I'm not losing weight on a ketogenic diet this time around. What gives?
May 20, 2015 4:52 AM   Subscribe

A low-carb, ketogenic diet has ALWAYS worked for me. Until now. After 6 weeks AND introducing exercise into the mix, the scale isn't budging. What gives?

I'm a 5'3" woman who weighed in at 150 when I was 26. I cut out carbs and sugar and dropped down to 116 by the time I was 28. Of course, I've gained some of the weight back, but, aside from a vacation in Thailand and the occasional weekend indulgence, I've stayed away from rice/potatoes/cake with success. I don't try to get into ketosis, but I make sure my diet consists mainly of green vegetables, good fats, proteins, nuts, full-fat dairy, etc. My two favorite foods are salad and scrambled eggs. However, I'm almost 32 and my weight has crept up to 133.

I would like to get pregnant in a few months and want to get my weight back down to 125 before this happens. 6 weeks ago I began limiting my carbs to under 20 and getting fair-to-dark purple ketostix (depending on the day). I've been eating anywhere from 1100-1500 calories depending on my level of activity. Three weeks ago I began an intense 45-60 minutes cardio/body weight training class that kicks my ass. It's a lot of burpees, jump squats, push ups that I can barely accomplish due to my currently pathetic level of fitness, but I can tell it's a good burn and I'm picking up stamina quickly. I'm sore after classes, which I'm attending 2x week (more when I sign up for the unlimited membership in another two weeks). Since the weather has gotten nice, I go on 10-30 mile bike rides on the weekends with my husband.

Nothing has helped my weight. Two weeks, the day after I attended an exercise class AND went on a 32-mile bike ride, my weight jumped up 3lbs. I lost my shit and cried to my husband, and we both decided to put away the scale except for weekly weigh-ins. But I just weighed myself this morning, and no success. I'm starting to feel like my scale lives in a funhouse world, because if it's this hard to drop a pound, then I'm doomed if I get pregnant.

Some factors:

1) I drink alcohol, mainly on weekends, though ketosis means I can't have more than 2-3 drinks a day without getting horribly woozy. On week nights I'll sometimes have a glass of red wine while reading a book. The weekday glass doesn't kick me out of ketosis for more than an hour because I will plan ahead and limit carbs elsewhere to accommodate it. On weekends I'm out of ketosis for 3 hours before dropping back in. Either way, ketosis has dramatically lowered my tolerance, which is good. I am not going to entirely eliminate alcohol from my diet unless I rule everything else out, as I'd like to (responsibly, moderately) enjoy my final child-free summer with friends.

2) Before mid-April, I was completely sedentary. I used to have a job that kept me on my feet all day, but switched to a very sedentary job in May 2014. The bike rides and the strength training class are very new to my routine.

3) My mother, sister and aunt have a history of hypothyroidism. I had mine checked in April by an endocrinologist, who said my numbers were fine (TSH = 1.03; T3 = 33.7; T4 = 6.0), though I do believe my T3 is low.

4) I use liquid splenda (zero carb) in my coffee each morning. This has never stalled me in the past.

5) I am TERRIBLE at drinking water, even when in ketosis when you're supposed to be thirsty. Yesterday it was a chore to drink an entire 33oz bottle of sparkling Perrier.

6) In general my macros are: 60-70% fat; 20-35% protein; 5% carbs (mainly from vegetables and small amounts of nuts and full fat Greek yogurt)

7) I'm on the low dose hormonal IUD, which is not supposed to cause weight gain in most women. However, I did get it at age 30 and that's when I noticed my weight creeping up.
posted by Hwaet to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I would cut out the alcohol. I never lose any weight low-carbing if I don't also do that...
posted by Namlit at 5:02 AM on May 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

One: strength training plus cardio can increase muscle mass at the same time that one loses fat mass, which can increase scale weight even while one's body composition improves. Scale weight is not reliable as an indicator of fatness when strength training. Especially since you're just starting to work out, this could be a major factor. Nobody's in charge of what you want for your body except you, but I consider it good to weigh more while looking and feeling better because of added muscle and lost fat.

Two: sleep is really important for fat loss and proper recovery. Messed-up sleep can negatively affect your progress in both fat loss and strength gain. It's something to check.
posted by daveliepmann at 5:04 AM on May 20, 2015 [7 favorites]

1) Regarding the alcohol, GO DRY FOR A MONTH, see what happens.
2) WATCH THE NUTS! They are sneaky snakes that add up to a lot of calories.
3) Are you TRACKING YOUR CALORIES? This is a must.
4) I'd really do away with the Splenda. I'm a Truvia (stevia) man, myself.
5) Water, water, everywhere, definitely, definitely drink.
6) If you use MyFitnessPal to track your calories and macros, add FIBER to the mix and make sure you're getting enough.
7) Do NOT focus on a number. IGNORE THE SCALE. Take a few before pictures now. Take progress pictures every few weeks. Compare the pictures as your body composition changes.

You need to realize that what worked in the past may not work now.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 5:21 AM on May 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I actually cut out alcohol for the entire month of January and gained 5lbs. Granted, I was not in ketosis nor was I exercising, but I tend to eat more when I'm not drinking. The nightly glass of wine helps me not snack, but yes, I should probably replace it with tea to be ultra-virtuous. In the past, alcohol has not stalled me. Maybe my advancing age has changed that. I am willing to cut drinking out, but I'd like to see if anything else can help me move the scale before I give up my last sweet months of whiskey sodas before getting knocked up.

I don't eat more than 2 servings of nuts a week, and maybe 15g of hard cheese 4 days a week, otherwise I'll overeat them. I track my calories on MyFitnessPal daily. I eat a LOT of fiber based on vegetables alone.

I *do* gain muscle like it's my job, so I'm measuring with calipers, though only started this last week. I'll keep measuring each week.
posted by Hwaet at 5:37 AM on May 20, 2015

Two other things in your diet that stick out: the "occasional weekend indulgence" and full fat dairy. Perhaps watch those a little more closely.

Other than that, introducing exercise might result in weight in the form of muscle mass, no? Perhaps not such a problem after all...

(I would count and track the carbs, not the calories, in any case [...matter of two fundamentally conflicting ways of looking at diet, it seems to me])
posted by Namlit at 5:55 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

How's your blood sugar doing? I used to lose weight on a keto/extremely-low-carb diet until my body decided it needed sugar and my blood sugar went up. Actually all kinds of wonky. No more weight loss. Even though no sugar and very little complex carbs were being consumed. I had re-introduce more carbs and figure it out from there. :/
posted by Neekee at 5:58 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I wouldnt cut out the few glasses of wine. This whole endeavour should be fun :)

I would go with the measuring instead of the scale to see if you are doing well. Your waist to hip ration might be interesting to look at to see some movement.

Otherwise, I think you shouldnt pay too much attention to wight but focus on:

1) Eating healthy (lots of vitames, some protein, little carbs) and eating *real* food (fresh produce)
2) Drinking enough water
3) Sleeping at least 7 hrs on average
4) Exercising (you could do a fitness test (as in endurance, strength, felxibility, balance) if you havent already and repeat it after 8 and 16 weeks of training and see if your scores improve)

All these will be a great preparation for pregnancy and are much better measures for health than weight. Just stick to it :)
posted by Fallbala at 6:00 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

You sound similar to me and this is what I do differently:

I don't try to start exercising and trying to lose weight at the same time. I think its better to lose the first 10 pounds, or whatever, and then introduce exercise- BECAUSE as above posters mention, it changes the meaning of the number on the scale to something unidentifiable. Is that number due to muscle? Fat? Success? Failure? Who knows!?

Exercise also changes my appetite... and since I am a numbers control freak, I like to know what I am dealing with- and that means taking things one thing at a time. Diet first, Exercise second.

And I CERTAINLY don't weigh myself after a big dose of working out, I have weighed myself after a hike before and been up 8 pounds! Its because all the little tears in your muscles fill up with water you retain and it doesn't dissipate for a while.

So.... I hope that helps. It can be sooooo upsetting to have these initial troubles... and as a pregnant woman who started out being 10 pounds over normal when I conceived... its a good goal to have, that being said- now that I am nearing the end, I have gained the exact right amount of weight despite eating tons of things I wouldn't normally... I believe that you will gain what your body wants to gain regardless. My point is not to be too freaked out about any of it!
posted by catspajammies at 6:05 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

How much caffeine are you taking in? You mention liquid Splenda in your coffee in the morning, but are you having one coffee? I did lose 80lbs through a program that really focused on drastically lowering my caloric intake and staying in ketosis, and found that any time I stalled, it was because I'd upped my caffeine intake.

Water is also key, you need to find a way to drink it and love it. Add lemon? Make berry, or cucumber water? 33oz is so not enough.

Finally, just a note: I've been where you are with respect to the 'losing your shit' over the scale, and I feel like you're beating yourself up pretty badly over a few pounds, which is not healthy to your emotional well-being, either. It can be more challenging to lose weight as you age, and at least my own experience is that there comes a time where you need to focus on being healthy and happy, especially if you're looking at trying to conceive in the coming months.
posted by meowf at 6:16 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you're dehydrated, you will retain water. This is doubly true if you've recently starting weight training as your muscles will hold onto water as the tissue repairs itself. Why not try challenging yourself to drink something reasonable, like 2L of water a day for the next week? I find it easier to remember to drink when I have something cold and ready to go, like a big jug of homemade unsweetened green tea in the fridge (if you use just a couple teabags for the whole batch, the caffeine level is pretty low). That might help the scale start moving.
posted by Yellow Silver Maple at 6:27 AM on May 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm going to offer some advice counter to the mainstream here: you are not NEARLY eating enough food to support your level of activity. Your cortisol is probably through the roof. 32 mile ride plus intense cardio on 1500 calories? That's crazy talk. Your body thinks you are starving it. Add more fat, see more gains.
posted by bfranklin at 6:55 AM on May 20, 2015 [18 favorites]

The thing that you need to do is eat less. I am sure you are very diligent with MFP but it is well-documented that people underreport their food intake. It is very easy to underreport/overeat on a ketogenic diet because the food is so calorie-dense. I'd drop the exercise because it tends to lead to increasing energy intake.

You also might want to join /r/keto and pick their brains.

Muscle gain is likely not a significant cause. A woman who is trying to gain muscle is generally going to top out at maybe a bit more than a pound per month. That's with squats and milk, not bodyweight exercises twice a week.
posted by Tanizaki at 6:58 AM on May 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

Try drinking flat water, not sparkling. The bubbles might be making you feel more full and it might be the reason why you struggled to finish off that bottle. You really want to be drinking two of those bottles each day, at least.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 6:58 AM on May 20, 2015

I do want to weigh in again on the caloric intake. I was assuming (hoping) that while you are tracking your food intake with MFP, you're also tracking your caloric output from the exercise you are doing, because otherwise I would strongly second what bfranklin notes above. You're going into starvation mode, which will definitely stall the scale and potentially have some really bad effects on your overall health, too.
posted by meowf at 7:18 AM on May 20, 2015

There's some surprisingly good tips in these articles:


Some of the less obvious ones here are not getting enough sleep and being stressed out.

Personally, I've had some very similar experiences and in my case the culprit was not eating enough while also working out. Sounds counterintuitive, right? But basically I was in a calorie deficit, which meant my body lowered its metabolism and wanted to store every bit of food I put in it right away. These two articles have a have a good, down-to-earth explanation of why that happens:



Key quote from the last one:

When someone reaches a fat loss plateau, the tendency is to keep pushing in the completely wrong direction – they eliminate all processed foods, reduce Calories, reduce carbs, work out more days a week, start taking fat burners – and that rarely if ever ends well. [...]

The issue is that if you keep it up, even mild Calorie restriction that doesn’t threaten your life (you’re not starving) results in metabolic adaptations that actually make it harder to lose weight. To make matters worse, once you regain lost body weight, it takes quite a while for these adaptations to reverse. Weight change models support the theory that these adaptations are predictable (at least in non-diabetics). [...]

There’s enough evidence to suggest that the longer you restrict Calories, the fatter you’ll end up when you go off your diet. The solution then is to only diet for short periods of time and spend most of your time focused on maintaining fat loss and staying the hell away from the adverse effects of Calorie restriction.

Finally, a very well-respected coach and nutritionist at a gym I used to go to says that it's very common to see overall weight stay the same while body composition changes (you build muscle while losing fat). He says this is especially true for women.

And this is exactly what I've experienced. I've lost maybe 5 pounds total since beginning my nutrition/exercise program in January, but boy do I have a whole lot more muscle and a whole lot less fat to show for it! And while the scale barely registers any change, the calipers show a world of difference.
posted by Questolicious at 7:24 AM on May 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

Also, nthing what bfranklin said.

32 mile ride plus intense cardio on 1500 calories? That's crazy talk. Your body thinks you are starving it. Add more fat, see more gains.
posted by Questolicious at 7:29 AM on May 20, 2015

I recently read The Good Gut by microbiologists Justin Sonnenburg and Erica Sonnenburg. It summarizes the latest knowledge of our gut micro biome and it just fantastic. They explain why we need Microbiota Accessible Carbohydrates (MACs) to have a healthy metabolism. You may want to see if you are getting enough fiber-rich vegetables, fruits, legumes and healthy grains.
posted by apennington at 7:53 AM on May 20, 2015

Lots of good advice here, but I'll reiterate the importance of drinking lots and lots of flat water. If you really hate it, make big batches of decaf tea (I've used hibiscus, decaf green, lemon ginger, etc.--all of those have enough flavor to keep me interested, at least for a while). A 2-quart pitcher in the fridge gets me going on it, and I find when I'm tired of a certain flavor, I want water instead. YMMV.

Then there's the alcohol. I hear you on the fun summer with friends bit, especially if you're anticipating a pregnancy. But here's my understanding (and experience, fwiw). A keto diet is meant to prompt the body to burn fat first, and even if dry red wine is low in carbs, it does demand that your body burn the ethanol first. In some cases, that simply puts ketosis on "pause" while the body dumps toxins, but with a keto diet, there's more fat being consumed, so hitting pause every weekend and here and there through the week while still taking in extra fats means those fats are waiting in line behind the ethanol. Just something to consider. Good luck!
posted by whoiam at 7:57 AM on May 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm a fat person with little success at weight loss, however the easiest weight I ever lost was in the first four months of breastfeeding. But, yeah, I wished I had exercised and been stronger before I got pregnant. It was difficult to find time to shower, much less exercise after the baby was born.
posted by puddledork at 8:29 AM on May 20, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you for answers so far. Just some further follow-ups: the weekend indulgences were how I ate in the past, but right now I am strictly following a low-carb regimen. No more bites of my husband's ice cream on Saturdays! I cut down caffeine to about 2 cups of coffee a week because it was interfering with my sleep. Since I limited caffeine, I drink a lot of herbal tea (with liquid Splenda, which I'm now going to nix) and get about 7-8 hours of sleep a night. I eat 4-6 servings of vegetables a day. I am definitely an anxious person, and emotionally prepping for a baby has made me more anxious. I try to take it in all stride. The red wine sometimes helps, as do exercise and therapy and reading at night. I do not think that three weeks into my new exercise regimen that my body composition has changed all that much, but I'm hopeful that will eventually be the case.

I am a religious MFP bookkeeper. I keep a scale at my office and on my counter top at home in order to weigh EVERYthing. We cook whole foods and eat very few processed-anythings, so I doubt the culprit is hidden ingredients.
posted by Hwaet at 8:54 AM on May 20, 2015

Like everything, YMMV, but I've dropped a substantial percentage of body fat and inches eating keto, and lifting, while the scale's stayed within the same 10-pound range for months. I find the scale to be only useful for noticing just how much water weight I retain when PMSing, and a measuring tape is infinitely more useful for me. You might be in the same boat.
posted by culfinglin at 9:20 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

In re: the weight loss, I have a friend who did a similar overhaul and found that she needed more calories to fuel the high-intensity workouts. When her body was convinced that she wasn't in Terrible Survival Mode, she lost weight quite easily.

But this:
>I lost my shit and cried to my husband

For the very small amount you are eating, the very major increase in high-intensity activity, and the strong emotional reaction over small day-to-day margin-of-error changes with no mention of feeling better or stronger, I'm kind of worried about you. Your current BMI is in the normal range and I haven't seen any literature indicating change in fertility within the range you describe. This kind of sounds like you want to start a family right away but have made an arbitrary line which needs crossing first, and are getting super stressed about that. Be healthy, toss the scale, start trying for a child when you want to.
posted by tchemgrrl at 10:44 AM on May 20, 2015 [13 favorites]

Be healthy, toss the scale, start trying for a child when you want to.

1000% agree with tchemgrrl on this. Stress does a lot of bad stuff to our bodies, and I wouldn't discount its role in your current frustrations. It could be worthwhile to take a few steps back and examine your motives: why do you want to lose these pounds? Will your quality of life increase proportionally to the effort you're putting in now? What is your quality of life like today?

This could be one of those watched-pot-never-boils situations, where your micromanaging is harming both your progress and your perceptions of it. I'd dial it back a little--keep eating healthy foods, keep exercising, keep spending good time with your husband and getting 7+ hours of sleep per night. Even for just a week or two, don't worry about the other stuff. Drink more water and don't be so hard on yourself!!
posted by witchen at 11:00 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Use measurements instead of the scale. If you're below 20g carbs/day and eating at a 20% TDEE calorie deficit, you're losing fat. Period. The scale is a very poor measure of fat loss. Exercised muscle holds on to extra water in order to facilitate repair and recovery. Your body will hold extra water for lots of reasons, and this is especially true for women because of hormonal cycles. Your scale is distorting your fat loss progress. You're certainly at a healthy weight for pregnancy now. There's no reason for you to be so anxious.

I eat keto and have used it for weight loss. There have been months where the scale went up and down the same 3-5 lbs. Meanwhile, I dropped a pants size, dropped a belt notch, clothes suddenly turned baggy, etc. My body composition was absolutely changing and my body was absolutely losing fat. But, the scale didn't show it. Again, the scale is a poor tool for a complex situation that involves recomposition, water weight, waste weight, and exercise. Stay calm, remove the scale from the situation, and keep going. You're doing fine.
posted by quince at 11:59 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Low carb diets can trigger hypothyroid which can stall weight loss. You should keep your carbs at something like 120 grams or above per day to avoid this. Even if your thyroid numbers were OK according to your doc in April, that doesn't mean they are OK now. Also, thyroid issues are complex and those particular numbers may not tell the whole story. Especially with your family history, I'm suspicious that you might be harming your thyroid function by continuing on this diet.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 2:16 PM on May 20, 2015

Google "low carb golden shot." It's not an uncommon phenomenon, especially among women, to find that low carb works best the first time. Subsequent attempts require stricter adherence and eventually even the strictest attempts result in little or no weight loss.
posted by Barnifer at 5:38 PM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just popping on one more time to second the idea that you should toss the scale and try for a baby when you're ready. I am JUST like you it sounds and this is what I have learned about weight and pregnancy: your body will have a set point and there is nothing you can do about it. I desperately only wanted to gain 25 pounds because I was already 10 pounds over what I thought I should be. I also tried really hard not to gain more than a pound a week. Then I realized that it was better for me to listen to my body and let it do what it needed to do and I just ate whatever I felt I wanted. Sometimes that has been a McDonalds or a large brownie, other times I just wanted chicken noodle soup for a week straight.

There was also this pregnancy app I had that said you shouldn't eat any extra calories until the 3rd trimester and then only 2-300 more than usual. I would have had a miserable pregnancy if I had tried to stick to that. Some days I ate LOADS, only to be ill the next week and consume very little. Once for about a week I would drink a gallon of ice cold full fat milk a day, in addition to my food- it turns out my baby was busy building his skeleton! But in my control freak days the fact I had just consumed 5000 extra calories from milk in a day would have horrified me. But guess what? I still gained just the usual amount between doctors visits... about 4.5 pounds...

But to start it was hard to let go and accept that I wasn't in control. And I am a little mad at the baby center people who made that app to put that kind of pressure on pregnant ladies.

Between weeks 20 and 26 I only gained 3 pounds. The next month I gained 7... and I don't know if it was blood, baby, uterus, I have no idea.

Let go of being so emotionally attached to numbers before you get pregnant, because it will be much harder to deal with the unknowns of pregnancy weight gain if you don't have a handle on that anxiety.
posted by catspajammies at 2:42 AM on May 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

After an initial gangbusters level of success on Atkins in 2003, I never lost any more than a few pounds on LC after that.

(In other words, Nthing Barnifer) See also: http://lowcarbluxury.com/goldenshot.html
posted by getawaysticks at 7:37 AM on May 22, 2015

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