There's no correct answer regarding how long someone should follow a ketogenic diet. For some, the ideal period on keto is a month to jumpstart weight loss and reset hunger signals. Others will find themselves bitten by the love of living sugar-free for its many health benefits and commit to cutting the carbs for the long haul.
How long you should do keto is mainly a matter of your goals and preferences, along with which areas of health you seek to improve by adhering to a low-carb, high-fat diet.
Foundations of the Ketogenic Diet
Although many in modern times are curious about the marvels of the century-old keto, low-carb, high-fat diet, the approach's benefits have been well known and researched since the 1920s.
The ketogenic diet asserts that the body prefers to run on fat and compounds called ketone bodies as their primary fuel source. To achieve the metabolic state, known as ketosis, where we rely primarily on fat and ketones for energy, one must drastically limit the intake of carbs to usher the body into a thermogenic state by depleting your glucose stores after eliminating simple carbs and sugars.
While the diet was initially championed for its impressive benefits to children with epilepsy, research soon uncovered a plethora of other perks associated with removing simple carbs from the diet to benefit followers of all ages.
What is ketosis?
If you've eaten the typical American diet of fast food, burgers, and fries, along with drinks loaded with high-fructose corn syrup, your body is undoubtedly running primarily on glucose for fuel.
Conversely, once you ditch the side of fries and hand over your sugary-sweet treats, your body begins to seek out another fuel source in place of glucose. Switching from glucose to ketones and fat provides many health benefits, and the most visible is likely the significant weight loss many people experience, with ease, on a low-carb, high-fat diet.
How long does it take the body to get into ketosis?
It generally takes two to four days to enter ketosis if you eat between 20 and 50 grams of carbs a day. However, achieving ketosis may take more time, depending on various factors like physical activity level, age, metabolism, and macronutrient intake.
The closer you are to fat-adaptation and optimal health at the onset of your keto journey, the faster you'll likely achieve nutritional ketosis. However, if you're used to carb-loading day in and day out and maybe have an unhelpful habit of indulging in sugar and starch in excess, it may take your system a minute to shift gears and transition to running on fat and ketones.
If you find it’s taking a tad longer than expected to producing ketones, it could be due to various factors, like:
- Eating too many carbs
- Not eating enough fat
- Lack of exercise
- Lack of sleep
Suppose you still find it challenging to enter metabolic ketosis after considering the above mentioned hindrances. In that case, it may be time to clamp down on carb intake and monitor progress closely for a period and consider increasing exercise to deplete glycogen stores and encourage ketosis.
However, more than obsessing over the goal of maintaining a state of 24-7-365 ketosis, it's more realistic to expect mostly living in ketosis with periods of exiting this metabolic state in the presence of higher-glycemic fare from time to time—unless you choose to eat a strict ketogenic diet with a firm carb intake ceiling.
How long is it safe to be in ketosis?
There are no adverse health effects of living in a constant ketotic state. Our brains and bodies love ketones and fat-based fuel and function well, running on them primarily.
More than focusing on continuing a ketogenic diet for a set time, use how you feel as a barometer of whether the lifestyle still aligns with your goals and needs and adjust your dietary approach accordingly.
The Best Approach to Beginning a Keto Diet
Tailoring recipes and favorite foods as you begin a keto diet is wise to ensure having foods low in carbs and sugars that you enjoy eating. Consider the following basic guidelines to start a low-carb, high-fat diet without overcomplicating the process:
- Eat those nutritious keto-friendly foods you love: Stock your fridge with fresh dark leafy greens, bright antioxidant-rich bell peppers, and fatty meats or fish. Also, make it a point to enjoy a wide variety of fat sources to fuel your energy needs throughout the day.
- Eat the right amount of foods based on your nutritional and performance needs: A sedentary man and a woman living an exceptionally physically active life will require different dietary support to optimize performance.
Customize your calorie budget and macros based on your goals, activity level, and consider pre-existing medical conditions as you settle on your daily micronutrient and macronutrient targets.
- Take steps to prevent symptoms of the 'keto flu.': Stay well hydrated, incorporate coconut water and bone broth into your plan to replenish electrolytes regularly, keep activity light and give your body rest as you ease into ketosis.
Taking additional steps to curb carb intake every day is a fantastic way to ease into the sugar-free lifestyle without a hitch. Avoid drinking sugary drinks that are calorically dense, nutritionally void, and spike blood sugar. And eliminate overt sugars and fast-acting carbs from your diet and replace them with low-glycemic fare in phases to lessen the intensity of transitioning away from running on glucose.
Check out our comprehensive guide to beginning the low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet to start the approach empowered with best practices, tips, and tricks to make the process as smooth as possible.
Top Tips to Follow to get into Ketosis
- Minimize your carb consumption: Start by limiting carbs slightly and reducing intake down until you're capping your macros between 20 and 50 grams per day.
- Include coconut oil in your diet: Adding medium-chain triglycerides to your diet aids in promoting satiety and boosting energy quickly as needed throughout the day.
- Increase exercise and movement: Get outdoors for a brisk walk and a breath of fresh air, or join a spirited class to change up your fitness routine. Burning calories will keep glycogen stores low and support more profound levels of ketosis to aid in more rapid muscle recovery.
- Increase your healthy fat intake: Those who report feeling hungry a lot or noticing themselves frequently snacking on keto usually have something in common; they're not eating enough healthy fats to feel satiated throughout the day. There's no need to down several whole avocados to hit your fat macros, but it's essential to keep an eye on intake, especially if you notice yourself feeling peckish several times a day.
- Try a short fast or a fat fast: Indulging in loads of healthy fats is a fantastic way to kickstart the keto diet, and following a brief 24-hour fast or an extended fat fast, like the Beef and Butter Fast, is the perfect approach to trigger ketosis and accelerate fat-burning.
- Maintain adequate protein intake: A ketogenic diet advises eating moderate amounts of protein, but that's no excuse to skimp on essential amino acids—they're vital to health and muscle support, and ensuring adequate levels is crucial on keto.
- Test ketone levels and adjust your diet accordingly: Everyone has a unique threshold of carbs they can consume without compromising ketosis, so it's essential to test your ketone levels, especially post-meal, to determine how different foods and drinks impact ketosis.
A keto journey may serve as a short-term weight-loss solution for some, while others will adopt the low-carb, high-fat approach as a lifestyle—choosing to eliminate fast-acting carbs and sugars from their diets altogether.
However, there's no need to make a life-long commitment to keto to test the waters and see whether the benefits outweigh the discipline required to make significant dietary changes related to living a sugar-free life.
A ketogenic diet is a fantastic eating style that encourages weight loss, harnesses the appetite, regulates blood sugar and hormones, and boosts heart health as a ketotic state aids in the proper functioning of the brain and body.
Take some time to understand the basics of the plan, consider committing to the diet for a trial period, and identify which version of the keto diet (e.g., standard, cyclical, high-protein, etc.) best suits your needs.
From there, the length of your keto journey is yours to decide. Focus on eating whole, healthy foods along the way, and regardless of the length of your journey, enjoy the ride.
- Bukowiecki, L. J. (n.d.). Diet-induced thermogenesis, obesity and diabetes. Diet and Obesity, 129–139. https://doi.org/10.1159/000417453
- Initiating the ketogenic diet. (2020). Ketogenic Diet Therapies For Epilepsy and Other Conditions. https://doi.org/10.1891/9780826149596.0008
- Dearlove, D. (2018). Adaptation to prolonged nutritional ketosis. Http://Isrctn.com/. https://doi.org/10.1186/isrctn35075523