For most people on keto, weight loss is the easy part. Keeping the weight off, however, is the hard part. The keto diet is often described as the antidote for the vicious cycle of weight loss and weight gain, but it isn’t failproof.
Though keto can indeed suppress appetite and make fat loss easier to achieve, this may not happen for everyone at first. Fortunately, if you’re struggling with hunger or weight gain on keto, a simple lifestyle adjustment is often all it takes to get you back on track to the results you want.
The secret is to get more strict with your keto diet, right? Not necessarily.
In fact, cutting carbs down to zero and chasing the highest ketosis levels are rarely the secret to losing weight and preventing weight gain.
Ironically enough, the secret to getting the weight loss results you want is the same as any other diet (even those that are higher in carbs):
By eating in this way, you will feel more satiated while naturally eating fewer calories than before and burning stored body fat.
Though driving your ketone levels higher can help with hunger and weight loss, this should be thought of as the sugar-free icing on the keto-friendly cake, not the cake itself.
In a literal sense, we can use the keto cake metaphor mentioned above to understand weight gain on keto as well: Even a zero-carb cake can stimulate fat storage if it overloads your body with calories.
Although it can be harder to gain weight when we restrict carbs, it is still possible. This is because our bodies are designed to store any excess calories we eat, so we have sufficient energy to fuel us through a future famine.
This applies to most of the excess fat we eat from keto-friendly foods as well. Rather than letting it go to waste, our body will store it as fat.
In fact, the most common culprit of unexpected weight gain on keto is adding excessive amounts of butter, coconut oil, and other pure fats/oils to meals. Though these are staples in the keto kitchen, they are also surprisingly easy to overconsume.
Whether you hit a plateau or you start seeing the numbers on the scale climb, this doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Even if you’ve struggled with weight loss for decades, you can still lose fat and keep it off.
More often than not, there will be 2 or 3 simple adjustments we need to make to get back on track. To help you figure out why you’re not getting the weight loss results you want, we’ve included the most common keto culprits below.
To ensure that you burn your own body fat, it is crucial to consume less energy than your body needs (i.e., maintain a calorie deficit). If you add too much fat to meals, your body will burn that fat and store any excess energy it doesn’t need. As this continues, your body fat stores will grow incrementally.
A quick fix for this is to hold off on the extra butter and oil. Prioritize minimally processed whole foods instead, such as fresh meat/seafood, avocados, full-fat cheese, nuts, seeds, and olives.
These options are packed with much more nutrition than you’d get from pure fats and oils. As a result, you’ll feel more satisfied after eating fewer calories.
If you’d like to take a closer look at your fat intake needs and how to meet them on keto, check out our comprehensive guide on the topic.
Snacking on keto-friendly foods can be an effective way to prevent hunger between meals. However, it is surprisingly easy to overeat high-fat keto snacks when we don’t portion them properly.
The perfect examples of this are low-carb nuts, nut butter, and full-fat cheese. Though these snacks are healthy in moderation, an extra ounce or two can provide your body with enough fuel to prevent it from dipping into its body fat stores.
If you find over-snacking to be an issue on keto, try opting for lower-calorie and/or higher protein snacks. These tend to be more filling with fewer calories, helping you get through the day without hunger taking over.
Some examples of this include hard-boiled eggs, sugar-free deli meats, beef jerky, sardines, mackerel, pickles, and kale chips. For a complete list of ketosis-boosting snacks, check out our keto snack list.
That being said, it is also helpful to consider why you need a snack to make it through the day. The drive to snack in the afternoon is often caused by a nutritionally inadequate lunch and/or breakfast. It’s usually best to reduce or eliminate your snacking habits by eating well-balanced meals that can keep you full when you’re not eating. Increasing the amount of water you drink can also help tide over hunger between meals as you may just be dehydrated and not actually hungry.
No matter what diet plan you follow, the key to healthy, sustainable weight loss is consuming nutrient-rich whole foods. These include low-carb vegetables, full-fat dairy products, eggs, fish, pastured fatty cuts of meats/poultry, avocado, olives, low-carb nuts, and seeds.
When our meals are composed of these keto foods, we provide our bodies with plenty of healthy fats, protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. As a result, we are more satisfied and energized throughout the day without feeling the need to reach for a snack. (This will translate into more sustainable weight loss results in the long run.)
In contrast, if we rely on heavily processed keto ingredients and products as our primary source of fat — such as keto snack bars, low-carb desserts, fat bombs, and added fats/oils — we tend to feel less satiated, experience more hunger, and eat more food than our body needs.
Many of us naturally underestimate how much we eat.
In fact, this is a prevalent cause of arguably the most frustrating part of dieting: When you step on the scale after a month of eating the right foods, only to see that the number increased.
To prevent this from happening, we need to develop a better awareness of how much is too much. The first step to figuring out what “too much” means for you is calculating your macronutrient needs with the keto calculator.
With your macronutrient goals in mind, you’ll be able to adjust how much goes into each keto meal and track your intake until you develop a better sense of what your body needs.
For some, cheat meals can be an effective way of sticking to a keto lifestyle without feeling restricted. Though this means you won’t be in constant ketosis, it can help make weight loss more sustainable in the long run.
That said, there are two huge caveats to keep in mind when adding cheat meals to your keto lifestyle:
Alcohol intake can impair keto weight loss results in several ways. In fact, the extra carbs you’ll get from alcoholic beverages are less worrisome than the effects of the alcohol itself.
For example, even a zero-carb alcoholic drink will impact your body in the following ways:
Because of this, regular alcohol consumption can make any significant diet change more difficult and impair your weight loss efforts.
Cutting it out completely is generally the healthiest option, but you can still get the results you want with a moderate alcohol intake. In other words, when you do drink, keep alcoholic beverage consumption below two servings per day for men or one serving per day for women. And, of course, make sure those drinks are keto-friendly!
For a comprehensive list of keto options, check out our complete guide to drinking alcohol on keto.
A lack of sleep has been shown to increase appetite and cravings, making it harder to resist and restrict our intake of unhealthy foods. Being under chronic stress can have a similar impact as well.
Furthermore, chronic stress and inadequate sleep can cause our cortisol levels to climb, increasing the likelihood of storing fat around our midsection.
You can lower stress and improve sleep quality at the same time by adding meditation and/or journaling to your bedtime routine. While doing so, make sure you are limiting your exposure to bright lights and electronic devices as well.
Another simple way to improve sleep quality, reduce stress levels and get better weight loss results is to increase your daily activity levels.
One fascinating finding in the weight loss literature is that many of us will subconsciously reduce how much we move throughout the day while dieting.
This is thought to be your body’s natural energy-conserving mechanism, which is triggered whenever food is limited. As a result, we end up burning less energy throughout the day, making it easier to overeat and gain fat.
To counteract this, we must make a conscious effort to move more throughout the day. However, this doesn’t mean you have to force yourself to go to the gym every day.
In fact, going for a morning or evening walk, gardening, hiking, and/or using a treadmill desk is enough to increase your activity levels significantly.
Once this becomes a part of your keto lifestyle, consider adding resistance training, yoga, a workout class, or cardio workouts to your weekly routine a few times a week.
Since typical diets contain 45–65% of calories from carbs, decreasing that intake down to 5% for ketosis is a rather steep drop. It’s normal to have difficulty cutting out carbs when first adjusting to the ketogenic diet.
To help you reach your keto intake goals, consider tracking your carb, fat, and protein intake with an app like MyFitnessPal, Cronometer, or Carb Manager. After 1-2 months of doing this, you’ll develop a better sense of what you need to eat to lose weight and promote ketosis.
If you’d like to learn more about tracking carbs on keto, we’ve created a comprehensive guide that’ll help you get started.
If you’re having a hard time losing weight even after doing everything right, it’s a good idea to rule out any medical issues that may be preventing weight loss success.
Hypothyroidism, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), Cushing’s syndrome, and depression, for example, are some conditions associated with weight gain and difficulty losing weight. Your doctor can rule out these conditions with a series of tests.
Certain medications can cause weight gain or make it difficult to lose weight as well. If you recently started a new medication, make sure to check for side effects that may impact your weight (i.e., slowed metabolism, greater fluid retention, increased appetite, or increased body fat storage).
That said, regardless of what condition you have or medication you take, it is still possible to improve your health and body composition. By consulting with your health care practitioner and fine-tuning your approach, you’ll be able to figure out what works best for you.
Slow and steady will win the weight loss race.
Though eating fewer calories than our body needs is necessary for weight loss, this doesn’t mean we should aim for the biggest calorie deficit possible.
In fact, our bodies have developed several mechanisms to prevent excessive weight loss when calories are limited, including decreasing how much energy you burn and driving up your hunger and stress hormone levels.
When we rely on severe calorie restriction, we still lose weight, but more of it will come from muscle mass than we’d like. Altogether, this results in a “skinny fat” body composition that burns much less energy than before and a deprived brain that responds by increasing your appetite substantially.
More often than not, these factors overcome our best weight loss efforts, eventually causing us to eat more and gain the weight back.
To break the cycle of weight loss and regain, try aiming for a gentle calorie deficit that promotes a weight loss rate of 1 to 2 pounds per week. A 10-20% caloric deficit tends to the sweet spot for this.
Hunger is a complex phenomenon that can be influenced by a wide variety of lifestyle factors. In fact, several of the common culprits behind weight gain on keto can drive hunger as well.
Here are some of the most effective solutions for hunger on keto:
This list represents the keto lifestyle factors that will have the biggest impact on your hunger and cravings. By addressing them throughout your diet plan, you will significantly increase your chances of long-term, sustainable weight loss results.
That being said, what should you do if you are struck with a craving or hunger pang that is suspiciously hard to resist? Try one of the following keto-friendly hunger hacks:
Before putting everything together into a personalized keto plan, there are a few keto myths we must address. You’ll often find these myths being emphasized as common keto weight gain culprits.
Though rigidly focusing on them can lead to short-term weight loss, they simultaneously make those results less sustainable and increase the likelihood of gaining all of the weight back.
Though it is true that overeating protein can impact ketosis and weight loss results, we often underestimate how much protein is required for this to happen. In reality, most of us won’t come close to a protein intake that impairs our results.
Furthermore, by limiting protein intake, we only make dieting and weight loss harder to maintain. This is because protein is essential for curbing cravings, satisfying our appetite, and preventing muscle loss.
For a quick estimate of how much protein you need on keto, use our keto calculator.
Though being in ketosis is the hallmark of keto, this doesn’t mean you have to be in deeper ketosis to lose weight and keep it off.
Ultimately, the most important factor behind getting the results you want is formulating a healthy diet that you can turn into a sustainable lifestyle.
For some, following a strict keto diet will do the trick. For others, experimenting with different low-carb or keto variations may be necessary before finding a way of eating that works well for them.
Getting carbs as low as possible is not necessary for keto weight loss results.
Once you get to a carb limit that helps you maintain ketosis, there is no need to push your intake lower and lower. This can put excess stress on your body and make your diet unnecessarily hard to follow.
If your carb intake is already low enough and you’re still struggling with hunger or weight gain, apply one or two of the keto diet tips described in previous sections instead. Typically, the most effective strategy for both hunger and weight gain is to replace pure fats/oils with low-carb whole foods.
For example, instead of relying on olive oil, coconut oil, and butter to get most of your fat, think of these fats/oils as a garnish. Get most of your fat from fatty cuts of meat, fish, eggs, cheese, and other minimally-processed keto-friendly foods.
There is no secret to preventing weight gain, curbing hunger, and maintaining your weight loss results. Chasing higher levels of ketosis, zero-carb eating, and keto fat loss supplements will only make your keto diet less sustainable in the long run.
To get the results you want, you must address the lifestyle factors that are getting in the way. The most common examples of this include:
If you’re still hungry on keto or experiencing unexpected weight gain, these tend to be the most common triggers.
That said, rather than overwhelming yourself with the impossible task of addressing multiple culprits at once, focus on one at a time. Start with the easiest option for your lifestyle and build off of that momentum.
As you continue to make small changes, you’ll naturally begin to formulate a healthy keto lifestyle that helps you maintain your weight loss results for life.
If you’d like to see more tips, strategies, and tools to make this happen, we’ve included several resources below: