How to ACTUALLY Get into Nutritional Ketosis for Fat Loss and Cognitive Performance
If there's one thing that drives me crazy, it's people telling me they're on a ketogenic diet while sipping on wine and munching on dark chocolate.
So many people think that being on a ketogenic diet means they get to add more eggs, bacon, and dairy to their diet and POOF they'll be in ketosis.
Well, that's not how it works.
You also have to eliminate the high-carb foods (like wine and chocolate) and probably reduce your protein intake to get into ketosis.
In this article I'll delve into the following:
- Do I need to go on a ketogenic diet to burn fat?
- Common disadvantages and pitfalls of attempting a ketogenic diet
- How do you determine whether you’re in nutritional ketosis?
- Who should attempt a ketogenic diet?
Let's get started!
Do I need to go on a ketogenic diet to burn fat?
No, you don’t! But it’s still a valid option (especially if you don’t do much strength training).
If you’re following a strict ketogenic diet (one that’s high in fat, low to moderate in protein, and low in carbohydrates), after a couple weeks your body will go into a state known as nutritional ketosis – where your body is burning primarily ketones (produced from your body’s fat stores) for energy instead of glucose. Notice that I said PRIMARILY ketones, not exclusively ketones, your body always uses multiple sources of energy.
The biggest advantages of following a well-structured ketogenic diet include:
- Neurological Issues – Improvement in neurological issues, such as epilepsy in children (as originally pioneered by Johns Hopkins almost 100 years ago)
- Diabetes and Cancer – Diabetics can better manage (and possibly reverse) type II diabetes and possibly improve cancer outcomes
- Focus – Many people report being able to focus better and for longer when they’re in ketosis
- Hunger Pangs – Drop in hunger pangs and food cravings
- Endurance – Improved endurance for endurance athletes versus a high-carb diet (although it’s probably not as effective for intensity, strength, or even physique athletes)
Common Disadvantages of a Ketogenic Diet
- Food Options – A lot fewer food options when going out to eat (many restaurants simply do not have enough high-fat, low-to-moderate protein, and low-carb foods), so you have to become “that guy” who can’t eat with everybody else
- Difficult to Stay in Ketosis – It’s VERY easy to knock yourself out of ketosis (one glass of wine or too much protein can do it)
- Daily Tracking – It requires tracking (at least daily for a couple months) to determine whether you’re actually in ketosis or not before you get a feel for which foods knock you out of ketosis
- Eating Unhealthy Foods – Most people end up eating a lot of unhealthy food that they think is healthy just because it keeps them in ketosis or they omit healthy food because they’re afraid it’s going to knock them out of ketosis
Common Pitfalls of Attempting a Ketogenic Diet
Some of the biggest mistakes I see people making when trying to adhere to a ketogenic diet are:
- Processed Dairy – They eat a lot of processed, inflammation-causing dairy – dairy is high in fat, so it keeps people in ketosis, but processed, pasteurized dairy is still junk food that causes systemic inflammation, frequently causes stomach issues, and cross-reactivity problems
- Vegetable Oils – They cook with vegetable oils like Canola, Margarine, etc. Vegetable oils are total junk food and should be avoided as much as possible (I never cook with them at home, but they’re impossible to avoid entirely if you eat out at restaurants); some people doing ketosis think these are fine just because they’re high in fat and keep them in ketosis
- Lack of Fiber and Vegetables – Vegetables high in fiber and green vegetables are healthy and both should be consumed on a daily basis to facilitate digestion and to get your serving of micronutrients that your body uses for everything from sleep to building muscle
- Lack of Organ Meats – Adherents of the Paleo diet who switch to Keto forget that many of the calories from fat that hunter-gatherer societies consumed were sourced from organ meats, not just eggs, avocados, and bacon; organ meats provide many of the nutrients that can otherwise be consumed through vegetables (which as I just mentioned, many people following keto seem to forget about)
Also, this is a more nuanced point, but some people adhering to a ketogenic diet who are eating lots of saturated fats (fatty beef, pork, butter, etc.) start to feel off at some point – their focus goes down, they seem sluggish, and they stop losing weight.
This is probably partially due to people eating poor quality saturated fat (fatty beef from corn fed cows, etc.), but it seems that some people simply do not tolerate saturated fats very well.
As always, know thyself, and if something feels off, you need to change something – try primarily unsaturated fats for awhile (avocados, olive oil, nuts, salmon, sardines, etc.)
Don’t just keep eating a certain way if you feel like crap just because keto is the new health rage!
How do you determine whether you’re in nutritional ketosis?
There are two primary ways to determine whether you’re in nutritional ketosis. The cheapest way is to buy ketone urine test strips. You urinate on the test strip, if it changes to the target color, then you’re in ketosis.
There is one giant problem with these test strips though, and that is…
My thoughts on accurately knowing whether you're in ketosis, must-have resources for ketogenic diet adherents, and who should go on a ketogenic diet:
There is one giant problem with these test strips though, and that is...the urine test strips stop working after a few months! The more “fat-adapted” your body becomes (that is, the more it gets used to using fat for fuel) the fewer ketones will be excreted by your body. This is a good thing (after all, the purpose of being in nutritional ketosis is for your body to actually use ketones for fuel), but it’s bad from a testing standpoint. It means that ketone urine test strips are not the ideal way to determine whether you’re in nutritional ketosis after a couple of months.The best way to determine whether you’re in nutritional ketosis long-term is to do daily, at-home blood tests using a glucometer, glucometer ketone test strips, a lancing device, and some lancets (which costs about $50 to get started).You have may read all this and thought “holy sh*t, this is more complicated than urinating on a test strip, and flying off into the ketosis clouds” but what good is an easy test if it gives you inaccurate results?If you’re serious about trying out a ketogenic diet, there are several resources that I highly recommend:
- Video: Dr. Peter Attia – An Advantaged Metabolic State: Human Performance, Resilience, & Health – Dr. Attia spent an ENTIRE YEAR STRAIGHT in nutritional ketosis and is one of the most knowledgeable doctors and clearest thinkers on the benefits of nutritional ketosis. This video is a must-watch for anyone seriously considering a long-term ketogenic diet.
- Book: The Art and Science of Low-Carbohydrate Living: An Expert Guide to Making the Life-Savings Benefits of Carbohydrate Restrictions Sustainable and Enjoyable by Jeff Volek, PhD, and Dr. Stephen Phinney – This book will give you clear guidelines to determine whether you’re in nutritional ketosis, a list of foods to focus on, and sample ketogenic meals.
- Reddit: r/Keto – If you don’t personally know anyone else following a ketogenic diet, you’re going to fall off at some point. It’s almost impossible to do something without ANY support. Reddit has a large community of over 300,000 ketogenic diet adherents who can show you the ropes and support you along the way.
- Reddit: r/KetoGains – If you’re a serious athlete but you’re interested in testing out the ketogenic diet, r/KetoGains is a great community of almost 50,000 people who have learned to reap the benefits of the ketogenic diet without sacrificing athletic gains. As an aside, it depends on the type of athlete you’re trying to be, but the ketogenic diet seems to work better for endurance athletes than strength or physique athletes (but that doesn’t mean you can’t do keto if you also want to be a strength or physique athlete, it just means it may take you longer to reach your goal and you’ll likely be on a “modified keteogenic” diet).
Who should attempt a ketogenic diet?
Being totally frank, if you’re not a diet nerd who’s really good a tracking your food, you probably shouldn’t attempt a ketogenic diet. You’re better off eliminating the most common sources of dietary inflammation and endocrine disruption – gluten/soy/corn/dairy/alcohol – and ensuring most of your meals are high-quality meat/fish/legumes, healthy fats, and green vegetables.If you ARE a health and fitness nerd, and you like experimenting with what your body can do – and can be totally objective with yourself – then go for it!Having dedicated 1+ year of my life in and out of nutritional ketosis, my personal assessment is that it’s fun to experiment with, especially if you nerd out on this stuff. And I think it’s DEFINITELY worth experimenting with if you have any neurological issues (like seizures or epilepsy) or other serious issues such as diabetes or cancer.But for most people it’s not sustainable long-term, especially in social situations. And it’s probably not ideal if you’re an athlete who’s focused on building serious strength, muscle mass quickly, or you’re a physique athlete.In summary, it’s fun to play around with, and some people swear by it, but it’s not the only way to live a healthy lifestyle.
If you have a question, be sure to ask it and I’ll respond to every single one!
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