Disclaimer: As with any big change in lifestyle or diet you should always consult your doctor for whether these changes are appropriate for you and to monitor you throughout the change. The following information is not medical advice and only my experiences with the ketogenic lifestyle.
Am I in ketosis yet?
We all get to a point where you’ve done your research, purchased keto friendly foods, and have stuck to eating those for a few days, when we start to wonder, “Am I in ketosis yet?” It happens to all of us! And if you’ve never been in ketosis before, you probably don’t know what you’re looking for. Below are some of the common signs (both positive and negative) that you may experience. Remember, everyone is different. Some people may experience all of these things and some people may only experience a few.
Dehydration is incredibly common with keto and can lead to what is known as keto flu. This is an imbalance in your electrolytes (potassium, salt, and magnesium) that produces flu like symptoms such as body aches, nausea, feeling run down, fatigue, diarrhea, etc. I’m not going to sugar coat it, it can be rough. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water and electrolytes. Taking a multivitamin can help with this as can drinking Powerade Zero, drinking broth and even taking a sip of pickle juice. When you feel like you’ve drank enough water, drink some more. Rest assured, this is only temporary and will subside once your body has fully switched over to fat burning.
This can be dramatic in the beginning as your glucose stores are emptied and can be as high as 5-10 pounds over a few days. As much as we would like it to be, it’s not actually fat and is instead “water weight”. Your weight loss will slow and stabilize to an average of 1-2 pounds per week (some people will experience more, some less) but this will be fat loss!
When your body becomes a fat burning machine, it has a constant supply of fuel in the form of ketones. This means you don’t have the ups and downs in energy throughout the day that come with a traditional diet. Gone are the days of the mid afternoon energy crash! I personally find that I wake less groggy and am ready to start my day and have plenty of energy all day with no ups and downs. I also find I can stay up later as well.
Decreased brain fog
Your brain is incredibly efficient at using fat as a fuel source as well. Just as you have ups and downs in energy when using glucose for fuel, this can create what many people refer to as “mental brain fog”. However, burning fat for fuel keeps that energy consistently high and many people notice that the brain fog goes away and is instead replaced with increased mental clarity. This is something that was a huge drastic change for me. It truly felt like a fog had been lifted and I could think clearer.
One of the byproducts of ketosis is a ketone in the body called Acetone which is partially excreted in our breath. Therefore, when you’re first starting out, you can experience temporary bad breath and/or a bad taste in your mouth. Some people liken it to a sweet smell almost like overripe fruit, nail polish remover, or metal. For me, it’s a metallic taste in my mouth. Thankfully my husband assures me he can’t smell it! It usually only lasts a few days and then is gone. Unfortunately, no amount of brushing my teeth, drinking or eating gets rid of it.
Some people experience digestive issues in the bathroom that can vary from one extreme to the other. If it’s been a few days since you’ve gone, you may be constipated and need to add more fiber or a magnesium supplement to your diet. On the other hand, you may experience diarrhea. This is due to the shift in eating more fats than your body is used to. It is short lived and will subside once your body transitions. In the meantime, increasing your fiber intake may help.
Many people, including myself, have to visit the bathroom frequently when they are in ketosis. Since keto is a natural diuretic, this makes sense. It is even more noticeable in the beginning when you are losing water weight. The constant need to urinate does tend to decrease in time.
Since you’re urinating more and possibly dehydrated, dry mouth is very common. The solution? Drink more water!
Decreased hunger and cravings
Because your body is burning fat for fuel instead of glucose, it is no longer signaling your brain that you need to eat to replace your glycogen stores. This means your body isn’t telling you to feed it. Many people experience this to such a point that they even forget to eat! Thankfully, this decrease in hunger also comes with a decrease in cravings.
Many people experience insomnia in the form of having trouble falling asleep or waking in the middle of the night wide awake when they first start keto. This is usually temporary and many people experience better sleep long term. Both of these have been accurate to my experience.
This seems obvious but if you’re in ketosis, you obviously have more ketones in your blood than when you aren’t. Because of that, there are a few things you can use to test whether or not you’re in ketosis.
When some people are in ketosis, the body doesn’t need all the ketones it produces. So instead, it spills these extra ketones in your urine to be excreted. These test strips then measure the amount of ketones in your urine by turning different colors. They are fairly cheap but come with a few problems:
- They are notoriously unreliable. Testing with multiple strips at one time, can sometimes give you different results.
- Some people never spill ketones in their urine at all because their body is efficient at producing just what they need. So you could be in ketosis when the ketostix say you are not.
- Once you become “fat adapted”, your body figures out how many ketones to produce and no longer produces too many. This means ketostix may have been showing you’ve been in ketosis all along and then all of a sudden, they’re not. Cue a freak out from you for no reason! I used ketostix when I first started and eventually stopped using them because of this exact scenario.
- They can be confusing. Ketostix show a chart with various colors ranging from off-white to dark purple, each color corresponding to different ketone levels. It’s only natural to assume that you want to be in the darkest color because that means you have more ketones in your urine and are “more” in ketosis. However, that’s not always the case. If you are going to use them, just know that as long as you are no longer in the negative section, you’re in ketosis! Your goal should be mid-range on the chart and not the darkest as the stick being too dark can be a sign of dehydration for some people.
Even with the issues they can have, using Ketostix isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They can give you reassurance that you’re doing the right thing, which is incredibly helpful in the beginning. I used them for this reason when I first started and do not regret it. Just be sure you are aware of some of the negatives that can come with using them.
Money saving tip: I cut the strips in half lengthwise to give me twice the strips!
Blood glucose meter
This is the most accurate way to determine whether you’re in ketosis. The meter measures your ketone levels by calculating the level of beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) in your blood. This is not only painful, but also expensive as the meter usually costs $30-$40 and each test strip around $5.
Breath analyzer meter
Similar to a breathalyzer for alcohol, you breathe into the device. However, unlike an alcohol breathalyzer, this measures the level of acetone in your body. They are very simple to use and painless but not as accurate as a blood glucose meter.
Everyone is different
As I stated earlier, everyone experiences ketosis differently and there is no one size fits all to keto. Most people experience all the benefits listed above with a few of the negative side effects thrown in. Luckily, the negative side effects are all temporary and will subside in time.
Now that you’re in ketosis, or at least know what to look for, you may be wondering how to optimize your ketosis. That comes by way of tracking not only your carbs, but also your fat and protein. This is done by figuring out what macros (fat, protein, carbs) are the best fit for you as an individual, which is the topic of my next post!