Have you ever been curious about keto and weight loss – what happens and when? Let’s clear up some confusion and get you on the path to proper weight loss!
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Keto and Weight Loss - What Happens and When
I’m going to go through what happens to the body as it transitions into ketosis and hangs there for a while. I want to do this in hopes of clearing up some misunderstandings.
What misunderstandings you might ask? Well, for starters the notion that you are losing weight due to fat loss in the first few weeks. That’s a big one!
Ok, so let’s go through the process of transitioning to keto.
I would venture to say that when the average person stumbled upon keto, their body is in a bit of disarray. Even sick or unhealthy. Not everyone, but most.
And skinny folks? I’m talking about you too. Unhealthy does not mean overweight. I'm not overweight but when I started keto, my body was very unhealthy!
In order to understand everything, let’s do a quick recap on keto and ketosis.
The Keto Diet
The ketogenic (keto) diet is a lifestyle that involves eating high fat, moderate protein, and very low carbs.
This is, unfortunately, counter-intuitive to what most of us have been taught our whole lives. Healthy fats are not the enemy. Sugar and processed foods are what you should be more concerned with.
The goal (in general) for the keto diet is to reach a state of ketosis by following the appropriate macros.
The term “macros” is short for macronutrients. Macronutrients are fat, carbohydrates (carbs) and protein.
There are general macros guidelines and then specific ketogenic macros guidelines. They are different for every person and I suggest using a reputable keto macros calculator to figure out your specific calculator.
According to generic ketogenic guidelines, your macros will be somewhere around 5% carbs, 20% protein, and 75% fat.
What is Ketosis
Ketosis is when your body burns ketones for energy.
This happens when your glycogen reserves (from eating carbs) have been depleted and your body burns fat. Ketones are a bi-product of burning fat.
A Ketogenic Lifestyle, when done correctly, will result in a state of ketosis. Fasting for extended periods of time can also result in ketosis.
Basically, our bodies can be sugar burning machines or fat burning machines. We want them to be fat burning machines when eating keto, although they prefer to be sugar burning machines because it is easier to burn sugar.
According to DietDoctor.com, the many benefits of ketosis include:
- Higher mental focus and clarity. Our brains rather enjoy ketones.
- Reduction in hunger.
- Reversal of Type 2 Diabetes.
- Improvement in conditions such as acne and PCOS.
And, of course, weight loss!
There are standard steps to follow to reach ketosis. Remember that every *body* is different and you will need to calculate your exact macros as we’ve talked about:
- Stay below 20g of net carbs per day.
- Try to hit your protein goals each day.
- Don’t worry about fats too much as there is no need to hit your fat goals if you are at a minimum above 50g per day (or the appropriate level for your body).
- Drink enough water.
- Start intermittent fasting, if you choose, to jumpstart ketosis and help burn glycogen reserves.
- Always practice a regular exercise routine.
Now, the key here is this: When you are entering into ketosis, your body is burning up your glycogen stores. When this happens, water is released. So in the first week or so of the keto diet, a lot of water weight is released. This is largely misunderstood by most.
Alright, enough background info, let’s get into the transition and what happens to our bodies with respect to weight loss.
Now, as I said, a sometimes large amount of water weight is released as one drastically lowers carb intake. If you are truly eating under 20g of carbs, it is almost impossible to NOT see a few pounds lost.
Again, it is water weight only for the most part.
It is science. If you no longer have the glycogen stores, you no longer have the holder of water.
So when people say “ I’ve been doing strict keto for 2 weeks, am eating less than 20g per day and haven’t lost a pound”. I immediately question that because it is close to impossible.
Often I ask what they use to track their macros and they say “Well, I’m not tracking but I know I’m under 20g”. That is the point at which I KNOW the answer.
Carbs hide everywhere. If they are not tracking, then they probably don’t know how many carbs are in garlic powder or onion powder. A lot more than you might think.
So if your weight has not decreased in the first 2 weeks, then I strongly suggest you re-evaluate your intake. If your carb intake is low enough to where your body is eating up your glycogen stores, you WILL release water.
Here is where it gets interesting. After the initial water weight loss, then we continue on in the healing stage as our body enters ketosis and gets acclimated.
Remember ketosis is not just about weight loss, it is about healing as well.
The next most common thing I hear is this “I lost 10 pounds the first 2 weeks and now I’m in week 4 and am not losing any more weight”.
Here is where I break the bad news. And that is exactly what we just talked about.
Meaning, they did not, in fact, lose weight – meaning FAT. They lost water due to the decrease in carbs. That’s the easy part. NOW is the hard part.
Now is when calories matter more than ever before.
People are told not to count calories on keto. That is true, but there is a slight misunderstanding of that statement.
You inherently count calories when you count macros. That is because there are 4 calories in every gram of protein and carbohydrate and 9 calories in every gram of fat.
The fundamental principles apply and if you are not in a calorie deficit, you WILL NOT LOSE WEIGHT.
Releasing water is easy. Releasing fat is harder.
So if you stopped losing weight after the release of water, you aren’t technically stalled because you haven’t started the fat loss process yet.
I know, I know. That might sting a bit.
Now, additionally, your body is healing and getting used to burning fat for fuel. It is not very efficient at burning fat.
YET, you will feel great, more energy, and will be ready to take life by the horns. Am I right?
Give yourself a little grace during this time if your weight loss is slower than it should be.
But also remember – it takes time to put on the weight and it takes time to release it.
If you are in ketosis, have a calorie deficit, and are following your appropriate macros – then you might want to head to the dr for a quick checkup. There can be other things at play like thyroid issues that can interfere with weight loss.
A slow thyroid does not mean you won’t lose. I have Hashimoto’s which is basically the autoimmune version of a slow thyroid. It can make road bumpy, but it won’t block it.
This stage can be a variable length of time. But it takes a few weeks to get truly fat adapted, sometimes longer.
So now you are a fat burning machine. Your weight should be falling off (at a healthy pace, of course) and you should be feeling good!
Here is where you might start to see some stalls or plateaus on occasion.
Let’s be clear though. A weight loss stall is not when you haven’t lost in 4 days. We are talking like 6 weeks or so here. Give or take.
Check out Episode 26 where we talk about breaking the weight loss stall.
RELATED - Top 4 tips for breaking through the keto weight loss stall
What is most important from there is the top 4 things that interfere with weight loss.
- Exogenous ketones. If you are taking them, then your body doesn’t need to burn YOUR fat to create them.
- We all know stress interferes with weight loss. It sucks, but it’s the truth.
- Improper food choices
- Not moving your body. MOVE YOUR BODY PEOPLE!
Now, what do you do about it? Besides moving your body each day, that is?
- Carb Up Day. Not a cheat day, but a higher healthy carb day. The benefit of a carb up day includes keeping your metabolism revved up, it helps with weight loss stalls, it helps with muscle building, and a personal one – it has helped with my Hashimoto’s. Read more about the Benefits of a carb up meal and check out my Healthy Carb Up Meal!
- Intermittent Fasting. This is a great way to jump start weight loss again as well as clean up your body. I LOVE Intermittent Fasting.
- Increase water
- Decrease stress
Whew! Ok, so that is it, folks. The main point I wanted to get across is the fact that if you are doing keto right, you will lose water the first 1-2 weeks and then steadily continue losing.
You may have stalls and that is normal. But I have some tips for working through it. But a stall is NOT the case when you’ve only lost water and haven’t started the fat loss process.
Commit. Have patience. Give grace. Succeed!