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What It’s Really Like to Follow the Ketogenic Diet (Hint: It’s Crazy Easy)

Starting a ketogenic diet might seem overwhelming, but it's actually crazy easy and can yield dramatic results. All you have to do is simply change your mindset, consult with your doctor (of course) and watch the weight melt off.

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What is a ketogenic diet?

It’s actually really simple: The diet is high fat, moderate protein, and low carbohydrates. I decided to give it a try because I wanted to lose fat and had already started transitioning to a lower carb diet. Ketogenic was the next logical move to target the extra fat on my body.

According to nutritionist Vanessa Rissetto, RD, “The ketogenic diet forces the body to burn fat instead of carbohydrates. When you go through periods of following a carbohydrate-restricted diet, you deplete glycogen stores from the muscles.” The result is that the body is forced to convert fat stores to glucose to provide energy for your muscles. Learn 12 more things that happen to your body on a keto diet.

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How safe is a ketogenic diet?

There are questions, but there are also some impressive success stories with the ketogenic diet. Obviously before starting any new diet plan, you want to make sure that you talk with your doctor. I had hired a health coach to help me get on the keto diet plan, which was right for my goals, but everyone’s body is different. I have a friend who started the diet, lost weight, but when she went in for a check-up with her doctor, found that her cholesterol was through the roof. I was worried that might happen to me, so I spoke with Jennifer Stagg, ND, naturopathic physician and author of Unzip Your Genes: 5 Choices To Reveal A Radically Radiant You. Dr. Stagg informed me that, “Ketogenic diets have been used as a medical treatment for epilepsy for more about 90 years. They are relatively safe but there are certain people with genetic disorders for whom the diet is contraindicated.” Some people have experienced side effects like dizziness, weakness, and change in bowel habits on this diet; and some have more significant problems like increased cholesterol, gallstones, kidney stones and elevated liver enzymes, she explains. Also, a recent study looking at physical performance found that the diet can reduce endurance and peak performance, leading ot faster exhaustion. This suggests the ketogenic plan is not the best diet for athletes. Make sure you know these other 11 hidden dangers of the keto diet.

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The “keto flu”

When jumping into the ketogenic diet plan, I had never heard of the “keto flu” until after is happened to me. Rissetto says, “The ‘keto flu’ is characterized by headaches, nausea, upset stomach, lack of mental clarity, sleepiness, and fatigue—all of which can be caused by avoiding carbohydrates.” The body’s cells run on carbohydrates for fuel. Eventually, the liver will convert fats into carbohydrates through a process called gluconeogenesis. According to Rissetto, the purpose of this process is to avoid hypoglycemia—low blood sugar. “This is basically what the keto flu is. You’re in a constant state of hypoglycemia, which isn’t fun for anyone.”

I only experienced really intense nausea for about two days. (I almost took a pregnancy test, thinking it was morning sickness). Dr. Stagg recommends “drinking electrolyte formulas that can help mitigate these effects.” For me, drinking a lot of water was a huge help and just reminding myself that it will pass. Here are 13 more things doctors want you to know about the keto diet.

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Getting started

As with any diet plan, having support helps immensely. I didn’t, unfortunately: None of my family members were participating, so I knew I needed to double down on my will power to avoid the carb-heavy foods in the house. I found that preparing keto-friendly meals in advance helped me stay on track, especially when I was in a hurry. A little advice if you’re trying this diet: Don’t go overboard buying lots of keto snacks such as almonds, pumpkin seeds, and cacoa nibs. You’ll find that the high-fat diet keeps you feeling full between meals, and you won’t be snacking much. If you’re looking for recipes, Pinterest is a great place to start. Don’t miss these other 15 things you should know before starting a keto diet.

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My daily life on the keto diet plan

Once I was a few days in, life got extremely easier. I wasn’t hungry (which is a huge accomplishment for me, since I’m the kind of person always looking for my next meal), and I quickly slipped into a groove.

Here’s what a typical day looked like while on the keto diet plan:

Breakfast: coffee, 1 tbsp heavy cream and one piece of an egg bake casserole (9 eggs, 1/4 cup heavy cream, sauteéd mushrooms and spinach, bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes).

Lunch: salads with black olives, cherry tomatoes, half of an avocado, fresh spinach, 1/8 cup shredded cheddar cheese, 1 tbsp avocado oil and vinegar.

Dinner: I switched things up more with dinner, but I often made keto pancakes with bacon, bacon cheeseburger casserole, or creamy shredded chicken, and paired them with things like zucchini or asparagus with parmesan cheese.

As long as I drank lots and lots of water, the plan wasn’t too difficult. Give it a try and you’ll reap these 10 unexpected health benefits of a keto diet.

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Counting calories

You do need to count your calories if weight loss is your goal, even on a ketogenic diet. I started out cutting my calories by 30 percent of my normal intake during the first four days. However, my health coach pointed out that a 20-percent deficit would be more sustainable, if I wanted to make this approach long-term. How much you choose to cut calories will depend on your personal goals and tolerance. If you want to lose wight quicker then you might want to shoot for 30 percent; if you’re OK with a slower, steady weight loss, try 10-20 percent.

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Maintain the loss

You might find it helpful to hear from other people who have successfully lost weight and kept it off. I’ve found that progress really requires daily food tracking. I use the Lose It App not only because I can see my calorie breakdown, but I can also find out exactly how many grams of fat, carbs and protein I’m eating each day. Checking the app has become part of a morning routine that helps keep me stay focused. If you’re not sure how many grams you should be eating of each or what your deficit should be, check out this keto calculator for guidance. Check out this woman lost 45 pounds going keto.

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Making the keto diet a part of my life long term

I hit my goal of losing one pant-size by the second week on the plan, so to say that I’m blown away is an understatement. I want to continue with it because I feel amazing—I have a huge increase in energy and my bloating and digestive problems have cleared up. I’m working to make the plan sustainable for the long term. Once hit my weight goal, I’ll slowly increase my calories until I reach a maintenance level.

One note from Dr. Stagg: “Although, keto diets have been used long term to control epilepsy, most people find it difficult to stick to a keto diet in the long run, mostly because of compliance issues.” I completely understand this—it’s hard to be strict with it 100 percent of the time. And once you go off even for a day, you really feel like you’re starting all over again. For me, I’ll do a modified version (increased carbs) and incorporate things like carb-ups for women and intermittent fasting to keep me on track. Learn the reasons people fail at the keto diet—and the fixes to help you succeed.

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