IF YOU SPEND any time reading weight loss transformations or perusing nutrition-focused Instagram accounts, you’ve likely seen people rave about the ketogenic diet: a high-fat, moderate-protein, and low-carb plan that can help you lose weight.
And you probably already know that the aim of the diet is to achieve ketosis, which is when your body switches to burning fat for fuel instead its typical energy source, carbohydrates.
That’s because, in general, your body is fueled by glucose, which it derives from carb-rich foods like flour, grains, vegetables, and fruit.
But when you drastically reduce your carb intake on the keto diet, your body fuels itself on stored fat, instead.
The name of the diet comes from ketones, acids created when your liver uses fat as fuel. These ketones are released back into your bloodstream and are used for energy.
But achieving ketosis isn’t always easy, says registered dietitian Melanie Boehmer of Lenox Hill Hospital.
“Sometimes people try and teeter into it and they won’t lower their carbohydrates enough,” she says. Or, keto dieters will lower carbs, but have a cheat day, which takes them out of ketosis.
If you decide to go on the diet (which is a whole different article), Boehmer says, you should stick to between 20 to 30 grams of carbohydrates per day in order to maintain the ketogenic state.
But how will you know when you’ve reached this fat-burning mode? Thankfully, there are some common signs of ketosis to look out for.
These signs tend to appear within two weeks of your body entering ketosis, but if you’re following the diet properly, they shouldn’t last long. Once your body has adapted to its new fat-burning state, the signs should fade away. If any of them hang around for longer than three weeks, it could be an indicator you’re eating too many carbs and going in and out of ketosis.
Here are six common signs of ketosis:
1. You’re plagued with smelly breath and B.O.
Ketosis may be good for your waistline, but it could be bad for your social life.
In ketosis, your body creates byproducts as it breaks down fat to use for energy. One of these byproducts is acetone—the same acetone found in nail polish remover. This waste is eliminated through urine, sweat, and breath, Boehmer says.
“It’s described as a fruity smell, but not in a good way,” says Boehmer.
Until the smell fades away, our expert advises frequent teeth brushing and popping sugar-free mints.
2. You’re always tired.
It’s not abnormal in ketosis.
As your body gets accustomed to its new low-carb ways, you’ll probably feel fatigued. Boehmer recommends avoiding strenuous activity the first few weeks while your body gets acclimated to burning fat for fuel.
“Back off and keep it low impact,” she says. “Deciding to run a half marathon as you are trying to enter ketosis is probably not the best idea.”
After two weeks, you should begin to feel more energetic and have no problem with picking up your usual fitness routine.
3. You start cramping up.
And it may have a lot to due with proper hydration—or a lack thereof.
Lowering carbohydrates can throw your electrolyte and mineral balance out of whack, meaning you could run a deficiency in potassium, sodium, and magnesium, Boehmer says. All three of these nutrients help prevent cramping, so you may experience some pain without them.
While many keto fanatics are excited about dining on decadent foods like cheese and bacon, the dietitian says it’s important to eat plenty of nuts, seeds, avocado, leafy greens, and fatty fish to ensure you’re getting enough minerals.
4. You have trouble pooping.
Keto dieters are typically constipated for two reasons.
First, they’re not consuming fiber-filled foods, like oatmeal, that are carb heavy but keep you regular. (Cheese, while delicious, does not contain fiber.)
Second, carbohydrates are converted into glycogen—which has high water content—to be used as energy; when you’re not eating carbs, the amount of water in your system is decreased, making it harder to poop.
The best way to combat this is by making the most of the carbohydrates you do consume.
“You should be getting carbohydrates from non-starchy vegetables and things that have lots of fiber,” Boehmer says. Cauliflower, broccoli, and leafy greens are all good picks.
Boehmer says the best way to minimize these unpleasant side effects is by staying consistent.
“If you’e going to commit to this, you need to fully commit,” she says. “Keep your carbs between 20 and 30 grams [per day].”
5. You have a whole different pooping problem.
As in, diarrhea
Some people have loose bowel movements when starting keto, says Barbie Boules, R.D.N., This happens when you don’t digest all the fat from your foods. And, many keto-friendly products contain non-nutritive sweeteners or sugar alcohols, which can also cause digestive problems in some people. “Sorbitol in particular is notorious for causing GI upset,” she says.
6. You’re cranky.
Mood swings, irritability, general hangry-ness—these symptoms aren’t special to keto. Any low-carb diet will make you feel all sorts of things because your brain also uses glucose to help it do all of it’s many, many jobs properly.
Deprive your brain of glucose at the expense of your body, and it just might make you pay.