Before we get started, I ask that you do three things:
- Find out your daily caloric needs. A simple google search for “daily caloric calculator” will make it much easier than trying to add, multiply, and divide yourself. Enter your sex, weight, activity level, maybe a few random other questions, and you’ll get a number. Everyone’s number is different. Once you know yours you’ll have a calorie baseline. Personally, I don’t eat a caloric deficit, I believe that the theories involving caloric deficits are wrong, and that weigh loss has more to do about controlling insulin than shaving 500 calories off what you eat every day, but you still want to make sure you aren’t going crazy eating over what you should. Especially since healthy fats tend to pack a calorie punch (which is why eating 70% of your calories from fat is not as overwhelming as it sounds).
- Get a measuring tape, and go crazy measuring yourself. This seems to be especially necessary for women. The women that I’ve worked with on this diet don’t often lose weight as fast as men initially, however, they tend to lose inches despite lackluster scale results in the early days/weeks of this diet. After about two weeks, I haven’t noticed any substantial difference in male vs female weight loss. Either way, keeping a week by week record of your measurement will give you a more accurate picture of fat loss. I once plateaued for almost a month with very little weight loss, but during that month I lost 3” off of my waist.
- Think of somebody you know that lies a lot. It shouldn’t be too hard; we all know someone like that. Someone that exaggerates every story. Every time they go to the store something crazy happens. You know how you smile at their stories, nod and laugh, but in the back of your mind you like, “whatever dude”. That’s the mentality I want you to keep during the first few weeks of eating keto, because as soon as you start to tell friends or family you’re eating high amounts of fat in order to lose fat, they are going to try to tell you how dangerous that is, and then recommend you start juicing, or go on the grapefruit diet like Beyonce. The truth is our entire society’s fear of fat was perpetuated by misunderstandings of how the body gains and loses weight, and some clever marketing by the sugar industry. Humans ate a ketogenic diet, or near ketogenic diet (Paleo Diet) long before Coca-Cola or General Mills existed. My doctor scuffed at me when I started eating this way, only to praise me months later for losing weight, lowering blood pressure, and improving my blood labs across the board. Go Figure!
Think of this blueprint as an overview. These are the laws of the Ketogenic diet.
20g net carbs.
That’s the magic number. It also means very little, as you are hardly ever going to hit it. But, never the less, that’s the goal. You can go slightly over or under, but always aim for 20. Some will get the results of ketosis eating upwards of 50g of net carbs. Personally, I think that only complicates matters. For now, let’s assume you aren’t an athlete in the CrossFit Games, in which case 20 net grams of carbohydrates are a solid starting point.
Now, there’s a difference between “Total carbs” and “Net carbs”. Net Carbs are determined by subtracting the fiber and sugar alcohol (not sugar) from the total carb count. For example:
Total carbs: 20g
Sugar alcohol: 4g
20g - 14g – 4g =2g
Your net carbs are 2g for that item.
You will sugar alcohol used in everything from sugar-free gum to certain ice creams, to Quest bars. Also, certain vegetables like spinach, broccoli, and cauliflower to name a few may seem like a bad keto option given their carb content, but once you subtract the fiber they become an awesome choice.
Total carbs are the reason I ate only bacon and cheese for two weeks. I didn’t know about net carbs.
Don’t guess how many carbs something has, or assume it’s carb free. Very few things in life are free, even fewer are carb free. To this day, I’m still surprised to find out how many carbs certain things, like garlic powder or certain vitamins.
My advice is to download a calorie counter for your phone. I personally like My Fitness Pal, it’s free, easy to use, and has a huge database of foods. If your ever in doubt about how many carbs are in something, just look it up.
You’re eating too much protein
I don’t know you. I don’t know what you look like, what color hair you have, or if your even dressed while reading this. What I do know is that you’re probably eating more protein than your body needs. This is especially true if you have testicles, and is 100% true if you have testicles and some sort of fitness membership.
The old school way of thinking, 1g of protein per pound of ideal bodyweight, is just that, old. It’s not necessary to build muscle, and on a Ketogenic Diet it will actually be a hindrance. Your body can only process about 30g of protein at one time anyways, so that 100g protein shake is sort of pointless.
You’d be much better off following this principle.
Lean body mass x .5-.7 = grams of protein per day
That means, if you have 170 pounds of lean body mass (x .7) you should be eating between 85g’s-120g’s of protein. That’s significantly lower than what a lot of people eat, or think they need to eat for one reason or another.
I’ll be honest, I struggled more with this single idea than any other one. While I spent a decade cramming fat onto my body, I’d also put in substance time building muscle, which left me with a body that always got me asked if I use to play football. As much as I needed to lose fat, I didn’t want to lose muscle. It was the only thing in my mind stopping me from being just a “Fat-guy” (a little self-delusion).
This fear comes from the loss of muscle mass while on a traditional, calorically restrictive diet.
But a Ketogenic diet is different.
On a normal diet, your body runs on, or is fueled by, glucose (carbs and sugar), so when you restrict calories the body decides to go behind your back to get what it needs. It does so by breaking your muscle down into protein, which it then converts to glucose through a process called glycogenolysis (try saying that 5 times).
On a ketogenic diet, your body is no longer running on glucose, instead it’s running on Ketones. The body, more accurately the liver, creates ketones by converting fat into energy through a process called ketosis.
So, you see, your body has no reason to attack your muscle. That’s way ketogenic diets are starting to be used by bodybuilders during their cutting phase (when you restrict calories to remove most of the fat from the body). A ketogenic diet has a muscle sparing effect, because the body is now targeting fat cells instead.
That was a long winded way to ease your mind, and tell you to stop eating so much protein.
Not micro goals, which may be helpful, but Macro goals. Macros, simply put, are the percentage of calories that come from the Big 3 (Fat, Protein, and Carbohydrates). In a Standard American Diet (SAD) about 60% of your daily calories are coming from carbs, 35% from protein, and 5% from fat (and not the good kind).
We’re going to switch that around.
On a Ketogenic Diet, especially when first starting out, I’ve found the sweet spot to be 70-25-5 (I talk about that a lot). That means 70% of your daily calories come from Fat, 25% from Protein, and around 5% from carbs.
Remember that app? That’s going to make life a lot easier for you. You can actually change the SAD Macros default to a more ketogenic one.
With that said, two things. One, never worry about hitting 5% carbs (you’ll end up around there), instead remember 20g of net carbs per day. Two, Macros are a bit over complicated.
You don’t really need to be a chemist or a potions master at Hogwarts to follow a ketogenic diet. Macros are a cool tool, but they aren’t they golden rule some people like to make them out to be. I mean, we don’t eat in percentages, so intuitively that makes it a little confusing.
I prefer to use Macros as a quick glance tool to let me know how I’m looking, but as far as making decisions there’s an easier method.
We know how many calories we should be eating, and we know we need to stay around twenty net carbs, and we’ve also determined how much protein we should be eating, now the rest of your calories should be from fat.
It’s truly that simple.
Don’t get hung up on Ketosis… Or whether or not you’re in it.
This was one mistake I made. I approached this diet as though Ketosis was a permanent state of being; Spoiler alert, its’ not.
The best analogue I’ve heard is that ketosis is liking riding a wave; you sort of flow in and out of it throughout the day like the tides. It goes without saying that eating carbs will stall the wave, or, depending on how many carbs you ate, kick your ass back to the shore. However, even eating protein and fat can cause an initial drop in the levels of blood ketones.
This doesn’t mean that a ketogenic diet isn’t working, It doesn’t mean that you’re going to gain back everything you’ve lost, and it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It simply means that your body isn’t currently creating ketones because it doesn’t need to in that moment.
This is one reason why I’m not an avid fan of the use of Keto sticks. I feel that monitoring your blood 20 times a day, or pissing on a strip every time you use the bathroom can become counterproductive, expensive, and completely unnecessary.
While it’s true that in the beginning watching a Keto stick turn purple can be a confirmation that all of your hard work is paying off, it can also become discouraging when that color is much lighter, or not there at all. Often times people will take that as confirmation that the diet isn’t working anymore because they aren’t in ketosis.
The truth of the matter is that urine test strips and breath test only measure the ketones leaving your body (ie. The ones being discarded). In the beginning, your body discards a lot of ketones because it’s still a new source of energy. However, the longer you stay on this diet, the more efficient your body becomes at making and utilizing ketones, the less your body discards. In a way, the more keto adapt you become (a very good thing), the more the breath and urine test will show you not as deep into ketosis (a very discouraging thing).
So don’t get caught up in worrying whether or not you’re in Ketosis. Instead, focus on healthy fats, adequate protein, 20 grams of nets carbs, and just enjoy riding the wave.
Eat enough salt
This one is funny, and goes against what we typically believe to be good advice, but a little salt is healthy, and on a ketogenic diet it’s necessary. Without all of the glucose stores, your body doesn’t retain water the way it did before. This becomes evident in the amount of weight people lose in the first couple weeks. Water weight is generally frowned upon in the weight lose community, and for good reason. Often times water weight is lost through extreme bouts of cardio, or the use of sauna rooms and sweat suits.
That’s not the same as the water weight you lose on a ketogenic diet. In the above examples, your body will go back to its normal weight as soon as you drink water again. On a ketogenic diet, without those store, your body permanently shed excess water. That’s not necessary a bad thing since the water being shed is no longer necessary for the overall function of the body. It does, however, mean you have less water reserve, and other that electrolytes get flushed out quickly, which can make it easier for you to become dehydrated.
Increasing your sodium consummation slightly will help your body store a little more water, and will reduce the risk of dehydration.
Dehydration can leave you feeling weak, confused, tired, irritable, and can even cause heart palpitations, panic attacks, and deliriousness.
Which leads use to our next tip…
Drink water like it’s your job
Most people walking around today are dehydrated and they don’t even know it. The simple fact is that a majority of people reach for juices, soda, and artificial beverages over water. I use to be just as guilty of this than anyone. Water was often the last drink I’d reach for.
I’m not going to bore you with some grand talk on how water is a source of life, or how the human body is made of mostly water, or how it revitalizes your cells. Boring. I use to know all of that, and I still chose to chug two-liter bottles of Mountain Dew and Dr. Pepper.
What I will tell you is this, if you want to lose weight, drinking a lot of water will accomplish that. Your body flushes out electrolytes, and discarded minerals when you pee, but it also flushes out fat. In fact, when celebrities have to transform their bodies for movie roles, the three most crucial points, even above exercise, are diet, sleep, and drinking a ridiculous amount of water. One famed fitness coach, whose transformed pudgy, A-list dad-bods into blockbuster superheroes, recommends 1 oz. of water for every pound of body weight.
That can easily top 1-2 gallons of water a day. That’s a lot of bathroom breaks.
Drink up me hearties!
I’m a fan of supplements. I believe that food in general is becoming less nutritonally dense to begin with, then you factor in somebodies hatred of beets, spinach, or kale, and you have a lot of missed nutrients. A good multivitamin will ensure even the pickiest eaters get a full dose of their daily value of vitamins. That’s general advice for everyone.
Now, for those looking to start a ketogenic diet, you have to actually pay close attention to making sure you aren’t becoming deficient. Since there aren’t any vitamins in carbs (yes, there is fiber) or sugar, you aren’t a huge risk of becoming deficient.
The two exceptions are: Vitamin C and Magnesium.
Vitamin C is often found in higher amounts in sugary, citrus fruits, which are generally avoided on a ketogenic diet. This easily corrected with a multivitamin
Keto Followers also face the possibility of becoming magnesium deficient. You can find some of the required daily amount in a multivitamin, and the rest can be acquired through magnesium rich foods, such as low carb nuts, avocadoes, and high-fat yogurt. I’m also a huge fan of Gerolsteiner Mineral Water, which is like a Pellegrino, but contains a wider varity of minerals such as Calcium, Magnesium, and Bicarbanate (which isn’t a mineral, but a component of the salts of carbonic acid). You can pick up a liter bottle for under $2 at most Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and select grocery stores.
Other supplements worth taking:
Fish oil: numerous overall health benefits, but specifically on a keto diet it helps fight triglycerides.
Amino acids: The building blocks of the body. Often found in red meats. I supplement with both individual amino acids, and an amino acid complex blend shake. I’m a huge fan of amino acids, just make sure if you go the shake route you avoid products with added sugars.
Vitamin D: Because more than 60% of people are vitamin D deficient and the don’t even know it. This is often associated with a more sedentary lifestyle, and the fact that sunscreen makes it harder for the body to absorb the required amounts of this vitamin. Deficiency can lead to difficulty thinking clearly, fatigue, muscle weakness, depression, weak bones, bone fractures, and a softening of bones that can cause deformities.
Pull up a chair, because we can talk all about KetoFlu. I have three weeks of experience feeling like garbage to attest to the powers of a KetoFlu. Some say it lasts 3 days. Bless your heart.
KetoFlu is simple your body going through glucose (carb and sugar) withdraw. It gets its name because the symptoms can mimic the flu perfectly. As I remember, I never had a fever, but I was congested, in a state of permanent diarrhea, tired, had body aches, and felt groggy. To be honest, I didn’t know if what I had was KetoFlu or just the Flu. The only give away was that I was the only sick person in my house. Anyone with children in the house can tell you that’s a clear give away.
This is also, in my personal belief, one of the biggest reasons people don’t stick to a ketogenic/low carb diet. In those first few days they feel so bad that they assume that this is what their body will feel like forever. Who wants to live like that?
That’s a shame, because that would be attune to a heroin addict deciding not to kick the tar because withdraw sucks. Or an alcoholic deciding to keep drinking because AA is boring as shit. The truth is changing bad habits, especially ones with varying degrees of addictiveness, can be uncomfortable. There’s a period of adjustment that is needed.
Your body is going through a phase of adjustment. Its craving the thing it’s lacking, in this case glucose, which over the last hundred years has become an increasing dominate source of energy for the body. It takes some adjustment for the body to realize those days are finally over, and that it can go back to the process that is hardwired in our genes through millions of years of human evolution.
I hope you don’t get the KetoFlu, and if you do, I sincerely hope it doesn’t last three weeks. If you do, just know it will pass. Stay committed to the change your trying to make. After all, what’s three weeks of discomfort in comparison to reclaiming a life of health?
I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid)
Anyone who grew up a military brat has heard this a million times. It can be applied to all of life’s endeavors, including the ketogenic diet.
There are a lot of good books out there that have amazing recipes that require food processors, Bread Machines, and other things you’d probably find in a 5-star kitchen. If you have those items, the skill to use them and the time then, go crazy.
If you don’t, then put that book down (or don’t hit the checkout button).
Your goal for the first 5 weeks should be two things: Don’t eat carbs, and don’t eat sugar.
I may sound like I’m joking, but I’m not. If this is the Blueprint for a ketogenic diet, then the first five weeks are the foundation. After the first 5 weeks you can start building walls, and picking out flooring, and curtains, and start talking about what color to paint the guest bedroom. BUT… and that’s a big but, all of those discussions don’t mean shit if your house was built on a weak, shaky foundation (ie, a tendency to eat more carbs and sugar than your supposed to, not fulling understanding keto diet, not fully committing to a keto diet, not understanding the basic principle of what it is better to eat fat vs sugar, or how insulin effects the human body).
If the foundation is weak, the building will collapse. I don’t blame you for wanting to get books, or for being excited about this journey and wanting to immerse yourself completely and fully, I only caution doing so at the neglect of the fundamentals of a ketogenic diet. Everything else will come in time; the fun recipes, the little tricks, even the secret handshake (there is one, I just can’t teach it to you until your 4th week, sorry).
Enjoy the journey, take it one step at a time, and know that you aren’t going to learn everything in 1 day… or even 6 months.
Keep it simple (you’re not stupid, you wouldn’t be looking into a keto diet if you were).
Learn to read a food label
I want to keep this short, I know you’ve read a lot already. I want you to take away one thing from this point (and the keto diet as a whole): question everything.
What’s in this item? Where are the carbs coming from? Was this grown or made in a lab? What’s Acesulfame potassium? What’s potassium Bromate? How about Sodium Benzoate?
Your first step on a ketogenic diet should be checking a label before buying it to ensure it doesn’t contain high amounts of carbs or sugar. That’s kind of a no brainer, right? Right? I’m going to assume you nodded. Don’t ignore that ingredients list though. Rule of thumb is less is more, and everything should sound like it came out of a pantry, not a lab.
Labels aren’t that hard to understand, but ingredients can be. When in doubt, google freely.
Bonus: Trust the process
This is not a solid rule, as it doesn’t apply to everyone, but for those that it does apply to this one may save your ketogenic diet (life). Everybody’s body is different, and as such no two people are going to react the exact same way. While generally a majority of people are going to react in a similar pattern, but there will be a select few (the chosen ones) whose body will react to this diet in a way that makes absolutely no sense. My wife was one of those people (love you babe;}).
For her, she had absolutely no positive improvement for three weeks (at least that she could see). She had no negative side effects either. She missed carbs, she wanted sugar, to simplify she was making sacrifices, but was getting nothing in return. No weight loss. No vanishing inches. No mental clarity like something out of “limitless”. She was frustrated and disheartened, and she looked to me for some explanation.
I didn’t have one. I’m not an expert. I’m not a guru. I’m a guy who decided to eat more fats. In short, I didn’t understand what was happening any more than she did.
But, I believed in eating this way. I believed in the overwhelming health improvement of controlling insulin, so I told her to stick to it. To trust that although the results (and Keto Flu) didn’t come immediately, that in time the benefits would be noticeable. I firmly believed that.
So, she trusted the process, and she stuck to a ketogenic diet. The following week it was like a dam had finally opened, because the weight and inches started coming off. With that she felt great. She was sleeping better, she had more energy, she felt better, and, bizarrely, she didn’t need to wear her glasses as soon as she woke up (she has used glasses from the minute she woke up to the minute she would go to sleep for 20+ years).
The funny thing is, I had noticed the thing about the glasses a week before, so I asked her if she hadn’t noticed any of that before, and as she truly thought about it she could reflect on how her productivity had increased, how she felt less fatigued, and just generally felt happier (except for when she was angry that Keto was working).
It was working. She just wasn’t seeing the singular result she was looking forward to the most. So in her mind, it wasn’t working. The point is, don’t become obsessed with a singular goal. Don’t become discouraged if you don’t lose double digits initially. You may get result (A) faster than someone else, but they are getting result (C) before you even know what result (C) is.
Everybody is different. Our bodies progress and change differently based on specific gene influence. You may not see the changes right away, or you may not see the changes you want to, but know that the change is happening. You’re making changes that will have huge benefits that can last a lifetime, so don’t become too concerned by the short game.
Life’s a marathon, not a race.
Trust the process.
This blueprint will help you build a solid foundation. What that building looks like when it’s done, how many floors it has, or how it’s decorated, is going to be wholly your design. But the foundation will always be the anchor that keeps your building standing tall and glorious. I still look to the foundation I’ve built as often now as I did when I started. My building has gotten more complex, and is starting to expand into other types of venues, but all that is made possible because I remain deeply rooted to my foundation.
Believe in your foundation. Believe in yourself.
Your life is waiting for you.
3 Day Keto Kick Start Menu Plan
This is a template, and was designed for simplicity, and ease of use. I offer some common alternatives if you dislike something, but you aren’t shackled to any specific food item. Yup, no half of grapefruit at every meal. Substitute freely, bearing in mind that you are putting preference in healthy fats over protein, and keeping carbs extremely low.
For breakfast I urge that everyone go the blended coffee route, “Neanderthal Coffee” as I call it. The fat from the butter and coconut oil really amp up ketone production, and, when combined with the coffee, gives you a nice punch of energy to attack your day with. Also, this drink will really sustain you for a while, reducing the hunger pains and urge to snack before lunch.
For snacks, only snack if you need to. Never snack just to snack, because your bored, have a craving, or because you think it’s necessary to ramp up metabolism. On the flip side, if your truly hungry, and not just thirsty (remember, it’s your job to drink water), then snack when needed. You should never be starving on a ketogenic diet. In the early weeks you will still have cravings, so those have to be ignored, but true hunger should be acknowledged. As the weeks go by, you’ll find yourself rarely snacking, and occasionally skipping meals, that’s fine, the body can easily have upwards of 40,000 calories stored for energy (ie. You’ll burn your fat stores… finally). With that said, don’t starve yourself. So simply put, eat when you’re hungry (no starving), and don’t snack if you’re not hungry.
Neanderthal Coffee (16-24oz good quality black coffee, 1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil (or mct oil), 1 tablespoon of unsalted Kerry gold butter, a sprinkle of pink Himalayan sea salt).
2 eggs fried in butter, 2-4 strips of bacon, and black coffee (if you don’t like black coffee you can add a splash of heavy whipping crème, sugar free macadamia milk, sugar free coconut milk, Splenda, sugar free syrups, cinnamon, or sugar free almond milk)
Caesar salad (3 cups of romaine lettuce, Caesar dressing (double check label, no surprises; I like Kens Creamy Caesar), parmesan crisps (for a crouton like crunch), grated Romano cheese, real bacon crumbles, and 4oz chicken (if desired)
1oz of cheese and 1 serving of bacon jerky
Taco Bowl (cup cauliflower rice, ground turkey or beef, sour cream, cheese, avocado, and Franks Red Hot)
Pro Tip: you can eat this in a bowl, as the name implies, or you can put it on romaine lettuce as a makeshift taco. If you really want to get legit with it, though, you can make taco shells out of sliced provolone. All you have to do is take a nonstick backing sheet (important that it’s doesn’t stick, or you’ll have to spray the sheet down with some avocado oil), place some sliced provolone on it, bake until golden brown, then remove and let cool for about a minute, before folding over something circular, like a rolling pin covered in aluminum foil. Let cool about five minutes and it gets hard. Now you have a taco shell made of cheese… feel free to still top your taco with cheese.
½ cup of Halo Top Birthday Cake Ice Cream
Nutritional info: 2,096 calories, 168g fat, 124g protein, 13g net carbs
Macros: 72% fat, 24% protein, 4% carbs (72/24/4)
3 egg omelet (with cheese, bacon, and ham, topped with sour cream and avocado)
Egg salad sandwich (Paleo Bread, egg salad (egg, mayo, salt and pepper, and whatever other low carb seasoning you like), lettuce, and pickles)
Pro Tip: Paleo bread is a awesome low carb option for people that want to be able to still have a slice of bread. My favorite is the almond bread that’s made by Julian’s Bakery, which you can find at Whole Foods and certain other grocery stores (They have a store locator on their website).
½ cup of macadamia nuts
Keto Chicken Alfredo (As far as I know, I invented this meal. Yam noodles (not zoodles, you can’t make this, but you buy this item from most Asian grocery stores, it looks sort of like cooked ramen noodles, but it’s made from yam powder, and it’s 0 calorie and less than 1 carb per serving), alfredo sauce, mushrooms (sautéed in butter), parmesan cheese, and 4-6oz of chicken)
Nutritional info: 1,940 calories, 167g fat, 88g protein, 16g net carbs
Macros: 77% fat, 18% protein, 5% carbs (77/18/5)
Smoked salmon with cream cheese and coffee (black or using keto approved add-on’s)
2 tablespoons of coconut butter.
Turkey and cheese lettuce wrap (6 slices of turkey, cheese, lettuce, full fat mayo, pickles, 1/2 avocado and bacon (optional, but I love avocado, so I eat it a lot)
1oz of cream cheese and 4 slices of ham or turkey meat (spread the cream cheese on the meat and roll them up)
Keto Personal Pizza (I may have invited this one, too. Low carb tortilla (says low carb on it and has between 4-6 net carbs per tortilla, lots of cheese, sautéed spinach and mushrooms, and 1 jennie-0 Italian turkey sausage link. I do mine with no sauce, but you can add alfredo sauce if you don’t like “sauceless” pizza)
90% Dark chocolate (2 squares) and ¼ cup of unsweetened coconut flakes
Nutritional info: 2,131 calories, 178g fat, 87g protein, 29g net carbs (see, you went a little over 20 and didn’t explode!z)
Macros: 75% fat, 20% protein, 5% carbs (75/20/5)
I truly hope this helps anyone considering giving a ketogenic diet a chance. It has changed my life, and I believe it can change yours as well.
Meet the Writer
Ryan N. Gray
Author, Blogger, Podcaster. Founder of Modern Day Neanderthal. Connoisseur of tattoos and butter coffee. Bare foot living, functional fitness, and fresh food lover. Trying to live keto in a world full of carbs.