind that high water intake will flush out electrolytes so there’s a relationship between water and electrolyte consumption.
#5 – KETO FLU
When you first start keto, during the first week many people experience what we call keto flu. It can feel like weakness, dizziness, headaches, diarrhea, and a general “not right” feeling. This is NOT because your body needs carbs or because keto is “not right for you”. It’s an adjustment period (think of it as withdrawal).
Most people can completely avoid keto flu by paying attention to the previous 4 steps: keeping a good LCHF balance, eating enough calories, and paying attention to your water and electrolytes. That being said, keto flu affects some people more than others and the good news is it usually only lasts a couple of days.
The first few days after keto flu are when you will start to experience some benefits like the wonderful keto energy boost.
#6 – IIFYM vs More Strict Lists
Some people practice a style of keto that is referred to as “if it fits your macros” (IIFYM), meaning you can eat anything that fits into your keto-designed ratio of fats, carbs, and protein.
For people who practice IIFYM, they might work half an apple into their diet, because it comes in at 10g carbs. Or they might eat a whole bag of pork rinds because they don’t have any carbs at all.
Other keto practices are more strict based on criteria such as whole foods, low glycemic index foods, or low insulin response foods.
Whatever direction you choose to go is up to you. However, if you run into any trouble, going more strict will probably become part of your troubleshooting. Apples, for example, may lead to craving more sweet foods. Pork rinds or similar foods might tank your energy.
If you’re looking to keto to improve your overall health, the rabbit hole of new nutritional information honestly never seems to end. Your diet can get better and better, even if you start out with an IIFYM mentality.
#7 – CONSISTENCY
One final thought for your keto quick start!
Keto benefits are not achieved in one day. They aren’t achieved in one week. Some of them aren’t achieved until months down the line. Every time you knock yourself out of ketosis by making exceptions, you are starting over when you start up again. Maybe not starting from the very beginning – some benefits stick around easier than others. But some of the other benefits are only achieved when you consistently do keto every single day, every single meal for an extended period of time.
I say this not so you will be intimidated by having to do keto forever, but so that you can be inspired to reach for the truly amazing results. I once challenged myself to 100 days of no-exception keto, which I achieved. This was well after I first started keto, but I had made some exceptions here and there. Two months into my 100 days I was absolutely blown away by how amazing I felt. Mentally, physically, emotionally, it was almost unbelievable!
Especially if you struggle with the health problems that keto is particularly well suited for, like diabetes, PCOS, hypothydroidism, depression, metabolic syndrome, lupus, fibromyalsia, joint pain/inflammation, and chronic fatigue, keto has the possibility of being LIFE-CHANGINGLY AWESOME for you if you stick with it.
The 7 steps above are the keto quick start guide you need to get off on the right foot. And they are also the troubleshooting checklist you can come back to again and again if anything goes wrong or seems off.
If you find that old symptoms are returning, new symptoms have popped up, or that you’re not meeting your health goals, simply start at the top and work your way down. Ask yourself:
- Are my daily carbs under 20g?
- Am I eating enough fat?
- Am I eating too much protein?
- Am I accurately tracking my food?
- Am I getting enough calories?
- Am I drinking enough water?
- Are my electrolytes off?
- Would I like to try a more focused/strict food list?
- Am I being consistent for long periods of time?
Most people find the answers to their keto troubleshooting on that list. Even when your keto eating is massively beneficial in your life like it has been for me, it’s easy for it to drift over time. Using this checklist will help get you back on track.
One more idea for you before I go. I like the mantra “Keep Calm and Keto On” (KCKO). It means that whatever just happened you always have the next day, the next meal, the next bite to get back to keto and carry on. You don’t ever have to think of yourself as having failed. Just get back up and keep ketoing.
I hope this keto quick start guide and troubleshooting guide is helpful for you. Keto has been a miracle in my life, and I’m happy to help others along the way.
KCKO and enjoy your keto eating!