There’s something to be said about how encouraging it can be to make healthy changes as part of a supportive group, but let’s also not forget about the importance of bio-individuality, or the fact that results on any diet/workout plan can vary from person to person.
Whether it seems fair or not, two people can make the same improvements to their diet and still experience very different outcomes. For example, you and a friend or family member may start the ketogenic diet together, but this doesn’t mean that the diet will necessarily produce the same results, in the same time frame, for both of you. While it’s easy to compare your own progress to those of your friends, family members or even celebrities, we have to remember that each of us is different.
The keto diet—a high-fat, low-carb diet that was one of the most popular and researched-backed eating plans of 2018—is sure to gain thousands of more followers in the coming years. If you’ve decide to become one of them, how can you know whether the diet is “working” the way it’s intended to? Given that we all have different genetics, dietary preferences, levels of physical fitness and even schedules, what signs can you look for to know that you’re making progress and that the keto diet is a good fit?
As you embark on a new diet this year, here are helpful tools and techniques that can help you tune into your individual progress. (As always, check with your health practitioner or a dietician before making major changes to your diet.)
If you’re a numbers person
Test your ketones
The most straightforward way to tell whether you’re “successful” on the keto diet is to track your production of ketone bodies, which are compounds you produce that allow you to burn fat for energy rather than carbs. If you’re experiencing “keto flu” symptoms, such as fatigue and headaches, then the benefit of testing your ketones is that the results can indicate whether you’re in ketosis. If you aren’t making enough ketones, this means you can start taking steps to get into ketosis and therefore feel better, such as by lowering your carb or protein intake and increasing your fat consumption.
There are several ways you can test ketone levels: by using urine strips (convenient but not the most accurate method), blood strips (considered the most accurate but requires pricking your finger and buying a device that reads the strips) or a breathalyzer (doesn’t require buying any strips, but it’s the newest method to the market, which means it hasn’t been studied extensively).
Keep a food diary
If you feel like your diet could use some fine-tuning because you’re dealing with keto side effects that won’t seem to let up, then a food diary/journal is probably the best way to pinpoint obstacles and also keep yourself accountable.
Track your calorie and macro intake (how much carbs, fat and protein you’re consuming) for at least several days to identify areas where you can afford to make some positive changes. For example, you may find that you need to eat more fat to obtain enough calories on the keto diet or to slightly decrease your protein intake to stay in ketosis. And if you include other habits/lifestyle factors in your journal—such as your mood, workouts, sleep and whether you’re doing intermittent fasting on keto—then you’ll gain even more insight.
If you’re not a numbers person
Pay attention to how you feel
The keto diet has some well-chronicled symptoms that usually pass within one to two weeks, but these can still be discouraging at first. Once you make it to the third or so week of the keto diet, you should be seeing results on the scale and feeling better, too.
Gaining more energy, noticing reduced bloating/swelling, feeling less hunger, having less cravings, getting better sleep and even noticing improved stamina/endurance during workouts are strong indications that the keto diet is working well for you. On the other hand, if you’re lethargic and fed up with feeling crummy for weeks on end, either you’re not following the diet correctly or it simply isn’t a good fit for you.
What are some reasons you may want to try another diet or approach instead? You may be hormonally sensitive to the effects of the keto diet (especially if you’re a woman), or you might find that you really miss carbs or don’t digest fatty meals very well. Genetics, your medical history, stress and other factors can all influence your results.
Celebrate small achievements
Hopes of fast weight loss may be most people’s underlying motivation to try the keto diet, but there are plenty of other benefits to getting into ketosis that you can choose to focus on. For example, maybe you’re experiencing less joint pain because of reduced inflammation, reduced cravings for sugar since your appetite is finally under control, or improved mental capacity since your managing your blood sugar levels better. You also might notice that your clothes are fitting better.
First, identify what your goals are, and then pay attention to small victories as you move toward these goals. You might find that you’re able to stay motivated on the diet by paying attention to improvements in your workouts, such as gaining more strength while losing fat and recovering more easily. Or perhaps weekly weigh-ins or tracking changes in your waist measurements are more likely to keep you on track.
Seek out help from an expert
If all else fails and you’re lost as to why the keto diet isn’t giving you the results you expected, then consider meeting with a dietician or functional medicine doctor. Remember that your doctor may define “success” on a diet differently than you do. Talk to your provider about your goals, such as losing weight or improving your cholesterol/blood pressure, for example, and come up with a strategy together for monitoring your progress. If possible, it can be helpful to have bloodwork done before and after starting the keto diet, which will clearly tell you how the diet is impacting your health markers.
Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, is a doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food as medicine. Author of the books “Eat Dirt: Why Leaky Gut May Be the Root Cause of Your Health Problems and 5 Surprising Steps to Cure It,” (Harper Wave, March 2016), “Essential Oils: Ancient Medicine” (Destiny Image, February 2018) and the upcoming “Keto Diet: Your 30-Day Plan to Lose Weight, Balance Hormones, Boost Brain Health, and Reverse Disease” (Little, Brown Spark, February 2019). He also operates the No. 1 natural health website in the world at DrAxe.com, with more than 15 million unique visitors every month. He’s a co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, a health company where the mission is to restore health, strength and vitality by providing history’s healthiest whole-food nutrients to the modern world.
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