Can you gain weight on a ketogenic diet? Believe it or not, you absolutely can. You can be doing everything right and still see the numbers on the scale creep up. This usually only happens after a fairly substantial amount of weight has been lost or you just have a little more to lose.
So what is happening? There are several things we can look at to try to tweak to see if we can make a change but the main thing we need to keep in mind is that the scale isn’t the be-all-end-all when it comes to health. There are many things the ketogenic diet is doing for your health beyond weight loss so sometimes, you just have to trust the process and let your body do what it wants when it wants to do it. Believe me, I know how tough that is to hear because I just wanted the numbers on the scale to go down while I was losing but it’s important to be reminded that improving your health and losing weight are two different things.
Having said all that, there are some things you need to look at that might be causing your weight to creep up that you need to at least look at. You might just be one small change away from getting back to losing weight. Here is a list of things you might want to consider tweaking.
#1 You Aren’t in Ketosis
There is a difference between being Low Carb and actually being in Ketosis. If you aren’t making ketones, you aren’t in ketosis no matter how much bacon you are eating.
Solution: Measure Your Ketones
You don’t really know if you are in Ketosis unless you test. You can use urine strips or grab a breath meter but either way, if you want to know you need to test.
#2 Too Many Sweeteners
The problem with sweeteners is that we have a hard time knowing how different sweeteners affect our body. One sweetener in particular, Ace K, has been shown to not raise blood sugar but stimulate insulin secretion. That means you could have a Diet Coke and test your blood sugar and not see a problem but you are raising your insulin levels independent of blood sugar levels. As more science is done on this, we might find out that many sweeteners we think are benign are causing insulin secretion just because they are sweet to the taste.
Solution: Reduce or Eliminate Sweeteners
I know, this one is tough. All I can tell you is that for me personally I have started drinking my coffee black, reducing the number of “keto desserts” I eat to maybe one every few weeks and limiting the sweetener I put in my tea for dinner. I wish I could eliminate sweeteners entirely but not drinking sweet tea for dinner strikes me as unbelievably Un-Southern and as a Good Ole Boy, I really need to stay true to my roots here. I will say that after quite a bit of experimentation, I’ve learned that Sweet N Low and Liquid Stevia have very little effect on my weight if any at all.
#3 You Are Eating Too Much Protein
This is a common problem. I’ve seen people eat 4-6 eggs for breakfast or eat a big sirloin steak for dinner and see their blood sugar levels go up. Fortunately, it’s got 2 possible solutions and they are both pretty easy to do.
Solution: Eat Less Protein or Grow More Muscle
The first solution is just to eat less protein. If you eat steak, make sure it’s a fatty steak like a Ribeye. If you are eating eggs, cook them in butter, etc. The second solution is even better though. If all the protein you eat has a job to do, less of it will be converted to glucose through Gluconeogenesis so give that protein a job! What does protein do? A lot of things but the one you can most directly control is build muscle when you do weight bearing exercises. In short, lift heavy things.
#4 You Are Eating Too Many Calories
I don’t think the number of calories has a lot to do with losing weight in the beginning but it seems clear to me that there is a point where your body kind of naturally “settles” at a weight and the only way to get below that is to begin to restrict calories. To be clear, I think this is a long time coming and took me about 3 years to get there. Now when I want to lose weight, I primarily do it through fasting and portion control but I still eat a ketogenic diet
Solution: Remove Calorically Dense Foods from your Diet and/or Fast
The #1 food you should remove from your diet is nuts. From what I’ve seen, they tend to really cause weight gain. Remember that our ancestors didn’t eat nuts out of a can by the handful. When they had access to them, they first had to shell them to eat them. Have you ever collected a bushel of pecans and shelled them? I have and let me tell you, it is a labor intensive process. If you want to keep nuts in your diet, consider buying them in the shell and cracking them as you eat them. You will be eating them much more slowly if you do that. Barring that, don’t be afraid to play with fasting. I recommend reading Fung and Moore’s book on fasting first, then skipping breakfast or going to one meal a day.
#5 You are Eating Too Many Processed Foods
As the Ketogenic Diet grows in popularity, you are going to find more and more “keto friendly” products that have questionable ingredients. Have you see your average Adkins bar at the supermarket? I wouldn’t eat those things if you paid me. I have seen all manner of shakes and bars and chips and what not (Although I have to say that Epic’s Pork Rinds are pretty freaking awesome) and most of it is suspect.
Solution: Eat Real Food
I know, I know. You’ve heard this before but it bears repeating. Just eat real food. Pack your lunch. Make your own jerky. Take charge of your food scene and stop letting circumstance determine what you put into your body. Plan ahead and follow through.
#6 You are Still Very Insulin Resistant
This is especially true for the formally morbidly obese. Your body was so used to pumping out massive amounts of insulin every time you ate, it has trouble adjusting to this new way of eating. Just walking by a donut causes your pancreas to go to work just out of habit.
Solution: Don’t Cheat
I know that the concept of a cheat day or a cheat meal can be attractive but you might not ever be able to that. You might be one of the people that is so metabolically broken that you will never be able to eat bread again without gaining weight. I feel your pain because I’m one of those people. So don’t eat the bread. Your long term health is more important than short term mouth-pleasure.
#7 Your Medications Might Be Causing Weight Gain
There are a BUNCH of medications that list weight gain has a side effect, the most common ones being anti-inflammatory steroids like Cortizone.
Solution: Talk to Your Doctor
The only thing you can do here is to talk to your doctor and see if the two of you together can come up with a solution that won’t drive weight gain. You might just have to deal with the weight gain until you heal and then get back on the horse.
#8 To Much Stress/Too Little Sleep
Stress and sleep levels can absolutely affect stress levels and high levels of the stress hormone cortisol can force your body to put on weight.
Solution: Get More Sleep and Less Stress
The How-To for this is more detailed than I want to go into for this post but for sleep, I highly recommend Shawn Stevenson’s book, Sleep Smarter. As for stress, you can try exercise, yoga, deep breathing or just have less things to do.
#9 You Might Have a Thyroid Issue
This is something my wife has struggled with over the years and was recently diagnosed with Hashimoto’s. Your weight loss is driven by hormones and if your hormones are off, weight loss can be difficult
Solution: Talk To Your Doctor
Probably the only thing you can do here is to talk to an endocrinologist. You might also read the Paleo Thyroid Solution by Elle Russ to inform yourself about the issue at hand and possible solutions.
#10 You are Trading Fat for Muscle
Finally, a good problem to have! If you are doing a lot of weight bearing exercises, you might be putting on muscle faster than you are losing fat.
Solution: This isn’t a problem!
Don’t do anything differently! Keep exercising and let your body figure out for itself what it needs to do. Remember to measure your waist, hips, chest, and arms to keep track of how your body is changing.
Did I miss anything? Do you have anything to add? Let me know in the comments below!