I started keto in September 2015. It’s been a long and circuitous journey since then, with lots of ups and downs; starts, relapses, and restarts; and weight loss and weight gain. I’ve started anew March 16, 2018 with a renewed vigor. The stress of moving, job hunting, starting a new job, wedding planning, and have the wedding itself now all gone, it was time to get my health back in order.
Here are a few things I’ve learned throughout the almost 3 years that I’ve been eating keto. Some practical tips to help you get the most out of your keto journey, whether it’s for weight loss, migraine suppression, or just overall health.
Disclaimer: I am not a nutritionist or a dietician. I am not a professional in any way, so take these with a grain of (electrolyte-filled!) salt. Also bear in mind that I am not vegetarian or vegan, so lots of these options may not (read: will not) work if you are doing keto but also staying vegetarian/vegan.
Get rid of temptation!
Before you can start keto, you need to get rid of any and all temptations you have at your home (and your office!). This may mean wasting food, but it’s better that it goes into the trash than into your body. Take anything that’s not keto and toss it in the trash. Don’t do what I did my first time starting keto and binge on carbs as a “last meal” the day before you start; it’ll only make Day 1 that much harder. (For a list of foods you can eat, I suggest visiting this Ketogenis Diet Food List by ruled.me. That entire site is a great resource for anyone starting/maintaining keto.)
Stock up on keto friendly snacks
It’s hard to say no to your coworker’s offer of cookies on an empty stomach. It’s much easier to say no when you already have your own snacks. Here are some treats that I regularly bring to work with me and keep in the apartment for when I’m feeling the need to munch on something.
- Pork rinds: These are perfect for chip fiends like myself. I love crunchy foods and these are a great replacement for potato chips. Jason and I stumbled upon these Southern Recipe Small Batch pork rinds at the grocery store and love them! They come in a lot of different flavors like Spicy Dill, Korean Kimchi BBQ, and Pineapple Ancho Chile. Of course, you can try any brand of pork rinds you like, just be sure to check the nutrition label.
- Cheese snacks
- Whisps: Another great chip replacement. I only wish the packages were much larger. These are delicious and extremely low in carb because they’re literally just cheese!
- Cheese sticks: I feel like these speak for themselves
- Pepperoni slices: Or really any deli meat. I like to put one serving’s worth of pepperoni in my lunch box and eat them on the side with my sandwich (more on that sandwich later).
- Thinables: These come in a wide range of flavors and are delicious! They’re a bit higher in net carbs than the other snacks however, so keep that in mind.
- Sugar Free Meringues: Jason and I have been watching a lot of Great British Baking Show lately and they make meringues all the time. Was very happy to find these Carefully Crafted Krunchy Melts Meringues that are very low in sugar. I only eat about 2 at a time and it’s enough to keep the sweet tooth monster at bay.
- Dark chocolate: The darker the better. My go-to is Ghirardelli 86% Cacao chocolate, but you can go for any so long as you check the nutrition label and be mindful of how big a serving size is. I typically pack one square with my lunch and that works as my lunch dessert.
Meal plan, meal plan, meal plan
I find on days when I don’t plan out my meals in advance, I am much more likely to self-sabotage and go over on carbs. So, every weekday morning, I pack the exact same lunch for work, which comes out to ~570 calories and ~4-6g net carbs:
- A sandwich made with 5 Grain Wheat Bread by WiO, 1 tbsp of mayonnaise, 1 slice of cheese (usually pepper jack), ~56g of ham (4 slices), and ~18g of Spanish style chorizo (3 slices).
- 1 can of 8oz Perrier
- 10 slices of Pepperoni
- ~14-18g of pork rinds
- 12g of Cheese Whisps or 1 square of 86% chocolate
Dinner tends to be a bit different because I eat it with Jason (also I don’t eat breakfast, so that’s why it’s not mentioned). Jason thankfully does keto too, so eating together isn’t a problem. We have a few different meals in rotation that we tend to go to. My favorite right now is this really delicious Keto Meatball recipe from I Breathe I’m Hungry. Highly recommend it!
You can plan out your meals a week in advance, but I find that a bit daunting. I like the stability of having my lunch planned out every day and then having some flexibility with dinner. Find a meal plan that works for you and stick to it!
Buy a food scale
This goes hand in hand with the keto snacks and the meal planning. You’ll notice I included gram measurements on most of the things in my lunch. It’s important that you have a food scale because you cannot count carbs if you don’t accurately weigh and measure your food. I really need to emphasize this, so I will say it again: You cannot count carbs if you don’t accurately weigh and measure your food. Seeing exactly how many grams are in a serving a Thinables or pork rinds really opens your eyes to how much food you intake.
Track your food
There are a lot of different apps out there where you can log your food. There’s MyFitnessPal and Fitbit to name a couple of the big name ones. I personally use Fitbit because I have a Fitbit. Their food library isn’t as extensive as MyFitnessPal, but it’s better than nothing. You can also add custom foods if they don’t have it, which I end up doing quite a bit. (But once it’s in there, you don’t have to add it manually again.)
On top of keeping track of my food intake this way, I also have a spreadsheet I created to keep track of just my net carbs. Fitbit unfortunately doesn’t really show net carbs on the app: it’s shows a percentage breakdown of carbs, fat, and protein, but doesn’t go into specific grams or show fiber unless you’re on the website. So, I made my own spreadsheet which I update daily. I have a notes section too to show why I went so over on carbs on certain days.
Drink lots of water
Seriously. Just do it. Regardless of your diet, you should be drinking lots of water, but especially on keto. That said, drinking lots of water means you’ll be using the bathroom quite often, which means you’ll be flushing out electrolytes quite a bit from your system in your urine. This leads to the next tip…
Replenish your electrolytes
There are a number of ways to get electrolytes. I tend to get mine from Powerade Zero and just all the different salty foods I eat throughout the day. Other people replenish electrolytes by drinking a bouillon cube soup every day. A good resource that goes into electrolytes is Perfect Keto‘s “Keto Electrolytes 101: How to Avoid Imbalances & Dehydration on Keto.”
Get used to saying “no”
It gets easier with time, but you’ll never be able to stop everyone from offering you something that’s not keto-friendly. My coworkers have learned to stop offering the latest office snack (ice cream, cookies) but not everyone is on board. Learn to say “no” with a smile. Again, this is much easier when you’ve already got your sugar free meringues or pork rinds in hand!
There may be some people that will continue to hound you to eat what they eat, but do your best to ignore them. They don’t have to deal with the consequences of what goes in your body, only you do. If you can’t ignore them or can’t get away from them because they’re friends or family, one way to combat this is to eat in advance before seeing them. By filling up on keto foods first, the temptation to eat carb-laden food goes down exponentially. (And if you need moral support or somewhere to rant, I point you to r/keto or r/xxketo for women.)
Take pictures and measurements for progress
I know, taking that “before” picture sucks. You’re not where you want to be, but you should take the picture anyway. Take them from all different angles and put them somewhere for safekeeping with the date on them. I keep mine in a Dropbox folder and take one every couple months. It’s important that you take these pictures as well as measurements with a tape measurer because the scale will not always be your friend.
Weight is just one way of tracking progress, but it’s fickle. The number on the scale may not change at all despite you losing fat and gaining muscle. While your weight can be very important when it’s on the higher end, the closer you get to goal weight, the more you should emphasize two things: overall health and fat loss. You may find that the scale hasn’t budged much in a month, but you sleep better, feel more energetic, and have fewer migraines. Those are all signs of great progress. Don’t let the scale be your one measurement of success.
Keep Calm and Keto On: Forgive yourself
I actually hate a lot of “Keep Calm and x” things. However KCKO is a big mantra of the keto community and it’s a nice thing to think when you self-sabotaged and went over carbs. Chances are, because you’re human, you will eventually go over on carbs. No one is perfect (just looks at that net carb chart I shared earlier!) and honestly, you don’t have to be perfect to reap the benefits of keto. You don’t need perfection; you need consistency.
When you slip up, it’s tempting to throw in the towel and say “well, I went over on carbs today so might as well just eat a ton of them now.” That can lead to a terrible spiral of making excuses to eat more carbs. Instead, acknowledge that you slipped up and make the effort to do better next time. Saying “I’ll do better tomorrow” is only a problem if you say it every day. You won’t help yourself by beating yourself up. Learn to forgive yourself, remember you’re only human, and move forward.