Weight Loss & Diets

Keto Plateau: Why It Happens & How to Stop Stalling

Keto Plateau: Why It Happens & How to Stop Stalling

Weight loss plateaus can be frustrating. No matter what you try, it seems like you've hit a brick wall. But before you get completely discouraged with your weight loss journey, keep in mind that weight loss is not a linear process and that plateaus are normal no matter what diet you are on.
 
Now, with that being said, you're probably wondering why you're in a keto plateau and what you can do about it. To help you out, we'll answer the most important questions about keto plateaus, including why it happens and what you could be doing wrong. We'll give you 5 tips and tricks to effectively break through a plateau.  

What is a Keto Plateau?

Simply put, a keto plateau is when you stop losing weight on a keto diet. It typically occurs around six to nine months of constant dieting [1]. A keto plateau typically lasts a couple of weeks before most dieters are able to break through with a bit of tweaking.
 
But unfortunately, many dieters find keto plateaus frustrating enough to make them give up on the keto diet. This is unfortunate given that that plateaus are a normal part of losing weight. They're not a sign that the diet isn't working or that something is wrong with your body.
 
Weight loss is not a linear process. Your body is a complex machine that adapts to any change, including change in body mass and energy intake. It's not as simple as calories in, calories out. If it were that simple, there wouldn't be an obesity epidemic and a growing need for weight loss strategies.

What It Is Not

A keto plateau is not when you don't lose weight every single week of your keto journey. It's also not when you've notice a bit of stalling going on for less than a month. For your lack of progress to be considered a plateau, your weight should remain at the same point for more than a month to several months.
 
Other things a weight loss plateau is not includes:
  • Muscle gain
Your weight seems to be the same, but your clothes seems looser than before. If you've been doing some heavy duty exercising along your keto diet, you probably gained muscle. That muscle gained is replacing passive fat stores and explaining the seeming plateau.
  • Water Retention
This one is especially noticeable for women. Water retention and loss can create the illusion of fluctuations in your weight. Keep that in mind if you've always been prone to monthly fluctuations in your body's water levels.
  • Weight Fluctuations
And when speaking of fluctuations, changes in body weight in the course of a single month are not a plateau. It's normal and to be expected that one week you lose some and the other you gain some.

Why a Keto Plateau Happens

Why do stalls on weight-loss diets such a keto happen? To answer that, here are some science-backed explanations:
 
Metabolic Adaptations
One 2014 review article explains how your body adapts to weight loss in order to preserve and gain weight [2]. The review states that your body perceives weight loss as a sign that you're not getting enough energy from food. In response, it makes a range of metabolic adaptations to stop you from losing weight.
 
When your body fat percentage drops, so do your thyroid hormone, testosterone, and insulin levels. Conversely, hunger hormones and cortisol levels rise. These hormonal changes significantly affect how much energy your body is spending.
 
This then cascades into your cell's mitochondria working less efficiently and your energy expenditure (the energy your body spends) dropping very low. So, in short, after a period of steady weight loss, your body starts to slow down in order to preserve energy.
 

Losing Muscle

You've likely heard from dieting experts that preserving muscle is essential for successful weight loss. That's not just because having more muscle makes you look fit, but because muscle plays a huge role in fat burning.
 
Having a higher muscle mass increases your resting metabolic rate (RMR). That's the rate at which your body burns calories while resting. A high RMR is essential for weight loss and maintenance. Studies show that changes in muscle efficiency and weight loss account for 35% of changes in energy spent during physical activity [3].
 
So, if you happen to have lost a bit of lean mass on your weight loss journey, chances are you'll see some stalling.
 

Eating Too Much

When you first calculated your keto macros, you had a different RMR, body mass, and activity levels than you do now. If you haven't adjusted your calorie intake to match changes brought on by weight loss, you will stop losing weight.
 
Revisit your keto calculator and see how many calories you need to take in order to lose more weight. Make sure you are not eating below 800 calories a day, though. These can further slow down your metabolism and make you feel horrible.

Am I Doing Something Wrong?

You've likely asked yourself this the last time you looked at the scale. It truly could be that you're unknowingly sabotaging your own weight loss plan. Or it could be that your diet needs just a bit of tweaking to continue being effective. With that in mind, here's what you could be doing wrong:
  • Sneaky Carbs
Carbs are everywhere. That's why you need to be vigilant about carbs in your food. For example, one cup of full-fat yogurt contains over 11 grams of net carbs [4]. Protein bars, garlic powder, and paprika also contain small amounts of carbs.
Any extreme when it comes to your calorie intake will lead to a keto plateau. Have too many calories, and your body will store any extra as fat. Have too few and your resting metabolic rate will take a hit. Use our Keto Calculator to see how many calories you really need to keep losing weight.
  • Eating Too Much Fat
Many keto proponents claim that calorie counting isn't necessary on a keto diet. This is true when ketosis is your only goal. But when you need to lose a significant amount of weight, calorie counting is essential. Since most of your calories on a keto diet come from fat, having too much of the good stuff will stop you from losing weight.
 
Remember, the goal is to burn your own fat stores, not the fat you take in. The latter only serves to enhance ketone production and keep you healthy. A calorie deficit of 15-30% is enough to force your body to turn on its own fat stores, which is what you want.
  • Going Overboard with MCT Oil
MCT oil is a fantastic keto diet supplement that research shows boosts ketone production [5]. But MCT oil also contains calories. One tablespoon provides a whopping 100 calories and 14 grams of fat. Not including these calories into you daily limit could be your problem. Also, when you take MCT oil, your body will prefer burning it for fuel over everything else, including your own fat stores.
  • Not Exercising
You don't really need to exercise in order to lose weight on keto. But you will experience longer keto plateaus if you don't. Exercising helps you burn extra calories and it also increases your RMR [6]. Exercising is also essential for muscle building, and we already explained that more muscle means more fat burning.

5 Tips to Get You Through a Keto Plateau

Now that you've learned why your weight loss is stalling, it's time to turn to problem solving. Weight loss plateaus are easy to beat, believe it or not. And we're here to help you get through your dreaded keto plateau in no time. We've already gave you a sneak peak in how to beat keto plateaus earlier. Here's what else you
want to do to keep losing weight:

1. Try Intermittent Fasting

Ketoers who struggle to keep their calorie intake low will benefit greatly from an occasional fast. Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern where you fast for a limited time and eat within a "feeding window." It does not make you overeat and is effective when you're trying to cut down on calories.
 
Studies show that intermittent fasting is more effective for weight loss than low-calorie diets [7]. What's even better about intermittent fasting is that it spares the muscles while helping burn fat. There's also ample evidence that intermittent fasting boosts longevity and overall health [8]. To learn more about intermittent fasting, click here.

2. Boost Your Protein Intake

On keto, your protein intake should be moderate. A moderate amount is around 0.7 – 1 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass or 25-30% of your daily calorie intake. Going above that can kick you out of ketosis. But eating too little can also cause keto plateaus.
 
There are three main reasons why protein helps you lose weight:
 
1. Protein is highly satiating
2. Your body spends lots of energy when metabolizing protein
3. Protein increases energy-spending muscle mass
 
 

A growing number of studies also show that protein is essential for successful weight loss for the above-stated reasons [9]. Great keto-friendly sources of protein include meat, fish, eggs, cheese, nuts, and seeds.

3. Give High-Intensity Workouts a Try

Any exercise is better than no exercise when trying to lose weight. But let's be real here, light aerobic activity can't compare to intensive training when it comes to burning fat. If you're brave enough, we suggest trying high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
 
Studies show that regular HIIE increases both aerobic and anaerobic fitness [10]. This type of intensive workout also boosts fat burning and increases insulin sensitivity. Compared to moderate-intensity training, HIIT helps people lose weight quicker [11]. But what about its effect on keto plateau?
 
Well, HIIT boosts your metabolic rate and burns a significant number of calories. If that doesn't get you out of a plateau, nothing will. Be warned that it is difficult, especially if you're otherwise not very active.

4. Get More Sleep

Not getting enough sleep will wreak havoc on your metabolism. Sleep helps normalize glucose metabolism and the levels of hunger hormones. It also restores your energy levels for an active day. Sleep deprivation also increases cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone strongly linked to weight gain and insulin resistance.
Current guidelines recommend adults get at least 7 hours of sleep every day [12]. If you're having trouble sleeping, you may try doing the following:
  • Exercise in the afternoon
Physical activity like light aerobic workouts reduce stress and boost well-being. Exercising in the afternoon will help you relax for a good night's sleep. It will also make you exhaust you a bit which also helps with sleep.
  • Avoid Late-Night Screen Time
Keep away from your TV, PC, or smartphone before bedtime. These devices emit blue light that studies show suppresses melatonin production [13]. Melatonin is a hormone your pineal gland secretes to make you sleepy. If you like to read before bedtime, go for paperback instead. Also dim the lights to boost melatonin production.
 
  • Cool Your Bedroom
Our circadian rhythm (biological clock) causes our body temperature to naturally drop at night. This drop in body temperature is essential for melatonin production. Noticed how it's more difficult to fall asleep during hot, summer nights? That's because a hot environment keeps your core body temperature high and your melatonin low.

5. Boost Your Carb Intake

Now, we know this may seem counterintuitive, but there are instances where more carbs can help your keto diet. A lot of ketoers go for as few as 20 grams of net carbs per day. That's fine if you're not very active. But if you're exercising daily, a slightly higher intake can break a keto plateau.
 
You may already know that your muscles prefer burning glycogen. The keto diet does not provide enough carbs to make all the glycogen your muscles need for intense workouts. That's why many athletic ketoers go for carb cycling – eating up to 150 grams of carbs around workouts and limiting your intake when you're not exercising.

Conclusion

Going through a keto plateau is completely normal and to be expected even on keto. Everyone goes though it within the first few months of starting a keto diet. It's your body's natural attempt at preserving what's left of its precious fat stores.
 
Luckily, there are simple ways to hack your body and get through that dreaded keto plateau. From adjusting your macros and doing high-intensity workouts to fasting and occasional carb cycling, breaking the plateau is doable.
Make sure to be patient and try our tips to get closer to your goal weight.
 
The keto diet is designed for maximum weight loss, but it isn't perfect and no chance in your body is predictable. With a bit of tweaking, you'll see the numbers on the scale start to drop again.

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