10 Reasons You’re Not Losing Weight On a Ketogenic Diet

More and more people are using a ketogenic diet in recent times.

We can find information everywhere about these diets, but not all of it is factual.

For example, there is a common myth that being on a keto diet almost guarantees weight loss.

However, this is very misleading, and it is even possible to gain weight with a ketogenic diet.

This article explains ten potential reasons why someone may not be losing weight on keto.

1) You’re Eating Too Much Fat

A Man Eating Too Much Fat - Meat, Cheese, Butter.

It is not difficult to hear claims that we can eat as much fat as we want on a ketogenic diet and still lose weight.

However, this is a myth.

Firstly, consuming any macronutrient without restraint will cause problems, and that goes for eating excessive amounts of fat too (1).

Calories are not everything, but they do matter. Overfeeding on fat in a calorie surplus will undoubtedly stall weight loss.

Additionally, understanding how and why we lose weight is essential. To start with, when we lose weight, our body burns its fat stores.

In the past, this stored fat provided us with energy in times of famine or when food was short during long, harsh winters. In other words; we used our body fat to provide energy at times when we truly needed it (2).

On the other hand, if we are consuming surplus amounts of fat and calories every day, we do not need to burn stored body fat. Instead, our body will use the incoming food for energy.

Yes, the ketogenic diet is a moderate to high-fat plan, and there is nothing wrong with consuming healthy fats.

But if we are looking to lose weight, it is better to concentrate on whole foods, and not add large amounts of additional fats (e.g. butter/oil) to our diet.

Key Point: We cannot consume unlimited amounts of a macronutrient on any diet, and that includes fat on keto.

2) Too Many Calories

Many advocates of low carb and ketogenic diets claim that it isn’t necessary to count calories.

Firstly, this is correct, and there is no need to count calories to lose weight successfully (3).

However, just because we don’t need to count calories does not mean they are not important.

Often, a diet based on satisfying, nutrient-dense food will help to normalize the amount we eat, and most people won’t need to worry about counting calories.

That said, if someone is continuously struggling to lose weight on keto, then it is possible that they are simply overeating.

In this situation, or for anyone who is unsure of the nutritional content of what they’re eating, counting calories may be useful.

Key Point: Weight loss stalls sometimes have a simple explanation: too much food and too many calories.

3) Lack of Sleep

A Woman Suffering From Lack of Sleep Yawning.

Weight loss is not only about what we eat, and it revolves around our whole lifestyle.

Notably, one of the most critical factors is sleep, and a lack of sleep can have several negative impacts relating to our weight loss efforts;

  • Studies show that short sleep duration decreases blood levels of leptin, a satiety hormone that tells the body to stop eating. As a result, food cravings are more likely despite sufficient food intake (4, 5).
  • Systematic reviews and randomized trials demonstrate that short-sleep duration appears to increase total food intake and caloric consumption (6, 7).
  • Randomized trials consistently show that short sleep decreases insulin sensitivity, which can eventually lead to obesity and type 2 diabetes (8, 9, 10).
  • Furthermore, shortened sleep has an adverse impact on metabolism and daily energy expenditure (11, 12).

As these studies show, sufficient sleep is crucial to successful weight loss. Not sleeping enough means our metabolism slows down, we use less energy, we become more insulin resistant, and we have more cravings for food.

In other words; the complete opposite of the factors that support healthy and sustainable weight loss.

For this reason, a well-implemented ketogenic diet (or any other diet) will have limited success if someone is not getting adequate sleep.

Key Point: Sufficient daily sleep is critical for any weight loss plan.

4) Not Doing Enough Exercise

You may have heard the following expression; “You can’t outrun a bad diet.”

Technically, we can outrun a bad diet regarding weight, but not so much for overall health.

Either way, this statement implies that nutrition is the most critical aspect of weight loss, which is true.

However, even though nutrition is the most considerable factor, exercise can still play an important role.

This is especially the case for intense resistance training, as research shows that lifting heavy weights increases resting metabolic rate and energy expenditure (13, 14, 15, 16).

Additionally, exercise helps to build muscle, and a higher proportion of lean body mass slightly increases the metabolic rate (17).

Considering all the other benefits that physical activity has for our overall health, there is no excuse not to do it.

In short, anyone struggling to lose weight on a ketogenic diet can only benefit from adding physical exercise to their regime.

Key Point: Physical exercise has many health benefits, and it can support weight loss in combination with a ketogenic diet.

5) You’re Still Eating Too Many Carbs

Mixed Fruit On a Plate - Berries, Banana, Kiwi, Watermelon.

The primary aim of ketogenic diets is to start burning fat for fuel rather than carbohydrate, and this biological state is known as ‘ketosis.’

Generally speaking, “getting into ketosis” require a very low carbohydrate intake.

To achieve this, most individuals undertaking the diet aim for around 50 grams of carbs (or less) per day.

Howerver, it is also easy to underestimate the number of carbs (and associated calories) in food.

For instance, it is not just bread, pasta, and rice that are rich in carbohydrates, but also foods like nuts, root vegetables, and fruit.

Once again, it may be useful for people unsure about the nutritional values of specific foods to track what they are eating.

There are many ways to do this, and the ‘My Fitness Pal’ app is one (of many) good options.

Key Point: It is easy to eat more carbohydrates than expected, and this can potentially stall weight loss efforts on a keto diet.

6) You’re Eating the Wrong (Non-Satiating) Foods

A ketogenic diet in itself is not inherently healthy or unhealthy, and it depends on the specific foods someone is eating.

For instance, a diet consisting of only bacon cooked in soybean oil would be “ketogenic.” I love bacon, but this would be far from healthy.

On the other hand, if we eat the right, nutrient-dense foods then not only does that support health, but it may also support weight loss.

Some interesting research has examined whether more nutritious foods have a more significant effect on satiety, and it appears they do;

  • In a randomized trial featuring obese participants, higher calcium and dairy intake increased circulating levels of peptide YY. Peptide YY is a satiety hormone that decreases appetite (18).
  • The satiety response to a meal can be modified depending on the protein, fiber, and nutrient values of the specific foods (19).

On a ketogenic diet, it is essential to consume enough nutrient-dense, whole foods such as fish, meat, nuts, vegetables, and low-sugar fruits.

Over-consuming isolated sources of fat at the expense of these nutritious foods can negatively impact satiety, which can sabotage weight loss efforts.

See this ketogenic shopping list for an in-depth list of foods.

Key Point: Not choosing nutrient-dense foods can be a major reason for not losing weight on a keto diet.

7) You’re Not Eating Enough Protein

Grilled Beef Steak With Grilled Vegetables.

While on the topic of satiety, it is important to mention dietary protein since it is the most satiating out of the three macronutrients (20).

Ensuring sufficient protein intake should decrease appetite and lower the likelihood of overeating (21).

Unfortunately, fearing protein is a typical mistake people make on ketogenic diets.

For one thing, research demonstrates that high-protein ketogenic diets can “reduce hunger and lower food intake significantly” (22).

The reason for this fear of protein is a process called gluconeogenesis (GNG).

Gluconeogenesis is a metabolic pathway that converts non-carbohydrate compounds such as amino acids (proteins) into glucose.

Since glucose is essential for the human body, gluconeogenesis is a crucial process that ensures a consistent supply, even in the absence of dietary carbohydrates. However, the issue is that some people fear too much protein will result in excessive glucose production and being “kicked out” of ketosis.

It does not work like this, though, and gluconeogenesis is a constant process – whether eating more protein or not. Furthermore, research shows that dietary protein intake contributes “very little” to the body’s glucose supply (23, 24).

Key Point: Higher protein intake on a ketogenic diet appears to have positive impacts on weight loss, and the fears about gluconeogenesis are overplayed.

8) There Is An Underlying Medical Issue

This applies to any diet, but if someone attempts a genuinely well-implemented ketogenic diet alongside an overall healthy lifestyle and really should be losing weight but can’t?

It is just a possibility, but an underlying medical issue is one potential (but rare) issue.

For instance, certain medical conditions can make weight loss difficult. These conditions include PCOS, hypothyroidism, and Cushing’s syndrome (25, 26, 27).

For any suspected medical condition, it is important to see a primary care provider at the earliest convenience.

Key Point: Some medical issues can cause weight problems. Anyone suspecting such an issue should consult a trained physician.

9) You’re Drinking Too Many Calories

Fat Rich Bulletproof Coffee With Butter and Coconut Oil.

Drinking too many calories covers several of the previous topics, namely;

  • Not consuming the right foods
  • Too many calories
  • Too much fat

For example, Bulletproof Coffee (butter in coffee) enjoys popularity with some ketogenic dieters, which can potentially be an issue.

If it is a regular thing, using large amounts of butter or cream in hot drinks is likely displacing nutrient-dense food choices.

Additionally, if adding ad-lib amounts of butter or coconut oil to hot drinks, it is easy to consume an excessive amount of fat/calories without realizing.

Many people who experience weight loss stalls on a keto diet see improvements by cutting down on isolated fats.

Key Point: It is easy to drink too many calories, especially if adding large amounts of butter/oil to drinks.

10) You’re Suffering From Stress

Stress is another factor that can positively or negatively affect our overall health, and it is capable of stalling weight loss too.

During times of stress, the adrenal glands release a hormone called cortisol (28).

Cortisol is a natural hormone that has some short-term benefits, but chronic stress and excessive cortisol release can cause problems.

Notably, elevated cortisol levels increase appetite and energy intake, and they are predictive of weight gain (29, 30).

Key Point: Chronic stress is associated with numerous health issues, and it can lead to weight gain.

Final Thoughts

As shown in this article, ketogenic diets are not magical fat loss tools that automatically work for everyone.

There are right and wrong ways to do the diet, and for anyone considering keto, it is vital to research the diet thoroughly.

A well-formulated ketogenic diet can support healthy and sustainable weight loss, but only if it is the right fit for the individual.

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Michael Joseph, MSc

Michael works as a nutrition educator in a community setting and holds a Master's Degree in Clinical Nutrition. He believes in providing reliable and objective nutritional information to allow informed decisions.