The ketogenic diet is often used to achieve weight loss, mental clarity, and other health benefits. But without proper knowledge, it’s easy to fall prey to keto mistakes. This may explain why individuals who’ve been on keto for weeks or months now, aren’t seeing the changes they expect.
If you’re in this situation, know that it’s not too late. I made the same mistakes, but it didn’t mean that keto wasn’t for me. This article lists 10 common mistakes and what you can do to fix them.
Most Common Keto Mistakes
Here are the 10 most common mistakes people make when starting the ketogenic diet — and how to avoid them.
1. Not preparing for the keto flu
This is where a lot of beginners fail before they even reach full ketosis. When you switch to a keto diet, your body will miss those carbs and you’ll start to experience uncomfortable symptoms that are collectively called the keto flu.
Keto flu manifests as headaches, dizziness, digestive issues, fatigue, palpitations, and muscle aches (1). If you’re not aware of the keto flu or you won’t prepare for it, you might quit as soon as the symptoms kick in.
Remember that keto flu is expected and temporary.
Instead of going all-in, take things easy. Cut back on carbs gradually. For example, if you’re eating around 300 grams of carbs, lower that down to 150 grams. The keto diet limits carbs to 20-50grams per day, and that might be too overwhelming for your body as a beginner.
Stay hydrated and take plenty of electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and magnesium. These electrolytes will energize you and reduce some symptoms. You can have a keto-friendly electrolyte drink or get those electrolytes from food.
2. Not eating enough fat
55% to 60% of your daily calories should come from fat. Keep in mind that the goal of the keto diet is to train your body to run on fat. The problem is that a lot of individuals who are new to keto are afraid to eat fat or are not used to it — and think they might be eating too much fat on keto.
Undereating fat will worsen keto flu symptoms, especially weakness because you need calories for energy. Fat has the most calories of the three macronutrients: 1 gram of fat = 9 calories. Too few calories on keto might stall your metabolism. This leads to a weight-loss plateau.
Dietary fat is also essential to produce hormones and absorb nutrients from food (2).
But can you eat too much fat on a keto diet? It happens if you fail to track your daily intake. Like too little fat, too much fat may lead to weight gain. In this situation, you’re consuming excess energy.
Find out the exact amount of fat you need by using a keto macro calculator. If you want quicker fat loss, we recommend setting your activity to Sedentary.
Add more fats to your diet, while prioritizing healthy fats. Healthy fats include olive oil, butter, coconut, and avocados.
3. Focusing on your net carb intake
On a keto diet, you’re supposed to stay within 20 to 50 grams of TOTAL CARBS, NOT NET CARBS. This is where a lot of people fail. (Note: Net carbs = Total carbs – dietary fiber)
There’s no such thing as eating too few carbs because, again, the lower you go, the more likely you are to enter nutritional ketosis — which is the goal of the keto diet.
However, if you have Type 2 Diabetes, make sure to speak with your doctor to establish your personal carb tolerance, adjust your medications, and track your ketone levels.
If you’re living a sedentary or inactive lifestyle, it’s important to stick within that total carb limit. I would advise you to stay within the lower end (20 grams of total carbs) if you want to progress with weight loss.
For athletes or those who live a very active lifestyle, going for the upper limit of 50 grams of total carbs is fine.
4. Failing to plan your meals
Can you imagine starting a keto diet without having any idea what to eat throughout the week? That will cause you to struggle and go for the most convenient option: Fast food.
Meal planning is a crucial activity for those who are still getting a feel of the keto diet. You need to know exactly what you’re going to buy at the grocery and what to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You’ll need keto-friendly snacks too for crushing your cravings.
Make a list of keto-friendly grocery items. Your options include meat, seafood, fruits and veggies, dairy and eggs, oils, and some pantry items.
Have snacks ready on hand. Low-carb snacks include nuts, cheese sticks, cucumber slices, keto beef jerky, pork rinds, and keto bars.
Cook big batches of keto meals on weekends so that you prep only once and simply reheat those meals during busy weekdays!
For cheat days, make sure they’re also planned. Don’t do them randomly, whenever you feel like it. We prepared a guide that shows you tips on how to cheat on keto.
5. Not getting enough micronutrients
One of the worst ketogenic diet mistakes you can make is not getting enough vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes. Micronutrient deficiencies can happen on a keto diet for two reasons.
The first reason is that a lot of high-carb foods contain vitamins and minerals. For example, grains, fruits, and starchy vegetables. So, eliminating these foods from your diet without replacing them will put you at risk for deficiencies.
The other reason is that the keto diet causes you to urinate more than normal (3). Because as your body utilizes stored glycogen, it sheds water through your urine. (Note: Glycogen is bound to water in your muscles.) When your body loses water, it also loses minerals and electrolytes.
Sodium is the most common micronutrient that you can be deficient on. Others include potassium, calcium, magnesium, iodine, iron, vitamin A, C, K, and B vitamins.
Eat a wide variety of nutrient-dense, keto-friendly foods. This means more meat and veggies. Examples of nutrient-dense options include organ meats, broccoli, and leafy greens.
While eating whole, unprocessed foods nourish your body, taking a multivitamin supplement helps, too. Taking a keto-friendly electrolyte drink will also replenish lost electrolytes, especially if you work out often.
A keto-friendly micronutrient greens powder is another way to get micronutrients from various plant foods in powdered form.
6. Going overboard with snacking
Snacking on low-carb foods is a great way to kick afternoon cravings. But just because you can snack, doesn’t mean it’s okay to go overboard. At the end of the day, you still need to watch out for excess calories and carbs. Yes, carbs can sneak into your diet through snacks.
Also, what kind of snacks are you having more often on keto? Are they packaged or natural? I ask this because packaged foods can contain sugars and other artificial ingredients that contribute to weight gain.
Snack only when you feel true hunger in between meals. You’ll know true hunger when you’re low on energy, shaky, and have difficulty focusing on a task.
Eat nutrient-dense and filling meals so that you’ll feel satisfied for longer. Fat and protein have satiating effects. Check if you’re meeting your fat and protein macro needs for the day!
7. Eating fast food and processed food often
Fast food and processed foods are everywhere. Some are promoted as keto-friendly and healthy even though they contain sugar, starch, and other unhealthy ingredients. Carbs easily sneak into your diet when you rely too much on processed and fast foods.
But let’s face it: Sometimes, it’s most convenient to eat outside rather than do meal prep. Or when we eat food at home, we’d rather open canned or packaged deli meat.
Doing keto wrong this way can contribute to weight gain, which is the opposite of what you’d want on a keto diet.
As much as possible, eat home-cooked meals. Save time, money, and sanity by cooking meals ahead of time. Even a big batch of one keto dish will do wonders in keeping it “clean keto” on most days of the week. Pick the easiest meal you can cook, such as a 5-ingredient casserole dish.
Make it a habit to read the nutrition facts label on packaged foods. Check the total carb count and added sugars. Pay attention to the number of carbs you’re getting per serving. In that case, check the serving size!
8. Not incorporating exercise into your lifestyle
Let’s get real. Even if low-carb diets promote weight loss, exercise is a must for a healthy life. Exercise reduces our risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, and cancer. Not to mention, it improves our mood (4).
In fact, when you’re trying to get into ketosis sooner, exercise helps you to achieve it by depleting your glycogen stores. Just keep in mind the tips below for exercising while on a ketogenic diet.
During your keto-adaptation phase, do low-intensity workouts to avoid being fatigued. Remember that your body is still adjusting to your low-carb diet. Beginner yoga poses, casual walking, and swimming are good options for staying active.
Once you’re keto-adapted, you can do intense exercises such as HIIT, Crossfit, and Tabata. You’re able to handle these workouts now because of your new fuel source which is ketones.
Most importantly, listen to your body! Pay attention to your energy levels. You might also do well with a targeted ketogenic diet (TKD) in which you eat carbs around your workout times.
Some people ask, “Can I eat as much as I want on keto if I live an active lifestyle?” Here’s the answer: Your calories still matter. If you’re eating more calories than you burn, or burn fewer calories than you eat, you’re going to store fat.
9. Not getting quality sleep
Are you taking sleep for granted? A lack of quality sleep leads to low productivity and poor concentration. Not to mention, it increases your caloric intake and sugar cravings by altering your appetite-regulating hormones (5).
A study done on 14 healthy and non-obese individuals showed that those whose sleep was restricted to 4.5 hours per day reported increased hunger and appetite. Furthermore, they consumed unhealthy snacks in between meals (6).
Aim to go to bed at the same time each night. Your best sleeping time is when you normally feel tired. Get up at the same time each day as well. If you do this, you’ll feel energized!
Don’t stare at bright screens (phones, TVs, laptops) three hours before bedtime. Blue light from screens interferes with your sleep. If you need to work using your device after 5:00 pm, dim the brightness of the screen and wear blue light-blocking glasses.
Limit caffeine to breakfast time or avoid it after 3:00 pm. Caffeine is a stimulant that makes you feel more alert. Sources of caffeine include coffee, tea, and sugar-free caffeinated soft drinks.
10. Not paying attention to your veggies
Vegetables are rich in vitamins and minerals, which we definitely need, but not all veggies are keto-approved. If you’re not being careful, you could easily consume an excessive amount of carbs.
Starch is a complex carbohydrate that’s found in corn, beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, and taro. Therefore, avoid these starchy vegetables.
Eat non-starchy vegetables which include salad greens, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumbers, asparagus, sprouts, mushrooms, and artichokes.
Mind your portions! If you’re on a vegetarian keto diet and want to feel fuller, eat eggs, nuts, and healthy fats as well.
These are the common keto mistakes that can stall your progress. It isn’t just about limiting carbs. That’s an oversimplified concept. Keto is more than a diet. It’s a lifestyle. For it to work, you also need to consider food quality, nutrition, physical activity, and sleep. And plan your keto meals!
Made these mistakes? Again, it’s never too late to do it right. Last but not least, take baby steps that will help you build healthier habits in the long run.
- Bostock E, Kirkby K, Taylor B et al. Consumer Reports of “Keto Flu” Associated With the Ketogenic Diet. 2020 March 13
- Mumford S, Chavarro J, Zhang C et al. Dietary fat intake and reproductive hormone concentrations and ovulation in regularly menstruating women. 2016 February 03
- Maswood W, Annamaraju P, Uppaluri K. Ketogenic Diet. 2022 June 11
- Warburton B, Nicol C, Bredin S. Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence. 2006 March 14
- Greer S, Goldstein A, Walker M. The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain. 2014 February 06
- Hicklin T. Molecular ties between lack of sleep and weight gain. 2016 March 22