Obesity in the U.S. and around the world has reached all-time highs[*].
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.
Meanwhile, the Standard American Diet gives rise to medical conditions like insulin resistance, heart disease, and liver disease as body fat percentages increase[*].
Whether you’re struggling with one of these conditions already, or are looking for a preventative strategy, a high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet may be the answer.
In this guide, you’ll learn how lowering your carbohydrate intake to achieve ketosis leads to healthy weight loss, what kind of results to expect, and how you can use keto for safe and effective fat loss.
Normally, carbohydrates that you eat (especially sugar) raise insulin levels, preventing your body from burning fat.
But on the keto diet, the lack of carbs and insulin allows for maximum fat-burning[*].
And when your body switches to fat as its primary energy source, your liver produces high-energy ketone molecules during the breakdown of fats.
Ketosis occurs when you eat a very low carb diet or fast for prolonged periods.
In a state of ketosis, ketone bodies act as a clean-burning, readily available fuel source for your brain and vital organs.
Note: Unlike metabolic ketoacidosis, nutritional ketosis is perfectly safe.
Conventional diets usually require a caloric deficit to cause weight loss, which isn’t the same thing as fat loss.
“Eating less and moving more” is a guaranteed way to lose weight, but evidence suggests that compared to the keto diet, you could lose more lean muscle and less fat by following a traditional weight loss diet[*].
Along with the unique fat loss benefits of going keto, there are also many remarkable health benefits due to ketosis.
Health Benefits of Ketosis
The health benefits of keto come from your body burning fat for fuel, the presence of ketones circulating in your bloodstream, and lower insulin and blood glucose levels.
Along with accelerated fat loss, here’s what happens when you go keto:
- 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[*]
Aside from the health benefits of ketosis, many people fall in love with keto because of how it makes them feel, both mentally and physically.
Next, learn what to expect as far as weight loss when you go keto.
Everyone’s keto weight loss story is different. Results vary depending on starting body fat levels, fitness, age, and personal health history.
Fortunately, there’s now plenty of peer-reviewed evidence that sheds light on what you can expect when you go keto.
A 6-month study in 2004 observing 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.
- 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 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[*][*].
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[*].
Essentially, no matter who you are, going keto supports healthy weight loss without counting calories.
And not only that, but it can also improve important health measures like cholesterol, blood sugar, and insulin levels[*].
Keto vs. Popular Weight Loss Diets: Atkins, Paleo, Mediterranean
Here are the similarities and differences between keto and the Atkins, Paleo, and Mediterranean diets:
Keto may be the easiest diet for weight loss. Unlike other diets, the ketogenic diet significantly suppresses your desire to eat, which often allows fat loss without counting calories[*].
And equally importantly, none of the other diets result in ketone production or boost fat-burning like keto.
Therefore, the keto diet has unique health benefits not found with Atkins, Paleo, or the Mediterranean diet.
Before you get started losing fat with keto, there are a few things you’ll want to do first for best results.
Along with planning ahead, you’ll want to set a weight loss goal and do plenty of research.
The key to goal-setting is to set an ambitious goal that motivates you.
Some people feel motivated by extreme goals, while others prefer to set goals that feel realistic and attainable.
If you belong to the second group, you can always make a follow-up goal after you achieve your initial weight loss target.
When it comes to keto weight loss results, 1-2 pounds per week is a safe and sustainable target. You might shed pounds faster, especially at first, but you’ll be better off if you don’t force rapid weight loss.
Therefore, plan accordingly. For example, if your goal is to lose 20 pounds, expect to take around 10-20 weeks to get there (2.5 to 5 months, in other words).
And remember to do your homework, so you have a reasonably good understanding of every aspect of the keto diet.
We’ll cover the basics in a moment, but here are some other important areas to consider before you begin:
- Keto flu and what to do about it
- A keto grocery shopping list
- A keto meal plan for weight loss
- Making a habit of meal prepping the right way
- Keto-friendly recipes
- Avoiding dirty keto (if you care about your health)
- Supplements on keto (not to be confused with ketogenic supplements, which are covered below)
In the upcoming sections, we’ll cover everything you need to know to construct your very own keto fat loss plan.
Keto Macros and Calories
Your macronutrient intake is what makes or breaks your keto diet.
You can eat the highest-quality foods and exercise all the time, but without the correct macros, you won’t get the results you’d like on keto.
Most keto experts agree that counting net carbs is far more critical than counting calories on keto.
Eating too many net carbs prevents ketosis from occurring, which defeats the entire purpose of keto!
Here are the standard keto macros for people who want to lose weight or maintain weight:
- 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)
Unless you’re already skilled at keeping track of macros and food labels, try tracking your food intake and macros with an app for the first couple of weeks.
FitDay, MyFitnessPal, or hundreds of other free apps and sites all work equally well. You can also go old school with a handwritten food journal if you want (but make sure you record the overall macros, not just the individual food items).
And again, the essential part–especially at first–is to restrict carbs so you achieve ketosis and stay there.
Using keto test strips is also an excellent idea along with macro tracking. Most people will produce ketones within 2-4 days, with a week being the typical upper limit.
If you don’t get into ketosis within 7 days, check out the troubleshooting section below.
You can fine-tune protein and healthy fat ratios later on. As a general rule, athletes and active people will benefit from protein intake at the higher end of the standard range.
Keto Diet Calories for Beginners
You’re better off not using a calorie target at first, although you can still count calories if you want (as part of your macro tracking experiment).
The vast majority of people lose weight on keto without limiting caloric intake, especially starting off.
If you find yourself in ketosis without losing weight after a few weeks, you can set a calorie target if you want.
One option is to track your current average calorie intake and then eat 10-15% less going forward, which will ensure weight loss.
The other is to multiply your goal body weight by 10, 11, or 12 and consume that amount of calories every day.
For instance, a 200-pound individual who wants to lose 50 pounds (a goal weight of 150 lb) would eat 1500-1800 calories (kcal) per day.
Keep reading to learn where exercise fits in your keto weight loss plan.
Exercising on the Keto Diet
First, let’s get one thing straight.
The primary purpose of exercising on the ketogenic diet is not to burn more calories.
As we’ve already discussed, keto is not really about “calories in, calories out.” On keto, your calorie burn is a distant second to the amount of fat you burn.
With that in mind, you’ve got 5 different options for exercise on keto:
- Resistance exercise (including weight training and other types of strength training): The best choice for preserving muscle mass during weight loss, not to mention getting stronger[*].
- High-intensity interval training (HIIT): HIIT is an intensive but time-efficient form of cardio that consists of high-intensity bursts with active rest periods between.
- Aerobic exercise (steady-state, or low-intensity intervals): Excellent for your heart health as well as improving aerobic fitness, it’s also the form of cardio that burns the most fat calories (as opposed to other types of calories)[*][*].
- Walking: Walking burns respectable amounts of fat, lowers your risk of future health problems, and speeds recovery from other styles of exercise[*][*].
- Everything else: Yoga, flexibility, stability, and other workouts are a fun way to change things up and build other fitness qualities.
If you’re new to exercise, start off by simply making it a habit.
Many people find it’s easiest to try one type of exercise at first. You can always add more later on.
On the other hand, if you love physical activity or you’ve already made regular exercise a habit, you can mix and match training styles.
Pairing any form of resistance exercise with any type of cardio (including walking) is a great way to enhance your body composition results while losing weight with the keto diet.
Intermittent Fasting with the Keto Diet
Intermittent fasting (IF) works similarly to keto (by increasing ketone production and boosting fat burning), so it’s an excellent addition to your regimen for fat loss purposes as well as general health[*].
That said, IF isn’t always appropriate for beginners.
If you’re inexperienced with fasting, don’t dive into IF simultaneously as you begin keto.
Once you’re thoroughly keto-adapted, though, intermittent fasting can turbocharge your fat loss results. Most people should wait 1-3 months after starting keto before attempting fasting.
Read about the different types of fasting and how they work on keto.
Keto Supplements To Enhance Weight Loss 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[*][*].
Last but not least, you need to know how to deal with plateaus.
If you want to lose more than a few pounds, your results may eventually stall out before you reach your goal.
We’re not talking about a minor change here, either. By definition, a plateau means your weight loss results have slowed immensely or stopped altogether.
Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do.
First of all, keep in mind a plateau does not necessarily mean you’ve done anything wrong. Plateaus are a normal part of weight loss, even on keto.
The key is in how you respond to a weight loss plateau.
But first, let’s make sure you’re monitoring your results correctly–otherwise, you might not even recognize when a plateau occurs.
Testing and Tracking Your Results
- Write down your goals and review your progress regularly.
- Weigh in once every week or two.
- Measure your waist and other areas you’d like to slim down.
- Track total inches lost every few weeks.
- Pay attention to how your clothes fit.
- Listen to (and enjoy) compliments people pay you about your progress
- Take before photos and progress photos (optional).
- Monitor ketone levels using test strips or other methods (especially when you first go keto, then less often but regularly enough to ensure you’re in ketosis).
- Check blood glucose levels after eating new foods, especially “keto-friendly” packaged foods (optional).
- Don’t weigh in every day or stress out over normal fluctuations. Look for long-term trends.
- Don’t make impulsive changes to your plan. Take the time to ensure you make wise decisions.
- Don’t worry if your results are on the slow side, as long as they’re steady.
- Don’t compare your results to other people in real life or on social media.
- Don’t obsess over your appearance in the mirror or photos.
- Don’t beat yourself up if you cheat on keto or make another misstep. Do what it takes to get back on track.
And most importantly, don’t give up when things get tough.
Instead, remember all the progress you’ve already made. Bring a calm, problem-solving mentality to a slowdown or plateau.
Troubleshooting and Making Adjustments to Your Keto Diet
Solutions to a plateau on the keto diet fall into two categories: troubleshooting and making adjustments.
As the name suggests, troubleshooting refers to solving mistakes or other problems that are sabotaging your results.
The troubleshooting tips below will also work if you stalled out early in your keto journey (without ever reaching a keto plateau), but save the suggested adjustments for a real plateau.
Troubleshoot before making adjustments:
- Are you eating too many carbs?
- Are you missing hidden carbs?
- Are you in ketosis? Do you track your ketone levels often?
- Are you eating when you aren’t hungry, or snacking too often?
- Are you binge eating or eating with the mentality of “rewarding” yourself?
- Are you eating real, high-quality keto whole foods?
- Are you eating too many nuts? Not all nuts are equal, and some could be kicking you out of ketosis or inflating your calorie intake.
- Are you getting enough sleep?
- Are you managing your stress?
- Are your hormones in good shape? Adrenal or thyroid issues, as well as many other hormone imbalances, can affect weight loss. See a doctor if you suspect hormonal imbalance.
Make 1-2 or more adjustments below, but only if troubleshooting doesn’t turn up any underlying problems:
- Exercise more often (cardio, weights, or anything active that you enjoy).
- Go on daily walks, preferably outside.
- Change up your workout routine to be more challenging.
- Add keto intermittent fasting (on a daily or weekly schedule) to your routine.
- If you’ve already been fasting, increase the duration or frequency.
- Count calories and reduce your overall intake by 10-15%.
You must deal with any problems before you make adjustments to your weight loss plan. If you’re doing keto wrong, upping your exercise volume or cutting calories could actually make problems worse.
And don’t make the mistake of overcompensating for a plateau, either.
Try to use the bare minimum of changes possible to get continued progress, especially if you’ve still got a way to go towards your goal.
Save high-impact adjustments for later on, if possible.
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 without the need for calorie counting, 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.