Knowing from experience how difficult starting keto can be, I thought it would be helpful for me to share my experiences during my first six months on keto. We’ll call it a How to Keto Diet for Beginners post, really just covering what my first six months were like. I think keto is the absolute best way to start your low carb experience.
After learning about keto, aka the ketogenic diet, I was ready to give it a try. I mean, what did I have to lose, other than an extra 160 pounds of fat I was carrying around.
Within the first week I was seeing the results with this new way of eating, and it was remarkable. The benefits of eating this way continue to multiply as I keep doing it. The weight loss is basically effortless and I feel great! It wasn’t easy at first, so don’t expect it to be.
I hope my how to keto diet for beginners makes it a little easier for anybody struggling with the keto diet or starting on the keto diet.
Finding My Way Through the Food and Macro Maze
I had my mental game ready. (If you want some tips, read this post)
I had completed my research on what keto was, why it worked, and how to do it. (If you want info about that, read this post) Now, all I had to do was … well, just do it!
I allowed myself one final weekend to say goodbye to my old way of eating, by basically pigging out on all the foods I knew I wouldn’t be eating anymore, and started keto the following Monday.
My first few days of eating on the keto diet I felt kind of lost. I was never really a breakfast eater, so no problems there. My first meal of the day was lunch and my typical lunch was a sandwich or two, a big handful of some type of chips, a large glass of milk, and maybe a fruit pie, cookies, or cupcake to top it off. All of these foods were now on the list of foods I will not eat.
So, what can I eat? I had these macros to use as a target for my food intake, but I really didn’t know what foods were high in fat, what foods were low in carbs, and what was considered a moderate amount of protein.
Here’s a simple, down and dirty list for reference:
- Fats & Oils: Fats should be from real, natural sources, like meat and nuts. If you need to add fats, use fats like coconut oil, butter, and olive oil.
- Protein: Most of the meat you buy does not have any added sugar, low to no carbs! Watch out for sugars in processed meat, like deli meats and bacon.
- Vegetables: Try to eat only vegetables that grow above the ground, leafy and green are best. Fresh or frozen doesn’t really matter.
- Dairy: Most dairy items are OK. Buy full-fat dairy. Watch the carb counts!
- Nuts and Seeds: Use nuts like pecans, macadamias, and almonds. I keep a bag of pecans in the freezer and enjoy a handful after dinner every night.
- Beverages: Water, tea, green tea, black coffee. Keep it simple. You can flavor it if needed with stevia based flavorings or lemon/lime juice.
- Fruits: Just berries. Raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries are all acceptable in moderation.
I quickly learned that to effectively know what to actually eat, and if it fit into my macros, I had to read the labels on various foods. I only count net carbs, which means I look at total carb grams, then subtract the total fiber grams. The result is net carbs. But, I also had to pay attention to the serving size, because all the values are based on the serving size. There’s not just 2 carbs in an entire block of cheddar cheese.
MyFitnessPal is helpful too. It has an enormous database of foods with nutritional values. All you have to do is type in what you’re eating and it will display the various food values. If you’re running the mobile version on your smartphone, you scan the bar code on the product and eliminate the need to type it in. I can’t say enough about how good MyFitnessPal is when it comes to weight loss. It’s a great tool for tracking what you eat, deciding what to eat, and following your progress.
I found that eating the amount of fat determined by the macro calculator was really hard to reach. A little research taught me to just use fat to “fill”, or as needed to stop the hunger pangs. I wasn’t eating keto to stop seizures. I was eating keto to repair my hormones and lose weight. My opinion is that by eating fat we teach our bodies how to use fat as a fuel source again. Once your body knows how to burn fat for fuel, you can dial the dietary fat down a bit. So, to add to my fat macro, and stop some mid-morning hunger, I incorporated a well-known keto drink, called Bullet Proof Coffee, into my daily routine.
You start with your basic cup of black coffee, add one tablespoon of butter, one tablespoon of heavy whipping cream, and one tablespoon of coconut oil and mix it up really good. I bought a little battery powered frother on Amazon for around $6 to give it a good stir and make it nice and creamy. I know this sounds gross, but it is absolutely delicious, is a good source of fat, and helps keep the mid-morning hunger pangs away. I think it was a key in keeping me on track.
As I said before, my typical lunch foods were now on my “I will not eat” list, along with a bunch of other foods that I regularly ate. I had to come up with some new meals that helped me reach my macro goals.
My go to lunch became breakfast foods, mostly. I’m lucky enough to be a telecommuter, so I work from home. I get one hour for lunch. I need to find things to eat for lunch that can be prepared quickly.
Eggs, usually scrambled, and cooked in butter, with a generous portion of shredded cheddar cheese mixed in at the end for that melty, tasty goodness. I pair my eggs with bacon, sausage, or linguica. Sometimes, I add chopped bell pepper or onions to the eggs. By using my microwave to cook my bacon or sausage while I’m doing the eggs, this becomes a pretty speedy process for a quick meal.
One of my favorites, is to cook up about a half a pound of ground beef and chop it up in the pan to the consistency of taco meat. I put that in a large bowl, add a little hot sauce, shredded cheddar, and a dollop of sour cream. I use the same pan I fried the hamburger in to fry up a few over-easy eggs. I put the eggs on top of the hamburger mixture, chop up the eggs to release the yolks, mix it up, and chow down. So good and filling!
I also mix in a few salads a week, topped with either chicken or tuna, typically dressed with ranch dressing. (It can by tricky to find decent low carb dressings because of added sugars) I have to make sure I eat some fats and proteins so that I can feel full and satisfied.
Another of my go to meals is an antipasto plate. Just various cold cut/deli meats, cheeses, some stuffed green olives, maybe a hard-boiled egg, some sliced avocado, and maybe a few peppers. Eventually, I even found some low carb crackers too. This is a quick and easy meal idea. These are all examples of delicious low carb, high fat, moderate protein meals.
For dinner, I am mostly about meat and vegetables. I was never really a meat and potatoes guy. A good protein paired with broccoli has always been one of my favorites, especially when the broccoli is bathed in butter. But, I couldn’t eat meat and vegetables all the time. That would be boring and unsustainable in the long run. I want this change to be forever, so I need some variety.
Variety Is The Key To Sustainability … And Happiness
Luckily, we live in the information age. There are countless resources available for low carb, or keto, meal ideas and recipes. I found that by Googling “keto recipes”, I was rewarded with all kinds of tasty offerings from the internet.
Pinterest is one of my favorite sites for recipes. It’s a great resource for finding recipes. You can configure it in such a way that allows you to categorize and save recipes that you find. You can even share your recipes with family and friends.
I was surprised to find so many awesome low carb recipes on the net. I can still eat all of my favorite foods, just in a low carb version. Tacos, Pizza, Burgers, Lasagna, Enchiladas, Chili, you name it, and there is a recipe for it, or a way to make it low carb. Not only will it be delicious, it will also be good for you, and help you lose weight.
You won’t believe how versatile cauliflower is in the low carb world. I hated cauliflower, but in most low carb recipes it’s mimicking something else, takes on that flavor profile, and tastes great! Substituting cauliflower for rice or potatoes is very popular, and tasty too. Just keep in mind, eating this way requires you to actually prepare food. It’s not always fast and convenient, but it’s worth the effort.
I am fortunate enough to have a wife that loves me unconditionally. She has not only stood by me, but has joined me, in this experience. I found the recipes online and my wife prepares them for us. Some recipes were, at best, questionable, but the majority of them are excellent. (Now one of my wife’s favorite things to do is take a normal recipe and think about how to convert it to low carb)
My wife cooked up the meal recipes, but I still had a sweet tooth in my first 6 months of keto.
I searched for, and baked, some sweet treat recipes. I really think this helped me stay on track. If you feel an uncontrollable urge for a cookie, find a good recipe and get busy.
Keto On The Go – Just Do What You Got To Do
I learned that I could still eat at some fast food places if I was in a pinch for a quick meal.
(I have to be careful at these places though, because addiction and temptation are very real)
I just need to tweak my order a bit. Many establishments actually have a low carb version of a menu item available to order. If not, just think quick and you can make it up on the fly.
For example, if I need to grab something on the go, I can swing into McDonalds. The safe food here is a grilled chicken salad, but I can’t eat a salad and drive safely. But, I could order a double quarter pounder with cheese, request no bun, and ask them to put the cheese between the hamburger. Or, I could get a sausage biscuit with cheese, ask them to hold the bun, and request they put the egg and cheese between two sausage patties. Some places will even wrap their burgers in lettuce.
What I found is the best thing for me, is to plan ahead. If I know I’m going somewhere and might need to eat, I’ll take something with me. Hard-boiled eggs, nuts, cheese (like the single serving mozzarella or cheddar sticks), or even a piece of meat leftover from dinner that night before is a better choice than going to that fast food joint and risking the possibility of triggering the addiction.
A Little Slip Up Or A Valuable Lesson?
As I found my way, I continued to find foods that were low carb that I liked to eat. I just continued eating the foods l liked. I used several different combinations of foods. Many of my meals are not what one would think of as a conventional meal. I don’t care if it’s conventional or not.
My priority is that it is low carb, tastes good, satisfies me, and aligns with my macro goals. I just continued eating the things I liked to eat, and I was steadily losing weight(fat) at about a 5 pound per week average. The days turned into weeks, and the weeks turned into months. However, around the start of my fourth month, I learned a significant lesson.
I was doing great on keto. The weight was dropping off and I felt better than I had felt in a very, very long time. At this point I had already lost 49 pounds, in less than 4 months! I was doing awesome. My son was about to graduate university in the southern end of the state. I wanted to attend this monumental occasion, so a road trip was planned and hotel reservations were made.
I made the trip to the graduation with my mom, sister, and my youngest son. I drove the 7 hours to get there and we all stayed at the same hotel. When we arrived at the hotel we were all hungry, and I decided that for this trip, and graduation celebration, it would be OK to just eat like everybody else. Now keep in mind that I didn’t go nuts with my food choices.
There was a little taqueria right next to the hotel, so we all went there for Linner (too late to be called lunch but too early to be called dinner). I had a meat based nacho platter. It was more meat than chips with real shredded cheese, not that processed crap in a can.
Later that night, after the graduation ceremony, we went to a late dinner as a family. We let the graduate choose the location. He chose a restaurant called The Cheesecake Factory. Again, I didn’t go nuts here. I had a big chicken salad. But of course, with a name like The Cheesecake Factory, you can guess what their specialty is. Yep, not just cheesecake, about fifty different types of cheesecake!
It would have been unnatural not to have a slice of cheesecake here, right?! I ordered a slice of cheesecake, but only ate half of it. I took the rest back to the hotel for the next night, but only if I was inclined to have a sweet treat. (oh the lies our addiction tells us)
The hotel we stayed at offered a breakfast buffet. I ate mostly scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausage. I did have a couple of those little mini blueberry muffins. Those little one bite and it’s gone muffins. But, again, I didn’t go overboard.
We wanted to do something as a family that day, so we all drove to the beach, looked at the water, stood in the sand, and then had some lunch. It was a very touristy area so finding a nice little restaurant wasn’t a problem. We were at the beach, so seafood was the main item on the menu. I ordered a cup of clam chowder and fish tacos for my entree.
We went and looked at the ocean some more, visited a few of the little shops, and then headed back to the hotel. By the time we got back to the hotel, everyone wanted to eat dinner. Everybody decided that since they were tired from going to the beach (I don’t know why … I did all the driving!) it would be best to just stay at the hotel and order a pizza.
Now I hadn’t had a real pizzeria pizza in over 3 months, but again, I didn’t go crazy. I had 4 slices, a long shot from my old normal of at least 9! The next morning, we grabbed breakfast from the buffet (I ate basically the same as the previous days breakfast) and hit the road to get home.
When I weighed myself the next day, I had gained 9 pounds! 9 pounds!!! I didn’t overeat. I didn’t eat huge amounts of calories. I didn’t eat huge quantities of food. I didn’t snack between meals. I just ate high carbohydrate foods and some sugar. It took me 2 weeks to re-lose those 9 pounds that were the result of 2 days of not eating low carb.
The lesson I learned? I am not like lean people. I am allergic to carbs, just like some people are allergic to peanuts. When I eat carbs, I will gain weight. That, my friends, was the last time I ate from the Standard American Diet (SAD) menu.
I was back to eating low carb/keto before we got home, without even knowing how much weight I had regained. But after stepping on the scale, I had a new commitment to my low carb lifestyle. Never again will I do that!
Weight Loss Wasn’t All That Was Happening
Within the first couple of weeks of keto, I started to notice some big changes besides weight loss. I was feeling much better physically. I had increased mental focus. I had more energy. I was sleeping better, and I didn’t feel like I needed a nap after lunch anymore.
As I continued eating keto I noticed even more changes. I noticed the pain I had in my knees was less and less frequent, or as intense. This wasn’t pain related to my knees bearing my weight. This was pain from sitting at my desk with my knees bent all the time. It was disappearing (totally gone now!).
I believe this is because on keto, we’re eating real, natural foods and cutting out the foods that cause inflammation in our bodies. We’re no longer ingesting large amounts of fillers, chemicals, and ingredients we can’t pronounce, that are ever present in highly processed, long shelf life foods.
I also didn’t have chronic heartburn anymore. I didn’t really notice this one, but based on my research that others had experienced heartburn relief, I weaned myself off the Prilosec that I had been taking for the last 15 years. Lo and behold, it was true. No more heartburn … even when I spice up my food or eat jalapeno peppers! It’s truly remarkable.
Tips Based On My Experience
Some of the things I learned in my first 6 months are still a part of my low carb experience and others are not. I’ll go into that in another post. For now I want to pass on some tips that I think will help with achieving success if you’re new to keto or thinking about giving it a try.
As your searching around the internet, looking for recipes, and exploring the keto way, you may read things on the topic of ketones, more specifically, testing to see if you’re in ketosis. I think a lot of people put way, way, too much emphasis on this topic.
If you want to buy a blood meter and test yourself on a daily basis, I won’t tell you not to. If you want to pee on test strips every time you go to the bathroom, I won’t tell you not to. If you want to buy a breathalyzer to see if your in ketosis, I won’t tell you not to. But, what I will tell you that you can save your money. It really isn’t necessary.
If you’re eating less than 20 grams of carbs, losing weight, feeling more energetic, and experiencing better mental clarity. You’re in ketosis. I don’t think a number from a device is going to add anything to your low carb experience.
If you’re not losing weight or feeling better, use the information you’re tracking in MyFitnessPal to determine where you might be going wrong. Are you tracking everything you eat? Are you eating too many carbs? Are you eating too much dairy? Are you eating too many nuts? Are you snacking in between meals and raising your insulin? Drop me a comment and maybe I can help.
Another thing I want to pass along is that eating low carb requires planning and preparation. This is not a diet based on speed or convenience. We’re really kind of eating the way our great, great, great, great-grandparents ate, only we have freezers and refrigerators! It will require spending some time cooking meals. It will require spending time shopping and gathering ingredients. Over time you’ll learn what you like and it will get easier and go faster.
On the subject of ingredients, low carb requires some items that most people don’t have readily available in their pantry. If you want to make low carb breads, pizza, or cookies, you’re going to probably find the recipe calls for almond flour and maybe some other exotic low carb ingredients.
Not many grocery stores carry low carb products. Grocery stores are a for profit business, meaning it’s all about supply and demand. I think it’s pretty safe to presume not many people are demanding almond flour on a daily basis.
Amazon has everything you might ever need for low carb. Walmart has a lot of low carb staples as well. Costco is another great resource for some low carb products. We get our nuts, almond flour, and coconut oil at Costco. Check around and build your pantry up as you find you need certain items.
Don’t snack unless you absolutely have to satisfy true physical hunger. (If you don’t know what true hunger feels like, try fasting for as long as possible and you’ll find out) Remember that every time you eat you cause your insulin to rise. Try thinking of insulin as a switch, like a light switch. When insulin is on, fat burning is off. We want insulin off from meal to meal.
I found after a few weeks that I was feeling more satisfied and for longer periods of time eating this way. Of course, my snacking wasn’t related to real hunger, it was mental/addiction/habit thing.
Which leads perfectly to my last tip, exercise mindfulness. Check in on yourself regularly throughout the day.
Be mindful of how you feel.
Be mindful or your goals.
Be mindful of your hunger. Is it real, is it mental, or do you just need some water.
Be mindful of your resources. Did you track everything that went in your mouth today?
Above all, be mindful of your success!
Every time we don’t give in to the voice of addiction, that’s a success! Every night that we go to bed knowing we ate 20 grams of carbs, or less, that’s a success! Every ounce we lose is a success! Every success gets us closer to the life we dream of having.
Be mindful of what that dream life looks like to you. Paint a vivid picture in your mind, of your life, without being overweight or obese … and then commit to doing whatever it takes to get there. If at some point you fail, learn from it, find the lesson in it, then get yourself pointed back toward your goal and start taking the small steps required to get there.
The first six months of keto completely changed my life. The results drove me to continue this low carb lifestyle. Not just the weight loss results, although that’s why I started eating keto, the other results, the way I felt. The overall changes!
It got easier as I continued. There were times I wanted to give in and get a pizza, or a Snickers bar, but I just thought about that trip I took and what it cost me. I had goals I wanted to achieve and a pizza wasn’t going to help me get there. I really believe the challenges we face with losing weight are about 90%, or maybe 95%, mental.
The biggest challenge to losing weight is the addictions and habits we’ve formed around specific foods. I can tell you for a fact, that when I stopped feeding the addiction, and stopped doing the habits, the thoughts gradually subsided. Now they rarely take up space in my mind.
I hope you have started or are doing keto when you read this. If you’re not, what are you waiting for. If you just keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll just keep getting what you’ve always got!
If I can help in any way, leave me a comment!
What you do today is who you’ll be tomorrow. You are capable of great things!
If I can do this … so can you!