Despite seeing success story after success story, you’re not losing weight on keto. You were expecting an immediate “whoosh” but after an initial couple of pounds lost, your scale hasn’t budged.
The ketogenic diet can be tough to master if you don’t know the right steps to take to get into ketosis. And once you’re in ketosis, how do you set yourself up for successful, continuous weight loss?
Here are the top 10 reasons you might not be losing weight on the ketogenic diet.
- You’re Not Actually in Ketosis
- You’re Not Eating Satiating Meals
- You’re Missing Hidden Carbohydrates
- You’re Eating Too Much Fat
- You’re Not Eating Enough Calories
- You’re Getting Too Much Exercise
- You’re Experiencing Stress
- You’re Not Sleeping Enough
- You Have Food Sensitivities
- Leptin Resistance
Have you been following the ketogenic diet for a while but have no idea if you’re in ketosis? This is where testing your ketone levels comes in.
You’ll only truly know whether you’re in a ketogenic state when you test your ketone levels.
So how do you test your ketones? There are three ways to get measures:
- Urine testing
- Breath testing
- Blood testing (the most accurate)
A urine strip indicates the concentration of ketones in your urine by changing color. While this type of testing is the most affordable, it does not always yield the most accurate results.
Urine tests only measure the flushed out ketones that your body didn’t use for energy. When your body becomes more adapted to ketosis, it will be using more ketones for energy — meaning you may not have any signs of ketones in your urine at all once you are fat-adapted.
Breath testing is considered a little more reliable than urine testing, but still not the most accurate.
The ketones that show up on your breath are acetone, not beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB). Breath testing can be done by blowing into a Ketonix breath analyzer, which gives you a reading based on the level of acetone it detects.
Blood testing is the most accurate way to measure your levels of BHB. All it takes is pricking your finger with a blood meter. I recommend the Precision Xtra meter.
This is considered the most accurate way because there’s nothing that can dilute the results and you see the exact amount of blood ketones in mMol/L.
If you’re not losing weight on the ketogenic diet, the first checkpoint is whether you’re even in ketosis. If you have that covered, there are a few other reasons you may not be losing weight.
One of the keys for weight loss is eating at a calorie deficit, but it’s also important to pay attention to the quality of the calories you do eat to make sure you’re satisfied — not hangry.
Eating at a calorie deficit doesn’t mean you have to be hungry all the time — in fact, being hungry will only make you miserable, less likely to stick to your diet, and more likely to give in to cravings.
You can eat a calorie deficit and feel satisfied by eating the right kind of foods.
Satiating healthy fats (especially saturated and monounsaturated fats) are the cornerstones of the ketogenic diet. If you want a high-quality keto diet, you’ll need abundant sources of high-quality fats. MCT oil is particularly helpful because it’s more satiating than coconut oil and boosts ketone production, so you can enter fat-burning mode faster.
High-quality proteins are also important. Fatty cuts of meat (like steak) as well as wild-caught salmon are excellent at keeping you satisfied.
Perfect Keto founder Dr. Anthony Gustin (@dranthonygustin) is a big fan of grass fed beef. Follow him for more keto recommendations!
You don’t need to shy away from protein — it won’t kick you out of ketosis like you may have heard. The belief that excess protein triggers gluconeogenesis (glucose production from non-carb sources) and therefore lowers your ketone levels is just a myth.
The truth is gluconeogenesis (GNG) is crucial for maintaining ketosis because it fuels those cells that can’t use ketones (like red blood cells) and keeps your blood sugar in a healthy range. Without it, ketosis would not be possible.
Eating more protein than you’re used to won’t increase the rate of GNG enough to put you out of keto because GNG is an extremely stable process. Studies show that even when there are more raw materials for GNG (including protein), the gluconeogenesis rate stays about the same[*].
Excess protein won’t increase gluconeogenesis the same way chocolate cake increases your glucose levels.
Vegetables, dairy, and nuts are on the keto-approved food list, but they can still have a higher carbohydrate count than you think.
Both dairy and nuts should be eaten with caution. One common mistake people make on keto is over-eating dairy and nuts to feel satisfied, but too much of these foods can increase both your carb intake and calorie count without you realizing it.
Other possible hidden carbs can be found in some cruciferous vegetables including cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, fennel, and turnips. You also want to limit your intake of fruit due to its high sugar content[*][*].
Another major mistake people make when starting a keto diet is thinking they can eat an endless amount of fat.
This can create a surplus of calories that prevents weight loss[*]. For instance, one pound of body fat contains roughly 3500 calories. This would lead us to the conclusion that cutting 500 calories a day for a week would result in roughly one pound of weight loss.
This is where going overboard with fats could get tricky.
Fats contain more than twice the amount of calories as carbs or proteins, so it’s crucial you count how many grams of fat you’re actually eating and remain mindful of your intake.
This is another way the Perfect Keto Macro Calculator comes in handy. It takes into account your age, height, weight, body fat, activity levels, and overall goals to measure your exact keto macros.
Overall calorie intake depends on your individual goals and needs. If you’re not eating the correct amount of calories, weight loss can be impossible no matter how much you decrease your carb intake.
This is usually not the case if you’re struggling with losing weight on the ketogenic diet, but along with being unaware of eating too many calories, not getting enough calories can be an issue for optimal weight loss.
When you don’t eat enough, your metabolism slows down to conserve energy in response to inadequate energy levels or excessive exercise[*].
Make sure you’ve created a calorie deficit that your fat stores can still cover, otherwise your body will begin to use lean mass to get the energy it needs.
If you create a deficit that’s too large, your metabolic rate will drop significantly in order to protect organs and normal bodily functions.
Again, you can use the keto calculator to figure out your individual calorie needs.
You know the saying ‘too much of something can be a bad thing’?
That applies to exercise too. Exercise is crucial for improving overall health, however, there is a healthy limit for everyone.
The main type of exercise abused by those trying to lose weight is chronic cardio. Repetitive aerobic training increases your appetite because your body feels deprived and wants those calories back.
And in a battle between your willpower and your biology, your biology will always win. You’ll end up overeating to compensate for the excess calories burned.
While all effective exercise creates some type of acute inflammation, chronic exercise can create systemic, internal inflammation as well as oxidative stress[*].
Stress is a significant factor when troubleshooting weight loss. When you’re stressed out, your body produces cortisol.
What is cortisol?
Cortisol is a signal hormone known as the stress hormone. It’s one of the top hormones we release when we’re under pressure or in a fight-or-flight situation. Cortisol has the ability to channel glucose to the muscles during the body’s response to stress[*].
It plays a major role in keeping us alert, awake, motivated, and it’s necessary for our survival.
It’s also responsible for storing fat around your stomach area, making weight loss a challenge. The real problem kicks in when cortisol production becomes chronic due to constant stress, so the fat around your stomach starts to increase.
Often an underestimated factor, not sleeping enough can stall or prevent weight loss.
Lack of sleep can throw off your circadian rhythms and increase the risk of metabolic problems. All of your organs follow a certain timing (known as your internal body clock), and disrupting it can put you at a severe disadvantage. Maximum fat loss can only be achieved with adequate sleep.
Sleep is also essential for balancing hormones — especially hunger hormones. Ghrelin (the hormone that makes you feel hungry) and leptin (the hormone that makes you feel full) are both affected by lack of sleep. Your ghrelin goes up and your levels of leptin go down when you don’t get enough sleep[*], which is bad news for weight loss.
Even if you are following your macros and tracking your calories, food sensitivities can still throw off your weight loss.
When your body is sensitive to a particular nutrient in certain foods such as lactose or gluten, those compounds can cause imbalances in the gut — which then leads to overall inflammation.
Inflammation prevents weight loss and increases weight gain. If you think you may be sensitive to a certain food, it’s important to experiment and pay close attention to what foods make you feel better or worse.
What is leptin, anyways?
Leptin is a fat-controlling hormone that tells your brain when your body is satiated, so it can know when to stop eating[*][*]. Leptin is produced by your fat cells. It’s mainly responsible for regulating how many calories we eat, how many we burn and how much fat we carry on our bodies.
- Funky sleep patterns
- A diet full of processed foods
It’s not that obese individuals don’t have enough leptin — it’s that the signals leptin is sending their brains aren’t being registered properly. The signals tell them they’re not satiated and they don’t have enough energy, making them reach for more food.
Diagnosing Your Keto Problem
So, how do you figure out the root cause for not losing weight on the ketogenic diet?
The most important thing to remember is that everyone’s body is different and will react differently to a number of variables.
Figuring out which foods and habits work best with your body will take some trial and error — but it’s worth it. Run through the reasons above and take note of anything you may be missing.
Steph is a writer, competitive weightlifter and nutritional consultant with a passion for health and wellness. She is the founder of The Athlete’s Kitchen, a website dedicated to providing its audience with articles, recipes and the latest nutritional information on their favorite foods.