Let’s be honest, the keto diet isn’t easy. The diet restricts some pretty major food groups that we’ve all been eating (to excess) for most of our lives without having to think about it, and suddenly we need to think about every mouthful we eat?! It’s understandable that people seeking to lose weight with this diet can struggle, so here’s a primer on 13 key keto mistakes people make, and what to watch out for.
The 10 Keto Mistakes to Watch Out For
1. Not watching your macros
The keto diet is ultimately about changing the balance of what you eat: eat more fat, eat less carbs. But there’s more to it than that. A keto diet should generally consist of 70-80% of calories from fats, 15-20% from protein and the remainder from carbohydrates, aiming for 20 – 50 grams.
You can eyeball this to some extent once you’re familiar with the diet, but generally speaking, people tend to underestimate the amount of carbs they’re eating, along with their calorie intake when they get started.
That’s why it’s suggested at the start of your diet you weigh yourself, then make use of one of the many online keto macro calculators out there to know exactly what macro balance you should be aiming for. I personally like the calculator from Perfect Keto here.
Unsurprisingly, calories do still count to some extent on a low carb diet, forgetting this is a very common keto mistake. Swapping sugars for fats won’t lose you much weight unless it’s accompanied with eating fewer calories, the trick with keto is it makes it easier to eat less (within reason) and once in a state of optimal ketosis your body will do a better job of burning up the fat stored in your body to make up for the calorie deficit.
2. Obsessing over reducing the carb count as low as possible
Now yes, there are the ‘Lazy Keto’ people who take the approach that if they keep the carb count below a certain number, everything else will fall in to place. Whilst there’s a little truth in there that you do need to reduce your carb intake, it’s not the only focus.
In particular for those exercising, it may be the case you can actually eat more than the prescribed carb intake, and probably should if you want to avoid over exhaustion and fatigue (for more on exercise and keto check out this guide with advice on nutrition and carb intake).
A lot of people will obsess over the ‘net carb’ count but lose track of nutrition and how they feel along the way.
For some people, restricting carbs to 20g or less will be fine, but for others this will make them really struggle, and can worsen the common keto symptoms and side effects making quitting more likely. Everyone will respond differently to this way of eating so don’t be afraid to make adjustments along the way.
I try to stay between 20 to 50 grams of carbs on most days, but if I’m working out I’ll go a little over that, on a fasting day I may go under, the key is to listen to your body and if you’re struggling, adjust accordingly.
3. Not staying hydrated
This is one of the most common pieces of advice given to new keto dieters. Much like that IT Technician classic advice “have you turned it off and on again”, “have you been drinking enough water?” Is the first question I’ll ask if someone’s struggling with keto and especially keto flu etc.
Most on the negative side effects of going keto can be tracked back to poor hydration so if you’re struggling with energy levels, experiencing the keto flu or constipation, think about your hydration first
Aim for a minimum of 2 litres of water per day, but ideally more depending on circumstances (your size, exercise temperature etc.).
The key here is to listen to your body, if you’re constantly finding yourself with dry-mouth and feeling fatigued on the keto diet, drinking more water may be the key.
The other key element to Keto hydration is salt + electrolyte intake. Particularly in those early days of transitioning into ketosis, your body is excreting a lot of water and with it electrolytes critical for bodily function. Not topping these salts and minerals back up can quickly lead to many of the common keto side-effects and keto flu.
To remedy this, either ensure you’re using a little extra salt on meals during this transition, or else add to water in the form of salt or electrolyte powders.
4. Focusing on the scale
This is one of the most common issues for people dieting, and a really common keto mistake; obsessing over the scales! So much of successful weight loss and dieting is down to will power, consistenct and psychology and the scales can have way too much influence over your diet and mindset.
Your weight on any diet can fluctuate significantly from day to day and its crucial not to get carried away, or to let a couple of bad readings get you down and lead to you crashing off your diet.
In the first couple of weeks on keto, if you’ve been eating a regular diet beforehand, you’re likely going to lose a fair bit of weight.
It’s mostly water.
So after a week or two, the scales are going to slow down, and this is the danger zone. It’s easy to get frustrated if progress is slow and to let that stress bleed out into the rest of your day and decisions related to your diet.
If you are keen to weigh yourself regularly I recommend weighing no more than once a week, and doing so with a clear head that sometimes you aren’t going to like what you see, so long as the general direction of travel is the right way.
Be sure to weigh yourself at the same time of day, in the same scenario. It’s probably easiest to weigh yourself first thing in the morning, before eating or drinking anything, to give yourself the best shot at getting consistent readings. If you can go to the toilet beforehand each time, even better.
So instead of focusing on weight, what should you be focusing on? First and foremost, how you feel, are clothes fitting better, how are your energy levels. Measuring your waist, chest, hips etc may also be a better way of knowing how your body is changing physically than just a weight measurement.
5. Avoiding fibre, vegetables and fruit
Fruit and vegetables can seem to be a bit of a dirty word on some keto forums. Even the slightest hint of a carb being unacceptable, but this shouldn’t be the case!
One of the biggest criticisms of a keto diet is that a lot of people on it stop eating fruit and vegetables and replace them with meat and cheese, assuming that as they’re losing weight this must be healthy.
But the key to a healthy diet is variety and proper nutrition. So don’t completely skip the veg in an effort to lose weight, it just won’t be sustainable.
Now yes, there are a bunch of fruit and veg you should probably avoid, or at least manage your intake of by adjusting your carbs elsewhere. But there are plenty of relatively low carb fruit and veg that are packed with vital nutrition that should still be a feature of your diet (hint: avocados! My favorite!)
As a rule of thumb, try to have at least a third of your plate filled with some sort of green, non-starchy veg. Think spinach, broccoli, kale and asparagus. These green veg are packed with vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre, a crucial factor often found lacking on a keto diet. These veg have 2-4g of net carbs per 100grams so it’s pretty hard to over eat these.
Try slathering a little butter or olive oil onto those greens to elevate them to the next level. Or try my trick of grating a bunch of Parmesan onto freshly steamed veg. It’ll dissolve to form a delicious coating, totally worth it!
The other reason for trying to get these veg in is to make sure you’re eating enough fibre. Meat, eggs and dairy aren’t going to help you here and fibre is really important for healthy digestion. Try to add a good fibre source to every meal, if you follow the advice about piling your plate with green veg, you should be alright.
6. Overthinking and Perfectionism
There’s a habit a lot of people have when it comes to starting something new, it’s a really common keto mistake, and it goes something like this:
In a flurry of excitement, they tell themselves they’re going to start something new tommorow (a diet, a hobby, a new years resolution perhaps). They’re not just going to start it, they’re going to be the best at starting it, nailing every aspect whatever it is.
So they jump online, and start reading up on everything they need to do to get started. Absorbing more and more information, on a roll of exploration and learning.
They learn more and more about what they need to do, maybe they need some new kit, they haven’t got the right spiralizer…who knows? Either way, they keep building a more and more complex picture of what is they need to do.
At this point, they’re extremely informed on what needs doing, overqualified in fact, but what they’re not doing, is taking action.
Soon the daunting realisation comes of how complex what they’re wanting to do is. They need to make sure they’re getting so many different aspects right, because they’ve learnt about every minute detail first, without learning as they go.
The enthusiasm starts to fade, as they’ve put up so many barriers to success by focusing on perfection, rather than progress.
This overthinking and hunt for perfectionism from the start is something so many of us are familiar with, and yet we keep on doing it. It’s an easy trap to fall into, and difficult to get out of.
A far better approach is to start simple, start small, and focus on incremental improvement rather than hitting a home run from the first day.
Rather than doing a deep dive into every aspect of keto living first, start by cutting out sugar for a couple of weeks. Once you’ve mastered that, cut out bread, maybe pasta, rice etc.
Don’t pile so much pressure on yourself from day 1, that you end up quitting by day 10.
A keto diet can be very restrictive in it’s purest form, and is a big departure from the way people normally eat. So expecting to be able to make such a huge change in one big step is a huge challenge, and easy to overthink.
Keep it simple!
7. Not getting enough sleep
Sleep is something we seem to neglect in the modern world, but it’s vital for health and well-being, and especially important for weight loss. Skipping quality sleep on a diet is a common mistake, with plenty of studies demonstrating a link between weight loss and sleep .
Getting good sleep should be a non-negotiable part of your day if you want to achieve effective, healthy weight loss. The Netflix binge can continue tomorrow night, you don’t need to finish it right now at 2am.
Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep, any more or less probably isn’t ideal. Do whatever you can to help get yourself to sleep as quickly as possible. Some quick tips:
- Put your phone away and turn off any screens an hour before bed
- Invest in some blackout blinds, and cover up any light sources in your bedroom (standby lights etc.)
- Try to do some exercise each day, preferably in the early evening.
- Grab some ear plugs if you live in a noisy street, your sleep may be getting disrupted through the night without you knowing
8. Drinking Alcohol
Not too much to say here as this one should be obvious. Drinking and dieting are never really going to go hand in hand. The alcohol itself isn’t going to help you stay keto, but more important are the effects of alcohol, or more precisely, too much alcohol.
Be honest now, if you’ve ever drunk a little too much, chances are you’ve made an ill advised 2am pizza order, or ploughed through that massive bag of chips, or some other alcohol induced eating binge.
It happens so easily, and it’s difficult to avoid once you’ve had a drink too many. That friday night cheat meal then turns into a saturday morning hangover – maybe some comfort food to nurse your headache, a takeout on the sofa. And before you know it, you’ve been eating high carb meals for days.
You can drink, a little, on keto. There’s a right way to do it and the wrong way. Pick your drinks carefully, in moderation (that means, 1 or 2….not 10 shots!) and try not to make it too regular an occurence.
For more info on drinking while on keto, check out our keto alcohol guide here.
9. Overdoing the ‘Cheat Meals’
We’re all human, let’s face it. I won’t pretend that I’m a perfect example of keto compliance, but you do need to have a little control.
The keto diet can be very restrictive, and it’s understanding that cravings can build. An occasional cheat meal can be a good thing, in moderation. The problem comes when ‘cheat meals’ become ‘cheat days’, which become everyday eating….
Try to make a cheat meal a special event rather than a regular occurrence, and try to limit them to every couple of weeks rather than multiple per week.
A friends birthday, a wedding etc are all legitimate reasons to take a break from keto for an afternoon (within reason), the fact that it’s saturday, isn’t.
In the long term, I’d aim to remove cheat meals altogether, except when you’re in circumstances where you can’t avoid them. It’s really easy to let a cheat meal become so disruptive to your progress on keto, and start a spiral of disappointment, setbacks and loss of enthusiasm, which leads so many back to their way of eating before.
So rather than resorting to cheat meals, we’d recommend thinking about what it is about those meals that you really crave, the satisfying crunch of fried chicken, the saltiness of fries, the flavors of your favorite sundae. Take a look at the thousands of keto friendly recipes online, as you may be in luck and find a great substitute (pss: for a great fried chicken recipe try our Keto Korean Fried Chicken here!!)
10. Not making a plan, and sticking to it!
This is something I’ve been guilty of in the past, and is often the reason I fall off the keto wagon from time to time.
The world is full of temptation for those on a keto diet, it isn’t really set up for us. That means staying keto needs conscious thought and planning to be effective.
Next time you’re going to a restaurant, look up the menu online beforehand and think through what is and isn’t keto friendly, and don’t be afraid to make substitutions!
Shopping for a keto diet without a plan is generally a recipe for disaster, so don’t do it! There’s nothing worse than finding your fridge empty, or stocked with the wrong foods when hunger strikes, these are the times when you’re most likely to buckle and is one of the most common keto mistakes out there.
Try to make time once a week to think and plan what you’d like to eat for the following week, put together a shopping list and stick to it! Planning your meals this way will make it 10x easier to stick with the diet, and is also ideal for trying to do keto on a budget.
What are your most common keto mistakes?
Let us know in the comments below! Everyone’s journey with dieting and the keto diet is different, and everyone struggles from time to time. Let us know what’s got you struggling, what keto mistakes you’ve made. Perhaps some other reader has been through the same and can offer some insight?!