The Beginner’s Guide to Starting the Keto Diet
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Bryan Seigel D.C., P.L.C.
Are you searching for a guide on how to do the keto diet for beginners? Lucky you, it’s right here! There’s so much information out there on how to get started with keto that it can be hard to know where to begin. A lot of people get intimidated and turned off because it seems too complicated and scary. Fear not! This primer will introduce you to the basics that will help you succeed, and remind you of the foundations if you’ve been away from keto for a while.
Getting started on keto is simple and easy!
Step 1: CUT CARBS
Let’s put the most important thing first, shall we? Remove the major offenders from your diet, starting now. Carbohydrates are any foods that are sweets or starches. Breads, pastries, pastas, rice, and potatoes are common carbohydrate foods that you want to avoid on keto. Ice cream, regular soda, juice, and large amounts of fruit are also off the table.
Does this mean you can’t have these things at all? Heck no! But when you get a craving, you’ll go for one of the surprisingly satisfying keto substitutes on the market, or make your own. It’s easy to make smart swaps for carby things you normally have. Instead of soda, choose club soda or seltzer water and add flavor drops to make it just sweet enough; Sweet Leaf makes great flavors that won’t spike your blood sugar. Use cauliflower in place of rice or potatoes, and choose low carb wraps or lettuce instead of bread.
There are a lot of restaurants that offer options so you can stick to the keto diet for beginners. If you’re nervous about ordering based on this preference you can tell them you’re diabetic, which is one eventuality you’re aiming to avoid anyway. Both sit-down and takeout restaurants will accommodate your new, smart dietary choices.
Read labels of everything you buy, since carbs are hidden in most packaged foods. Sauces are a big offender here, since sugar makes them delicious and starch gives them a thicker texture. The same advice goes for eating out: carbs are everywhere so fearlessly ask about ingredients.
Aim to keep your carbs under 20 grams per day from all sources. Less than that is great, and some people, especially athletes, can consume a little more, but if you stay under 20g you’ll find the land of ketosis without any trouble. Not sure how many carbs a food has? Check this out!
Step 2: MODIFY YOUR MACROS
“Oh no, scary lingo!” Nope, this one is easy. Macros, short for macronutrients, describes the types of food we eat in large amounts. Carbohydrates are a macro that we’re no longer eating. Since carbs are out, we have to put something else in. There are two others to choose from: protein and fat.
Protein, which we typically get from meat, eggs, fish, and poultry, contains the amino acid building blocks that make up our muscles, skin, bones, and other organs, as well as neurotransmitters we need to maintain a stable mood. Fats are the ideal fuel source for athletes, weekend warriors, and board room champions, and are essential for cell membrane integrity and hormone signaling. Keto is fairly straightforward when you consume animal products. If you choose a plant-based way of eating, we have some tips for you coming soon, in a dedicated plant-based guide.
In your first week of keto, eat as much of these two macros as you want as you find and reduce carbohydrates in your meals. You want this transition to be as delightfully feast-like as possible so you know you can have delicious foods without feeling deprived. This is NOT the way you will continue past your first week, it’s just a way to understand that keto doesn’t have to feel restrictive.
This keto diet for beginners introduction window is a great time to try new recipes! You can use the simple meal formula Meat + Veg, Cook in Fat. Experiment with roasted meats, egg cups, stir fry, and smoked fish. There are so many options! You can even make keto pizza and keto tacos.
After you’re comfortable with the fact that yes, you really can do this, reign it in a little and remember that food still has calories, and there’s a right way to plan your macros so you adapt quickly and painlessly. If one of your goals is to change your body shape and composition, use our handy dandy macro calculator to figure out how much you should be eating, and track your intake using an app like Cronometer. Tracking isn’t strictly necessary, but it helps you find hidden carbs in foods, and helps you keep track of what you’re actually consuming. And you’ll learn how small a serving of peanut butter really is.
Keto adaptation takes a little time, but don’t worry, your patience will pay off quickly! You might start seeing results in the very first week, but even if you don’t, you’re adapting and getting healthier. For your first week, aim for 80g of carbs or fewer. In week 2, 60g or less, week 3, 40g or less, and week 4, 20g or less. 20g is the standard cutoff for sustainable keto, so keep this number in mind for all future daily meal planning. We highly recommend you find a good nutrition calculator to determine your ideal intake of protein and fat, since there are quite a few variables that change your intake needs, such as age, gender, weight, age, and activity level. There is no one size fits all plan, and having an individualized plan will let you tweak your macros due to any changes.
Step 3: MIND YOUR MICROS
“Not more lingo!” Just a little, which in this case is a play on words: micronutrients are substances you need in far smaller amounts than macronutrients. These are things like vitamins and minerals, and the all-important electrolytes. These are found in bright and darkly colored vegetables, with a heavy preference towards dark leafy greens.
Electrolytes are the difference between feeling great on keto and getting the keto flu. The keto flu isn’t like the regular flu, instead you feel tired and run down, and get the stabbiest of all headaches. It’s hard to get enough electrolytes from food alone even if you eat a lot of vegetables and salt your food, so it’s a good idea to keep a couple of flavors of electrolyte drink powder on hand.
See? Three easy steps and you’re good to go! The keto diet for beginners only involves eliminating carbs, and bringing in more healthy protein and fat. When you’ve mastered those, we’ll dive into more detail on workouts, targeted supplements for specific needs, and what to do if you aren’t seeing results. For now, the most important step is to just start. You’ve got this!
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