The ketogenic diet is different from any other and can be used to treat seizures and anxiety. Many people, however, are using it to drive weight loss and jump-start a healthy lifestyle.
“The ketogenic diet, which is a high fat, medium protein, very low carb diet, has become one of the most popular diets because of the results people are seeing with weight loss, body composition transformations, blood sugar control and therapy for epilepsy, neurological diseases and even some cancers. In fact, many type II diabetics are able to reduce or even eliminate diabetic medications when they follow a ketogenic diet,” explains Denny Hemingson FDN-P, AFDNP, AllAccessHealthPass.com.
What you may not realize is that those benefits don’t come without hard work. The keto diet is one of the most challenging to follow thanks to its extreme restrictions on carbohydrates—something most Americans eat a lot of (but we know you can do it!). Oh, and don’t forget, as you go through the diet, to stay in close contact with a health professional.
“It is best to work with a dietitian or medical practitioner who specializes in the diet. There is great benefit to getting regular blood work done while on the diet, and being on a robust supplement regimen in response to the blood work results,” says Pegah Jalali, MS RD CDN, Dietitian, Middleberg Nutrition.
Use the following tips and tricks from nutritionists and dietitians to make the diet easier to follow from day one, allowing you to meet your health goals and stay sane at the same time.
1. Change your mindset
It’s easy to fall into the mindset of, “Oh I can’t have this, I can’t have that—this sucks!” Jalali says that’s totally normal. She explains, “The ketogenic diet, may seem very restrictive, since it is a low carbohydrate diet and typical Americans eat about 55 to 60 percent of diet as carbohydrates. It may seem at first, like you cannot eat anything.”
Instead of letting this deter you, Jalali suggests focusing on foods that you enjoy that also fit into the diet. You can still eat animal proteins, vegetables and healthy fats like avocados, nuts, seeds and her favorite, olives!
Make a list of the foods that you love and are allowed to eat. Then spend time online collecting recipes that fit the keto diet, like this whole-roasted cauliflower, and use your favorite foods.
Searching for recipes will open the door to options and ideas that keep you excited—rather than upset, suggests Ryan Goodwin, Chef and Search Analyst at Craftlog.com. Goodwin explains:
“Instead of getting hung up on trying to replicate what I can't have, I focus on maximizing what I can. When it comes to ketogenic cooking in particular, I find what helps me is a trip to the farmers market. Fresh veggies and proteins jump out at me so I can build a meal around the right ingredients straight from the start.”
2. Eat fewer times per day
Intermittent fasting can play a helpful role in your ketogenic diet. “Narrowing your eating window can make it much easier to control your daily carbohydrate intake (which will be around 20 grams or so per day—not much!). With each meal, the carbs can add up quickly, so if you only eat 1 to 2 meals per day it becomes easier to manage,” says Hemingson.
Note that adding this extra change—in addition to the diet—takes a bit more effort. Try this variation after you’ve begun adjusting to the new food options and amounts. If you decide to try intermittent fasting, consult with a health professional to make sure you’re getting enough nutrients at each meal.
3. Become a master prepper
Preparing food ahead of time makes it easier to stick with and manage the diet in your busy day-to-day life. It also keeps things exciting, suggests Emily Field, Registered Dietitian, EmilyFieldRD.com. Field explains the best method for doing this with the keto diet:
“Batch prepare a main protein once or twice per week to pair with your favorite low-carb sides to keep things fresh and interesting. For example, prepare shredded pork shoulder in bulk and keep on hand to pair with taco fixings such as tomato, onion and avocado in lettuce wraps. Later, you might throw it into a pan with eggs or toss with a low-carb barbecue sauce. You can effectively make three different meals from one main dish.”
You may need to update your storage container cupboard with different sizes and shapes so you can fit all your meals in your fridge. Check out Vitacost’s selection of reusable containers, which includes BPA-free, eco-friendly and kid-friendly options.
4. Go slow and steady
It’s the first day of the diet, and you’re excited to get started. Don’t let that excitement push you too far too fast. If you start to struggle or become frustrated, you’re more likely to give up everything you’ve already worked toward.
Field suggests aiming for a lower carb count each week, “instead of trying to adopt a strict and drastic low carb goal right away. Moving from 150-plus grams of carbs per day to less than 30 grams of carbs per day overnight is really tough.”
To make this easier, track your food in a food journal. Field explains that this will give you a better idea of what foods are contributing to your carbohydrate totals, allowing you to “experiment with how to replace them in a manageable and sustainable way.”
The keto diet can leave you feeling sluggish and fatigued thanks to the loss of electrolytes through urination. “The keto diet flushes out water by reducing inflammation (water binds up in inflammation) and glycogen levels,” explains Carolyn Dean, MD, ND. The tricky part is this can also lead to reduced levels of magnesium, which is considered an energy mineral—further depleting your energy levels.
To stay alert throughout the day, “hydrate sufficiently and add sea salt and an absorbable form of magnesium such as magnesium citrate powder to your water. This will definitely make following the keto diet easier,” suggests Dean.
If water isn’t your thing, check out these 5 tips for staying hydrated if you don’t like to drink water. You can also get a big water bottle and bring it with you everywhere you go, even to the store. When it’s within arm’s reach, you’ll be more likely to stay hydrated, whether you’re sitting in your car or doing work at your desk.
The ketogenic diet can seem hard, frustrating and exhausting. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for it—especially if you’re trying to solve a specific health issue. Instead, use these ideas to make it easier every step of the way.
Stay hydrated, keep an open mind and roll it out slowly. With an easier adjustment and an I-can-make-this-work attitude, you’ll feel great and allow the keto diet to work its magic on your body.