The ketogenic diet is quickly becoming the most popular approach to weight loss. I discovered it, or a variant of it, back in 2012, and in the year that followed, I lost 40 kilograms(mostly fat), a third of my body weight, to go from weighing 120 kilograms to a little over 80 kilograms.
What I discovered was losing weight isn’t simple, it isn’t quick, but the ketogenic diet, or “keto” as it’s becoming known in the mainstream, is certainly an effective way to shred fat.
If you’ve started on the ketogenic diet, and you’re still not losing weight, there could be a few reasons for this. These are the most common pitfalls to avoid if you’re not losing weight on the keto diet. I’ve fallen for these so my wisdom comes with experience.
1. You’re Not Eating Enough
A ketogenic diet is a high-fat, moderate protein diet, with sparse or no carbohydrates. Protein, carbohydrates, and fat are the three macronutrients which form your diet.
Understanding each nutrient’s role is important. Fat and carbohydrates provide energy. Protein maintains structural integrity and provides essential amino acids, many which your body can’t make.
Protein is the building block, and you need to eat at least 1 gram per pound of lean body mass.
Or a minimum of 1 gram per kilogram of body weight daily (higher if you train heavy), when you’re on any kind of low-carb diet. Without protein, you won’t feel full. And if you don’t feel full, you crave sugar.
If you feel sugar cravings or cravings for other junk food, it’s usually an indicator of being low on protein. So ensure you eat enough, and keep this in mind: Sugar satisfies cravings, protein satisfies hunger.
2. You’re Eating Too Much Sugar
Ketosis lets your body tap into stored fat reserves for energy. Here it’s important to understand the role of fat and carbohydrates in our diets. While protein is the building block, fat and carbohydrates provide energy. They fuel your body. Look at protein as the parts of a machine, and fat and carbohydrates as the fuel.
You need to limit your intake of sugar if you don’t want to trigger fat storage. It’s easy to be misled about how much sugar you’re getting in your diet, whether it’s a keto, paleo, low-carb, or even a diabetic diet. A bite of fruit here, or a nibble of a dessert there. It all adds up. Aim for under 15 grams of sugar per day.
Your body is naturally adapted to burn fat, but if you give it sugar, it WILL select sugar as its first energy source, preferring instead to store fat, and use sugar.
This is because sugar provides an instantaneous burst of glucose (AKA fuel), while fat takes more time to convert into energy, through a process called gluconeogenesis. This is also why you have sugar cravings when you haven’t eaten in a long time.
A healthy human body doesn’t have more than 4-5 grams of free-flowing glucose in its bloodstream at any time. Give your body more sugar than it needs, and it goes into damage control mode, releasing insulin to soak up that excess sugar, and triggering fat storage, instead of fat burning.
3. You’re Eating Too Much Fat
Simply eating a lot of fat will not make you ketogenic. No. Limiting extraneous sugar, is the key to triggering ketosis.
Keep your sugar intake below 15 grams a day, and your OVERALL carbohydrate intake(from non-starchy vegetable sources) in the 30-50 gram range. You limit sugar, which is a fuel source, and this in turn TRIGGERS ketosis.
You can eat a higher amount of fat once you start on a ketogenic diet, because in the initial stages of your diet, you need to give your body easier access to fuel AKA fat in this instance, to burn.
Over time, as your body becomes adapted to burning your own fat for energy, you’ll be able to go long hours without food, and you won’t even feel ‘hangry’ because you’ll have your own fat stores for energy.
So, eat a high-fat diet, but don’t use, “I’m on a ketogenic diet,” as an excuse to put away pounds of bacon daily. Overeating healthy food can make you gain weight as well.
4. You’re Giving Up Too Fast
When you switch to a ketogenic diet, your body will experience some fatigue or exhaustion in the initial stages, because it’s switching from burning sugar for energy, to burning fat for energy. Headaches and exhaustion are common at this stage, but usually only if you don’t eat enough fat or eat too little protein. This is where the right mindset becomes important.
Don’t look at this as a “diet”. It’s a lifestyle change, for the better. You can’t fix an unhealthy lifestyle with a quick fix. Approach it right, stick with it, and make sure you eat enough of the right nutrients.
As the weeks pass, you’ll notice you feel better, you have more energy, you experience fewer mood and energy swings, and your clothes start getting looser.
Additionally, weight isn’t the only indicator of health, because two people at the same weight could have WIDELY different body compositions. You could weigh 80 kilograms and carry 40% body fat, or you could weight 80 kilograms and carry 5% body fat. The two are VERY different.
So, stick with your plan, and don’t lose hope. Keep an eye out, and avoid these common pitfalls to weight loss when you’re on a ketogenic diet.
(Vishnu Gopinath is a journalist with The Quint. This blog is based on his personal experiences with weight loss and diet. FIT recommends you to consult your doctor/nutritionist before embarking on any diet)
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