How to overcome a keto plateau
Here we look at how to overcome a keto plateau – the point in your keto journey where you no longer seem to lose weight. Let’s say you’ve been on the keto diet for a few weeks and have seen some amazing results only to see everything come to a screeching halt. You’re no longer shifting the pounds, you no longer feel the boost in energy you had when you first become fat-adapted and now you’re wondering “Why has the keto diet stopped working for me?”
Weight loss is not a good measure of success
Of course, weight loss is great for those who are overweight or obese but with keto weight-loss is virtually guaranteed. It’s no biggie (pardon the pun). So, there’s no point in obsessing about it – it’s just not necessary to do that. In fact, it can be a mistake to judge your keto success just by how much weight you lose.
Weight-loss – the number on a scale – should not be what motivates you to do keto. Keto is a lifestyle change and for those with health issues such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, keto can be a life-saver. Given that, weight loss while highly-rewarding and euphoric that may be, is really just a by-product of much greater benefits. Don’t let weight-loss (or lack thereof) be the sole measure of your success.
Remember, weight loss fluctuates… There can be all sorts of reasons for this: you may be having your period, recovering from a bout of illness, you could be overtraining – all these can affect how much water your body retains, for example.
So, don’t invest all your motivation and self-worth in a number that naturally changes.
We suggest only measuring your weight once a week if you must. Rather than weight, better ways to track your progress would be:
- Tracking body measurements – belly, hips, biceps, thighs…
- Taking before and after pictures
- Seeing how your clothes fit
- Your fitness performance, e.g times, weights, reps etc.
- How do you feel? Are you happier? Do you have more energy? More focus? More confidence?
There’s more to keto than just the number on a scale!
Beating a keto plateau
Before we look at how to overcome a keto plateau, we need to understand the mechanism behind weight loss. Despite popular belief, the cause of weight gain is not eating too much and exercising too little: it’s not a calories thing. So if not calories, what causes weight gain? It’s hormones and cell metabolism. A traditional Western diet – high in carbs and sugar – is an inflammation diet. Inflamed cell membranes hinder fat burning hormones from entering the cell and doing their job and weight gain in one result.
Hitting a weight loss plateau is virtually guaranteed. Yet weight loss plateaus are not unique to keto and, of course, you will come to a point where further weight loss is not possible or healthy for you. Assuming you are not at that point yet, here are five ways to break through a keto diet plateau. (These tips are not just quick fixes but are designed to be sustainable and to work over the long-term).
How to overcome a keto plateau #1: Introduce variety and change
It’s good to encourage adaptation in your body by creating change. Change can take the form of diet, fasting, lifestyle and/or exercise.
You may have hit a plateau because you are eating the same foods over and over again; or maybe you don’t practise intermittent fasting – if not, now might be a good time to introduce it. (A good fasting protocol for beginners is to fast for 16 hours and have an 8 hour eating window. Once your body adapts, try to go for 18 hours fasting, 6 hours feeding window.) Essentially, intermittent fasting means you miss breakfast.
Or perhaps you don’t exercise or you only do, say, cardio – perhaps try some HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) or some moderate weight training.
Your quality of sleep also plays a large part in whether you lose weight. Even a few nights of disrupted sleep has been shown to cause weight gain. So if you’re a “night owl”, consider changing your routine to go to sleep earlier.
If you’ve hit a plateau, just changing your routine in some of these areas may be all your body needs to (re)kickstart your weight loss.
How to overcome a keto plateau #2: Break your fast properly
If you’re fasting, you need to pay attention to how you break your fast. Some experts believe how you break your fast is as important as the fast itself. Why? Because your body is particularly sensitive to hormones and nutrients when in a fasted state so what you feed it at this time can either extend the benefits you get from fasting or undo all your work.
Here’s the wrong way to break your fast: eating a combination of carbs and fat. Yes, you’re on keto so carbs should be minimal but if you choose to have those carbs to break your fast, your glucose will spike and your insulin will be extra-efficient in your fasted state to move sugar into your cells where any excess is stored as fat.
Whilst not scientific, one way to think about it is that what you eat to break your fast is “worth double” for better or worse.
So what’s the right way to break your fast? A combination of protein and fat. Protein and fat will not cause your blood sugar and insulin to spike. Here are some options:
- Bone broth is a great option to break your fast – it has protein and fat and a good range of minerals and electrolytes.
- You can also break your fast with a fatty keto smoothie: use coconut milk, a keto-friendly protein (e.g. collagen protein or plant-based protein) and some butter.
- An omelette with avocados and green leafy vegetables. This is high in protein and fat and gives you added fiber
- Any type of clean protein, e.g. chicken breast, piece of steak
How to overcome a keto plateau #3: Stop overtraining
Any fitness enthusiast will tell you that you don’t get stronger during your workout, you get stronger during your recovery. And if you’re not allowing your body adequate recovery time, you are doing more harm than good.
Over-exercising actually prevents you from losing weight as it can stop your body burning fat. Exercise is a stressor. It’s a good stressor but a stressor nonetheless and that means cortisol levels in your body will increase. If cortisol levels get too high, your glucose and insulin levels also increase, promoting weight gain. If you overtrain – just like pushing any machine beyond its limits – you will start to see counterproductive results including:
- Intense fatigue
- Increased hunger
- Food cravings, especially for sweets and caffeine
- Depression, anxiety and stress
- Reduced sleep
- High cortisol
- Low thyroid hormone
- Other hormonal imbalances
- Increased insulin
Many of these contribute directly or indirectly to weight gain.
So, ease back on the exercise. Instead of hitting the gym every day or even every other day, introduce lighter sessions here and there. Professional fighters for example often talk of “active recovery” where they are no longer breaking their bodies down in training but may instead spend a session going for a walk/hike, doing some yoga or just stretching out their bodies.
Overtraining can create conditions in the body that make weight gain more likely so be sure to moderate your exercise. More is not always better.
How to overcome a keto plateau #4: Learn to manage your sleep and stress
Good health begins with good sleep but the vast majority of us have poor quality sleep. Most of your fat burning happens during delta sleep (the period between light sleep and deep sleep). If your sleep is low quality, you will not activate this sleep state and so you will burn less fat.
If you’re chronically sleep deprived, you’re going to feel pretty rough all the time. You will feel groggy, tired, irritable and all this will lead to increased cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress hormone and when cortisol is elevated, so is glucose and insulin. And, of course, when glucose and insulin levels are high, you will begin to store more fat and will likely see weight gain. Not only that, but stress can kick you out of ketosis without you even eating anything.
Now, imagine being chronically sleep deprived. You will have chronically high levels of cortisol. This will absolutely sabotage your weight loss efforts. It’s like driving around with the handbrake on. Even if you’re eating keto, if you’re not getting enough quality sleep, you could see little or no weight loss.
Ways to improve sleep:
- Quit all electronics an hour before sleep and no electronics in the bedroom
- Take a hot bath/shower
- Quit caffeine after 4pm
- Keep your room as dark as possible and on the cool side (a lower temperature encourages more restorative sleep)
- Keep a personal journal to write down any stresses of the day or thoughts for tomorrow
- Go for an evening walk to relieve stress
- Take a zinc magnesium supplement, melatonin and CBD
- Practise daily love and gratitude – these will reduce stress and aid sleep
How to overcome a keto plateau #5: Come out of ketosis and reset
While opinion differs, there are some who believe that you can be in ketosis for too long and this can cause a plateau. While the keto diet is safe as a long-term way of eating, if you’re talking about plateaus, it could be that you need to temporarily come out of ketosis, reset and revisit it a few days later.
If you’re in ketosis for too long, your body may slow down its fat-burning. Have you ever noticed how adaptable your body is? For example, remember a time when you first started a new sport. You will remember that your stamina sucked and you were gassed out within a minute or so. If you kept up that sport, you will find that your body becomes very efficient at that activity and you can go on for hours. It’s similar with ketosis. If you’ve been in ketosis for months (even years for some people), your body becomes extremely efficient at burning fat.
Your body is biologically programmed to survive and if you’re fat adapted, your body will know to become increasingly efficient with how it burns that fat as your survival depends on it.
So how do we come out of ketosis temporarily to reawaken our body to increased fat burning? You can try doing keto and intermittent fasting for 5 days of the week. Then, for one day of the week you can do a 24 hour fast and for the remaining day of the week you can have a “flexible” keto day. On your flex day you intentionally get out of ketosis by eating a max of 200g of healthy carbs, e.g. sweet potato, broccoli, nuts, leafy greens, avocado, asparagus, some raspberries… By deliberately coming out of ketosis then going back into ketosis, you prevent your body from becoming too efficient at burning fat.
And don’t worry, you can get back into ketosis in about 24 hour – not the days or weeks it took you to first get fat-adapted.
So, if you feel you’ve hit a keto plateau, give these tips a try to kickstart you back into weight loss.
SIMPLY FOLLOW THIS PLAN AND YOU WILL SUCCEED!
The 28-Day Keto Challenge is a well-crafted plan that gets you through your first month. You’re never left to figure things out on your own. Nothing is left to chance. This 28-Day Meal Plan guides you every step of the way! And it’s more than a plan. It’s also a challenge. It’s designed to stretch you and see what you’re made of. With our help, you will be unstoppable!