Macros in pictures
Those of you who have been following me for a while know that I take a non-tracking approach. HOWEVER, that being said, you have to start somewhere, and if you think there are as many carbs in a potato (sweet or otherwise!) as there are in a cucumber, then you do have some tracking to do…but just until you learn the carb counts, especially of your favorite foods. At the very least, to get into ketosis you only have to keep your carbs very low. However, even for myself, when weight loss stalls a little bit, I find it helpful to track for a couple of days. Oftentimes it is not an overage of carbs that does me in, it is portion sizes for fat and protein that can get out of hand. So with that in mind, I tracked all of two days and took some graph pictures as I went along (these are usually part of most tracking programs; the one I use is Carb Manager).
Macros for carbohydrates, protein and fat
As your coach I will, of course, direct you to your best macro profile, even if you don’t track other than to watch your carb intake. Start with 20 carbs. See my video here of combining net carbs and total carbs for a more comfortable fit if you find counting total carbs too restrictive to start. It doesn’t give you enough rope to hang yourself, but loosens the noose a little bit. Human beings are not calculators. You cannot put in carbs, fat, protein and calories, subtract your activity, and have a perfect formula for either weight maintenance or weight loss. If we did work that way, dieting wouldn’t be a multi-billion dollar business! The point is, we are all individuals with individual input needs and output standards. Mix in metabolic syndrome, hormones, BMI, age, quality of food and any other confounding factors and you can see why you cannot rely solely on calculations, numbers and percentages. However, there are guidelines you can follow for a well-formulated Ketogenic diet, starting with 20 grams of carbohydrate.
After that, there are many warring camps on how much protein and fat to eat. Brief lesson here: You will find many protein calculators on the internet, but some people and programs will tell you not to go beyond 50 grams of protein, no matter what a calculator tells you, and to make up the rest in fat. Others will tell you that 80 grams should be the basement of how much protein you get, but to still moderate it unless you are incredibly athletic or a body builder. (I do subscribe to this, but generally eat under 100 grams because I just don’t feel that good with that much protein because it can crowd out vegetables, which do make me feel good.) Others still, follow a carnivore diet — no carbs at all, except what may be naturally occurring in some dairy and shellfish. What makes this so puzzling is that I have seen the most staunch carnivores also say to keep protein low because of gluconeogenesis: the process by which your liver takes excess protein and turns it into glucose, thereby raising your insulin which equals fat storage. However, the absence of no (to very few) carbs has been shown to thwart this process and, in any case, it is not instantaneous — where a large steak turns to chocolate cake in your blood stream immediately. Is it any wonder that Keto can become so confusing? And that’s not where it ends!
A strong, more vocal fight in the Keto community is over how much fat you should eat. One says: “If your weight stalls, eat more fat!” Why? because (a) you don’t want be eating more carbs and protein to make up any calorie deficit, because carbs raise insulin levels as does protein (maybe) and (b) plate fat and body fat are not the same and eating TONS of fat won’t affect your body’s ability to lose weight. Hold on a minute: Even strong proponents of Keto, like Eric Westman, will say that if your body is busy burning plate fat, how can it burn body fat? The answer for getting enough plate fat, but not resorting to eating a stick of butter out of the wrapper when you are hungry, is to eat non-lean meats and make sure to eat the visible fat on them. Also, don’t be afraid to butter your vegetables and use heavy cream in your coffee, use full-fat dairy products, and don’t shun mayonnaise, oils, and nuts and seeds.
So we have “eat fat”-“don’t eat too much fat”-“eat protein”-“don’t eat too much protein”. No problem with the “eat fat” and “eat protein” part, but what do we do about “don’t eat so much fat” and “don’t eat too much protein”?
The general rule is “keep your carbs low” (remember there is no essential carb — you can eat zero if you want), then “eat to satiety,” which usually means getting a sense of what 80% of your fullness capacity is. This tends to come to a 1:2 ratio of protein to fat. I find that for myself, once I am careful not to go over 20 carbs (well some days I do — but never more than 25 and that is usually on days I eat out and don’t have perfect control over salad sizes, have an extra coffee with cream, etc.) that when I take “normal” portions of protein (i.e., a couple of eggs with bacon, a burger that looks to be around 4–6 ounces, a large chicken thigh or a small chicken quarter, a half-dozen scallops or a can of tuna, etc.) and fill in the rest with butter, mayo, salad dressing or oil, etc. that the ratios actually do take care of themselves. In the evening I usually have a small bowl (about 1/4 cup) of macadamia nuts or peanuts. My day’s eating generally works out to 5% carbohydrates, 20% protein and 75% fat. It is a non-frantic approach to Keto.
I have to tell you though, that it took more than a year and a half to reach this point. Having been a life-long dieter I have always had someone or some program tell me what to eat, when to eat, how much of something to eat, etc. I found Keto very difficult because I found it difficult to trust myself and to trust the process. Eventually though it all fell into place. I generally don’t have to weigh, measure or track anything and I proved it!
For the fun of it, I tracked my food (FUN?)
For two days I did put my food into Carb Manager. I weighed and measured everything. I just ate what I wanted to eat and did not make decisions on the numbers. How I did this was eat and THEN put in the entries! I have said before that you will get to the point where you can just look at a meal and know whether it is a well-formulated Keto one. The picture on the bottom is a breakfast that I ate. I weighed and measured beforehand so I would know what to enter in the tracker but I did not enter it before I ate it — that way I could see if I was, indeed, on track toward making it a well-formulated Keto meal. It was 4 tablespoons of heavy cream with coffee (coffee has carbs but few, if any of us, count those!), 1.5 ounces of hard aged cheese, 1.3 ounces of uncured Genoa salami and a small (4 ounce) cucumber from the garden. The picture at the top of this post was a full day of eating: Look at that perfect picture! Without using a compass I can tell that it is 5% carbohydrate, 20% protein and 75% fat (green, blue, red, respectively).
If you are just starting Keto, you only need to know that you need to keep your carbs LOW. Then if you eat non-lean meats and fat to fill in the rest, you will be fine. However, if you are like me and after years of being told how to diet and you want more reassurance of your own ability, start tracking your foods in a tracker that has a graphic like this (most do) and just get used to seeing what your meal looks like in red, green and blue. If you are on target with each meal, your day will be on target.