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The Ketogenic Diet and Weight Loss Plateaus

Weight Loss Plateau

I keep hearing people talk about their weight loss plateaus, and how they can get around them. Some go the extreme route of doing liquid fasting, others will ignore it and keep on keeping on.

I wanted to put together a short list of common things that may be wreaking havok on the average ketogenic dieter, and go over some solutions that might help out. Keep in mind, this does not cover everything and it also covers a wide range of topics.

As you read this, please read to the end. Don’t form ideas about your own body and apply the things that I am saying with no thought behind it.

This is strictly for people that are hitting weight loss plateau’s and need some help. If you have only lost 1 or 2 pounds in a week, that is still weight loss and does not require action against it.

Hidden Carbohydrates

People on ketogenic diets eat more carbohydrates than they think. They’re hidden in vegetables, nuts, and certain meat products. Yes, that peanut butter you’re chomping on could be causing a problem! Especially if it’s store bought – that stuff is loaded with extra sugar.

Some vegetables like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and squash are common culprits that find their way into our lives on a frequent basis. You might think that they’re low carb, but in large consumption, those carbs really do add up. You can look at the list of the best low carb vegetables we’ve put together, so that you can be more aware of the vegetables you eat.

Meat is the center of most of our lives, and there’s sugar everywhere you look. Some bacon is honey smoked, adding unnecessary carbs to an already delicious product. Why the madness? Look for bacon with no sugar added. When you start to look into Italian sausages, chorizo, and canned meats, there’s more carbs than most think. Some brands have up to 5g carbs per serving when it comes to sausage – so make sure you are being diligent.

Medicine. Seriously!? Next time you think you are breaking down with a cold or flu, take a look at the nutritional information on the back of that Dayquil. 2 tablespoons of the stuff has a whopping 19g of carbs. You should opt for the low-sugar or sugar-free varieties they now offer for diabetics.

Make sure you check the nutrition labels on everything, before you buy it! You have to be weary of all the extra carbs that are hidden in the products you buy. We put together a ketogenic diet food list that you can read through before you plan your next shopping trip.

Calorie Counting

Most people I talk to have a misconception about ketogenic diets. They get the idea that all they have to do is count carbs to lose weight, and that’s simply not true.

Think of it as a mathematical formula, instead. If you are putting more calories into your body than you are burning, that gives you excess calories. Do you think those excess calories just disappear? No, they are stored. Keep in mind that we eat a lot of calories from fat. This is because it’s the highest calorie per unit of nutrient, at 9 calories per 1g.

The misconception comes about because this large amount of fat also offers a great satiated feeling, allowing us to be full for a very long time. Most people don’t hit their necessary calories for the day, leaving them in a calorie deficit – and able to lose weight.

Making sure you’re in a calorie deficit is very important, and allows you to lose weight. You can use the keto calculator to help you figure out your macros, if you’re having trouble.

Counting Your Calories

Food Sensitivity

Some people find themselves following their daily macros perfectly, but still seem to hit a stall. That might mean they have sensitivity to certain types of food.

From what I’ve come across, many people seem to have sensitivity to dairy. That includes cheese – one of the staples in all of my meals. That also includes cream, butter, and yogurt. If you’re having trouble losing weight, try cutting these out of your diet for a few weeks to see where it takes you.

Gluten is also something that many people have food sensitivities to. For some, low carb pastas and protein bars are a great way to keep weight loss slowed. Low carb processed foods can also have gluten in them. Yes, that means the lovely low-carb tortillas you’ve been eating might actually be stalling your weight loss.

If this sounds like you, cutting out gluten intake from processed foods might help out. It might also have a huge impact on your health over time.

Staying Consistent

Keep Consistent
Being consistent with a ketogenic diet is extremely important. Being as it can take a few days for your body to become keto-adapted, a cheat day can really take a long time to recover from. By the time your body is back in ketosis, a week may have passed – and that’s a week of no fat burning. This is also where the dreaded water weight will come back on.

If you are weighing yourself on a weekly basis, you may see a 4-6 pound gain of water weight if you did a cheat day 5 or 6 days ago. It also means it will take a few more days for the weight loss to start again. What may seem like a weight loss plateau is really just a delay from your body trying to become keto-adapted again.

Tracking your daily macros is a great way to keep consistent. It adds a layer of strictness into your diet, making it easier over time to realize where the mistakes are. We use MyFitnessPal, and wrote an article to help you get it set up.

If you’re not tracking your carbs, it can be very easy to let those hidden carbs creep up on you and knock you out of ketosis.

Protein Intake

Too much excess protein is just a bad thing when you’re in ketosis. As mentioned in a previous article, up to 56% of the excess protein is broken down into glucose. We all know that the body loves to use glucose as the primary form of fuel, and that’s exactly what we don’t want it to do.

The body and brain need small amounts of glucose to survive. The liver will always make sure you get this glucose, and it will strip it from your muscle tissues if necessary. Eating protein allows your body to get enough glucose needed to perform as needed, but it will also allow your muscle retention to stay healthy.

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If you exercise, protein levels should be hovering around 1.0g – 1.2g protein per lean pound of body mass a day (source). This helps with muscle mass retention and growth.

However, if you are not exercising – your protein intake should not be as high. Sitting around 0.7g – 0.8g of protein per lean pound of body mass is going to be fine (source).

Eating Too Little or Exercising Too Much

This can slow your metabolism down. The body will slow itself down in response to a lack of food or excessive amounts of exercise to conserve itself. Studies show that if you do aerobic exercise for more than 1 hour a day, your metabolic rate can drop by as much as 15%.

In addition, eating too little can have the same effect. If you are eating too little, so much so that your fat stores cannot cover your calorie deficit, your body will begin to use lean mass to get the energy that it needs. This study shows that over a 6 month period of a 25% calorie deficit, your metabolic rate will only drop about 6%.

Studies show that as long as you’re eating at enough of a deficit that your fat stores can cover, your metabolic rate doesn’t change too much. If you do go over that deficit, though, your metabolic rate will severely drop in order to protect vital organs (this is a real “starvation mode” response from your body).

So, how much can your fat stores actually cover? You can get about 31.4 calories per pound of fat per day, from your fat stores.

Let’s say you’re 240 lbs (162 lbs lean mass, 78 lbs fat, 31.2% body fat) and want to get down to 180 lbs (162 lb lean mass, 18 lbs fat, 10% body fat):

  • At 240 lbs (162 lean mass, 78 lbs fat) you can get about 2449 calories from fat stores.
  • At 220 lbs (162 lean mass , 58 lbs fat) you can get about 1821 calories from fat stores.
  • At 200 lbs (162 lean mass, 38 lbs fat) you can get about 1193 calories from fat stores.
  • At 180 lbs (162 lean mass, 18 lbs fat) you can get about 565 calories from fat stores.

Against all logic, adding some extra calories from fat and protein to your daily macros may help. Try it for a few days, and see the results. If you exercise a lot, try cutting it back some and give yourself some extra rest days. My personal advice is 4 days maximum of hard training during the week.

Eating Too Often

Snacking when you’re hungry is great, but it can also be a setback. Try restricting yourself to eat on a regular schedule, with no meals (however small) in between. This is similar to intermittent fasting, and works very well for some people.

Intermittent Fasting will allow your blood sugar and insulin to drop down to baseline levels, and allow your body to go into its fasting state – where it will burn fat for fuel.

Try Intermittent Fasting
When insulin is heightened, we can also show signs of hunger, according to this study, which can also lead to being in a calorie surplus.

If you eat 5 meals a day spaced out over 10 hours, try eating 2 or 3 times a day in an 8 hour window. For example, from 10am until 6pm you can eat all the calories you want. After that, don’t allow yourself to eat until the next day.

Fat Fasting

If you’re finding yourself still at a plateau, you can apply a technique called the fat fast. It is normally a 3 day window of low caloric intake and high amounts of fat to kickstart your body to use your stored fat as fuel. If you’re interested, I went into more detail on fat fasting in another post.

This will consist of:

  • 1000 – 1200 calories a day.
  • 80-90% calories from fat.
  • Eating 4-5 times a day.
As always, I appreciate any shares that you give to your social networks!
Let me know your thoughts and experience with weight loss plateus in the comments below  :)

There are 35 comments

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  1. margaret

    Hi Craig, I’m enjoying this diet so much and its great not being a sugar addict as I used to be! I’m not following your diet plan I’m just doing my own thing keeping to my macros and only getting carbs mainly from broccolli/cauliflower , cheese, heavy cream and nuts however I think I made a mistake in the last few days as I have gained a bit weight and just dont feel “right” if you know what I mean. I have eaten a lot of peanuts just lately and a lot of cream! I’m thinking this is whats causing the problem but I’d love to hear your valued opinion please , thank you. Margaret x

    • Craig

      Margaret, the cream and peanuts sound like they’d probably be the culprit. You could try cutting back on the cream and switching to something like walnuts or macadamia nuts. They’re normally quite a lot better than peanuts :)

      • margaret

        Yip I’ll definately stop snacking on the cream, i’ll just put a small amount in my coffee and thats all! As for the peanuts i’ll just have to give them up altogether as they are just far too tempting and its so easy for me to gobble a whole bag :( Walnuts and a small amount of almonds should be ok though ;) I’ll soon get back on track, I’m sure it was just a wee wobble. Thanks so much Craig. Its good to know you’re there for us all x x

  2. ana maria hay

    hi Craig, thanks for an awesome site. I am 50 years old, female and weigh around 68kg height 170cm – I would like to reduce my weight to between 60 and 63kg as this seems to be the weight I am comfortable with. I think my body may be in starvation mode as I run about 5 to 6 days a week and am actually picking up weight even though my macros seem correct in my fitness pal. I try to keep my calorie intake around 1600. How do I train my body to get out of this mode? I though I would try the fat fasting for 2 days. Any suggestions on kick starting a slow metabolism?
    thank you
    ana

    • Craig

      Ana, fat fasting may do the opposite if you have a damaged metabolism. What I suggest is trying to eat more (I know it sounds counter-intuitive). If you’re training 4-5 days a week then I see no reason to stick to 1600 calories, you can allow yourself some more than that. Once you become fat adapted (which takes about 1 month, and is different than just being in ketosis) you will notice hunger requirements changing. Hope that helps, and thanks for the kind words!

  3. Pam

    Hi Craig,

    I’ve been eating LCHF since April 15th, 2014. I’ve went back and forth with the same 8 pounds since I’ve started. I’m keeping my carbs under 20, my fat at 75%, protein 20% and carbs 5%. However, I’m having a hard time keeping my calories down. I still get cravings for sweets and have been eating the low carb tortillas with cream cheese and splenda sweetner at night. I also drink at least 3 diet cokes per day. I drink over 100 oz of water each day. I feel like I’m not going anywhere. I did measure and my clothes are a bit more loose, but not as much as I would like. I know you said to cut out artificial sweetners and dairy if I’m not losing but what can I eat to satisfy my sweet tooth?

    • Craig

      Pam, you may want to reduce protein a bit more and take a look at the artificial sweeteners you are eating. Artificial sweeteners, in studies, show a connection to cravings. So if you cut those out you may not have that much craving for sweet as you do now. That may help you in battling against the sweet cravings you get at night. I would suggest tracking your food a little bit to see how much and of what you are eating to make sure you are getting the proper amounts of fats/protein/carbs.

  4. Elene

    Another idea for Pam is that she may be gluten intolerant and eating those tortillas may be stalling her. Thanks for your insight, wisdom & passion.

  5. Vicky

    Hey Graig,

    I’m loving your site! I have been in a low-carb diet for more than 3 months, and I dropped from 76 to 58 kilos! Isn’t that amazing!
    But, as it is, it seems that the only thing that works on me is when I cut both carbs and calories… And I’m talking about eating too few calories, around 600-700 per day. I know, it sounds outrageous, but when I raise it up a little bit, I tend to to put on weight immediately. I also eat only less than 20 net carbs per day.

    I’ve never had cravings until now (I think it might be psychological, since I reached my goal weight, and everyone around me says “oh, you must relax a little now, eat something”) but for the last two weeks I have been in a carb-craving craze. I start with the best intentions in the morning, and by the afternoon, when my blood sugar is a roller-coaster, I end up eating tons of cookies and cakes and chocolate (although I noticed that I mostly crave starchy foods like cookies and cereals). And of course I have gained weight(and some inches too!).

    Could you give me any piece of advice? I don’t want to end up eating 600 calories for the rest of my life (btw I forgot to mention, I’m 25, female, 1.68 height and I exercise some days per week), it’s very unhealthy, not to mention that it makes me miserable! I was able to do that when I had a goal, but now it makes me sad and deprived.

    Thank you!

    • Craig

      Vicky,

      Thanks! It sounds like you’ve done some major metabolic damage to your body over the years if that’s the only way you can lose weight. I am thinking that you should keep track of your macros, make sure your ratios are in check and eat 1200-1400 calories a day. Yes, you’ll gain some weight at first, but your body will find an equilibrium.

      Stop eating junk food and cheating if you want to get back on course. Cut out all sweeteners and treats for at least 2 weeks while reintroducing yourself.

      Hope that helps,
      Craig

      • Vicky

        Thanks for the reply! Yes, these last 7 years I’ve doing the worst thing possible to my body, eating sugar and carbs, with no nutritional value, drinking sodas and no water, and this is why I decided to change.

        I will try to slowly raise the calories until I reach the amounts you mention.

        Btw yesterday was the first day I managed to eat clean and keto and today the bloating is gone(i did not weight myself though) already! I have noticed that my body adapts very well going back on track.

  6. Jenna

    Hi Craig,

    Thanks for this article.

    I’m still frustrated!

    I’m a 28 year old female, 5′ 3″ and weigh 71kgs (156.5 lbs) and 33% body fat. I’ve been doing keto since 5/5/2014 with total carbs kept to 30g or less, and protein restricted to 90g per day, with no more than 30g per meal. Admittedly there have been a couple of days where the carbs have crept over 30g – but never over 50g, as per Volek. I train 2-3 days a week – 1 cardio session, and one strength session, and have just picked up a PT once a fortnight who puts me through some CrossFit style training. I sleep 8-10 hours a night, and cortisol tests within normal ranges.

    I have been tracking my food intake using FatSecret, and over the last month, my average macros/calories have been as follows: fat: 132g, carb: 28.5g, protein: 70g, calories: 1600. The Keto Calculator says I need to eat 2400cals a day to maintain, 1900cals a day to lose slowly, and 1725cals a day for moderate fat loss. I am below that, and have not lost a thing.

    I eat 11 macadamia nuts a day, with no other nuts most days. I have cream only in my coffee (about 3 a day – so about 100mL of cream). I went the first 3.5 weeks with no alcohol or milk. I do not eat a lot of cheese, and am already gluten free (2.5 years now). I am genetically able to digest lactose (lactase persistence). I have not had a single sugary or starchy cheat – all carbs have come from veges/dairy products. I do not consume artificial sweeteners at all, and do not consume ‘low carb treats.’

    Any further ideas? I’m about ready to give up! Thanks :)

    • Craig

      Jenna,

      It sounds like you’re doing everything right. One question: do you find yourself hungry at all? Maybe you aught to try eating a bit more – counter-intuitive I know, but you may be slowing your metabolism due to calorie restriction as far as you have gone.

    • OO Consulting

      In my experience (myself and my clients), alcohol will “pause” or stall weight loss while on keto. The liver will process the alcohol before going back to fat.

      Also, stop drinking milk. There’s a good amount of sugar in it.

      When counting carbs, be sure that you’re not eating 5 grams of total carbs with meals, then having a 25 grams of carbs cookie. It doesn’t work that way. The goal is to keep the glycemic index of your foods low in general. Spiking your insulin will undue your hard work.

      Lastly, eat more. Being in extreme deficit has stalled my weight loss a few times. Even though I don’t believe in the “Calories in/Calories out” concept (I’ve had days with 3000 calorie deficits and only dropped a pound during that whole week…), using calories as a guideline is helpeful.

      • Craig

        Thanks for adding that in!

        I agree with most of what you’re saying although I don’t mind seeing people eating ~10g carbs in their meals as long as it’s balanced fat-wise. I haven’t noticed a large drop in my blood ketones when I keep it to around that range, which is a pretty simple thing to do in 99% of the cases.

        As for Calories In/Calories Out, it’s definitely an oversimplified system. And although I write a lot about it and kind of tell people to be strict, you’re right in the sense that it should be used as a guideline more than anything else. The body will have days where it’s hungrier and uses more energy than other days as a cycle, and a lot of people tend to understand that (at least coming to the understanding).

  7. Gaby A.

    Very informative article, thank you very much. Quick question. I’m a large guy, 300 lbs (about 35% bodyfat) meaning in theory, the fat available from fat stores is quite high to start with (around 3300 calories from my calculation). Obviously, fasting for very long, especially when starting, is definitely a bad idea, but is there a floor to my caloric deficit I should not go below? For example, my bmr+tef is about 2861, so a 1000 calorie deficit would put me at 1861. But could I go down to, say 1600?

    Thanks very much!

    • Craig

      Hey and thanks!

      I wouldn’t suggest going too deep into a caloric deficit because you can, with time, damage your metabolism. If you want to lose weight, I suggest doing it slowly, but surely. Starting off at 300, you will see some quite quick results if you stick to it – no need to try to speed it up in the process which may cause damage to you in the end, is there? There’s technically not a calorie floor, but I never suggest going past a 30% deficit.

  8. Lucy

    Hi Guys I would also add, for women who are new to ketogenic eating I have found that the week before or sometimes the week of my monthly cycle I always hit a plateau, sometimes even gain a pound or two.
    At first I was really disheartened by it and then assuming I needed to ‘carb up’ to kick start my metabolism…
    This was usually the point I fell off the wagon so to speak.

    I have learned that actually it is just my body retaining water, which doesn’t affect my actual fat loss and will not affect long term weight loss.

    Now I continue to eat clean and don’t weigh myself during my cycle. I’m finding I get a whoosh of pounds gone the week after its done which puts me back on track.

    • Craig

      Thanks for the addition Lucy! Definitely have to take TOM into account, and I know a lot of women undergo water weight gain and also increased hunger levels (which is natural since more energy is expended during this time). Appreciate it!

  9. Ming

    Hi Craig,

    I’m super frustrated right now. I’ve been following a strict keto diet for 12 days now and the scale is not moving. I’m 5’7″ and I fluctuate between 202 and 203.8. My macros are 70f, 25p, 5c. I haven’t been able to exercise due to an injury and my calorie intake is between 1600-1700 daily (I basically follow your meal plan). I drink 4-6 16.9oz bottles of water a day (usually 5 bottles). I don’t know what else to do. I recently had a physical and all blood work so there’s no hypertension, diabetes, or anything. I am 52 and I’ve gone through menopause so I don’t have a monthly cycle. Please help…

    • Craig

      Hey Ming,

      Are you following the plan exactly? I see that you’re at 25% protein, which would be a little high if you’re not exercising. My plan is about 77% fats, 19% protein and eating too much protein will definitely help you with not losing weight if that’s the case. I’m not sure your bodyfat, but have you calculated your macros? Do you know that that is the amount of calories you need to eat to lose weight?

      • Ming

        Thanks for answering so quickly, Craig! I must be off on my macros because I am following your plan (the recipes are great, by the way!). I may tweak it very slightly if I don’t have an ingredient. For example I have used a tsp. flax meal in place of xanthum gum, but for the most part, I follow the plan. That would mean that I’m at 77f, 19p, and 4c give or take for small substitutions. My body fat is pretty high, at about 43%. When I calculated my macros, it showed that I would have to be at 1929 cals/day to maintain my current weight. I’ve been at a calorie deficit of 219-329/day. I have had 2 days where my deficit was lower because I felt really hungry and I snacked on pig skin cracklings (I was very busy on those days and had to wait until later to eat so I snacked on the cracklings). My personal macros are: 125g fat (74%), 25g, 71g protein (19%), and carbs (7%). I take a daily mineral supplement that helps repair the injury to my knees and it is 8 carbs. Aside from that, I’m very strict. I test for ketones with ketostix and I always show small to moderate except twice when I woke up and drank a lot of water late night. I am open to any advice you can offer. Thanks! :)

        • Craig

          Ming,

          Can you give me your total weight and bodyfat % (43, if I assume that is correct) so I can double check? I would suggest making sure you drink at least 100oz. water every day, and I would try to see if you can find a different mineral supplements (micronutrients shouldn’t have any carbs, so it is added most likely).

  10. Nick

    You state that a week out of ketosis is a week with no fat burning. That’s simply untrue. What about beta oxidation, which is the primary manner in which lipolysis occurs? I spend about a third of my time in ketosis–for the cognitive and hunger suppressing effects. But it’s really hard to consume significant protein and stay in ketosis due to gluconeogenesis. I have not noticed a significant difference in the rate of weight loss whether I’m in or out of ketosis–provided that carb consumption remains relatively low (undr 150 gms or so). Indeed, the granddaddy of rapid fat loss diets, the protein sparing modified fast in which one consumes little other than protein, is not a ketogenic diet. (I don’t recommend it as a way of life–it’s miserable!) The PSMF does induce tremendous beta oxidation, though.

    • Craig

      Nick, I think this might be taken out of context. I mean burning fat into ketones, rather than just burning fat in general – because of course you can do that whether you’re in ketosis or not.

  11. Megan

    Hello Craig! I found your website about 5 weeks ago and it helped me so much, thank you! I started a ketogenic lifestyle 6 weeks ago for my health and weight. I went into ketosis in only 3 days and right away lost all my water weight. It kept melting off until last week. I ended up on some intense antibiotics and have been gaining gaining gaining!! I’m done with medication now but am frustrated because the number on the scale is going up!! I am still in ketosis but not as much as a couple weeks ago. My battle to lose weight is uphill. What is going on? Could that medication have screwed me up and if I keep with it will the weight start to come off again? thank you!!

    • Craig

      Hey Megan,

      Your medications were most likely the cause of the weight gain. I’ve seen a lot of people where this case was the problem, and medications had a large impact on their glucose levels. It might just be that, so if you were doing really well prior to getting sick, I think you’d be fine now if you go back (without cutting anything more out).

      Glad to hear you did so well on vacation – that’s awesome!

      (I also sent this same answer in an e-mail)

  12. Carly

    How do you figure out this Macros thing in simple terms ??

    In my first 2 weeks I dropped 18.2 lbs and this week is like 2 .. been active so says my fitbit hah.. keeping my carbs under 15 for the day , any suggestions on how to up my fats .. i make the bullet proof coffee .. i dont have anything low fat not hungry lots of energy im just at a loss unless cheese could be my culprit ? maybe more fiber in my diet …

    Im a newbie to all of this but its simple and i feel great just need some help :)

    • Craig

      Hey Carly – I would wait a bit longer before you deem it as a weight loss stall. Generally in the first week you drop a lot of water weight, so it’s not uncommon for it to slow for for a little bit after that. Keep at it for a few weeks more and see how it goes after that :)

      • carly

        I know most of its water I just think its weird to go from almost 8 lbs to 2 ish .. But I’ll keep trucking along .. Thanks ☺

        • Craig

          Sounds like a plan – keep at it for at least a few more weeks before deciding it’s a stall :) It’s quite common after the water weight loss to see a stall for 1-2 weeks.


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