Hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people will probably be Googling “keto diet” over the next few days, wondering if this is the answer to their New Year aims. What about a similar-but-different-enough population—those who have tried keto, stopped for any number of reasons, and want back on the wagon? Should those looking to restart keto do or know anything different?
First and foremost, the basics still apply. Anyone looking to restart keto should pay attention to all the stuff I’ve covered in previous posts and books and will be covering in the Keto Month email series (so sign up today!). Going keto is going keto.
What’s the most important step someone trying to restart a ketogenic diet needs to follow before doing anything else? Identify why you fell off the wagon in the first place. Then address it.
That’s really what sets you apart from the average keto beginner—your preexisting hangups. If anything, you’ll have a better physiological response to the ketogenic diet because your body retains knowledge. Some of that metabolic machinery is still there, still functioning, once you shake off the rust.
But you do need to figure out and overcome what tripped you up the first place.
People have dozens of potential reasons for quitting keto. I can’t possibly cover them all, but I can address and offer solutions for the most common ones.
It Was Challenging Figuring Out How To Eat With Friends, Family, and Colleagues
The people who give this reason usually fall into one of two camps. Either they’re too agreeable and give in to peer pressure (imagined or real) at the drop of a hat, making it impossible to get into any sort of keto rhythm; or they’re too rigid, turning every social excursion with food into an epic battle of will that eventually breaks them. The former group needs to toughen up. The latter group needs to lighten up.
Avoid rigidity and timidity. Stand firm and be resolute in your convictions about what diet makes you feel best; don’t be afraid to say “no” or order a salad with four meat patties when everyone else is getting pizza. In the vast majority of these cases the only one making you feel awkward is yourself. Most people don’t care. And if they do care, it’s probably because they’re intrigued and want to know more. Besides, going keto isn’t such a foreign concept these days. You may even have secret compatriots present who are also restarting keto.
Stick it out for three or four weeks and then lighten up. Once you’ve re-established your ketogenic metabolism and achieved metabolic flexibility, it won’t hurt (that much) to drift in and out on special occasions. You should be able to bounce back relatively quickly after a dalliance with carbs at happy hour, or Thanksgiving, or a birthday party. Just try to stick to healthy Primal sources of carbs to make the transition that much easier.
It Stopped Working
Sometimes keto stops working. An understandable reaction is to stop doing keto. It’s not the ideal move, but it makes sense.
If you’re thinking about restarting keto after a hiatus, and the reason you stopped in the first place was that keto stopped working, you probably have some bad habits or misconceptions to overcome.
You ate too much fat. A common trajectory among keto dieters who plateau is that they overdo the fat. Early on in keto, anything you eat seems to promote weight loss. The extra fat in those early days even upregulates the fat-burning of your mitochondria, speeding up the keto adaptation process. You’re eating more fat than you ever have before, and you only seem to be growing more powerful. It’s a profound sensation. But as you keep eating more and more fat, you plateau. As you attempt your keto restart, remember that getting into ketosis is more about the carbs you don’t eat than the fat you do. Calories don’t stop counting on keto.
You ate too little protein. Protein absolutely can inhibit ketosis, but it takes more than you think. Ketosis is protein-sparing, but you still need to eat it. And some people can get away with far more protein than others and still remain firmly in ketosis. The oft-given blanket advice to “limit protein” can really throw some people for a loop and lead to keto “not working.” Too low a protein intake on keto can reduce performance in the gym, limit or even reverse muscle hypertrophy, increase appetite, and make it hard to construct a palatable meal. If that sounds like you, try eating a bit more protein when you do your keto restart.
It Felt Too Restrictive
Not to toot my own horn too much, but this is one of the main reasons why I developed the Primal Kitchen line. Having an arsenal of reliable, convenient, and most importantly healthy mayos, dressings, sauces, and marinades promotes dietary variability. You end up eating a wider range of meats, vegetables, and other keto-friendly foods when you can modify their taste and presentation by flipping open the top of a bottle of dressing or mixing in some mayo. Meal monotony is a deal breaker for many people on any diet, including keto.
It Was “Too Hard”
That’s about as vague a complaint as you can get, but it’s very common. Going keto forces a totally new way of looking at your food, at your conception of energy, even your experience of the world. Your breath changes. Your grocery shopping routine changes. Three-quarters of the food at your favorite restaurant is suddenly off-limits. Then there’s the salt, potassium, and other electrolytes to worry about.
If you found keto to be just too hard to get a handle on, you’re not alone. Sign up for the Keto Kickoff, refresh your knowledge of the basics (and see what you were overlooking, if anything), get daily support, and do your keto restart right.
You Just Drifted Away
Things snowball, don’t they? You have a quarter of a donut at work because it’s just a quarter of a donut and it’s your favorite kind and it’s free. You get home and taste test the mac-and-cheese you made for your kids a few times, then finish their plate because, hey, it was only a couple more bites and refrigerated mac-and-cheese gets weird. Before you realize it, you’ve eaten refined carbohydrates every single day, haven’t lost a pound, and you can’t rightfully call yourself keto.
Keto drift happens, and it demands a restart. To prevent it from happening again, remember why you wanted to go keto in the first place:
For the fat loss…
For the improved energy…
For the metabolic flexibility…
For the freedom from hunger…
For the potential for a long, healthy, active life…
When you’re ready to get serious, get moving.
It Never Worked…As I Tried It
This is rare, but not inconceivable. Occasionally, a diet doesn’t work.
If keto truly doesn’t work for you, no matter how faithfully or optimally you implement it, don’t do it. Ketosis is still a good state to visit, so just be sure to implement some other method of entering ketosis even if you’re not going to restart the keto diet, whether it’s intermittent fasting, intense exercise (with precautions), caloric restriction, or simply not snacking all the time.
Do make sure you gave it a good three-week try, however, before concluding that “it doesn’t work for me.” That’s the minimum amount of time you need to know if it’s a good fit. If you didn’t give it three full and earnest weeks, sign up for the January Keto Month and see what additional guidance and support can do for your process.
It’s four weeks of daily emails from me covering everything you need to know to get the most out of going keto, plus exclusive videos, a daily challenge calendar with Primal lifestyle- and food-related activities, daily journaling prompts, and much more!
EVEN if you did the Keto Reset with us last January or this June, you won’t want to miss it. I’ve got all new resources and freebies, plus a whole new set of prompts and exercises that will help you blend the best of keto eating with Primal living principles. It’s sure to be an awesome month! Sign up today.
Thanks for reading today, everyone. Are you restarting keto? Trying it for the first time? Committing to another deep dive after a successful keto experience before? I’d love to hear your stories, questions and tips for all who are taking up keto in the new year.
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.