Ketosis, a metabolic process by which your body uses predominantly ketones for energy (instead of glucose), has taken the nation by storm. This high-fat, moderate protein, low-carb diet profoundly impacts many disease models and is an incredible tool for weight loss and improved body composition. Unfortunately, although the method is fairly simple, it is quite common that people will find their weight loss stalling… Welcome to a keto plateau. Today we will explore the key reasons your progress might stall while on a keto diet and simple ways to break through them.
Why Keto Stalling Happens and How to Stop It
The benefits of a ketogenic diet generally kick in very quickly; most people notice their body composition transforming dramatically within weeks. It can be frustrating, however, when suddenly, your progress stalls, and you find yourself in a keto plateau. So let’s explore how too much or too little of something can be the culprit and how to continue striving toward your goals.
Why Does a Weight Loss Plateau Happen on Keto?
A weight-loss plateau on keto can occur for multiple different reasons, including:
- Too much or insufficient amounts of fat in the diet;
- Too much or too little exercise;
On top of addressing these issues, there are many tricks to break through a plateau, like using digestive enzymes and intermittent fasting.
Eating Too Much Protein, Or Not Enough Fat Can Cause a Keto Plateau
Keto stalling can occur if you’re on either end of the fat-consumption spectrum: you may be eating too much or too little. A ketogenic diet is a high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet, and many people underestimate how much fat they need. A common ratio is 75-80% fat, 15-20% protein, and about 5% carbohydrates. Only you can figure out how much fat your body needs through trial and error. A good place to start when you’re trying to incorporate more healthy fats into your diet is my 2-2-2 rule, which consists of adding the following to your daily diet:
- 2 tbsp of coconut or medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil
- 2 tbsp of grass-fed butter or ghee
- 2 tbsp of olive oil (or avocado oil)
Your daily fat intake should not be limited to these fats; simply adding them will ensure you take in enough. For some people, the problem is eating too much protein (often, this also means low fat). Protein is a great nutritionally dense macronutrient, but when you consume too much of it, the body converts protein into glucose through gluconeogenesis. Everyone’s protein tolerance on a keto diet is slightly different, and those exercising hard can generally tolerate a bit more. Remember, the keto diet is a high-fat, moderate protein, low-carbohydrate diet!
Exercising Too Much (or not enough) Can Cause a Keto Plateau
Exercise is vital in a healthy-keto approach by burning fat and regulating hormones. Exercising too much can cause an excess of oxidative stress on the body, especially when it is adapting to this new method of fuel (ketones instead of glucose). Other harmful effects of too much exercise include:
- Hormone imbalances (especially depletion of testosterone)
- Poor sleep
- Brain Fog
- High blood sugar
- Weakened immune system
- Chronic stress-related symptoms
Exercising too fails to harness all the benefits that exercise has on your physiology, including:
- Increasing hormone sensitivity (especially insulin sensitivity)
- Increasing your resting metabolic rate
- Boosting Human Growth Hormone and IGF-1
- Boost brain health and memory
- Improved sleep quality
- Improved mood
- Stronger muscles and bones
- Better energy levels
Finding the right balance with exercise is much like finding the right balance for fat consumption: you need to explore your bio-individual needs. If you exercise hard every day of the week, you are likely setting yourself up for a hormone imbalance like adrenal fatigue, especially if your sleep is suffering. My preferred method of exercise to pair with keto is burst training. Burst training (or high-intensity interval training) involves high-intensity bursts of activity, followed by rest periods, repeated a handful of times. Sprints are a great example of burst training; an entire session lasts about 20 minutes. Burst training increases aerobic and anaerobic fitness and is a great way to break through a keto-plateau.
Not Drinking Enough Water Can Cause a Keto Plateau
Staying hydrated is an important part of any healthy-eating plan or lifestyle. Upping your water intake is especially important as you start on the keto diet to help your body transition into using a new energy source. You should opt for spring or properly filtered water and ensure you consume enough electrolytes. Adding a pinch of high-quality salt (sea or pink Himalayan) will help you stay hydrated and replenish mineral stores.
Other Causes of a Keto Plateau
Other possible factors contributing to keto stalling include:
- Food Allergies
- Parasites or SIBO
- Severe hormone imbalances
- Staying keto (restricted carbohydrates) for too long (diet variation = hormone optimization)
How to Stop Keto Stalling
Preventing or stopping keto stalling requires a multi-therapeutic approach and knowing what works for your body. The foundation relies on diet and exercise, and by quantifying your habits, you’ll better understand where you need to make changes.
Measure Your Diet & Exercise
Measuring your diet will require keeping track of your eating and breaking down the caloric intake into a macronutrient ratio. There are many apps out there that can help you better understand the breakdown of your foods, and with time, you will innately know without having to track everything. A standard keto macronutrient breakdown is 75-80% fat, 15-20% protein, and about 5% carbohydrates. By calculating your resting metabolic rate (there are websites online that can help you do this using your weight and height), you can create a 15-30% caloric deficit per day and then calculate an approximate ratio of fat-protein-carb intake. You will also have to factor in your daily exercise and movement. Exercise increases your resting metabolic rate, and different training styles will create a variety of short and long-term impacts on the calories your body burns. By incorporating burst training (HIIT) into your routine (3-4x per week), you will maximize the metabolism-boosting benefits and create hormone adaptation and optimization.
Use Digestive Enzymes
If you have trouble digesting your high-fat meals, your body may have difficulty breaking down the fats. The solution to this (while your body adapts to its new fuel source) is to take a digestive enzyme that contains bile salts (ox bile) and lipase. Take digestive enzymes with each high-fat meal.
Those having difficulty keeping their food-intake low enough to lose weight on keto can benefit greatly from intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting (or IF) is the extended period between your last meal (before bed) and your first meal (after waking up). The benefits of intermittent fasting go far beyond natural caloric restriction and include:
- Improved body composition
- Increased hormone sensitivity (especially insulin sensitivity)
- Autophagy (cellular cleanup)
- Boosts longevity
- Supports a healthy microbiome
The minimum effective fasting window to see the benefits of IF is 12 hours, but a 16-18 hour fasting window is suggested for optimal results. If you are new to IF, have breakfast at the same hour in the morning that you had dinner the previous night (i.e., 8 am breakfast if you had dinner at 8 pm). Then, slowly increase your fasting window (to an ideal 7 pm dinner and 11 am breakfast, for example). You don’t need to use IF daily to reap the benefits. Studies show that even five days per week generate the results above. A great tool is my 5-1-1 rule which uses diet variation to boost hormone optimization.
- 5 days intermittent fasting + keto diet
- 1-day feasting (carb reload)
- total fasting (water only)
By keeping the body guessing, it is always adapting. By adapting, you’re preventing (or getting out of) that dreaded keto-plateau.
Dextrose & Keto Diets
Many people can have difficulty transitioning from a conventional high-sugar diet into a low-sugar keto lifestyle. Dextrose (sugar) raises blood sugar levels, quickly knocking you out of ketosis. While you transition out of a high-sweet palate, better alternatives to conventional sugar include:
- Monk Fruit Sweetener (Lo Han/ Luo Han)
- Yacon Syrup
- Inulin-Based Sweeteners
- Freeze-Dried Berry Powders
- Lucuma Powder
Sweeteners you will want to avoid on a keto diet include:
- Fruit juice
- Dried Dates and Figs
- Rice Malt Syrup
- Raw Honey
- Coconut Palm Sugar
- Maple Syrup
- Date Syrup
- Blackstrap Molasses
- High-Fructose Corn Syrup
- Conventional Sugar (White or Brown)
- Agave Syrup
- Artificial Sweeteners (like Aspartame)
Loose Stool & Diarrhea on Keto
If you’ve been eating a low-fat and high-carb diet for a long time and now are eating low-carb and high-fat, loose stools may occur temporarily. This is because up your healthy fat intake, and open bowels should dissipate as your body adjusts to the new way of eating.
Rashes on Keto
Some people suffer from rashes or itchy skin when they switch to a keto diet, which often develops on the chest, back, armpits, and sometimes the neck- generally in a symmetrical pattern. There is no hard science on the keto rash, but speculations suggest that it is caused by ketones in the sweat, perhaps as they dry on the body. Ways to cure keto inflammation include:
- Dress appropriately: sweat-wicking fabrics, comfortable clothing, and avoid over-dressing (sweating).
- Shower: straight after exercise.
- Up your carbs: people with severe keto rashes have found salvation by increasing their carbs by 50-100 grams and opting for a low-carb diet instead of a strict keto diet.
Feeling Bloated on Keto
Bloating can occur on any diet, especially as your body transitions into a new way of eating. Ways to minimize bloating include:
- Drink more water
- Up your electrolytes
- Consume probiotic-rich foods (fermented foods like sauerkraut)
- Take a digestive enzyme
- Eat smaller meals
- Up your fiber intake (especially low-carb vegetables like leafy greens)
A keto plateau is when your ketogenic diet results begin to stall, and there are multiple ways to a breakthrough, including finding your balance for fat consumption and exercise and staying hydrated. Other factors contributing to keto delaying include neurotoxins, parasites, infections, food allergies, and hormonal imbalances. Preventing keto stalling includes measuring your diet and exercise regime, incorporating intermittent fasting, and using digestive enzymes with high-fat meals. You should also consider replacing dextrose-based sugars and artificial sweeteners with lower GI alternatives like Stevia and Erythritol. Keto rashes are likely caused by ketones in the sweat, which can be prevented with proper clothing and post-exercise showers or by increasing carb intake. In addition, you can reduce bloating by staying hydrated, upping your electrolytes, consuming probiotic-rich foods, eating smaller meals, and increasing fiber intake.