When you’ve been on the ketogenic diet for a while and your body seems to have stalled in the weight loss plateau don’t be dismayed. There are many reasons why it seems like you’ve hit a weight loss plateau.
There are no limits, there are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. – Bruce Lee
Ketogenic Diet Plateaus: Why Weight Loss Plateaus Happen and How to Overcome Them
World, meet Calvin. Like many of his other health conscious colleagues, Calvin finds that aside from feeling and looking more healthy, one of the most satisfying aspects of maintaining his ketogenic diet alongside a rigorous exercise routine is watching his body transform as a result of his hard work.
His body is a block of marble, his diet a chisel and his workouts a hammer. For six hard months he has made leaps and bounds towards his goal of 8% body fat and rock hard abs, but, like so many others, he has reached the dreaded plateau.
Weight Loss Plateaus
In the world of fitness and dieting, a weight loss plateau is the place where Calvin can no longer make progress towards either his weight loss or muscle-building goals using the same routine.
Ironically in ketogenic dieting, what makes the diet an effective tool in shedding pounds also creates the environment that leads to weight loss plateaus.
At it’s core, a ketogenic diet simply allows Calvin’s body to better regulate his fat cells. However, there can be a mismatch between the machine and the operator so to speak, wherein his body stops at a destination it considers optimal, but is more fatty than the he would prefer.
This article seeks to help Calvin, and whoever else may come across it, to understand why these stalls occur and how to break them.
In order to effectively combat and break a stalled weight loss in ketosis, it is important to first understand the mechanisms behind why weight loss plateaus occur in order to create a proper counter-response.
First, we’ll examine some possible scientific pathways towards a plateau, and after we’ll look at reasons for plateauing which occur as a result of user error. Remember, this article is focusing specifically on a ketogenic diet.
Scientific Pathways Towards Weight Loss on a Low Carb Keto Diet
• Glucose Tolerance: Because the vast majority of us (speaking to the Westernized world) put on our initial weight with an internal environment of drastically raised blood sugar, alongside our mainly grain based, carb heavy diet, we all have problematic glucose tolerance. We want our cells to eagerly consume blood glucose if it’s available as opposed to relying on insulin to force them. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Speaking of insulin, glucose tolerance also affects the pancreas, which can mistakenly produce the wrong amount insulin when eating sweet foods or digesting even small amounts of carbs. This is an incredibly complex scientific mechanism which we cannot fully explore here, but what it boils down to is glucose tolerance, even with little to no carbs in your diet, can lead to plateau.
• Visceral Fat: This also relates to issues of insulin production and glucose tolerance. As insulin directs your cells to take in glucose, they may store these molecules as fat if they aren’t needed, and it is more likely that this storage occurs in people with glucose tolerance. Unfortunately, insulin driven fat storage places most of this excess glucose (fat) in the abdomen where it becomes visceral fat. These are a special type of fat cell in that they are more hormonally active, secreting adipokines which are thought to alter proper glucose tolerance. Essentially, visceral fat can create it’s own feedback loop wherein more adipokines are secreted, leading to more unbalanced glucose tolerance, which in turn creates more visceral fat.
• Keto Adaptation: The most easily beaten scientific pathway, this occurs when your body adapts to your new keto diet and starts to use ketones more efficiently than before. Not to fear, the advantages of your keto diet still exist and you can still shed pounds, it is likely that you just have to watch your caloric intake more closely.
Note that the reasons listed above are not the only scientifically theorized pathways by which a plateau occurs and it is essential that you explore every possibility before taking action. However, the above listed are the most common especially for those of us who have predominantly eaten a stereotypical Western diet.
User Error: Self Reported and Self Destructive Pathways Towards Weight Loss Plateaus
• Hidden Carbs: Often times ketogenic dieters consume more carbohydrates than they think. We tend to think of carbs in obvious terms, bagels, pasta, bread etc. However, foods that are healthy also contain carbohydrates that often go overlooked. Usually, these are fruits, nuts, and yogurts. To keep the fat burning and your body in optimal ketosis, pay attention to potential hidden carbs.
• Excess Calories: Eating more calories than you can burn is a major culprit in causing weight loss plateaus. The aim of your low carb diet is to burn the fat you already have stored, and by consuming too many calories you negate this effect by burning the excess calories that you’ve consumed. In order to lose weight on any diet, you have to be burning more calories than you’re taking in.
• Improper Exercise: While light jogging or long walks are undoubtedly healthy habits and decent exercise, they won’t help you lose excess weight. In order to achieve this with an improperly functioning metabolism, you have to increase insulin sensitivity to your muscles. This is done with high intensity workouts like sprints or heavy lifting.
So, now that we’ve gone over a few of the most common causes as to why a weight loss plateau occurs, the question becomes how to beat the keto diet plateau.
As there are many pathways that cause a weight loss stall, there are also many ways to overcome it, and you should choose the best counteraction based on which mechanism for plateau best applies to you.
Beating the Weight Loss Plateau on a Keto Diet
Unfortunately, the scientific methods mentioned above can be difficult to overcome without the help of a dietitian or other specialist. However, there are some methods which users report success in beating the weight loss plateau on a low carb diet without outside help.
• Combating Glucose Tolerance: As complex a bodily function as it is, some users report that simple endurance training seems to improve glucose tolerance. In scouring online forums and scientific studies, it seems that High Intensity Interval Training (or HIIT for short) is effective in conjunction with a ketogenic diet.
• Fighting Visceral Fat: In order to effectively get rid of this roadblock to a better physique, users should combine strength training with aerobic exercise. Assuming you already stick to your diet, intermittent fasting and a reduced overall food intake can be helpful when fighting a ketogenic diet fat loss plateau.
• Beating Keto Adaptation: This is the easiest and probably most common cause of a keto diet weight loss plateau to beat. Closely monitor your caloric intake, and take steps to ensure you are burning more than you are taking in and be wary of foods which may seem low in calories but in fact are not. With the tougher, more scientific pathways covered, let’s move on to an examination of how to go about preventing or counteracting the pathways towards plateau which are directly in your hands.
• Finding Hidden Carbs: To prevent these carbolic ninjas from sneaking up and sabotaging your ketogenic diet, you need to do research. Find out what the average carbohydrate counts are in the foods which make up your diet alongside snacks you may eat. Carb counting, even for foods which are thought to be low carb can save you a lot of heartache and prevent you from wasting precious time fighting an enemy you didn’t know was there.
• Cutting Excessive Calories: Simply put, consume less. Just like carbs, you want to count your calories. Figure out how many you burn per day between walking, exercising, and simply being alive. From there, cut out calories you can live without and increase your level of exercise. (See our recommended Keto Diet Books)
• Exercising Properly: The commonly held belief that long distance running and other purely aerobic exercises are the lynchpin of weight loss is wrong, especially for those on a ketogenic diet. Lift heavy, deadlift, squat, bench, military press, and heavy curls are just a few examples of exercises that will increase the insulin sensitivity of your muscles. Pair these workouts with HIIT on the treadmill or at the track and you have a winning recipe for weight loss. As an added bonus, you won’t simply lose weight to appear more skeletal but will actually build skeletal muscle resulting in a stronger you and a better physique overall.
Additional Steps to Break a Weight Loss Plateau
With these major obstacles addressed, there are also a few smaller things you can do to supplement your routine and ensure a successful weight loss journey through ketogenic dieting. If you are not losing weight on a keto diet:
First, find out if you have a food sensitivity.
Dairy or gluten can be huge detriments to those with sensitivities and often times they are unaware they even have them except in extreme cases like severe lactose or gluten intolerance. Note that other food sensitivities may also exist, these are just the most common.
Second, make yourself accountable to somebody else.
Whether it be a spouse, workout partner, parent or child takes you out of the equation and gives you a somewhat
objective measurer to keep track of your diet and exercise on a daily or weekly basis. Fitness apps and excel spreadsheets can be a massive boon to ensuring you achieve your aims.
Third, stick with your good habits.
This is easier said than done and life can get in the way, but being determined and mindful of your goals and how to achieve them is an essential psychological component to your success.
Last, don’t be excessively hard on yourself and don’t use the scale as a marker.
We all have a tendency to want to stop when we feel as if we failed, and a weight loss plateau can feel like failure. Keep pushing yourself and know that others are in the same position you yourself are in.
When it comes to the scale, number can be important but they aren’t the only factor to consider. A month by month weighing is a good marker of weight loss, but checking it daily simply will make you feel as if you aren’t progressing and doesn’t truly measure fat loss. After all, muscle is far more dense and weights much more by volume than does fat.
With these tools in your belt and these thoughts in mind, go forth and conquer, Calvins of the world. Break that plateau and do so with a smile on your face, and if it doesn’t happen right away then keep on pushing!
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was the perfect physique.
References & Further Reading:
- Keto Diet Plateau and what do about it
- Body by Science (Book)
- Keto Blocks: 40 Factors that may be contributing to your weight loss plateau (Book)
- Crack the Fat-Loss Code: Outsmart Your Metabolism and Conquer the Diet Plateau (Book)
- High-Intensity Interval Training for Women: Burn More Fat in Less Time with HIIT Workouts You Can Do Anywhere (Book)
- HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training Explained (Book)
- Ketogenic Diet FAQ’s
- Exogenous Ketones – Supplements to Kick Start Ketosis
- MCT Oil for Weight Loss
Disclaimer: I’m not a dietitian or nutritionist, but a health enthusiast, clean eater and ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting partaker. I started this website because I love the ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting lifestyle. My favorite way of eating is to eliminate as many carbs as possible from my diet, eat lots of greens, and real food, forego anything that comes in boxes or is manufactured or produced in a factory or made from chemicals that mean absolutely nothing to the average person. I’m recommending products in this article that have affiliate links and will pay me a small commission if you purchase something to help you along with your keto diet. I always recommend products I think will be beneficial, based on other people’s reviews of the products or my personal research on the efficacy of the product, on your ketogenic diet journey.