Not Losing Weight on Keto? Here's Why

Not Losing Weight on Keto? Here's Why

Authored by Ryan Rodal • 
November 12, 2019
 • 9 min read
keto-dietnutritionketosissupplements

The keto diet has been shown to be an effective diet for losing weight.1 Its low-carbohydrate, high-fat, moderate-protein model transforms the body from glucose-reliant to a machine that uses fat for fuel and produces ketones endogenously.

In addition to its fat-burning abilities (ketones are produced when the body burns fat because it doesn’t have carbs to use as energy), the ketogenic diet has also been shown to be an effective tool for improving overall health.

Keto can help with a number of different health markers including managing blood sugar, improving glycemic control, decreasing blood pressure, or preventing inflammation.2,3,4

Although keto can be a useful tool for weight loss, not all people experience the same level of success on the diet plan. While “before and after” photos of someone holding a large pair of old pants are enticing, for many, the results may not be as drastic (especially if you already live a healthy lifestyle).

If you’ve been eating keto-friendly foods high in healthy fats, but still aren’t noticing much weight loss, it's important to look at all variables involved. While drastically reducing carbohydrate intake sounds easy enough (and it usually is, after a period of adaptation), there are nuances to the diet that many people can overlook.

A number of different factors can affect the extent to which keto works. If you’ve been struggling with weight loss, this blog will show you some of the unforeseen barriers that could be standing in your way.

Consuming Too Many Carbs

We all know that carbohydrate intake must be drastically reduced in order to induce ketosis, but the number of carbs required will vary from person to person. You could be consuming more carbs than you think.

An image of pasta rigatoni showing that you may be consuming too many carbs while on keto

Most keto diet plans call for consuming 50g or less of carbs per day to reach and maintain ketosis. However, extremely active individuals can sometimes consume 100 grams of carbs per day and still be in a ketogenic state—that’ll depend on your workouts and if you’re a fat-adapted athlete.

Tracking all food intake using a macronutrient calculator such as MyFitnessPal can be one step taken to ensure you meet daily caloric goals for carbs, protein and fat. Many people do not realize hidden carbs can be found in items such as condiments, creamers, sweeteners, or some of your favorite beverages.

You should also be aware of how much of carbohydrate-containing foods you are eating i.e. portion sizes. Not carefully watching and keeping track of portion sizes can lead to accidentally eating both more carbs and calories than you intend. Pay attention to the nutrition facts label on foods and how much food you are eating. Try using a measuring cup or a scale (if you have one) to precisely track food intake. This can be a little time consuming but it may help you achieve your goals.

Become knowledgeable about the foods you consume so you can reach dietary success.

On the other hand, you don’t always want carbohydrates to be too low. Experiencing fat adaptation can prolong getting into ketosis. You may even have symptoms of keto flu from drastically reducing carbs. The key is finding the right balance that works with your body.

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Caloric Intake is Too High

Every person has a resting metabolic rate. This is the number of calories your body burns at rest in order to maintain basic physiological functions.

An image of a woman biting into an avocado, showing that even on keto, you could be consuming too many calories

In order to induce weight loss, a calorie deficit must be in place. You must consume less calories than your body uses for weight loss to occur.

The number of calories consumed can be more crucial to weight loss than specific macronutrient ratios.5,6,7 A person could be consuming zero carbs, but if their total calories consumed is above their maintenance level, fat gain will still occur.

If you find that weight loss is stalling on a low-carb diet, it may be time to reduce overall calories.

Unhealthy snacking is also a detriment to weight loss success. Having that morning iced coffee with added sugars/syrups and creamers or grabbing a couple pieces of candy may seem incidental, but over time these additional calories can drastically increase calorie intake.

In order to fully enter ketosis, stay committed to the process and take all steps required to reach your goals—measuring calories included.

As a means of controlling calories, many have taken to the strategy of intermittent fasting (especially in combination with keto) as a way of consuming less. This can be a viable strategy for keeping calories in check by limiting eating to certain periods of the day (just remember not to binge when the eating window opens!).

The hard part about fasting is usually overcoming hunger. Satiation plays an important role in the process; the hormone at play here is known as ghrelin, which stimulates appetite.8 When you begin to feel hungry, ghrelin is often the main culprit.

One way of reducing the impact of this hormone is with exogenous ketone esters, which reduce ghrelin.9 Exogenous ketones can be used as fasting support; just ask health coach, and trainer Steve E.

“I’m sipping ketone esters throughout the day during my fasts. It keeps me from getting hungry.”Steve E.

If consuming too many calories is causing a plateaued weight loss, get creative with solutions. Fasting is a really simple way to be conscious of the food you’re consuming, it has various reported health benefits, and it may make you appreciate that food even more.10

Underlying Medical Issues

For some people, weight loss may not be directly related to counting calories or ensuring the correct macronutrient targets are hit; there may be other issues at play. If you’ve tried other steps to address weight loss, there may be an underlying medical condition affecting your body and its ability to cut weight.

An image of a male doctor crossing his arms holding a stethoscope, showing that medical issues may lead to weight loss issues

Some individuals are unable to lose weight on keto due to a clinical condition known as hypothyroidism, where the body cannot produce enough thyroid hormone.11 This condition is sometimes a symptom of another underlying condition such as Hashimoto’s disease, and is associated with decreased thermogenesis, and alterations in ion and cation gradients which directly affect ATP (energy) production and therefore energy expenditure, among other physiological pathways.

In short, thyroid hormone is involved with various regulatory processes that regulate body weight and when your body is producing less of this hormone, there are alterations in these processes and pathways leading to an increase in body fat and weight.12,13

Another condition that may slow weight loss is Cushing’s Syndrome.14 This medical disorder is caused from a chronic exposure to excess cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that can exacerbate weight gain. Cushing’s Syndrome can lead to an increased mortality rate and obesity.14

There is a variety of other medical issues that may prevent weight loss. If you are struggling to lose weight, be sure to speak with your doctor about steps to address these issues.

Body Composition Changes

Many people believe weight loss is a linear process—but it’s not always a numbers game. The numbers on the scale shouldn’t be the only tools used for measuring weight loss success.

If the scale isn’t changing, but you’re noticing positive visual changes, you could be experiencing body recomposition.

Simultaneous muscle building and fat loss may cancel each other out on the scale. The old adage that “muscle weighs more than fat” is true, and if you’re practicing strength training, this may be the reason for stalled weight loss.15

A shirtless man lifting weights, showing that body composition changes may not result in weight loss

While the scale is an important tool, you should also use devices that measure body fat percentages. Don’t forget the mirror is an invaluable asset as well. Your eyes will never deceive you. There’s also the subjective feeling; how do you feel? If the numbers don’t reflect weight loss, but you’re feeling good, there’s something to that, too.

And don’t expect weight loss results to occur overnight. Most dietary guidelines recommend losing one to two pounds a week to achieve sustainable long-term results.16 Dropping weight too quickly can cause people to gain it back even quicker.

Not Eating Voluminous Foods

Having a diet filled with voluminous foods is a vital tool for results. Vegetables will allow you to eat a lot of food without a lot of calories.

Keto foods, such as vegetables like broccoli, asparagus and greens like spinach and kale, contain a lower amount of calories for a relatively large portion of food. From a mental perspective, a 300-calorie salad will be more filling than a candy bar with similar caloric content. Those veggies mentioned above, plus things like avocado, egg whites and chicken, provide a large amount of food with a very minimal caloric impact (although don’t binge on avocados as they are much more calorie-dense than other fruits and veggies).

Healthy whole foods also tend to have fewer calories than more processed and refined goods, so try and stay away from those if you’re not losing weight on keto.

Poor Sleeping Habits

Many people tend to disregard sleep when it comes to diet success. Getting enough sleep is just as important as diet and exercise for weight loss, and is an essential part of recovery if you’re an athlete.

A study was performed on 10 overweight non-smoking adults in which they slept daily for either 8.5 or 5.5 hours per night.17 The results showed a lack of sleep was 55% less effective for weight loss than the adequate sleep group. Body fat loss was also 60% less in sleep deprived individuals than the adequate sleep group. The individuals who slept more also had a lower respiratory quotient (a tool used to determine where energy is coming from-fat vs carbs), which is indicative of an ability to burn more fat for fuel. The results of this study demonstrate the substantial impact sleep has on the weight loss process.

A man in bed, looking lazily at his computer screen.

If all other weight loss factors are under control, be sure to monitor your sleeping habits. Most adults are recommended to get between seven hours or more each night in order to maintain adequate overall health.18 If you’re having trouble sleeping, that’s a whole other issue. You should be taking a few measures to help improve the time it takes to get to sleep and the quality of that sleep once you get there; things like less screen time before bed, blackout curtains and weighted blankets can all help.

Lack of Physical Activity

Diet alone does not always provide the best weight loss results.

For most people, some type of regular exercise regimen should be implemented to increase energy output. By adding physical activity in the form of strength training and cardiovascular activity, you can burn additional calories.

Besides weight loss, there are several other health benefits from regular exercise.

One study cites regular exercise as the main preventative tool against 35 chronic health conditions including: obesity, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, hypertension, stroke, depression, and several forms of cancer.19

Most health experts recommend practicing 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week. Regular strength training of all major muscle groups should also be performed at least twice per week using 12 to 15 repetitions per set.

Increased production of endogenous ketones (meaning, produced naturally by the body) is another byproduct of regular physical activity.20 By exercising and depleting glucose stores, your body can induce endogenous ketone production.

You’re Not Drinking Enough Water

One dietary concern many people do not address is water intake. Sure, you may be drinking some water occasionally, but are you drinking enough?

A man on a hike drinking from a water bottles with mountains in the background, showing that dehydration may lead to weight loss issues

Daily recommendations for water are 2700ml/day ounces for women and 3700ml/day ounces for men.21 If you happen to be an extremely active individual you should drink even more to compensate for exercise induced dehydration.

Water regulation is important for preventing bloating and maintaining regular water intake. It’s also crucial when it comes to hunger.

People who do not drink enough water become dehydrated, which can cause feelings of hunger to occur.

A study was performed on 48 adults. One group drank 500mL of water before meals while the other group did not.22 Over the course of a 12-week period, water drinkers lost almost five pounds more than non-water drinkers. This is most likely due to hormonal regulation of satiety that occurs when the stomach is distended. The stomach becomes enlarged and is recognized by stretch receptors that will help terminate hunger and increase feelings of satiety.23 This along with the results of this study suggest that adequate hydration may help prevent overeating.

Keeping a jug or other container of water near you can make measuring water intake simple. And many water bottles will even have the number of ounces on the side so you can easily track how much water you’re drinking. Although it may seem like an insignificant variable, water intake plays a critical role in weight loss and/or weight maintenance.

What Should You Do Next?

If you’re struggling to lose weight on keto, don’t give up too early. While some people see results quickly, others will take longer, or will have to try alternate strategies to see the same type of results.

Be sure to adjust different variables such as total number of calories, amount of physical activity, and practicing proper sleep habits.

If weight loss efforts have come to a stall, consider taking a temporary diet break to allow for metabolic reset. Sometimes the body needs to readjust its metabolism to overcome weight loss plateaus.

If you’ve taken all the steps described above, it may be time to talk to your doctor about other health-related factors that may be affecting weight loss goals. Your health is something that should never be compromised regardless of weight.

Make your diet a success story by practicing sustainable long-term eating habits. Having a healthy and happy life is something money can’t buy. Be sure to make your health a number one priority in your life so you can live a happy, long life.

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Scientific Citations

1.Paoli A, Rubini A, Volek JS, Grimaldi KA. Beyond weight loss: a review of the therapeutic uses of very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2013;67(8):789-796. doi:10.1038/ejcn.2013.116.
2.Yancy W, Olsen MK, Guytib JR, et al. A Low-Carbohydrate, Ketogenic Diet versus a Low-Fat Diet To Treat Obesity and Hyperlipidemia: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. Ann Intern Med. 2004;140(10):769-777.
3.Bhanpuri NH, Hallberg SJ, Williams PT, et al. Cardiovascular disease risk factor responses to a type 2 diabetes care model including nutritional ketosis induced by sustained carbohydrate restriction at 1 year: an open label, non-randomized, controlled study. Cardiovasc Diabetol. 2018;17(1):56.
4.Youm, Y.-H., Nguyen, K.Y., Grant, R.W., Goldberg, E.L., Bodogai, M., Kim, D., D'Agostino, D., Planavsky, N., Lupfer, C., Kanneganti, T.D., et al. (2015). The ketone metabolite [beta]-hydroxybutyrate blocks NLRP3 inflammasome-mediated inflammatory disease. Nat. Med. 21, 263-269.
5.Bradley U, Spence M, Courtney CH, et al. Low-fat versus low-carbohydrate weight reduction diets: effects on weight loss, insulin resistance, and cardiovascular risk: a randomized control trial. Diabetes. 2009;58(12):2741-8.
6.Nordmann AJ, Nordmann A, Briel M, et al. Effects of low-carbohydrate vs low-fat diets on weight loss and cardiovascular risk factors: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Arch Intern Med. 2006;166(3):285-93.
7.Gardner CD, Trepanowski JF, Del gobbo LC, et al. Effect of Low-Fat vs Low-Carbohydrate Diet on 12-Month Weight Loss in Overweight Adults and the Association With Genotype Pattern or Insulin Secretion: The DIETFITS Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2018;319(7):667-679.
8.Makris MC, Alexandrou A, Papatsoutsos EG, et al. Ghrelin and Obesity: Identifying Gaps and Dispelling Myths. A Reappraisal. In Vivo. 2017;31(6):1047-1050.
9.Stubbs BJ, Cox PJ, Evans RD, Cyranka M, Clarke K, De wet H. A Ketone Ester Drink Lowers Human Ghrelin and Appetite. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2018;26(2):269-273.
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12.Mincer DL, Jialal I. Hashimoto Thyroiditis. [Updated 2019 May 5]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459262/
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14.Nieman LK. Cushing's syndrome: update on signs, symptoms and biochemical screening. Eur J Endocrinol. 2015;173(4):M33-8.
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16.Finkler E, Heymsfield SB, St-onge MP. Rate of weight loss can be predicted by patient characteristics and intervention strategies. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012;112(1):75-80.
17.Nedeltcheva AV, Kilkus JM, Imperial J, Schoeller DA, Penev PD. Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity. Ann Intern Med. 2010;153(7):435-41.
18.Consensus Conference Panel, Recommended Amount of Sleep for a Healthy Adult: A Joint Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society, Sleep, Volume 38, Issue 6, 1 June 2015, Pages 843–844, https://doi.org/10.5665/sleep.4716
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20.Stubbs, B.Cox, P.; Evans, R.; Santer, P.; Miller, J.; Faull, O.; Magor-Elliott, S.; Hiyama, S.; Stirling, M.; Clarke, K. (2017). On the metabolism of exogenous ketones in humans. Front. Physiol.
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22.Cunningham E. What impact does water consumption have on weight loss or weight loss maintenance?. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2014;114(12):2084.
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© 2019 HVMN Inc. All Rights Reserved. H.V.M.N.®, Health Via Modern Nutrition™, Nootrobox®, Rise™, Sprint®, Yawn®, Kado™, and GO Cubes® are registered trademarks of HVMN Inc. ΔG® is a trademark of TΔS® and used under exclusive license by HVMN Inc.