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One of my favorite things about blogging is talking to people who are passionate about health, food, and fitness. I’m lucky enough to know several people who fit this bill and I am VERY humbled to have an athlete, author (The Keto Reset Instant Pot Cookbook: Reboot Your Metabolism with Simple, Delicious Ketogenic Diet Recipes for Your Electric Pressure Cooker) and woman I look up to guest write a post on a topic in her field of expertise – Keto, a subject I’ve written several posts about in the past. (Thinking about starting Keto – Post).
My name is Lindsay Taylor. I am the Senior Writer and Researcher at Primal Blueprint Publishing and the lead keto educator. In 2017, Mark Sisson published the New York Time’s bestselling book The Keto Reset Diet, and since then I have spearheaded our Keto Reset Facebook community, which has grown in the first six months to 25,000 members and counting. I also lead our community of endurance athletes in the Primal Endurance Facebook group. I have personally followed a low-carb diet in daily life and in training for my own endurance pursuits (ultrarunning and triathlons) for about six years, including more than a year of ketogenic eating. In helping our 25k members adopt a ketogenic diet, I see a lot of the same questions and problems come up over and over, so Stephanie invited me to share some of my insights with you.
Personal Approach to Keto
Before diving in, I want to tell you bit about my personal approach to keto, since there are so many ways to “do keto.” My goal is to help people achieve health, promote longevity, and, if applicable, improve athletic performance through low-carb high-fat eating strategies.
My belief about how to achieve optimal health, wellness, and longevity is rooted in a primal/paleo/ancestral health perspective, and this is how I approach keto, too. I teach people to eat a variety of well-sourced animal products, plenty of vegetables, nuts and seeds, high-fat dairy if tolerated, and perhaps some additional carbs from nutrient-dense sources like berries and very dark chocolate.
In addition to removing grains and sugars from the diet, I also avoid processed and packaged foods, including those marketed to keto folks, and especially seed and vegetable oils (canola, cottonseed, soybean, etc.). Lastly, I believe that a successful keto diet must be supported by healthy lifestyle habits (more on this later).
Not, without further ado, these are what I consider to be the top three mistakes I see people make that get in the way of achieving their goals with keto:
3 Common Mistakes that Prevent Success Eating Keto
Unrealistic expectations and the “keto harder” approach
I get it, most people who come to keto are eager to lose weight, are really struggling with the symptoms of a health disorder, or both. They want to feel better now, and keto is currently being marketed as a wonder diet: Drop pounds fast! Fix your gut fast! Reverse your type 2 diabetes fast! And many people do experience rapid results in the beginning, which reinforces this marketing.
But here’s the thing: when you switch to a keto diet, your body needs to learn to run off a completely different composition of fuel substrates. Especially if you came from something like the Standard American Diet, your body is used to running primarily off glucose, but now you are asking it to run largely off fat and ketones. Metabolic shifts, the kind that lead to long-term success, don’t happen overnight.
It’s not unusual to have success at first but for those amazing initial results to taper off. So you go on the internet, and what is the advice you get? Drop your carbs even more! Try fasting! Already fasting? Fast longer! Exercise more! I call this the “keto harder” approach, and it doesn’t work.
Some people need to heal underlying gut or hormone dysregulation before they get the results they seek. Most people need to work on lifestyle factors (I’ll get to this in #2). Keto-ing harder is usually counterproductive at best because it causes excessive physiological and often mental stress, which is the enemy of your health and weight-loss goals.
The reason keto is so powerful isn’t because it is a hack or a quick fix but because it has the potential to create real underlying metabolic change. Keto-adaptation takes time, healing takes time, weight loss takes time (and is frustratingly non-linear). It requires patience.
I see so many people get discouraged and quit, sometimes even when they are experiencing subjective markers of success, because they aren’t experiencing the profound, rapid results they are telling themselves that “should” get (probably because they are comparing themselves to people who are selling keto on social media). The problem isn’t the diet, the problem is the expectations; and restricting more and more usually isn’t the answer.
Focusing on food to the exclusion of other variables
As I said above, stress is the enemy of health and weight loss. In psychology we talk about the concept of allostatic load (I didn’t mention this yet, but I’m also a psychologist by training). You can think of allostatic load as your stress bucket. All forms of stress, whether it’s work, commute, kids, illness, injury, sleep deprivation, etc., pour into your bucket. As it fills and overflows, it affects your hormones, gut health, and your immune system, ultimately impacting every aspect of your health.
Whether you are trying to lose weight and/or become healthier, you must take a holistic approach, in particular focusing on stress management and getting plenty of high-quality sleep. Those two go hand in hand, and without getting them both dialed in, you are limited in how successful you will be.
I can’t tell you how many people I see restricting their carbs and calories lower and lower (which are themselves forms of physiological stress) because they can’t lose weight, but at the same time they are dealing with a stressful situation at home, sleeping only 6 hours per night, and getting up early to exercise. It becomes a vicious cycle.
If you feel stuck in a job you hate, or you have a toxic family relationship, I understand that is not an easy situation to fix, but it’s also not something that keto-ing harder will overcome. If you are not getting the results you want with your diet, it’s a good idea to take a step back and see what other areas of your life might be impeding your progress.
Fearing protein and carbs, but loving fat too much
Your goal should be to eat a well-formulated ketogenic diet that has a proper balance of protein, carbs, and fat, and that provides plenty of nutrients and appropriate calories. Unfortunately, there is a lot of bad information out in keto-land that leads people to fear protein and carbs, overeat fat, disregard calories, and eat a nutrient-deficient diet.
Maybe you heard that protein turns to chocolate cake in your body? That’s baloney. It’s true that protein can be converted to glucose via a process called gluconeogenesis, and that’s a good thing. Your body does that because it still needs some glucose to function. Gluconeogenesis and ketosis always go hand in hand. Unless you are a type 1 diabetic (who have more pronounced insulin responses), or you are eating protein until you feel sick, you are unlikely to eat “too much” protein. Protein is essential for building and maintaining lean tissue. Don’t drastically cut protein because you are afraid of gluconeogenesis.
Likewise, carbs are not evil. Of course they have to be restricted on a ketogenic diet, but less isn’t always better, especially if you are focusing on eating nutrient-dense carbs. Context is important. If you have type 2 diabetes, you probably need fewer than an insulin sensitive individual. If you are an athlete, you can eat more; you might even choose to use simple carbohydrates strategically and appropriately around hard workouts and competitions. Come talk to me in the Primal Endurance Facebook group if you want to learn more about this 😉
You need to eat enough fat to get sufficient calories, but the goal is not to eat as much fat as you can. The more fat you eat, the less your body needs to tap into its own body fat stores for energy. Even on a ketogenic diet, calories still matter (despite what some “experts” will tell you), and you can absolutely gain weight if you eat too much fat. Bottom line: keto is not a fat eating contest. Come talk to me in the Keto Reset Facebook group if you want to learn more about this 😉
Final thoughts: Although I enjoy eating a primal ketogenic diet, I don’t believe that keto is the only path to health (although truth be told I do think that everyone would benefit from doing some version of primal). If you do enjoy keto, you don’t have to eat ketogenic macros 24/7/365 to reap the benefits. If you are fighting tooth and nail to be keto but are struggling and suffering and hating life, something is wrong. Lastly, if you spent years or even decades digging a hole for yourself with your health and/or weight, you can’t expect keto—or anything!—to fill it overnight. Be patient, be kind to yourself, and remember that feeding yourself healthy, delicious food is an act of self-care. Be well!