Low-Carb Weight Loss Plateau: How to Break a Keto Stall

People are adopting a low-carb lifestyle for many reasons, and one of the most common reasons is weight loss.

But often, those new to low-carb or keto will start off with a bang. They’ll have great early success with their scales. They’ll lose 4 pounds, 6 pounds, maybe 8 or 10 within the first couple of weeks.

Their pants will feel looser. They notice a difference in energy levels and appearance. Things are going well. But all of a sudden, they hit a wall.

Enter the keto plateau.

In this article we’ll go over why weight loss plateaus on the ketogenic diet, and what you can do to get the scale moving in the right direction again.

One of the main reasons for the keto plateau is that most people are eating hidden carbs or the wrong foods on keto. Make sure you’re sticking to the Keto Food List and not sabotaging your diet.

Why Weight Loss Stalls on Keto

There are a lot of reasons your weight loss may plateau on the ketogenic diet. Here are just a few reasons your scale isn’t moving:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Lifestyle
  • Activity level
  • Stress level
  • Menstrual cycle 
  • Metabolic state
  • Food quality
  • Food quantity

The most common reason for a weight loss plateau on keto is that your body has shed the water it was retaining on a higher carb diet and has adjusted to ketosis. This is especially true for the first plateau that tends to happen a few weeks after beginning the ketogenic diet. Do not mistake this weight loss plateau as a fat loss plateau.

That’s why it’s commonly referred to as the keto plateau or the “whoosh” — your body shed a great deal of weight because water carries weight. And it also shed some fat if you were eating the right foods and eating at a caloric deficit. Extra water weight due to carb consumption can weigh you down as bloat and make you feel and look heavier than you really are.

6 Ways to Overcome Your Keto Plateau

Keto plateaus can be frustrating and demoralizing. If your weight is not budging anymore, here are 6 things you can do to break a weight-loss stall.

#1: Watch What You’re Eating

Did you know that most people underestimate how many calories they consume by up to 25%?

That number creeps even higher for obese or overweight individuals — overweight women have been shown to underestimate their calorie consumption by 57% [1]. It’s not just everyone else, though, as studies have shown that even registered dietitians do so (though only by 10%) [2].

There are about 3,500 calories per pound of stored fat. In contrast, there are about 100 calories in just one tablespoon of butter, so if you’re eating more than you think you are (even just by a spritz or two of oil), it makes sense that you’d experience a keto plateau. 

To overcome the stall and get back on track, keep a food journal or use an app like MyFitnessPal, Carb Counter or Senza.

Research shows that keeping a food diary can nearly double weight loss [3].

#2: Track Your Daily Macros

Carbs, fats, and proteins are macros (short for macronutrients). A standard keto diet follows a 75:20:5 macro ratio.

This means that 75% of your calories should come from healthy fats, 20% from protein, and 5% from carbs. A ketogenic diet doesn’t just focus on the number of calories consumed, but on the sources of those calories (fat, protein, and carbs) and the ratio among them.

Because sticking to the 75:20:5 macro ratio is critical to achieving and staying in ketosis, tracking your daily macros allows you to adjust your diet frequently so you can better achieve your weight loss goals. Most people need to stay under 50 grams of carbs per day in order to stay in ketosis. You may be surprised at how easy carbs add up when you start tracking macros. Hidden carbs are everywhere!

#3: Try Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent Fasting (IF) is an “eating pattern,” not a “diet.” It describes when to eat, not what to eat.

When you’re intermittent fasting, you cycle between periods of eating and fasting. Fasting sounds daunting, but it’s easier when you do so intermittently.

Rather than eating every time you feel hungry, IF limits eating to certain times throughout the day. The idea is that by limiting the times you eat, you’ll consume fewer calories and lose weight.

The most common IF method is called 16:8. This means you fast for 16 hours, then eat during an 8-hour window. An example schedule might be eating from 11am-7pm and fasting from 7pm-11am.

IF only works if you don’t compensate for the fasting periods by eating too many calories during the eating periods. Eating the right foods during the eating windows is also critical.

Many people new to intermittent fasting will ease into it with something called “fat fasting,” which is where you consume keto coffee in the morning.

Keto coffee can also be called “fat coffee” or “boosted coffee.” It describes coffee with added fats to keep you satiated and mentally sharp until your eating window. Fat coffee provides calories and nutrients to give you energy, but not as many as a traditional breakfast. Common sources of fat include butter, MCT oil, and heavy whipping cream.

#4: Track Your Caloric Intake

Even if you’re sticking to a healthy keto diet, you’ll only lose weight if you’re burning more calories than you’re taking in. The ideal caloric intake depends on age, metabolism, and exercise, among other things, so tracking both the calories you take in and the calories you burn allows you to adjust your diet and exercise to fit your health goals.

We recommend using one of these calorie tracker websites and apps to make this process easier.

#5: Exercise More or Differently

Fat loss is complicated, but the easiest way to understand it is calories in vs. calories out.

Calories in = what you eat

Calories out = what you burn (your metabolism, how much you move, etc.)

While diet is 85% of weight loss, exercise can help move the scale and is good for your overall health.

If you’re already working out but still plateauing, keep in mind that your body adapts to exercise much faster than you think.

If an exercise you used to struggle with is no longer a challenge, chances are it’s not nearly as effective for weight loss as it was when you started. Try mixing up your workouts every month to keep your body guessing and burning fat. If you’re running twice a week, try increasing it to every other day, or adding in short sprints to boost your heart rate. If you generally do yoga or pilates, add weight training.

#6. Measure Inches, Not Pounds

Household scales show our weight, but they don’t show our body composition (fat, muscle, bones, and organs). They also don’t measure how much water you’re retaining.

With a ketogenic diet and exercise, you’ll likely lose fat and build muscle. Because muscle weighs more than fat, you might be losing body fat without seeing a change in your weight. Instead of weighing yourself, look at other metrics for fat loss:

  • Take your measurements. Measurements can give you a more accurate picture than pounds. If you’re losing inches, you’re probably losing body fat.
  • Feel how your clothes fit. If you can fit into a pair of jeans you couldn’t button before, congrats! You’re on the right track.
  • Set performance goals. Weight fluctuates, so instead of focusing on what you can’t always control, find a more tangible goal. See how many push-ups you can do or how far you can run. If you can do more than you could last week, you’re on the right track.
  • Measure your body fat. There are lots of different ways to do this (BMI tests, online calculators, etc.). They can often be guesstimates, but consistently measuring yourself under similar conditions can give you a more accurate picture of your body composition.

Weight loss plateaus are common and normal. Be patient with yourself and try not to let it discourage you. Our tips above will help you get back on your way to dropping pounds and reaching your health goals. 

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