The Keto Diet for Beginners
By Kenneth MacMillen – January 2021
Welcome to this quick start, Non-Technical, guide to the Ketogenic Diet – way of eating. Notice I said “way of eating instead of the “Keto Diet.” I don’t want you the think of this as a diet. Why? Because most people never stay on diets. I want you the think of this as a way of eating… Better yet, the Ketogenic way of living.
So what does the term Keto mean? The term Keto is short for Nutritional Ketosis or the Ketogenic Diet. Right now, most people run on a fuel system of sugars and carbohydrates (those carbohydrates will eventually turn into glycogen through digestion) for energy on a daily basis. When one is in “Nutritional Ketosis,” your body is not running on sugars and carbohydrates as its primary fuel system. It will be running on fats as a fuel system.
What are Ketones? Everyone has ketones, whether you have diabetes or not. Ketones are chemicals made in your liver. You produce them when you don’t have enough insulin in your body to turn sugar (or glucose) into energy. You need another source, so your body uses fat instead. Your liver turns this fat into ketones, a type of acid, and sends them into your bloodstream. Your muscles and other tissues can then use them for fuel. Sited from Wed MD
Basically, when you start to eat Ketogenic way, you are, in essence, swapping fuel systems from sugars to fats. I’d like to thinking of it in terms of going from a “sugar burner” to a “fat burner”. That is the key to losing weight is to lose fat, and that is happening rapidly and healthily while you are in Nutritional Ketosis.
Beware, there are more than a few naysayers out there that speak poorly about the Ketogenic diet or Keto way of eating. For instance, I hear it all the time that you are going to have a heart attack, or that is very unhealthy to eat that way (referring to the Keto). I have noticed that over the past year or two that this stigma has decreased, and Keto becoming more expectable. It is my belief that this is due in part to the large amount of data and science that is backing up what many in the Keto community have been staying all along. Fat is good, and sugar and carbohydrates are bad. The science is just being promoted more to the general public.
It may be hard to overcome what we have been programmed to think about food, but believe me, once you start to eat a keto way of living, you will notice the difference. We all grew up in the US, thinking that our parents and grandparents had it all wrong. They would cook with fats and butter all the time. Our generation and society, during the 80’s and 90’s and even into the 2000’s where taught that fat is bad. Butter is bad. Eating too much steak and meats is unhealthy, right? We should eat lots of veggies, carbohydrates/bread, beans, salads, and everything that can be made from these items. I think I can see you shaking your head up and down, saying to yourself, yep! Here is where it may take you a bit to get used too. That is eating Keto; you will be eating delicious meats and with real butter and fats along with eating delicious veggies and other low carb foods. Oh, and by the way, the food is delicious…Yum!
So let’s explain Ketogenic eating a bit more here. Nutritional ketosis is where your body burns fat due to a lack of sugar and carbohydrates as fuel. The process is a complex one, but in simple terms, as one reduces their sugar and carb intake, our body still needs to be powered by some sort of fuel. When you limit your sugar and carbohydrates, your body will use what it has for fuel…fat. Your body is wonderfully designed and very efficient and will start to use fat as its fuel very quickly. The motto is “eat fat to lose fat”.
So what happens in your body when you eat sugars and carbohydrates? Well, first, let us not through out the baby with the bathwater. Sugar is not bad for you, but it is a huge factor in many problems that we face as it relates to our health. If you are like me in any way, you may have had a more slender, and more muscular physique when you were younger. However, as you age and life gets in the way, many things change. I noticed that I could not eat as I used to when I was younger. My diet consisted mainly of high amounts of sugary food and heavy amounts of carbohydrates (and yes, lots of beer while in my college days – empty carbohydrates as we know now). I stayed away from lots of meats and fattier foods because we were told: “fat is bad!” As you ingest sugars and carbohydrates, your body will use up this energy very quickly. This is one of the reasons why I would eat three to four and sometimes five times a day… to keep my energy levels up. Sound familiar? I call it “yoyo-ing” now.
I remember my younger years as a cyclist on long rides I would suck down these small gel packs that were nearly 100% sugar and boy did they taste great. I noticed an almost mediate boost in my energy, so on long distant rides, I would have a few of these gel packs during the ride and after to recover. What I didn’t know was that I was feeding my muscles with what muscles liked to use for quick energy…sugar (ie. glycogen). Sugar is a fast-acting energy source. (Fat is a slower and more prolonged energy source. When you limit your carbs and sugars your body still needs glycogen to run on. So your body, mainly your liver, converts fats to glycogen and then supplies your body with what it needs to operate.)
The same would happen during my workday. I would get up in the morning and make a cup of coffee. Put three to four sugars in my coffee along with creamer and off to work I went. Then around nine or 10:30 am I would notice that I would feel tired, and there I would go off to Dunkin Donuts or local coffee shop for another cup of coffee and maybe a “snack”. Then there would be lunch that was mainly be comprised of a high carb, low-fat meal. Later, you guessed it…wait for it… yep… around 2 to 3:30 pm, I would feel tired again and start to feel like that low energy level thing strike again. Consequently, I would look for something to eat or grab another cup of coffee until dinner time and cycle would repeat.
So what was happening was this…. Each time I ate carbohydrates and or sugars, my body would use that energy up pretty quickly, and within a few hours, I was in need of more fuel (ie, carb/sugar). Now to get a wee bit technical about this, each time we eat carbohydrates and sugars, our body releases a hormone called insulin to help covert the carbohydrates into usable energy called glycogen. Glycogen happens to be the direct form of energy/fuel that your muscles/body needs to work.
As the insulin response slowed, my body was finishing up the digestion of the food I ate, I would feel tired and would that low energy feeling would return. Are you catching the correlation? When you eat carbohydrates and sugars, your body creates an insulin response. Here’s the catch, when you have an insulin response, your body doesn’t burn fat. It uses up sugars first, and then it moves to burn fats when your sugars stores are depleted. So if we are eating carbohydrates and sugars 3-5 times a day or more, your body doesn’t have a chance to burn its fat stores. But rather continues to cycle through the burning off of the sugars first and never gets to the use of fat for energy.
How we gain weight over time is simple. If we have too much energy in our body, by eating high carbohydrates and sugars, and we don’t use it up, that energy will get stored somewhere on you. Yep, you guessed it… it gets stored as fat. I heard a crazy statistic about marathon running. That on average, a person can burn 100 calories per mile. If you run 26 miles for a marathon that equates to 2600 calories, one pound of fat equals 3500 calories. So if you do the math and are running to lose fat, you may not get what you a looking for and have worked very hard to run that 26 miles to only lose less than a pound of fat. Granted, exercise is awesome, and really is what you need to keep our whole body moving and healthy along with a proper diet (way of eating).
So, back to the insulin response. The key to the Ketogenic way of eating is to keep one’s insulin response to a minimum. That is accomplished by eating little to no carbohydrates and sugars. You will notice the diabetes is a direct response from your body that has been overwhelmed with far too many sugars and carbohydrates for far too many years. At the beginning of April 2018, my Doctor said to me that my A1C was a 7.0, which means clinically I was a diabetic. Within four months of eating a low carb, Ketogenic diet, my A1C dropped to a 5.3, and I was losing weight. So here are the nuts and bolts of the Ketogenic Diet: What we are trying to accomplish with Keto is to lose weight by limiting our carbohydrates and sugars. The ratio can be different from person to person, but most people would say that we need to eat a ratio of food like this:
- Fats: 70-80%
- Proteins: 20-25%
- Carbohydrates: 5-10%
Note: Many people work toward this goal within a month or two’s time. I did not. I dove right in…call me crazy. But for me, I didn’t want to tease myself with slowly taking carb away. I just went for it! You can do this! At first, I would suggest that you have the proper tools to reach your goal of nutritional ketosis. The tools that you are going to need are testing kits and a food tracking app. The first is a Keto blood testing kit. The second is a diabetic testing kit and a food tracking app.
- KetoCouch testing kit: Amazon link here.
- Replacement strips: Amazon link Click here.
- Diabetic testing kit: I have tried many types. I find the CVS brand works great and is cheap to replace the strips.
- My Fitness Pal in the app store. Free 🙂
Here is what you do first: Plan! Plan out your food eat day the night before or even a few days before — batch cook and prep what you will need to eat. But don’t worry about tripping up. Everyone does it. Just get back on the saddle and keep working the process. This is a long term marathon, not a sprint! You are the proverbial turtle in the race with the hair. Here is my eating plan when I started: (I have modified it since I started.)
Morning: Weigh yourself. Be consistent. Whatever clothing you weigh yourself in the morning, use the same clothing each day. I did weigh myself after my morning constitution and shower.
Coffee: black (no Sugar). If needed, use whole whipping cream creamer or a tab of butter (I use Kerrygold butter). Don’t knock it till you try it. Trust me…
Breakfast: Two to three whole eggs with yoke and some cheese and bacon.
Mid-morning snack: Avocados or Roast beef rolled with cheese or Cream cheese.
Lunch: a hamburger with lettuce, pickles, bacon (no bun or bread). Or I’d just eat a small bowl of ground Hamburg.
Mid afternoons snack: Steak tips about .25 (¼ to ½ ) a pound. Cucumbers with Mayo, celery with peanut butter. Always reach for low carb Veggies with going for a snack.
Dinner: I nice steak cooking in butter with asparagus or broccoli (try to stay low salt) cooked in Kerrygold butter. My main meal is dinner around 5-6 ish each night.
After dinner snack: Jello with Heavy whipped cream frosting, some cheese, some sort of meat or even Cream cheese or even Cucumbers and mayonnaise. Any combination works for me.
Don’t forget to drink water! I drink about 48 oz of water a day. I bought a 26oz Yeti cup and bring it with me everywhere I go so that I am not tempted to drink othering things like sodas and sugary drinks. Amazon link: https://amzn.to/2ZR17Xa
Alcohol: stay away from it as much a possible. Your body takes alcohol and converts that directly to sugars… and sugars create an insulin response. So, you stop fat burning and weight loss immediately. Ethanol, the chemical in alcohol, stays in your blood up to 48 hours to 7 days after you consume alcohol. So all your hard work will stop. Of course, if you are going to drink alcohol on Keto, stay away from high carb ones like beer and wine.
Foods to stay away from: Bread, bagels, chips, candies, starchy vegetables, high salt foods, and high carb foods. Try to read the labels and pick foods with a total carb so that you will not exceed 20 grams or less per day. In the supermarkets, you’ll be mainly shopping on the outsides.
Foods to embrace: Steaks, chicken (with skin on), nuts but be careful. You can very easily exceed your call per day. Cheese, Butters, Peanut butter, no-sugar-Jello’s, Dark Chocolates, ham, pork (basically meat) bacon and for veggies: Asparagus, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Celery, Cucumber, Green Beans, KalePeppers (red and green), Spinach, Olives, Zucchini, Lettuce, Kale, Swiss chard, Tomatoes, and Avocado (technically a fruit). A quick word on calories counting. I used to count my calories. But don’t anymore. It is good to “monitor” them but don’t go crazy over them. If you are eating the right whole foods your calories will stay well within the 2000 calories per day.
Here is the method that I use to determine what food to eat. I would eat something, wait 30 minutes, and test my sugar if my sugar spiked above 150. I would not eat that food again. Remember, you are trying to keep your insulin response down for as long as you can. Testing each time to eat a type of food will show you what foods to avoid because they will stop/slower your fat loss.
The Secret Technique/tool: I use a technique called “intermittent fasting” or IF. The goal is to eat once a day and consume all my calories and macronutrients with a certain time period. Here is what it looks like for me using IF: I try not to eat from 8 pm until 2 pm the next day. Coffee black or tea in the morning (with KG butter or Heavy Whipped cream creamer) Water during the rest of the morning until… Around 2 pm-ish I’ll start to eat my calories for the day until 8 pm. Any combination of the above foods is what I’ll eat.
So, from 2 pm till 8 pm, a 6-hour window during the day I’ll use to consume my food(s). That means I will combine my whole food steaks, or beef, bacon or eggs with nonstarchy veggies like broccoli and asparagus (my two favorites) Keto testing: I would test in the morning of each day. The beginning range of Ketosis is 0.5. As you move toward the optimal range for nutritional ketosis starts at 0.5 and upwards. I like to stay in the 1.0 to 2.0 range. That is where I saw the best weight loss.
Key Benefits of Nutritional Ketosis: Things I have noticed since I started the Keto way of eating:
- Controls and lowers A1C
- Prolonged satiation (not feeling hungry for longer period of the day)
- Weight Loss
- Higher energy level without the high and low swells of “sugar burners”.
- Cholesterol lowers
- You can eat out, basically anywhere and easily find foods to eat. Just make good low-carb choices.
- Steaks! You get to eat steaks! Oh, and bacon too! 🙂
How long will this take? Well, for me I noticed weight loss the first week (7 lbs) and the second week was just as good (10 lbs). At first, your body doesn’t know what you are doing. It uses up its sugars quickly and immediately you lose water weight. Then over the next few weeks, I noticed a leveling off of weight loss to about 1-2 lbs a day for even one to two days.
Testing range to Nutritional Ketosis. It may take you up to a month to stay within the 0.5 or higher ketone level. Don’t worry about that. You will get there. Try to be as strict as possible for eating. Eat till you’re full (not over full). Listen to your body. As you transition from a sugar burner to a fat burner being strict is important. Why? Because there is a thing called Keto purgatory… where you’re still eating a higher amount of carbs and fats but you haven’t tipped the proverbial scale to the Keto side. You’re still in the middle. Remember: you can do this! I know you’ll enjoy the benefits and will be eating very well. Good luck!
Here is a quick list of very helpful tools that I have found and use for sustaining the Ketogenic life:
- On YouTube, I follow Dr. KenBerry and Thomas DeLaur and Jimmy More just to name a few.
- Keto Blood Testing Kit: Keto Coach Test Kit
- Replacement Keto Coach Test Strip:
- Blood glucose Meter: CVS Brand
If you have any further questions, please let me know and I will walk you through this journey of being healthy and eating Keto. Heres my shameless plug for my podcast and website Click here to go to the Home page