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Thirteen Common Keto Mistakes

Don’t make the common new-to-keto mistakes. We’ve identified what they are and what to do about them.

11 Oct, 2020

Article originally published on Ketovangelist.com on 12/1/15. It has been heavily edited for re-publication.

Adjusting to the ketogenic diet and lifestyle is a process and, like any other process, there are some learning curves and speed bumps. These curves and bumps can lead to frustration and disappointment, but they don't have to. We've put together a list of common keto mistakes (and what you can do about them).

You are obsessing over macros

  • On the surface, this might seem a little contradictory to some of the other items on this list, but hear us out. The mistake isn't tracking your macros. The mistake is obsessing over your macros. The biggest psychological benefit to keto is the freedom it provides. You're no longer shackled to a hangry, sad existence, filled with a constant preoccupation with food. You're free to live. So, don't shackle yourself by fretting and obsessing about macros. You aren't eating macros, you're eating food. Make sure your food is keto-friendly, and you're going to be fine.

You are obsessing over the scale

  • This truth is crucial and will be repeated incessantly. The number on the scale is the least important metric you can use to gauge your success. This common behavior is similar to the previous mistake. Enjoy the freedom of your life and don't fret about the number on the scale. It's important to remember that the number on the scale is always a snap shot of what happened two weeks (or more!) ago. Think about it: aside from water weight, which can vary by quite a few pounds in a short period of time, weight loss (fat loss, really) requires time. That means you're not losing multiple pounds of body fat in a day (or a week). The scale can fluctuate a lot from day to day depending on a whole pile of factors, many of which are outside of your control. Don't sweat it. A better way to judge your progress is to take an inventory of how you feel, both physically and mentally, and make note of improvements. If you're looking to lose body fat, paying attention to changes in measurements or clothing sizes is a more accurate way to gauge your progress.

You may be eating too much protein

  • This one is a little controversial. Protein is the most important macronutrient because it is essential. That simply means we cannot manufacture all the requisite amino acids our body requires to build and rebuild all of our soft tissues (muscles, organs, etc.), and so we must eat enough regularly to give our body what it needs to do its job. However, while many proteins may be very low or zero carb, they aren't "free" foods (and there is no such thing as a "free" food anyway). For those who have metabolic damage (diabetes, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, PCOS, etc.) too much protein can sabotage your efforts to reach ketosis. The reason for this is a bit technical, but the nutshell is that (a) protein metabolization requires insulin release, and high levels of circulating insulin are counterproductive on keto, and (b) the majority of the amino acids you find in protein can be converted to glucose (aka, sugar in your blood) if they're overabundant. To be fair, there is argument as to whether or not the latter point is "demand driven," but I won't bore and/or confuse you with that right now. It also appears that people with metabolic damage and disorders may have an outsized response to excess protein, so it's important to understand that while you must eat protein to live, gorging yourself may not be a great idea. Another great thing about keto is that it is a "protein sparing" metabolic state, which means that nutritional ketosis tends to preserve the protein in your muscles and organs during weight loss, and not strip it away which is a danger on many high-carb, low-calorie diets.

You are not eating enough fat

  • This might seem like a strange mistake to make when you're choosing to eat a high-fat diet. But, surprisingly, many people (even in the keto community) still fear the fat. Look, going from a lifetime of low-fat to a diet of high-fat is a paradigm shift that isn't necessarily easily achieved. A lot of people still feel weird about an unrestricted (or significantly less restricted) fat intake. To that, we can only say: Trust the keto and enjoy the fat. When you cut carbs and moderate your protein, the energy you get from food has to come from somewhere. That somewhere is fat, and due to the unique biochemical responses your body has to dietary fat (aka, it has zero or minimal impact on your blood sugar and/or insulin), coupled with the higher level of general satiety ketogenic diets tend to induce, it's highly unlikely that you will eat too much of it.

You are eating the wrong kind of fat

  • It's not enough to eat lots of fat. It also has to be the right kind of fat. In short, stay away from soy oil, corn and vegetable oils, and most seed oils (like cottonseed or canola oil). I know they're cheap. Yes, "everyone says" they're better for you. They're not. They are extremely processed, unnatural, unhealthy, high in inflammatory omega-6, and may sabotage all your efforts. You should be eating fats in their most natural forms. That means eating animal fats, butter, coconut oil, fish oil, avocado oil, and olive oil. Yes, that means you will be eating saturated fat. No, it's not a problem.

You are eating processed "keto" foods

  • Keto is about whole food, real food, actual food. Think of it this way: You should be eating ingredients. You should rarely be eating stuff that comes in individual wrappers. While there may be a place for friendly bars, shakes, or other packaged goods, sometimes these items can be distractions and setbacks. The majority of what you eat should be whole foods in as close to their natural state as possible, and not candy bars dressed in "approved" clothing. That's not to say that you should never have a keto treat or packaged goods. It's OK to have convenience food, as long as it's a once-in-a-while thing, but these are not foods upon which you should expect to survive. In an emergency, it might be the best you can do, but the majority of your food should be real food, actual food. You know... ingredients.

You are worrying about your cholesterol

  • We frequently get more questions about cholesterol than almost any other. It's understandable. For the past fifty years, you've been inundated with the myth that cholesterol is dangerous. We have a secret to share that will blow your mind: It's a myth. Cholesterol is the opposite of dangerous. It's essential. Every cell in your body needs cholesterol. It is essential for a whole slew of important processes including immune function, cellular repair, and even stuff like Vitamin D synthesis. Having "high" cholesterol has no correlation to any sort of heart or cardiovascular disease. There is absolutely nothing to worry about as it relates to high levels of dietary cholesterol. The reason we think there is a problem is because of Ancel Keys, and his diet-heart hypothesis. Simply put, the diet-heart hypothesis posits that higher levels of cholesterol (particularly due to a high saturated fat diet) has negative effects on heart and cardiovascular health. He made this assertion with no real evidence, and he later rejected it. Yes, the man that made us afraid of cholesterol actually rejected the very hypothesis that made him famous. You can reject it, too.

You are looking for a quick fix

  • Keto is not a quick-fix diet. It's a lifestyle change. We realize many people are looking for something they can "do" to lose weight in the short-term, but we firmly believe this is a very bad idea. If you think you can "go keto" and drop a few pounds and then go back to how you were eating, keep in mind that you are likely to quickly regain everything you lost. It's also important to note that yo-yo dieting is a very common source of metabolic damage, making it harder and harder to attain your weight loss goal every time you fall on and off the wagon.

You are not all-in

  • Keto is not for the half-hearted. You have to commit. It requires real determination and grit. You're going against the grain (pun totally intended) and you're choosing a way of life that is very countercultural. If you try to sit on the fence, you're likely to be easily knocked off. You absolutely must be all-in or all-out. From a practical perspective, choosing to eat high fat and high carb (aka, not committing fully to keto as a total food lifestyle change) may even be a dangerous combination. You're choosing the worst possible scenario and risking your health. The answer, of course, is to commit fully to keto and reap the rewards of focused determination and discipline.

You are eating because the clock says so

  • This information may just blow your mind. Guess what. You don't have to eat breakfast in the morning. You don't have to eat because it's noon. You don't have to eat dinner because it's six o'clock. You don't have to avoid food right before you go to bed. You, like most of us, have been trained by societal norms (reinforced by school schedules, and breaks at work, and TV, etc.) to eat based upon what the clock says instead of what your body says. The reality is that the clock has no idea whether or not you're hungry. Just because it is a certain time of day doesn't mean you must eat. If you're not hungry, then don't eat. It really is that simple! Another tip: just because it's a certain time of day doesn't mean that you cannot eat. If you're hungry, that's your body's way of telling you it's time to eat. The clock has no idea what's going on inside your body. Your body does. Listen to your body and hear what it is telling you. Eat when it says it's time.

You are comparing yourself to others

  • Stop. Just stop. Someone else's progress is not a determining factor in your success. Everyone is different. We all gain and lose fat in different areas and at different rates. If you find yourself constantly basing your success on someone else's progress, then you're doing it wrong. Just because Skinny Sally lost 100 pounds in a month doesn't mean you are a failure if you haven't. Just because Thin Thomas cut his body fat to 10% doesn't mean you are a failure because you haven't. Everyone is different. You have to learn what works for you. What doesn't work is trying to compare yourself and your success to that of someone else. That's a recipe for disaster and self- sabotage.

Not getting enough salt/potassium/magnesium

  • This may be the single, most frequent source of trouble and/or problems people have on a ketogenic protocol. Electrolyte (salt) imbalance is a big deal for ketonians. In fact, it's usually the cause for the dreaded "keto flu." We're so used to avoiding salt, because too much salt in an inflamed body is bad news. When you're keto, however, you don't have an inflamed body, so your body needs more salt. Further, a ketogenic protocol is slightly diuretic. All that means is that when you cut carbs, your kidneys hold onto less water and salt. Now, think about it: you've cut out all the processed, convenience foods that are loaded in salt and preservatives. You're eating whole, real foods. Your body is healing, you're recovering from chronic inflammation caused by junk diets, and you're not bloated like crazy. What happens when you (a) cut out a lot of salt, and (b) your body gets rid of loads more? If you're not careful, you can pretty easily fall into deficiency, and that's bad news with health consequences. Consequently, it's very important for you to make sure you are getting enough salt every day. And magnesium. And potassium. Those are all incredibly important. If you're salting your food and eating stuff like leafy greens and avocado, many of you will get plenty, but if not make sure you're supplementing adequately (note: be sure to consult a doctor before supplementing potassium).

You are going it alone

  • Making a change in your life this massive is powerful, and it's very difficult to sustain if you aren't prepared. You will be much better off with a supportive group (it doesn't have to be a large group) of people who understand your struggle, understand your success, and understand your journey. Find someone who can be there to help, to admonish you when needed, and (most importantly) to walk with you. If you're not already in the Ketogenic Success Facebook group, you can join today. We'd love to have you! If you are stuck, struggling, and need more personal help, consider getting a coach. Regardless of whether you have a group of supportive friends, join an awesome keto group on social media, or sign up for coaching, having people that you can talk to that understand the process and will support you in your journey is essential!

These are the most common mistakes we see in the keto community, especially amongst those just starting out. Some of them are psychological, some are practical, and some are emotional. None of these mistakes are bad, per se. Making mistakes is how we learn. The sooner you learn and correct the ones listed here the more equipped you will be to achieve your goals. 

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