You want to lose weight, but the diets you’ve tried have never worked; they just leave you frustrated, hungry, and disappointed. Any lifestyle adjustment can be difficult, but the right kind of diet can give you not only the weight loss you want but also more energy and less stress. Maybe it’s time to see if the ketogenic diet is the right diet for you.

The ketogenic diet will help you adjust your eating habits so that your body itself helps you drop the numbers on that scale. Here’s what you need to know about the keto diet and how you can start following it today.

What Is a Ketogenic Diet?

A ketogenic diet, plain and simple, is when you choose not to eat any carbs and instead get your calories from fats. Instead of eating carbs, you’ll get your nutrition from salmon and other fish, meats, eggs, cheese, butter, olive oil, and high-fat dairy. When you focus on limiting your carbs, your body enters a state called “ketosis” where the body uses its fat storage as fuel. Let’s talk more about how that works.

Ketogenic Diets and Body Chemistry

You’re using your food’s nutrients to change your body chemistry, so if you’re going to start a keto diet and keep it going strong, it’ll help to understand some body chemistry basics. For starters, your body’s default setting is to burn carbohydrates to use as fuel. But when there aren’t any carbohydrates to burn, the default setting shuts off, and the body begins breaking down the fat normally kept as storage. The energy released when fats are burned is known as “ketones.”

When you starve your body of carbs, as you do when participating in a ketogenic diet, you start to change your body’s default setting and teach it to resort to burning fat for fuel instead of carbs, which consequently helps you drop the weight associated with that fat.

Ketogenic Calories

The next step in starting a ketogenic diet, before you ever start eating, is to find out how many calories you need every day (according to your height, weight, and lifestyle), and thus how you need to break down your ketogenic diet plan. Many people misunderstand diets and think they need to starve themselves to lose weight, but that’s not the case at all. You need to provide your body with the calories it needs to operate, but you can control what provides those calories. A good diet guides your calorie intake, not removes it altogether.

Many people’s individual diets will vary depending on their needs (someone may have medical recommendations against eating red meat, for instance), but there is a relatively stable proportion you can stick to when starting a ketogenic diet. So, 70 to 80 percent of your diet should be made up of fats, 20 to 25 percent should consist of some kind of protein, and the final 5 to 10 percent should come from carbs (you can’t completely starve yourself of carbs, after all).

What Can You Eat on a Ketogenic Diet?

While on the ketogenic diet, you’ll want to pay close attention to what you eat. For instance, you need to take in fats, but that doesn’t mean you should eat McDonald’s for every meal. That 70 to 80 percent of your diet that’s made of fats should come from a mixture of healthy animal sources and even some plant sources. You can get those fats from eating grass-fed butter, avocados, egg yolks, coconut oil or butter, and nuts (macadamia nuts and almonds are especially helpful because they’re fattier than many other nuts).

When you take in protein, eat a good mixture of poultry, beef, and fish. You can also have lamb, goat, and pork that hasn’t been heavily processed. Starting off the day with some whole eggs isn’t a bad idea, either. In terms of carbs, you should not only limit your intake but also the types of carbohydrates you bring into your body. Kale, spinach, onions, and zucchini are always good choices, as are cauliflower, bok choy, and Swiss chard.

At all costs, stay away from high-carb foods like fruits, grains, beans and legumes, and starches (like potatoes). In general, stay away from processed foods as much as possible, since there will often be added factors that will mess with your diet.

When building your keto diet meal plan, always check the number of calories a certain food is contributing. You need protein, for example, but if you ingest more protein than the 20 to 25 percent of your daily calorie intake, your body will kick in something called gluconeogenesis. This chemical process converts excess protein into glycogen, which your body then burns as its primary source of fuel. Your body needs some glycogen, but gluconeogenesis will start to burn away your lean muscle mass, which you don’t want to lose. So, stick to those calorie counts.

Track Your Ketones

You’re almost ready to start following a ketogenic diet, but before you begin, you need to decide on a way to track your ketones. By tracking ketones, you can see if your body is in ketosis (where it burns fat instead of carbs), how well the diet is working, and if you need to make adjustments in any certain area.

There are three main methods of testing to see if your body is in ketosis, and the good news is, you can use all of these methods at home: urine testing with urine strips, blood testing with a blood meter, and breath testing with a breath meter. All three tests are perfectly viable, but a blood test will be the most accurate.

If you don’t want to invest in the equipment for this kind of testing, or if you aren’t as concerned with tracking your ketones so closely, you can watch out for certain symptoms that indicate ketosis: clearer mental state, more thirst, less hunger, more energy.

Now you’re ready to start your very own ketogenic diet! It will take discipline and patience, but by simply watching what and how much you eat, you can lose weight, think more clearly, and experience more sustained energy.

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