the ketogeneic diet: keto 101
Hi friends! I’ve been through some pretty big changes in December / January — moving apartments, starting to teach vinyasa yoga and bootcamp classes, and starting a new job. I’ve recently made a hop to managing email marketing for Perfect Keto, and I thought it’d be a good idea to practice what I preach and try out the keto diet.
I’ve eaten low carb before — that’s the nature of Paleo as I saw it (Diane Sanfilippo of the Balanced Bites has a similar view and is coming out with a cookbook of Keto recipes to reinforce that), but never “keto.”
My goal on keto wasn’t to lose weight, or to gain muscle — it was simply to return to eating whole, unprocessed foods, to eating intuitively, and quite honestly, to experiment.
What is keto?
The ketogenic diet, or “keto” for short, is essentially eating high fat, moderate protein, and low carb. The goal is for your body to burn fat for fuel instead of glucose (carbs) — a state known as ketosis.
What can you eat on keto?
Foods to eat: Non-starchy veggies, meat, seafood, eggs, full-fat dairy, avocados, nuts (in moderation), high-quality oils/fats, berries (in moderation), black coffee, tea, mushrooms
Foods to avoid: Grains, gluten, starchy veggies (sweet potatoes, squash), legumes, refined/processed sugar, most fruits, soda, wine, beer, cider
I used the Perfect Keto Grocery List to build my shopping list. They also have a macro calculator that you can use to calculate your baseline macros (use this as a guideline); general recommendations are to stay under 20-50g of carbs / day.
As a lactose-intolerant and Paleo-ish person, I also omitted dairy. If you’re not lactose intolerant, grass-fed butter, full-fat cheeses, and full-fat yogurts can be a great way to add in fat and protein to your diet.
The bottom line? Focus on getting your macros / nutrients from whole, unprocessed foods rather than eating weird things (ex: microwaved Quest bars) to hit your macros, or “saving up” all your carbs for a “cheat meal.”
What some typical meals looked like for me:
2 hard-boiled eggs with avocado and extra virgin olive oil
2 fried eggs with 2 pieces sugar-free bacon, 2 pieces breakfast sausage, sautéed spinach and mushrooms
Breakfast egg bake with avocado (I use this recipe & sub the squash for other veggies)
Matcha with MCT Oil & collagen
Pan-seared Wild Alaskan salmon over greens (dressing made with lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, and tahini) with Brussels and broccoli
Sweetgreen salad with double blackened chicken thighs, broccoli, avocado, red cabbage, walnuts, dressing of lime juice, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, medium olive oil, light balsamic vinegar
CAVA salad with supergreens, spinach, chicken, braised lamb, green harissa dressing, olives, red cabbage
Avocado tuna salad with hardboiled eggs on organic greens
Instant Pot curried goat stew (I used the Sophisticated Caveman’s recipe)
Pan-seared salmon/burger/steak on a big salad (I usually double the salmon and bring leftovers for lunch — re: recipe above)
Pan-seared chicken thighs with Brussels and kale
Instant Pot beef stew (I used Root + Revel’s recipe)
Pan-fried chicken livers with broccoli and mushrooms
Zunta Bars (they have more protein but are made from whey, which my stomach doesn’t always love, so I limit these)
Avocado with hardboiled eggs (or just avocado sometimes tbh)
Berries with brazil & macadamia nuts (make sure these aren’t roasted in oil)
Spoonful of Perfect Keto Nut Butter
Eating out on keto: This can be tricky. Generally, I’d go for an entree with a protein as the star at a sit down place, and ask to see if they can sub out carbs for veggies. Make sure they don’t cook with hidden sugars! Straight sashimi is a great option if you can stomach that, almost any steak, pan-seared fish, or BBQ (without sugary sauces or rubs).
For a fast-casual place, this can be a lot easier. (See my go-to Sweetgreen order and CAVA order above for a keto-friendly take.) I’ve also tried the Whole30 bowl from Chipotle (they also have a keto bowl now) and it wad decent (I prefer more veggies, though).
Drinking on keto: Wine, beer, and cider aren’t keto-friendly (though you can adjust your macros to count for them), but most hard alcohol is. Tequila all day, baby! When going out with friends, I usually order a “skinny” marg (hate the term, but apparently this is what most people call it) — basically tequila and lime without the agave or simple syrup.
If I’m drinking with friends, I’ll do tequila with lime seltzer (or grapefruit, or lemon seltzer).
Be careful; you might find that your alcohol tolerance is greatly lowered without all the carbs in your diet!
Big Man’s World has amazing keto dessert recipes
Healthful Pursuit has awesome Paleo-Keto recipes + resources for women and keto beginners
Perfect Keto has a great recipe archive + helpful blog posts
How do you know if you’re in ketosis?
There are a couple different ways to test this, but my easy answer is that you’ll be able to feel it as your body switches from burning glucose to burning fat. Some people experience weight loss, mental clarity, and more energy in the first week, and some people experience the less fun side effects, like light-headed/dizziness, fatigue, and other symptoms of the “keto flu.”
I used the Perfect Keto testing strips to test, which was the most accessible to me. Basically, you just dip the paper into a cup of pee (sorry, it’s gross) and match the results to the key.
How did you feel on keto?
I generally eat pretty low carb Paleo and do really well eating high amounts of fats, so this actually felt pretty great. It was a good reset after a winter of eating a ton of gluten free bread, drinking wine almost every night, and in general, not cooking at all (not that there’s anything wrong with all of that; it’s just not me at my optimal).
I actually ate more than usual my first week of keto, and definitely more meat than I usually ever eat. Even so, it was hard for me to get in enough fat and carbs, so I had to really up that intake. The second week, I felt better and found that I was less hungry (or “hangry” in between meals).
When I did eat more carbs (re: this corn tortillas and a little rice), my body wasn’t super happy. I felt brain-foggy and tired; one easy way to combat that (or any other effects after a carb-heavy meal) is to take some Exogenous Ketone Base to help you get back into ketosis — I blended 1 scoop Perfect Keto Keto Base in Salted Caramel with 1 scoop Perfect Keto MCT Oil in Chocolate with 1/8 cup coconut cream, 12 oz cold water, 1/2 avocado, and 1/2 cup frozen cauliflower rice for a keto-friendly “milkshake.”
As a really active person, I did feel a difference in my workouts the first week. There’s a reason why it’s recommended that you stick to lower intensity activities or anaerobic / steady state activities for the first week, like yoga, walking, swimming, and jogging. I felt great during yoga, but definitely was really winded during boxing and Barry’s (mix of weights + running).
I actually felt the worst when I was teaching yoga and boxing — I would get super lightheaded. I combated this by upping my electrolyte intake. I used nuum hydration tablets in my water before and after teaching and working out.
As far as weight loss, I don’t actually weigh or measure myself so I don’t know. I do feel more comfortable in my body, but it feels the same.
Mental clarity has definitely gone up, as well as brain fog. I'm writing this as someone on their 2nd week of keto, so I’ll keep you updated as this month goes…
You can check out my IG Story highlights for more.
Should I try keto?
Keto 100% is NOT for everyone.
If you suffer from adrenal fatigue, are recovering from adrenal fatigue, or have adrenal fatigue-ish symptoms, I’d stay away and eat your carbs so you can recover.
If you have a history of disordered eating, you might want to reconsider keto. Leanne Vogel of Healthful Pursuit talks about this with Noelle Tarr on the Well-Fed Women Podcast here. For myself, I do have that history of disordered eating, so I actually do not count calories on keto. I honestly don’t do a food diary or track my food intake either, as those are triggers for me. This may result in “less accurate keto,” but it’s what’s best for my mental health.
If you are an endurance athlete or do any other type of intense training, I’d carb cycle in as frequently as you need and read up on the different types of keto diets if you’re thinking about trying it, as there are some that are more suited to athletes.
But if you’re struggling to lose weight for health reasons, want to return to eating whole foods and eating mindfully (one of the most important lessons I’ve learned on keto), and want to optimize your mental performance, I’d give it a try.
Does this mean I can’t eat carbs ever again?
Nope! Even when I was eating low carb, I’d cycle in carb as often as my body felt like it needed them, or around race days (back when I was competitively running/swimming). This would be probably around 1x / 2 weeks or so.
Focus on getting your carbs in from whole foods like sweet potatoes, yucca, potatoes, squash, plantains, etc. rather than from processed carbs — it’ll make you feel better!
And of course, if you try keto and you’re like, “Oh hell no — this isn’t for me!” then of course, go eat all the carbs you want :) To each their own!