The ketogenic diet has grown quite popular in the past few years, mainly as a quick way to lose weight. When done right, keto is extremely effective, and has significant benefits beyond fat loss.
This strict approach to nutrition is based on simplicity, but sticking to it is far from easy. If you think more conventional diets are a big commitment, keto takes things to a whole new level! We’ve done the keto diet multiple times, and learned a lot from our success as well as our failures. We want to share some of our biggest learnings with you, to provide a realistic picture and help you start this diet with the right expectations.
First and foremost, this diet delivered results. After following the keto diet for 3 months, I lost 21kg (48 pounds) and my girlfriend, Jacqueline, lost 8kg (17 pounds!) The visible transformation was motivating, but the impact this diet had on our mindset turned out to be just as significant. It taught us to think critically about the food we put in our bodies, and led to a new outlook on nutrition.
If you’re considering the keto diet, we hope you’ll find our experience informative and motivating. Before getting into the full story, let’s cover some basics about keto:
The keto diet will have you eating a lot of fats, a moderate amount of protein, and a very small amount of carbs. The ratio of macronutrients to aim for on keto is around 70% of calories from fats, 25% of calories from protein, and 5% of calories from carbohydrates. This usually translates into eating lots of meat or fish, eggs, cheeses, and certain vegetables, while avoiding carbs and sugar (even natural sugar found in fruits and honey).
Without being super scientific about it, I’ll try to explain what this does to your body. By default, the human body relies on carbs and sugar for energy because these convert quickly. When you eliminate sugar and most carbs from your diet, however, your body switches to a new source of energy: fats (ketones). When your body adapts to this habit and begins burning stored fats for fuel, you enter ketosis (or as many people say, you’re in keto). This comes with many benefits, including fat loss. It can take anywhere from 72 hours to 2 weeks for your body to enter ketosis.
Entering ketosis is a major change for your body and isn’t right for everyone. We recommend consulting a physician first if you have doubts about your health. Note that this diet may not be safe if you:
It all began when we moved to another city here in Serbia, a city that’s famous for their pastry and meat specialties. Knowing that we only planned to stay for 9 months, we figured we would make the most of it. We love tasty food (who doesn’t?) and indulged in everything this city had to offer, from amazing honey made in local monasteries to pastries that simply melt in your mouth.
What the city didn’t have was a proper gym, which became an excuse for us not to exercise at all. As you can imagine, this combination led to weight gain – around 35 extra pounds for me and 12 pounds for Jacqueline.
About 6 months into our stay, we realized we weren’t happy with how we looked or felt. Instead of gorging ourselves until it was time to leave, we decided to make a change as soon as possible. In the remaining 3 months, we committed to a diet which would eventually become the cornerstone of our fitness journey together.
While considering different diets, keto caught our attention for multiple reasons: we had never done anything like it before, it seemed pretty straight forward, and it definitely seemed like a challenge.
At the time, the ketogenic diet was still a novelty (on the internet, at least). It was just barely gaining momentum in the mainstream fitness scene, with only a few people producing online content about it. We did as much research as possible to get all the information we needed – and then we got started.
With all the info we gathered, we did our big grocery haul for the week and started our keto journey. In the beginning, we decided to have 3 meals per day. At the time, we weren’t too fussy about which foods we were eating – we figured so long as it wasn’t carbs, it was good to go. That was our first mistake.
Needless to say, we had a false start to keto the first time around. Though we were eating perfectly keto-friendly foods like cabbage, chicken, and eggs, something was preventing us from entering ketosis. After failing for 2 weeks, we decided to take a closer look at what we were eating.
This is when we started reading ingredients and nutrition facts religiously, and it was eye-opening. What shocked us most is how much sugar many spices actually contain, including the stuff we seasoned our meat with. This all-purpose seasoning contained over 27 grams of sugar per 100 grams. We also discovered that the basic paprika we sprinkled over our salads was guilty: 10 grams of sugar per 100 grams of powder. Yes, a liberal sprinkling of these spices every day can keep you out of keto.
We had also been drinking our coffee (several cups a day) with a lot of milk (50/50 ratio), which in total came close to the full daily amount of sugar you can have on keto. All of this added up and was preventing us from kick-starting our diet.
Shortly after we stopped using these spices and began limiting the amount of milk we added to our coffee, we started noticing some symptoms of ketosis. One of the first signs we experienced, and arguably the most brutal, was severe sugar cravings. I don’t just mean daydreaming about food or staring at pictures of cake while drooling – my addiction to sugar was so deeply rooted in my psyche that I found myself having vivid dreams about eating sweets. Dreams so vivid that I woke up one night convinced I had cheated on the diet. Realizing just how serious an impact sugar had on my brain was a big wakeup call.
About a week after properly following the keto diet, physical symptoms began to show. I felt lightheaded for a few days, whereas Jacqueline experienced keto breath.
These side effects were temporary, and as we continued with the diet, others came and went as well. Mild keto rash was one that caught us off-guard a month or two later, but there were also positive side effects, such as clearer skin and whiter teeth. Additional research assured us these side effects were normal, and we welcomed them as signs that we were successfully following the keto diet. Over time we came to learn that not everyone experiences the same symptoms, and what we found especially interesting is that we ourselves don’t experience the same set of symptoms every time we go on keto.
Progress was noticeable after only 4 weeks of being in keto (note that this doesn’t include the time it took to get into ketosis beforehand). We were stoked. Within the first month, I lost around 8 pounds and Jacqueline lost around 3.
This was all great news, especially since we hadn’t even bothered to workout yet. After seeing these results, we felt motivated and decided to see how much progress we would make by introducing some basic exercise. We started going on walks (on an empty stomach) every day for at least 30–40 minutes.
To improve our progress even more, we also decided to introduce intermittent fasting to our routine. This is where the fat loss took off rapidly. We eventually managed to eat only once a day, usually around 6:00 p.m. This was one huge meal with lots of meat and vegetables.
You’re probably wondering how it’s possible to only eat once per day without feeling hungry the rest of the time. Truth be told, following an intermittent fasting plan along with keto was very liberating. We didn’t actually feel hungry the same way we did on a regular diet, and we freed up a lot of time by not having to eat every 4–6 hours.
If I had to describe the feeling of hunger on intermittent fasting + keto, it would be this: you feel like you could eat, but you’re not in a rush to do it. There’s no hole in your stomach waiting to devour anything that you eat, no gurgling noises, no gnawing sensation.
This came as a huge surprise to me. Before our keto run, I would usually feel super hungry if I didn’t eat anything for 4 hours or more. I’d get cold sweats, shakes, and sometimes I would even feel nauseous. At that point, my priority would be just to eat something as quick as possible regardless of what it was – and this is where I often turned to fast food and junk food out of convenience. It’s worth noting that people aren’t just prone to eating these foods when they’re extremely hungry; these foods make you feel that way. Junk foods mainly consist of sugar and empty carbs, which lead you to feel that sharp, clawing hunger again in just a couple of hours. From there, it’s just a vicious cycle.
After adapting to keto and easing into a pattern of intermittent fasting, I was amazed not to experience the same sense of hunger between meals. It was an absolute godsend. In fact, it’s the main reason why I like intermittent fasting even to this day.
So far so good, we were doing our own thing, sticking to the diet 100%, and tracking our progress daily. During a weekend trip back to Serbia’s capital, however, we faced new challenges. Specifically, learning to stick with keto while maintaining a social life and going out. This brings us to some realities of the diet that I actually don’t like.
Being and staying on keto requires planning, preparation, and above all, discipline. If you’re new to keto, eating out in restaurants or going to events will be a true test of your will power. Chances are, you won’t be able to eat anything people offer you, and your choice of beverage is extremely limited.
Lunches, brunches, and dinners with your friends and family can be complicated when you’re dieting. While people are increasingly aware of vegetarian, vegan, and even gluten-free lifestyles, most food they prepare will not be fully keto-friendly – even after you explain the parameters of the diet to them. You’ll have to decline most food they offer you, which doesn’t just leave you feeling disappointed – you’ll feel rude! This dilemma led us to our first “cheat meal,” because it was simply too hard to turn down Serbian hospitality (no really, they make it impossible to refuse).
Here’s a tip: don’t try keto during the holiday season or a family vacation, you’ll end up resenting the diet because you’ll miss out on amazing food and important shared experiences.
Eating in restaurants is yet another challenge. You’ll have to order the plainest food on the menu, and even then, you probably need to go the extra mile to make sure there are no side dishes or sauces that can kick you out of keto. Even places that advertise themselves as keto-friendly can be a gamble, because any dressing they use could have a bit too much sugar. Even a smoothie bar could use a whey protein with too much sugar in it. These details will rule out a lot of options while you’re on keto and it does become tiresome after a while.
And then there’s nightlife on keto. If you’re heading to a party and you think you’ll treat yourself to one or two drinks, you can forget about it. This is where a lot of people trip up: You’ll find online sources confirming that some types of hard alcohol, like gin and whiskey, don’t kick you out of keto. While it’s technically true that you’ll still have ketones in your system, your liver will switch priorities in order to break down the toxins you’ve taken in by drinking alcohol, and your body won’t be able to continue burning fat for at least 72 hours. So, if you’re dedicated to losing weight, remember than 1 drink is enough to put your progress on hold for 3 days.
We recommend avoiding alcohol altogether on keto, because it’s simply counterproductive. Your best bet is to stick with sparkling water, lemonade, homemade ice tea, or coffee (all of these without sugar or flavored syrups).
The ketogenic diet might be described as a “fad” diet, and you’ll have people jump on and off the wagon. But for me, it started something much more meaningful. Our first “keto run,” as I call it, lasted about 3 months. Mind you, it took a couple of tries to really get into ketosis in the beginning, and we did end up having an accidental cheat meal somewhere in the middle. However, the full experience led to surprising results, and we’ve been able to build on that experience ever since.
These were my results, 48 pounds later:
We moved back to Serbia’s capital shortly after and returned to a regular diet, but the mindset we had developed during keto continued to influence us. It turns out that initial journey was the spark we needed to become more health-conscious. It inspired me to learn more about nutrition and exercise, and I began to pay more attention to the impact these habits have on my well being. We both found ourselves paying closer to attention to what food we choose to put in our bodies (all the things with sneaky sugar! All the chemicals!) and how it makes us feel. I realized that in order to keep making progress, I have to actively pursue that knowledge every day.
We’ve done the keto diet every year since that first experience. We usually stick with it for 1–2 months, as a way to cleanse the system and reset some healthy habits. We discover new recipes, symptoms, challenges, and coping mechanisms every time, and we hope to share what we’ve learned from all of that with you. In addition to changing our own outlooks, I’ve helped friends and family transform themselves by following better diets and exercise regimes, and it’s inspiring to see how excited they are by the results.
The keto diet is challenging, both physically and psychologically. If you’re ready to make some lasting changes in your lifestyle, however, you’ll find that this diet leads to benefits in both those realms.
Thinking of trying the keto diet? Maybe you already started but need some help staying on track? Follow our blog for more keto content and feel free to comment with your questions or experiences!