The ketogenic diet is not only known to be one of the most effective weight loss tools, but has proven to have many health benefits. Ketosis is a state at which your body produces ketones in the liver, shifting the body's metabolism away from glucose and towards fat utilization. Unless you can check your blood ketones, using Ketostix is an easy way to detect urinary ketones. It's not the most accurate method, but may be good enough to find out whether you are in ketosis. In some cases, weight loss may be difficult even on a low-carb ketogenic diet and there may be a few possible reasons for weight stalling, which I have listed in this post.
If you want to know more about the ketogenic diet and how it can help you lose weight, have a look at my Practical Guide to Keto Diet which is freely available on my website also as PDF.
Top Reasons You Are Not Losing Weight on a Keto Diet
1. Carbs are Too High
Your carbohydrate intake may be too high. Try to decrease your daily carbs limit. Also try to include coconut oil in your diet. Coconut oil consists of MCTs (Medium chain triglycerides), which are easily digestible, less likely to be stored by your body and are used for immediate energy. MCTs are converted in the liver into ketones, which helps you enter ketosis. If you want to know more about carbs, check out this post. For more about ketones, have a look at this post.
2. Protein is Too High or Too Low
Your protein intake may be too high/ low. Protein is the most sating macronutrient and you should include high-quality animal protein in your diet. If you don't eat enough protein, you will feel more hungry and most likely eat more. Lack of protein can also lead to muscle loss. However, if you eat too much protein, the excess protein converts into glycogen and disrupts ketosis. Keep in mind that you will have to eat a lot more than you should - 10-15 more grams won't make a difference. This is not the most likely reason, as it's not as easy to eat too much protein unless you take protein supplements. Phinney and Volek in their book "The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living" recommend 0.6 - 1 gram of protein per a pound of lean mass / 1.3 - 2.2 grams of protein per a kilogram of lean mass a day (lean mass = total body weight without fat). You can read more about protein in my post here: All You Need to Know About Protein on a Low-Carb Ketogenic Diet.
3. Carb Cheating / Carb Creep
Carb cheating / carb creep is another possible reason for weight loss plateaus. You have to be really disciplined and aware of all carbs you eat. It’s a little nibbling here and there of the forbidden foods, leading to a carb creep, so make sure you count all carbs. In this video, Dr. Eric Westman explains the ketogenic diet and emphasises that even eating mints may affect ketosis and weight loss results. Sometimes, even when a label says "sugar-free", it doesn't have to be "carbs-free"!
4. Too Many Calories - Yes, They Do Count
The reason could be way too much fat and therefore calories in your diet. Firstly, it's indisputable that all calories are NOT equal. It really matters whether you get them from healthy and sating LCHF food or processed food rich in carbs. Sam Feltham's 5000 calorie experiments (first with LCHF diet, then High-carb diet) may be extreme, but they have shown that calories are NOT equal and their source is very important. However, some people on a LCHF diet may find it easier to lose weight if they also watch their calorie intake. Fat contains twice as many calories as carbohydrates and protein, so it's important your fat intake lies between the recommended ranges. There is no diet that lets you consume "unlimited" amounts of calories and still lose weight.
Calories from fat should amount to 60-75% of your daily intake and overeating is not going to do any good. When it comes to the overall calorie intake, it depends on your individual maintenance level and how active you are. To find your ideal macronutrient targets, check out KetoDiet Buddy, a free on-line Keto calculator we have developed for our blog. Keep in mind that the macronutrient ratio is not the only aspect you should consider - the type and quality of fats matter. For more, have a look at my post here: Complete Guide to Fats & Oils on Low-Carb Ketogenic Diet.
Note: If you just started a low-carb diet, it may take some time for your body to get used to it and you will naturally eat less. Just give it some time. Low-carb diets are a lot more nutritious and sating as you will discover.
Are you in ketosis but still not losing weight? See the big picture: Ketosis itself will not guarantee weight loss. It's not just the amount of ketones in your bloodstream. Low-carb diets in general are beneficial for weight loss (appetite suppressing effects + effective way of using body fat as fuel). What this means is that going "zero-carb" will not help you lose more weight - don't aim for high ketone readings. If you haven't succeeded by following the ketogenic diet, chances are you need to start monitoring your calorie intake.
5. Too Many Low-Carb Treats
You eat too many low-carb treats that may interrupt ketosis or cause cravings. Going low-carb doesn't mean you can indulge low-carb pancakes, cheesecakes or muffins on a daily basis. Although these may be very low in carbs (when you use stevia or Erythritol), they may still cause cravings. You should always treat them as occasional rewards and your diet should be based on real food (eggs, meat, leafy vegetables, cheese and some nuts). As a guideline, beware of chewing gums, mints or any medications such as cough syrup and others that may contain sugar or sweeteners. Have a look at my recent post about suitable sweeteners and why I avoid artificial sweeteners, especially aspartame.
6. Snacking on Nuts and Dairy
One of the common mistakes people make is that some people overeat dairy and nuts when they are trying to lose weight. You may experience weight stalling or even weight gain not because nuts and dairy will kick you out of ketosis but because these foods are calorie-dense and easy to overeat (100 grams of macadamia nuts has over 700 kcal and over 70 grams of fat!) There is no reason to avoid non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, bell peppers or fruits like avocado or berries. These foods are very high in micronutrients, low in carbs and won't impair your weight loss efforts.
7. You Are Close to Your Target Weight
Also keep in mind that losing fat gets more difficult as you approach your ideal weight - weight loss is not a linear process. In my own experience, if you need to lose a relatively small amount of weight like 5-10 pounds and your body weight is already at a healthy "natural" level, you will find it hard to lose more weight. The only way is to be careful about your calorie intake. In my case, because I'm quite active, this is eating up to 2,100-2,300 kcal a day (maintenance level + level of activity) to maintain my weight or 200-500 kcal less to lose weight. As you can see, it’s nowhere near starvation.
8. Short-Term Weight Gain and Fluctuations
You put on weight over a short period of time. This could happen if you had more carbs (even once!) than your daily limit (e.g. you went to a party). As you may know, there is a relationship between water retention and glycogen stores. If your body manages to store some extra glycogen, you also increase water retention. This happens literally from one day to the next. Don't panic, it's just water. Once you go back to your daily carbs limit it will take 2-3 days to lose the excessive water. Also, there are natural fluctuations related to hormone balance, especially in women.
9. Thyroid or Adrenal Disease & Weight Loss
You may have a thyroid or adrenal dysfunction and you are not aware of it. It only takes a blood / saliva test to find out - visit your doctor! In case of autoimmune hypothyroidism (Hashimoto's), a very low-carb diet is not recommended. Dr. Broda Barnes, who spent over 50 years on thyroid research, suggested in his book “Hypothyroidism: The Unsuspected Illness” that the minimum amount of carbohydrate intake for patients with hypothyroidism should at least 30 grams of net carbs. If you want to learn more about thyroid / adrenal disorders and what your doctor may not tell you, have a look at Stop The Thyroid Madness.
Stress is a significant factor. When we are stressed out, our body produces a hormone called cortisol, which is responsible for storing fat round your stomach area (visceral fat) and makes weight loss more difficult. Try to relax, don't underestimate this factor. Find your own way to reduce it: try meditations, take a few days off work, go somewhere for a weekend or go for a walk. Stress is also linked to hypothyroidism and adrenal issues and this badly affects your metabolic rate. As a result of that, you store fat.
11. Lack of Sleep
Lack of sleep and disrupted circadian rhythms may be the cause of your weight stalling. It may sound as cliche but sleep is and absolutely crucial part of fat loss: Maximum fat loss is only achieved with adequate sleep, diet and exercise. Try to fall asleep before midnight and sleep for 7-9 hours. I don't expect all of you can afford to sleep for 9 hours, but take it as a goal.
12. Leptin & Satiety
Leptin and its satiety signalling is another possible factor. Fat is hormonally active and it sends out leptin, a hormone that tells us when we’ve had enough. As you lose fat, there will be less fat cells to do the job. This does not apply just to low-carb, but any diet. The question is how significant this factor is. If you eat food rich in fat and protein, this can be minimised.
13. Too Much Exercise
You exercise too much. Overtraining could be as harmful as lack of exercise. Here is a good article that explains Why You May Need To Exercise Less. Here is my post that will guide you through the types of exercise that are beneficial for weight loss and health.
In my own experience, too much exercise is counteractive. Recently, I've been trying to lose 4 pounds (below is my progress over the last few months). As you can see, my calorie intake has risen dramatically. Reason? Because my weight loss was stalling, I decided to do more exercise (HIIT, weight training and some cardio 6-7 times a week!). Result: I was hungry and started eating more. Fortunately, I didn't put on any weight, but it hasn't helped me lose body fat either. About 2 months ago, I had an injury and couldn't do any exercise other than 30 minutes of daily walks. My calorie intake dropped, I was eating less and most importantly, I lost the last 4 pounds! Now, I don't exercise more than 3 times a week and walk about 30 minutes every day. (written in 2013)
What else to do about it?
Join the KetoDiet Challenge - check for when the next one starts. I created this challenge to help you follow a healthy low-carb diet or even get through a weight loss plateau. At the end of each challenge, I'm always giving away prizes like iPads, my favourite kitchen appliances, books or Amazon gift cards to help you stay motivated!
Try one of my free Diet Plans and don't forget to read this page!
Don't weigh yourself more than once a week or even better, don't weigh yourself at all. There are natural fluctuations related to water retention and hormonal balance. If you are a woman, you will notice these fluctuations more often. If you see no movement on the scales or even if your weight goes up, it doesn't mean you are not losing fat. If you exercise, you may even see a little increase in weight, as muscles are heavier than fat. The important thing here is to concentrate on losing body fat. Don’t rely just on scales, use body tape, calipers, belts or clothes to see any changes.
Try to include more coconut oil and more omega 3 fatty acids (macadamia nuts, fatty fish) in your diet - it helps with fat loss. Also, check out my two posts about what will help you lose weight: coconut oil and macadamia nuts. To find out more, check out my posts on how coconut oil and macadamia nuts may help you lose weight.
Some low-carb dieters claim to have improved their weight loss by reducing the consumption of dairy products, while others found no significant effect. This may well be down to individuals and it's worth trying in case it works for you. Why would dairy products cause weight stalling while they are low in carbs? Some say it's down to dairy intolerance but the most likely reason is that full-fat dairy products are energy-dense and easily overeaten. In general, full-fat dairy and nuts should be eaten with caution - calories may not be the main focus of a LCHF diet but they are not insignificant. A dairy-free diet plan is here: Free KetoDiet eBooks
Be careful about products labeled "low-carb", "sugar-free", etc. It's a known fact that some of these products contain more net carbs than they claim. The perfect examples of such advertising are the Atkins products. They contain artificial additives and have a long list of ingredients which always raises alarm. Additionally, they are sweetened with sugar alcohols such as sorbitol or Maltitol that cause insulin spikes and are definitely not "carbs-free". Not all sugar alcohols have the same impact on blood sugar and I would recommend you only use products sweetened with Erythritol, Swerve, Stevia or chicory root sweetener (e.g. Just like sugar). These sweeteners have no impact on blood sugar and are very low in calories. To find out more about sweeteners, here is my list of Top 10 Natural Low-carb Sweeteners.
Avoid products labeled "fat-free" at any cost. These are often full of carbs!
Learn to eat REAL food: meat, eggs, vegetables and nuts should be the main part of your diet! Eating food full of preservatives, additives and colourings is not only unhealthy, but it will impair your weight loss efforts. In most cases, these products are not nutritious enough, don't have the ability to sate our appetite as REAL food does and as a result, you will eat more.
Most of your diet should consist of meat, eggs and vegetables. Be careful with nuts, root vegetables, dairy and fruits (berries, if any).
If you reached the plateau, try Intermittent Fasting (IF) - a complete guide to IF is here - or High Fat Fasting (HFF) - a complete guide to fat fast is here - for a few days and see if there is any difference. Doing IF every now and then is recommended for keeping your metabolism high.
HIIE (High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise) also works for breaking the plateau. These short intense workouts improve glucose tolerance and are the most effective for burning calories without inducing increased appetite. I personally love home workouts from Bodyrock.tv: free beginner, intermediate and advanced programs, all starting from just 12 minutes a day!
I should mention that for long-term effects, it’s not about burning calories, it’s about building muscle tissue and increasing your metabolic rate. Therefore, include resistance training in your workout routines.
Increase your electrolytes, make sure your electrolyte intake is sufficient (magnesium, potassium, sodium).
Drink water! Make sure you get properly hydrated, it's vital for fat loss. Water suppresses appetite and helps body metabolise fat.
If your carbs intake is low and you don't see any reason why you shouldn't lose weigh, give it some time. Your body may just be getting used to your new life-style and needs time to adjust.
I hope you enjoyed reading my post. To find out more about the ketogenic diet, keto-friendly recipes, diet planner and more, check out my apps KetoDiet, KetoDiet Basic and my new cookbook!