That said, you don’t have to jump in with both feet. Schmidt recommends trying to eat under 200 g of carbs a day initially (a moderate-carb diet) and then adjust lower based on how you feel. “If you start paying attention to the carbs in your diet, you’ll eat fewer processed foods,” she says. And it’s those whole foods that are the basis of good health.
The ketogenic diet reduces seizure frequency by more than 50% in half of the patients who try it and by more than 90% in a third of patients. Three-quarters of children who respond do so within two weeks, though experts recommend a trial of at least three months before assuming it has been ineffective. Children with refractory epilepsy are more likely to benefit from the ketogenic diet than from trying another anticonvulsant drug. Some evidence indicates that adolescents and adults may also benefit from the diet.
The keto diet emphasizes weight loss through fat-burning. The goal is to quickly lose weight and ultimately feel fuller with fewer cravings, while boosting your mood, mental focus and energy. According to keto proponents, by slashing the carbs you consume and instead filling up on fats, you safely enter a state of ketosis. That’s when the body breaks down both dietary and stored body fat into substances called ketones. Your fat-burning system now relies mainly on fat – instead of sugar – for energy. While similar in some ways to familiar low-carb diets, the keto diet’s extreme carb restrictions – about 20 net carbs a day or less, depending on the version – and the deliberate shift into ketosis are what set this increasingly popular diet apart. In fact, other eating plans are pulling in keto elements, so you can find versions like eco-keto and at least one commercial diet that incorporates keto-friendly products.
Turns out, what’s low carbohydrate for one person isn’t for another. “There’s no medical definition of what low carb is,” says Columbus, Ohio–based Kelly Schmidt, RD. Basically, it’s reducing the number of carbs you eat from your norm. In general, however, a low-carb diet may include 50 to 100 grams (g) of carbohydrates per day, she says. Below that is considered a ketogenic diet, while 100 to 200 g of carbohydrates per day is a moderate-carb diet.
Another option is to decrease the intake of carbohydrates slowly, over a few weeks, to minimize side effects. But the “Nike way” (Just Do It) may be the best choice for most people. Removing most sugar and starch often results in several pounds lost on the scale within a few days. This may be mostly fluids, but it can still be great for motivation.
Keto flu is an unofficial way to describe how many people feel shortly after starting a ketogenic diet, and it can include both physical and emotional symptom—like nausea, cramping, lack of energy, and irritability, to name a few. It’s what happens when the body and the brain are forced to adjust to a sudden carbohydrate deficiency, says Abbey Sharp, RD, a Toronto-based nutritionist and blogger at Abbey's Kitchen.
In terms of weight loss, you may be interested in trying the ketogenic diet because you’ve heard that it can make a big impact right away. And that’s true. “Ketogenic diets will cause you to lose weight within the first week,” says Mattinson. She explains that your body will first use up all of its glycogen stores (the storage form of carbohydrate). With depleted glycogen, you’ll drop water weight. While it can be motivating to see the number on the scale go down (often dramatically), do keep in mind that most of this is water loss initially.
Sleep enough and minimize stress. Most people benefit from a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night on average. And try to keep stress under control. Sleep deprivation and stress hormones raise blood sugar levels, slowing ketosis and weight loss. Plus they might make it harder to stick to a keto diet and resist temptations. So while handling sleep and stress will not get you into ketosis on their own, they are still worth thinking about.