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The Ketogenic Diet

Updated on April 12, 2018
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Kortney has been a clinical physician assistant for 13 yrs. When not being a PA, Kortney’s hobbies include writing, research, and investing.

Protein Rich Foods for a Ketosis Diet

What is Ketosis?

Any time that you are on a diet, the goal is always to lose weight, correct? Everyone always wants the number on the scale to go down. If that number keeps going down, we are successful, correct? Well, not precisely. We have many components that make up our body weight, including water, muscle, and fat. Most of the time, the number on the scale can fluctuate depending on the time of day, whether you just ate a meal, whether you just exercised, etc. That fluctuation in number is related to our Water Weight. I could weigh 152 lbs in the morning and 155 lbs at night, yes, it can and will vary that much. That is why a lot of people will tell you to weigh yourself at the same time of day each time and under the same conditions each time, because then our water weight is most likely to be the same as it was the last time on the scale and we get a truer estimate of how much weight we actually lost by dieting. In a weight loss program, we want to lose FAT, that big ugly, blobby FAT. So, we know the goal is to lose FAT, well, how do we do that?

The answer is KETOSIS. Ketosis is literally a state during which your body is actively burning fat cells. It is burning those fat cells to use as energy, and, in turn, you lose that weight as the waste is excreted from your body and the good stuff is used to energize your body and power your metabolism. Some diets are structured in such a way that you will inevitably go into Ketosis, but they don't tell you that and they don't tell you what that means or why it is important. They don't even tell you that the goal is to be in ketosis, it is usually just a standard "eat this, not that" type of program. I am writing this article to educate you about the state of Ketosis, because I think that once you understand this term and why it is important, your attempts at dieting will have deeper meaning and can even feel much less restrictive. You won't need to pick from a list of foods that you are told to eat or eliminate foods that you are told not to eat. Instead, you can make educated choices on the foods that you want to eat and how they would fit into a program of Ketosis.

The Main Foods on a Ketosis Diet

In the ketosis diet, there are endless different food options. Which one of these ketosis foods are your favorite?

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How our body stores and burns fat

Everyone has heard of the popular South Beach Diet and the Atkins Diet. These diets encourage you to eat high protein and low carbohydrates. They became popular about 10-15 years ago. Their popularity likely comes from the fact that they result in fast weight loss, typically up to 4-10 lbs in the first week. What these diets have in common is that they are ketogenic type diets. However, it is not necessary to follow the "Atkins" or "South Beach" diet plan in order to see the same benefits on your own. I am going to show you how to achieve the same results by doing this on your own with foods that you eat every day.

As discussed above, ketosis occurs when your body is actively burning fat for energy. Typically, we get our energy from carbohydrates that we eat in our diet. However, when you restrict the carbohydrates that you ingest, your body needs to look for other ways to make energy. Another source of energy that our body has is fat stores. When we consume more calories that we burn in a typical day or consume a high level of carbohydrates beyond what we need for energy, our body needs to put those calories and carbohydrates somewhere. In most cases, our body stores these in fat cells. Fat cells are literally created when we consume too many calories, which then in turn causes us to gain weight and changes the contour of specific areas of our bodies, including the abdomen, thighs, buttocks, face, arms, etc. where the fat cells are stored. So, when you are attempting to lose weight, it is necessary for our body to start using up these fat cells, which then leads to weight loss. One method to do this is to completely restrict food intake. However, this is not logical or practical. The next best way is to force our body to use those fat stores for our energy. We can do this by restricting our carbohydrate intake. When we do not consume carbohydrates, our body needs to start using these fat stores to provide energy for our every day functions. This is the state of ketosis.

The Ketosis Diet Plan

The ketosis plan is relatively simple, actually. It doesn't require you to go out and buy specially made, fancy foods. In fact, you can literally eat the food that you normally eat as long as you restrict the carbohydrates that you normally consume. In order to start this diet plan, you first need to completely take carbohydrates out of your diet for at least 5-7 days. Our body takes about 3-5 days to realize that there are no longer any carbohydrates available for energy and then to start burning fat. During these 3-5 days, it is very important that you eat very few carbohydrates. In my experience, anything over 20 gm of carbs is too much, especially when you are first starting this diet. After 5-7 days of eating just protein, like fish, red meat, chicken, turkey, whey protein powder, and nuts, you can then start adding in good carbohydrates, such as vegetables and fruits. It is still necessary to limit the amounts of good carbohydrates that you consume. I generally recommend no more than 50gm of good carbs per day. Good carbs are things like fruit, veggies, yogurts, etc. However, there are some that are high in carbs. These include tomatoes, strawberries, apples, bananas, corn, and carrots. You can still have these options, but be careful to limit how much you eat. If you ever have any question about the carb content in a food, google it, the information can be found quite easily that way.

Once in the second week of the diet, some people start to feel more energy. There are also others who may get headaches while in ketosis. It all depends on the person. In my experience, getting into ketosis that first week typically can be quite uncomfortable for a few days, but only when you first start this type of diet. If you start the diet and then stop for a week or two, you shouldn't expect to feel uncomfortable when you begin week 1 again. If you think about it, you are literally telling your body to change how it processes your food. Your body is used to using carbs for energy because you have always consumed them in sufficient quantities for energy, dating back decades and decades. So, when you take away the carbs, your body goes through a bit of a shock phase while it tries to figure out how to give you the energy you need for daily living. When I started the ketosis diet last year after not being on it for more than 4 years, I had flu like symptoms for about 2 days. After I researched this, I found out that there is something that people refer to as the Ketosis flu. Although it was very short lived in my case, I thought it was important to mention it here so that you can be fully informed of what to expect. In most cases, people feel energized and have sense of well being once in ketosis, and with the pounds literally falling off, it's hard not to feel energized and motivated.

One other thing that I should mention is that there is still a need to restrict the number of calories that you are consuming. Although your body will still need to burn fat for energy regardless of the number of calories that you take in, it is important not to eat really fatty, high calorie proteins, as this can hinder your weight loss efforts and affect your energy levels. I typically aim for about 800 calories per day when I am in ketosis. I know this sounds really low, but I find that I'm not as hungry when I am in ketosis, so it's actually not hard to do. I eat small meals every 3 hours while awake and that seems to be effective, at least for me. If you are male, aim for 1000-1200 calories or more if you are severely overweight. Most males require anywhere from 2500 to 4000 calories on a typical day. I usually recommend that whatever calories you would normally need to function, you should cut that number in half. WIth my body weight and age, etc. I should be eating 1600 calories per day, so I try to cut this in half.

If you then continue to eat very low amounts of carbs daily, you will see that you start to lose weight. You can expect to lose about 5 lbs the first week and then 1-2 lbs per week after that, as long as you stay away from a lot of carbs. If you ever fall off the diet and eat a lot of carbs, you then just have to go back to the first 3-5 days of completely restricting carbs and then resume the diet as usual.

What to eat...the Apple or the Cupcake?

Ketosis Diet Tools

Body Fortress Super Advanced Whey Protein Powder, Great for Meal Replacement Shakes, Low Carb, Cookies N' Cream, 2 lbs
Body Fortress Super Advanced Whey Protein Powder, Great for Meal Replacement Shakes, Low Carb, Cookies N' Cream, 2 lbs

One of the easiest meals on the ketosis diet is a protein shake. Although you don't want to have a protein shake for every meal, it is generally convenient and easy to have a protein shake as a substitute for breakfast and/or lunch. When I am dieting, I usually have a protein shake for breakfast every day. Then the other meals, I make chicken breast or steak and combine them with broccoli or lettuce (salad). You can either buy the shakes already made or you can buy Whey protein powder and make the shake yourself. Buying the pre-made shakes is usually more expensive. Whey protein powder can be mixed with fruits, like strawberries or bananas, to make an extra yummy treat. My favorite is the cookies and cream protein powder mixed with ice and milk. I blend this in my blender so its nice and thick and I feel like I'm having a milkshake! Try vanilla protein powder with ice, milk, and any fruit for a homemade smoothie.


Other options for protein

Quest Nutrition BBQ Protein Chips, Low Carb, Gluten Free, Soy Free, Potato Free, Baked, 8 Count
Quest Nutrition BBQ Protein Chips, Low Carb, Gluten Free, Soy Free, Potato Free, Baked, 8 Count

Sometimes, it can be very boring to eat just meat/protein. I have done the Ketosis diet on and off for several years, so I have found other protein rich foods with low carbs that are great to use as a substitute. These Quest Nutrition chips have to be one of my favorites. They come in BBQ, Sour Cream and Onion, and other flavors. The great part about them is that they have just 2gm of carbs! Substitute your lunch chicken/steak with a bag of these protein chips. However, before you go out and search for your own protein options, please keep in mind that you have to look at how many carbs are in the foods. Some protein bars and snacks actually have a lot of carbs, so you need to make sure that they have 15gm of carbs or less. Remember, the first week, you should eat just 20gms of carbs all day and after the first week, you should have up to 50gms per day. So, if you opt for a protein snack with 15 gms of carbs in the first week, you need to be very very careful what you eat the rest of the day. My motto for the first week is Keep It Simple Stupid. Eat chicken, steak, ground turkey, ground beef, hamburger (without the bun), nuts, fish, and whey protein shakes. After the first week you can get more creative and add other foods back in. When adding in your fruits and veggies, be careful not to eat too much of them. Options, such as bananas, apples, corn, and strawberries are actually higher in carbs than other veggies and fruits. If you eat a banana in the morning, be careful to not eat corn with your dinner. Tomatoes are also high in carbs. If you ever have any question about the carb content, google it.


Get Up, Get Out, Get Fit!


I know, I know, it's not the most desireable topic in the world. However, I am going to leave you with a few encouraging words regarding exercise. Yes, you can lose weight on the ketosis diet without exercising. Yes, finding the time to go for a run or go to the gym is nearly impossible for most people these days. However, it is very good for you. Think about what type of activity would be fun for you and go do it. Play frisbee with your dog...yes, that's exercise. Go swimming with your kids...Yes, that's exercise too. Mow the lawn, clean the house, take the stairs, do yoga, go dancing, take a walk...

Exercising doesn't have to be painful. As long as your are up out of that chair and moving around, you are exercising. I always recommend that everyone on this diet start exercising within the first 3-4 weeks of starting the diet. The reason for this? Simple...when you reach your goal weight and stop dieting, you need to have a plan in place to keep the weight off. Exercising is a great way to burn calories even when done for just 20 minutes a day and this could be the difference in keeping the weight off and putting it back on. In almost all cases, people go through this diet program and completely change their eating habits for good. This diet teaches you to eat the foods that your body actually needs to function and teaches you to limit the foods that are unnecessary for daily functioning. Once you have done this type of diet for 4-6 weeks, it starts to become a lifestyle change. The important thing on this diet is that there is a change in the way that you think about food and the way that you select foods that are appropriate for your health and well being. If you were to reach your goal weight and then grab the high carbohydrate snacks, you will not likely be successful in maintaining your new weight. I like to say that an ice cream or sweet snack is great, as long as it's not a huge portion and as long as it's not a daily or twice daily habit. Through this diet, I hope that you can achieve your goal weight and keep it off. My biggest tip is that you incorporate exercise into the plan early so that it becomes a habit or something that you enjoy doing. Good luck. If you have questions, please comment below!


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