Ketosis is the state a human body achieves when burning body fat for fuel. It is up-regulated (activated) once your liver glycogen has been depleted. This is achieved by lowering the amount of glucose in the body, via a ketogenic diet of < 20 net grams of carbs per day or fasting. I’m often asked what are the Signs of Being in Ketosis? How do I know if I’m “doing keto right“. Well, this post will help those feeling a little uncertain better understand ways to feel confident in their ketosis – I’ll describe 9 Tell-Tale Signs of Being in Ketosis.
I’ve decided to split this post in to sections – the “Hard” and the “Soft” Signs of Being in Ketosis, as some people are more inclined to one vs the other.
Let’s begin with the “Objective” (ie: measurable) options. These sure-fire ways of “knowing” you are in Ketosis can help motivate those starting off. It could help validate a newbie that they are ‘doing keto right’. While I disagree with the sentiment of “chasing ketones”, I can relate to wanting to know if giving up those carbs is actually putting my body in the state I’ve set out for.
“Hard” Signs of Being in Ketosis
Blood Ketone Measurement
This is the gold standard. With a quick finger prick, you can tell what your blood ketone levels. As with the urine test strips below, this isn’t a direct relation to how much your body is metabolizing ketones. Let me explain:
The circulating blood you are ‘sampling’ with the finger-prick is just going to show you the level of ketones passing around in your blood. So this sample isn’t linked to how much your mitochondria are ‘using’. Therefore, a high result here is not necessarily a sign of ‘super ketosis‘ but it does mean your body has turned the green light on for ketone production – woohoo!
As the blood levels drop (or as I would say – stabilize), it is likely a sign for newbies becoming more adapted to uptake of ketones in their cells; not a failure of remaining ‘on keto’. Here’s a link to one of the most popular models, the keto-mojo.
Urine Ketone Testing
This method can be slightly less accurate than the blood just by the method of sampling (you need to capture some urine first!), however any colour on the strips informs you that your body has switched in to the state of ketosis.
Darker colours (higher levels of ketones) are common for individuals just starting out. To reiterate, ‘newbies’ are not yet fat-adapted, and much of the ketones your body produces are not actually being taken up by your cells. Your mitochondria need to switch to being ‘fat-burning’ instead of ‘sugar-burning’ and that takes time. So, as your body adapts to ketone uptake (you will feel this happening in the “soft” signs of being in ketosis I’ll get to soon in this post) your body will actually pass fewer ketones through your urine, as you’ll be more efficient at using them.
This drop in ketone ‘colour’ on the test strip should not be taken as a failure… it’s actually a success! It means your body is using the ketones and all the metabolic advantages ketones will bestow. Check out these test strips, and remember: wash those hands! 😉
Breathe Acetone Exhalation Levels
I’ve got this to work after digging around for a cheaper alternative to the blood ketone monitors. The science here is the acetone on your breath from metabolizing the ketones appears on the braethalyzer! So you can be stone cold sober but blow a ‘warning’ on this breathalyzer!
This is the most convenient way to measure, so I’d suggest picking up a ketone breath analyzer here.
What’s measured with this method isn’t ‘wasted’ ketones (urine) or ‘circulating’ (blood), rather this measures what is actually oxidized. The byproduct of ketone metabolism is exhaled out your lungs – pretty cool!
Aside: Here’s a thread over at ketogenic forums with information on how to interpret / convert the results of an inexpensive breathalyzer to see how deep in ketosis you are. This Greenwon breathalyzer is what I use.
“Soft” Signs of Being in Ketosis
Now that we’ve outlined the objective options available to physically measure ketosis, let’s tackle the subjective “feelings” you’ll get when you enter ketosis. In my opinion, once you understand your body’s signs of being in ketosis, you won’t want to spend a dime on those objective tests anymore.
Let’s dive right in with the list!
- Clarity of Thought
- Mood Stability
- Even Energy Levels
- Diminished Hunger
- Hungry For Fat
- Lower Back Ache (temporary)
- Metallic Taste Tongue
- Noticing How Often and What Others(non-ketoers) Eat
- You (temporarily) urinate more frequently – as you enter ketosis, your stored glycogen is used up, and with it goes the water. This is temporary as you ‘enter’ ketosis and when remaining in it, urination frequency returns to normal after the ‘first rush’
9 Tell-Tale Signs of Being in Ketosis
1. Clarity of Thought
When my body is in ketosis, and I’m burning fat for fuel, I experience what can only be described as “moments of clarity” throughout the day. They seem to come in waves, and stay for an indeterminate amount of time.
Some who have not tried keto will dismiss this as quackery, but ask anybody who has been on the ketogenic diet, and they’ll know what I’m talking about. ‘Lifting of brain fog’ where words come easily – either written or spoken. Vocabulary feels more robust. Tasks you set yourself to can be focused on and sharply dealt with.
This is probably my favourite “unbelievable benefit of keto“, and when you experience it, it’s a true sign you are ‘doing it right’.
2. Mood Stability
Feeling more ‘level’ and ‘in control’ of your emotions is another subjective sign of being in ketosis. You might find you surprise yourself, handling a stressful situation much better than you normally would. Small pet peeves don’t irk you quite as much as they normally do.
This is what I refer to as “the keto calm”. It’s been made famous by the community’s tagline “Keep Calm and Keto On”; a mantra I remind myself of whenever I feel I may have slipped up a little. So, if you have challenges ‘keeping your cool’, or find yourself feeling frequently cynical / pessimistic, this non-weight loss sign of being in ketosis is a win-win situation.
3. Even Energy Levels
The post-meal crash is a distant memory. You actually feel fueled for activity, and look to take a walk, or do some form of exercise / work around the house when you are fueled up post-meal.
At first, this can be surprising to yourself, your family, or your partner – wow all of a sudden you have all this energy! Soon though, you wonder how you spent so many hours scrolling on your phone, or watching episode after episode of Netflix. That ‘urge’ to do something calls to you when you aren’t riding the blood sugar roller-coaster.
4. Diminished Hunger
So… that feeling when you realize it’s 2:00pm, you haven’t put any food in your body, and you don’t even feel hungry? That’s a sure sign of ketosis.
When eating Ketogenic-macro meals, you might find you simply don’t have the appetite to consume as much volume as you used to. Whole foods are nutrient-dense and satisfying, much different from your carb-heavy and nutrient poor processed foods. Your body just needs less.
5. Hungry for Fat
Skipping the bun is no longer a big deal. It’s default, automatic. Your body knows what it wants, and fat is where it’s at!
You find ‘drizzling’ olive oil turns more into a ‘dousing’. You’ll ask the waiter to take away the bread bowl, but please leave the butter dish!
You start going through batches of homemade mayo faster than you thought possible.
Fat hunger is true hunger… something you will get re-acquainted with. When you want food, you want the fat. When you eat enough, you feel satisfied. Very different from the false hunger of carb cravings. You will learn the difference, and though subtle it is very telling of the addictive properties processed carbs have over us + hijack our body’s natural satiety signals.
6. Lower Back Ache (temporary)
I find this symptom comes occasionally when I do prolonged (3 days or longer) water fasting, and was really only an issue when I first began. When processing body fat in to energy, Dr. Steven Phinney points out in this video is a competition in the kidney for uric acid excretion.
This can lead to some strain on your organs, namely your kidneys. This competition could manifest itself in mild lower back pain. To handle the symptom, I did some research and found a simple home-made supplement works great to alleviate it! The drink consists of:
- (1 tsp) Baking Soda
- (1-2tbsp) Lemon Juice or Apple Cider Vinegar.
- (1 cup) Water (only optional, but helps with sharpness)
This drink will not break your fast, resets your body’s pH, and alleviates that little bit of back ache. Also, it will have you re-living your 5th grade ‘volcano’ science project in your kitchen if you aren’t careful!
7. Metallic Taste on Tongue
Going back to why ketosis can be detected by the “breathalyzer” hard measurement method: a byproduct of metabolizing ketones is exhalation of acetone. This is picked up by the breathalyzer, and by paying close attention to your body, you can actually sense it on the back of your tongue! It’s remarkable and barely there, but it is detectable.
Good news? You can be confident when you feel that sensation you are burning body fat. And when you are done eating your latest keto creation, you’ll seamlessly switch from burning dietary fat back to burning body fat. The body is an amazing machine!
8. Noticing How Often and What Others (non-ketoers) Eat
You can walk through the crowded cafeteria every day, and take a relaxing stroll through the park instead of eating lunch.
The smells don’t really affect you, as your body is happily mobilizing the fat you’ve got buzzing around your system.
You may start to wonder how is it possible I’m skipping meals, while everybody else seemingly sets their whole day’s activities around meals and snacks?
Try to take advantage of the time to be productive, and take back some ‘me-time’ for yourself 🙂
9. Increased Urination (Temporary)
The initial few days of going keto (or fasting) will see you lose a large amount of water weight. This is all the water that has been happily hanging out with your stored liver glycogen. Once you allow your body to tap in to that stored glycogen, you will likely notice more frequent urination. This is nothing to be alarmed about, but it is indeed another tell-tale sign
Once you are keto-adapted, you will be carrying less glycogen and therefore less water weight. The frequency of urination will return to normal now that the water you were holding has passed through. So, this is a temporary thing not to be concerned with long ter.
A word of caution: in those initial days you may want to supplement with salt, potassium and magnesium to ensure you aren’t passing too many electrolytes, that could result in fatigue or headache.
10. Bonus Sign: You splurged on a second Fridge / Freezer
And it’s stocked like this:
Trust the Process & Learn Your Signs of Being in Ketosis
There’s much to be said about setting up a routine, and Enjoying the Process. When you are finally comfortable enough with the keto lifestyle, you’ll find you make the right low carb choices more frequently. Soon, it becomes habit. At this point, if you’ve been paying attention to your body a little bit, you can rely on your own feeling to pick up signs of being in ketosis. I think this is the ultimate goal, because nobody wants to worry about whether they are in ketosis for every hour of every day for the rest of their life.
Learn to relax, understand how your body feels when fueled properly, and you’ll be able to apply the seemingly Unbelievable Benefits of keto to other aspects of your life. That’s the ultimate goal!
Until next time, Ciao!