So you heard the hype about the keto diet and thought, “This may be it! This has got to be the missing ingredient in my weight loss journey.”
But then you started your diet, thought you were doing everything right, and the scale still doesn’t seem to budge. Does this sound familiar to you?
While keto can be beneficial for weight loss, there may be other factors that are keeping you stuck in your weight loss journey.
Let’s have a look at 11 reasons why you may not be losing weight on the keto diet and a few solutions to help you make it over your weight loss plateau.
1) You Haven’t Reached Ketosis Yet
When you start your keto diet, it takes a while for your body to actually get into ketosis.
Ketosis is the state where your body has run out of carbohydrates or glucose to use for fuel and instead, it turns to using fat (and makes ketones as a byproduct).
To achieve ketosis, you have to restrict carbohydrate intake enough so the body runs of that glucose fuel. Usually, people following a keto diet will eat about 20 to 50 grams of carbohydrates, but some people may need lower than 20 grams of carbs to get into ketosis.
It can take time to adjust, and it’s important to also keep in mind that just because you are in ketosis doesn’t mean your body will burn body fat stores. The body is always burning a mix of fat and carbs, even if you’re on a low carb diet as it has the ability to turn certain amino acids into glucose, and there are many regulatory hormones that govern these processes beyond ketone levels.
If you’re concerned about the timing, you may want to consult a dietitian or doctor for tips on how to get into ketosis faster.
Signs You Haven’t Reached Ketosis:
- You haven’t experienced the “keto flu” (although not everyone goes through this).
- You’re still having strong cravings for carbohydrates and sugar.
- Your energy levels and blood sugar levels are imbalanced.
Tips to Get Your Body Into Ketosis:
- Experiment with different levels of carbohydrate intake.
- Test your ketone levels.
- Practice patience – everyone’s body is different.
2) You Are Consuming Too Many Calories
While keto can accelerate how much weight you lose, the basic principles of weight loss still apply.
Calories out have to be greater than calories in order to achieve what’s called a negative energy balance, in which your body will be more likely to use up stored fat. If you are consuming more calories than you burn, your body will not use up the fat storage and will store the extra calories as fat.
If you’re in ketosis, your body’s been switched to a fat burning mode. However, if you’re consuming too many calories, your body will be prompted to store fat, meaning you may maintain or even gain weight depending on your body.
Remember that on a keto diet, a high fat consumption may make it easy to unknowingly eat too many calories.
Signs You May Be Consuming Too Many Calories:
- You feel “stuffed” after most meals.
- You’re adding large portion sizes of foods high in fats to your plate without being aware of how many calories they contain.
Tips to Keep Calorie Intake Balanced:
- Log your meals into a diet tracking app to see an accurate reflection of your calorie intake and macronutrient breakdown.
- Try measuring or weighing the fats you add to your meal if you feel that you might be overeating.
3) You're Not Consuming Enough Calories
On the other hand, consuming too few calories can also stunt your weight loss progress. This is because when you severely restrict your calorie intake, your metabolism slows down.
A slow metabolism makes it much easier to gain weight and much harder to lose it. In some cases, severe restriction can produce short term progress but later lead to a plateau further into your weight loss journey.
If you’re working towards a weight loss goal, you’ll want to slightly reduce your calorie intake (by about 500 to 1000 calories per day depending on your weight and activity level) to lose a healthy amount of weight over time.
Your dietitian or nutritionist can help you determine what’s an ideal amount of calories you should be consuming for your body and activity levels.
Signs You May Be Consuming Too Few Calories:
- Your energy has decreased and you’re feeling more fatigued.
- You feel hungry after eating and find yourself snacking throughout the day.
- More brain fog or trouble concentrating.
- More trouble sleeping.
- More hormone intolerance.
- Hormone levels may decrease, including sex hormones and even thyroid hormone production. If you usually have regular menstrual periods, you might notice your cycles shorten or you begin having more amenorrhea.
Tips to Consume Enough Calories:
- Try adding a little more fats into your meals (this may also help you reach a deeper level of ketosis).
- Don’t skip meals — eat every three to four hours.
- Log your meals into a diet tracker like the Nutrisense app to see a more accurate reflection of your calorie intake.
4) Your Keto Diet Has Too Much Protein
You may already be aware of this but there’s a specific range of protein, fats, and carbohydrates you should be getting on the keto diet. Most recommendations state that 60 to 80 percent of the calories you consume should come from fats (no restrictions on what type of fat), 10 to 30 percent from protein, and five to ten percent from carbohydrates.
We’ve discussed how carb restriction is important and touched lightly on how having too many fats can up your calorie intake. In the same way, having too much protein can also stunt your weight loss progress.
Consuming excess protein can have a negative effect on weight loss, as protein can be converted into and stored as fat. Protein can interfere with ketosis and decrease ketone levels in the body when you eat too much, so it’s important to eat the right amount for your body.
Signs You May Be Eating Too Much Protein:
- More than half your plate is protein.
- You’ve noticed decreased ketone levels in your blood despite you doing everything else properly (right amounts of carbs and fats, appropriate calorie intake).
- Your meal logs indicate that more than 30 percent of your calories are coming from protein.
Tips for Optimal Protein Consumption:
- Read up on how much protein is in different foods and amounts of food. You can also ask your dietitian about this or use a diet tracking app to keep track.
- Try to focus on one main source of protein (ideally a whole food source of complete protein like lean chicken breast) per meal.
5) You’re Consuming Too Many Carbohydrates
This one is one of the most important for anyone on a keto diet. As we’ve mentioned, you’ll want to restrict your carbohydrate intake and ensure that only five to ten percent of your calories are from carbs.
Consuming too many carbs will push your body out of ketosis and keep it there. However, it’s important to consider that not everyone will lose weight in ketosis, and some individuals may actually need to consume more carbs in order to make progress in their weight loss.
Remember to listen to your body, as for some people, ketosis may lead to greater metabolic stress and alter key hormones that can affect your ability to lose weight.
Signs You May Be Eating Too Many Carbohydrates:
- Your diet includes high-carb foods like potatoes, legumes, high sugar fruits, and/or sugary beverages.
- Your ketone levels are reduced despite eating the right amount of protein and fats.
Tips for Optimal Carbohydrate Consumption:
- Focus on foods naturally lower in carbs such as vegetables, low sugar fruits, and, of course, fats.
- Add more low-carb snacks to your diet to help you limit your carb consumption.
- Log your meals until you gain a solid understanding of how different foods contribute to your overall carbohydrate intake.
6) You Aren’t Getting the Proper Nutrients
Because there are traditionally no restrictions on the type of fats you can consume on the keto diet, some people may find themselves consuming less healthy versions of fats.
This is what can be referred to as a “dirty keto” diet, where individuals consume any type of food as long as it fits into their macronutrient intake. Foods like processed meats, refined foods, and foods containing trans fat can fall into this category.
While consuming strict levels of each macronutrient is important in ketosis, getting adequate amounts of beneficial nutrients is even more important for weight loss and overall health. For example, your body needs nutrients such as fiber for stable blood sugar levels. A lack of dietary fiber can cause high blood sugar levels and lead to weight gain.
Other research suggests that deficiencies in different micronutrients, such as vitamins E and C, are linked to the body storing more fat, and can be linked to obesity.
Signs You May Have Micronutrient Imbalances:
- Your diet is heavy on processed foods.
- You regularly experience constipation and/or other digestive symptoms since starting a dirty keto diet.
- You frequently consume meal replacement shakes or bars in place of whole foods.
- You notice other negative changes in symptoms associated with mood, sleep, energy, or hormonal balance.
Tips to Improve Micronutrient Balance:
- Focus on more nutrient dense foods. For fats, incorporate avocado and olive oil into your diet. For protein, choose whole food complete protein sources such as poultry and eggs.
- Eat the rainbow! Try to include two to three different colors from fruits and vegetables into your meals.
7) You Are Drinking Alcohol
Alcohol can be an issue for both those on the keto diet and anyone trying to lose weight. Alcohol is rich in sugar so, unsurprisingly, it can push your body out of ketosis. It is also high in calories, which can lead to you consuming more calories than you’re burning and can result in weight gain, especially if the calories are coming from a nutrient poor source such as alcohol.
There are a few other ways that drinking alcohol may cause weight gain. Alcohol may directly reduce insulin sensitivity, which is associated with weight gain for some people. It may also impair sleep, which can sometimes be associated with lower glucose tolerance and reduced insulin sensitivity in addition to higher cortisol levels.
Lastly, alcohol may alter hormone production and regulation in ways that might frustrate weight gain for some people.
In moderation, drinking alcohol may be fine for most people. The Nutrisense Nutrition Team recommends limiting alcohol to three drinks per day (or even less for some people).
Signs Alcohol May Be the Culprit:
- You’re consuming more than three drinks per day.
- You regularly consume high-sugar alcohols (sweet wine, fruity cocktails).
- You consume small amounts of alcohol regulatly, but you are still struggling with weight loss despite having dialed in on your other nutritional components.
Tips to Reduce Alcohol Consumption:
- There are a variety of alcohol-free drinks you can still enjoy when out with friends. Find ones you enjoy drinking (still limit these as they may be high in sugar).
- Try keto-friendly drink options in moderation (sparkling water, sugar free soft drinks, low-carb beer).
- Swap your alcoholic drinks for water when possible.
8) You Aren’t Getting Enough Exercise
Let’s go back to that “calories in and calories out” principle – exercise increases your “calories out” and boosts metabolic rate.
Keep in mind that weight loss isn’t solely dependent on calories consumed, and over-restriction (and over-exercise) can actually lead to weight gain through unfavorable modulation of the neuroendocrine system which governs stress response. You should assess what the right amount of exercise is for you and your abilities.
There are lots of ways to boost your exercise and activity levels and even activities like gardening and walking around the neighborhood can help get your heart rate up.
Signs Low Exercise May Be Stunting Your Weight Loss:
- You spend most of your time sitting down (common with a sedentary job).
- You don’t keep track of your daily activity so you’re not sure how much exercise you’re getting.
- You opt to take the car or other vehicles instead of walking or biking to some places.
Tips to Get More Exercise in:
- Work out anywhere between three to five days a week.
- Include a mix of cardio and weight training in your workout regime.
- Walk and bike more often. Opt to stand instead of sitting if you’re waiting, on public transport, etc.
9) You May Have an Underlying Medical Condition
Endocrine-related conditions like diabetes (or prediabetes), hypertension (or elevated blood pressure), PCOS, and even hypothyroidism can make it difficult to lose weight. They can be at the root of your difficulty with weight loss.
In these conditions, your body is predisposed to gain weight. So if you haven’t addressed your underlying medical condition, then you may find weight loss to be a struggle.
Signs an Underlying Medical Condition May Be Preventing You From Losing Weight:
- You’ve done all the right things and followed every step laid out by your doctor and nutritionist but still aren’t losing weight.
- You’ve been experiencing signs and symptoms related to endocrine disorders (think energy crashes, menstrual irregularities, high blood sugar levels).
- You’ve been diagnosed with an endocrine condition.
Tips to Work With Your Underlying Medical Condition:
- Get an accurate diagnosis (if you haven’t got one already).
- Discuss your symptoms with your nutritionist and doctor, as they’ll be able to tweak your plan to help manage or reverse the condition.
10) You Aren’t Getting Sufficient Sleep
Poor quality sleep or not getting enough sleep can be damaging to your health. It can also contribute to weight gain and affect blood sugar levels.
When you don’t get enough sleep, you may notice your appetite increases due to shifting levels ¡of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and leptin, the satiety hormone in your body.
Research has found that a lack of sleep reduces leptin levels. This means that when you wake up the next day, you’ll be feeling hungrier. This imbalanced hunger can cause you to overeat, so if you haven’t been sleeping well and are noticing your weight loss being affected by it, it may be time to dig into your sleeping habits.
Signs You May Not be Getting Enough Good Quality Sleep:
- You wake up frequently throughout the night.
- You don’t feel refreshed when you wake up.
- You find yourself dozing off throughout the day.
Tips to Increase Sleep Duration and Quality:
- Stop eating around two hours before bedtime (this number may vary depending on your body’s needs).
- Sleep in a dark, cool room.
- Practice good sleep hygiene.
11) You Are Stressed Out
Even though keto can accelerate your weight loss, it won’t do much if you’re stressed.
However, to get a full understanding of stress, we need to look beyond emotional stress and also consider any type of metaboic pressure placed on the body. Read our article on glucose and stress to learn more about how other stressors can affect your health.
Signs You May Be Overstressed:
- You feel your “fight or flight” mode activated almost always.
- You find that things that wouldn’t bother you now irritate you.
- You experience more mood fluctuations than usual.
Tips to Reduce Stress:
- Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can also contribute to stress levels.
- Practice mindfulness and meditation.
- Journal about your day or emotions.
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Heather is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN, LDN), subject matter expert, and technical writer, with a master's degree in nutrition science from Bastyr University. She has a specialty in neuroendocrinology and has been working in the field of nutrition—including nutrition research, education, medical writing, and clinical integrative and functional nutrition—for over 15 years.