It’s widely feared and doesn’t stop at low-carb or the keto diet: the weight loss plateau.
No matter how strictly you follow a ketogenic diet, weight loss will eventually stagnate. Although the goal is usually a specific ideal weight, you often reach a keto plateau before that.
However, this is no reason to worry. It’s normal to reach a weight loss plateau after dropping the first few pounds with low carb and keto.
So, you have neither failed nor is there something wrong with your body.
Often subtle nuances in nutrition can end the weight loss stall and break the keto plateau.
Before we move on to the strategies that can break a keto plateau, we need to understand why weight loss stalls in the first place.
What Is a Weight Loss Plateau on Keto?
Plateau is a French word that refers to a flat region significantly higher than the surrounding plain.
With this in mind, plateau describes a process interrupted and stopped before the eventual target. In our case, the success curve in losing weight stalls, and the fat loss stops.
Hence, you hit a keto plateau if weight loss stalls on a ketogenic diet.
So what happens to the body during such a fat loss plateau?
Our body is a master in adapting to the environment and conditions into which it is placed. Therefore its primary goal is to maintain the biological principle of homeostasis.
When the human endocrine system functions correctly, the body can burn excess energy through various metabolic pathways after consumption.
Accordingly, researchers at the Mayo Clinic have shown that even without exercise, the body can convert the energy it consumes into heat through biochemical processes.
However, this thermogenesis decreased in people without a properly functioning endocrine system, which increased their fat storage (Levine et al. 19991).
When we undergo a calorie deficit over a more extended period, as with conventional diets, there is an initial weight loss, but the body adapts to the limited energy intake due to homeostasis (Major et al. 20072).
So how can one overcome such a weight loss plateau?
Since hormones are the messengers that regulate essential metabolic functions, they must be used to adjust the body to fat loss.
Fortunately, it is precisely the ketogenic diet that opens up this path for us.
How Does Keto Induce Weight Loss?
The ketogenic diet is based on proteins and carbohydrates stimulating insulin, but fat hardly does.
And the storage hormone insulin is the essential messenger for regulating our body weight.
Accordingly, too much insulin blocks the enzyme breaking down body fat (Meijssen et al. 20013).
Consequently, the ketogenic diet aims to lower insulin levels, empty carbohydrate stores, and ultimately reach the state of ketosis.
Ketosis means nothing more than burning fat for primary energy production. Moreover, this is an entirely natural process.
The fact that ketosis taps into stored body fat for energy has allowed humankind to survive countless winters.
According to this, keto is not a conventional calorie reduction that sets the course for weight loss but rather the endocrine system.
Therefore, we have to redefine the quality of food in this context. Consequently, it is often unconscious subtleties in nutrition that cause a weight loss plateau in Keto.
So what you eat is often more important than how many calories you consume. What this means in detail, let’s look at how to overcome the stagnation in Keto.
How Long Does a Weight Loss Plateau Last on Keto?
There is no fixed duration for a keto stall.
Switching weight loss on and off manually sounds too good to be true because it is. A few days when you can’t lose weight steadily is not a keto plateau.
The first keto plateau occurs a few weeks after you start the diet because your body loses stored water by emptying carbohydrate stores.
The weight-loss stall must last over a month if we speak about a severe keto plateau.
Many hit a weight loss plateau half a year after they start keto and need about 3-6 weeks to break through.
However, people are often very different, so they:
- Experience varying periods of stagnation
- As well as hitting a weight loss plateau on keto for various reasons
Therefore, we now want to take a closer look at these reasons and deduce how we can take action against a weight-loss stall on keto.
How to Break a Weight Loss Plateau on Keto
With the ketogenic diet, you eat low-carb and healthy fat and shed pounds quickly. Unfortunately, it is not always that easy.
The following methods for breaking through a keto plateau focus on often overlooked reasons that can cause weight loss to stall.
1. Eliminate Hidden Carbs
To be safe with Keto, you should get 5% of your daily calorie intake from net carbohydrates.
Since the body does not absorb and excrete fiber, it is deducted from the total carbohydrates to get the net carbs.
Hence, an average woman’s net carbohydrate intake is limited to just about 24 grams per day. Even though many people get into ketosis when they consume more carbohydrates, this doesn’t have to mean anything to you.
Accordingly, you may need to lower your carbohydrate limit.
In doing so, many often overlook where carbohydrates are insidiously hiding everywhere. Unforeseen foods with hidden carbohydrates include, in particular:
Furthermore, the food industry is creative in inventing new names for sugar, so you can’t immediately find it on top of the ingredients list.
Whatever ends on -dextrin, -ose, -syrup, or -extract, among the ingredients, is most likely sugar.
Therefore, I can only emphasize that reading labels is mandatory for everyone serious about their health.
Accordingly, it is also advisable to avoid snacks. Not only are they an unnecessary meal, but snacks also hide sweeteners, sugars, trans fats, and other additives.
2. Combine Keto With Intermittent Fasting
No one needs six meals a day to lose weight.
On the contrary, more extended periods without food can lower insulin levels.
Therefore, it makes sense to skip the least important meal of the day – breakfast. And in seconds, you have already started intermittent fasting, which harmonizes perfectly with keto.
Moreover, fasting is the most ketogenic diet because it burns body fat through ketosis to produce energy. That’s why you can also get into ketosis faster and deeper with the help of intermittent fasting.
Furthermore, periods of fasting can boost metabolism and give the digestive tract a well-deserved time to rest (Drenick et al. 19644).
Accordingly, combining keto with intermittent fasting has helped many people, including myself, break a keto plateau.
If you have never tried intermittent fasting, it is a method that can most likely break the weight loss plateau.
Moreover, in my experience, hunger in the morning is quickly forgotten, and productivity increases throughout the day with fasting.
3. Check Ketone Levels
Human bodies react very individually to changes in diet. Therefore it is vital to check ketone levels again and again.
Since the body adapts to keto in the first 3-6 weeks and is only fat-adapted afterward, measuring ketone levels in the blood, especially at the beginning, makes sense.
Accordingly, different foods often inhibit ketosis and can induce a weight-loss stall.
Therefore, regularly checking your ketone levels can help you to get to know your body. The more aha moments you experience, the less often it will be necessary to measure your ketone levels.
In the beginning, it is certainly no mistake to invest 10 bucks in 100 urine test strips.
After all, you can’t just adjust your macro distribution and hope it feels right. To know how your body reacts individually to certain foods, you need to check whether you are still in ketosis frequently.
4. Avoid Lectins
Also, plants don’t like to be eaten. Therefore, they protect themselves with toxins against predators like humans.
Although some lectins can paralyze insects, their effect on humans is often only apparent in the long term.
Nevertheless, studies poof that these plant proteins can bind to insulin receptors and cause weight gain (Shechter 19835).
For this reason, foods high in lectins, such as wheat, have repeatedly helped humans to build up large fat depots to survive harsh winters.
Therefore, it can help to avoid the following lectin-rich foods on a keto diet to break the weight loss plateau:
- Goji Berries
- Cucurbits (incl. zucchinis and cucumbers)
- Legumes (incl. peanuts and cashews)
5. Eat Less Protein
Until the 1990s, even researchers did not know that protein can strongly stimulate insulin (Nuttall et al. 19916).
Therefore, the first low-carb diets, such as the Atkins diet, were doomed to fail. In contrast to classical low-carb approaches, the ketogenic diet has realized fat as the essential macro-nutrient.
You might only marginally reduce the insulin response when exchanging carbohydrates with fat-free proteins such as fillet cuts.
For this reason, low-carb is not nearly as effective for weight loss as keto.
Therefore, isolated proteins without natural fat, such as whey protein, can cause a weight loss plateau on keto that many people don’t realize.
Also, customary shopping for lean meat could be a reason for the stall on keto. Accordingly, reaching for the leg instead of the chicken filet makes sense.
Furthermore, I would keep my fingers off processed protein bars and drinks.
6. Double-Check Your Caloric Intake
Although the ketogenic diet helps control portions due to increased satiety, it’s still possible to affect ketosis by overconsuming.
Although not all calories are the same, you can get too much good stuff. That could be especially true if you may have been close to insulin resistance already.
When the endocrine system is not functioning correctly, the body has difficulty getting rid of excess energy through thermogenesis and stores it as fat (Levine et al. 19997).
Therefore, it may be beneficial for some people to keep checking the calorie count and macro distribution.
You might overconsume carbs or calories by eating too many keto-friendly snacks, such as nuts.
7. Reduce Nuts
Especially since nuts can be a legitimate part of the ketogenic diet, too many or the wrong nuts quickly become a problem.
Not only are nuts high in calories, but their often unapparent carbohydrate amounts can also throw us out of ketosis.
If you eat nuts, stick to higher fat and lower carbohydrate nuts such as macadamias, walnuts, or pilis. Moreover, I wrote a guide about nuts on keto, where you can find all the information you need:
8. Start Meditation
Stress mobilizes energy and promotes blood sugar, insulin, and weight gain, even if you don’t eat. Therefore, exercises like meditation, yoga, or regular exercise are helpful routines to counteract stress.
Particularly, meditation can help to calm your body down again. Accordingly, it can profit to:
- Reduce the release of stress hormones
- Increase the release of positive neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins (Young et al. 20118)
- Reduce heart and respiratory rate and blood pressure (Steinhubl et al. 20159)
In this sense, excessive cortisol levels can restrict vital metabolic functions such as digestion or growth in the long term and promote abdominal fat (Rosmond et al. 199810).
9. Get More Sleep
Getting enough sleep is the easiest and most effective way to reduce cortisol levels and stress.
Accordingly, lack of sleep can quickly cause weight loss to stall on keto. Well, that sounds like a logical assumption. But how many people still get enough sleep today?
Alarmingly, almost a third of working adults today sleep less than six hours a night.
With this in mind, a meta-analysis of sleep deprivation and obesity shows that less than six hours of sleep increases the risk of weight gain by a whopping 50 percent (Cappuccio et al. 200811).
So if you sleep less than eight hours, you know what to do when weight loss stalls on keto.
Furthermore, these tips can help you sleep more soundly:
- Have your last meal 4 hours before sleep
- No caffeine after 5 PM
- Enable night-shift mode on mobile devices and displays
10. Eat Real Food
One thing must remain clear: Keto, too, is about eating natural foods instead of industrial junk in colorful packaging to lose weight successfully.
No matter how often it says on the package that something is low-carb and keto-friendly. Processed food consists of artificial sweeteners and chemical additives that prevent weight loss.
Also, fiber added in isolation is worthless and does not dampen blood sugar and insulin reactions like in whole foods.
Fiber added to food designed in the laboratory will cause constipation at best.
Low-carb bread, keto muffins, and other colorful food-like products are often responsible for hitting weight loss plateaus on keto.
Just because something is high in fat or low in carbohydrates does not mean that it promotes health and weight loss. Hence, foods that sound too good to be true usually are.
Therefore, let natural foods be the rule, and packaged foods and snacks are the exception. Above all, sugar-free snacks can affect ketosis too, which is sometimes due to their sweeteners.
11. Avoid Diet Soda
Sugar-free zero drinks on keto are popular. Nevertheless, they are often why many people hit a keto plateau.
Zero-carb always means effective fat-burning, right? Unfortunately, it is not that simple.
Although sweeteners like aspartame and stevia do not increase blood sugar, they raise insulin levels (Anton et al. 201012).
Furthermore, they reduce the number of healthy gut bacteria (Ruiz-Ojeda und Plaza-Díaz 201913).
As a result, you are endangering your health and promoting cravings (Yang 201014).
However, that doesn’t mean a single diet coke throws you out of your ketosis. But if you want to lose weight and hit a keto plateau, you should immediately stop drinking diet soda and zero drinks. They can be a significant reason for the weight-loss stall on keto.
Other Reasons to Hit a Weight Loss Plateau on Keto
Nevertheless, the human body is not a weight loss machine that you can turn off and on.
If you have the patients to lose weight at a healthy pace, but the methods to break a keto plateau don’t work, there may be other reasons.
You Already Lost Considerable Weight
It is only too logical that the more you have already lost weight, the slower the weight loss rate becomes.
With a full checking account, it is easy to waste money. The closer you get to your target weight with keto, the more often you experience stalls in losing weight.
However, this does not mean that you will not continue to lose weight. It will only take longer to lose weight than it would if you weighed more.
Therefore, you should distinguish between a weight loss plateau and a fat loss plateau.
Accordingly, your weight may stagnate, but you still lose fat. For example, if you build muscle mass at the same time.
Have you started exercising more intensively in the last few weeks?
With this in mind, the scale is not the right way to measure progress. A mirror or waist circumference is more accurate when approaching your target weight.
Furthermore, a waist-to-height ratio of less than 0.55 reflects generally good health and a low risk of diabetes.
Adrenal Gland or Thyroid Problems
If you’ve gotten this far and still can’t figure out why you hit a keto plateau, you may be dealing with thyroid or adrenal gland problems.
In this case, and in any case, where you are questioning your health, you should immediately speak with your trusted doctor.
If one of these problems does occur, you will now be able, with professional help, to break not only the keto plateau but probably also deeper health problems.
Break the Keto Plateau With These Tips
When you encounter a keto plateau, there is no reason to panic.
If you have been on a ketogenic diet for only a few weeks, you may have flushed out your carbohydrate stores and plenty of water with them for the first time.
After that, a short keto stall is natural. Otherwise, I have illustrated reasons ranging from too much protein and lectins to stress, causing stagnation.
Ultimately, it is always possible that a blood test will reveal an unfavorable hormone profile or thyroid problems that may be responsible for difficult fat loss.
Nevertheless, it would help if you looked deep into your lifestyle. Accordingly, examine your sleep patterns, stress levels, the foods you buy, ketone levels, and the macro distribution of your keto diet.
Keto Weight Loss Plateau FAQ
Does cheating on keto break a plateau?
Keto cheat days will not help you break through a weight loss plateau.
What to do on a keto stall?
The numerous methods to break through a keto plateau in this article include more sleep, fasting, avoiding lectins, and diet soda.
Why does weight loss stall on keto?
A keto stall may initially be due to emptying your carbohydrate stores or because you have already lost significant weight.
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Mag. Stephan Lederer, MSc. is an author and blogger from Austria who writes in-depth content about health and nutrition. His book series on Interval Fasting landed #1 on the bestseller list in the German Amazon marketplace in 15 categories.
Stephan is a true man of science, having earned multiple diplomas and master's degrees in various fields. He has made it his mission to bridge the gap between conventional wisdom and scientific knowledge. He precisely reviews the content and sources of this blog for currency and accuracy.
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