The ketogenic diet has many amazing health benefits, such as increased energy, elimination of “blood sugar roller coaster” rides, and mental clarity, to name a few. But one of the main reasons people go keto is for weight loss. So, if you’re following a keto diet to lose weight and the scale isn’t budging, it’s certainly frustrating. But don’t dismay. We’ve rounded up the most common reasons you might not be losing weight on keto, and also share what you can do to fix the problem.
Are You in Ketosis?
Before we dig into other possible influences, let’s make sure you are actually in ketosis. You may think you are, but if you aren’t truly in ketosis, you won’t reap the benefits from it, including weight loss. The best way to find out is to check your blood ketones and blood sugar and make sure your numbers are in line with ketosis.
If you know you’re in ketosis, and still not losing weight, here are some other things to consider:
Too Many Processed Keto Foods
As keto has grown, so have the food choices. On one hand, it’s good to have options. But, there are some not-so-healthy options available, like misleading keto snacks and desserts, and these can affect your ability to stay in ketosis or lose weight for two simple reasons:
First, many “keto” processed foods lack the nutrients we need. When your body is not getting enough vitamins and minerals from the diet, you can actually gain weight and store fat.
Second, not all keto-friendly sweeteners are created equal. Some of them are zero carbs, but others contain some carbs, which can push you past your desired daily macros if you’re not careful. Worse, bio-individuality means some people react adversely to any or all of these sweeteners, perhaps heightening their blood sugar and kicking them out of ketosis. Finally, some products claim to be keto when they’re loaded with enough carbs to derail your macros.
To avoid complications, be sure that the majority of your macros comes from real whole foods, such as avocados, olives, eggs, wild-caught fish, pasture-raised meats, and non-starchy vegetables like spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, and peppers. And, if you’re eating processed keto snacks, track your macros carefully and consider testing your ketones and blood glucose to see if what you’re eating is affecting your ketosis. Regardless, keep processed treats to a minimum.
Eating Too Many or Too Little Calories
Along with eating the wrong things, eating too much can also be a reason for the inability to lose weight on keto. Over-consumption of food and going over your recommended macros can lead to weight gain. Luckily, the more solidly into ketosis you are, the less hungry you become, so overeating becomes harder and harder. Eating too few calories can have similar results; when your body thinks it’s starving, it holds onto everything it can. Just be sure you’re eating within your macros and you should be fine. If you’re not sure, it’s always a good idea to count your macros.
Not Accounting for Carbs
When eating keto, it’s important to track your carb intake. Otherwise, you may be getting more carbs in your diet than you think, which can kick you out of ketosis. Some foods you wouldn’t think have carbs actually have high amounts. Dairy and nuts are good examples. Just ¼ cup of almonds has 3 grams of net carbs, but another handful (which is easy to consume when snacking) brings the count right up to 6 grams of net carbs. The best way to avoid miscounting or overeating carbs is to track your food intake on a macro-counting app such as MyMojoMacros. Once you have a handle on portion sizes, carb counts, and your macros, you may not need to track everything. But early on in your keto journey, tracking is a great tool to ensure you aren’t going overboard with carbs.
Eating too Much Protein
There’s a reason macros tell you how much fat, carbs, and protein to eat every day; following macros helps you stay in ketosis. For some people, when too much protein is consumed, the body changes it to carbs through a process called gluconeogenesis! So, make sure you get enough protein, but not too much.
Lifestyle Factors: Stress and Cortisol
There are other lifestyle factors outside of what or how you eat that can affect your weight. You can have the best diet, follow keto perfectly, track your macros, and eat whole foods, yet still experience weight-loss resistance. When that happens, it’s time to take a look at another lifestyle factor: stress. Believe it or not, if you’re in a constant state of overdrive and not taking time to decompress, you can actually impact your ability to lose weight.
What happens when you’re stressed?
When you’re stressed, your body pumps out cortisol through the adrenal glands. Cortisol helps the body to stay on high alert. But when increased, it also is associated with an increase in belly fat.
According to the article in Harvard Health Publishing called “Understanding the Stress Response,” elevated cortisol levels create physiological changes that help to replenish the body’s energy stores that are depleted during the stress response. But they inadvertently contribute to the buildup of fat tissue and to weight gain. For example, cortisol increases appetite, so that people will want to eat more to obtain extra energy. It also increases the storage of unused nutrients as fat.”
Managing your stress levels through self-care techniques, such as deep-breathing exercises, meditation, warm baths, yoga, walking (which helps to put the body in a parasympathetic or relaxed state), and mindful eating (eating while sitting, chewing your food thoroughly, and eating slowly), can all help with decreasing cortisol output and keeping your body more relaxed throughout the day. Also, don’t forget about exercise. Exercise not only helps with weight loss, but it also can help to counteract stress through the release of feel-good chemicals like serotonin in the brain.
You Have a Medical or Genetic Issue
Some medical issues, such as hypothyroidism, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), Cushing’s syndrome, depression, and hyperinsulinemia (high insulin levels) can make it difficult to lose weight. If you know you have one of these, you may have found the culprit of your weight-loss stall. If you’re not sure, it’s worth seeing your primary care physician to get tested and find out if something medical is in your way and learn how to manage it so that you can continue with healthy weight loss. Meanwhile, some people have specific genes (multiple SLC22A5 SNPs) that make it hard for fat to get across cell membranes and thus be released from the body. This is also something you should discuss with your doctor.
If All Else Fails: Intermittent Fast
If you’re following all of the guidelines here with the intention of losing weight and aren’t seeing the scale move, you might consider intermittent fasting. All animals evolved from environments where food was scarce. Fasting is an adaptation humans gained from when food was harder to come by, enabling us to function effectively in a food-deprived state. Along with being good for preventative health, one of the many benefits of intermittent fasting is weight loss. Intermittent fasting is eating between a very specific eating schedule, and fasting outside of that schedule. For example, some people will fast for 16 hours with an 8-hour eating window. Other people choose a smaller eating window of 6 or even 4 hours, and still others only eat one meal per day. Sometimes it takes tweaking to find the eating window that works best for you. Learn more about intermittent fasting here.
The Final Word
There are several things that can affect your ability to lose weight while on a keto diet. If you evaluate your keto lifestyle and make sure you are in ketosis, eating to your macros, avoiding too many processed foods, counting your macros, and eliminating as much stress as possible, you should be able to get back on track with your keto weight loss plan.