|August 19, 2021

9 Reasons You’re Not Losing Weight on Keto & What to Do About It

By Julie Hand
Reviewed by Emily Gonzalez, ND for Scientific Accuracy

9 Reasons You’re Not Losing Weight on Keto & What to Do About It

  • Even though you’re cutting back on carbs, you’re not seeing any fat-burning results on keto. What gives?
  • Reasons like stress, poor sleep and even sneaky carbs can all contribute to a weight loss plateau.
  • Find out how to boost your keto results, including what you eat, when you eat it and what to add to your morning coffee (like MCT oil).

Despite your best efforts, you’re not getting the results you wanted from the keto diet. What happened to all those brain-boosting, fat-burning benefits? If you’re gaining weight on keto and feel like keto is not working for you, don’t lose heart. Health is a journey, not a marathon, and you’re not losing. Keto weight loss isn’t always linear. If you’ve keto crashed, keep reading for answers.

9 reasons you’re not losing weight on keto

Whether you’re just getting started on keto or have been living the keto lifestyle for a while, it’s easy to get discouraged when things plateau. You may find yourself asking, “Why am I not losing weight on keto?”

This keto troubleshooting guide sheds light on potential keto side effects, plus what you can do to make the diet work for you if you’re not losing weight on keto.

1. You’re not in ketosis after all

A variety of halved coconuts

Because it contains so few carbohydrates, a ketogenic diet forces your body to burn body fat instead of glucose for fuel by putting you in a metabolic state called ketosis.

But according to wellness education specialist Nare Davoodi, RD, ketosis can be tricky to achieve when you’re first starting out.

“A lot of people think they are in ketosis after following the keto diet for a few weeks. Though what often happens is they are not calculating their intake correctly,” she explains.

In order to reach ketosis, you must keep a close eye on your macronutrient consumption—how much protein, fat and carbs you eat daily. Eating too much protein or too many carbs can actually kick you out of ketosis and negate all of the health benefits of keto.

As a rule of thumb, the standard ketogenic macronutrient breakdown is 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carbs.

How to know if you’re in ketosis

When you’re in ketosis, your liver produces ketones to supply energy to your brain and body. One way to determine if you’re in ketosis is to measure the presence of ketones in your bloodstream. There are several ways to test for ketones:

  • Urine strips or sticks: Urine tests are affordable and easy to use (just pee on them!). But the results aren’t always accurate. Urine tests only monitor leftover ketones in your body. As you adapt to ketosis, your body will use more ketones, which means you’ll expel fewer of them through your urine.
  • Ketone breath meters: This method measures acetone levels in the breath. Acetones are one of three types of water-soluble ketone molecules. The more you have, the farther you are into ketosis.
  • Blood meters: Blood meters are arguably the most accurate way to assess your level of ketosis. Prick your finger, draw blood and get a reading of the ketones in your blood. The downside is that these meters and blood strips are expensive.

If you don’t want to go the testing route, these signs of ketosis may indicate that you’re on track:

  • Strong metallic or fruity-smelling breath, aka “keto breath”
  • More energy and increased focus
  • Fewer hunger or sugar cravings
  • Staying at a healthy weight
  • Keto flu symptoms like muscle cramps and cravings (these are temporary!)

Pro tip: You can help kick-start ketosis by adding MCT oil your diet.

MCT oils are essential parts of your keto toolkit. They’re quickly converted into ketones, so they’ll help you enter ketosis faster. C8 MCT oil is the best of the best because it produces ketones four times more efficiently than plain coconut oil. That’s a lot of ketones!

Plus, MCT oil helps you burn fat, gives you sustained energy and boosts brain power, which is especially helpful when you’re adjusting to keto.

2. You’re eating too much

Person entering calories into phone

If you want to stay at a healthy weight on the keto diet, you still have to be mindful of your calorie intake.

There are a lot of factors that can affect how your body turns food into energy and stores fat. Those factors range from your stress and activity levels to the type of food you eat. If you’re in ketosis but not losing weight, it could be that you’re eating more than your body can burn.

Fat has twice the number of calories per gram than protein or carbs do. It can be tough to stay within your maintenance calories, or even eat at a calorie deficit, if you’re regularly eating more than your body needs. As you’re adjusting to keto, it’s a good idea to log what you eat in a food tracker app until you can eat more intuitively.

“If a patient asks to go on keto, I calculate their basic calorie needs to sustain their body and lifestyle,” says Davoodi. “It’s a myth that everyone can eat the same amount and not be affected differently. [All factors considered], it’s true that a 200-pound person and a 150-pound person should not eat the same amount.”

As you manage your weight, you won’t need as many calories to sustain you as you once did, says Davoodi. “It’s helpful to reassess your needs after every 10 to 15 pounds lost. Otherwise, it’s possible you’ll hit a plateau.”

Related: The Long-Term Effects of Keto Diets

 

3. You’re not eating enough

Avocado with bacon and runny egg

If you’ve cut calories excessively, your body thinks it’s in starvation mode. That’s why super low-calorie diets stop working.

Your metabolic rate drops to protect organs and normal bodily functions. Likewise, in an effort to conserve itself, your body slows down in response to insufficient energy levels or excessive exercise.[1]

So while you may think you’re making great strides toward your weight loss goals by eating significantly less, you might be setting yourself up for failure.

Your body needs the right amount of high-quality food in the right proportions to stay at a healthy weight. And contrary to popular belief, calorie quality matters more than quantity. Focus on hitting your macronutrient goals: high fat, moderate protein and low carb. Eat nutrient-dense whole foods—not just bacon and butter. (Looking at you, dirty keto.)

Pro tip: Use a food calculator to estimate how many calories your body needs to lose one pound per week and stick within that range. Hit your macro goals by eating high-quality keto fats like MCT oil, avocados, grass-fed butter and ghee, grass-fed meats and eggs from pasture-raised chickens.

Related: How to Increase Your Metabolism Without Pills or Boosters

4. You’re eating too much protein

Man holding raw steak

It’s a common misconception that the keto diet is a high-protein diet like the Atkins diet. Keto is truly a moderate-protein diet in which about 20% of your calories come from protein.

Too much protein can actually kick you out of ketosis, says Davoodi, through a process called gluconeogenesis, where your body converts extra protein into sugar (carbs!). Your body will reach for the glucose first and no longer burn fat for fuel.

To achieve keto weight loss, you want to eat moderate amounts of complete proteins, which are proteins with meaningful amounts of all nine essential amino acids. Meat, fish and eggs are all complete protein sources.

Don’t stress about how much complete or incomplete proteins you’re eating. If you’re eating a diverse array of protein-rich foods, you’re likely getting enough amino acids your body needs. And you get other benefits from incomplete proteins, too—nuts and vegetables are packed with essential nutrients, and collagen protein supports healthy skin, bones and joints.

Pro tip: Carefully calculate your protein needs, advises Davoodi. Too much and you won’t stay in ketosis; too little and you’ll lose muscle. Here’s a quick-and-dirty guide to calculate your ideal protein intake.

5. You’re eating too many carbs

Head of cauliflower on table

Though keto food trackers offer only a rough guide, they can be useful in figuring out how many carbs you’re actually eating. Strict keto diets generally recommend no more than 20 to 30 grams of net carbs (total carbs minus fiber) per day. Some people do best when they start around 50-150 grams of net carbs per day.

The grams of carbs you can eat while staying in ketosis varies from person to person. If you’re following a strict ketogenic diet, your carb intake will be lower than if you’re following a cyclical ketogenic diet.

Another common misstep: misjudging your overall carbohydrate intake. It can be difficult to gauge exactly how much food equals 20-50 net carbs a day, particularly because carbs are hidden in many unexpected (but keto-friendly!) foods like cruciferous veggies, green beans, dairy and nuts.

Tips to manage your carb intake

  • Fill up first up on low-carb vegetables like leafy greens, cucumbers, asparagus, avocado and zucchini. These should fill your entire plate at every meal.
  • Be mindful of higher-carb veggies like broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower.
  • Reserve keto-friendly fruit, like berries, for the occasional dessert.
  • Focus on high-fat proteins. Pair an egg, grass-fed burger or wild-caught salmon with a green leafy salad and avocado for an easy and filling meal.
  • Double-check the carb counts on processed foods. Save your snacking for keto-friendly foods.

Also, take special note of sugar alcohols like sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol and isomalt. Sugar alcohols are derived from plant products (fruits and berries), though their carbs are uniquely altered through chemical processing.

While sugar alcohols provide fewer calories than table sugar, people often overeat them because they are labeled as “sugar-free” or “no sugar added” foods. This is problematic because they can still spike blood glucose levels due to their carb content. You still need to account for them in your diet plan.[2]

Your best bet is to go with an alternative sweetener that doesn’t cause blood sugar or insulin spikes, like erythritol or stevia

Pro tip: Until you can identify on your own how many carbs are in each food, use an app like MyFitnessPal. You’ll be able to see how many carbs each food contains, and keep track of your daily macros.

6. You’re intolerant or allergic to something you’re eating

A bunch of raw almonds

Is keto not working for you? You could have a food allergy. Roughly 15 million Americans have food allergies.[3] The most common food allergies are to milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and crustacean shellfish.

While food allergies are serious business, food intolerances can plague you, too. Food intolerances can cause imbalances in the gut that contribute to inflammation, which may affect the number you see on the scale. If you feel bloated after eating dairy products or foggy after eating gluten, your body is trying to tell you something.

Pro tip: Talk to your doctor or dietitian to find out if you’re allergic or intolerant to a particular food. A healthcare professional can test your blood and recommend next steps, such as an elimination diet, in which you eliminate all suspect foods and then slowly reintroduce them to see how you react.

Related: Signs Your Gut Is Unhealthy and Why You Should Fix It

 

7. You have leptin resistance

Illustration of brain inside skull

You have a “stop eating!” hormone that plays an instrumental role in your hunger and weight management, and it’s called leptin. It puts the brakes on hunger by sending a signal to the brain when your body’s energy needs have been met.[4] [5]

If you have leptin resistance, the “I’m full!” signals don’t transmit properly across the blood-brain barrier. Leptin resistance is triggered by factors like lack of sleep and overeating.[6] [7]

Leptin resistance can also affect your thyroid, which secretes hormones that influence metabolism, growth and development. The amount of leptin available to your brain has a major influence on how many thyroid hormones are released into the body. Leptin resistance can throw a wrench in your thyroid function, leading to a slower metabolism.[8] [9]

Studies suggest that you may be able to manage leptin levels by having good sleep habits and cutting back on sugar and high-lectin foods.[10] [11] [12]

Pro tip: There are a lot of ways to cut back on sugar, but one effective way is to add more quality fats to your diet like coconut oil, avocados, cashew butter and MCT oil.

8. You’re not getting enough sleep

Man sleeping in bed

Seven to eight hours of sleep is the gold standard, but plenty of people aren’t getting enough of it. If you’re gaining weight on keto, it might be time to take a look at your sleep patterns.

Too little sleep can wreak havoc on our bodies and cause a number of issues that can contribute to weight gain, like:

  • Decreased activity due to lack of energy: If you’re going on five hours of sleep, you’re less likely to want to hit the gym or even go for a walk. When you’re more sedentary, you’re burning fewer calories. Getting adequate sleep is a key way to keep energy levels high so you can keep moving.[13] [14]
  • A longer eating window: When you stay awake longer, you’re also presenting yourself with more opportunities to eat. Midnight snacks, anyone? Sticking to a solid sleep routine cuts down on your opportunities to snack in the off-hours and helps you maintain a healthy caloric intake. (Plus, trying to fall asleep with a full stomach can be pretty uncomfortable.)
  • Messing with your natural clock: An off-kilter sleep schedule can wreak havoc on your circadian rhythm (your body’s internal clock).[15] Your circadian rhythm is responsible for everything from healthy digestion to signaling that it’s time to unwind. Inadequate sleep can throw these rhythms off, interfering with your body’s normal function—including changes in your metabolism.

9. You’re stressed

Woman with fingertips on brow

Not to stress you out even more, but chronic stress can cause a number of health issues—including weight gain.

When you’re in a stressful situation, your brain sends a signal that floods your body with hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. It also signals nonessential functions, like digestion, to slow down. In a state of perceived danger, the brain’s main goal is to keep you alive, not worry about digesting your breakfast.

If you live with chronic stress, your brain is in fight-or-flight mode all the time. Your body is being flooded with stress hormones, even when there’s not actually any danger. That means digestion slows down and stress hormones stick around longer than they should.

That’s bad news because cortisol is linked to increased blood glucose.[16] Your body decides to burn the glucose in your bloodstream for energy instead of burning off the calories from your meals, which puts you in the perfect position to gain weight—even if your keto game is strong.

One final note: Undiagnosed medical conditions can cause unexpected weight gain. If you’re maintaining your macros but not seeing results on the scale, it might be time to check with your healthcare provider.

How to boost your keto weight loss efforts

If you’re not losing weight on keto (or you’re gaining weight on keto), these simple tweaks can help you get more benefits out of your diet.

Build a strong foundation

Man doing yoga in white tank top and black shorts

Set yourself up for success to stay at a healthy weight. Before you do anything else, take a step back and assess your sleep quality, your stress levels and your physical activity. These are the bedrocks for a healthy lifestyle, regardless of your diet. If you’re not seeing the results you want, whether that means not losing weight on keto or gaining weight on keto ask yourself:

  • Are you getting quality sleep, or are your sleep patterns as frenetic as a college kid during finals week?
  • Do you take steps to manage your stress levels, or are you walking on emotional eggshells?
  • Are you moving throughout the day and exercising regularly, or do you spend most of your time sitting?

Related: How to Sleep Better and Manage Stress With Exercise

Try intermittent fasting

Orange clock on white plate

Intermittent fasting isn’t a requirement on the keto diet, but it’s a powerful way to help your body create those valuable ketones. That’s why some keto dieters also incorporate fasting periods in their meal plans.

With intermittent fasting, you eat all of your daily calories within a shortened period, typically six to eight hours, and fast for the remaining 16 to 18 hours. Fasting drains your body of its glucose reserves, so you switch over to burning fat for energy—aka ketosis.

If fat loss is one of your goals, intermittent fasting is worth a shot. In a 2014 study, adult mice who ate all their food within a 9- to 12-hour period put on less weight and had less fat mass than mice that ate whenever they wanted.[17]

Drink Bulletproof Coffee

Bulletproof Coffee ingredients next to French press

When you drink Bulletproof Coffee in place of a carb-heavy breakfast, you remain in ketosis without the distracting hunger pangs. Instead of milk or sugar, each cup contains grass-fed butter and Brain Octane C8 MCT Oil.

These smart fats help curb cravings, and C8 MCT oil raises ketones four times more effectively than coconut oil. That means you can power through your morning—without feeling hangry.[18]

Practice different styles of ketosis

Man running outside

On the standard keto diet, you’re eating very few carbs, all the time. But for some people who follow a low-carb diet, restricting carbs for a long period can create issues like fatigue, dry eyes and not getting enough sleep.[19] [20]

Your body needs some carbs to perform at its best. By upping your carb intake periodically, you can help satisfy carb cravings, support your sleep and stay at a healthy weight.

This isn’t an excuse to eat a high-carb meal of pasta and bread. We’re talking about clean sources of carbs, like squash, sweet potatoes, berries and carrots.

There are a few different types of keto diets. Some people find that cyclical ketosis is a more sustainable approach to keto because you eat more carbs on one day of the week (called a carb refeed day). If you regularly perform a lot of physical activity, you might be need to eat more carbs around your workout—this is called targeted keto.

As you experiment with different approaches to your keto meal plan, pay attention to how you feel. Do you feel more energized? Are you noticing changes in your body weight? Do you feel better with more carb foods?

Add MCT oil to your coffee and food

Hand pouring Brain Octane C8 MCT Oil over soup

Using a high-quality MCT oil like Brain Octane C8 MCT oil throughout the day (in your coffee, or drizzled over your salad and vegetables) raises ketone levels. A blood ketone level of 0.5 is enough to suppress appetite.[21]

Not sure how to use MCT oil? Save these keto recipes that make the most of MCTs.

Check the quality of your fats

Spoonful of ghee

Keto is a high-fat diet, but you want to make sure you’re eating healthy fats.

There are different types of fat in food, and some are more anti-inflammatory and stable than others. In general, you want to eat foods that contain saturated fat, monounsaturated fat and a bit of polyunsaturated fat. That means your dietary fat intake should primarily come from whole food sources—think grass-fed beef and lamb, wild-caught fatty fish, olive oil, grass-fed butter or ghee, avocados, MCT oil and pasture-raised eggs.

Avoid vegetable oils and trans fats (found in fried foods, candies, stick margarine and packaged baked goods), which can contribute to diet-induced inflammation.[22]

Read next: Is Fat Good for You? Everything You Need to Know About Dietary Fats

Next steps if you’re not losing weight on keto

If keto isn’t working for you and you’ve gotten a clean bill of health from your healthcare provider, following the tips above may help—but don’t feel like you need to change everything at once.

In fact, changing too much, too soon can make it more difficult to determine what the problem actually is. So, start small. Here are some examples of potential first steps:

  • Use a food tracker to ensure you’re hitting your macros or consuming an ideal number of calories in a day.
  • Speak with your doctor about food allergies or intolerances
  • Establish a bedtime routine (and stick to it)
  • Find a stress-relieving practice that works for you, like meditation, journaling or daily walks

By taking things one step at a time and checking off boxes as you go, you’ll be well on your way to meeting your health goals using the keto diet.

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This article has been updated with new content.