An old friend reached out to me last week after seeing some of my posts on social media (@seekinghealthlifebalance) and asked about what I’m doing for fitness/nutrition. He is interested in losing weight and looking for some guidance. It really touched me that he reached out and makes me feel like maybe I’m helping, or at least motivating, some people by writing this blog and posting photos that make me stretch outside of my personal comfort zone.
His connection motivated me to write this particular post which I’ve been toying with in my head for a bit. After someone asks me about how to start keto, I often reflect on what I would do differently as a newbie with the knowledge I have now. So, I thought I’d put together a post of my tips for beginners to help them be more successful at both kicking off a new way of eating and staying on target. So, if I were starting from scratch with the knowledge I have now, these are the tips I would follow, broken into the must-haves and the nice-to-haves for kicking of keto so it’s easy and successful:
Note: I do receive kick-backs from some of the affiliate links that I have provided. I do not ever recommend a product I have not tried or do not believe in and I am not interested in simply getting money from my readers, but it’s a nice perk for my efforts!
Food Tracking App
A good food tracker is a MUST for calculating your macros. This is such a different way of looking at food, that it can’t be done in your head successfully. The best food tracker apps out there are able to scan barcodes from packages and contain lots of restaurant menu items as well. I use MyFitnessPal mostly because I have been using it off and on for years. The benefits of MyFitnessPal are:
- Save personal recipes and calculate the macros/nutrition per serving – I do this a lot when I modify a recipe with substitutions to make it keto-friendly.
- Save a whole meal for quick adding to the food diary in the future – this is great for those of us that eat the same lunch over and over
- Calculates macros and micronutrients on a daily basis
- Allows the user to set goals for macros and pops up warnings when the food added to the dairy could jeopardize the goals
I would recommend entering your food at the beginning of the day so you know what your macros are going to look like at the end of the day. This will allow you to make a decision as to whether you’re going to splurge on something based on how your whole day looks. It will give you a feeling of control over your day as opposed to bewilderment as to whether your macros will work out on a given day.
This is definitely a must-have! I have one and I still use it for almost every single meal. For the most part, we have no idea what a 1 oz serving of nuts looks like. Using a scale allows you to properly enter your food quantity into your food tracker and will keep your carbs in check. I measure out everything. The scale is a tool to help calculate and record your macros. Try not to think of it as an evil tool that limits your intake of food,, but it can be used for that too!
Make sure you get a scale that can zero out after you put a container on it so you don’t have to do math in your head!
Ketone Strips are urine sampling tests that allow you to get a rough idea of whether you are in ketosis and how deeply in ketosis you are. They are relatively cheap (you can get them at Kiss My Keto) and easy to use. You simply test first thing in the morning when your ketones should be the highest due to your overnight fast. If the test is negative or lower than you expected, you can review what you consumed the previous day which you diligently recorded in your food tracker, in order to start to understand how food is affecting your body.
If you hate peeing on things (completely reasonable), then check out the “Nice To Have” section on the Keyto.
Menu Plan for 2 months
Seriously, plan out your meals for two months! It sounds crazy, but one of the hardest parts of the keto adjustment is figuring out what to eat. If you sit down and come up with two months of dinners (or two weeks of dinner and then repeat them for two months), you’ll be in a much better starting place. Same with lunch plans and breakfast plans if you want to vary them. This does not, by any means, require that you follow your plan to the day; you can decide you want Tuesday’s dinner on Monday and just shift things around on-the-fly as leftovers last a bit longer or whatever. This provides a loose plan (even though you’ve done it to the day) that will give you a list of keto-friendly meals that you can confidently chose from. This is much less stressful than trying to figure out what to eat when you are hungry or tired after work. You can do all your macro planning in advance when you have a chunk of time to sit down and work the menu. This has the added benefit of having a shopping list that is ready to go.
We started doing two-month menu planning back in September of 2019 when our schedules were about to get super crazy and it’s been working really well. I plan out everything based on the food that’s in the freezer (hello, butcherbox!), taking into consideration any travel or other events. If we don’t feel like eating something on a particular day or we have more leftovers than we thought we would, we just roll that item to the next week or stick it in a list of menu ideas for the next menu planning session. I’m not accidentally running out of ingredients (as frequently) and we’re eating out less as well, which is better for the waistline and the pocketbook!
MCT Oil is medium-chain triglyceride oil extracted from either coconut oil or palm kernel oil. I’ve written about MCT Oil a couple times (Finding Fat to Consume, How to Get Started on Keto), so check those posts out for more information. In short, MCTs are a type of fat that are easily absorbed by the body and provide immediate energy that cannot be stored. It’s really good for your brain and has been reported to aid focus. Taking it in your coffee or tea in the morning can also help with appetite control because your immediate caloric needs are met.
If you are going to buy MCT Oil, look for one that is pure C8 (8-carbon molecules). It has the best results for feeding your brain. You can purchase it at Kiss My Keto, which is where I get mine. There are other places, but be sure you’re getting mostly C8. Another alternative that might be easier on the pocketbook is to use coconut oil in your coffee or tea.
Electrolytes & Supplements
When you cross-over from SAD to Keto (SAD: the acronym for Standard American Diet – not making that up, really), you basically have to go through the biggest blood sugar crash ever, aka the keto flu. You are draining your body of the glycogen reserves and you’ll be losing water along with it, which results in a motivating weight loss of up to six pounds overnight! When in ketosis, you don’t retain the water molecules that you do when on SAD. Therefore, drink tons of water! I don’t think there’s a diet out there that doesn’t recommend drinking tons of water. When you lose that water weight, it will take some of your salts with you. You may want to supplement some of these salts back in to properly regulate the salt content of your body. It will help prevent headaches, aid with muscle recovery and muscle cramps (which I have big issues with), as well as help you to sleep.
I drink an electrolyte while I workout, which means I’m having about one dose a day. You don’t have to relate the electrolyte consumption with a workout at all, that just works for me. You could have it with dinner or whenever. Look for an electrolyte mix that doesn’t have any sugar in it. Most re-hydration electrolyte mixes will contain sugar, which is important when trying to medically re-hydrate someone who is ill, but isn’t necessary for a healthy person in ketosis. Again, Kiss My Keto sells one that is berry-flavored that Tom really likes. I don’t care for berry-flavored drinks, so I order lemonade flavored ones from Amazon. I’ve tried two that I like – Ultima Hydrating Electrolyte Powder and Key Nutrients Electrolyte Powder.
Additionally, both Tom and I take a potassium supplement and a magnesium supplement to keep those salts up (potassium, magnesium, and sodium are all considered salts). For those, I use Nature Made Magnesium Oxide at 250mg and Nature Made Potassium Gluconate at 550mg (this I take one in the morning and one in the evening). You can get these at the local grocery store, Amazon, Nature Made’s website, etc. Do use caution adding the magnesium as it does have a laxative effect if you take too much!!
Weigh Yourself Constantly
This one might be a bit controversial. Most recommendations that you read say to only weigh yourself once a week so you see the bigger result (hopefully). I don’t follow this philosophy; I like lots of data points. I usually weigh myself at least three times a day – when I first get up, after work, and after my workout. Seeing those small variations have taught me a bit about how my body reacts to various activities and how it processes food and water.
Body Fat Scale that Integrates with an App/Fitness Tracker
I have the Fitbit Aria 2 scale which measures my weight and my body fat percentage everytime I step on. It is connected to our wifi so it syncs with the Fitbit app. I also wear a Fitbit Versa fitness tracker/smart watch and it (obviously) syncs as well. This is a nice way to view and keep a record of your weight and body fat changes. It has several nice graphics allowing you to see trends which can help you to visualize your success.
You don’t have to have a Fitbit scale or a fitness tracker to use the Fitbit App. You can log your weight manually in the app and still keep track of your progress. There are other apps out there to look at as well, and you can record your weight into MyFitnessPal, so if you want to stick with just one, that is an option. Fitbit and MyFitnessPal do talk to each other and I’ve linked them together. As you go about your day, the caloric expenditure recorded in my Versa is pushed to MyFitnessPal and the excess calories I’ve burned are added to my required daily intake of calories so I know what my calorie deficit is and when I need to eat more food! My weight that is recorded in Fitbit is also pushed to MyFitnessPal. It is a PAIN to setup, but it’s worth it once it’s there. You can do food tracking in Fitbit, but when I looked at it about a year ago, I chose to stick with MyFitnessPal. Part of the reason might be my personal familiarity with MyFitnessPal and that I had already invested the effort to add a bunch of recipes, but I also found, at that time, there were more foods listed in MyFitnessPal than in Fitbit. That may have changed as the Fitbit food tracker grew more mature, so if you’re just getting started and going to use Fitbit anyway, it may be worth checking out.
This nice-to-have replaces the urine strips for testing your level of ketosis. It is a breath analyzer, so all you have to do is exhale into the device and it will record your level! So much more pleasant than peeing on a strip! I take mine with me in my purse and record several times a day because, as I said earlier, I like lots of data points. If you measure a couple hours after a meal, you can see the effect of that particular mix of macros on your ketone level and decide if you can handle that amount of carbs or not, so it’s a great learning tool for understanding your body.
You can order your own here: https://shop.getkeyto.com/ for $99.
Keto-Friendly Protein Powder
If you are a protein powder person or a smoothie person, switching your protein powder to one that is more keto-friendly is a good idea. Many protein powder brands contain sugar and not much fat. On the keto diet, we want to flip that around – no sugar and bring on the fat! I use a couple of different powders to make my shakes:
- Kiss My Keto (shocking, I know) Birthday Cake (9g of protein) and the Chocolate (10g) shake mixes are great. Their protein source is collagen peptides, which is good for nice skin and nails. Also, it doesn’t cause me to bloat like whey protein does. I avoid whey protein, but if it doesn’t bother you, carry on! It also contains MCT powder to add some more fat in there and not much else, which is nice. It is sweetened with stevia.
- Vital Protein Collagen Peptides. This is straight collagen peptides. I add one scoop (serving size is 2 scoops) of this to the same shake that my Kiss My Keto goes into to get an additional 10g of protein. It’s sold at the grocery store, Costco(!), Amazon, etc. I don’t notice any taste to it, but Tom smelled it and said it smelled like a cow…He’s had trouble adding it since then! I decided not to smell it, so I haven’t had this issue.
- PBFit or PB2 peanut butter powder. These two have different amounts of protein, so if that’s a big concern, choose PBFit which has 9g while the PB2 has only 6g. I add the peanut butter powder to my chocolate shake to make one that tastes a bit like a Reese’s peanut butter cup. It’s a nice little afternoon treat.
Also, consider using coconut milk as the base of your protein shakes. This adds fat (yay!) and in the form of those good MCTs. It’s lower in calories than dairy milk, even skim, and there are no carbs in it at all. Chocolate protein powder plus coconut milk tastes like a Mounds bar to me!
Butcher Box or similar
If it’s within your budget, consider ordering your meat from ButcherBox. All their meat is grass-fed and grass-finished. It’s organic and there’s a great selection. Every piece of meat we’ve tried from them has been really good. I have found searching for organic, grass-fed, grass-finished, happy cow, etc. meat is a bit challenging and the taste can vary from great to rather gamey. This makes it easy. ButcherBox carries beef, chicken, pork, and some seafood and they deliver to your front door.
I do not order ground beef or chicken from them because Costco has a good selection of those two items which are organic, pasture-raised, grass-fed, etc., etc. and their prices are lower, so I choose the savings here and get the fancier cuts of meat from ButcherBox.
The added benefit of ButcherBox is that I know what meat is coming and I use that list to generate my menu for the next two months!
I hope these tips and tricks are useful to you and make your transition into a Keto lifestyle easier! I would love to hear how your journey is going! Thanks for reading!