Many people adopt a very low-carb way of eating to help them lose weight. Weight loss happens more quickly at the start of their journey, but then it slows down or the weight or it stays the same.
This phenomenon is called the keto plateau, which can be frustrating. For those experiencing this, it’s important to remember that stalling on keto is more common than you think, and it happens for various reasons.
In this article, we examine the reasons behind weight loss plateaus and science-backed ways to get past them.
A keto diet plateau is when you stop seeing changes on the scale or your body fat percentage isn’t going down on the keto diet.
There are many factors that contribute to weight loss stalls on keto, including hidden carbs, excess calories, chronic stress, and not getting enough physical activity. Certain medical conditions (which you may not be aware of) also lead to weight gain (* , *, *).
However, if you’re already losing about 1-2 pounds of weight per week, which is a safe weight loss rate, you’re not plateauing (*). Slow and steady weight loss is more sustainable and can help you develop strong habits. Otherwise, explore the causes of plateaus below.
Although the keto diet leads to weight loss by depleting glycogen and changing your metabolism, you may be doing things or live a certain way that affect your progress. Here are some of them.
1. Excess carbs
If you’re not losing weight on keto, one of the main causes is consuming too many carbs. The keto diet limits you to only 30-50 grams of total carbs or net carbs (if you’re eating veggies and fruits, which have fiber) per day.
Sometimes, people make the mistake of eating a lot of low-carb foods without actually knowing the total amount of carbs they consumed in a day. Carbs from low-carb items can easily accumulate, so you need to be careful.
Hidden carbs are found in foods, such as snacks, sauces, condiments, and processed foods — even those that are marketed as keto-friendly.
2. Consuming too many calories
Being in a calorie deficit creates weight loss, although not all calories are equal. But, at the end of the day, eating fewer calories than you burn (a.k.a. a caloric surplus) will increase your risk of gaining weight if you are sedentary (*).
Despite the fact that a ketogenic diet helps you feel more satiated due to increased protein and fats, it’s still possible to overconsume calories. There’s still such a thing as too many.
For people who are plateauing, determining the amount of calories they need each day to lose weight is a good start. Tracking their total calories consumed, along with their macronutrients, helps.
3. Stressful lifestyle
We are more stressed than ever in this modern life. Different things contribute to our stress, such as being constantly connected, doing too much at once, and certain triggers at work.
Unfortunately, being too stressed can make it difficult to keep losing weight. Evidence shows that stress increases a person’s risk of gaining weight and visceral adiposity (*). (Visceral fat is the fat that surrounds your organs, including your stomach, liver, and intestines.)
It’s interesting to note that your current weight can also be a factor in whether you gain more weight due to stress. According to a study, men and women who are already overweight or weigh above their normal weight are more likely to gain weight when they’re under stress compared to those who have a lower body weight (*).
Managing your stress successfully can help you reach your goal weight. Mindfulness strategies and taking care of yourself will lower cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and make you feel better.
4. A lack of exercise and physical activity
Being sedentary most of the time can limit the number of calories you burn each day. Sedentary behaviors include sitting down for long periods, watching television, commuting, and desk-based jobs (*).
A study found that obese individuals are more likely to stay seated for an average of 2 hours longer daily than lean individuals. Moreover, it suggested the importance of NEAT behaviors. NEAT stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis and it refers to activities you do outside of your workouts, such as mowing the lawn, washing the dishes, standing, and walking (*).
It’s no secret that exercise is a proven way to increase weight loss. In addition, other forms of physical activity will also work well. The most important thing is to stay active even when you’re not exercising.
5. Snacking on too many nuts
Nuts are part of the keto diet. Almonds, Brazil nuts, pecans, and walnuts are great to have as snacks and ingredients for various low-carb recipes.
However, you still need to watch the amount of nuts you eat in a day. Nuts aren’t only calorie dense, but eating too many can cause the carb count to rise and kick you out of ketosis.
To give you an idea, here’s how many carbs you can consume in a 100-gram serving:
- Almonds – 10 grams net carbs
- Brazil nuts – 4 grams net carbs
- Pecans – 4 grams net carbs
- Walnuts – 7 grams net carbs
While nuts are a wonderful source of healthy fats, measure and control your portion sizes. Stick to one serving a day to make room for other foods with carbs.
6. Poor sleep
Your weight can stall if you lack sleep. Research shows that a lack of sleep affects how your body regulates the hormones that relate to your appetite. These are leptin and ghrelin (*).
In one study, subjects who slept for only 4 hours had an increase in their ghrelin, the hormone that increases appetite (*).
What’s also interesting is that poor sleep increases cravings for foods that are high in calories and carbohydrates, since your body looks for additional sources of energy (*).
As long as you’re eating right and are mindful of your habits, there’s no reason to not see progress on the keto diet. Follow these tips.
1. Adjust your calorie needs and macros
Tracking calories and macros is a common practice among those who want to maintain weight loss and achieve a certain physique. As your weight changes on a diet, so do your calorie and macro goals.
If you’ve been on keto for a while and you’ve lost a lot of body fat, your resting metabolic rate drops, which means it may be time to recalculate your needs. You can use our free keto calculator to figure out how many calories and grams of protein, fat, and carbs you should eat each day, moving forward.
Among the macronutrients, protein wins when it comes to weight loss. Eating more protein will keep you satiated on fewer calories, plus it can boost your metabolism so that you burn more calories (*).
Once you figure out your numbers, track them. This will allow you to make better food choices and ensure you’re getting enough from each macronutrient.
2. Increase physical activity and NEAT
Any type of exercise will put you on the path of losing weight, whether that is:
- Cardio: walking, running, cycling, elliptical machine, jump rope, swimming
- Resistance training: lifting weights, machines, bodyweight
- High intensity interval training: tabata, HIIT with weights
Incorporate one of these workouts to help burn your body fat and improve your metabolic health. Additionally, regular exercise significantly lowers your risk of type 2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (*).
If you need help getting started, we have a complete beginner’s workout guide. You can also hire a personal trainer to receive individualized support avoid injury, and stay consistent.
Don’t just aim to workout — increase your NEAT as well in your daily routine. All those seemingly insignificant movements, such as walking the dog, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and gardening allow you to stay active and overcome that plateau.
3. Manage your stress healthily
Feeling stressed on a regular basis? No matter what’s stressing you out, keep stress under control and prevent it from impacting your weight using these strategies:
- Reduce your screen time
- Walk mindfully in nature
- Make time for your hobbies
- Breath deeply to activate your parasympathetic nervous system
- Eat a nutrient-dense diet and reduce your intake of processed foods
4. Incorporate an intermittent fast
Intermittent fasting can be done in many ways. For example, the popular 16:8 method where you limit your food consumption to only 8 hours a day. Another is the OMAD (“one meal a day”) approach where you eat just once a day and fast for 23 hours.
Combining the keto diet and intermittent fasting helps to further control your overall caloric intake, plus it benefits gut health and may improve mental health (*).
If you have never tried fasting on keto before, it might be the key to breaking through a weight loss plateau. Since not all intermittent fasting types will work for you, you may need to try a few and check how it affects you.
5. Track your ketone levels.
Evidence shows that a state of ketosis promotes the breakdown of stored body fat while sparing lean muscle (*).
This is why it’s so important to actually check whether you’re entering ketosis or not. It’s not enough to lower your carbs and see it it feels right. Instead of guessing, check your ketone levels using a blood ketone meter, ketone breath tester, or a urine ketone strip.
6. Look for hidden carbohydrates.
Keep in mind that you need only 30-50 grams of carbs per day on keto. If you can go lower than 30 grams, that would be even better. Not only will more carbs increase your blood sugar, but it can prevent you from losing weight.
So, aside from cutting out obvious high-carb food sources like bread and rice, be on the lookout for these culprits:
- Alcoholic beverages (beer, sweet wines, mixers)
- Multiple servings of nuts
- Multiple servings of low-carb fruits, such as berries
- Keto snacks and other convenience foods (canned goods, hotdogs, sausages)
- Sauces, salad dressings, soup mixes
Always read the labels when buying items at the grocery. Check how many carbs are there in one serving so you can plan your intake.
7. Be aware of food sensitivities.
If you’ve closely watched your calories and keto macros but you’re still stalling on keto, you might be sensitive to some foods.
Common food sensitivities that may contribute to weight gain include dairy and FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols). Examples of FODMAP foods are onions, garlic, asparagus, cauliflower, brussels sprouts.
Although the keto diet is low in gluten, a family of proteins in wheat and grains — some low-carb products may contain gluten. Watch out for soy sauce, commercially-prepared bone broths, salad dressings, and cold cuts (*).
Try narrowing down these foods in your diet. Remove them one at a time and monitor your weight loss progress. Along with that, notice any other symptoms improving (if you are experiencing them), such as low energy, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and a runny nose.
The things you do to help you lose weight are the same strategies to keep the weight off. For example, if you successfully overcome a keto diet plateau by changing your workout routine every few weeks and increasing your NEAT activities, then keep on doing them.
Also, don’t lose weight too fast. The general recommendation of 1-2 pounds per week will be easier on your body. Research also shows that individuals who lose weight slowly and steadily are more likely to keep it off long-term (*).
Important: If you suspect a medical condition that’s preventing you from breaking a stalled weight loss, speak with your doctor.
While a keto plateau is normal, it can be frustrating. Breaking through plateaus starts with knowing what causes weight loss to stop happening so you can explore ways to get back on track.
As you’ve learned in this article, strategies like tracking hidden carbs, adjusting your macros, managing your stress, staying physically active, and incorporating a fast can bring you closer to your goals. It may seem like these things only help with weight loss, but they benefit your health.
Figuring the best combination of weight loss methods for you may take a while but it will help you learn more about yourself. Patience is an important component for long-term weight loss success.