7 Possible Reasons You’re Gaining Weight on a Keto Diet (and What to Do About Each)
There are so many reasons to follow a Keto diet – improved energy, clear thinking and focus, and losing excess weight. But what if you find you’re actually gaining weight on Keto?
There are several common reasons people don’t lose weight – or even gain – when they try a Keto diet. So put on your detective hat and see which of these might be the root of the problem for you.
1. Emotional Stress
Stress can be short-term or chronic. As humans, we’re well-adapted to short-term (acute) stress. Our body naturally has a “fight-or-flight” response that protects us in dangerous situations.
The problem arises when we’re in crisis mode every single day. The demands of relationships, work, and life circumstances beyond our control can easily turn into chronic stress.
When stress is high on a regular basis your body increases production of cortisol, which makes weight loss much very difficult, even resulting in weight gain. (1) Stress can also increase cravings for “comfort foods,” making it harder to stick to an eating plan. (2)
But one of the worst things about stress is that it can kick you out of ketosis.
According to Registered Dietitian Dina Aronson, RD, “Under stressful conditions, cortisol provides the body with glucose by tapping into protein stores…This energy can help an individual fight or flee a stressor. However, elevated cortisol over the long term consistently produces glucose, leading to increased blood sugar levels.”
As blood sugar goes up, ketones go down, reducing your chance of benefiting from a Keto diet.
What to Do About Emotional Stress
The first step is to Identify the stressors in your life make a plan to change them. This may take some time, but you’ll probably find that you’ll start feeling better as soon as you’ve got a good plan.
If you’re dealing with situations that can’t be changed right now, work to improve your ability to tolerate stress. Strategies like meditation or yoga are perfect for this. Try the free Insight Timer meditation app to get started.
2. Sleep Problems
If you’re feeling drowsy or reaching for caffeinated beverages during the day, odds are you’re not getting enough sleep.
What to Do About Poor Sleep
To get better sleep, commit to turning off electronic devices for 2 hours before bed, and avoid stimulating activities or conversations as you’re winding down at night.
Monkey mind keeping you awake? Use that time in the evening for a brain dump: write down everything you’re thinking about, or to make a list of things you need to do tomorrow. It’ll free you up from the intrusive thoughts.
3. Not Planning Ahead
It’s easy to put our own needs last on your long to-do list. If we don’t make time to shop and plan our meals we can wind up reaching for less-healthy convenience foods instead.
Without planning ahead you might also find yourself relying on the same 5-10 foods every day. This can result in boredom and ultimately eating things that sabotage your plan and your weight-loss goals.
What to Do About Not Planning Ahead
Put aside a little time to plan your meals for the week. It will make it easier to stay on track.
When you cook, make extra so you have leftovers for lunch the next day. Block off time once a week for batch cooking multiple meals at once.
Having Keto snacks ready to go can be a huge help too.
4. Not Following Your Macros
Sometimes people count macros when they first start Keto but stop after a few days or weeks. Unfortunately, stopping too soon can hijack your plan, because you haven’t yet created new habits.
If you’re gaining weight on Keto you may be consuming too many calories, too much protein, or (believe it or not) too much fat. Keto is a high-fat diet, but too much of anything will derail your progress.
Then there are others who try to speed up their weight loss by under-eating their macros. Eating too little can cause a whole cascade of problems.
Functional Medicine Practitioner and Director of the California Center for Functional Medicine, Chris Kresser, L.Ac says that under-eating can cause thyroid problems and raise stress hormones like cortisol. “Chronically elevated cortisol leads to both leptin and insulin resistance, a disastrous hormonal state that can keep body weight high.”
Both overeating and under-eating can be fixed by following your macros more closely.
What to Do About Not Following Your Macros
Get into the habit of counting your macros – just for a while, until following a Keto diet becomes second-nature and you’re getting the results you want.
Keto Health Coach Lori Ballen recommends using a popular app for this purpose. “My assistant coaches and I use MyFitnessPal. I have the premium (paid) version because I like to save and copy meals. Most people in our keto coaching program use the free version. Others download other carb friendly apps.”
5. Exercise: Too Much or Too Little
We know that exercise is beneficial for overall health, but more is not always better. Highly intense or prolonged exercise can actually put stress on the body, causing hormonal changes that make weight loss difficult. (5,6)
Too little exercise probably isn’t making you gain weight. But if you’re sedentary and also not following your macros, you’ve got a recipe for weight gain.
What to Do About Too Much or Too Little Exercise
If you suspect your exercise routine is a little too intense, cool it down a little. Lighten up on the duration or the frequency and give your body more time to rest and recover.
If you’re a couch potato, it might be time to get moving! Adding some light exercise might be just what you need to nudge the scale in the right direction.
6. Hidden Carbohydrates
When we first start out on Keto things are simple – we get the food list, shop, and then figure out how to cook using fat again (yes!).
But after getting more comfortable with Keto it’s easy to drift off plan. Next thing you know, carbs are creeping into your diet from all directions – and from places, you wouldn’t expect.
Here are some of the hidden sources of carbs you may be eating.
- Condiments – ketchup, balsamic vinegar, salad dressings.
- Soup mix – often full of questionable ingredients, including sugar.
- Deli meat and ham – often contain added sugars.
- Starchy veggies – They’re nutritious, but too high in carbs for a Keto diet.
- Meatballs, meatloaf, hamburgers – Products made with ground beef often have high-carbohydrate ingredients mixed in. Don’t be afraid to ask!
- Drinks – Juice and sport drinks can seem like healthy choices, until you read the label and see they’re loaded with carbs.
- Nuts and nut butters – some nuts are very high in carbohydrates. Peanut butter can be fairly low in carbs, but has other issues that can slow your progress. It’s best to avoid.
- Fruit – Be sure to stick with lower-carb fruits and count them in your macros.
- Protein bars – Something can be “healthy” and still have too many carbs for Keto. Learn to make your own so you control the ingredients.
- Sugar alcohols – They’re not carbohydrate free, even though they may be labeled sugar free. Some sugar alcohols are fine, in moderation.
- Eating out – Choose dishes that are simple and obviously Keto friendly. It’s hard to wrong with meat and green veggies, hold the potatoes.
What to Do About Hidden Carbs
You can also consider using an exogenous ketone supplement to bridge the gap when you know you’ve eaten something that will kick you out of ketosis. It may give you the lift you need to get back on track quickly.
7. Food Sensitivities
You’ve dialed in the self-care and macros, you’re planning for success and your diet is free from hidden carbs. But you’re still not losing weight, or worse, you’re still gaining.
You might have a food sensitivity.
Food sensitivities are not the same as allergies. When someone with an allergy is exposed to the offending food, they’ll typically develop symptoms within minutes – a rash or itching, or even an anaphylactic reaction, like breathing problems or fainting.
Sensitivities to foods have more subtle symptoms, often the things we attribute to “getting older,” like brain fog, joint pain, or fatigue. Other symptoms can include anxiety or depression, asthma, or rashes. The body’s reaction is often delayed by hours or even days after consuming the food.
According to Dr. Christine Maren, D.O., “Hidden food sensitivities are a real problem. Recurrent exposures to unknown food triggers can inflame the gut, activate an immune response, and cause chronic underlying inflammation.”
When the body is inflamed, cortisol increases, making it much easier to gain weight.
Food sensitivities are common and often involve grains, dairy, nuts, nightshade vegetables and spices, eggs, and soy.
What to Do About Food Sensitivities
Dr. Amy Myers, M.D., says, “The best way to discover your food sensitivities is to complete an elimination diet, which is where you eliminate the most common inflammatory foods from your diet and then add them back in one at a time to see if you have a reaction. It’s like getting to do your own science experiment on your diet!”
Eliminate the possible culprits for a month and add them back in one at a time. This process can point you in the right direction.
It’s no fun to find out you have a food sensitivity, but the good news is you may not have to eliminate it forever. Sometimes foods can be reintroduced after a period of time.
You Can Begin Losing Weight on Keto
Figuring out why you’re gaining weight may require a little detective work. Fortunately, counting macros, building better self-care habits and good planning will usually get you on track.
If you’re still having problems, you might have a hidden food sensitivity. Eliminate the common offenders for 30 days, adding them back in one at a time. Your body will thank you.