So you’ve read through all of these keto success stories, learned all the fundamental principles of the diet, maybe even bought yourself a good bunch of exogenous ketones to speed up the process… And nada. Weeks later, you’re still not really losing weight.
This is sometimes called a ”plateau” and can be frustrating at the very least.
But what’s causing it and, more importantly, how can you fix everything?
Below you’ll find what we call the Keto Troubleshooting Checklist, a comprehensive guide on the most common reasons behind a weight-loss plateau and how to get rid of them.
Reason 1: Normal or low blood ketone levels
The simplest explanation of why you may be having trouble losing weight on keto is that you’re not really in ketosis in the first place.
Numbers are extremely important when going keto: ketone bodies are a measurable parameter directly indicating whether you’re doing everything right or not.
Run an accurate test for ketone bodies, and if they are significantly lower than they should (less than 0.6 mmol/l) — get back to square one and start your quest to reach ketosis from the very beginning.
Reason 2: Wrong macronutrient ratio
Keeping your daily macronutrients on point is the most important part of a successful keto diet. Specifically, you should aim for the following ratio:
Fats - 70-75% of your daily caloric intake
Proteins - 20-25%
Carbohydrates - 5%
This ratio is believed to be the most effective to reach and maintain ketosis, so make sure you’re sticking to it. A wrong ratio is very likely to compromise ketosis and weight loss.
For most people, getting the right amount of fats is quite tricky, so make sure to address this issue first.
Reason 3: Significant calorie surplus
Even if your macronutrients ratio is in accordance with the keto diet fundamentals, a simple reason for your weight loss plateau could be a significant calorie surplus.
Keto or not, it’s absurdly hard to lose weight eating 4000 calories daily, for example. At least if you’re not physically active. And while counting your calories when going keto diet is generally much less important than on most other diets out there, it’s still a factor to take into account.
The wisest approach would be to calculate your basal metabolic rate (daily caloric need) and stick to it. You can do this by using the Harris-Benedict equation:
BMR = 66 + (13.75 * weight in kg) + (5 * height in cm) – (6.8 * age in years)
BMR = 66 + (6.2 * weight in pounds) + (12.7 * height in inches) – (6.8 * age in years)
BMR = 65.5 + (9.563 * weight in kg) + (1.850 * height in cm) – (4.676 * age in years)
BMR = 65.5 + (4.35 * weight in pounds) + (4.7 * height in inches) – (4.7 * age in years)
To adjust for physical activity, do the following:
Mostly sedentary lifestyle - multiply your BMT by 1.2
Light physical activity (1-2 workouts/week) - multiply your BMR by 1.38
Moderate physical activity (3-5 workouts/week) - multiply your BMR by 1.55
Heavy physical activity (manual labor or 6-7 workouts/week) - multiply your BMR by 1.72
Example. Bob is a 25-year-old male weighing 154 pounds. He is 66 inches tall and is an office worker (mostly sedentary lifestyle). According to the formula above, Bob’s BMR would be:
BMR = 66 + (6.2 * 154 (weight)) + (12.7 * 66 (height)) – (6.8 * 25 (age)) = 2028 calories
After adjusting for physical exercise (BMR * 1.2) = 2433 calories per day
During the first 2-3 weeks, stick to the resulting numbers and don’t try to restrict your calorie intake. If you notice your weight isn’t moving anywhere even after making sure you’re in keto, following the right macros ratio AND your recommended calorie intake, lower your daily calorie goal by 10% for one week and measure the results. If your weight is still the same, cut another 10%. If that’s still not enough, most likely your plateau isn’t due to caloric intake.
Reason 4: Hidden carbohydrates in the diet
Your daily caloric intake should consist of about 5% net carbs to get into ketosis. However, this 5% should make no more than 50 grams of total carbs (20-30 net carbs) in total, preferably less. Taking under 21 grams daily is more effective to reach and maintain ketosis.
What’s also important is that every person is unique, so what works for some folks won’t suit others. If your best friend is in keto while eating 50 grams of carbs per day, it doesn’t mean you’ll be able to pull the same stunt.
If you’ve eliminated the first three possible reasons in this list, it’s possible that you’re somehow eating more carbs than you should — and there’s a chance you’re not even aware of this.
For instance, these ”hidden” carbs may come from starchy or sweet vegetables, as well as some legumes and all grains. And most fruit, sadly. According to the USDA, this is the amount of carbs (g per 100 g) in these keto-dangerous foods:
Corn - 74.26
Bananas - 22.84
Kidney beans - 22.8
Chickpeas - 20
Potatoes - 17.49
Carrots - 9.6
Onions - 9.34
Pumpkin - 6.5
Bell pepper - 4.64
Now, this doesn’t mean you have to exclude them from your diet for good; just make sure to meticulously calculate how much of these you’ll be eating daily. Remember that a single day of eating too much carbs can instantly throw you WAY out of ketosis, so stay alert.
Reason 5: Excess protein in the diet
The human body is absolutely amazing in terms of adaptive potential: it has come up with a bunch of ways to create carbs from non-carbs, just to make sure it will always have some of the fuel it’s used to.
For example, your body can make glucose from protein. This process is called gluconeogenesis, during which the liver captures protein fragments (amino acids) and chemically transforms them into glucose, which is the primary carbohydrate the human body uses for fuel.
That’s why it’s so important to never go over the top with your protein intake: you may not know it, but some proteins are just carbs in disguise, roughly speaking.
To ensure you’re in the safe zone, commit to eating no more than 0.55-0.77 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass (or 1.2 to 1.7 grams per kg). Studies indicate that this amount is just enough to maintain strong health without compromising ketosis.
Reason 6: Too much stress
A bit of stress is an essential component of life, health, and success: nothing ever thrives in the comfort zone.
On the other hand, too much stress leads to all kinds of health issues including depression, anxiety and endocrine (hormonal) problems. In terms of weight loss, the latter is the most dangerous.
This is because cortisol, the main ”stress hormone” that your body’s adrenal glands produce to deal with life’s hard times, is known to break down your muscles and promote the building of new fat tissue. Ouch.
Eventually, decreased lean body mass will lead to less energy used during ordinary movements and physical exercise - and, therefore, easier weight gain. With no way to burn the calories (no muscles), your body will have no choice but to store the calories in form of fat.
Reason 7: Overly intense exercise sessions
You CAN have too much of a good thing, and physical exercise for weight loss is a bright example of that. Do it right, and you’ll get yourself a fabulous body; do it wrong, and you’ll gain weight instead of losing it.
The main thesis here is that if you’re not used to exercising, it will be too stressful for you. This would lead to a significant elevation in cortisol, muscle breakdown, and fat build-up regardless of whether you’re on keto or not.
Additionally, excessive physical exercise always leads to an increased appetite and makes any diet harder to follow. In other words: progress slowly.
If this is your first time going active, start with just 2 light workouts per week during the first month and maybe a few running sessions in the mornings (optional). When you start feeling like this is something normal for you, increase the number of weekly workouts to 3 sessions - and stick to this regime for at least 4 months.
After that, you can try increasing the number of weekly workouts if you feel like it, but most people will be good with just 3 sessions. 4-7 workouts per week are mostly for professional athletes or fashion models.
Reason 8: Unhealthy duration of sleep
Over the last few decades, multiple studies have confirmed that there is a direct statistical correlation between excess weight and both too much (9-10 hours) or too little (5-6 hours) sleep.
The exact mechanism behind this is still unclear, but most experts agree on the point that it must have something to do with hormonal disruption as a result of abnormal sleep duration. For instance, sleep deprivation results in a cortisol elevation the very next evening, and you already know what cortisol does to your body from the previous few points in this list.
In your pursuit of optimal health, make proper rest a priority: aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep daily, no exceptions. Your body will thank you, and your weight loss will undoubtedly be much more effective.
Reason 9: Hidden health conditions
After everything above is ruled out, you should look into one more possible reason for your weight-loss plateau: possible health problems, not related to the keto diet whatsoever.
Weight gain, trouble losing weight, difficulties in building lean body mass — these are all quite common symptoms for a whole lot of medical condition, and some of them may be even life-threatening. Consult your physician and get tested, just in case.
Early detection makes half of the treatment success!
Bonus reason: Keto Flu
Yes, you’ve read that right. Although the dreaded keto flu usually subsides throughout the first few weeks of going keto, some people may take more than a whole month to finally get rid of it. Naturally, such a stressful stage will make it almost impossible to properly lose weight on keto.
Luckily, this state of body and mind can be prevented — or alleviated, if you’re already in it. Basically, all you have to do is ensure you’re properly hydrated and getting all the essential salts you need (mainly magnesium, sodium, calcium, and potassium). Make sure to check out our Keto Flu guide for more insights and valuable tips!
As you see, the reasons behind the bothersome plateau in your keto diet can vary greatly - and it’s hard to tell which one is causing the weight stall in your specific case.
To pinpoint the cause and fix it for good, you’ll have to go all the way through this Keto Troubleshooting Checklist, preferably in the order mentioned above. Don’t worry if it takes a few days or even weeks: the results are guaranteed to make you happy with your keto results. :)