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It happens to most of us on the ketogenic diet, at one time or another. It’s called the “keto plateau” and we know how frustrating it can be! We also know that for most individuals, all it takes are small adjustments to get over the hump. Read on to learn more about the “keto plateau”, and some tips to help you get back on track.
Why a Keto Plateau? Your Body’s Need for Homeostasis
Does this scenario sound familiar?… You have just started on the ketogenic diet, and things are going great! During those first weeks, your energy goes through the roof, and you have begun to shed the pounds you have held onto for years.
Then, after about a month or so, your energy lags and, worst of all, you are not losing weight anymore. You may have even gained a pound or two.
No matter how discouraging all of this may be, hitting the “keto plateau” doesn’t mean that your body is defective. For most individuals, it is perfectly normal. But why does it happen? Turns out that it can be explained with simple biology.
When we maintain a lower caloric load than the body is accustomed to, such is usually the case with the ketogenic diet, the result at first is often rapid weight loss. The body is scrambling to adjust to its “new normal” and is also losing a lot of water from lack of carbohydrates.
But your body is designed to adapt. Its main goal is to find balance no matter what the circumstance. Depending on the environment, it will adjust its internal mechanisms in order to find this balance. This process is sometimes called adaptive thermogenesis, and research has shown that it can be a primary reason for weight loss stall in most individuals.
In practical terms, when we take in a lot of energy (or calories), our body’s metabolism will typically speed up to try to burn them. On the other hand, when we eat less, the metabolism slows down in an effort to conserve energy. This is precisely when a weight loss plateau can occur.
For most people, there are generally four conditions in which a keto plateau can occur:
- Your body’s “daily energy expenditure” has decreased (usually because of a sedentary lifestyle).
- Your unique “calorie deficit” number has decreased, mainly because you have lost weight and now require fewer calories to maintain energy.
- Your body is adjusting certain hormones, such as thyroid hormones or leptin/ghrelin ratios, in response to rapid weight loss.
- A combination of two or more of these conditions is going on.
10 Reasons Why You May Have Hit The “Plateau”
As you can see, a lot is happening in your body when you switch up your eating patterns!
The good news is that you really don’t have to keep track of all the biology in order to get past the weight stalling that may come as a result. The following are ten very common reasons why most individuals hit a “keto plateau” and, most importantly, what you can do about it.
1 | Hidden Carbs
Reducing carbohydrates in your overall eating plan is absolutely essential for getting into ketosis. Staying away from obvious sources like bread, baked goods, and sugary drinks is a no brainer. But today it seems like there are “hidden carbs” in just about everything.
Of course, hidden carbs are still carbs, and too many can throw you out of ketosis. If you think you may be the “victim” of hidden carbs, take a few days to write down what you eat in a food journal. Then do a little digging into the carb counts for all of the items you consume, even the ones you assume are low-carb. In addition, be aware of whole foods like fruits and some vegetables which may carry a heavy carb load.
2 | Too Many Calories
Calorie counting is not usually a focus on the ketogenic diet, but it can be temporarily in this case. As we explained in the first section, weight gain or loss is fundamentally a matter of energy input and loss. Even if those calories come as a healthy keto source, they will still add to your total calorie count. This may not be an issue if you are utilizing a keto diet to heal from disease. If weight loss is also your goal, however, then it is a factor that needs to be considered.
Sources of excess calories can come in the form of keto-friendly foods such as fat bombs, nuts, or too much protein. Besides keto-friendly foods that are calorie-heavy, you may also be simply eating too much in general. Getting clear about what your current “calorie deficit” should be and then taking the time to count calories (just for a little while so that you keep within that range) may be a good strategy. Most experts recommend a deficit of about 500 to 1000 calories per day to lose 1-2 pounds per week.
3 | Imbalanced Protein Ratio
Did you know that too much protein is just as bad as not enough protein? How can both eating too much or too little protein lead to a keto plateau?
The key, regarding eating protein on the keto diet, is to eat just the right amount. Eating too much protein may add too many calories to your total. Too much can also convert into glucose, which can throw you out of ketosis.
On the other hand, not enough can add to the keto plateau as well. Getting a solid amount of protein in the form of organic animal protein leaves you feeling satisfied for longer and less likely to succumb to hunger or cravings.
In general, experts recommend that about 20% of the calories you consume should come from whole and healthy sources of protein if your goal is to stay in ketosis.
4 | Exercise Deficiency
We can’t just look at the “calories in” part of the equation, however. Have you been lagging lately in your exercise routine? Have you had a big project that required you to do a lot of sitting? If so, this may also be a reason for your plateau.
Energy is expelled primarily through movement. Movement is also important for the building up of muscle mass and is one of the primary ways we get rid of toxins. Take a few minutes to reflect on how much you are moving your body every day. Remember that movement doesn’t have to mean hours of weight training or jogging several miles. A brisk walk, a little bit of dancing, or some outdoor gardening may be all your body needs to stay active and in the weight loss flow.
5 | STRESS
Stress can be a huge factor for holding on to weight. This is because stress can show up in your body through raised cortisol levels, which can then throw insulin and other metabolic factors off as well.
Insulin imbalance caused by too much cortisol can be particularly problematic. It can lead to higher blood sugar levels that may throw you out of ketosis. In addition, many studies, including one conducted at Yale University, suggest a correlation between higher cortisol levels and excess fat storage, especially in the abdominal area.
In this day and age, we all have to face potentially stressful situations every day. Being proactive by setting aside time for daily meditation and prayer, reflection, a calming walk, a little bit of stretching, or enjoying a good book or artistic hobby are great ways to strengthen resilience in our busy, stressful lives.
6 | Lack of Sleep
Not getting enough quality sleep can interrupt the body’s circadian rhythm. This imbalance, in turn, can throw off the hunger and satiety hormones leptin and ghrelin, along with other key hormones.
A 2013 study at the University of California, Berkeley found that sleep-deprived participants were more likely to eat junk food than those who had had a good night’s sleep. In addition, a 2014 French study showed the correlation between excessive sleep deprivation and obesity, especially when excessive nighttime media use is also involved. One of the best things you can do to get a good night’s sleep is to turn off all electronic media at least an hour before bedtime.
7 | Intermittent Fasting
Being on a ketogenic diet is a lot like getting a tune-up for your car. It’s a great way to kickstart health, clean out toxins, and reset your metabolism.
But especially if your eating and lifestyle habits haven’t been the greatest in the past or you are healing from a major disease, your body may require a little help to get things going. This is when intermittent fasting can be a great adjunct to the ketogenic diet.
I know what you may be thinking: Good grief! Not another regime on top of keto!
Before you dismiss intermittent fasting completely, however, you may be pleasantly surprised at how easy it can be, especially if you are eating enough protein.
Intermittent fasting consists of going without eating for anywhere from 14 to 20 hours per day. The good news is that this time includes when you are sleeping.
The benefits of intermittent fasting are numerous. It has been shown to help balance insulin levels, aid in cellular repair, lower oxidation and inflammation in the body, and lower your risk of Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
Best of all, for your plateau woes, it may also help with the keto plateau since it has been shown to also help with weight loss, especially around the abdominal area.
8 | Macro Tracking
A “macro” is a unit of measurement. In the case of the ketogenic diet, we are talking about amounts of protein, carbs, and fats. If you have been doing keto for a few months or less, keeping track of your “macros” is essential. Not doing so may be contributing to a keto plateau.
It really doesn’t matter what unit of measurement you use to keep track of everything, as long as it is consistent. Most people use either percentages or grams.
9 | False Ketosis
You may be doing everything right but still have stalled weight loss. It may be time to start keeping track of your ketone levels if you aren’t already doing this. If you are doing it, you may need to do it a little more for a while.
There are three different types of ketone testing: through breath, urine, or blood. You can buy a ketone testing device at your local pharmacy or online, just make sure that it is able to test the three different kinds of ketones: acetone, acetoacetate, and beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB).
Tracking your ketones regularly just makes logical sense. It helps you not be in the dark and also helps you to gauge which activities and foods may be throwing you out of ketosis.
10 | Putting Pounds Over Progress
If you are used to being on other diets where “weighing in” is the norm, it may be difficult at first to make the switch to keto. Most ketogenic experts suggest not relying on weight to measure success. Instead, they recommend looking at waist circumference in relation to height.
According to an article by Raphael Sirtoli, MSc and Dr. Sarah Neidler, “(t)he whole principle behind the ketogenic diet is tapping into fat stores as the body’s main source of energy. In doing so, your body learns to burn stored fat to provide you with energy, and we therefore experience fat loss and altered body composition.”
If you think you have reached a keto plateau, take a good look at your body composition now in comparison to when you first started. I bet you will notice the difference.
Don’t Give Up! The Keto Plateau Means Progress (Really!)
Remember that healthy weight loss happens gradually and in coordination with your body’s natural rhythms. The weight you lost and the energy you gained during the first few weeks of your diet felt great. But just because you may be going through some “bumps in the road” right now doesn’t mean that all that progress was for naught.
A keto plateau usually occurs as your body transitions in response to a healthier way of eating. In fact, many people stall out just before they get to their ideal weight. If you know you are in ketosis, and follow the basic guidelines, it is okay to wait a little while – two weeks to a month – to see if the plateau can work itself out on its own before making any drastic changes.
In a nutshell, don’t worry! With just a few slight adjustments, you will more than likely be able to get over the keto plateau. In no time, you will be on your way to losing weight and feeling great again, and in a way that is just right for you!
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