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How to Overcome a Keto Weight Loss Plateau [4 Proven Steps]

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Have your weight loss results on the keto diet stalled? And are you desperate to know how you can get the number on your scale dropping again? If so, then this article will help you out.
You’re about to learn exactly what a weight loss plateau is, and you’re about to discover four scientifically proven steps you can use to climb over it. So keep on reading!

What is a Weight Loss Plateau?

It’s that dreaded phase when the needle of the scale remains stuck at the same number week after week even though you obey all ketogenic diet rules and attack your workouts with the zeal of a religious convert.

There is, however, a lot of confusion about weight loss plateaus. The reason is that many factors can mask weight loss results, such as water retention, increased glycogen storage, build-up of feces in your colon (constipation), and having more food in your stomach compared to the last time you weighed yourself.

For example, if you’ve lost three pounds of fat but your body is now holding onto three extra pounds of water, then the scale keeps pointing at the same number even though your body fat percentage has dropped.

How to Accurately Measure If You Have Plateaued?

To know whether you’ve really hit a wall, stepping on the scale once a week doesn’t work. This is because the factors mentioned above can influence the number on the scale to such an extent that the results become inaccurate.

So, here’s what to do instead:

  1. Step on the scale each morning. Do this upon getting up, after going to the toilet (if you have to) but before having breakfast.
  2. Write down your weight each day.
  3. At the end of the week, add up the daily numbers and divide the total by seven. This will give you the average weight for that week. (Alternatively, you can use this application to calculate the weekly average.)
  4. Calculate the weekly percentage body weight change by using this formula: ((old weight – new weight) / old weight) x 100. For example: ((190 – 187) / 190) x 100= 1.58%. (Alternatively, you can use this application to calculate the weekly percentage change in body weight.)
  5. If you’re losing at least 0.5% of body weight per week, then keep up with your current routine. (Ideally, you do the measurements over a three-week period.) If you’re not losing at least 0.5% of body weight per week, then you’ve hit a weight loss plateau and should follow the steps outlined below.

Important! The steps that follow are based on the premise that you already follow the ketogenic diet correctly. If you don’t have the fundamentals in check yet, do that first as it will give you the most bang for your buck. This in-depth guide we wrote will help you out. 

Step 1. Adjust Your Calorie Intake

To lose weight, you must be in a calorie deficit. This means you have to consume fewer calories than you burn. If you do it, you will lose weight. Otherwise, the needle on your scale will not be going down [1-3].

Here’s what to do:

If, on average, you don’t lose at least 0.5% of body weight per week, then cut your daily energy intake by 200 calories. While you can trim those calories from any macronutrient, on a ketogenic diet, it’s most efficient to cut back on dietary fat.

The reason is that you can’t reduce your carb intake much further, at least not to the extent that benefits weight loss. And cutting back on protein can cause muscle wasting, which, in turn, impairs your figure and metabolic rate [4-5]. Therefore, cutting back on the intake of dietary fat is the only plausible option.

One easy way to lower fat intake is by substituting high-fat meats with leaner cuts. Scaling back on your consumption of nuts and seeds or replacing high-fat dairy products with lower-fat ones also works.

Step 2: Avoid Emotional Eating

Many dieters follow their nutrition plan diligently for 90% of the time. But in the event of an emotional setback – for example, relationship issues or work overload – they start binging on hundreds, if not thousands, of calories to cope with the situation. These extra calories then undo much of the previous weight loss efforts, or maybe even all of it.

We call such pattern of indulging in (junk) food during a setback “emotional eating.” As the name suggests, it’s consuming food in response to emotions such as stress, anxiety, frustration, sadness, depression, fatigue, and boredom [6].

The main problem with emotional eating is that it tends to pair with consuming lots of calories, usually in the form of junk food [6]. The reason is that emotional cravings can be hard to resist because they strike when you’re most vulnerable [7].

Here’s what to do:

If you tend to cheat on your diet during times of unpleasant emotions or maybe even throw your nutrition plan out of the window altogether, then it’s essential to fix that. But how?

Well, emotional eating is usually linked to a specific pattern. An example is consuming chocolate when you’re swamped with work. This is called “context-associated,” which means your brain links a specific cue (being overloaded with work) to a particular food (chocolate) [8-9].

Is there a pattern to your emotional eating? If so, removing the cue is your best bet. For example, if you tend to indulge in chocolate when you’re buried under work, you may be able to prevent such a situation by improving your planning skills or by outsourcing tedious tasks.

If it’s impossible to eliminate the cue, then do the following: before you give in to the urge, stop for five minutes. During this time, revisit your weight loss goals, reflect on how you feel, and consider whether short-term gratification is worth jeopardizing your long-term vision. Your cravings will most likely dwindle and may even vanish completely.

Step 3. Do a Diet Break (But Only if Necessary)

When you’re dieting, your body will eventually adapt to the decreased calorie intake by down-regulating metabolism. This is called “adaptive thermogenesis.”

For example, a study published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that subjects who’d just lost 10% of their body weight had, on average, an 18% lower metabolic rate compared to those who had the same body weight but hadn’t recently dieted [10].

This dieting-induced drop in metabolism makes it harder to keep on losing weight because you must adapt to it by reducing your calorie intake further.

Fortunately, these metabolic adaptations reverse when you increase your calorie intake again [11]. That’s why a diet break – a one- or two-week timeframe during which you eat at calorie maintenance – can be beneficial.

Consider this recent research published in International Journal of Obesity [12]. In the study, 51 obese men were randomly divided into two groups.

One group followed an ongoing calorie-restricted diet for a total of 16 weeks. The other group alternated between a similar calorie-restricted diet and two-week diet breaks during which they ate at calorie maintenance. They repeated this cycle for 30 weeks (16 weeks of calorie restriction and 14 weeks on the diet break). So, in total, both groups followed the calorie-restricted diet for the same duration.

The result? Those who implemented diet breaks lost, on average, 11 pounds more (31.1±12.4 vs 20±6.3 lbs). In addition, six months after finishing the calorie-restricted diet, this group was found to have maintained a weight loss of roughly eight kilograms more than those who dieted continuously.

Here’s what to do:

If you’ve been dieting strictly for months on end, do a break by eating at calorie maintenance for one or two weeks. (You can calculate this number here.) Once you’ve finished your diet break, adjust your regime in such a way that you’re in a daily deficit of 500 calories.

Step 4. Sleep More

We all know that getting enough sleep is important for health and mental performance. But did you know that getting enough sleep also helps you achieve and maintain your ideal weight? It’s true, as shown by researchers from the University of Warwick Medical School [12].

They did a meta-analysis involving 604,509 adults and found that people who habitually get enough sleep were 55% less likely to be obese compared to those who tend to get too little. But why does sleeping enough benefit your body weight, you ask?

The primary reason is that getting enough sleep helps with controlling your food intake [13-14]. This is so because sleep raises satiating hormones such as leptin while reducing the hunger hormone ghrelin [14]. As a result, you’ll experience fewer cravings, automatically consume less food, and have an easier time overcoming a weight loss plateau.

In addition, getting enough sleep on a diet ensures that most of the weight you lose comes from actual fat mass, not muscle tissue, which benefits your appearance and metabolism [15].

Here’s what to do:

While the ideal amount of sleep varies among individuals, The National Sleep Foundation advises you to get between 7 and 9 hours a night.

That is a guideline, though. If you wake up each morning groggy and lethargic, common sense says you need to stop watching Netflix until dawn and get more sleep instead. Doing so will boost not only your energy but also your success in getting the number on the scale to move again.

References
  1. Leibel, R. L., Hirsch, J., Appel, B. E., & Checani, G. C. (1992). Energy intake required to maintain body weight is not affected by wide variation in diet composition. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 55(2), 350-5.
  2. Strasser, B., Spreitzer, A., & Haber, P. (2007). Fat loss depends on energy deficit only, independently of the method for weight loss. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 51(5), 428-32.

 

  1. Golay, A., Allaz, A. F., Morel, Y., De Tonnac, N., Tankova, S., & Reaven, G. (1996). Similar weight loss with low- or high-carbohydrate diets. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 63(2), 174-8.

 

  1. Mettler, S., Mitchell, N., & Tipton, K. D. (2010). Increased protein intake reduces lean body mass loss during weight loss in athletes. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 42(2), 326-37.

 

  1. Zurlo, F., Larson, K., Bogardus, C., & Ravussin, E. (1990). Skeletal muscle metabolism is a major determinant of resting energy expenditure. The Journal of Clinical Investigation, 86(5), 1423-7.

 

  1. Gardner, M. P., Wansink, B., Kim, J., & Park, S. (2014). Better moods for better eating?: How mood influences food choice. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 24(3), 320-335.

 

  1. Keller, C., & Siegrist, M. (2015). Ambivalence toward palatable food and emotional eating predict weight fluctuations. Results of a longitudinal study with four waves. Appetite, 85, 138-45.

 

  1. Zellner, D. A., Garriga-Trillo, A., Centeno, S., & Wadsworth, E. (n.d.). Chocolate craving and the menstrual cycle. Appetite, 42(1), 119-21.

 

  1. Hollins-Martin, C., Van den Akker, O., Martin, C., & Preedy, V. R. (n.d.). Handbook of diet and nutrition in the menstrual cycle, periconception and fertility (Vol. 7, Human Health Handbooks).

 

  1. Rosenbaum, M., Hirsch, J., Gallagher, D. A., & Leibel, R. L. (2008). Long-term persistence of adaptive thermogenesis in subjects who have maintained a reduced body weight. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 88(4), 906-12.

 

  1. Zinchenko, A., & Henselmans, M. (2016). Metabolic Damage: Do Negative Metabolic Adaptations During Underfeeding Persist After Refeeding in Non-Obese Populations? Medical Research Archives, 4(8).

 

  1. Byrne, N. M., Sainsbury, A., King, N. A., Hills, A. P., & Wood, R. E. (2017). Intermittent energy restriction improves weight loss efficiency in obese men: the MATADOR study. International Journal of Obesity.

 

  1. Markwald, R. R., Melanson, E. L., Smith, M. R., Higgins, J., Perreault, L., Eckel, R. H., & Wright, K. P., Jr. (2013). Impact of insufficient sleep on total daily energy expenditure, food intake, and weight gain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2;110(14), 5695-700.
  2. Taheri, S., Lin, L., Austin, D., Young, T., & Mignot, E. (2004). Short Sleep Duration Is Associated with Reduced Leptin, Elevated Ghrelin, and Increased Body Mass Index. PLoS One, 1(3), 62.

15. Neeltcheva, A. V., Kilkus, J. M., Imperial, J., Scholler, D. A., & Penev, P. D. (2010). Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity. Annals of Internal Medicine, 5(153), 7th ser., 435-41.

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