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 and you may need to decrease it. Typically, 20-30 grams of net carbs per day is the ideal carb intake.
If you want to know more about carbs & ketosis:
2. Protein is Too High or Too Low
Your protein intake may be too high or too low. Protein is the most macronutrient that will keep you full for longer. If you don't eat enough protein, you will feel hungry and most likely you will end up eating more. Lack of protein can also lead to muscle loss. This doesn't mean that you should overeat protein. Protein is not a particularly efficient fuel source and too much of it may raise your insulin levels.
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. Dr. Phinney and Dr. Volek recommend 0.6 - 1 gram of protein per a pound of lean mass or 1.3 - 2.2 grams of protein per a kilogram of lean mass a day (lean mass is 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.
Feeling hungry on a keto diet? Make sure you eat enough protein and fat!
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.
Fat is used as "filler" and overeating is not going to do any good for weight loss. To find your ideal macronutrient targets, check out KetoDiet Buddy, our free online Keto calculator. Apart from the amount of fat in your diet, the type and quality of fats matter. For more, have a look at our 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? Calories do count on a keto diet!
See the big picture: Ketosis itself will not guarantee weight loss. It's not just the level of ketones in your bloodstream. Low-carb diets in general are beneficial for weight loss due to their appetite suppressing effects and easy access to body fat as an energy source.
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 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). Also, beware of chewing gums, mints or any medications such as cough syrup and others that may contain sugar or sweeteners. These are common sources of hidden carbs.
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.
Avoid dairy, nuts and low-carb treats to break through a weight loss plateau!
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 limit 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. To calculate your ideal macros on a ketogenic diet, use our Keto Calculator.
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, such as below 20 g of total carbs, 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.
Read more about keto & thyroid: Are Keto and Low Carb Suitable for People with Thyroid Disease?
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 stress. Instead, 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.
Stress management and sufficient sleep are huge factors in weight loss!
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. A few years ago I was trying to lose 4 pounds. 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 - my calorie intake spiked. Anything I burned during exercise was negated by the increase in calorie intake. 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! Since 2013, I don't exercise more than 3 times a week and I walk about 30-45 minutes every day.
Overtraining is as counterproductive as lack of exercise!
What Else To Do When You Hit a Plateau?
Join the KetoDiet Challenge - check for when the next one starts. I created this challenge to help people 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 to help our participants stay motivated!
Try one of my Keto Diet Plans. I created two Premium Keto Diet Plans and three Free Keto Diet Plans
Need more guidance? Don't forget to Keto Diet - Start Here
Don't Weigh Yourself
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. You should concentrate on losing body fat - here's how you can measure body fat. Don’t rely just on scales, use body tape, calipers, belts or clothes to see any changes.
MCT Oil May Help
Try to include coconut oil and more omega 3 fatty acids (macadamia nuts, fatty fish) in your diet - it may help with fat loss. For more about healthy fats: Complete Guide to Fats & Oils on a Low-Carb Ketogenic Diet
Avoiding or Limiting Dairy and Nuts
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.
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. You can read more about dairy here: Dairy on a Ketogenic Diet. Similar rules apply to nuts and seeds: Nuts & Seeds on a Ketogenic Diet.
I created one premium keto diet plan and one free dairy-free keto diet plan for those who need to avoid it.
Avoid "Low-Carb" Products
Avoid products labeled "low-carb", "sugar-free", etc. They are the most common sources of hidden carbs.
Not all sugar alcohols have the same impact on blood sugar and I recommend you only use products sweetened with Erythritol, Swerve, Stevia or FOS. 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.
Similar to "low-carb" products, avoid products labeled "fat-free" at any cost. Because the fat has been removed, these are often laden carbs!
JERF = Just 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 non starchy vegetables (all part of our Keto Food Pyramid). Some foods, such as nuts, root vegetables, dairy and berries, should be eaten with caution.
Try Intermittent Fasting
If you reached the plateau, try Intermittent Fasting (IF), or High Fat Fasting (HFF), for a few days and see if there is any difference. Doing IF every now and then is recommended for boosting your metabolism.
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 love home workouts from Bodyrock.tv. they offer free beginner, intermediate and advanced programs, all starting from just 12 minutes a day!
If you want long-term effects, do not use exercise to burn calories. Use it to build muscle tissue and increase your metabolic rate. Therefore, include resistance training in your workout routines.
Get Enough Electrolytes
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.
To read more, also check out this post: How To Low Carb: 15+ Common Weight Loss Mistakes
- Diet & Nutrition
- Not Losing Weight on a Low-Carb Ketogenic Diet? Don’t Give Up and Read Further
- Martina Slajerova
- Not Losing Weight on a Low-Carb Ketogenic Diet? Don’t Give Up and Read Further
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