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How to Stay Motivated During a Weight Loss Stall

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If you've adopted a keto diet to lose weight, hitting a stall or plateau can be discouraging.

If you're aiming to lose a substantial amount of weight but your scale hasn't budged in a while, watching others' success stories and seeing stunning before and after pictures can be downright disheartening.

Whether you're using keto solely for fat loss or as a form of medical therapy, it's not a quick fix. You have to be in it for the long haul.

You've learnt all about common weight stalling keto foods and weight loss mistakes but how do you stay motivated during a stall? These are the 6 tips to help you stay focused during a weigh loss plateau.

How to Stay Motivated During a Weight Loss Stall

1. Low-Carb Living as a Lifestyle, Not a Diet

As just mentioned, keto isn't an overnight magical weight loss fix. For those who only have a few pounds to lose, it can happen quickly, but if you're looking to lose a large amount of weight, you have to be in it for the long term.

Think about when you're driving to someplace several hundred or perhaps even a few thousand miles away. On such a long journey, things will delay you or put you slightly off track. Some things you'll expect and plan for, like stopping to use the restroom, fill up on gas, and stretch your legs. There'll be other things you don't expect, such as road construction or an accident holding things up. None of these pauses or delays mean you're not going to reach your destination. You're still on the way there; you've only just stopped for a little bit.

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Climbing a mountain is an even better example. The brave souls who climb Mt. Everest don't start at the bottom and ascend continually toward the summit without stopping along the way. There are multiple base camps where they stop for a while to get acclimated and let their bodies adjust. They plan for this and factor it in when estimating their expected arrival at the summit. We are well advised to do the same when on a long weight loss journey. It's not usually a straight shot down to your goal weight.

Stalls are normal during weight loss, and they must be expected. Rarely does anyone accomplish a significant goal with smooth sailing all along the way. More often there are bumps and hiccups here and there — like a detour that takes you a little bit out of the way on a long drive — but these aren't permanent detours that prevent you from arriving at your ultimate destination unless you let them be.

How to Stay Motivated During a Weight Loss Stall

2. Redefine Your Definition of a Weight Loss “Stall”

Staying at the same weight for a few days or even a few weeks isn't a stall. In his book, Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution, Dr. Robert Atkins said a plateau was “several weeks” with neither a change in weight nor in body size.

Do not assess your progress solely using a scale. It's not uncommon for body size and shape to change even when scale weight doesn't. This means your measurements (and your clothing size) may change even if your weight doesn't decrease much, or at all.

Renowned low-carb researchers Dr. Jeff Volek and Dr. Stephen Phinney explained things well in their book, The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living:

Don't trust the bathroom scale with your mental health. […] We all live inside a 4-pound-wide grey zone, so that from day to day we fluctuate up or down (i.e., plus or minus) 2 pounds. This happens more or less at random, so with any one weight reading you don't know where your body is within that fluid range. Your weight can be the same for 3 days in a row, and the next morning you wake up and the scale says you've gained 3 pounds for no apparent reason. For people who weigh themselves frequently, this can be maddening.

Additionally:

“Most people think that if they do an intense workout (say 90 minutes of circuit training in a gym) that they should lose weight. And indeed, if you weigh before and right after such a workout, the scale goes down because of sweating and water weight loss. However, if it makes you sore for the next few days don't be surprised to see the scale go up. That's because muscle soreness indicates that your muscles are temporarily inflamed, and inflammation causes fluid retention and swelling in that muscle. Once again, don't let the scale make you crazy.

Do not assess your progress solely using a scale. It's not uncommon for body size and shape to change even when scale weight doesn't.

3. Respect Your Body's Complexity

If you're in a weight loss stall — or even if you're not — it's not the best idea to get on the scale every day. If you have a healthy emotional relationship with the number you see, whether it's up, down, or the same, then it's okay to weigh yourself every day.

As a general rule, though, I don't recommend it. Too many of us let that number — which is simply the force of Earth's gravity on our physical body — determine our mood for the day, and tell us whether or not we are good, worthy, loveable people. If your scale weight plays these kinds of head games with you, stay off the scale.

Are you trying to lose weight? Focusing purely on weight can be misleading. You don't know whether you are losing fat, muscles or even water.

The Number On Your Scales Does Not Represent Changes in Your Body Composition

If you can't resist, though, and you weigh yourself daily, understand that the changes you see are not always reflective of changes in your body fat. As Drs. Volek and Phinney explained above, if you do a hard workout, your muscles retain water. Changes in weather and humidity also influence water retention, as can a woman's monthly cycle.

The more important issue, though, is changes in body composition. If your shape and size are changing even though your weight isn't decreasing — your clothing is looser, your measurements are getting smaller — then you might be rebuilding tissue that was broken down in the past. This is lean, vital mass, which you want to rebuild — muscles, bones, connective tissue, etc.

Your weight can temporarily go up with water retention. Exercise, changes in weather and humidity influence water retention, as can a woman's monthly cycle.

Sometimes You Need to Gain Weight in Order to Lose It

This scenario is not unheard of among women, especially those who have histories of long-term calorie restriction, or over-exercising without adequate rest, recovery, and nutritional replenishment.

When you start consuming adequate amounts of nutrient-dense food and remove dietary factors that actually inhibit absorption of certain minerals (for example, compounds in wheat and soy interfere with digestion and nutrient absorption), your body may be better able to assimilate the critical nutrients in your food and devote them to repairing and rebuilding tissues that were degraded during times of nutritional scarcity.

In this case, a stall or even a small amount of weight gain isn't something to get upset over; it's something to celebrate. Again, try to shift your focus away from the scale and onto your body composition and how you feel.

How to Stay Motivated During a Weight Loss Stall

4. Focus on Non-Weight Loss Benefits of Keto

When you're feeling frustrated and disappointed because the scale isn't moving, there are other ways to determine whether keto is helpful for you.

Are your moods better? How's your skin? Your energy, or joint pain? If you're a woman, is your cycle more pleasant and your PMS improved? Women and men — how's your libido? If you measure your blood sugar, is it in a healthy range? All of these are good signs!

When you stay keto, your body undergoes positive changes internally even when your weight doesn't change. Keto is beneficial for so many things even in people who are not and never were overweight. The short list includes:

People who go keto typically report better energy levels, sharper thinking (bye-bye, brain fog!), and the ability to go many hours between meals without feeling shaky, irritable, or light-headed.

Beyond those subjective and self-reported effects of a ketogenic diet, there are measurable biomarkers that clearly improve from eating this way, even when someone doesn't lose weight.

When you stay keto, your body undergoes positive changes internally even when your weight doesn't change. Keto is beneficial for so many things even in people who are not and never were overweight.

Health Benefits Can Be Achieved Without Weight Loss

Blood glucose, insulin levels, and blood pressure typically normalize, and inflammation decreases even when body weight doesn't change. Research shows that weight loss is not required to realize the cardiovascular benefits of carbohydrate restriction. The title of one such study, by researchers Richard Feinman, PhD and Jeff Volek, PhD, says it all: “Low carbohydrate diets improve atherogenic dyslipidemia even in the absence of weight loss.” ( 1)

In this study, they found that compared to weight loss on a low-fat diet, a carbohydrate restricted diet with no weight loss resulted in greater improvements in triglycerides, HDL, LDL particle size, and the total cholesterol/HDL ratio.

A more recent study from Dr. Volek's research group showed even more impressive results: a very low-carb diet was shown to reverse metabolic syndrome among more than half the subjects, even though the study was specifically designed to prevent weight loss. In other words, the subjects did not lose weight, yet they still experienced dramatic improvements in markers for metabolic syndrome as well as cardiovascular disease. (2)

In many studies in which low-fat diets are shown to have beneficial metabolic or cardiovascular effects, subjects lose weight as well, so it's difficult to say whether it was the diet itself that led to the benefits, or if it was the weight loss, which could have been accomplished some other way. In the low-carb arm, on the other hand, the cardiovascular improvements occurred even when subjects didn't lose weight. ( 3)

Bottom line: know that your health is improving and good things are happening inside, even if the scale isn't moving as much or as quickly as you'd like.

Don't focus solely on weight loss. On a keto diet, blood glucose, insulin levels, and blood pressure typically normalize, and inflammation decreases even when body weight doesn't change.

5. Don't Compare Yourself to Others

This is a tall order, but try not to compare your keto journey to anyone else's. Social media is peppered with seemingly miraculous weight loss stories and transformation photos. Use these success stories as motivation and encouragement, not as punishment.

Use them as proof that if someone else can have a dramatic transformation, then you can too, but understand that that person is not you. You are a unique individual, with your own particular carbohydrate tolerance and insulin sensitivity, metabolic rate, genetics, and medical history. You are in the process of your own transformation, and it won't look exactly the same as someone else's.

How to Stay Motivated During a Weight Loss Stall

6. Create a Non-Weight Related Goal

When you're feeling frustrated by slow or no weight loss, aim for a new personal best in a different area of your life.

If you walk or run, go further or faster than you have in the past. If you lift weights, challenge yourself to a new personal record, or work on doing unassisted pull-ups. (For many, this will be a very long-term goal!)

If you're not an athlete, consider starting a new hobby or getting involved in a new activity. Helping others is a foolproof way to take your mind off what you perceive as your own “problems” or struggles. Being of service to others is something you can do at any size or weight.

Consider finding a suitable volunteer opportunity in your area. If you have the means, donate a bit of money to a cause you agree with. Add things to your life that make you feel good regardless of your weight.

Take Home Message

Understand that stalls and plateaus are normal, and expect them.

Remember that the changes you see on your scale are not always reflective of changes in your body fat.

Remind yourself that your health is improving even when your scale weight isn't budging.

Don't compare yourself to others on social media; you are a unique individual with your own metabolism and medical history.

Redirect your focus away from weight and onto something else, be it related to health or fitness or completely unrelated, such as taking up a new hobby or being of service to others.

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Amy Berger, MS, CNS, NTP
Certified Nutrition Specialist and Nutritional Therapy Practitioner

Amy Berger

Amy Berger, MS, CNS, NTP, is a U.S. Air Force veteran, Certified Nutrition Specialist and Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who specializes in using low-carbohydrate nutrition to help people reclaim their vitality through eating delicious foods, and showing them that getting and staying well doesn't require starvation, deprivation, or living at the gym.

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Comments (9)

One of the benefits I seldom see posted about keto, that for me was an eye opener, was the improvement in my dental health. Before I began keto in 2016 my dental hygienist and doctor used to make fun of how much plaque I had on my teeth. They also warned me about recession and gum disease. When I went back after going on the keto diet my hygienist couldn’t  believe the change in my gums and the lack of plaque! It certainly shut the 2 of them up (allow me to gloat- they were nasty). Yes, I did change dentists. 😊 anyway, my teeth and gums are the healthiest they have been since going keto. The yellowness of my teeth and the purplish hue to my gums are gone. So happy for this bonus benefit!

Reply

YES! Many people report substantially improved dental/oral health.
And if excess sugar & starch do that to the teeth, imagine what they do to the rest of the body.  😉  Improvements might also come from increased intake of vitamin K2. All good!

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Hi Amy, I love this article. It certainly hits home with me regarding the very long stall.  And I have a lot to learn, including more patience.  Personally, I would love to see more articles on the emotional side of this issue, including the psychological addiction, hormonal effects, stress and illness. All of these powerful factors (and more) can throw someone off track emotionally and then they get discouraged.  Looking forward to more of your content.

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Thanks, Patricia, Yes, I think it's long overdue for more of us in the keto world to be talking about the emotional side of all this -- addiction, bingeing, compulsive overeating (or UNDEReating!), etc. In fact, I'll be doing some videos about these issues soon but I don't know if I'll be writing articles about them.  

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Okay thanks. I just subscribed to your Youtube page as I assume that is where you will post your videos. 😉

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Thank you Amy for this great article. It is a topic so very close to my heart.
All of it rings true and makes sense however it is very hard to do. At least for me. I have been overweight my entire life and also suffer from lipodema, anxiety and depression.  My eating has always been an issue as I am an emotional eater and eat not for pleasure but to not deal with emotions. When I found keto I dropped 50lbs and got my first complimenting from my mother. Things changed and then I stalled off and on for a year. In December I went ZC and I started gaining weight. I am a trained nutritionist and I understand that my body needs time to repair from all the trauma. But when the scale or the measuring tape doesn’t move in weeks it is literally feeding my fear of failure. The voices tell me “see, you’re a fat failure again”. I don’t expect to drop 100lbs in a year but I just wish internal healing would be mir apparent. And the bit comparing bit, of course I know we are all individuals with varied genetics and requirements but it is just disheartening to see people achieve goals when you don’t even though you put in all the effort. Sorry for the sad ramblings. Just trying to hold on when every voice inside screams for me to just give up.

Reply

Sending you {{{hugs}}}.
You are not alone!
I'm actually going to be doing more videos about the emotional side of all this, because frankly, we all kind of already know about protein/fat/carbs.  😉  We know what to do. Why's it so difficult for some of us to *do it* sometimes? (Or even when we *are* doing it, why is it so difficult to trust the process when the results we want aren't coming?)  I wish I had answers. I don't know if I do, but I know that we all need to be having the conversation much more.
Be patient with yourself. Any of the things you're dealing with -- depression, anxiety, lipedema -- would be a challenge all by itself. But when you combine all three, it sounds like you are actually doing GREAT to me.  😊  
Thanks for reading, and again, remember, you're not alone.

Reply

Hugs! I so feel your pain. It’s so frustrating to see other people eat whatever they want and not gain weight but I have to constantly keep cutting various foods out of my diet to see if my weight will shift. One thing that has helped my emotions was to look into estrogen dominance. I don’t know if you are female but if you are it might help. Best of luck and hang in there! I went back to a carby diet after eating keto for 3 years and immediately put back on nearly all the weight I had lost and had all my awful carby diet symptoms (gas, bloating, headaches etc) come back. I am back on track though, keto feels much better even if the scale isn’t moving down as fast as I would like, at least it’s moving.

Reply

Thanks for reading, Suparna. I had an experience with estrogen dominance several years ago. Doing much better now. But yes, I think that can be a roadblock for some women. It can be so difficult to find a doctor who understands not only the right tests to order, but possibly even more important, what do DO about the results.  😉  Stay the course this time. Like you said - you know good things are happening on the inside and you feel better even if the scale isn't moving much yet.

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