How Long Does it Take to Get Into Ketosis?

Atkins Induction Friendly Steak Dinner
How long will it take you to get into ketosis?
Not as long as you think!

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The main benefit of going into ketosis is the reduced hunger that results when you start burning fatty acids for fuel, so many dieters aim to get into that state quite quickly. Getting into ketosis is a simple process and occurs faster than most people think.

What takes longer is adapting to using fatty acids for fuel.

It will also take a few days before you start spilling unused ketone fragments into your urine. That kick-start of energy also doesn't happen until ketosis is well underway, as you'll need to be burning fats before you start to feel better.

If you're looking for a great way to kick-start the new year off right, a Keto diet can help you change your life for the better.

With the help of the state of ketosis, the most effective way to shed those unwanted pounds, you'll be able to lose weight without feeling hungry or deprived. In no time at all, you'll be in the wonderful state of ketosis and singing its fat-burning praises. But, when can you expect that to happen? 

How long does it take to get into the state of ketosis?

It's quicker than you think. 

What takes longer is reaching a point where your brain is happy and satisfied living on ketones.

If you're looking for the signs and symptoms of ketosis, that will also take a bit longer. By the time your ketone strips are registering ketone production, ketosis has already begun. Sure, it's a nice motivator to see those sticks turning pink or lavender, but that is not when ketosis first starts.

It will take two to three days before you start to spill ketones into your urine. This is why the definition for the state of ketosis isn't always agreed upon, even among ketogenic experts.

Dr. Atkins, for instance, defined ketosis as the point in the process where you started to get a reliable positive reading on your ketone testing strips.

However, that isn't when ketosis actually begins.

Brain Switch (Like Light Switch)
The brain takes several days to adjust to using ketones,
but that isn't when ketosis actually begins.

Since I like to keep things exact, and as close to the truth as I can come, this reliable guide to ketosis will tell you:
  • how long it will take to get into ketosis
  • what you can expect before you get there
  • what you'll feel like while going through the change
  • and what you can get from being on the other side
What follows isn't just another article on how to quickly drop the pounds, but this post will be an insider's look into what ketosis can actually do for you, as well as share how long the process takes.

Pinterest Image: Brain Neurons

What is Ketosis?

Keto is not a three-months-on nine-months-off, return-every-January, way to live.

It is a complete lifestyle change.

Instead of only restricting calories, what a traditional weight-loss diet asks you do, a keto diet requires you to restrict carbohydrates as well. This carbohydrate denial forces the body to turn its liver glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrate) into glucose to keep your blood sugar level steady.

What most people don't know is this:

The muscles have their own supply of glycogen, but it is a closed system.

Muscle glycogen cannot be used to control your blood sugar.

When referring to dietary ketosis, we are always talking about liver glycogen because the muscles keep their glycogen for themselves.

As muscle glycogen is spent, however, the muscles pull glucose from the bloodstream to refill their supply. This is why extra activity at the beginning of a low-carb approach, before the muscles become insulin resistant, can help you get into ketosis faster.

How long it takes to enter ketosis greatly depends on how active you are, as well as how many carbs you eat.

Woman Swimming in a Pool with Goggles On
Activity matters as much as food intake does.

Not only are the body's cells pulling glucose into themselves for fuel and body repair, requiring the liver to break down its glycogen, convert it into glucose, and dump that glucose into the bloodstream, but your muscles are doing the same thing.

They are removing glucose from the bloodstream, which causes your blood sugar to go down.

Between your body's everyday needs, your activity, and the number of carbohydrate grams you eat per day, you can actually speed up or slow down the process of getting into ketosis.

An upswing in protein oxidation is common when carbohydrate is limited and glucose is in short supply.

Once those glycogen stores in the liver are exhausted, due to dietary restrictions and extra activity, the body has no choice but to slow down the burning of amino acids (to preserve muscle mass) and start increasing its production of ketones to fuel the brain.

With carbohydrate in short supply (20 carbs per day, or less), the body has to go into ketosis quickly or the brain would die.

You were creating Ketones before restricting carbs, especially during an overnight fast when your liver glycogen was likely to be on the low side, but the amount of ketones in the blood are few. The only exception to dwindling glycogen was if your pre-low-carb habits included eating a large meal just before going to bed.

The difference between a low-carb diet and a low-calorie one is simply a matter of degree. How many ketones are being produced is what makes the difference.

It is the increase in ketone production brought about by eating as few carbohydrates as possible that characterizes the state of ketosis.

The true definition of ketosis is when the liver is producing ketones at an accelerated pace and not when the brain has adapted to the use of those ketones, as many keto dieters think.

What You Can Expect Before You Go Into Ketosis

When you first look over the foods allowed on a low-carb approach to living, you might feel a bit of panic. Missing are the heaps of:
  • white rice
  • mashed potatoes
  • dinner rolls
  • semolina pasta
Missing is all of the padding that you might be used to using to fill out your plate. However, there are plenty of luxurious foods to satisfy your palate on Keto:
  • red meats, poultry, fish, and eggs
  • low-carb cheeses, such as cheddar, Swiss, and cream cheese
  • salad greens, including spinach and bok choy
  • raw salad vegetables like peppers, cucumber, and celery
  • cooked vegetables, such as broccoli, asparagus, and cabbage
  • full-fat garnishes, including sour cream and crumbled bacon
  • herbs and spices without sugar added
  • high-quality fats like olive oil, coconut oil, and heavy cream
  • real, full-fat salad dressings without added sugars
  • specialty foods, including avocado, olives, and lemon
  • beverages, such as diet soda, tea, and coffee
  • artificial sweeteners to help you make the transition
  • and controlled-carb products like reduced-sugar ketchup
Even so, making the adjustment will be more or less difficult, depending on how you were eating before you decided to go with a low-carb approach. For this reason, the first few days of your new keto lifestyle might be rough on your thoughts, emotions, and body.

Food addictions you didn't know you have might rise to the surface, manifested in cravings for things you never craved before.

As your glycogen begins to deplete, hunger might also go up temporarily, a signal from the body that glycogen stores are getting super low.

As you savor the high-calorie, high-fat foods allowed on keto, you also might begin to feel a bit of guilt or hesitation, especially if you are concerned about how long it will take to get into ketosis.

This is completely normal.

Everyone has been programmed by marketing companies, food industry, medical community, and even the media to eat in a certain way, so you might feel guilty when you don't obey what you've been told to eat.

However, I'm not asking you to have faith that low carb is the right choice for you.

Faith, as defined by the majority, is nothing more than gullibility. Instead, just relax as you chow down on the foods you always believed would make you fat and learn for yourself if that's true, or not.

If you've been overweight for quite some time, you might also struggle a bit when trying to determine real hunger from appetite. You may be used to eating until you feel physically full – until your stomach has stretched out to a certain size.

When not sure if you're hungry or not, you can stop eating and give your body time to secrete the no-longer-hungry hormones that tell you that you've had enough to eat.

Due to the rules and structure of a low-carb approach to eating, you can always eat more later on if you are really still hungry.

In fact, I personally recommend that you don't worry about portion sizes or how much you're eating for at least a week or even two.

Give yourself time to adjust to this new lifestyle.

The body is going to get quite upset when it runs out of its accustomed fuel source because it always takes the easiest path. From the very beginning, you need to give yourself permission to eat. And eat well.

When the body begins screaming for sugar, go ahead and feed it, but feed it plenty of protein and fat. Don't give it what it wants. Give it what it needs to make the switch into the state of ketosis instead.

Signs and Symptoms of Going into Ketosis

These are several of the signs and symptoms of going into ketosis:
  1. Increased need to go to the bathroom.
  2. Increased thirst.
  3. Sleep disruption. Some can't sleep through the night.
  4. Increased energy and vigor.
  5. Euphoria and strong feelings of well-being.
  6. Stable blood glucose levels.
  7. Reduced inflammation, swelling, and bloating.
  8. Reduced hunger and cravings. Many forget to eat.
The first thing you should notice as you move into the state of ketosis is an increased need to go to the bathroom.

Since it takes a lot of water to convert glycogen into glucose, you'll know this is happening by the amount of liquids your body is losing during the first couple of days.

Many find it impossible to sleep through the entire night, and must get up to go to the bathroom at least once and, more likely, twice. This sleep disruption is only temporarily.

It will straighten itself out once you go into the state of ketosis and your body adapts to the water loss.

However, throughout the entire time you spend in the state of ketosis, you will experience an increase in thirst and have to use the bathroom more often. This is partly due to the amount of extra water you need to drink when doing keto, and partly due to the water that results when the body breaks down body fat.

Some people feel an upswing in energy within only a few days, after restricting carbohydrate, while others don't get that extra kick for several weeks.

Euphoria is often reported, whether you feel more energetic or not. You'll just feel better than you did when your blood glucose level was too high or unstable. Keeping blood glucose as level as possible brings an increase in feelings of well-being.

The absence of dramatic shifts in blood glucose or a correction of glucose levels that have been consistently low will eliminate some of the elevation of stress hormones that accompany unstable blood glucose levels.

For that reason, body inflammation will go down, and you won't have to endure as many body aches and pains as you did before.

The turning point or peak for ketosis is hunger.

As triglyceride is converted into fatty acids and burned for energy, the hormone Leptin (secreted by fat tissue) will be able to get past the blood brain barrier and inform your hypothalamus about the true condition of your fat stores.

If you've been seriously overweight for awhile, you might be Leptin resistant, which means that your hunger mechanism has not been working correctly because Leptin hasn't been able to get past the blood brain barrier to communicate with the hypothalamus.

This isn't the case for all overweight individuals.

If your triglyceride level is not higher than normal, then hunger probably won't be the direct cause of your overweight, and you won't experience as dramatic a reduction in physical hunger as others do.

When Leptin is able to communicate with the brain, hunger will dramatically go down.

Cravings for starches and sugars won't be as intense, and your total interest in food and eating will be severely reduced. You might even find that you often forget to eat.

I do.

Another exception to the dramatic drop in hunger is if you are already close to ideal weight.

The more fat stores you have, the larger the amount of Leptin produced by those fat cells, so if you don't have much body fat, less Leptin will be available to communicate with the brain.

The amount of Leptin in the blood is what tells the hypothalamus exactly how much body fat you have, so you won't reap the dramatic reduction in hunger and total disinterest in food that someone who is 100 pounds overweight will get.

How Long Does it Take to Go Into Ketosis?

Now for the BIG question:

How long does it take to get into ketosis?

You'll notice that I avoided talking about ketone testing strips in the above section on the signs and symptoms of ketosis. Ketone testing strips are normally used by people following the Atkins Diet, and those who have heard of them, to tell them if they are in ketosis, or not.

Since I want to be exact in this blog post, I want to clear up the misconception about how long it takes for ketosis to begin.

For those on a low-carb diet, going into ketosis is a time to celebrate. Insulin levels have come down, your mood and energy are high, appetite and cravings hit an all-time low, and your body has just turned itself into a fat-burning machine.

But how many days does it take to get into ketosis?

Most people will tell you that it takes 3 to 5 days for the ketone testing strips to turn pink or lavender, but this is not when you first went into ketosis. You literally go into ketosis well before that happens.

Whenever the body is short on glucose, even just a little, ketones are produced from breaking down triglyceride into fatty acids. Ketones are a by-product of breaking down fat and can be used to take up the slack produced by a reduced calorie intake.

This means you go into ketosis within one day. For most, that's 24 hours or even less.

You Go Into Ketosis in One Day or Less
You Go Into Ketosis In Less Than One Day!

Since the definition for ketosis is increased ketone production above a certain level, the upswing in production always occurs within 24 hours.

[For an easy plan that will get you into ketosis faster than traditional Keto, check out our article on how to get into ketosis in 24 hours. It walks you through the process in 7 simple steps.]

The liver only has enough glycogen stored to last 12 to 22 hours, or less, depending on how active you are and how thrifty your liver is in doling out glucose.

This increase in ketone production occurs at the same time that your mind is trying to coax you to eat because the brain wants its glucose, and it wants its glucose – right now!

Many dieters do not understand that ketosis has already begun before their hunger drops and acetoacetate ketones begin spilling over into the urine.

By the time the ketone testing strips turn at least pink, ketosis is already well underway.

Each adaption the body performs produces a deeper state of ketosis, but you are actually already in ketosis after just a few hours. This is because the liver can only hold about 80 to 100 grams of glycogen.

What most people define as ketosis is when the urine testing strips begin to change color. This change occurs once too many ketones build up in the kidney. Since ketones are acidic, they irritate the kidney, so the kidney dumps them into the urine.

This occurs within 3 to 5 days, or less, depending on how full your glycogen stores were when you started restricting carbohydrates.

If you came to a low-carb diet from a diet that was already partially restrictive in carbs, you'll get into ketosis faster because the fewer carbs you eat on a daily basis, the faster this build up and dumping will occur.

The brain's adaption to using ketones for most of its fuel takes quite a bit longer.

It can take up to 3 weeks before the brain is able to use ketones for up to 75 percent of its energy needs. In the meantime, ketosis begins and then continues to progress as your new diet choices stay consistently deficient in carbs.

What Happens to Ketosis When You Cheat?

Cartoon: Red Monster Face
What happens when you give into the carb monster?
What can you expect if you cheat?

Give in to the carb monster during this initial adjustment period, and you'll stop the forward progression of ketosis.

Cheat repeatedly, and you'll never get past the initial stages of ketosis to experience the hunger reduction and freedom from being controlled by food.

In the beginning stages of the Keto nutritional approach, it's essential to keep the liver deprived of glycogen, to a certain degree, so your brain adapts to using mostly ketones for fuel and your muscles adapt to burning fats.

Once the brain and muscles adapt, however, some carbohydrate can be carefully returned to the diet, a little at a time, provided your hunger and appetite do not kick into high gear again.

How Many Carbohydrates Does it Take to Stay in Ketosis?

Initially, you will want to stay well below your carbohydrate tolerance, which is why many Keto dieters choose to stay at 20-net carbs for the duration of the diet phase. This grants plenty of room for mistakes and an occasional overindulgence, but it's not really necessary to keep your carbohydrate intake that low.

Higher carb intakes can still maintain ketosis, provided you stay below your personal tolerance level.

The ultimate Keto Diet keeps your carbs low enough to control hunger, but not so low that body systems or hormonal levels are adversely affected. The average dieter can tolerate 35- to 45-net carbs a day, once ketosis is in full swing, and still drop weight at a reasonable pace.

Some people can go as high as 60- to 80-net carbs if they are not insulin resistant or only mildly so. Others will have to go even lower than 20.

When done correctly, a Keto Diet will be tailored to fit your:
  • likes
  • dislikes
  • lifestyle
  • carbohydrate tolerance
And it's the carbohydrate tolerance that most people forget is part of the plan.

Ketosis is driven by carbohydrate restriction.

Many doing The Keto Diet never increase their carbs past 20 net a day, but not all low-carb diets are that strict. The Atkins Diet, for example, was never designed to be a 20-net carb diet for the rest of your life. And neither was Nutritional Ketosis as designed by Dr. Phinney.

The aim of a low-carb, high-fat diet isn't to stay in the depths of carbohydrate restriction.

The aim is to train your body to burn fats for fuel.

You do that by taking advantage of the adaptions the body goes through from lowering your carbohydrates to get into ketosis, and then taking the steps necessary to discover what level of carbohydrate works best for you.

These aims require you to discover your own personal carbohydrate tolerance, so you can ditch the dieting mindset and make low carb a way of life.

What You Get after Going Into Ketosis

This is where most dieters place their focus.

Once ketosis is in full-swing, the brain is using ketones and the body is using fatty acids to fuel its daily activities, as well as make repairs.

Amino acids are used to rebuild protein structures, refill glycogen stores to a certain extent, and provide calories for direct oxidation.

Most people continue to eat low-glycemic carbohydrates, but at a greatly reduced intake, when compared to the average person who eats between 300 and 500 grams of carbohydrate per day.

Since it only takes 120 grams of carbohydrates to fuel the brain, moderate-carb diets also provide many of the same benefits that severely restricting your carbohydrate intake does. How low you have to go in carbs depends on your own metabolic problems, if any.

One of the largest benefits of ketosis is sustainability.

In the blessed state of ketosis, or just barely on the other side, you can end the game of yo-yo dieting once and for all! The key is to keep your triglyceride level low and stay aware of what you put in your mouth.

Free from hunger for most of the day, you can eat until you're pleasantly satisfied. Most people find they can continue to eat the rich foods denied to them on low-calorie diets, even after reaching goal weight, which is what makes Keto so sustainable.

Calories do have to fall in line with energy output, but that's the same with any nutritional approach to healthy living.

Addictive food patterns often disappear after entering ketosis, which can result in increased self-confidence and a power over food that you never had before. With Leptin working correctly, you'll be able to get in touch with your body and learn to discern it's subtle ways of communication.

The way to success is simple and uncomplicated: stick to your program of choice.

But people do tend to make eating more complicated than it needs to be. A low-carb way of living will allow you to:
  • pick from a variety of rich, delicious foods
  • feel and look better than you have in years
  • enjoy increased energy and vitality
  • keep those pounds off for the rest of your life
  • eliminate mood swings and food addictions
  • improve your cholesterol numbers
  • lower your risk for heart disease and stroke
All of that while gaining a new sense of control over every aspect of your life.

Sound too good to be true?

It's not. You can live the ketosis dream.

Success Doesn't Come Cheap

Successful weight loss takes a full commitment to a Keto lifestyle and a strong determination to do whatever it takes to succeed. Granted, a Keto Diet uses a different approach to eating than traditional weight-loss programs.

You have to respect that difference and be willing to pay the price required to receive what you want.

It all comes down to value.

Make the Keto lifestyle more valuable than anything else in your life, and you'll reap the success you crave. Make that holiday party or potluck at the office more important than your health, and your aim will falter along with your success.

The key to making ketosis work is to do what's to your advantage and to understand that you can't have your cake and eat it too.

You have to choose the number one value in your life.

If you don't, if you waffle back-and-forth between a super low-carb approach and a very high-carb high-fat diet, you'll spend the rest of your life chasing after a keto cupcake that doesn't exist.

Ketosis offers you many gifts.

Whether you choose to accept those gifts is up to you.

And only you.