5 Things People Do Wrong When Starting the Ketogenic Diet

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In case you missed it:

The ketogenic diet isn’t just some new weight loss trend.

For one thing, it’s not new: the ketogenic diet was first described and researched about nearly a century ago (let alone was the natural way our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate for thousands of years).

Also: this diet can do a lot more than just improve a person’s body composition and promote rapid fat loss—though certainly these are laudable credits to its name. Being in the state of ketosis can improve insulin sensitivity, cognitive function, mood, energy, blood lipid profile, and even the health and appearance of a person’s skin.

There’s even evidence to show that keto, as it’s commonly referred to, may offer protective and therapeutic benefits to special populations, including children with epilepsy, people with cancer, and people with Alzheimer’s disease.

So, congrats! Whatever your reason for beginning a ketogenic diet, know that your health stands to benefit in more ways than one… provided you go about it in an ideal way. Check out these common mistakes keto newbies tend to make.

5 Common Errors When Starting a Ketogenic Diet

1. Not measuring and recording your food… at least at first

If you’re not keeping track of what you’re eating, it can be hard to make sure you’re consuming the right proportions of fat, protein, and carbs that will help you actually get into ketosis. It’s still also possible to eat too much on a ketogenic diet, especially since the majority of your food will be calorically dense. So until you get the hang of your ketogenic diet, it’s generally a good idea to weigh, measure, and record your food.

Try not to let the idea of weighing and measuring intimidate you. It’s a learnable habit that can be extremely beneficial to you in the beginning stages, at least until you’ve learned to recognize the "feel" of your body when it’s in ketosis. Apps like MyFitnessPal and FatSecret are helpful, as are online keto calculators and body fat testing tools which can help you determine how much fat, protein, and carbs you should consume.

2. Not replenishing lost water and electrolytes

The keto diet is inherently diuretic, meaning you’ll find yourself going to the bathroom much more frequently. While increased urination is natural, it can lead to issues associated with dehydration and electrolyte loss, including heart palpitations, dry mouth, and dizziness.

To avoid these issues, drink more water (yes, you’ll have to pee—a lot). A standard prescription is half your body weight in fluid ounces per day, but you’ll probably need more than this, especially if you’re physically active. Also, add a pinch of unrefined pink Himalayan sea salt to your water and stock up on magnesium and potassium-rich foods like pumpkin seeds, spinach, and avocado.

3. Giving up at the first sign of the "keto flu"

The ketogenic diet is most likely a drastic change for your body compared to what it’s been used to doing for the majority of your life—that is, using glycogen (from carbs) for energy. And since the transition to fat-as-fuel can be a bit of a shock, it’s not unusual to experience some flu-like symptoms in the initial phase of the diet, like headaches, cramps, nausea, fatigue, insomnia, stomach pains, and mental fogginess. Additionally, you may notice a temporary decrease in your physical performance in the gym as your body learns to adjust to exercising in the presence of severe carbohydrate restriction.

These symptoms can be a major turn off to a lot of people just starting out. Don’t let them deter you. While icky, keto flu typically goes away after a few days, and your athletic performance will improve again (perhaps better than ever) once your body enters ketosis and has adapted to its new state. You can help your body adapt more efficiently by making sure you’re staying well hydrated and replenishing your lost electrolytes (see point 2).

4. Eating too much protein

By definition, a ketogenic diet is not just one of high fat intake—it’s also one of moderate protein intake. Here’s why this matters:

Dom D’Agostino, PhD is an associate professor of Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology at the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine. He’s also an expert and leading researcher in the field of ketosis and metabolic therapies. In a 2016 interview with ketosis/slow-carb advocate Tim Ferriss (originally published on Ferriss’s eponymous podcast The Tim Ferriss Show), Dom made the following points about protein intake on keto:

  • Eating too much protein can decrease the robustness of your ketosis or kick you out of it altogether. Why? Because excess protein will be converted by your liver into glycogen, which sort of functions like a stop check on ketosis.
  • According to Dom, an ideal protein prescription for most active people on ketosis would be around "1 to 1.5 grams per kilograms [of bodyweight] per day" in order to "consistently stay in nutritional ketosis." However…
  • There’s no one-prescription-fits-all. Dom points out that certain people (including those with a super fast metabolism or those who are highly active or heavily training for sport, for instance) may need more protein. Likewise, genes, age, lean body mass, activity level, and overall health status can all influence exactly how much one person needs, so there’s a lot of variables to consider.

Here’s the takeaway: use a dependable keto diet resource to help you figure out your ideal macro intake (see point 1) and make sure to stick to these guidelines as much as possible to overdoing it on your protein.

5. Not following the style of keto that’s a best fit for you

Although the basic philosophy is the same throughout all its renditions (high fat, moderate protein, low carb), the ketogenic diet can be approached in a variety of ways. You need to consider several factors when trying to decide which version is right for you, including, but not limited to, your particular goals for the diet.

Are you primarily trying to gain muscle or lose body fat? Are you looking to manage or reverse a chronic illness? Are you a high-performing athlete? These questions matter and can help you avoid unnecessary frustration and stress.

The vast majority of people do best with the standard ketogenic diet approach, which has people eating around 20-50 grams of net carbs daily. More "advanced" types of keto diets (including carb-loading, calorie-restricted, and carb intake timing just prior to exercise) are best intended for people with strict performance-based goals or illness-related needs, and may require the supervision of a healthcare professional.

The bottom line is that if you’re new to keto, your best bet is to keep it as simple as possible. This diet can be challenging enough as it is; don’t make it any harder for yourself than necessary. Keep helpful resources handy, consult with experts, and take the necessary steps to avoid these common mistakes—than watch what happens. You’d be amazed at how resilient and adaptable your body is, and how healthy it truly can be.

About the Author Nate Arnold

I started this website because it was hard to find trustworthy, evidence-based information about the ketogenic diet. Information that was published and peer reviewed by respected scientific journals. After years of research, I'm sure you'll achieve great results in a healthy way following my advice. I do my best to translate scientific research jargon into plain English. Remember, it's always a good idea to consult a doctor before starting a new diet!

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