The ketogenic diet is specifically designed to help you lose weight in the long-term by making you more efficient at burning body fat, as well as reducing some metabolic issues like diabetes risk. However, it’s not a magic bullet and it's possible to run into problems with the keto diet just like any other.
One of the most common problems is the simplest in the world: you stopped losing weight. This is one of the best problems to have, most of the time, since it means that things have been going well but now they’ve slowed down. You’ve seen results, but now you’re going to need to evaluate where you’re at and what’s next.
However, that’s a lot of hard work and we’re on-hand to help you get past it. This article is all about what to do when you stop losing weight on keto. Read on, an we’ll take the hard work and brain-power out of a Keto Plateau (a Keteau?).
The Big Question: Why Aren’t You Losing Weight?
This isn’t really a single-answer question because we don’t know you personally and haven’t been watching everything you eat (or have we?). The fact is that weight loss has a few areas that you need to pay attention to – and we’re going to be nice and cover the big ones, in order, so you can check through and make sure you’re not botching your diet.
#1 - You’ve Lost Weight and You Need to Adjust Your Calories
This is one of the best/worst feelings in the world. You’ve been kicking ass on the keto diet for the last few weeks/months and you’ve lost a few sticks of butter, but now it stopped.
The most likely situation is that you’ve lost so much weight that your body’s metabolic needs have changed down and you’re eating at maintenance again. If you’ve been dieting for more than a month, or you’ve lost more than 5-10lbs, you need to re-evaluate what maintenance means to you.
Fat isn’t just there – it performs some important functions in the body – it requires calories to sustain. Thus, if you’ve lost a significant amount of fat, you’re going to need to cut a little harder to continue losing weight. This is a great problem to have, even if it means you’re going to have to change your diet.
We usually suggest changing this every so often, even if you haven’t stopped losing weight, as it’s important to maintain a regular calorie deficit. You can use an online TDEE calculator in combination with your new bodyweight stats to get a better idea of what you should be eating daily.
#2 - You’re Missing Something Crucial in Your Recovery
This is a bit larger than Keto, specifically, but there’s obviously something going wrong. That’s why you’re reading this article, duh.
The most likely culprit is a set of physiological changes and recovery-factors that are going wrong. You’re probably over your allostatic threshold and your body is hormonally whacked-out and holding onto weight like you’re in a post-apocalyptic world where food is scarce.
In simple terms, you’re too stressed to make gains. This is usually the result of crappy sleep and enormous lifestyle stresses like job change, moving to a new house, bereavement, or being visited by your in-laws.
Stress is an enormously-powerful condition that causes your body to feel like it’s at-risk, which means you’re going to hold onto weight that you’d otherwise be losing. Obviously, you can fix all of these problems – some of them peacefully!
- Sleep: If you’re under-sleeping you’re going to be suppressing testosterone and the other anabolic hormones that increase fat-burning and muscle-growth. Getting less than 8 hours a night is going to mean hanging on to body fat and reduced exercise performance. Sleep more and make sure you’re sleeping in a cool, dark, quiet room.
- Work and Lifestyle Stress: since you can’t always control this, you’re going to need to counter it as best possible. This is actually just a matter of finding ways to unwind and regulate your mood. Yoga, stretching, and other non-hype activities are a great way to do this – just find something that allows you to zone out and let go of your stresses for a while.
- Overtraining: this is a real thing, not just an excuse to avoid actually trying. This is what happens when you’re not recovering enough between workouts and you just keep slapping more workout-stress on your body. Needless to say, that’s a god-awful idea and it’s going to reverse your progress – not boost it. If you’re not progressing or you’re feeling sore/weak all the time, it’s time for a deload week and improving your recovery variables.
Fix these – they’re going to be effective at improving your training results no matter what your goals are.
#3 - You’re Not Training Enough
This is on the opposite end of the spectrum from over-training and hyper-stress. If you’re not overloading yourself during training – either strength work or aerobic – you’re going to be missing out on the effects that it once had.
An hour on the treadmill might be a way to burn some extra calories, but if you’re not getting faster or pushing the mileage, you’re going to quickly adapt to that training. Once you’ve accommodated the stimulus of that pace/distance, you’re going to see smaller and smaller benefits to the training you’re doing.
If you’re not getting better in training, you’re just getting worse by relativity. You’re going to have to make sure you’re keeping up on these changes – just like adjusting your calories as you get leaner. The reality is that more time training means you need to be better than you were – the same workout won’t always cut it.
Progress your pace, distance, reps, weights, incline, or some other variable. This is how you avoid accommodation, get better at whatever exercise you’re doing, and make sure that you’re not just chasing your own tail in training. Since this is a huge part of your calorie use, it’s easy to rest on your laurels (or ass) and miss out on the calorie-deficit that hard training once provided.
#4 - You’ve Been Dieting Forever
This is one of those things that you don’t realize until it's too late and needs fixing.
If you’re dieting for long periods of time but you’re not taking occasional back-offs, where you increase your calorie intake for a while, you’re going to stall out. This is because your body becomes more and more efficient at using calories and the nutrients that you’re eating.
Even on keto, the challenge of dieting for more than 3-6 months is a metabolic adaptation. This is what happens when your body actually gets used to a reduced calorie intake and it begins to decrease your ability to lose weight at the same food intake. You become more efficient at processing food and working on lower calories, stalling your diet.
This is often called “starvation mode” but that’s a ridiculous title: it’s more like super-efficient mode, which sounds cooler, but the results aren’t. Whatever this is called, it hamstrings your training and progress.
The solution? Take a 2-4 week period of maintenance-eating or using a very narrow calorie deficit to allow your body to recover. This should increase your overall metabolic activity, allow for super-compensation, improve training performance, and boost a bunch of other cool stuff that indirectly boosts your ability to perform and lose weight.
One method of doing this is a reverse dieting approach. This is simple: you add a few hundred calories a week at a time and spend a little bit of time at maintenance. This allows your body to acclimate to being well-fed once more, stokes the coals of your metabolism, and prepares you for better weight loss in future
“But wait”, I hear you say, “surely I’ll not lose weight if I’m on maintenance calories!”. Well, if you’re reading this article to start with, you’re not losing weight on a cut. So, there might be some benefits to enjoying food and improved performance for a month, before hitting the cut again afterwards. This is a short-term investment in your long-term strength, health, and results.
If you’ve already done 6 months of cutting, then I know it can be daunting to worry about back-pedalling but it’s not going to happen if you calculate your maintenance calories effectively and stick to an effective exercise routine. If anything, the science actually says you’re just likely to gain muscle during this time – which is another long-term boost to weight loss.
Could You be Out of Ketosis?
This is one of the questions we get related to this topic quite often, but it probably isn’t the reason you’re struggling to lose weight.
Simply put, this is because ketosis is useful for losing weight, but far from essential. If you’re in a calorie-deficit, even if you’re not in ketosis, you can lose weight effectively. This might not be your plan, and being out of Ketosis is a possibility, but it won’t cause your weight-loss to plateau by itself.
The reality is that keto is a way of accelerating your weight loss and – unless something else is wrong on the list we’ve just spelled out – being out of Ketosis won’t make an LCHF diet ineffective. If your diet is well-adjusted for your own needs and the rest of your life, from training to sleep, are in-order then ketosis is a bonus and not a necessity for weight loss.
You can improve the speed at which you’re losing weight on keto, ketosis only has a real effect on this process – indirectly – when paired with the right type of exercise. The reality is that ketosis probably isn’t to blame for your stalling weight – it’s secondary to overall calorie intake and calorie-burning through exercise and activity.
The keto diet relies on some of the same principles that any other diet would. Unsurprisingly, this is because human biology has some specific limits and rules. The ketosis aspect of your diet is about improving efficiency and speeding things up, rather than being directly responsible for your weight loss.
We’ve discussed some of the most common reasons you’re holding onto bodyweight rather than seeing consistent progress. These are the first place to look if you’re struggling to shed those final extra lbs, or your diet seems to be dead in the water. If you change all 4 of these keys to your diet and training, you will be able to continue your diet effectively into the future.
Remember that these are simply principles, however, and not one-time fixes. If you’re looking to keep your diet effective into the future and achieve your body goals, you’re going to need to look at how you got into this plateau in the first place. Take the 4 keys to an effective Keto diet we mentioned above and remember that they need to be monitored into the future.
If you apply these key principles, and effectively fix them, you can adjust them and review once a month. Set a note on your calendar/phone/personal trainer for a monthly review and adjustment to keep yourself up-to-date with the changes your body is going through. They’re perfectly natural, you just need to learn to roll with them and use them to your advantage before they’re a problem!