One concern people have with attempting the ketogenic diet is whether they will regain the lost weight if and when they stop maintaining the ketogenic lifestyle and start eating things like whole grains, legumes, and other high-carb foods.
It’s a reasonable concern. A very high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb diet eliminates bloating and the consumption of inflammatory foods and also programs your body to burn fat for energy. Thus, it’s fair to wonder whether your weight loss will go in reverse if you reintroduce carbs (and consequently inflammatory foods) into your eating plan and step out of ketosis for extended amounts of time or permanently.
Fortunately, the answer is no. You will not necessarily regain the weight, provided you are thoughtful during and after the transition.
There are many reasons people choose to stop maintaining a high-fat diet that keeps you in a state of ketosis. Two examples include traveling or big life transitions that make it difficult to stick to a certain way of eating (such as having a new baby at home and friends dropping off meals). Meanwhile, some people feel best when they cycle in and out of ketosis for periods of time, while others meet their keto goals and simply want to reintroduce more net carbs into their diet.
While you can simply quit the keto diet at any time without experiencing things like the keto flu (which you usually get when you start keto), below are a few tips to follow should you decide to transition out of a ketogenic lifestyle. They can help ensure you don’t gain back all the weight you lost on the keto diet.
Make a Slow Transition Off Keto
First and foremost, when transitioning to a post-keto lifestyle, think slow and steady. Any major diet change can impact your digestive system and weight, so you want to be sure not to swiftly go from keto to a standard American diet, which is extremely high in carbohydrates and low in nutrients. If you go full force into carbage, side effects may include regaining the weight quickly (including nearly instant water weight) and struggling with digestive distress from the carb overload.
Your best bet is to slowly reintroduce carbs into the diet by continuing to mind your macronutrients and modestly upping your grams of carbs. Start by adding in starchy vegetables or fruit, one serving per day, and slowly work your way up to more veggies (perhaps a nice bit of sweet potato), maintaining a healthy diet and considering calorie restrictions to keep yourself in check. See how adding one serving back into your diet feels for a couple of days, and then slowly increase, if desired, continuing with your usual fat intake and lean proteins, if you like.
Remember, even off keto, there’s no need for copious amounts of processed carbs or any carbs at all; most of them don’t provide great health benefits. Keep in mind: low and slow.
Stick to Real, Whole, Unprocessed Foods
When transitioning out of ketosis, continue to stick with a “clean” diet, avoiding processed foods to avoid excessive weight gain.
Obesity probably resulted from changes in the caloric quantity and quality of the food supply in concert with an industrialized food system that produced and marketed convenient, highly processed foods from cheap agricultural inputs. Such foods often contain high amounts of salt, sugar, fat, and flavor additives and are engineered to have super-normal appetitive properties that increase desire and consumption.
— Obesity journal, Did the Food Environment Cause the Obesity Epidemic?
In other words, processed foods are calorie-heavy, make you want to eat more, and they don’t provide optimal nutrition. Plus, highly processed grains and sugar contribute to weight gain and inflammation, the latter of which is the root of many disease processes in the body, including cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and autoimmunity.
Consuming high amounts of carbs can also put you back on the “blood sugar roller coaster.” The human brain runs much more efficiently on ketones than on glucose. Your brain cannot synthesize or store glucose, so when glucose runs low, you may get irritable and feel shaky until you consume more. The more processed and sugary foods you consume (such as bagels, cereal, bread, chips, pasta, and candy), the more you may struggle with blood-sugar regulation.
You’ve worked hard to lose weight and focus on wellness on keto. Your best option to not gain weight and continue to feel good if you stop following a keto diet is to make clean food choices, such as vegetable sources of carbs, wild-caught fish, and grass-fed pasture-raised meats; continue to nurture yourself with real whole foods. Keep healthy fats in your diet, and consume fat with your carbs, to help slow the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream.
If you decide to reintroduce grains and grain products, such as bread and pasta, into your diet, stick with organic versions of ancient varieties, such as amaranth, millet, and quinoa, which have not been through selective breeding like modern wheat and corn products. Also, consume these grains in small amounts, as the carbs will still invoke an insulin response in the body.
Incorporate Movement Into Your Routine
While transitioning out of ketosis, remember to keep moving your body throughout the day. Research shows that regular movement throughout the day has a much greater impact on your overall health than one heavy exercise session. Ongoing movement can help with keeping the weight off and increase your overall feelings of well-being. We’re not talking multiple jogging sessions, either. It can be as simple as taking a few breaks from work to go for a walk, standing up and stretching, or doing a few yoga poses throughout the day.
The Final Word
Whether you’re considering a keto diet and want to know what happens “afterward,” or are dieting and are considering transitioning off keto, remember these simple tips if you want to avoid gaining weight as you evolve your diet. The best way to keep off the weight when transitioning out of ketosis is to go low and slow, eat carbs from vegetable and fruit (real food) sources, continue to nurture your body with healthy eating and real food, avoid highly processed foods, and move your body throughout the day.
Additionally, whenever making dramatic changes to your diet, it’s a good idea to consult a registered dietitian or nutritionist to make sure your choices are best for your unique body.