I get asked this question a lot, at least once a day. I get DMs, emails and messages all saying the same thing. “I am doing everything right but I am not losing any weight”. I get it, it’s so frustrating but there are answers. There are multiple reasons why keto stops working for weight loss.
The question is usually like this: “I have been on keto for 6 weeks. I lost 2kg in the first week then I have put on and lost the same 500g since” or “I have been on keto for a year. I lost 25kg then my weight loss stopped. I have another 15kg left to lose but I am going up and down the same 2kg for months”.
These are just some of the examples of the messages that come to me. The frustration is palpable and I understand it. When you are doing everything right and it doesn’t work you can get so unmotivated. This can make it so hard to stick to your keto plan. The simple fact is that for some people keto stops working for weight loss.
There are reasons why
But, the good news is that there are reasons why it doesn’t work. Once you take the time to address them, weight loss will follow. I’ve said it before and I will keep repeating it, healing must come first, weight loss comes later. If you try to skip the healing part and focus only on weight loss, problems can happen. This is the biggest reason why keto stops working for weight loss.
The core steps to take for health, and eventually weight loss, are reducing carbs and focusing on fresh, whole foods while repairing your gut health and taking care of your circadian rhythm. Don’t skip any of these steps, they are so important for long term, sustainable weight loss.
1. Not Eating Enough
I am an expert dieter. I’ve tried them all. I know the sheer desperation of wanting to be a healthier body weight and the lengths we will go to to make that happen. Including not eating enough, ignoring hunger signals and eating less than we need. The fact is that chasing lower numbers on the scale is going to mean going to extremes when weight loss slows down.
We’ve been sold a lie, that weight loss is linear and happens until we reach goal weight. It doesn’t work like that. Weight loss is like a winding mountain road. You might have to go back and forth a few times but you will eventually climb that mountain. It might feel like you are not getting anywhere but I promise you, you are. But you have to eat enough.
If you don’t eat enough your body enters what I call Conservation Mode. This is not like starvation mode, conservation mode is more difficult to identify. Conservation mode is when you don’t eat enough for long periods of time and your body slows most of the processes that are not deemed necessary. Like growing hair and nails, menstrual cycles and muscle repair.
Toxic Diet Culture Syndrome
I also call this Toxic Diet Culture Syndrome. I identify it as a cluster of symptoms caused by your body being in Conservation Mode. You might also have some of the following symptoms:
- extreme tiredness
- general tiredness that doesn’t go away with sleep
- brain fog
- air hunger
- hair loss
- disrupted sleep patterns
- unable to fall asleep
- unable to stay asleep
- feeling wired at night
- thin, peeling and splitting nails
- low pulse rate
- inward trembling especially at night
- dry skin
- lack of appetite
- sense of urgency in everything
- weight gain
- thyroid symptoms
- aches and pains
- low blood pressure
- general burnt out feelings
- zero ability to cope with minor stress
- feeling cold especially at night before you sleep
As you can see there are a wide range of symptoms and it can be frustrating to experience them. Medical Gaslighting means many women who are experiencing these symptoms are told to either lose weight or given a prescription for antidepressants. In reality, they need to start eating more and taking care of their bodies.
Eating more can feel really scary and you might even gain some weight once you start increasing your calories. But it’s necessary to be able to lose weight. Yes, it’s counterintuitive and against everything that you have been taught. But it’s the only way to get your body out of Conservation Mode and your metabolism back running at a higher level. This way, the weight that you will lose is sustainable. Unlike stress based weight loss, this natural way of losing weight is healthier in the long term.
2. Eating Too Much
We can’t get away from the fact that calories matter. Keto is great for appetite control and for naturally eating less because protein and fat are very satisfying. However, eating keto food, that is naturally calorie heavy, can mean that calories quickly add up. Cutting out a bit of cheese, or using a bit less oil on your food can make a huge difference.
I am a big fan of tracking what you eat. Yes it takes time but if that is your argument, how long did you spend on social media today? Can you give up 5 minutes of that time to track? Yes, you can because if you don’t know, you don’t know. And knowing is how you make sure that you are not eating too much or too little.
3. You are Eating Too Often
Even though you have cut right down on the amount of carbs you are eating, you might still be really sensitive to glucose. This means that your body can still have an exaggerated reaction to whatever amount of carbs you are eating. If you still have this sensitivity, then it’s really important that you leave 3 to 4 hours between each meal.
This will give your body time to lose its hypersensitivity to carbs. It may take months for this to happen, years in some cases. Especially if you have Type 2 Diabetes. It takes time so please be patient and remember that healing comes first.
The best way to find out your glucose tolerance is to get yourself a glucose ketone monitor. You can check your glucose and ketone response to foods and see which spike your glucose and reduce your ketones. This will show you the best types of food to eat for your body and see how well you are healing.
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4. Eating Processed Food
There is no arguing with the fact that all processed food is crap. I am not talking about natural processing like cooking, fermenting or pickling. I am talking about factory processing of foods that strip them of natural nutrition and combine them with other ingredients that have been processed.
The end product is something that your body does not recognise. The ingredients that were once part of something natural are no longer recognisable or are in doses much larger than the natural equivalent.
One example I can think of is inulin. Inulin is a naturally occurring fibre found in garlic and onions. It’s used in many keto products to reduce the amount of carbs. But the dose of inulin in these keto products is far higher than what you would eat if you were having garlic and onions. The knock on effect is gut distress. Too much fibre can be detrimental to gut health and motility.
5. You are Leptin Resistant
Leptin is a hormone produced by fat cells in the body that helps to regulate appetite and metabolism. It’s part of your energy management system. When fat cells release leptin into the bloodstream, it signals the brain at night when you are asleep. It tells your brain how much energy (fat and glucose) you have stored. If you have enough body fat then leptin signals your brain to reduce hunger and increase energy expenditure, helping to maintain a healthy body weight.
If you are leptin resistant, which can happen in obese people, then this signal doesn’t work properly. Your brain thinks your body is starving and so puts you into conservation mode. Your metabolism slows and you gain weight no matter what you eat. The reasons for leptin resistance are unsure but one reason we know of is bad sleep quality. The signalling from leptin to your brain happens at night when you are asleep. If you don’t sleep well or have long enough sleep, this signalling doesn’t happen. You can read more about it here.
6. Your Gut is Healing
If you have been eating a standard western diet then chances are you have some sort of gut dysfunction. It can manifest itself in literally countless ways. So if you have been eating a ‘normal’ diet full of processed grains and sugars your body has a lot of healing to be done before it is going to start letting go of excess fat.
When you switch to whole food keto, which is the way I recommend, then healing will happen. It can take time before your gut heals enough and this time is so much more important than shedding weight. This is healing that will keep you fit and vital for life, even if you’re carrying an extra 10kg.
Remember that toxic diet culture has taught us that slim is the only healthy marker and that just isn’t true. I would rather you were 10kg overweight but with health markers (blood pressure, inflammatory markers, cholesterol profile) that show a very healthy body.
7. You Have a Hidden Medical Issue
This is one I see more often than not. Your body does not exist in separate systems unlike what orthodox medicine would like you to think. If you have a thyroid issue, you see an endocrinologist even if your thyroid issue is autoimmune (gut health issue). Your body is all connected and many other issues affect how your body is going to digest food, extract nutrients or hold on to extra weight.
Hidden medical issues like hypothyroidism, menopause, PCOS, high glucose, high insulin levels and side effects of some medications are some of the issues that can cause weight gain and make it difficult to lose weight. If you go back to point 1 and look at the symptoms of Toxic Diet Culture Syndrome, you will see that they can mimic or even mask the symptoms of some of these medical issues.
Medical Gaslighting of women and in particular women of colour, means that these medical issues are often misdiagnosed or missed completely. The good news is that once you switch to keto, you will probably find that the symptoms of these problems often reduce. If you have checked all of the other boxes but cannot find a reason for slow or no weight loss, then it’s time to talk to your doctor and get some tests to investigate.
Other reasons why keto stops working for weight loss
These are not all of the reasons keto stops working for weight loss as the topic is complex, like all things associated with the keto diet. It can take time and patience to work through but please don’t give up. When you find the answer, weight loss will be easy and straightforward.
There is no one size fits all in nutrition and especially in weight loss. You need to find your way through testing, changing, trying and never stopping until you find the answer.