It’s January and people always look to new health and fitness in January. I’ve been asked a lot lately on how to get started with Keto or LCHF (low-carb/high-fat/moderate protein). Here’s my quick-start guide in 8 simple steps.
Step 1: Read a book
Read The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss by Dr. Jason Fung. It changed my life! My key takeaways from this book:
- Calories in/Calories out is bad science.
- Carbohydrates are the enemy – NOT fat.
- Stop believing the garbage science the government rams down our throats.
- I can kick the carb/sugar addiction and live to tell about it. You can too! Believe me! You can!
Dr. Fung also has a blog that I highly recommend following. It’s very scientific so don’t expect fluff! Intensive Dietary Management Blog.
Step 2: Sign up for DietDoctor.com
I get NOTHING. Zero. Nada for recommending Diet Doctor. It is simply amazing.
Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt and a team of scientists, doctors, and researchers provide fantastic advice and content. It’s where I got started after reading The Obesity Code. It is WELL worth signing up for the site to get access to the videos and articles. If you’re like me and consume information like this voraciously, you can probably sign up and cancel after a month if money is tight. I remain a member because I love this content – how it is presented and how amazingly simple everything is.
UPDATE 4/13/18: Videos are now free. You don’t need an account. Now there’s no excuse not to check out DietDoctor.com.
Step 3: Repeat after me…
Are you ready? Get ready. Here are your new mantras:
“I am not on a diet.”
“I will eat when I’m hungry and not when I’m not.”
“I will eat real food.”
Seriously. Those are your mantras. Memorize them and repeat them often.
Why this isn’t a diet
This is not a diet because if this works for you (and it may not – I’m not saying this is the one and only way to eat), you can’t “go back” to what you ate before. You have to be prepared to give up refined sugar and carbs for the rest of your life. If you are carb-intolerant like I am, it’s not a choice. I am not going back to high blood pressure, diabetes (I was pre-diabetic), high inflammation in my body and overall lack of energy. Nope. Not going back. If it works for you, don’t expect to go back either. It’s a lifetime commitment.
Learn to know when you’re hungry
Sometimes I will look at the clock and think, “Wow, I’ve not eaten since noon, I should eat.” I wander into the kitchen and start pulling things out of the fridge and, on autopilot, try to fix something to eat. Over time, I have learned to not do this. I have learned to listen to my body when I ask the question, “Am I really hungry?” Most times I am not. If you go with this way of eating (see what I did there? I said “way of eating” not diet), you will find you may not necessarily have a fixed schedule for eating. You can. But remember, listen to your body. If it’s “dinner time” and you aren’t hungry, don’t eat. Simple as that.
What’s real food?
Real food is food that is not manufactured in a factory with lots of garbage added in. In the beginning, do not be tempted by so-called Keto-friendly snacks. Just don’t. If you start buying up “snacks” to have just in case (telling yourself, “well, this is better than if I went to the vending machine”) you will fail. Sorry, but you will.
On this plan, you will be shopping the outer perimeter of the grocery store. Meat, some vegetables (no fruit!), cheese and dairy. If you are vegetarian or vegan, this will be tough. There are options out there. They’re just harder. Google “vegan Keto” and take it from there. I’m not vegan or vegetarian so I have no advice for you.
Just eat as clean and healthy as you can. But guess what? Fruit isn’t healthy. Fruit is real but fruit is just a Snickers bar in disguise. There is nothing healthy about fruit – it’s just sugar.
Eating real food means eating:
- Real butter! I’m so loving cooking with real butter again. I feel like Julia Child!
- Heavy cream – yum. Just yum. I’ve cut back because dairy is stalling my weight loss – but it’s perfectly acceptable and good.
- Meat. Lots of meat. But not too much meat. This isn’t the old Atkins diet. You do not eat unlimited amounts of meat.
- Bacon! Lots and lots of bacon. (Yes, I know what I just said about meat. But this is BACON!)
This is probably the hardest part of this way of eating. You have to unlearn all that crap you were taught about fat. FYI, I eat a lot of fat and my cholesterol numbers are better than they have ever been in my entire life! My doctor is flabbergasted. But that’s not always the case – you have to try and monitor your numbers to see how this is affecting you. Some people who are hyper-sensitive switch to the Mediterranean Diet (and it uses the word “diet” in the sense of “food that one eats” not in the weightloss term – this would also be a lifetime way of eating).
Step 4: Ditch the recipe mentality
Every time someone tells me they are going to start eating this way, they ask me for my favorite recipes. This way of eating is not about recipes. It’s about cooking with real food (see Step 3) and not cooking with carbs. Yes, there are tons of recipe sites out there and DietDoctor.com and ruled.me are good places to start, but just cook what you normally cook without the garbage.
Better yet, cook what your grandmother used to cook!
Step 5: Resist substitutes
This one is tough. I’ve seen people “go Keto” and immediately start making Keto “bread” and Keto “desserts” and Keto “pizza” and Keto “pasta.” Resist. Just resist. Learn to love food again without substituting. While all of these recipes are, technically, Keto-friendly (and I do love me some Keto-friendly pizza from time to time), they will just delay your true breakup with carbs. You need to go through the messiness of that breakup – from the withdrawal and cravings to the “Keto flu” and beyond to the other side of being carb-free.
I went through a phase after I’d lost nearly 40lbs of reintroducing fake carbs into my diet – especially around the holidays. You know what? It wasn’t worth it. It made me feel sluggish and tired and just weren’t all that enjoyable. I find I’d rather have a small portion of the real thing and be done with it. While in Texas for 10 days, I ate some crap (chips at the Mexican food restaurant, cornbread dressing and more). I did not gain any weight back because I just had enough to satisfy myself (remember, ask the question, “Am I really hungry?”).
This is not to say you will never make substitutes. I do. I just try to understand why I want those substitutes. Sometimes, I just want something sweet. I don’t think it’s a craving. It’s just after nothing but savory, something sweet is nice. I tend to make Butter Pecan Shortbread Cookies. They’re easy, relatively low-carb and hit the spot.
Step 6: Do your research
I can praise the glory of Keto/LCHF till the cows come home, but whether it’s right for you is up to you. You really should figure out the best way for you to start. I’m often asked, “What are your macros?” By this, they mean, what amount of carbs, protein, and fat am I eating. The answer is, right now, I don’t know. In the beginning, I had some percentage breakdown and it’s probably somewhere on this blog what I did. I just try to keep my carbs under 50g a day right now, but, in the beginning, I was diligent about sticking with under 20g a day.
I would say, “talk to your doctor” as well, but, frankly, the vast majority of our doctors are wedded to the old “fat is bad” and “calories in/calories out” garbage science. I guess it’s not their fault. Unless they are a true nutritionist (and most aren’t) they covered this stuff in about a week of med school. Give them a break. But don’t ditch this if your doctor is against it. If it’s working for you and your doctor doesn’t agree, ditch the doctor. Fortunately, my doctor is fine with me doing this. She’s thrilled with my numbers!
Don’t go into this without a real understanding of what it means for you and your body. There are side effects in the beginning because massive amounts of carbs do a number on our bodies. All that fat-free garbage we have been eating is loaded with sugar. LOADED. You will be amazed how much sugar you eat. Getting your body to stop demanding it is not easy, but, in my humble opinion, it is absolutely worth it.
Step 7: The complicated relationship with exercise
Guess what? Exercise is awesome. Excercise is important. Exercise makes us healthy. Exercise does not help us lose weight. Not even in the slightest. That’s not to say exercise isn’t important. It’s just not something you need to worry too much if your goal is to lose weight.
Having said all that, I know I need to incorporate exercise into my routine. While I have lost quite a bit of weight, I have not lost that much fat. I was at about 40% when I started and hover around 30% now. Exercise will help me get that off as well. Problem is, working full-time and going to school doesn’t leave much time for it. I’ll get there, but I’m not overly worried about it which brings me to the last and most important step.
Step 8: Start simple
Having said all of the above, you are probably freaking out a bit. Don’t. While I started my journey in April 2017, I did not immediately start with LCHF or Keto. I just started cutting back and avoiding processed foods. I made tiny little changes and wouldn’t move on to another change until I conquered the first. I think that’s what made LCHF/Keto such an easy transition for me. I was ready.
So, when I started, I did not do what I normally did when I wanted to lose weight – spend $200 at the grocery store on “healthy” food, join a gym, overcommit on all fronts, etc. I just decided to make some small food choice changes and go from there. I sort of stumbled into LCHF/Keto. I’m happy I did.
Conclusion and Resources
I hope this helped. This post has been a long time coming. A lot of people have been asking how to get started. Here are some of my favorite Keto/LCHF resources in no particular order.
- The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss by Dr. Jason Fung
- Intensive Dietary Management Program (Dr. Fung’s program)
- Killin’ it Keto (Rachel Gregory)
- KetoConnect (fantastic YouTube channel as well – but be careful of all the “substitute” recipes)
There are probably more, but I tend to pretty much stick to DietDoctor and Dr. Fung.