Balance + Lift

Keto For Women: How to Start and What to Expect

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Keto for women can be a lot different than keto for men. I want to help you, ladies, learn how to handle the keto diet.

The keto diet is a high fat, moderate protein, low carb diet. The goal of the keto diet is to get your body to reduce the glucose level enough that your body produces ketones.

Your body produces ketones when it is in a state known as ketosis. This is a natural metabolic state.

However, you only get into ketosis when you don’t have glucose present.

Your body has two options –

  1. It can run off of glucose (sugar).
  2. Or, it can run off of ketones and fat.

The majority of people are sugar burners. They eat food that provides their bodies with sugar and carbs. This leads to a rise in our blood sugar. Any increase in blood sugar requires an insulin response. The insulin helps the glucose get into the cells, which provides them with energy.

Already know about keto? Click here to skip the introduction to the keto diet.

However, we, as humans, have this other metabolic process known as ketosis.

The state of ketosis happens when there isn’t enough glucose in the body to make the energy required. Our body then switches to burning fat. It is during ketosis that the liver produces ketones.

This is why changing your diet is essential for ketosis.

Not only do you need a low level of carbohydrates that will help deplete the glucose in your body to start producing ketones.

But you also need to moderate protein. Protein in excess will also cause a blood sugar spike and keep you out of ketosis or keep those ketones from being produced.

And lastly, you need to eat high fat because the fatty acids are the building blocks to producing ketones.

Not only that, but fats are very satiating, satisfying, nutrient-dense, and they have very little – if any – blood sugar response. You’re getting in all these nutrients, even with reducing your carbohydrates and protein.

Why Should You Burn Fat And Not Carbohydrates: Benefits Of The Keto Diet For Women

You may be wondering – “why not just stay a sugar burner? What Is wrong with it?” Especially if you feel you are healthy right now.

The thing is, it doesn’t only have to do with how you are feeling right now.

Our blood sugar response is indicative of current or future health concerns.

We know about health issues like insulin resistance and diabetes – the kinds of diseases that come from messed up blood sugar. These diseases can happen when we are eating too many carbohydrates and have too much of an insulin response if we have too much glucose coming into our body for what we need to use as energy, things get off.

There are also blood imbalances that cause adrenal issues and thyroid issues, as well as hormonal issues.

It can also cause damage to your gut.

The resulting symptoms of these issues include headaches, trouble sleeping, insomnia, PCOS, bad PMS.

It isn’t just that we need to regulate our blood sugar to make sure we don’t have diabetes later on. Still, we also need to control our blood sugar today to feel good and to get rid of these seemingly random symptoms that we are experiencing, but can’t explain.

Blood sugar is tied to so many things that we, as women, are currently experiencing, and we don’t even know it! (Well, now you do!)

If we can get into a state of ketosis, we can heal our blood sugar levels quickly. And when we have this reasonable blood sugar regulation, things start to heal.

Those are just some of the reasons why ketosis is so incredibly healing to the body. But there any many more reasons.

Why?

Because of the ketones that I mentioned earlier!

When we produce ketones, we are putting our body into a complete state of homeostasis and healing. Ketone bodies are incredibly anti-inflammatory. They are immune regulators, which can potentially dampen down auto-immune response. They are also fantastic fuel for your brain and excellent energy sources – they provide you with a long-lasting, steady source of energy.

They are not like glucose, which causes your body to experience ‘highs’ and then ‘crashes’ when it runs out of glucose.

In contrast, ketones can always be produced, and we can still use the fat on our bodies to produce those ketones.

So, there's plenty of energy right in our body that we can use for this energy source, and ketones can provide a stable source of energy throughout the day.

Ketones also help us restore and rebuild our mitochondria, which are the little energy factories in our cells. Those energy factories are significant for not only how we feel but also how we fight off disease. They keep us healthy and able.

When we are using fat as our energy source, we feel excellent, and in the process, we’re also doing so much to heal ourselves.

This is what is so amazing about the keto diet.

Mistakes Women Make On The Keto Diet

One of the most important things to remember when it comes to the ketogenic diet is that it is not a low-carb diet.

It’s not about taking your current diet, removing the carbs, and calling it ‘keto.’

What happens when women do this is they end up feeling terrible. But they are not actually in ketosis – they are just on a low carb diet

And then they claim that “ketosis doesn’t work,” “It makes me feel terrible.” But they just weren’t actually in ketosis like they thought they were.

So, keep in mind that the keto diet is not just stripping away your carbs. It is adding a significant amount of fat to counteract or balance out the removal of carbs.

Often the most significant thing that women do when they switch to the ketogenic diet is that they don’t add in the right amount of fat. We need that fat to signal for ketone production.

Without this increase in fat, you are just eating a low carb diet and are depriving your body of the only fuel source it is used to using – glucose – and not signaling for anything else to happen for ketone production.

(It is also important to moderate your protein. You want just enough protein so that you are restoring and repairing your muscles. And not more to the point where you would have a glucose response.)

We can’t just go low carb and expect to feel amazing and get these great benefits of ketone production. We need to produce ketones. And for that, we need fat.

Why The Keto Diet Is Different For Women: The Hormone Effect

The most significant difference when it comes to men and women on keto: Hormones.

Keto isn’t as straightforward for women as for men. As women, our bodies are much more complicated and nuanced.

Hormones are complicated and can complicate your keto diet. (I know I just used complicated three times in a row, but really – hormones are complicated). 🙂

Significant changes in a small amount of time can be hard for your body to deal with. It’s not just the change of diet that will tax your system or cause hormones to act up.

Men can do a lot of things to their bodies and not notice a difference. But our hormones are more sensitive to factors such as the amount of sleep we get, our menstrual cycles, and our stress levels. We can’t make significant changes to our bodies, our lives, our workouts, our jobs, or anything like that without experiencing any fluctuation in our hormones.

But we have this intricate cycle that happens every single month. And every single day, our hormones are doing something different for us.

We need to take it slow and be gentle with ourselves and our bodies.

Different Types of Keto Diets

The ketogenic diet is often considered a rigid, inflexible diet. However, there are different variations to this protocol. There are four main types of ketogenic diets.

Standard Ketogenic Diet

As its name suggests, this is the ‘standard’ ketogenic diet, with no modifications. It is very low carb, with moderate protein. The macro ratios are generally 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbs.

High Protein Ketogenic Diet

This version of the keto diet includes more protein. The carb amount stays the same, so the calories are taken from the fat portion of the macros. The breakdown of the macros is typically 60% fat, 35% protein, and 5% carbs.

Cyclical Ketogenic Diet

Using the cyclical approach, certain days will have higher carbs than others. For example, 5-6 days of ketogenic eating, and 1-2 days of higher carbs. The higher-carb days are known as ‘refeeding’ days, as they replenish your body’s depleted glucose reserves.

Targeted Ketogenic Diet

This diet involves adding carbs right before a workout. The carbs are generally in the form of easy-to-digest sugars, such as jelly sweets.

The standard and high-protein ketogenic diets are more commonly used than the cyclical and targeted keto diets.

The cyclical and target ketogenic diets are more advanced approaches. Bodybuilders or athletes primarily use them, but I am going to share with you why I think you – as a woman – should be using the cyclical approach.

*How To Start The Keto Diet For Women

There are two ways you can start the keto diet – jumping right in and going ‘cold turkey’ or implementing the keto diet in a phased approach.

As we’ve seen above, the keto diet can put a lot of stress on hormones. For this reason, I recommend a phased approach when you transition to the keto diet.

I’m going to show you the steps you can follow as you transition into the keto diet.

Stage 1: Getting Started (2-3 weeks)

Being in ketosis for a woman can be incredibly healing, and it can be an extremely beneficial lifestyle change. But the process needs to happen slowly.

Don’t go from today, eating your standard diet high in carbs (even if it is a healthy, ‘whole foods’ diet), to tomorrow being strict keto.

That is going to cause a b stress response in your body. And extra cortisol will be released into your body.

igThis will affect the rest of your hormones, and they may even become imbalanced.

Instead, I recommend a phased-in approach to getting into ketosis.

Step 1: Learn About The Keto Diet

Your first step is to start learning more about what the keto diet is and how it works while taking steps to remove the ‘junk’ from your diet.

There is a lot that can happen in terms of a stress response when going from ‘normal’ amounts of carbs (according to the American diet) to very minimal.

By making the transition slower, we remove the stress our bodies are experiencing when going from having excessive amounts of glucose for fuel, to almost none.

A benefit of trying a phased approach is that you will be less likely to experience any ‘keto flu.’ (And as someone who has experienced many of these symptoms, I’m game for anything that will help me avoid them!)

First, remove anything from your diet that contains sugar. That includes cakes, chocolate, sodas. Read labels if you are eating processed or premade meals. Sugar finds its way into everything.

Then, remove anything processed. That includes bread, most takeout (burgers and pizza, for example), and ramen.

And finally, while you’re still in this stage, remove grains and starchy carbs like oats, pasta, potatoes, and rice.

Resources to help you get started:
Keto Food List: This detailed keto food list comes with a printable shopping list for you to take a long on your next grocery run.
Keto Meals: Have a look at the super simple meals you can enjoy while on the keto diet.
Eating Keto at Restaurants: It takes a little bit of planning, but it is surprisingly easy to eat keto and most restaurants.

Step 2: Stock up on Keto Foods

Once you’ve cleared your pantry and fridge of all the sugary and processed foods, you are ready to stock up on healthy keto essentials.

In this step, you’ll see that you’re not going to be missing out on much because there are keto-friendly replacements for pretty much everything you’ve eliminated.

Instead of sugar, you can use xylitol or monk fruit sweetener.

Instead of processed baked goods and bread with wheat flour, you can make your own using coconut or almond flour.

And instead of starchy potatoes and rice, you’ll find that cauliflower does an excellent job!

What Can You Eat On The Keto Diet?

You’re cutting out those unhealthy sugars and carbs, but what will you be replacing them with?

What to eat on the keto diet:

  • Meats: This includes fish, beef, lamb, poultry, eggs, etc.
  • Low-carb vegetables: This includes spinach, kale, broccoli, peppers, and other low carb vegetables.
  • High-fat dairy: This includes double cream yogurt, hard cheeses, high fat cream, butter, etc.
  • Nuts and seeds: This includes macadamias, walnuts, sunflower seeds, etc. as well as nut and seed butter.
  • Avocado and berries: This includes raspberries, blackberries, and other low glycaemic impact berries
  • Sweeteners: This includes stevia, erythritol, monk fruit, and other low-carb sweeteners {link to sugar substitute post}
  • Healthy fats: This includes coconut oil, high-fat salad dressing, saturated fats, etc.

There are so many choices of things to eat on the ketogenic diet.

Resources to help you get started:
Top Keto Snacks: While you may find that you snack less on a keto diet, it is still useful to have some on hand (and know what to choose when you’re out of the house). Some great snacks include cheese, nuts, keto bars, and even boiled eggs!
Keto Pantry Essentials Guide: Stock your pantry with some of my favorite keto-friendly products, including condiments, sugar substitutes, low-carb flours, and more.

Step 3: Start Working Out (If You aren’t Already)

I recommend weightlifting for women, over any other type of exercise. Why?

Weightlifting helps with fat loss; it enhances your mood and reduces stress; you gain strength without the bulk (it is a myth that women get bulky just with weight training). It also reduces your risk of injury and back pain and reduces your risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Resources to help you get started:
15-Minute Low Impact HIIT Workout
5 Best HIIT Workouts for Women
Beginner Core Workout: 20-Minute Yoga Workout for Killer Abs

Stage 2: Fueling Your Body (2-4 weeks)

Stage 1 was learning all about the right kinds of foods to be fueling your body with.

Now we are going to work on making sure you are getting the right ratio of carbs, protein, and fats to get into – and maintain – ketosis.

Step 1: Count Your Macros

Macros refer to carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Macros (short for macronutrients) are the ‘building blocks’ of nutrition.

The macro ratio for the keto diet is:
70% fat, 5% carbs, 25% protein (you’ll find some slight variations around these numbers.)

The idea of using macros is to plan your meals around these numbers. Now, you don’t have to work this out manually for each meal.

There are a few great tracking apps that you can use. I recommend Cronometer (https://cronometer.com/) to track your macros. It makes it so simple to see where you are for the day.

You may think that you have a good idea of what you’re eating each day, but once you start tracking everything, you may be surprised! It is so easy to underestimate how much we eat.

Resources to help you get started:
How to Calculate Keto Macros & The Best App for Keto Food Tracking

Step 2: How To Tell You’re In Ketosis

Achieving and maintaining a state of ketosis is very individualized. For some people it can take 3-5 days, for others it can take up to 2 weeks!

But how do you know you have entered this state of ketosis?

If you are experiencing any combination of the below symptoms, there is a chance you are in ketosis:

  • Ketosis Breath
  • Weight Loss
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Digestion Problems
  • Increased Thirst
  • Increased Energy
  • Short-term Fatigue
  • Muscle Cramps

These signs and symptoms we’ve spoken about are all subjective ways to tell if you’ve reached ketosis or not. But if you want to know for sure if you are in ketosis, the best approach is to measure your ketones.

There are three ways you can do this – breath testing, urine testing, and blood testing. Of the three, blood testing is the most reliable.

Resources to help you get started:
Ketosis Symptoms: 10 Signs and Symptoms You’re In Ketosis
How to Get Into Ketosis In 24 Hours
Ketosis vs. Ketoacidosis

Step 3: Supplements

You will primarily be getting your nutrients from food. But there will be nutrients that you’re not able to get from food – and for this, you will need supplements.

There are also supplements available that will you get into ketosis – while they are not necessary, they will make the process much more comfortable.

Here are the supplements I recommend for women on the keto diet:

Exogenous ketones

The exogenous ketones are a great way to tell your body to start using ketones for fuel. They will help you get into ketosis quicker.

Electrolytes

When you start cutting carbs, you'll also begin losing water weight. Meaning you won't be retaining water, minerals or salt.

This is bad for you and will start to make you feel bad.

Electrolytes like sodium, magnesium, and potassium are crucial to your overall health. On the keto diet, you will lose many electrolytes naturally. You need to focus on getting enough of them.

MCT Oil

Not sure how to get the best fat for your brain that will also help your body turn to ketones as fuel? MCT oil is one of the best fats for that. It's easy for your body to turn MCT oil into ketones for your body to use.

Collagen Peptides

I love using Collagen Peptides in my coffee in the morning. This is an easy way to get extra collagen in my diet to help with joints and gut health.

Fish Oil / Krill Oil

Omega-3 supplements can maximize the keto diet's impact on your overall health. Krill oil and fish oil supplements are two excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA and EPA.

Lots And Lots Of Water

While not a supplement, I needed to add this somewhere.

You retain roughly 2-3 grams of water for each gram of carbs you were eating.

That can add up a lot. So, when you stop eating so many carbs, you don't retain as much water.

Hence the need to drink more water. But – take care not to drink too much water.

Drinking excessive amounts of water can lead to an electrolyte imbalance. What you can do to help counter this, is to add a little Himalayan salt to your water.

Resources to help you get started:
Best Keto Supplements for Starting a Keto Diet

Stage 3: Taking Keto Into The Long Term

You’re now fat-adapted, and quite used to your keto lifestyle. Where to next?

For some women, they may find that the strict keto diet works well for them. They are feeling energetic and getting great results.

However, sticking to strict keto for the long term is not suited to everyone. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop the diet entirely. Now you get to make tweaks to the diet to adjust your needs and lifestyle.

1. Stop Counting

By now, you will probably have a good feel for the macro ratios of the foods you eat. If counting macros is causing you stress or doesn’t fit in with your lifestyle, you can make the switch to eating more intuitively.

I recommend tracking for a day every so often to make sure you are keeping close to the ratios.

2. Adjust the Ratios

You can play around with the numbers a bit to find a breakdown that works for you.

If you train regularly – and find that you are often hungry – try increasing your protein up to around 35%.

You can also adjust your carbs slightly and see if that makes a difference in how your body feels.

3. Carb Cycling / Cyclical Keto

Carb cycling is a relatively new dietary approach. The idea is that you alternate your carb intake a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.

Carb cycling aims to exclude carbohydrates when they are not needed, and then to add them in when it will provide maximum benefit.

Commonly, carb cycling is used for maintaining physical performance, fat loss, or overcoming a weight-loss plateau. Typically, someone following carb-cycling may have three low-carb days, two moderate-carb days, and then two high-carb days. Carb cycling is used in conjunction with other dietary approaches, but not specifically keto.

Cyclical ketosis – or ‘carb ups’ – is when you intentionally consume more carbs than usual for some time, anywhere from one meal to two days.

Cyclical ketosis is an advanced strategy. It is suitable if you have been following the keto diet for some time and have a regular workout routine in place. It is not recommended for beginners, or for those who do very light (or no) physical activity.

Carb ups can be used to improve hormonal imbalances, break a weight-loss plateau, enhance muscle growth, increase your energy expenditure, and also improve leptin concentration.

Resources to help you get started:
Carb Cycling vs. Carb Ups: Should You Carb Cycle or Carb Up

4. Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting dieting pattern rather than a diet. Intermittent fasting generally means that you consume your calories during a specific window of the day and choose not to eat food for the rest of the day.

For example, eat for 8 hours of the day, and then not eat during the other 16 hours.

Fasting has some similar benefits to the keto diet, but also, it promotes cellular repair and autophagy. Autophagy is when your body consumes defective tissue, to produce new parts.

Final Thoughts On The Keto Diet For Women

As I mentioned earlier, keto isn’t as straightforward for women as for men. As women, our bodies are much more complicated and nuanced. This means we need to take some time to find the best keto lifestyle that will help us lose weight and have more energy, while still keeping our hormones in check.

By following this 3-stage approach I have laid out, you will be setting yourself up for success. 


Don't forget to pin this for later!

woman sitting by a window – keto for women