Are you frustrated with weight loss diets that leave you feeling hungry? If so, you may be curious about trying the keto diet for weight loss.
Obesity in the U.S. and around the world has reached all-time highs, despite the hundreds of purported fat loss diets out there (*). Rising obesity rates also increase the risk for preventable health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and liver disease (*).
Conventional low-fat diet plans and hours on the treadmill don’t appear to be effective in preventing record growth in the numbers of overweight and obese people.
One big reason for this is because many popular diets leave you feeling hungry. This can lead to feelings of deprivation and end up backfiring because they lead to overeating (*).
If you’re looking for an effective way to lose weight that curbs hunger, a high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet may be the answer.
In this guide, you’ll learn what the keto diet is, what the research shows on the keto diet and weight loss, and simple tips on how to start using the keto diet to lose weight.
The ketogenic diet, also known as the keto diet, is a high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carbohydrate way of eating. It has long been used to reduce seizure frequency in those with epilepsy, but more recently has gained popularity as a way to lose weight.
The standard keto diet includes the following macro breakdown:
- Healthy fats: 55-80% of total calories
- Protein: 20-35% of total calories
- Net carbs: at most 5-10% of total calories (for most people, no more than 30-50 grams of net carbs per day)
There are multiple health benefits from the keto diet as seen in research in addition to weight loss, such as:
- Possible skin improvements in those with acne (*)
- Improved triglyceride and cholesterol levels (*)
- Easier blood glucose management for overweight people and people with type 2 diabetes (* , *)
- Hormone regulation — many women who go on keto report less severe symptoms of PMS.
- Better mood and increased cognition (*)
- Higher energy levels and less fatigue (*)
- No feeling of deprivation because you experience less hunger (*)
In order to reap these benefits of the keto diet, you need to achieve a state of “ketosis” in your body. But what is ketosis exactly?
Ketosis is a process that occurs in the body when it lacks carbohydrate stores.
Typically, our body burns glucose (i.e. carbs) as its primary fuel source. But by reducing your carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat, your body begins to burn fat for fuel instead.
This forces your body to produce ketones, which become the primary fuel source for physical and mental energy.
Once your body is in ketosis, your body is primed to drive fat loss, which can support weight loss and provide that initial jumpstart.
The good news is that a higher fat diet like keto can be incredibly satisfying which is essential for weight loss, due to fat’s effect on satiety (*).
A ketogenic diet may help you lose more weight than some other traditional diets, such as a low-fat diet.
A 6-month study in 2004 observed the long-term effects of a ketogenic diet in obese adults and found the following (*):
- The patients’ weight decreased significantly, by an average of over 14 kilograms (31 pounds).
- The majority of the weight loss took place in the first two months, but weight loss continued throughout the study.
- The level of total cholesterol decreased from week 1 to week 24.
- HDL cholesterol (the “good” one) levels significantly increased.
- LDL cholesterol (the “bad” one) levels significantly decreased after treatment.
- The level of triglycerides decreased significantly following 24 weeks of treatment. Triglycerides are a type of fat that can put you at increased risk for heart disease, so lowering them is a good thing.
- The level of blood glucose significantly decreased.
A separate 6-month study in 2012 compared the effects of a ketogenic diet versus a hypocaloric (low-calorie) diet in obese children and adolescents. Here’s what the results showed (*):
- Children following the ketogenic diet experienced significantly increased reductions in body weight (8 kg or 17.6 lb), fat mass (7 kg or 15.4 lb), waist circumference (9.2 cm or 3.7 inches), and fasting insulin levels compared to the low-calorie diet.
- The children in the ketogenic diet group significantly reduced insulin resistance to a greater degree than those following a hypocaloric diet.
- An important marker of insulin sensitivity and cardiovascular disease — known as high molecular weight (HMW) adiponectin — significantly increased in the ketogenic diet group but not in the hypocaloric diet group. A higher HMW adiponectin level is associated with a lower risk of diabetes (* , *).
And here’s what a 2017 randomized controlled study of recreational Crossfit athletes found when they went keto for 6 weeks (*):
- Keto subjects lost 3.45 kilograms (7.6 pounds), whereas the control group lost no weight.
- Keto participants’ body fat percentage dropped by an average of 2.6 points, while the control group’s body fat did not change significantly.
- The keto group lost, on average, 2.83 kilograms (6.2 pounds) of fat mass (the portion of the body composed strictly of fat), unlike the control group, who did not lose any fat mass.
- Improvements in lean body mass and Crossfit performance were identical between the two groups, meaning keto did not decrease performance.
Other studies have also found positive results for fat loss and overall health, including in adults living with type 2 diabetes (*).
When it comes down to it, going keto supports healthy weight loss.
Researchers suggest the following reasons to explain how the keto diet works for weight loss:
- A satiating effect and reduced cravings with a high fat diet (*).
- A decrease in appetite hormones, such as insulin and ghrelin, which occurs on very low carb diets (*).
- A hunger-reducing effect from ketones in the body—the body’s main fuel source on the diet (*).
- May provide a metabolic advantage by burning fat into energy versus carbohydrates (*).
- Preference for body fat loss versus muscle mass, especially belly fat (*).
All of these factors combined can make the keto diet easier to stick to and render it more effective.
While everyone’s keto weight loss story is different, there is a general timeline on what to expect in the first few weeks to months on the keto diet.
During the first 2-4 days, the glycogen, or stored glucose, in your muscles and liver starts to break down. Once these stores are completely depleted, you start to burn fat for energy and transition into ketosis.
During this time of transition, initial weight loss is typically seen within the first week. This can be a motivating jumpstart and may be anywhere from 2-4 pounds (*).
The weight loss is typically higher in the first 1-2 weeks, as you lose water weight and adjust to the diet.
After week 1, most people lose around 1 pound per week on average, depending on the person. Sticking to the diet and remaining active will increase your chances of continued weight loss success.
Results can vary depending on starting body fat levels, fitness, age, and personal health history.
Here is how to lose weight with keto.
Before you get started losing fat with keto, here are a few things to think about and how to get started:
- Familiarize yourself with checking food labels for the grams of carbs to see how you can fit your favorite foods into your keto diet.
- Find some Keto-friendly recipes
- Create a keto grocery shopping list
- Find a keto meal plan for weight loss
- Plan out your meals ahead of time
- Learn about the Keto flu and what to do about it
- Avoid dirty keto (if you care about your health)
- Research supplements on keto (not to be confused with ketogenic supplements, which are covered below)
Along with planning ahead, you’ll want to set a weight loss goal and do plenty of research.
The most important part of goal-setting is to set an ambitious goal that motivates you, but is realistic and achievable for your lifestyle.
In addition to these keto diet tips, it’s also helpful to include keto supplements to enhance your results.
Supplements are supplemental to the rest of your weight loss program.
That said, if you have the basics in place, supplements can definitely speed up your weight loss journey and make it easier.
These are the top keto supplements for weight loss:
- MCT oil, powder or pills: Medium-chain triglycerides speed up ketosis, reduce keto flu symptoms, and increase fat-burning (*). They’re a fantastic choice for keto beginners and well worth keeping in your regimen long-term.
- Exogenous BHB ketones: beta-hydroxybutyrate is the most important ketone your body produces during ketosis, and it’s available in the form of supplements called exogenous ketones. Studies show that BHB supports mental clarity and may reduce keto flu symptoms (* , *).
- Electrolytes: Your body requires essential electrolytes to stay hydrated, and going keto may temporarily disrupt your electrolyte balance. Highly recommended, especially for athletes going keto.
- Grass-fed keto whey protein: Up to a third of your calories on keto come from protein, and whey is the highest quality protein supplement (*).
- Even if you get enough protein from other sources, you can use whey protein to reduce your appetite and increase workout recovery (* , *).
- What can I eat on the keto diet? There are plenty of delicious options to choose from on the keto diet. Your focus should be on meats, fatty fish, cheese, nuts, seeds, eggs, full-fat dairy, low-carbohydrate vegetables, and healthy fats.
- What is the keto flu? The keto flu is a cluster of symptoms that can occur anywhere from 2 to 7 days after starting keto. Common symptoms include headache, fatigue, dizziness, poor concentration, nausea and vomiting. They are short-lived, and typically resolve within a week for most people as your body adjusts.
- Should I exercise on the keto diet? The primary purpose of exercising on the ketogenic diet is not to burn more calories, but to improve energy and overall health. Pairing resistance exercise cardio (such as walking) is a great way to enhance your body composition while losing weight with the keto diet.
The Bottom Line: The Ketogenic Diet is Not Just a “Weight Loss Diet”
Weight loss and fat loss are two different things, and that’s what sets the keto apart from other diets.
No other diet is proven to result in fat loss, not to mention crank up fat-burning as high as humanly possible.
Add in all the scientifically-proven health benefits, and it’s no wonder that many people decide to stay keto for life.
While the keto diet has many wonderful benefits, it may not be suitable for everyone. Always consult with your medical doctor to determine the safest and most effective diet for you.
Mathai J et al. Values for digestible indispensable amino acid scores (DIAAS) for some dairy and plant proteins may better describe protein quality than values calculated using the concept for protein digestibility-corrected amino acid scores (PDCAAS). 2017 February