Most people know that carb consumption must be kept very low on the Ketogenic diet. Typically, Keto Dieters are required to consume less than 50g of total carbs, or 5%-10% of total calories per day in order to achieve and maintain ketosis.
However, simply giving up bread, pasta, and sweets does NOT mean that you are following the Keto Diet correctly.
If you aren’t getting the results you hoped for, there’s a good chance that you are committing one or more of these 8 common Keto mistakes.
In this article, we’ll go over some of the most common mistakes Keto Dieters commit and discuss ways that you can course correct.
#1: Eating Too Much, or Not Enough Fat
On eating too much fat:
When adapting to a diet that is so different than what you’re used to, it sometimes takes an adjustment period to really figure out what, and how much of the various approved foods you should eat.
With the Keto diet, you need to eat way more fat than what you’re probably used to, and your body will have to adjust.
In the beginning, a mistake that some people make is to go overboard with the fat too quickly by dropping all carbs and adding heavy whipping cream, coconut oil, and other fats in large quantities to everything!
If you do this, you are far more likely to experience some very uncomfortable gastric distress - meaning stomach cramping, nausea, and diarrhea. This is because your body hasn’t had the chance to ramp up the enzymes it needs to digest all this extra fat you’re eating. These gastrointestinal symptoms are the result of having a lot of undigested fat moving through your digestive system.
The gastric distress can be very unpleasant and deter some people from sticking to the diet.
So, keep close track of your macros in the beginning until you get a good feel for what, and how much you can eat. This will help make sure you are getting enough, but not too much fat, and minimize gastric distress early on.
On not eating enough fat:
On the flip side, other people don’t eat enough fat when they start the Keto Diet. Many people have been taught that fat in our food will become fat on our bodies. We’ve also been told for decades to eat less fat because fat is bad for our health.
These long-standing messages might make some people pretty hesitant to consume enough fat when starting the Keto Diet.
The truth is that excess calories from any source - whether it be fat, carbohydrates, or protein - will be stored as fat on your body!
Too many carbs = body fat
Too much protein = body fat
Too much fat = body fat
FAT is how the body stores excess calories. It doesn’t matter where the excess calories come from!
As far as dietary fat being bad for your health, we now know that not all fats are created equal. Many markers of health actually improve for people when eating an abundance of healthy fats on a Ketogenic diet, such as blood pressure, waist circumference, blood lipid profile, inflammation, blood sugar, and insulin sensitivity.[*]
Unhealthy fats are a different story, which we'll discuss more in #2 below, and in even greater detail in this article.
The bottom line:
Keto is a diet that switches your primary energy source from carbs (glucose) to fat (ketones). You still require the same number of calories for maintaining or losing weight, the only difference is you get most of that energy from fat now, instead of carbs.
If you don’t get enough calories, you may feel lethargic due to lack of energy consumption. You’ll also be at risk of not getting enough vitamins and minerals.
#2: Not Eating the RIGHT Fats
Fat is a confusing topic. There are a lot of mixed messages out there about what are healthy fats and what are unhealthy fats.
The truth is that the jury is still out on many fat sources, and in some cases, the answer as to what fats are healthy or unhealthy is context dependant.
However, since fat is your primary energy source on the Keto Diet, you are going to be eating A LOT of it. Therefore, you want to do your best to consume the best stuff for your health.
We may not know all the answers about fats just yet, but here is a shortlist of some fats that we feel pretty confident are healthy, especially in the context of the Keto Diet:
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is a great oil to use raw drizzled on your favorite foods or used to cook with at medium to medium-high heat (roughly 350ºF.)[*, *] It is full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty-acids; it’s a rich source of important antioxidants vitamin E and phenols;[*] it helps decrease cardiovascular risk factors such as inflammation [*] and cholesterol,[*] and it may even help fight cancer [*] and prevent Alzheimer’s disease![*] We recommend that olive oil be a staple in your Keto Diet!
- Coconut oil is a very unique oil in that it is composed mostly of small and medium-chain saturated fatty acids. Roughly 50% of the fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, which is a medium-chain fatty acid that has strong antimicrobial properties.[*] Small and medium-chain fatty acids absorb and are utilized for energy much faster than the long-chain saturated fatty acids found in land animals.[*] They also increase thermogenesis, which is increased energy expenditure from food and may aid in weight loss.[*] Coconut oil may improve your blood lipid profile [*], reduce inflammation, and provide significant antioxidants to prevent cellular damage.[*] It may also help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease![*] See this article to learn more about medium-chain fatty acids.
- Avocado Oil is a good source of powerful antioxidants, including vitamin E, and is a great oil to cook with because it can withstand temperatures up to 520ºF.[*, *] It is also a rich source of heart-healthy MUFAs! In a study in which butter was replaced with avocado oil, inflammation and blood sugar was improved following the meal.[*] Similar to extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil was found to have anti-inflammatory properties similar to ibuprofen.[*]
Other good sources of fat on the Keto Diet include:
- Nuts and seeds
- Fatty fish, such as salmon
- Grass-fed beef
- Heavy whipping cream
Fat sources to LIMIT or AVOID
As mentioned earlier, there is a lot of controversy about fat, which means that not everyone agrees on what fats are bad for you.
This is a shortlist of some fats that we feel pretty confident you should LIMIT or avoid altogether, mostly due to the potential for promoting inflammation and free radicals.
- Trans fats – this is one that is best to simply avoid altogether, as there is broad consensus in the scientific community about the dangers. These are mostly found in processed foods, like margarine, cookies, crackers, coffee creamers, fast food, and frozen pizza. Trans fats are known to increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, LDL (“bad” cholesterol), and decrease HDL (“good” cholesterol.)[*]
Trans fats are actually banned in many countries now. If they're still legal to be used in foods in your location, be sure to CHECK YOUR LABELS and look for hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil in the ingredients.
Luckily, following the Keto Diet correctly naturally eliminates most sources of trans fat!
- Processed vegetable oils – if it says Vegetable Oil and comes in a big plastic container, it’s in your best interest to squinch your face with disgust and move on. These oils are highly susceptible to oxidation and tend to be high in omega-6 fatty acids, both of these characteristics can contribute to increased inflammation.[*] These may contain one or more of the following oils: canola, safflower, sunflower, corn, soy, and others.
#3: Not Drinking Enough Water
Staying hydrated should be a top priority no matter what diet you are on.
But when your body is adjusting to burning fats for fuel, water intake should be increased. This is due to two major reasons:
- Water is normally stored with carbohydrates in the form of glycogen. In fact, about 3g of water are stored for every 1g of glucose.[*]
Consuming very few carbohydrates = less glycogen storage = less water storage
- Carbohydrate intake causes insulin secretion. Insulin triggers sodium retention, which causes water retention.[*]
Less carbohydrate consumption = less insulin secretion = less water retention
The general rule of thumb is to drink 0.5 oz to 1 oz of water per pound of bodyweight.
However, it may be best to judge your hydration status based on your urine color. If your urine is yellow to pale yellow, you’re well hydrated. If it is darker than transparent yellow, then you are likely dehydrated.
You can compare against this chart, or use this more detailed chart from the Cleveland Clinic.
#4: Not Consuming Enough Sodium
As explained in #3, sodium is excreted along with water when your body is running on ketones for energy due to a lack of insulin secretion. Therefore, your sodium requirements are going to be a little higher on the Keto Diet than when on a carbohydrate-based diet.
Additionally, the Keto Diet requires that you cut out many types of processed foods, which tend to be high in sodium. This is a good thing! But combined with decreased sodium retention, it’s important to make sure to include sodium in your meals.
Sodium is an important electrolyte, and in proper quantities, it is a vital nutrient to the normal and healthy functioning of your body.
Too little sodium is called hyponatremia and can cause many flu-like symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting, headache, low energy/fatigue, irritability, muscle weakness, spasms, and cramps.
Many of these symptoms are associated with what is commonly known as the “keto flu” and often occur in the early stages of the Keto Diet as the dieter is adapting to using fat as the primary energy source.
Thus, the keto flu may be related to electrolyte deficiency. To potentially prevent or decrease the severity of the keto flu, increase your sodium intake by salting every meal, adding pink Himalayan sea salt to your water and sipping on it throughout the day, drinking broth from bouillon cubes, or taking an electrolyte supplement.
#5: Too Much Dairy
While dairy foods can make an excellent low carb, high-fat option, they can also be a little sneaky. Especially if you’re trying to lose weight on the Keto Diet, you still have to be mindful of your calorie intake, and it is really easy to overconsume calories in high-fat dairy products.
Additionally, many dairy products contain added sugars, so you have to be very careful about the dairy products you choose. Always check the labels!
#6: Too Much Snacking
However, just as with any diet, if you are doing too much snacking, your daily calorie count can sneak up on you. This may get in the way of your weight management goals.
Additionally, early on in your Keto journey, you will likely have carbohydrate cravings and you will be tempted to grab your favorite ice cream or sweet treat. It’s important to be strong as you’re becoming keto-adapted and remember that these cravings will fade soon.
To help you along, try these delicious keto-friendly treats to conquer those carb cravings!
#7: Not Sleeping Enough
Lack of sleep disrupts cellular repair, immune function, DNA replication and repair, and it may increase the risk for metabolic disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.[*,*]
Therefore, not getting enough sleep can really interfere with your health goals!
To make things worse, research shows that lack of sleep can increase cravings for junk food by decreasing activity in the frontal lobe, which manages complex decision-making, and increases activity in the deeper parts of the brain that respond to reward.[*]
Try to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night. It’s helpful to decrease screen time 1 to 2 hours before bedtime, try going to bed at the same time every night, avoiding caffeine in the afternoon, and not eating directly before trying to sleep.
It’s important to note that some people experience impaired sleep early on when becoming Keto adapted. If this is the case for you, follow the guidelines above. For most people, this symptom resolves as their body gets used to the diet.
#8: Worrying Too Much About the Scale
If you’re trying to lose weight, you might be inclined to weigh yourself frequently to track your progress. While your weight is important, there are a few very important things to remember about the number on the scale.
First, you’re going to lose a lot of weight right in the beginning. That number on the scale is going to show a big drop pretty quickly. This may be gratifying, but it’s actually mostly due to water loss. Remember, stored carbohydrates also store water. As your body burns through your storage, you’re going to lose a lot of that water weight too.
Second, the number on the scale is a measurement of your WHOLE body, not just your fat. That means, your bones, organs, fat, water, muscle, and everything else are all being weighed at the same time. Unless you are using a body composition scale, your scale is not differentiating between all the different types of tissue that make up your body. So, if you are working out a lot and building muscle, while you are shedding fat, the scale might not provide an accurate measure for what you are interested in.
You want to shed fat, which will decrease the number on the scale, but you also want to build muscle, which will increase the number on the scale.
If you want a better measurement of your progress, look for a body composition scale. You can buy one or see if your local gym or health club has one. This type of scale provides an estimate of your fat mass vs. lean mass and is a better marker for your progress.
Third, your bodyweight fluctuates throughout the day. Therefore, it’s not useful to measure yourself multiple times a day. Doing that doesn’t give you any good information, and it will likely just cause stress and trigger obsessive behavior. It’s best to choose a time of day, usually first thing in the morning, and measure yourself at the same time every time to get a fair measurement to track your progress.
Try not to obsess about your weight. Doing so can cause unhelpful stress and actually impede progress.
Last tip- if you want to track your weight, only weigh yourself somewhere between once a week to once a month - on the same day at the same time. Since bodyweight naturally fluctuates from day to day as well as throughout a single day, measuring yourself once a week to once a month will give you a better idea of your true progress.
You should see a downward trend averaging about 1-2 pounds a week.
Avoid These Mistakes to Get the Best Results on the Ketogenic Diet
The low carb, high-fat lifestyle provides mental and physical benefits, but only when you’re following a properly formulated Keto lifestyle.
Instead of just focusing on restricting carbohydrates, approach your daily living with a holistic view. Make sure to get enough sleep. Staying hydrated. Consume healthy, whole foods. If you follow these rules, you will burn ketones for fuel more efficiently, so you can experience all the benefits of keto without the downsides.
Note: The content in this article is not medical advice and is intended for informational and educational purposes only. Always talk to your doctor before changing your diet.