Keto for women

Fact-checked by Dr. Anthony Gustin, DC, MS

Written by Lauren Ciccarelli

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Is keto for women different than keto for men?

If you’re looking for a fast, effective way to lose weight, find more mental and physical energy, reduce inflammation and get your sugar problem under control, there’s nothing better than a ketogenic diet.

But is keto safe for women? Or even recommended?

To find out if a ketogenic diet for women is healthy, today we’re exploring this topic in detail to uncover:

So let’s start by addressing why it’s so much harder for ladies to lose weight and discuss exactly how ketosis and a keto diet can help.

Why It’s Harder for Women to Lose Weight (+ Why Ketosis May Help)

If you and a random dude start a weight loss program together, exercise the same and stick to your calorie goals, that dude is way more likely to not only lose more weight, but also do so faster.

No, it’s not fair; it’s science.

Women have more obstacles standing in their way to weight loss, including:

Evolutionary makeup. As a female always preparing for potential pregnancy, you naturally have at least 10% more body fat stores and less muscle mass than males.

And since muscle burns more calories than fat, guys typically have a higher metabolism as well. This means they get to burn more calories at rest than women, making weight loss easier for them.

Undiagnosed PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome, is the most common endocrine disorder affecting almost 10% of the female population yet 70% of women affected don’t know they have it[*].

This hormonal imbalance causes irregular periods, insulin resistance, weight gain and difficulty staying out of the overweight/obese range.

Menopause also causes the pounds to pack on, specifically in your lower abdomen. Your slower metabolism and your decreasing hormones create what’s affectionately referred to as a “meno-pot”, or menopause pot belly.

These are just a few big reasons why you’ll have a harder time losing weight as a woman.

Before you go all doom and gloom and dive headfirst into that cupcake, a ketogenic diet may be able to combat these issues.

Start keto and you’ll switch your body from running on carbs (and using glucose for energy) to running on fat (and your muffin top reserves).

What this means as a female is you get to:

  • Use your fat stores to your advantage. When your body becomes fat-adapted it will recognize fat cells as a fuel source, meaning you can eat fewer calories while letting your body work off your fat stores for energy.
  • Improve insulin sensitivity. By reducing the amount of sugar (and insulin) in your bloodstream, you may naturally resolve PCOS, fertility and insulin resistance issues preventing your weight loss.
  • Restore your hormones. Carbs and excess sugar in your diet have serious effects on your hormonal balance. Reset your hormones with keto and you’ll start to see the scale budge in your favor.

Here’s the only hiccup: studies on keto are limited as is and a wide majority of them have only been performed on male participants and lab mice.

So even though research on keto for women is still emerging, let’s discuss what we know so far.

How Is Keto for Women Different than for Men?

Women have to think about and juggle these seven situations men don’t usually have to deal with:

#1. Hormones

Female hormones are tied to everything from reproduction to stress to metabolism. They also fluctuate based on menstrual cycles, lack of sleep and fewer carbs.

So even though guys have hormones too, yours are especially sensitive to dietary and lifestyle changes.

And since the keto diet is a fairly drastic switch for your body to handle, you can wreak havoc with your hormones if you’re not careful.

You may notice:

Lower estrogen levels on a keto diet if you’re in your baby making years. One reason for this may be eliminating processed foods which contain a crazy amount of soybean oil.

You’ll want to watch this as low estrogen levels can lead to a lower sex drive, vaginal dryness, and disruptions in both your sleep and mood[*].

Higher estrogen levels if you’re in menopause or the time right before it. Your estrogen levels are naturally declining during this time so a high fat diet like keto is actually a good thing here[*].

Increased cortisol. Known as a stress hormone, cortisol goes nuts when it feels there isn’t enough glucose in your system to handle stress. 

But when you have more sugar floating around in your blood, you’ll also increase insulin and that blocks weight loss[*].

#2. Your Period

No matter what you call it, periods suck. And women have to deal with them and those uncomfortable PMS symptoms every month (if they’re regular).

What makes PMS so difficult on a keto diet?

  • Cravings for sweets are much more intense, which obvi makes staying in keto a next-level challenge.
  • You feel bloated and weigh more since you’re holding on to more water.
  • Digesting food is a serious struggle because you’re so bloated and pain seems to be radiating from your belly down so you’re probably not even hungry. You may want to pass on meats and fibrous veggies in favor of easier foods to digest like seafood and brothy keto stews and soups.
  • Headaches are no joke and can compound into a keto headache if you’re not watching your water and electrolyte balance.
  • Cramps. Just the word alone makes you angry and want to huddle over with a box of chocolates, a plate of nachos or a pint of ice cream.

Guys get a pass on all these issues so it’s way easier for them to stay in ketosis all month while you’re miserable for two weeks.

Know what else can make you feel crummy?

#3. Going Too Low Carb Too Fast Can Make Life Worse

While eating too few carbs isn’t recommended for men on keto, you definitely can’t let this happen as a woman.

Since your body is super sensitive to dietary changes, the sudden decrease in carbs may send your body into the proverbial “starvation mode” where it will shut down fat burning and hold onto all your calories because it thinks you’re in famine.

This shock to your system will not only cause hormones like cortisol to stall weight loss, you may actually gain weight in the process.

Simply adding a bit more carbs to your diet may give your hormones the green light that everything’s ok and it can start the weight loss process instead of hoarding your fat.

You’ll need more carbs in your diet if you are:

  • Very active during the day
  • Crushing killer workouts at moderate- to high-intensity at least 3x a week
  • Bodybuilding/putting on lean muscle
  • Having trouble recovering after your workouts
  • In a weight loss stall
  • In the perimenopause or menopause stage
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding

We’ll talk more about how to control carbs the right way later.

But you also need to watch your calories — and not in the way you may be used to.

#4. Danger: You May Not Eat Enough Calories

A keto diet naturally suppresses your appetite so you’re hungry less often. While it’s amazing to not be on the hunt for food 24/7, this perk may cause you to forget to eat entirely.

You may think that sounds amazing, but it’s pretty unhealthy.

Yes, you need to create a calorie deficit in order to lose weight, but you also need to give your body an adequate amount of calories to perform its many important jobs.

So get over your fear of fat and embrace it in the name of weight loss.

While you’re diligently cutting carbs, you may need more fat on a keto diet as a woman if you’re:

  • Active and burning off a lot during your day or workouts
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Experiencing irregular periods  
  • Suffering regular brain fog
  • Prone to bacterial infections like UTIs, SIBO and yeast infections
  • Craving sweets and caffeine on the regular. 

#5. Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Trying to get pregnant and not finding any luck?

A ketogenic diet is one of the most helpful ways to improve your chances of conceiving.

Most women learn they have fertility issues stemming from PCOS, which can cause your ovaries to stop ovulating and make pregnancy pretty impossible.

But in a study on women with PCOS, two women who previously struggled with infertility became pregnant when they switched to a low-carb keto diet[*].

What about keto during pregnancy?

You can use keto with a bun in the oven.

Our guide on ketosis during pregnancy covers this topic more in-depth so here’s a quick recap on what you need to do:

  • Don’t aim for weight loss while pregnant. Your growing baby needs all the nutrients and calories possible to form vital parts of their body.
  • Skip intermittent fasting, again because your baby will be starved of the nutrients it needs to grow and fully develop.
  • Up your carbs because glucose is necessary for building muscles and other critical internal structures.
  • Don’t cut calories when breastfeeding as that’s what’s responsible for your milk production. You’ll notice less milk supply the fewer calories you eat.

Our final reason keto is harder for ladies hits in the feels.

#6. Mealtimes Can Be Tough

If you’re responsible for cooking and preparing all the meals in your house, you may feel burdened to make both keto and non-keto options — especially if you have children.

This will quickly take a toll on your willingness to stay in keto if you don’t have help to prep all your meals and those for everyone else.

Plus, since women tend to view mealtimes more as social gatherings than refueling sessions, it can feel isolating sticking to your keto guns while everyone around you happily gorges on your old faves.

So is all hope lost for women wishing to achieve success on keto?

Not on our watch!

How to Nail Keto for Women

A keto diet for women doesn’t have to be a fail for your body — it can be the weight loss secret you’ve been waiting your whole life to learn.

Let’s start with the biggest tip you’ll need to follow for a keto diet to work first:

Limit Your Carbs Slowly

Unlike dudes who can decide to start a keto diet any random day and go from 300g of daily carbs in the Standard American Diet (SAD) to 25g, women need a little more time to adjust as we discussed.

If you haven’t started a keto diet yet, begin by tracking your regular food intake.

This will not only give you practice for measuring your food and tracking your macros in keto, it will also give you an average carb baseline for your body.

Let’s say you’re a typical American gal eating 250g of carbs per day.

Though you’ll get into ketosis faster the fewer carbs you eat, it doesn’t take drastic measures to find success.

When 24 women followed a low carb diet for eight weeks, they lost an average of 19 pounds and experienced significant reductions in their blood sugar levels, insulin resistance, triglycerides and free testosterone levels by simply limiting their net carbs to 70g per day[*].

That shows you don’t have to stay under 25g right off the bat to see results. Try this blueprint to ease your hormones into low-carb living:

  • Week one of your keto diet should begin with a goal of no more than 150g of daily net carbs. See if you can finish this first week somewhere near a daily 100g mark.
  • On week two of your keto diet, do the same thing; start around 100g early in the week and end close to 50g per day.
  • By the third week you’ll be well on your way to the under 25g zone and near or in ketosis.

This gradual carb reduction will let your body adjust and adapt while you see what life is like with fewer carbs. Just make sure to listen to your body.

If you’re feeling tired, unable to finish your workouts and hungry often, you may need to add a few more carbs to your day until you’re fat adapted.

This next tip also works wonders for breaking weight loss stalls.

Try Intermittent Fasting

How do women bust through their evolutionary fat reserves and kickstart weight loss ASAP?

With intermittent fasting.

Intermittent fasting is when you go 14–18 hours without eating any meals or snacks.

The most common type of intermittent fasting (IF) is the 16/8 method, which is when you fast for 16 hours of the day and only eat during a specific 8-hour window.

Intermittent fasting gives your body a break from the tiresome work of digesting foods.

During this time off, your body will work on repairing itself and balancing your hormones instead of going through the rigamarole of digestion.

And when your body finishes all these chores and gets a bit peckish, it will use your fat reserves for energy so you don’t take in more calories than you burn.

Fasting helps you reach ketosis faster so you lose weight sooner. One study showed over 84% of participants practicing IF saw significant weight loss results in just two months[*].

IF also preserves muscle mass while encouraging pure fat loss. When participants were split into groups in another trial, they consumed the same amount of calories but some used IF while others skipped it.

Researchers noticed IF participants not only lost more weight, they kept their muscles and lost pure fat instead[*].

Since we know muscles increase your metabolism and burn more calories at rest, this is a double whammy of greatness.

Research also shows intermittent fasting can lower your:

  • Heart disease risks[*]
  • Cholesterol levels[*]
  • Inflammation[*]

And in one study of close to 2,500 ladies, researchers had women extend their overnight fasting and learned[*]:

  • Those fasting less than 13 hours had an increased risk of breast cancer compared with those who fasted 13 hours or more.
  • Each 2-hour fasting increase was associated with lower blood sugar levels and longer nighttime sleep.

The easiest way to get into intermittent fasting is by eating a light dinner before 8 pm, tucking in for a full night’s rest and not eating when you wake up until you’ve hit the minimum 14-hour fasting mark.

Since you should be getting eight hours of sleep every night, you’re already halfway through your fasting portion by the time you wake up.

Try to fast every other day. Don’t do endurance runs, HIIT or heavy strength training during this time as you’ll most likely burn out. Try yoga or long walks with your dog instead.

To learn more about IF on keto, check out our intermittent fasting guide after this article.

Learn How to Smartly Feed Your PMS Cravings

We’re not all the same when it comes to PMS food cravings, but generally women around this time of the month dream of chocolate, carbs and high calorie junk food.

Luckily the Perfect Keto kitchen has you covered. Try one or more of these keto recipes for PMS when the storm hits:

Sweet:

Salty:

And by all means stay away from the scale before and during your period week for your mental and emotional health.

But try not to ignore the gym — exercise does help with cramps, after all[*].

Add Resistance Training

Consciously building muscles won’t turn you into a jacked meathead.

Having more muscles will boost your metabolism, burn more calories at rest and make your physique look better despite not losing any weight.

Plus, strength training led to better reproductive function and decreased belly fat in a four-week study of 45 sedentary women with PCOS, which is no easy feat[*].

So work out with weights at least twice a week for 20–30 minutes.

You can keep track of all your workouts in your keto journal.

Track Your Food Intake and Keep a Keto Journal

You’ll need to track your food intake on keto to make sure you’re hitting all your macros (and not going over your carbs or protein). You may want to use a food tracking app to keep all these calculations organized.

But you should also consider keeping a keto journal.

Since the female body is so sensitive to changes, you can use this space to record how you’re feeling in keto life. Here you’ll be able to monitor stats and changes like your:

  • Body goals
  • Weight
  • Body measurements
  • Exercises
  • Moods and emotions
  • Energy levels
  • Workout recovery
  • Cravings

Even though you may not feel like tracking all this stuff, it will be astoundingly helpful for your doctor or gyno over the long term. You may be able to pinpoint patterns or even foods you don’t tolerate well.

And if your body needs extra supplements, you’ll have a better understanding of which ones will help the most.

Consider Keto-Friendly Supplements

Women are more prone to urinary tract infections (UTIs) but the go-to cranberry juice prevention and remedy has way too much sugar to be keto friendly.

Don’t stop taking this powerful antioxidant, just find a low-carb cranberry extract supplement you can pop for all the same benefits.

You can also add collagen protein to your diet for better hair, nails, skin, joints and digestion. If you don’t know all the benefits of collagen, now’s the time to find out.

Exogenous ketones can help you reach ketosis faster when you’re just starting keto or coming off a cheat day so they top the list as one of the best keto supplements money can buy.

With all this information on keto for women, you’re ready to take control of your life and get started!

You Got This, Girl!

Though keto for women takes a bit more homework and paying attention to get right, it can be the best decision you’ll ever make for your health, appearance and well being.

Follow today’s keto tips for women and try not to beat yourself up if you don’t lose as much weight in the beginning as other keto success stories. Your scale victory will be worth the wait if you put in the effort — trust us!

For a full crash course in everything you need to know about keto, check out The Ultimate Startup Guide to the Ketogenic Diet now!

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