I once told my friend, “within 5 years, everyone will be eating like this”. He said – “no they won’t. It’s too complicated and people are too lazy to think“.
I like to say that in order to lose weight, you need to address the hunger problem. I have gone 14 months without counting a calorie, and took off 40 pounds during that time. I also took off 70 pounds prior to keto – so I’m aware that there are other ways of losing weight. That method had me reduce my carbs from 60% down to 40%, then had 30% fats and 30% protein. Tons of calorie counting and ridiculous amounts of food prep.
For the sake of this post, I’m using KETO AS A WEIGHT LOSS TOOL.
You can stick around in ketosis forever, but I’m going to show you here how you get into it, what you can do during it – different types of keto, and an off ramp for those who have hit their goal weight.
Brief history – the ketogenic diet was created in the first quarter of the 20th century to address seizures in children. Low carb diets were well known in the 1800s to treat diabetes type of issues. Atkins came about in the 1970s or so – he was a low carb guy, but advocated for ketosis only during an “induction” period. The original ketogenic diet was significantly restricting carbs to about 2% carb intake for your total calories, with approximately 92% fats and 6% protein. Today, ketogenic diets really only mean that you are in a state of ketosis. It is said:
- Low carb
- Moderate protein
- The rest as fats
Those of us who do a lot more exercise than others may have more carbs. Endurance athletes are encouraged to have higher loads of protein than someone who is sedentary. You do not HAVE to stuff your face with fats for the rest of the calories if you do not want to.
Disclaimer: The goal of diets are to LOSE FAT. This is done via a CALORIC DEFICIT. This is NOT accomplished through the usage of MAGIC KETO BEANS. Because you eat 10g of carbs per day, doesn’t mean you can eat 4,000 calories of butter and lose weight. I am NOT a medical professional, I’m relaying to you my own experiences with this diet. Please consult your physician prior to doing anything like this, as your unique medical circumstances may not be congruent with this diet/lifestyle approach.
I do NOT SELL KETO MAGIC BEANS.
What this does is fix all of your hormones and allow you to take control of your hunger. “Bro science” wants you to sit around with calorie counters and calorie math all day and all night, and when you go over your calories because you are starving, they want to tell you it’s a problem of will power. It’s a problem of the composition of your foods. Foods that are typically highly processed and high in carbs may do things to your body that you are not aware of. These foods may suppress hormones that signal that you are full. They may trick your body into wanting more.
KETO is meant in this context – a low carb diet which utilizes aspects of ketosis and hormonal regulation to allow your body access to fat stores, where before they were locked off to you. It is a tool that you can use to lose weight, live by – and herein I also suggest means of leaving the diet (or having a vacation weekend from it), someday, if you wish to have a potato and not be slut shamed for it.
BIG PICTURE: only about 10,000 years ago, humans learned about agriculture. For 500,000 years prior to that, we were hunters and gatherers. We’d go 8 months a year without seeing a carb, and then forage and perform gluttony on berries and maybe put on a few pounds. Over the colder months, our bodies would burn those fats by breaking them down with a hormone called lipase in the presence of glucagon. Only in the past 40 years, have we been directed to have 11 servings a day of bread, grains, pastas, waffles, etc. And our society is paying the price today.
Our bodies need fats. They need proteins. They need ZERO grams of carbs to live. Our bodies burn different types of fuel (substrates) to survive. Most know our body runs on glucose. Well…that’s because you are eating 6 small meals a day of mostly grains/carbs. When you do not eat sugars/carbs, you body will break down fats and proteins and turn them into ketones and glucose, as needed. So – your body could go the rest of its life without 1g of carbs and you will live just fine. That being said, you would not be winning 100m gold medal prizes. Carbs help with athletic performance. They are not needed for people who are not elite athletes. Think about that when you realize that 60-70% of your diet is probably made of shit your body doesn’t need to survive.
For those of you who want to TRY the keto diet, I ask for 30 days of utter commitment. Set it on your calendar. My advice would be to start something like this AFTER a major event, like a holiday. You do not want to be 10 days in and be derailed. Unlike many other diets – you do NOT want to interrupt this 21 day commitment.
NOTE: When people talk about weight loss, they mean FAT LOSS. Due to the makeup of the meals I ate and the training I had, I lost FAT and did not lose muscle mass. In fact, I gained muscle mass over 3 years while losing FAT.
STAGE 1: First 3 weeks….How do you do it?
- Hit your protein of .6g-1.2g per pound of LEAN BODY MASS – not total weight. For example, if you are a 200 pound man and estimate you have 25% bodyfat, that means 1/4th of you is fat and 3/4th is LBM. You would take 150 times .6 to get 90 or times 1.2 to get 180. You probably want somewhere in the middle.
- Reduce ALL carbs to 25g or less. Some will tell you 20, some 30. I met in the middle. Things like bacon, eggs, butter, meats, pecans, lettuce, hot sauce, fishes – these things will be what you eat for 21 days.
- Fats – make up the rest. This means rather than going for chicken breast here, go for a whole rotisserie chicken with the skin and fats. Eat ribeye rather than filet. Eat salmon. Do not worry about limiting butter with the eggs. Eat bacon. Sausage.
- Look up “keto flu” and plan to drink lots of water and get your electrolytes the first week.
In this first stage, you are trying to not only deplete your body’s stored carbs (glycogen), but learn to burn fat better. This will drive you into a state called nutritional ketosis. In this state, your body will burn fats – and break this down into fuels called ketones. Early on in keto, you can detect this with pee strips. As your body gets better and better at burning fat, you don’t “waste” as many of these ketones and it may appear as if you are out of ketosis.
During this stage, you will see how dependent you have become on carbs. Many people recommend the “whole 30 diet” for at least a month before starting keto so you can get used to removing sugars, breads, pastas, etc.
Why do we do this? For 500,000 years, man had virtually no access to carbohydrates in their diets. Only over the last 5,000-10,000 years have carbs been more plentiful. And – only over the last 40 years did the US government recommend eating 6-11 servings of carbs per day and another 7 servings of fruits/veggies. For most of humanity – fruits did not look like they do now. They were very fibrous and unrecognizable. Corn was also nowhere near the calorie powerhouse it is today.
What many people do not realize is our bodies need lots of fats and proteins to survive. They do not need 1g of carbohydrates to live. Not 1. Our bodies can produce all of the fuel it needs from fats and proteins. In fact – many are theorizing that the high carb/low fat diets have created all of the western diseases you see today, in various forms. More on that later.
Also of interest, some background here. Your body regulates all kinds of systems very tightly with hormones. These hormones are all produces from cholesterol. Your body makes a TON of cholesterol all by itself. Dietary cholesterol aids in creating these hormones. Many people feel that those who are very low cholesterol may also experience issues like bipolar and behavioral issues – the brain is made of cholesterol and our bodies are very sensitive to hormones, or lack thereof.
The main hormones I care about with keto for weight loss are insulin and glucagon. When you fire all kinds of carbs into your body, your pancreas secretes insulin to take the glucose out of the bloodstream. It shuttles this first to liver and muscle glycogen, and if they are full, store it as fats (via triglycerides). If your blood sugar gets too low, it will tap your liver for liver glycogen and convert that to glucose. If that’s empty, it will tap fat cells, eventually using glucagon, after using some muscle glycogen. Lipase will break down fats into ketones. Insulin will take triglycerides to the cells convert them to fats using a process known as “de novo lipogenesis”. and One BIG issue is that when you have insulin going through your body, you cannot burn fats.
Re-read that last sentence. Then, wonder why they are recommending you eat 11 servings of bread and another handful of servings of potatoes and high glycemic fruits for 6 meals a day.
Oh….and the FDA food pyramid was never tested. In fact, tons of nutritionists warned upon the doomsday we are at. 1 in 7 have diabetes or pre diabetes (67% of people over 45 have it), and 1 out of 3 are getting cancer. Your doctor only asks how well you have been conforming to a plan – not knowing if that plan actually works or not.
Thoughts…if you want to fatten up farm animals, what do you do? Take them off of their natural diets and feed them corns and grains. Yeah. Welcome to being labeled as cattle.
Stage 1 goals:
- Break dependencies on carbs. Stay under 25.
- Get your body to “learn” how to burn fat and become “fat adapted”.
- Reset all of your hormones correctly
- Resolve any hunger issues. Hunger will subside a lot in the first 2-3 weeks.
- Do not care about calories.
- Hit your protein goals.
STAGE 2: Walk up the carbs, “net carbs”, keto products, “cheat days”. 50 net carbs per day down the road. Find substitutions.
At this stage, you have gotten through the tough part, which is breaking your addictions to carbs. NOW is when you can start to gently take your carbs up over a few weeks to 50 “net carbs”. Maybe once every 3 weeks you have a cheat meal or cheat day. Try a ton of new recipes and substitutes.
Net carbs? Because sugar alcohols (neither a sugar nor an alcohol) and fiber doesn’t really break down the same way “regular” carbs do in the gut, many people take these off of their carb counts for the day. You will have to gauge these for yourself. For ME, swerve (erythritol) has 4g of carbs per tsp but it doesn’t touch your blood sugar and is zero calories. I could have tons of this and count it as zero and still be in ketosis. However, things like Quest bars may use sugar alcohols and soluble corn fiber and be listed as “4 net carbs”, but 23 total carbs. In reality, these ingredients may not be “free” like the swerve is. So….you have to experiment.
How the math works is….take total carbs and subtract fiber and sugar alcohols.
So a product that is listed as 27 total carbs but has 26 fiber/sugar alcohol would be 1 net carb. WARNING – these products that have high ratio of fiber/sugar alcohols to total carbs can cause a lot of gastro distress. Additionally – SOLUBLE fiber binds with water and draws it in. It makes you feel fuller, but you will see the scale go up. Do not stress over this.
How do you do it?:
- 3 weeks with 50 net carbs. Do not go over this, at all.
- Close to the end of three weeks, have one cheat meal. Do NOT go over 200g of carbs for the day
- 1 full week of strict keto at 20g of carbs TOTAL
- weigh in.
- Measure calories with MyFitnessPal and hit your BMR.
- Monitor hunger. Maybe start skipping breakfast from time to time.
- Can do dirty keto or clean keto
I haven’t mentioned calories yet. Phase 1 the weight will fall off of you. Most of it is water, but there is some fat.
Your BMR is basal metabolic rate, and is usually somewhere around 10 times your body weight. Mine is around 2000 calories. This is just keeping the lights on. For YEARS, I would cut way below this. This is what caused a LOT of issues with weight loss. HIT YOUR BMR – create your calorie deficit in the gym.
There’s another measure called Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). This is usually everything else on top of your BMR. Gym work, running, walking the dog, getting the mail, cooking, cleaning. VERY active people may have a TDEE of 1.5 times their BMR. So with me being extremely active, I’d put my TDEE at 3,000. This means, if I hit 2,000 calories per day, that I would create a deficit of 1,000 per day, or 7,000 per week, or 2 pounds per week of FAT. Over the last year, I have not counted my calories, but I’m at my last 18 pounds to lose and I need to get this out again. More on that below.
All of those numbers above are fine, but a few things happen. People overestimate their activity levels and BMR while underestimating their calories. Many people will lose 5-10 pounds their first week of keto and feel this will be the norm. It will not.
Ultimately, what keto is doing is fixing your hormones and hunger. This allows you to eat your BMR (or less) with little issues.
With DIRTY keto, these are things like going through Burger King drive thru and getting a whopper with cheese without the bun. You know the composition of that burger isn’t good for you, but you are eating “low carb”. Maybe you get bacon on it, for no carbs. During stage 2, I’d encourage you to eat however the hell you need to in order to get over your carb addictions.
With CLEAN keto, you are 95% or so “whole foods” for your meals. This is mostly single ingredient items. For example, I may have a ribeye and broccoli for dinner tonight. “clean”. If I eat a boxed pizza from Target made by Quest (these are pretty good), it has a billion ingredients. This is “dirty” keto, mostly because there’s a lot of ingredients, chemicals, etc. This will lead you occasionally to getting keto ice creams, boxed goods, quest bars. At this stage, I don’t care.
Also – make sure you are staying within your calories.
Lastly here – plan for substitutions. Learn how to make some keto breads. Find some keto breads in the store (eat carefully, and sparingly). Learn that cooking with butter and olive oil – and salt – makes veggies absolutely delicious with meats. Realize you can have full heavy whipping cream in your coffee. Swerve erythritol is a great replacement for sugar in your coffee or desserts. Find some recipes to make on pinterest. Check out keto blogs or vlogs where they spell out products and do taste tests. Try enlightened or rebel creamery ice cream. Find local pizza places that do keto crusts (I have one by me – it’s a life saver to drop in there once a month!). Use low carb wraps for sandwiches. Pork rinds ground up make a good breading for chicken strips and chicken parm. Zucchini noodles for me have replaced pastas and I use zucchini with a mandolin for zucchini lasagna! Dark chocolate I now love 10 times more than milk chocolate, and it’s low carb. Pasta sauces are low carb. Cauliflower can be made into fake mashed potatoes that are amazing – add butter, olive oil, garlic, sour cream and fire it into a food processor!
STAGE 3 A: (optional) Clean keto
This is where you have been doing keto for a few months, you’ve lost some weight – but now you want to improve the quality of your food. Maybe do 80/20 to start. This means 4 out of 5 meals are “clean” and whole foods. Maybe 1-3 meals a week are things like Burger King bunless burgers. Maybe go to 90/10. This is using foods like you’d find in the Whole 30 diet. Lots of non-starchy veggies. Limits on processed foods. But there’s a big thing here I want you to look at:
INFLAMMATION. I’ve written a bunch of posts about this, so I will keep it brief. Long story short, some inflammation is good. You get hurt and inflammation helps you heal. However, chronic inflammation from your food sources is thought to lead to a lot of the western diseases. Feel free to research this, but I’m moving on….things to look for?
- Oils – DO have olive oil, extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil. Do NOT have “vegetable oils” like soybean oil and canola oil. The bad oils have an extremely high omega 6 to 3 ratio – like 700:1, where more healthy oils are much closer to an ideal 4:1 ratio.
- Meats – this is where you want to get your “organic chicken”, grass fed/finished beef, wild caught salmon, free range eggs. The vegans want to write all kinds of bad things about meats – but they are not distinguishing between the more natural versus “factory produced” meat. This is a massive difference here with omega 6:3 ratios.
For example, the inuit, who ate seal meat and had heart healthy omega 3 oils in salmon, lived forever. “Boss Hogg” on Dukes of Hazzard liked deep fried chicken (factory produced) fried in vegetable oils. These are two completely different food products in your system based on sourcing and cooking methods. They both may have had a high quantity of fats in their diet, but one had “healthy fats” and the other – not so much.
For this reason, “grass fed butter” is thought of as a great cooking ingredient – far better than margarine or “vegetable oils”.
This is also why you stay away from hydrogenated vegetable oils. These are EXTREMELY inflammatory. This is what your French fries were cooked in for decades. This stuff apparently takes 1-2 months to leave your system.
That being said, during initial stages of keto where you are re-wiring your body, you may need to use some of these things as a crutch. Additionally, grass fed and organic meats can be costly, so – eat these sparingly, hit your protein goals.
The main goal here is to drive down carbs as a primary goal. As you get better at doing that, I’d urge you to look towards a more whole foods approach.
STAGE 3 B: (optional) Intermittent fasting, OMAD, and fasting
One thing everyone experiences a few weeks into keto is loss of appetite. This is what happens when you start correcting your hormones. You don’t get hungry every 2-3 hours after an insulin spike/crash. You find you can go longer between meals. About 3-4 weeks into keto, I cut my breakfast out and just had coffee with cream (and swerve). No need for the bulletproof coffee. Those are just mad amounts of calories.
So this had me having lunch around noon and dinner at like 6. Once in awhile, I had black coffee for a change and this is technically 16:8 intermittent fasting. Not going to go down this rabbit hole here too much, but you can look up a ton of benefits on IF and fasting.
What I then did was start skipping lunch. Unlike my weight loss prior to keto where I did an ass ton of food prep, it was rather hard to do food prep for keto. So I started skipping lunches, and moved my eating window to 23:1. I used green or black tea (hot) with stevia during the lunches and that curbed my appetite. What I was then finding was I had about an hour to eat 2300 or so calories for dinner – CLEAN. Good luck with that. I was making up giant salads. It was near impossible to get anywhere near those calories!!
Eventually, I started a concept called “fasting Friday” for both weight loss and autophagy purposes. I’d eat a big dinner on Thursday, then my next “meal” was Sat morning coffee with cream. I’d have black coffee on Fridays. Again – I’d have some tea during Friday. Eventually, I went without tea for well over a year for all of this.
What you find is this. Your hunger is programmed into you with eating patterns. I’ve been doing OMAD now so much during the weekdays for over a year that I do not get hunger pangs until 4 PM or so. And – these hunger pangs are gentle. Controllable. You might get a signal every 10-20 minutes. Maybe if you miss that eating window, by 6 PM you don’t get hungry again until the next day. It’s the coolest thing ever.
I now do 72 hour fasts once every 3-4 months for the autophagy and to do some resets. I will get some hunger every day from 4-6 PM, but if I have 2-3 teas with stevia during the day, I get zero hunger at dinner. I think I can do a 7 day fast rather easily, but I’m also doing a lot of athletic training and don’t like the idea of doing any training that fasted. So – I don’t NEED to do a 7 day fast, but I could if I wanted to.
Going back 3 years, I remember the panic if I was late to getting to lunch. Hunger pangs that were 9 or 10. Savage eating. Skipping a meal? Are you insane? This is part of what this diet does – it gives you back control of your dinner plate.
Also – they found that when on keto, ketones are muscle sparing. What happens is you go through forms of autophagy and your body will eat its own bad cells. It saves the good parts and recycles them, and it will take your old cells and produce proteins from them.
This is essentially why fasting and caloric restriction with a 23:1 or OMAD is superior to 6 small meals a day with carbs that have constant insulin spikes. Your body never has a chance to clean up the garbage and this is where cancer cells go unchecked. Apparently, most cancers also thrive on sugars/carbs – so with keto and forms of fasting, you have the ability to not only preserve muscle, but recycle malformed cells and prevent pre-cancers from spreading.
STAGE 4: (optional) performance keto
If you only stay in stage 3 the rest of your life, so be it. It’s still WAY healthier than the standard American Diet (SAD). What I have done is eat a 90-95% clean diet and my cheat meals now might be once every 3-4 months. My “mini cheats” might be an apple, believe it or not. This past weekend when I did my triathlon, I had a LOT of fruit. I also burned close to 2,000 calories just during my race, so I was aware that I was ingesting a lot more carbs than normal. I think on race day, I was close to 200g of carbs. I over-did it a little, then fasted for the next 3 days.
With stage 3 above, I have you around 50 net carbs a day. For those of you who are highly active, I think I can buy you another 25 or so g of carbs per day. Maybe on extremely high performance days, I can get you to 100-125g per day. Just know that you will be carrying a few extra pounds of glycogen from the extra carbs, inflammation, and creatine. This will kick you out of ketosis, but you are just on the outskirts of it. You are still low carb, and you are still able to oxidize fats as a fuel, where you could not previously. THIS is the big deal. And, if you want to trim up for the beach, go back to phase 1 for 4-5 days and there drops 7-10 pounds of water weight.
For example, let’s say you bike for an hour. Prior to biking, maybe you have a smoothie with 1 cup of blueberries and 8 oz milk. Those are roughly 25g of carbs. If you have some hard efforts during that time, your body can end up burning this rather easily – and you don’t necessarily have to count it towards your daily goal and remain within ketosis. Maybe you have a meal afterwards with 20-30g of carbs like milk, broccoli, and almonds – I just threw some random shit out there. Right after a high effort, your body will take those carbs to replenish your muscle glycogen. Meaning…you just had about 50g of carbs that aren’t really counting towards your daily goal. They may kick you out of ketosis, or you may be out briefly and can dip right back in within a few hours. If you have REALLY long intense efforts, you might even get away with more.
This is how Dr. Dan Plews (a sport scientist) trains his ironman athletes. These guys are exercising 3-5 hours a day and he starts them in keto for 3 weeks, then at some point he has them at 130g of carbs daily. While they are technically not keto, this is in the low carb sphere – it will get you the performance benefits of carbs, allow you access to fat stores, and you will be keeping your insulin in check with low glycemic foods. This is my exit ramp down the road.
With keto, Phinney and Volek have found that keto is glycogen sparing. So for the carb burner, they might tear through that smoothie in 20 minutes of intense work. However, with keto, you will find that your body now is really good with burning fats. So, on slow, sustained bikes, your body may be great with using fats for this, but when you go up hills and give hard efforts, your body will gladly use the glucose here.
Of interest – when you first start strict keto, your gym strength will disappear overnight. You will get light headed. This is your body depleting the liver AND muscle glycogen stores (mostly). Over time, your body then learns how to burn fat really well, and when you DO have your 50g of carbs per day and do intense work outs, your body will take the carbs you do eat and slowly refill those muscle glycogen stores.
It took me close to 6 months to get back to mostly full strength, and maybe a full year until I could do the reps I could previously. You get more gassed at higher weights/reps than previous.
If you want to kill it in the gym, triathlons, and running, see below.
Stage 5: Maintenance, high performance, and the exit ramp?
I’d say at this stage, you are either at your life goal or close to it. Do I have to stay keto the rest of my life? You can. Or, not.
For the past 6 months or so, I’ve probably had 75-125g of carbs per day for 3 weeks a month, and one week a month I’m strict keto right before my weigh in. This works for me. There are no keto police. I know that for most of the month, I’m carrying an extra 10 pounds (on the street). How?
- My carb intake is too high to be in strict ketosis, so I’m mostly out of ketosis. I am fat adapted and eat low glycemic foods and fast a decent amount, so my hunger is in check. This may carry 6-7 pounds of water on me.
- I use pre-workout with creatine in it, which also carries water and helps with my workout recovery by apparently converting expended ATP (ADP) back to ATP by adding a phosphate. However, this will hold some of this in glycogen. 2-3 pounds.
- Soluble fiber. I will have the “keto bread” which is 6g per slice. I might have 2-4 slices a week. I might have “enlightened” ice cream which has a lot of the fibers and sugar alcohols. I have fruit in my smoothies.
- Hard workouts. At any given time, a hard workout may cause inflammation. It will draw in water.
Women may have problems every month with drawing in 5-10 pounds of water during their cycle – this leads many to feel they are failing on keto and give up because “keto doesn’t work for them”.
You have to understand differences between WEIGHT LOSS and FAT LOSS. The items I wrote about above dictate how much water at any given time I’m holding. That is not my weigh in weight. When I want to do my weigh in, I address the 4 items above for about 6-7 days before weigh in. This strips the extra water mass.
I go to a gym that has a fancy scale. On this scale, they can tell me my lean body mass, water mass, and fat mass. What you care about is losing the fat mass. Your lean body mass may go up a decent amount your first year, as you are gaining muscle and lean tissue. Maybe you start drinking a gallon of water per day and you are properly hydrated. These things a HEALTHY. But many of you look at the scale daily and obsess – without context.
Context is everything.
Imagine this – fun math.
In one month, let’s say I put on 2 pounds of lean body mass from working out a lot. This is usually a small number, but let’s use 2 pounds. I am hydrating a ton, and I just started using pre-workout. I hit my calorie goals every day and the math says I created a 2 pound per week deficit. I am working out 4-5 times a week.
165 pounds of lean body mass (was 163)
10 pounds of water (was 6)
8 pound fat loss
This would show +7 in healthy WEIGHT and -8 in FAT LOSS
The scale at the end of that month would show you were down only 1 pound. This is why people get discouraged. Care about FAT LOSS and HEALTHY WEIGHTS rather than the net scale result.
Generally speaking, about a week before my weigh in, I’m 10+ pounds over my weigh in weight. I carry this extra water because I know the 4 items above hold extra water on me. This also allows me to have killer workouts and build my training effectively.
Mark Sisson recommends that most people eat a “primal” diet – which is mostly paleo with a 6 week per year cycle of keto along with some modern day conveniences. This has people at 100-150g of carbs.
Here’s the problem. If you go from 50g per day and lose 50 pounds, then shoot back to 300-400g per day, you WILL gain a TON of weight back.
I highly recommend Mark’s book. That is my plan for a long-term goal where I’m a trim 175, I workout 8-10 hours per week, I have 100-125g of carbs per day (more fruits and tubers than I have now), and I don’t look at a calorie counter. maybe for 3-6 weeks a year after Christmas I dip back into ketosis to trim up some holiday weight.