Everyone has their own reasons for starting a low-carb, high-fat diet like keto, but the most common reason is weight loss.
There are plenty of case studies, impressive before and after photos, and even controversy surrounding the ketogenic diet’s application for weight management and fat loss. But you’ll also hear many skeptics and critics, saying keto doesn’t work, or that it’s not sustainable as a lifestyle.
This article will answer the following questions:
- How much weight can you lose on keto?
- How fast can you lose weight on keto?
- Does the keto diet work for everyone?
While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, it’s helpful to know the following:
- The individual factors that can impact your weight loss
- How much weight, on average, you can expect to lose during your ketogenic journey
- Ways to optimize your weight loss
Benefits of Weight Loss
Before looking at what kind of weight loss you can expect on the ketogenic diet, it’s helpful to review the benefits of weight loss in general. Losing weight will help you look and feel better, but there is much more at stake when it comes to your health.
According to the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, more than two-thirds of American adults are overweight, which means they are at higher risk for experiencing a number of weight-related health issues:
- Type 2 Diabetes — Belly fat is linked to insulin resistance, which means it inhibits your body’s ability to take glucose out of the bloodstream and use it for energy. This causes your blood sugar levels to rise which could eventually lead to diabetes.
- High Cholesterol — Those who are overweight and obese tend to have high levels of LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and lower levels of HDL (“good” cholesterol). This increases the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
- Osteoarthritis — The more body weight you carry around with you, the more strain you experience on your joints and in the cartilage that protects the ends of your bones. This causes pain and stiffness, especially as you get older.
- Liver Disease — If fat builds up in the liver, it can cause major liver damage. Doctors say those who are overweight are much more likely to develop cirrhosis, which could shut down the liver completely.
- Cancer — While there’s no evidence that being obese or overweight causes cancer, consistent evidence indicates that higher levels of body fat are associated with increased risks for certain types of cancer, including breast cancer, kidney cancer, colorectal cancer, and endometrial cancer. In fact, overweight women are two to four times more likely to develop endometrial cancer (a type of cancer that begins in the uterus).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even modest weight loss — anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of your body weight — can provide huge health benefits, including improvements in blood sugar levels, cholesterol, and blood pressure. Furthermore, a study in the National Weight Control Registry cited that participants who maintained significant weight loss reported increased “energy levels, physical mobility, general mood, and self-confidence.”
What Factors Impact Weight Loss on Keto?
#1: Your Current Weight
To lose weight, you need to be in a caloric deficit, which means you need to burn more calories than you consume.
Your current weight is the top factor that will determine how fast you’ll be able to lose weight on keto. This is because the heavier you are, the higher your metabolic rate is (your ability to burn calories in a given day). Keto-ers with more weight to lose typically lose weight faster and more easily in the initial stages than those who don’t have as much to lose. In other words, someone who has 100 pounds to lose will lose weight faster and easier than someone who has 15 pounds to lose.
#2: Your Lifestyle
Your lifestyle includes:
- How much sleep you get nightly
- How much water you consume daily
- The quantity and quality of the micronutrients and minerals you consume
- Your daily activity level
- Your occupation
These are all key factors when it comes to weight loss. The more drastic the changes in these areas, the more likely you are to experience dramatic changes in your weight.
#3: The Quality and Quantity of Sleep
Sleep is crucial for weight loss. According to Dr. Craig Primack, a member of the national board of directors for the Obesity Medicine Association, “People who sleep less than seven hours per night tend to have slower metabolisms,” which means they aren’t burning as many calories as they could be.
This has a lot to do with your body’s hormonal balance and response, and how micro and macronutrients are used in the body.
#4: How Often Your Body is in Ketosis
Some research has shown that those who follow the keto diet more strictly and are in ketosis for longer periods of time are most likely to lose weight faster. Being in a state of ketosis means your body is in fat-burning mode, instead of glucose-burning mode.
How Much Weight Will You Lose on Keto?
The good news for those interested in the ketogenic diet is that it is an extremely effective method for weight loss for a number of reasons:
- It turns your body into a fat-burning machine
- The high-fat nature of the diet is more satiating, which means you’ll get fuller faster and stay fuller longer. One of the reasons people love keto is because they don’t feel hungry or deprived even though they’re eating fewer meals and consuming fewer calories.
- You’ll feel more energized, which will do wonders for your ability to exercise more efficiently. Many people also report having improved mental clarity and focus while eating keto.
With the importance of weight loss in the back of your mind, and an understanding of some of the factors that impact weight loss, we can now look at the amount of weight you can expect to lose on keto. This guide is based on the assumption that someone is following a strict keto diet where 75% of their calories come from fat, 20% comes from protein, and 5% comes from carbohydrates.
Phase 1 of Keto Weight Loss
Time: Weeks 1-2
Anticipated Weight Loss: Rapid weight loss – up to 10 pounds (of water)
As you start removing carbohydrates from your body, your body will begin using the glycogen stored in your liver and muscles as its primary fuel source. This is exactly what you want, because once your body gets through the glycogen, it will start burning fat instead of glucose. And when this happens, it means you’re in a state of ketosis. We’ll talk more about this in Phase 2.
During the first phase, you can expect to lose 2 to 7 pounds of water weight. Some people may even lose up to 10 pounds, especially if you have a lot of weight to lose. Studies show that each gram of glycogen in human muscle is bound to about 3 grams of water. So, as your body burns through the glycogen, it also rids your body of water. Even though you’ll be losing mostly water weight in this early stage, this is a great sign that you are on your way to achieving ketosis.
It is important to note that while you’re in this phase, you’ll want to make sure to drink extra water to prevent dehydration. Replenishing your electrolytes is also helpful during this phase. You may also notice flu-like symptoms — nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and maybe some irritability. This is commonly called the Keto Flu, and could last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Don’t worry — this is a sign that your body is getting adjusted to a new fuel source i.e. transitioning to fat-burning mode.
Phase 2 of Keto Weight Loss
Time: Weeks 2-4
Anticipated Weight Loss: Average weight loss – 1 to 2 pounds per week
After the initial drop in weight due to water loss, your body will begin to adapt to using fat as its main energy source. At this stage, you’re becoming “fat adapted.” This is the point in the process when you achieve a state of ketosis, meaning your body switches from using glycogen as its fuel source to using fat. When your body starts burning fat for energy, it produces ketones (also called ketone bodies). You can test your body’s level of ketones to determine whether or not you’re in ketosis.
During this fat-burning stage, you can expect to lose 1-2 pounds per week. You’ll also begin to feel less hungry in this stage because the fat you’re consuming will make you feel more full. This will give your weight loss process a huge boost because you’ll have an easier time eating fewer calories.
Phase 3 of Keto Weight Loss
TIme: 1-3 months and beyond
Anticipated Weight Loss: Slower weight loss – potentially 1 to 2 pounds per week
Once you’ve gone into ketosis, you will feel like you have more physical and mental energy and endurance, and any carb cravings you may have experienced in the beginning will disappear.
In this phase, you may continue to lose 1-2 pounds per week, or it could slow down. If your weight loss slows down, that’s okay! Remember, as you lose weight, your metabolism will slow down a little as well. Your caloric needs will also lower, which means you’ll have to eat less to maintain your deficit. Stick with it. The CDC suggests that people who lose weight gradually and steadily at a rate of 1 to 2 pounds per week are more successful at keeping that weight off.
What if You’re Not Losing Weight on Keto?
The ketogenic way of eating is an extremely effective weight loss method, but every person is different. Don’t compare yourself to the drastic before and after photos you see online. If you don’t experience the weight loss you’re seeking, stay positive and make sure you’re following these tips:
Watch out for hidden carbs. Carbs are everywhere, especially in processed foods. If you’re consuming more than the recommended amount of carbs (5% of your calories), your body will revert to burning those as opposed to burning fat. Try to stick to wholesome, unprocessed foods and be very careful about what you’re putting in your body. Read the nutrition facts on everything you eat and use an app to monitor your carb intake. Know the difference between net carbs and total carbs.
NET CARBS = TOTAL CARBS – FIBER – SUGAR ALCOHOLS
To achieve and maintain ketosis, most people have to keep net carbs between 20-50 grams per day.
Monitor protein intake. Aim for about 20% of your calories to come from protein. If you eat more than that, your body will turn the excess protein into glucose in a process called gluconeogenesis. Your body will then try to burn this glucose off instead of fat and will kick your body out of ketosis.
Confirm you’re in ketosis. To reach your optimal weight loss goals, you must stay in ketosis for as much time as possible. The nice thing about the keto diet is that you can determine whether your body is in ketosis by measuring the ketones being produced.
Exercise regularly. In addition to staying in ketosis, the best thing you can do for your weight-loss journey and your overall health is to exercise regularly! It’s extremely easy to wake up, go to work, sit at a desk all day, come home, and then sit on the couch for the rest of the evening. But this sedentary lifestyle won’t help you burn enough calories. For best results, vary your workouts and make sure there’s a mix of weight training and cardio training. Building muscle will give your metabolism a boost since muscle in your body burns more calories than fat. And even if you don’t want to go to the gym or get outside for a run, try to get in a 30-minute walk 3-4 times per week. A 30-minute walk at a brisk pace can help you burn about 150 calories. Plus, working out will boost your mood and help you stay motivated on your health journey.
Is the Keto Lifestyle Right for You?
While each person’s keto journey will be unique, the fact remains: going keto is an effective way to shed extra weight and kickstart a healthier life. You’ll look better, feel better, and perform better in everyday life. But as with any diet, there will be times when the weight effortlessly slips off, and other times when the weight stubbornly hangs on. When you hit those weight loss stalls, the best thing to do is stick with it and stay on track. The ketogenic diet works if you stick with it. It’s not something that you can do for a couple weeks here and there. To really see and feel the benefits of keto, we recommend giving it a minimum of three months to see whether it’s right for you.