Thinking About Following A Keto Diet? Here’s What You Need To Know

The ketogenic diet, shortened to “keto,” was initially designed in the 1920s to treat people with epilepsy. Many are now turning to the high-fat, moderate protein, and low carbohydrate diet to lose weight and increase mental focus. Celebrities like Katie Couric, Halle Berry, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Megan Fox all reportedly adopted the keto diet for their own reasons. As more buzz is created around the diet, it’s important for interested people to learn its purpose and what to expect going into it. The first couple of weeks can be challenging, coming with side effects people refer to as the “keto flu.” But if you stick with it, and your body goes into ketosis, there’s a good chance you’ll lose weight and increase mental focus, which is why it’s becoming increasingly popular.

What Does ‘Keto’ Really Mean?

Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

‘Keto’ is short for ketosis, which naturally occurs in metabolism when carbohydrate intake is minimal. This signals to your body to start burning fat at an increased rate. This shift in metabolism doesn’t happen right away, but will be triggered when insulin levels are low.

But low insulin levels can be big trouble for people who have diabetes or high blood pressure, which is why the keto diet isn’t for everyone.

So do you fall into the danger category? See next.

So Who Shouldn’t Follow The Keto Diet?

BSIP/UIG via Getty Images

While the keto diet might help a portion of the population achieve mental focus and lose weight, it’s not right for everyone. It’s important to consult with your doctor before starting a new diet, and people with diabetes, high blood pressure, or women who are breastfeeding should not adopt the keto diet.

At the beginning of the diet, people often have flu-like symptoms, which have been referred to as “low-carb flu” or “keto flu.” You’ll start to feel fatigued, experience headaches, and actually the opposite of the mental edge many want to achieve: brain fog.

It’s A Lot Of Fat

David Silverman/Getty Images

If you’re not used to eating a lot of fat, then starting the keto diet may be a little overwhelming in the beginning. The goal is to eat a lot of fat, since it’s the fuel that your body needs for energy and will be burning a lot of it.

Fat should take up a whopping 70-80% of your food intake on the keto diet, with protein following at 20-25%, and lastly, carbs at 5-10%. That means if you’re consuming 2,000 calories a day, you should be eat around 144-177 grams of fat each day!

Keto Adopters Need To Eat The Right Fats

Stacy Zarin Goldberg for The Washington Post via Getty Images

The keto diet includes a whole lot of fat. That’s why it’s extremely important to make sure that you’re eating healthy fats. These include avocado, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, and cheese. Although these foods are high in fat, they also pack in a lot of nutrients.

A study by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that people who eat avocados tend to weigh less and have less belly fat than those who don’t eat avocados.

You Still Get To Eat Tasty Foods

BSIP/UIG via Getty Images

One of the reasons people are attracted to the keto diet is that although you’re having to seriously cut down on eating carbs, the diet allows you to eat all sorts of tasty foods that may be cut out of other eating plans.

Dark chocolate and full-fat yogurt and milk are all okay. Meat is also at the top of list, which celebs like Halle Berry prefer over noshing on pasta dishes. Any diet where you can enjoy bacon is a tasty one, right?

You Might Feel Weak In The Beginning

Ritesh Uttamchandani/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Suddenly cutting out carbs and sugars can make the body feel weak at the beginning of the diet. Many who have started keto reported low energy, headaches, and shakiness within the first week or two. Katie Couric reported, “The fourth or fifth day, I felt a little shaky and headachy, but I feel much better [now].”

This is because the body is low on minerals including magnesium, sodium, and potassium. Having low levels of these elements can cause you to feel dizzy, lightheaded, and fatigued.

How Quickly Will The Weight Fall Off?

Fortitude Press/Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

People who adopt a keto diet often lose weight quickly in the first week as their diet rapidly changes. Primarily, this is stored carbs and water weight you’re getting rid of. After the initial weight loss at the kick-off of the diet, body fat will begin to shave off, so long as you continue with the diet.

There are reports of both short-term and long-term weight loss with the keto diet, and results are a little different for everyone.

Frequent Urination Is A Side Effect

Ramin Talaie/Corbis via Getty Images

Like with most things, the keto diet has pros and cons. One of the side effects of the diet is having to run to the bathroom more frequently. As your body burns through all of the glucose stored in your liver and muscles, you’ll begin releasing more water.

This means that it’s important to drink as much water as possible while following the diet, since it also dehydrates you and can lead to muscle cramping.

Bad Breath??

Ramin Talaie/Corbis via Getty Images

Yep, bad breath is a side effect associated with the keto diet. A byproduct of fat metabolism called acetone is a cause of bad breath. This is your body trying to get rid of the higher levels of acetone.

Unfortunately, your sweat and urine can also pick up this scent, which many compare to nail polish remover, since acetone is a primary ingredient of the product. Most people report that the bad breath and other body odor goes away after a few weeks of the diet.

Cramping Up?

BSIP/UIG via Getty Images

It’s important to note all of the changes that you body is experiencing while changing your diet. Another side effect that many keto dieters report is leg cramps. This is because ketosis can cause dehydration, which causes muscle cramps.

Ketosis causes a reduction in water weight, which you’ll be happily surprised by at the scale, but maybe not later when trying physical activity. To reduce the muscle cramping, be sure to drink lots of water, stretch, and take note of how many times it occurs.

Be Sure To Get Enough Salt

BSIP/UIG via Getty Images

It might seem odd to aim to increase salt in your diet, but when you follow keto, you need to make sure you’re getting enough. The Keto diet lacks sodium, which is a crucial electrolyte and you’ll be feeling run down without it.

If you start feeling weakness, fatigue, low energy, and confusion, turn to a broth or add more salt to your foods to increase sodium levels as quickly as possible. Although you want to follow the diet, you don’t want to push your body beyond its limits.

Increase Magnesium And Potassium Intake

Wendy Stone/Corbis via Getty Images

It’s also important to maintain levels of magnesium and potassium when practicing a keto diet. This shouldn’t be problem though, since many of foods high in these minerals are super tasty! Dark chocolate, avocados, nuts, and fatty fish all fall into this category.

Leg cramps, twitchy muscles and fatigue will signal that you need to add more minerals to your diet. A bag of trail mix (sans raisins!) can be an easy go-to snack to up your levels.

LeBron James Is Down With Keto

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The beginning may be rough in terms of energy, but once you break through and get into ketosis, your body will be a fat-burning and performance machine. In 2014, LeBron James appeared at a lower weight in the off-season. It was estimated that he lost between 10-20 pounds, and once questioned about it, we found out he was following a diet similar to keto.

“I had no sugar, no dairy, no carbs,” James said in an interview with Sports Illustrated. “All I ate was meat, fish, veggies and fruit. That’s it. For 67 straight days.” James said he adopted the diet to achieve a mental edge, and said he received the benefits he was hoping for.

Your Hunger Will (Probably) Decrease

BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images

Once you’re at least a week into the keto diet, people have reported a decrease in craving food. Although there isn’t hard data to back up why this might be, people on the keto diet have reported a reduction in appetite.

It’s possible that this is related to the way your brain is changing with the diet, sending different hunger hormones from the brain to the body that will effect when and how much you eat.

Ketosis: Once You’ve Arrived

Donald Miralle/Getty Images for IRONMAN

Once your body has officially switched over and goes into ketosis, the magic happens. Your brain will begin burning ketones instead of glucose, which is an excellent fuel for your brain. Once the brain fog has lifted, you can achieve this mental clarity that everyone is after.

Extreme reduction in carbohydrates will stabilize the body’s blood sugar levels, which can help improve focus and brain function. Some studies have even proven that ketones treat brain diseases, concussions, and memory loss.

You Can Burn A LOT More Fat

Lance King/Getty Images

So just how much more fat will you burn after you adopt the keto diet? A study published in 2015 found that athletes who practiced keto burned as much as 230% more fat when working out compared to athletes who were not on the keto diet. That’s huge!

It’s important to make sure that you’re drinking plenty of water and getting enough minerals while you exercise. It’s also a good idea to wait out the first couple of weeks on the diet before exercising intensely, as you’re likely to feel dizzy, weak, and fatigued.

The Question Of Sleep

Education Images/UIG via Getty images

If you’ve learned anything so far in this article, its that the first couple of weeks are rough! Many people who adopted the keto diet report insomnia during the first few weeks, likely due to decreased carbohydrates.

But fear not, as long-term keto dieters have said that once they got through the first few weeks, they slept better than ever before! Knowing that it may be a rough couple weeks, treat yourself well and make sure you adopt a pre-bedtime routine that will help relax you and signal to your body that it’s time to sleep.

The Keto Diet Isn’t For The Long Term

BSIP/UIG via Getty Images

Although ketosis can help rev up your body’s metabolism, burning fat and increasing mental focus, the keto diet shouldn’t be considered for the long term. Research is being done to keep up with the popularity of the diet, and some studies have found that eating so much fat can potentially lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Researchers are also worried about the effects that it may have on the heart, not just because of the high fat intake, but because foods like fruit and grains which support heart health are cut out of the diet.

So how long should you stick with the diet?

Stay On The Diet For No Longer Than Six Months

Deb Lindsey For The Washington Post via Getty Images

New York City-based dietitian Kristen Mancinelli, RD, wrote a book on the ketogenic diet. When it comes to adopting the keto diet long-term, Mancinelli told Everyday Health, “I don’t recommend staying on the keto diet permanently. It can be really restrictive.”

She also said that in order to best protect your health, dieters should quit the keto diet after three to six months max. People typically do a few cycles of the diet throughout the year when they want to lose weight, but don’t adopt it as a year-long lifestyle.

Life After Keto

Deb Lindsey For The Washington Post via Getty Images

So what happens after you’ve been on the Keto diet for a while and decide to quit? Mancinelli said that after the Keto diet, your taste buds and food cravings may change. “You likely won’t want as many carbs, and things will taste extremely sweet.”

Overall, while the diet is restrictive, and can be dangerous for some people, it’s also an option for people looking to rev up their metabolism, lose weight, and gain focus. Just be sure that you carve out the right time to start the diet, knowing the first few weeks are tough!