Why I Went Basically Keto and How to Make it Easy(er)
Okay, so I don’t know that I can really call what I’m doing completely Keto. I get overwhelmed counting calories (because literally everything has calories and it’s hard to remember the numbers and even my tracking apps are time consuming). Instead of counting calories, I decided that carbs were my true issue. I’m not counting fat or protein, so I call it “basically Keto.” Net carbs (which I do count) are carbs after you subtract dietary fiber and sugar alcohols (you can read more about that on my blog post here from the first week). Also, my focus here is health, so I’m trying to reduce the unhealthy fats and sugar substitutes where I can.
The first week was hard and the second week was awesome. I lost 22lbs after those first two weeks. Then, my weight loss slowed to 1-3lbs a week. I’m now down 38lbs.
Sometimes it’s been really hard not to just throw in the towel and eat whatever I want. I’ve stayed strong with staying under 30 net carbs most days and under 50 on days I want to splurge a little more. The great thing is that I can really eat nearly anything I want—the carb count helps me have a goal. The thing I try to do, though, is push extra vegetables and water.
I’ve found that instead of including a starch on my plate (potatoes, fries, rolls, pasta), I just double the vegetables for most meals. The true secret is to have plans for when you are hungry or craving something. Here is a list of some of my go-to foods for my Ketoesque diet.
Easy Keto Snacks
Snacking is one of my hardest times because this is when I want chips or sweets.
String Cheese – Great if I’m actually hungry.
Almonds – I don’t eat a lot of Almonds since I use almond milk and almond flour. I’d rather not get nutrition from only one food source. But they are a quick and easy snack or a great salad topper.
Pistachios – Yum. But a bit pricey. I usually get the pre-shelled ones.
Soy Nuts – PERFECT crunch. Yum.
Macadamia Nuts – Roasted and salted are my favorite.
Celery + PB – Celery on it’s own (or even with Ranch) is usually a good snack, but PB if I’m craving something a bit more filling.
Hard Boiled Eggs – Eggs sometimes hurt my stomach (though now that seems to be less true), so it’s touch and go, but these are delicious when hungry and a great blend of protein and healthy fats.
Pork Rinds – Not necessarily the healthiest snack, but a source of protein, fat and no net carbs. They have a crunch and flavoring. Better than a bag of potato chips if you are craving a salty snack.
Quick Keto Breakfast
I’d say most mornings I don’t eat breakfast and sometimes just have coffee. Intermittent fasting (not eating between certain hours out of the day) can help with weight loss. But if I am hungry, here are my options.
Almost Bullet Proof Coffee – I’ve tried bullet proof coffee and it’s not for me. My version uses unsweetened vanilla almond milk, coconut oil, cocoa powder and a little sugar substitute (Monkfruit or Birch xylitol sweetner are really good). This isn’t my normal morning coffee and it tastes like a fancy mocha. You need to get an electric whisk for smooth blending, like this one:
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Granola Bar – I make my own with a blend of my favorite nuts, peanut butter, a little sugar substitute, coconut oil, cocoa powder and a Tbsp or two of mini chocolate chips. I mix it up, bake them in a pan and keep them in the freezer. I don’t know why they taste so much better cold.
Gourmet Yogurt Bowl – Simply dress up a sugar-free (preferably high-fat) yogurt for a fast and delicious breakfast, lunch or snack. Nuts, berries and coconut flakes make a wide variety of combinations.
Scrambled Egg Sandwich – Eggs are so good for Keto. I like to scramble mine early and then let it cook into a solid patty with no soft spots or crusty edges. Then I top it with cheese, tomatoes, onions and avocado, and then wrap in fresh spinach. Bacon is an extra bonus if I have it on hand. Sometimes I use Southwest Chipotle Ranch if I want a little more zing.
Keto Meals for the Family
The best meals are easily adjustable, since the kids and husband aren’t low carb. I don’t want to have to make two totally separate dishes in most cases.
Coffee Protein Shake – Check out my recipe here for my high protein shake. Packed with fresh spinach, healthy fats and protein, this is so good for you and the perfect meal after a work out! And it tastes good too! As long as you are keeping coffee frozen ahead of time, it is very fast to whip up and I can drink it while I make the kids’ lunch.
Keto Tacos – Tacos are so easy to make keto! Just skip any beans, rice, shell or tortilla. My recipe for Keto Chicken Tacos includes making a shell out of cheese! I also make taco salads and occasionally I splurge on a single Ranch flavored taco shell (8 net carbs).
Burgers – Easy to remove the bun and sweet sauces (no ketchup or BBQ). I can use mayo or Ranch as a sauce if I want one. I pile on the cheese and veggies and then use spinach or lettuce as the “bun.” The secret here is to get plenty of seasoning into the patty for a great flavor. Oh, and bacon if you have it!
Baked Chicken – I absolutely love the baked chicken at Lee’s (local competitor to KFC) and I’m working on my own version. Either marinate your chicken with spices (paprika, cumin, onion, garlic, salt) and melted butter or coat with oil and McCormick’s Montreal Chicken seasoning before baking. Both are delicious, simple and low carb.
Salad – Of course salad is a common go-to for healthy meals. No croutons or sweet dressings. And only fruit if you plan to splurge!
Dry Rub Wings – I’ve discovered a whole world of delicious wings that are completely Keto friendly (and I think I like them even better than the saucy ones). I will be posting my own dry rub wing recipe soon (fire!). And if you are going out, most dry rub wings are completely Keto friendly with about 1 net carb per serving!
Brat & Bell Pepper Skillet – Bake brats while you sauté onions and bell peppers in olive oil, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Cut up cooked brats into ½” slices and add to the pepper mix. We eat one onion, 2-3 bell peppers and 10 brats as a family. I also sometimes cook seasoned rice to add to the kid’s and husband’s plates.
Here are some great keto-friendly veggie sides that will help you stay full and provide great nutritional value. Most veggies are also great as a raw side.
Broccoli – Just steam fresh broccoli and add salt+pepper.
Cauliflower – Roast on a baking sheet at 450° with olive oil, salt and pepper, flipping after about 7 minutes.
Stir fry – Throw together just about any veggies in oil with garlic powder, salt and pepper.
Green beans – steam until nearly cooked and then finish by sauteing in butter, salt and pepper.
Roasted Carrots – Don’t get a double serving of carrots, because they are a higher carb veggie, but adding them to dishes or roasting them in olive oil with salt and pepper will add a delicious flavor boost for many Keto meals.
Peas – For a fast side, just boil frozen peas and add a bit of salt.
Celery Sticks – Especially good as a side with chicken wings or burgers.
Another secret to not breaking Keto is to still have treats on a daily basis. I want a sustainable diet, not punishment. Now most of my treats aren’t really bad for me. So this is huge.
Raspberries – YUM. These are low carb for fruit (about 4 carbs for ¼ cup). I’ve always loved raspberries. Blackberries, blueberries and strawberries are very similar net carbs, so pick your favorite as a treat!
Bing Cherries – YUM again. Another favorite fruit. This one is a bit more of a treat though, because they are usually pricey (especially out of season) and they rack up almost a full net carb per cherry. But, they are still a better health choice than M&Ms or Doritos (about the same net carb count), which are my two biggest splurges (see below).
Other Fruit – Fruit like watermelon, apples and peaches are really good, but also pretty high in net carbs. I will have small pieces as a treat, but not on a regular basis. I’m less temped by them anyways. When I do reach my goal weight, I’m going to try upping my max carb count to 100 and see if I stay that weight or gain. So more fruit may be in the future. Again, the goal for me is sustainable and nutritious eating habits.
Wine – Definitely a treat at the end of a long day. Pinot Grigio or Cabernet are my typical choices, since they are low in sugars (about 4 net carbs for a glass). Red Moscato is a treat if I’m craving something sweeter and I often mix it with some cab for a red blend because it is a bit sweet for me.
Keto Friendly Cheats (Non-Nutritious)
Okay, sometimes you are craving something bad and you need the feeling to ease up. I try to eat mostly nutrition-packed foods, but there are occasional days I “cheat” with a sugar substitute food. My top three choices for those days you are feeling weak:
Breyers Smart Carb Almond Ice Cream Bars – YUM. 8 net carbs a bar isn’t too bad for a desert that tastes like completely normal ice cream and chocolate. You would never know it was any kind of low carb food.
Enlightened Mint Chip Swirl Bars – I’ve tried a few of the Enlightened products, and so far this is my favorite one. I wasn’t a fan of the peanut butter ones or the brownie ice cream because they tasted like dieting deserts. But the mint ones are really good and refreshing (and only 7 net carbs!).
Sugar Free Gatorade – You know sugar free doesn’t mean it’s good for you, but if you are craving a juice or sweeter drink, the sugar free Gatorade is Keto friendly with no carbs. It will help you stave of cravings and keep burning fat instead of storing it. A sugar free energy drink is the same way.
Micro Splurging on the Keto Diet
So even with great meal choices, healthy treats and “cheat” options, I still sometimes struggle. I was surprised by how much I missed certain foods. I thought it would be pasta, bread and rolls, but for the most part, it’s not! Knowing the general net carb count of each item means I can sometimes have one (or 5) of the things I’m craving most and still stay within my carb count for the day.
I try to avoid these in general. But I’ve found that when I completely cut myself off, I binge on these bad foods when I finally give up the diet. So, here’s to hoping that a few splurges help me stay on track. Since I’ve been doing this, I find that I honestly want much smaller portions of these things than pre-Keto.
Ranch Doritos – I did not know how much I liked Ranch Doritos until I started Keto. About 1 net carb per chip, so I may eat 4 or 5 chips now to stave off this craving.
Peanut M&Ms – For some reason, this is the only form of chocolate I really miss right now. I keep a bag in the cupboard. Each one is a bit over a carb, so I usually keep it under 8 when the craving hits.
Baked potato – A loaded baked potato is my favorite. I found out the other day that about ¼ cup of potato is around 10 carbs. So half of a very small potato with butter and cheese isn’t a terrible way to add a carb back onto a Keto plate. Again, not a regular thing (I’ve done this once in 9 weeks). I eat the skin for more fiber (fewer net carbs), but I’ve always done that!
Mozzarella Sticks – Whenever the kids get mozzarella sticks, so do I. Each fried/breaded stick (like what you get at Arbys) runs about 10 net carbs per stick. So one or two depending on how the rest of the day went.
French Fries – Stealing a fry or two is enough to stave off cravings. And I’m only tempted by my favorite fries, like the ones at O’Charleys or McDonald’s.
Pizza – I thought pizza would be a huge craving, but it’s not too bad. I haven’t found a Keto pizza recipe I like yet (not a fan of the parmesan crust recipe, but I need to try a cauliflower one). Whenever we get the kids pizza, I will just have a crust or a couple bites (around 10 net carbs because a whole slice is over 30!). Again, I find it doesn’t take much to lessen the craving.
Tricks for Making Keto Easier
- The first week I really didn’t cheat or splurge on non-Keto (and healthy) foods at all. It was HARD. But, I think that helped me a lot. It felt like a major shift in my eating and my body finally got off the crazy carb and sugar addiction. Also, I had already quit soda the year before, so I only had major food cravings to fight (not sure I could have done both during the same week).
- Before starting, I planned out what foods I could eat. Thinking about foods that were good for fueling my body was easier than thinking about all of the foods I couldn’t have.
- I memorized the basic net carbs of my normal foods to help me count quickly throughout the day. I check myself occasionally just to make sure I have the right counts. It’s amazing how fast you can Google the net carbs of anything. Once you get a feel for certain meal counts, you don’t even really have to count for the day (just check yourself every so often).
- Push water like crazy! A gallon a day will drastically reduce how much you want to eat. If I’m really craving something or super hungry, I drink a glass of water first.
- Know what you can eat out or at parties. I can’t stand feeling like I’m one of “those” people with the restrictive diets. Even though I’m eating Keto, I haven’t had trouble finding something just about anywhere. Go for the dry rub meats or veggies. Most places will do a lettuce wrap instead of a bun. My favorite places to eat out are Five Guys (cheese, bacon, mayo and all the veggies in a lettuce wrap), Wendy’s burger or baked chicken (in a lettuce wrap), Lee’s baked chicken, Buffalo Wild Wings Chipotle BBQ dry rub wings, Qdoba salad bowl (no rice or beans), etc. There are lots of choices.
- Don’t get overly caught up in veggie counts. This is where I may veer from Keto, but just about any vegetables (plus tomatoes and minus potatoes) are fair game to me. I’m going after nutrition over the diet.
- Don’t push unhealthy fats or sugar substitutes. Again, where I veer from most Keto. The only fats I push are fish, avocados and sometimes coconut oil. I use butter and rendered meat fat in my cooking, but I’m not including huge scoops of it into most of my recipes. I only use a sugar substitute when It’s really needed to make a recipe palatable.
- I’ve found I usually don’t even need 10 carbs per meal when I’m packing in the veggies and meats, so that keeps me under 30 carbs most days. This means on days I’m struggling or want to splurge, I easily have 20 carbs for the treats, cheats or splurges. I think it makes it easier to maintain when you don’t feel boxed in.
- Also, increase weight lifting. I already worked out a lot before Keto, which really helped amp up the weight loss when I started eating right. And cardio is good (this is what I teach), but increasing the weight lifting will help a lot with toning. I do free weights or the row machine after most classes. I try to focus on one part of the body (arms, abs/back, legs) per gym day (at least 3x a week).