5 Steps to Transition into a Keto Diet

Updated Oct 28th, 2022 – Written by Craig Clarke

Transitioning to the keto diet can be difficult. Just like with any major dietary change, it will take time for you to adjust to the changes that the keto transition requires.

Fortunately, with the right information and strategies, you can make the overwhelming task of achieving your keto goals into a simple step-by-step process. Throughout this post, we will go over strategies, diet tips, and info that will help you turn keto into your new way of life.

Here’s a quick overview of the five keto transition steps we’ll discuss:

  1. Learn the difference between keto-friendly food staples and high-carb ketosis disruptors
  2. Calculate net carbs
  3. Transform your kitchen
  4. Stick to keto on-the-go with low-carb snacks and keto-friendly fast food
  5. Develop an awareness of how much to eat for optimal results

Below step 5, you’ll find the following info as well:

  • How to avoid keto flu symptoms
  • FAQs about transitioning from low carb, paleo, Mediterranean, and high carb diets
  • Practical takeaways for your keto meal plan

1. Simplify Your Keto Transition With Straightforward Rules & A Keto-friendly Food List

how to transition to keto

One of the questions that I get asked most often is whether or not a specific food, ingredient, or beverage is keto-friendly or not.

“Is <insert food item here> good for the keto diet?”

“Is this keto-friendly or high carb?”

Well, it depends. It depends on your carbohydrate intake limit for the day and the net carbs in the food, ingredient, or beverage itself.

For example, let’s say you really want to have an apple. How are you supposed to know if it will fit into your keto diet?

All you have to do is look up the nutritional value of the apple you are consuming. A medium apple, for example, has 25 grams of carbs and ~21 grams of net carbs.

If you are following the recommendations from our beginner’s guide to the keto diet, then you will be aiming to keep total carbs below 35g and net carbs below 25g (ideally, below 20g).

From this shortsighted perspective, it looks like a medium apple is keto-friendly because it will fit within your carb limits.

However, you must also consider the other foods that you will be eating throughout the day. Will you be able to keep the carb content of your remaining foods below 10 grams of total carbs and 4 grams of net carbs (i.e., the net carbs and total carbs that are left in your carb limits)? This may sound easy at first — but, in reality, it would be very difficult to eat an apple if you want to maintain a healthy and nutritious keto diet.

Theoretically, you could eat an apple a day (or any other food item that is below your carb limits) while you are keto dieting, but to make it keto-friendly, you’d have to get almost all of your remaining calories from meat and fish so that you can stay in nutritional ketosis.

This kind of dietary approach will cause you to become deficient in various vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and amino acids. In other words, an apple a day will not keep the doctor away, but a balanced diet that has a wide variety of whole foods (e.g., meats, fish, eggs, high-fat dairy, low carb vegetables, low carb fruits, nuts, and seeds) will keep the doctor at bay.

By applying the underlying concepts in this example, you will be able to find out if a food, beverage, or ingredient is keto-friendly for you.

In general, anything that takes up over half of your net carb limit by itself is going to be challenging to fit into your diet in a keto-friendly way, and anything that is over (or very close to) your net carb limit should be avoided while you are on keto.

For those of you who would rather not do all of this research, planning, and calculation to figure out what is keto-friendly for you, here is a general list of foods that you should avoid and eat while transitioning to keto:

High Carb Foods to Avoid

  • Grains – wheat, corn, rice, cereal, etc.
  • Sugar – honey, agave, maple syrup, etc.
  • Fruit – apples, bananas, oranges, etc.
  • Tubers – potatoes, yams, and other starchy vegetables

Why should you avoid these foods on keto? Because they primarily consist of net carbs, which are the type of carbohydrate that increases blood sugar and insulin levels.

Keto Food List and Ingredient Staples

To see more specific advice on what (and what not) to eat, click here >

By following this keto food list, you’ll avoid most of the foods that cause blood sugar spikes and increased insulin levels while filling your plate with healthier low-carb foods.

As a result, your total carbohydrate and net carb intake will likely be low enough to experience the benefits of low carb dieting and nutritional ketosis.

Whenever you are not sure if a food item is keto-friendly or not, simply calculate its total carbs and net carbs, and see if you can fit it into your net carb and total carb limit for the day. To figure out how to calculate net carbs yourself, read through our next tip.

2. Calculate Your Net Carbs

Restricting your net carb consumption is emphasized so much on keto because eating too many net carbs is the primary thing that will keep you out of ketosis. The first step to keeping your net carbs low is learning how to calculate them yourself.

To figure out how to calculate net carbs, take a look at a simple U.S. nutrition label.

The two values (and only two values) that you will be focusing on to calculate the net carb content of foods and beverages are “Total Carbohydrate” and “Dietary Fiber.” You can ignore total sugars and added sugars because they don’t give you all of the info you need to find the net carbs.

how to ease into keto: Calculate Your Net Carbs

To find the net carb content of any food item, you will subtract the number of grams of “Dietary Fiber” from the number of grams of “Total Carbohydrate.”

In other words, your net carb equation will look like this:

Total Carbs – Fiber = Net Carbs

For this particular food label, you would calculate net carbs with this simple equation:

9 grams of total carbs – 3 grams of dietary fiber = 6 grams of net carbs per serving

Keep in mind that this indicates the number of net carbs per serving (which may change depending on serving sizes listed on the package).

With this information, we can now figure out if a food or beverage is keto-friendly or not. According to this food label, this item is not keto-friendly at all, so let’s put it back on the shelf.

If you need help tracking your net carbs throughout the day, try using a macro tracking app like MyFitnessPal or Cronometer instead. You can find out how to use these apps to track your carbs and net carbs on keto by using this free guide.

(Note: If you live in Europe, Australia, or Oceania, the carb content on the label reflects the net carbs in a serving of that food, so you will not have to subtract fiber from that number because it already has been done.)

However, despite having our newly found knowledge of how to keto-friendly foods and net carbs, it will not prevent us from succumbing to our food environment.

3. Make Your Food Environment Keto-Friendly

Your willpower may be high now, and you may feel like you can conquer this new diet plan — but we must also acknowledge the fact that we can’t swim upstream forever. If our food environment is filled with easily accessible, carb-rich food that we can eat within the next 60 seconds, then our willpower won’t be able to stop us from cheating on our diet eventually.

To make sure you stick to the keto diet (or any diet for that matter), don’t rely on your willpower — rely on the food environment you create for yourself. Make it so easy to stick to your new way of eating that you can do it naturally.

Here are a couple tips on how to make your food environment keto-friendly:

transitioning to keto: Make Your Food Environment Keto-Friendly

  • Clean out your kitchen of any and all foods that are high in carbohydrates. This includes any candy, chocolate, sugary drinks, bread, pasta, and rice.
  • Go to the grocery store, implement your new label reading strategies, and restock your kitchen with some low carb alternatives to eat and snack on. Some snacks you can try are kale chips, macadamia nuts, high-fat cheese, pepperoni, and our keto-friendly snack recipes.
  • If you struggle with overeating low carb snacks, put them in a place that is much harder to access. (The more effort you have to put into eating a particular food, the less tempting that food becomes.)
  • Do not keep your favorite foods in easy-to-see places. (The more you see palatable foods, the more likely you are to trigger a craving and eat it.)
  • Limit the variety of the foods that you have available at any given time. (This will make it easier for you to eat fewer calories — less food variety leads to less overeating.)
  • Plan your meals ahead of time by using our keto recipes, 14-day meal plan, or our Keto Academy.

By implementing these suggestions, you will be able to turn any obesogenic (weight gain promoting) environment into a place that promotes healthy eating habits and fat loss.

However, when it comes to traveling, having control over your food environment is much more challenging. This is why we dedicated the entirety of the next tip to what you should do to stay on keto when you are on the go.

4. How to Stick to Keto When You Are On The Go

How to Stay on Keto When You Are On The Go

Eating out while you are on keto can feel like cracking the Da Vinci code at times, but regardless of where you go, you should be able to find keto-friendly options.

Here are some go-to meals I can find at almost any restaurant:

  • Breakfast – Look for eggs, omelets, and breakfast meats. Eggs are a fantastic source of protein and fats with minimal carbs. Breakfast meats like bacon and sausage are great keto options as well.
  • Lunch – Stick with meat, low carb vegetables, and/or salad. I like to keep my lunches pretty light, so a juicy chicken breast on top of a bed of greens is always a favorite. If you go this route, be careful about the salad dressing. I always ask for it on the side, or sub it out for vinaigrette. I didn’t always enjoy salads nor was I always satisfied with them, so if you’re the same way you can always settle for a filet of fish with vegetables. Don’t be afraid to ask for some extra butter or bacon on the side.
  • Dinner – Order some quality meat with low carb vegetables or salad on the side. Steak and broccoli, hamburger without the bun, or a seared chicken breast is a great meal for a keto dieters. I know you can find low carb tortillas or pitas, but you should always assume restaurants don’t use these alternatives. Any with flour in it is most likely going to contain a lot of carbohydrates. Most places you dine at will allow you to sub out the side items that come with your food. If your side includes french fries or a baked potato, sub a side of broccoli in there instead.

For more ideas on what you can do to stay on keto when you are eating out, check out this article.

However, If you are not a fan of eating out and need something that’s quick and easy to take with you, here are some of my favorite options:

  • Peanut Butter on Celery Sticks – Ready for a keto upgrade of a classic childhood snack? Take 2 Tbsp. of natural peanut butter (with no sugar added) and mix it with 1 Tbsp. of cream cheese. Sprinkle half a packet of Splenda in there, and you’re good to go. Dip it or spread it on your celery sticks and you will have a fast and easy snack for when you’re running late.
  • Walnuts, Almonds, and/or Macadamia Nuts – Nuts are a great source of fats and fiber. Make sure when you buy them that they are the only ingredient on the list. Avoid any nuts with sugars, salts, or oils added to them.
  • String Cheese – It can’t get any easier than this. Grab some cheese sticks from the grocery store next time you go, and carry one (or two) around with you wherever you go.
  • Kale Chips – Drizzle a little olive oil over a bag of kale leaves, sprinkle a little salt on top and bake them for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees. They’ll be crispy, delicious, and full of some much-needed nutrients.
  • Keto Frittatas, Muffins, No-Bake Bars, and Baked Goods — Many of our keto recipes are perfect for a quick on the go meal. All you have to do is make them in bulk ahead of time and keep them refrigerated before you take them with you. You can make a keto frittata like this, a sweet keto muffin like this, a savory keto muffin like this, a no-bake bar like this, or a keto baked good like this, and take it with you so you can stay keto on the go.

For more ideas on how you can eat keto while you travel, check out this article.

With all of this focus on keto foods, you may start to think that calories don’t matter while you are restricting carbs — but this is not true.

Unfortunately, even when you are in ketosis, you cannot escape the fact that you will gain weight if you eat too many calories. This is why being mindful of how much you eat is one of the best ways to lose weight consistently and break through weight loss plateaus.

5. Be Mindful of How Much You Are Eating

Calorie intake is the one variable that makes the most significant impact on whether we gain weight, lose weight, or hover around the same weight.

For many people, just restricting carbs is enough for them to lose fat consistently and spare muscle loss, but what should you do if you hit a plateau or don’t lose much weight at all?

The simplest strategies you can use are plugging your info into our keto calculator and tracking your calories. By doing so, you will be able to learn how much you are actually eating and how much of each macronutrient (i.e., protein, fat, and carbs) you need to eat to achieve your body composition goals. To help you track calories while you are on keto, we recommend using this article as your guide.

Be Mindful of How Much You Are Eating

As long as you are losing weight at the rate of 1 to 2 pounds a week or more, there is no need to change what you are doing. Asses your progress after every 3-5 weeks (not every day or every week) to see how you are progressing. If you hit a plateau before you reach your goals, then try implementing the strategies that you’ll find in this article.

Bonus Tip — Prepare for the Keto Flu and Its Side Effects

Arguably the worst thing about following the keto diet is that you may experience flu-like symptoms during the first few days. Fortunately, most of these symptoms are the result of mild dehydration and can be easily remedied by drinking plenty of water and meeting your needs for sodium, potassium, and magnesium.

For more specific recommendations on how to remedy the keto flu so you can make adapting to keto even easier, implement the strategies that you find in this article.

And If you have any other questions or concerns about how following the ketogenic diet affects your specific condition, check out this article.

FAQs about Transitioning to Keto

What is the difference between a low carb diet and keto?

Both are diets that limit carb intake, but the keto diet requires us to lower our carb intake until we enter the state of nutritional ketosis. While in ketosis, we produce and burn ketones as an alternative fuel source, which may provide us with additional health benefits compared to non-ketogenic low-carb diets.

Simply put, if you are not in ketosis, then it’s not a ketogenic diet. To take a closer look at the wide variety of low carb diets (including paleo, vegan keto, and the carnivore diet), read through our definitive guide to keto vs. low carb.

How do I transition from the paleo diet to a ketogenic diet?

The paleo diet is relatively easy to convert to keto. Often, all it takes is eliminating sweet potatoes, replacing honey and maple syrup with natural keto sweeteners, and cutting out any remaining grains (e.g., white rice).

To learn more about each diet, check out our guide to keto vs. paleo.

Can I transition to keto from a Mediterranean diet?

Though the Mediterranean diet includes several high-carb foods, only a few simple changes are needed to make it both keto and Mediterranean-friendly.

Start by cutting out the grains and replacing any high-carb fruits and starchy vegetables with low-carb veggies, avocado, olives, and berries. These adjustments are likely to restrict your carbs low enough for ketosis.

If you’d like to learn more about how to formulate a keto Mediterranean meal plan, check out our guide on this diet approach.

Can I follow keto while intermittent fasting?

Keto and intermittent fasting are the perfect match. Not only will prior experience with intermittent fasting make your keto transition easier, but keto dieting will make it easier for you to extend your fasts as well.

Read through our keto guide to intermittent fasting to learn more.

Can I get the same results by taking keto fat loss pills with exogenous ketones?

Exogenous ketone supplements and keto fat loss pills will not provide you with a shortcut to keto results. In fact, your body will burn through the ketones you consume rather than utilizing your stored body fat.

This is why it’s essential that you focus your time, energy, and money on making a sustainable keto transition. Though it’ll be difficult at first, you’ll soon experience the vast array of benefits that the ketogenic diet can provide, including lower body fat percentage, improved blood sugar levels, reduced insulin resistance, enhanced mental clarity, and better appetite control.

Putting It All Together — Formulating Your Plan for Keto Success

By following the steps in this article, you will be able to transition to the keto diet with ease. With these tips, you will even be able to make the keto diet easier than it was to eat the way you did before.

Here is a quick overview of how you can make this happen for your keto lifestyle:

  1. Know what foods you should and shouldn’t eat depending on the carb content of the food and your total carb and net carb limits.
  2. Keep track of net carbs by subtracting the fiber content from the total carb content of the food item.
  3. Make your food environment as keto-friendly and anti-obesogenic (weight loss promoting) as possible.
  4. Bring keto snacks and order keto-friendly meals when you are on the go.
  5. Use our keto calculator and calorie tracking guide to increase the likelihood that you will get the results you want. This will help estimate your daily calorie requirements along with the fat, protein, and carb intake you need to drop body fat and maintain muscle mass.
  6. Consult this guide if you ever hit a weight loss plateau.
  7. Prepare for keto flu symptoms and know exactly how to remedy them by following the suggestions in this article.

If you’d like to learn more about how to personalize your keto diet for optimal results, we’ve included a few additional resources below: