A TL;DR checklist for entering ketosis

In case you’re in a hurry, here’s just a quick blurb of the previous post. This is the most basic information, really only as a quic OK OK I’ll stop talking:

To quickly enter ketosis:
Day 1 – eat less than 5% of your daily calories from carbs, or about 20g or less

Exercise vigorously, either high intensity aerobics or some good, heavy weight lifting. Squats, deadlifts, bench presses – large muscle group lifting for maximum glycogen depletion.

Don’t eat anything after 8.


Day 2 – again, eat less than 5% of your daily calories from carbs, again, 20g (this is the standard, for at least 2 weeks, but better for a month).

Exercise in a more even tone, medium intensity walking/jogging. You probably won’t have the energy for heavy intensity lifting, but if you do, do it all out.
By bedtime, if you’re not already in ketosis, by the morning you should be.


How are you going to maintain this? By sticking to less than 20g of carbs a day. I recommend, as do most people who have done this way of eating, to not count calories, at least the first few weeks. You’re going to be headachy, irritable, possibly even feel sick. Eating calories, and supplementing electrolytes will help.

Salt everything. Beef broth at night helps replenish some electrolytes, and it will probably help you feel better.

Magnesium is another one you’re going to probably need to supplement. Spinach has it, as does cocoa powder (the darker the better) but you’ll probably burn through magnesium quickly. If you supplement, use magnesium citrate, or take baths with epsom salts. Other kinds of magnesium have a strong laxative effect, so unless you want that, either steer clear or be sparing.

Drink a lot of water. This diet, especially in the first few weeks, makes you pee a lot. Your body stores glycogen in your muscles with water, and shedding that glycogen sheds that water.

Eat plenty of leafy greens, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, peppers, mushrooms, etc. Some people are crazy about limiting carbs, and such they’ll not eat veggies, but the carbs in most cruciferous and leafy veggies are so low, and so packed with fiber, that it’s not worth even worrying about.

FIBER – I completely forgot. Subtract fiber from your total carbs to get your net carbs. This is what you’ll count each day, not total.

You should eventually count calories, but the most important things to keep in mind are:
Carbs at about 25 -50g a day. Some people slow down their weight loss above 30g, but I’ve personally not stalled (I admittedly needed to lose a lot of weight, so that’s probably why) eating closer to 100g while I was weight lifting heavily, but that’s anecdotal and not typical.

Protein should be about .75 – 1g for every pound of lean body mass, or “ideal body weight”. If you’re a male between 5’10” and 6’1″, you should be eating 150-180g of protein daily (as an example). The purpose is your body will begin breaking down muscle for glucose, but if  you’re eating enough protein to stop that, you can mitigate muscle loss during times of lesser caloric intake. This is called nitrogen sparing, but the key is you don’t want to lose 100 pounds and be “skinny fat”. Lifting weights is a huge key to keeping this from happening, but so is adequate protein intake.

Fat intake is essentially the rest of your calories. Eat whatever you need to feel full. Cheese, butter, eggs, etc. Again, you’ll eventually set a caloric goal for weight loss, but in the beginning, you’ll feel loads better if you just eat until you’re not hungry and keep your carbs low. Especially if you have a lot of weight to lose, this will probably be the easiest route. I went from 450 to 300 without paying attention to anything really besides carb intake. Once I started to be able to exercise regularly, and particularly once I started lifting weights, I found that I could even eat a few more carbs a day, since my body was preferentially burning the glucose I was taking in, or converting it into glycogen and storing it in my muscles as it was depleted.

Finding your BMR – a good quick and dirty way to find your basal metabolic rate would be to take your weight and multiply by ten. So at 150 pounds, you burn about 1500 calories a day (depending on average activity level). You should reduce your caloric intake a bit from that in order to lose weight. Just make sure you’re still hitting your macros, especially protein if you’re exercising.

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Entering and maintaining ketosis

Assuming that you’re interested in getting started on this way of eating, I guess the most appropriate next step would be providing information as to just how to actually get started.

As I stated in the first post (which I hope you read but if not ((you really should – don’t be lazy!)) I’ll reiterate here) your brain needs about 100g of carbs a day to maintain its functioning. That means that any diet under 100g of carbs will necessitate the production of glucose via gluconeogenesis, where protein and fat can be turned into necessary glucose. This basically means that it’s possible to survive at basically no incoming carbohydrate, but it would be difficult, not to mention depriving you of other necessary nutrients from plants and/or dairy.

That said, ketosis will kick in once you’ve depleted your glycogen stores and not eaten carbohydrate within a varying amount of time. The process of depleting all body glycogen, which is stored in muscles and in the liver, can take 24 to 48 hours, generally, depending on your last meal, amount of muscle mass, and level of physical activity. Anecdotally, I’ve never taken longer than about two days to start ketosis, and the very first time I went on a ketogenic diet, I was very sedentary and weighed about 450 pounds, so extra glycogen depletion through physical activity was basically non-existent.

The best way to get into ketosis quickly (and with a fair degree of certainty) is to wake up and do a day where 5% or less of your calories come from carbs. The gold standard for “induction” or the process of entering ketosis is about 20-25 carbs or less, and these should come from high-fat dairy sources and vegetables. If you’re getting all 20 carbs in one sitting from a plate of candy or a slice of cake, it will hamper or even prevent ketosis, as that will flood your bloodstream with glycogen and trigger an insulin response. The true underlying hormonal mechanism for the production of ketones is the ratio of insulin to glucagon, but unless you’re exceedingly interested in that chemical relationship, I will pass on explaining it here, as it’s not really important. Just know that if your insulin is up, and you’re non-diabetic, then your production of ketones (and the breakdown of fat for energy) will be hampered.

With a day of restricted carb intake, with some added high-intensity aerobic training (ask your doctor before starting any exercise routine, particularly if you’ve never really worked out before) or weight lifting, you will likely enter ketosis by the following day or night, again, depending on mitigating factors.

Once in ketosis, it is highly recommended that you get daily exercise. Well, actually, you should always get daily exercise, but with ketosis, even just some good-paced walking on a daily basis will help improve insulin sensitivity, burn more fat, and improve overall fitness. This is especially important during the first month or so – you’ll definitely want to increase exercise, particularly if you’re like I was and severely overweight – but that first month of transition will make strenuous exercise difficult, and you’ll burn out easily.

What to eat in order to enter and stay in ketosis? Well, that’s a pretty broad range of foods. The easiest thing would be to say to not eat any sugar, grains, flour, etc. and focus entirely on nuts, eggs, low-carb dairy, meat, fish, and vegetables, but there’s really more to it than that. To really be restrictive about your carbs, and especially if you’re paying attention to nutrition facts, you’ll see that a lot of things have 1 or 2 grams here and there and that will really stack up. Lunch meat is a huge one, because you might think that it’s just meat, should be fine, but the curing process most deli meat undergoes uses sugar of some sort at some point, and that adds carbs, not to mention meats preserved with nitrates or nitrites are intensely unhealthy and should be avoided 99% of the time unless there’s really no other option.

 

Probably the easiest way to look at it would be:

Whole, un-cured meats, even fatty cuts (don’t be afraid of fat!)

Fibrous, green veggies, but also tomatoes and onions, in reasonable amount. My opinion on more carby vegetables like tomatoes and onions (I know tomatoes are a fruit, so before you get uppity, did you know they’re a nightshade?) is that the benefits outweigh the increased carbs. Besides, you’re unlikely to eat a whole onion at once anyway.

High fat, low carb dairy, like heavy cream, cream cheese, and cheddar. No low fat nonsense. They replace the healthy, naturally occurring fat with sugar and other crud.

Eggs, eggs, eggs. Their benefits are nearly impossible to exaggerate, but they’re probably going to be a staple for your diet.

Seafood – wild caught or nothing. Farmed seafood is fed a bounty of disgusting crap, including quite literally crap. From corn and wheat to chicken poop, farmed seafood, particularly tilapia and salmon, is very, very unhealthy for people and the environment.

Certain nuts. Almonds, walnuts, pistachios, macadamia nuts – these are all good. Peanuts and peanut butter are good, only if you get all natural and are very strict with what you eat. 2 tablespoons of natural (just peanuts and salt – Smuckers is the best I’ve had, anecdotally) is about 4 carbs, so again, be cautious. Cashews unfortunately are very carby, and should be avoided.

 

Avoid:

Starchy veggies like potatoes, yams, corn.

Cured meats – sausage, salami, pepperoni, etc. Nearly all deli meats, too. The good news is you can find meats like these that aren’t cured. I buy bacon at Aldi that is thick cut and free of nitrates and nitrites, and it’s amazing.

Low fat anything. Milk, cheese, etc. Mainly an issue with dairy foods.

Highly processed “low carb” food replacers. You’ll see a lot of bars and snacks marketed to low carb dieters, but very few are worth trying. Quest brand snacks are, in my experience, really, really great. They taste good, are high in fiber, and the products they’re made from are real food instead of chemicals.

 

There’s acceptable levels of fruits, mostly berries, once you’re in ketosis and have stabilized your blood sugar. Again, if it fits into your macros, you can try it, but I’ll write more on that later.

 

 

Just what is ketosis?

It goes by a many different names – keto, ketosis, Atkins, HFLC (high fat, low carb), paleo (to a certain extent) – but they all refer to the same thing. It’s a way of eating that implies that eating fat is not only healthy for you, but far more so than the conventional “wisdom” that eating tons of grains and starchy foods.

As a society we’re warned against the dangers of ingesting too much fat, too much sugar, etc. It wasn’t until recently that modern research caught up with the nonsense of the past and has shown us that butter, fat, and animal proteins are healthy and should make up the bulk of our diet, rather than the highly processed breads, sugars, and grains we’ve had pushed onto us from the government and antiquated nutrition science.

Right, so preamble out of the way – what is ketosis?

Strictly speaking, your body has two different types of metabolism. One is glycolysis, in which carbs are broken down into energy for your body to use. In this model, excess carbohydrate is stored in muscle and in the liver as glycogen, to be used primarily in energetic activity, like biking or simply moving around the office. Your brain uses about 100 grams worth of carbohydrate a day, just by itself, and as I said before, your body can store a certain amount, based on body size and muscle density. The rest is converted into fat, which is bad. In addition, the more you flood your bloodstream with glucose, the more insulin is needed to shuttle the sugar where it needs to go. As insulin tries to do its job, your body becomes resistant, meaning more insulin is needed each time you eat sugar. This chronic state of high insulin and high insulin resistance is called diabetes (well, type 2 diabetes), and is a state that causes problems in very nearly every facet of your biological and mental functioning.

Ketosis is the metabolic state in which your body burns fat instead of carbs, essentially. The process is, in a nutshell, that when your body is out of stored glycogen and has scoured dietary glucose from your bloodstream, the breakdown of triglycerides begins. The fats break down into ketone bodies, which become the primary source of energy for most of your functioning (again, the brain will ALWAYS need glucose, but your body can create enough through a process called gluconeogenesis, which is to say it creates glucose from fat or protein).

Any diet that is under 100 grams of carbs a day will be ketogenic, that is, ketone-creating, but for most people to truly see results from low carb eating, a restriction to under 30 grams a day is generally necessary, at least for the first two weeks to a month. During this time, the body switches its metabolism to one that functions primarily on fat, both stored and dietary, and for at least some of this time, it’s a drag. Reduced mental clarity, significantly reduced ability to perform athletic activity, stomach issues, headaches, and irritability are all likely symptoms, and can last anywhere from 1 week to a month, dependent on how heavily you have used sugar in the past. Despite what anyone says about this being “toxins leaving the body”, it breaks down to the simple truth that sugar is an addictive substance, and reducing the amount you eat causes withdrawal and all the wonderful glitches with which it comes. Anecdotally, friends who have cut carbs and also at one point stopped smoking have said that it can be very similar.

This is essentially the most basic science behind ketosis. When your body is in glycolysis, extra blood sugar is shuttled into fat cells and stored, which is awful, creates insulin resistance, and ugly fat. There’s nothing essentially wrong with glycolysis – plenty of healthy people have metabolisms that are glucose-driven, particularly athletes. From a starting point of ill health, though, getting control of your carb intake is crucial, and most people succeed in losing weight and keeping it off, once they know the actual reasoning behind low carb dieting. Ketosis encourages the body to burn fat preferentially, increases insulin sensitivity (particularly in conjunction with muscle-building strength training, but that’s another post), and keeps you sated longer. This is because fat and protein take far longer to digest than carbs, particularly empty carbs like highly refined sugar and flour, and that’s without even beginning to get into the hormonal rampage that is high fructose corn syrup or processed fruit syrups like agave.

How to start? Well, again, another post, but the most basic macro nutrient (that is, protein, carbs, and fat) breakdown is something like 5% carbs, 35% protein, 60% fat. My next post will deal with healthfully entering ketosis and how to maintain that metabolism.