Updated: Mar 5, 2019
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that the ketogenic diet is all the rage these days. In a nutshell, it consists of getting 70% of your calories from fat, 25% from protein, and 5% from carbohydrates, which equates to eating about 20g of carbs per day or less. (For your reference, a banana has about 20 - 25g of carbs, so just eating one of those would put you over your daily limit.)
Countless people have reported losing copious of weights on the ketogenic diet in a short timeframe. But what if you’re doing the diet and find that the scale isn’t budging at all?
Full disclosure: this was my experience on the ketogenic diet. I’ve tried it twice in my life and while I experienced some positive side effects, weight loss wasn’t one of them (and I have some other qualms with the diet). In today’s post, I’m here to explain the three main reasons that are causing this to happen.
1. Carb creep.
Okay, this is the most obvious answer you’ll find on countless other blogs. As mentioned previously, most people experience the most success eating 20g or less of carbohydrates per day on this diet. However, it’s very, very easy to consume more than this if you’re not careful, especially if you eat out often. Oddly, different brands of the same foods have varying amount of carbohydrates, so while some brands of whipping cream, cheese, and meats have 0g of carbohydrates, others might have 1 or 2g. You have no idea which brands restaurants are using if you’re eating out. So, you might see bacon-fried Brussel’s sprouts on the menu, but they might be using maple-cured bacon without your knowledge. The barbecue marinade on that steak might include some sugar-filled ketchup.
In my experience, I also noticed that after a few weeks of doing the ketogenic diet, it became really easy to start slacking in this department. “One bite of this won’t kill me,” I’d say before having a bit of honey with the cheese that came on a restaurant’s charcuterie board. This is the very definition of carb creep, ladies n’ gents.
2. Too little protein.
Yes, you read that correctly. Here's the thing: with any new popular diet comes a plethora of “nutrition gurus” who offer really bad advice. If you’re doing the ketogenic diet, there’s no question that you’ve heard the term gluconeogenesis thrown around. It sounds fancy, doesn’t it? Well, that’s exactly why so many “gurus” use it—because it makes them sound like they know what they’re talking about.
Simply put, gluconeogenesis occurs when your body gets glucose from sources other than carbohydrates. This definition throws ketovangelists into a tizzy because they’ve been told that if you eat too much protein on the diet, it’ll be converted into glucose due to gluconeogenesis and therefore stall your weight loss efforts.
Firstly, gluconeogenesis is a necessary process because not all tissues in your body can use ketones, such as red blood cells. Secondly, even on a ketogenic diet, your body always requires at least a little glucose, so gluconeogenesis is a process we need in order to survive. Thirdly, gluconeogenesis is always occurring during ketosis, it’s just that the glucose it supplies isn’t being used since ketones are instead. Next, gluconeogenesis is a demand-oriented process, not a supply-oriented one. Your body is actually very good at keeping itself balanced out internally. This means gluconeogenesis only happens when glucose is needed; it’s not like you eat protein and *BAM* gluconeogenesis is happening. Wrong, wrong, wrong. In fact, fat catalyzes gluconeogenesis more than protein does. (For more detailed information about gluconeogenesis and the ketogenic diet, check out this awesome blog post.)
Additionally, there are a few important things to keep in mind when it comes to protein:
It takes a lot of energy to break protein down, meaning you will never absorb 100% of the calories from a high-protein food since you’re actually using calories just by eating it. This refers to the thermic effect of food—the amount of energy you use just to process food.
Protein causes you to release leptin, the hormone that tells you you’re full, so you feel more satisfied after eating it.
Protein helps you gain muscle and the more muscle you have, the higher your basal metabolic rate, a.k.a the more calories you’ll burn even when you’re just watching Netflix.
Protein has 4 calories per gram in comparison to the 9 calories per gram that fat has so you’d have to eat more than double the amount of protein to get the same amount of calories you’d get from fat.
3. Too many calories.
The most common piece of advice people will get on the ketogenic diet is that they need to eat more fat. Hungry? Eat more fat. Not losing weight? Eat more fat. Tired all the time? Eat more fat.
Here’s the thing: fat has 9 calories per gram—more than double the amount found in protein and carbohydrates. While it’s far too simplistic to say that weight loss is all about calories-in-calories-out, it plays a big part of the picture. If you have been religiously eating 20g or less of carbohydrates per day, exercising, and eating healthy foods yet are still not losing weight on the ketogenic diet, it’s because you are eating too many calories, period. Even if they are coming from amazingly healthy foods like avocados, olive oil, and organic butter, excess calories are stored as fat regardless of where they’re coming from. If this is you, your options are to:
Engage in intermittent fasting to ensure that you’re decreasing your overall calorie intake throughout the day.
Exercise more to burn more calories.
Use less fat and add more protein so that you’re simultaneously eating less calories but maintaining a comfortable level of fullness and satiety.
Cut it with the fat bombs. If you’re eating too much fat, your body is going to focus on burning the fat you’re eating rather than the fat you’re storing, which is what you want to be targeting if weight loss is your goal.
4. Bad calories.
“Dirty keto” involves staying under your daily allotment of carbs but getting the vast majority of your calories from nasty sources like hot dogs, pepperettes, and other refined crap. I swear some people do the ketogenic diet without ever consuming a single vegetable, which is only going to cause inflammation to occur in your body and make you feel like garbage. If this is you, your job is to:
Eat more real, whole foods that spoil, not sticks of jerky that can stay on the shelf for two years at a time.
Eat more vegetables.
Cook more at home.
The Bottom Line
I know firsthand how discouraging it can be to try a new diet and find out that it’s just not working for you. If this has been your experience on the ketogenic diet, try lowering your daily caloric intake, upping your protein, and exercising more.