What the Heck Is Ketosis, and Is It For Me?

You've probably heard of the ketogenic diet by now. Maybe you've even tried a few keto recipes. I mean, everything should be bacon-wrapped and topped with avocado, right? I never recommend jumping into a diet without understanding the ins and outs — you need to know what a diet is all about before you can decide if it is a good fit for you. The keto diet, for example, gets its name from the metabolic state called "ketosis." Fans of the keto diet say that getting your body into this state of ketosis can help you improve body composition (lose fat while retaining lean muscle), increase your energy throughout the day, and even boost your sex drive.

Sounds pretty good to me. Let's take a deep dive into the world of keto to find out what ketosis is, how to achieve it, and if it's right for you.

What Is Ketosis?

When you follow a keto diet, your goal is to be "in ketosis." So, how do you get to the magical land of ketosis? The keto diet requires you drastically reduce your carbohydrate intake (some people go as low as five to 10 percent of their daily calorie intake) while substantially increasing your fat intake, and keeping your protein intake at a moderate level.

Sadly, this doesn't mean butter and bacon at every meal. You will be swapping out your bread, oatmeal, cookies, crackers, sweeteners (even natural ones), potatoes, and most fruits for avocado, olive oil, nuts, fish, eggs, meat, green veggies, a little bit of full-fat dairy, and a few berries. So, instead of oatmeal with peanut butter and banana for breakfast, you may have an omelet with bacon, kale, and tomatoes.

By shrinking your carb intake, you are also slashing the level of glucose in your bloodstream. Glucose is your body's preferred energy source, but, in its absence, your body will use up fat stores as energy instead. This process of burning up fat produces ketones and, once your blood ketone levels rise to a certain level, you are said to be "in ketosis." In a sense, you are throwing a switch on your metabolism to change it from sugar-burning to fat-burning.

Once you enter ketosis, your body can more easily access stored fat. For many people, this means quick weight loss, steady blood sugar levels, reduced cravings, and improved mental clarity. You have to stick to your ketogenic diet very closely, however, to get into ketosis and stay there.

How Do You Know If You Are in Ketosis?

There are a few signs that your body has entered ketosis, though some of them don't sound like much fun. Many people experience what is called a "keto flu." According to Dr. Josh Axe, these symptoms include low energy, weakness, trouble sleeping, increased cravings, and bad breath, and symptoms can last for up to two weeks. Once your body adjusts to burning fat over carbs, however, these symptoms typically subside to make way for the benefits so many people rave about.

Symptoms aside, the only way to truly know if you are in ketosis is to test for ketones, either through blood, breath, or urine. There is no perfect testing method (blood testing is the most accurate, but also the most expensive), so it is really personal preference.

Is Ketosis Right For You?

Ketosis is not for everybody. The keto diet can feel restrictive for some and may make it difficult to navigate dining out and traveling. You need to monitor your ketone levels on a daily basis to know if you are truly in ketosis, which can be costly and cumbersome. On the other hand, there are countless stories of people losing upwards of 100 pounds, reversing type 2 diabetes diagnoses, and improving blood pressure and cholesterol numbers while easily sticking to their ketogenic diet.

From the research I've seen, there is no danger in giving it a try if other diets haven't worked for you or you're looking for a way to improve certain health markers (like blood pressure) before going on medication. Dr. Axe usually recommends his patients give it a try for a few months, but no longer than a year. In my experience, diets that allow for moderate amounts of protein, carbs, and fat and that aren't overly restrictive work the best in the long run, but ketosis could be just the healthy jump-start you need. Just remember, no mashed potatoes or pumpkin pie at this year's Thanksgiving dinner.