Appealing to anyone who wants to lose weight, reduce inflammation, banish sweets cravings, and defend against a number of common diseases, the keto diet trend is here to stay. Despite its many benefits, though, keto—and the significant lifestyle change required to do it successfully—can be incredibly intimidating.
If you’re curious about the high-fat lifestyle but aren’t quite sure how start keto (or feel nervous about jumping in), the following tips can help you ease into it.
1. Start At A Low-Stress Time
Throughout the first couple of weeks on the ketogenic diet, the body transitions from using glucose for fuel to using fat for fuel. During this time, many people experience the “keto flu,” which often involves temporary side effects like fatigue, brain fog, and constipation.
Though the keto flu isn’t a guarantee (you might feel great right away!), I recommend preparing for the worst.
Related: Can You Take A Day Off Keto?
To do so, plan to start the keto diet during a time of the month or year when you’re not overly stressed, busy, or burnt out, which can make adopting new habits difficult. If your calendar is filled with social events, work is hectic, or you’re about to go on vacation, it’s probably not the best time to radically change your diet.
For many people, the changes involved in keto are demanding enough on their own. You’ll be more likely to ease into—and stick with—keto if you feel calm and organized in other aspects of your life.
2. Clean Out Your Kitchen
If you typically eat anything resembling the Standard American Diet (think lots of pasta, bread, cereal, juices, and sweetened dairy products), adjusting to a very low-carb diet might seem challenging at first.
My best tip for making the switch to keto easier: Set up your environment (your house, office, and wherever else you spend a lot of time) so that it supports your goals and doesn’t work against them.
That means you’ll need to remove tempting, non-keto foods—like sugary snacks, grains, and sweetened drinks—from your kitchen.
Take a couple of hours to rummage through your home and say goodbye to the following:
- all foods made with wheat and other grains
- soda, juice, and other sweetened drinks
- all fruit except berries
- anything containing any kind of added sugar
- sweetened dairy products
- legumes and beans
- starchy vegetables, like potatoes, beets, and squash
3. Stock Up On Clean Keto Foods
Your cabinets will likely look a bit bare after you throw out all of your non-keto foods, meaning it’s time to stock up on foods you can eat.
You’ll want to focus on low-carb foods and plenty of high-quality fats and oils (which should provide about 75 percent of your daily calories on the keto diet).
While low-carb, high-fat foods like processed meats, cheese, and fried foods may be tempting, I recommend sticking to whole foods. This way, you still consume the fiber and essential nutrients you need. Nixing most packaged and highly-modified foods also ensures you reap keto’s anti-inflammatory benefits.
Here’s a basic list of clean keto foods to focus on:
- healthy fats, such as olive oil, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, ghee, and avocado
- proteins, such as grass-fed meat, eggs, and wild-caught fish
- a variety of low-carb vegetables, such as leafy greens, broccoli, peppers, asparagus, and zucchini (though these contribute small amounts of carbs, they are your main sources of fiber, vitamins, and minerals)
- keto-friendly sweeteners, such as stevia extract or monk fruit
- water, seltzer, low-sugar green juices, coffee, and tea
You can also purchase a few supplements to help you transition into ketosis and maintain optimal health on the diet. I recommend:
4. Make A Meal Plan
From there, you may also want to create a meal plan, which will help you feel more prepared—and less overwhelmed as you embark on a keto diet.
Start by browsing cookbooks, magazines, Pinterest, or food blogs for some keto recipe inspiration, then write the meals and snacks you’ll turn to each day.
Related: 6 Dietitian Approved Keto Breakfasts
If creating weekly meal plans is new to you, I promise that it’s time well spent. Mapping out your meals makes grocery shopping easier. Then, if you prepare some meals in advance, you’ll have less cooking to do later on.
Try planning and prepping on the weekend so that you’re less likely to go off-plan when life gets busy during the week.
5. Take Several Weeks To Shift Your Eats
If you’re too intimidated to go cold turkey on sugar and grains, take several weeks to gradually cut them out of your diet, while simultaneously increasing your fat intake.
Take it one meal at a time, replacing servings of carbs with servings of fat one by one until you’re eating a true keto diet.
This strategy offers both physical and mental benefits, including:
- giving your taste buds time to adjust to less sugar
- helping your energy levels adjust to fewer blood sugar-spiking foods
- giving your digestive system time to increase production of enzymes required to break down fat
The feelings of deprivation and fatigue (and sometimes stomach upset) that many encounter at the start of a keto diet can be discouraging, so transitioning slowly can help ensure success.
Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., D.C., C.N.S., is a doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist, author, and member of The Vitamin Shoppe’s Wellness Council. Dr. Axe operates one of the world’s largest natural health websites, sharing healthy recipes, herbal remedies, nutrition and fitness advice, and information on essential oils and natural supplements. Dr. Axe founded one of the largest functional medicine clinics in the world, in Nashville, TN, and has served as a physician for many professional athletes.