There are plenty of case studies, impressive before and after photos, and even controversy surrounding the ketogenic diet's application for weight management and fat loss.
Maybe you've read Tabitha's story, who lost 10 pounds in just 30 days on the Keto 30 Challenge and 60 pounds overall. Or maybe you've followed along with Josie's keto weight loss journey, who lost over 80 pounds on keto without even exercising:
But then you hear conflicting opinions, like Jillian Michaels, saying keto doesn't work.
We're going to clear up the confusion and answer the big questions: how much weight you can lose, how fast you can lose it, and who can lose weight with keto. While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, it’s helpful to know the following:
- The individual factors that can impact your weight loss
- How much weight, on average, you can expect to lose during your ketogenic journey
- Ways to optimize your weight loss
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Benefits of Weight LossBefore looking at what kind of weight loss to expect on the ketogenic diet, it’s helpful to touch briefly on the major benefits of weight loss in general. Losing weight will help you look and feel better, but there is much more at stake. Understanding what is at stake will help you persevere when the diet becomes tough and cravings kick in.
According to the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, more than two-thirds of American adults are overweight, which means they are more likely to suffer from a number of weight-related health issues:
- Osteoarthritis -- The more body weight you carry around with you, the more strain you experience on your joints and in the cartilage that protects the ends of your bones. This causes pain and stiffness, especially as you get older.
- High Cholesterol -- Those who are overweight and obese tend to have high levels of LDL (the bad kind of cholesterol) and lower levels of HDL (the good kind of cholesterol). This increases the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
- Liver Disease -- If fat builds up in the liver, it can cause major liver damage. Doctors say those who are overweight are much more likely to develop cirrhosis, which could shut down the liver completely.
- Cancer -- While we can’t say that being obese or overweight causes cancer, consistent evidence indicates that higher levels of body fat are associated with increased risks for certain types of cancer, including breast cancer, kidney cancer, colorectal cancer, and endometrial cancer. In fact, overweight women are two to four times more likely to develop endometrial cancer (a type of cancer that begins in the uterus).
- Type 2 Diabetes -- Belly fat is linked to insulin resistance, which means it inhibits your body’s ability to take glucose out of the bloodstream and use it for energy. This causes your blood sugar levels to rise which could eventually lead to diabetes, a disease that affects your heart, eyes, nerves and more.
What Factors Impact Ketogenic Diet Weight Loss Results?Let's say you were to start a diet, and you had about 30 pounds to lose. You stuck to the diet plan closely for the entire month, and only indulged in your favorite sweet treat once, on your anniversary. Even then, you chose a low-carb, keto dessert (no-bake keto cheesecake, anyone?).
You ate at a caloric deficit and made a point to move your body daily, whether for a quick walk or hitting the gym or yoga studio.
In this scenario, you'd lose weight more rapidly than Jennifer. Not only because you stuck to your keto meal plan (though that's an important factor). But also because of the following factors, and then some.
#1: Your Current WeightTo lose weight, you need to be in a caloric deficit which means you need to burn more calories than you consume.
Your current weight is the number one determining factor for how fast you’ll be able to lose weight on keto. This is because the heavier you are, the higher your metabolic rate is (your ability to burn calories in a given day). Keto-ers with more weight to lose typically lose weight faster and more easily in the initial stages than those who don’t weigh as much.
#2: Your LifestyleYour lifestyle encompasses:
- How much sleep you get
- How much water you consume in a day
- The quantity and quality of the micronutrients and minerals you're taking in
- Your activity level
- Your occupation
#3: The Quality and Quantity of SleepSleep is crucial for weight loss. According to Dr. Craig Primack, a member of the national board of directors for the Obesity Medicine Association, “People who sleep less than seven hours per night tend to have slower metabolisms,” which means they aren’t burning as many calories as they could be.
This has a lot to do with your body's hormonal balance and response, and how micro and macronutrients are used in the body.
#4: How Closely You Stick to KetoSome research has shown that those who stick closely to a ketogenic diet to the extent that their bodies enter a state of ketosis, which is when your body begins to burn fat for fuel instead of carbs (glucose) lose body fat more rapidly than those who do not, but still stick to the same caloric deficit.
How Much Weight Will You Lose on Keto?The good news for those interested in the ketogenic diet is that it is an extremely effective method for weight loss for a number of reasons:
- It turns your body into a fat-burning machine
- The high-fat nature of the diet is more satiating, which means you’ll get fuller faster and stay fuller longer. One of the reasons people love keto is because they don’t feel hungry or deprived even though they’re eating fewer meals and consuming fewer calories.
- You’ll feel more energized, which will do wonders for your ability to exercise more efficiently. Many people also report having improved mental clarity and focus while eating keto.
Phase 1 of Weight Loss on KetoTime: Weeks 1-2
Anticipated Weight Loss: Rapid weight loss - up to 10 pounds (of water)
As you start removing carbohydrates from your body, your body will begin using the glycogen stored in your liver and muscles as its primary fuel source. This is exactly what you want, because once your body gets through the glycogen, it will start burning fat instead of glucose. And when this happens, you’ve made it to the holy land: ketosis. We’ll talk more about this in Phase 2.
During this first phase, people can expect to lose anywhere from 2 to 7 pounds of water weight. Some people may even lose up to 10 pounds! Studies indicate that each gram of glycogen in human muscle is bound to about 3 grams of water. So, as your body burns through the glycogen, it also rids your body of water. Even though you’ll be losing mostly water weight in these early stages, this is a great sign that you are on your way to achieving ketosis.
It is important to note that while you’re in this first phase, you’ll want to make sure to drink extra water to prevent yourself from becoming dehydrated. Additionally, you may also notice flu-like symptoms -- nausea, vomiting, tiredness, and maybe even some irritability. This is what people call the keto flu and could last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Don’t fret. This is simply a sign that your body is getting adjusted to a new fuel source i.e. transitioning to fat-burning mode.
Phase 2 of Weight Loss on KetoTime: Weeks 2-4
Anticipated Weight Loss: Average weight loss - 1 to 2 pounds per week
After the initial drop in weight due to water loss, your body will then begin to adapt to using fat as its main energy source. At this stage, you’re becoming “fat adapted.” This is the point in the process when you achieve a state of ketosis, meaning your body switches from using glycogen as its fuel source to using fat. When your body starts burning fat for energy, it produces ketones (also called ketone bodies). You can test your body’s level of ketones to determine whether or not you’re in ketosis.
During this fat-burning stage, you can expect to lose a consistent 1-2 pounds per week. You’ll also begin to feel less hungry in this stage because the fat you’re consuming will make you feel more full. This will give your weight loss process a huge boost because you'll have an easier time eating fewer calories.
Phase 3 of Weight Loss on KetoTIme: 1-3 months and beyond
Anticipated Weight Loss: Slower weight loss - potentially 1 to 2 pounds per week
Once you’ve gone into ketosis, you’re going to feel like you’ve reached enlightenment. Well, almost. You’ll definitely feel like you have more physical and mental energy and endurance, and any carb cravings you may have experienced in the beginning will disappear.
In this phase, you may continue to lose 1-2 pounds per week, or it could slow down. If your weight loss slows down, that’s okay! Remember, as you lose weight, your metabolism will slow down a little as well. Your caloric needs will also lower, which means you’ll have to eat less to maintain your deficit. Stick with it. The CDC suggests that people who lose weight gradually and steadily at a rate of 1 to 2 pounds per week are more successful at keeping that weight off.
What if You’re Not Experiencing Weight Loss on Keto?The ketogenic way of eating is an extremely effective weight loss method, but every person is different. Don’t compare yourself to the drastic before and after photos you see online. If you don’t experience the weight loss you’re seeking, stay positive and make sure you’re following these tips:
- Watch out for hidden carbs -- Carbs are everywhere, especially in processed food. If you’re consuming more than the recommended amount of carbs (5% of your calories), your body will revert to burning those as opposed to burning fat. Try to stick to wholesome, unprocessed foods and be very careful about what you’re putting in your body. Read the nutrition facts on all your food and use our carb counter to help you monitor your carb intake. Know the difference between net carbs and total carbs. Net carbs = total carbs - fiber - sugar alcohols. To achieve and stay in ketosis, most people have to keep net carbs around 25 grams per day.
- Don’t eat too much protein -- In addition to limiting your carb intake, you need to limit your protein intake as well. You should aim for about 20% of your calories to come from protein. If you eat more than that, your body will turn the excess protein into glucose in a process called gluconeogenesis. Your body will then try to burn this glucose off instead of fat and will kick your body out of ketosis.
- Make sure you’re in ketosis -- To reach your optimal weight loss goals, you must stay in ketosis. The nice thing about the keto diet is that you can measure whether your body is in ketosis by measuring the ketones being produced. For an in-depth look at the different ways to measure your ketones, check out our guide here.
- Keep moving -- In addition to ketosis, the best thing you can do for your weight-loss journey and your overall health is to get moving! It’s extremely easy to wake up, go to work, sit at a desk all day, come home, and then sit on the couch for the rest of the evening. But when you do this, you aren’t burning calories like you should if you want to lose weight. For best results, take up a combination of resistance training and cardio. Building muscle will give your metabolism a boost since muscle in your body burns more calories than fat, and cardio will further help you burn calories. And even if you don’t want to go to the gym or get outside for a run, try to get in a 30-minute walk 3-4 times per week. A 30-minute walk at a brisk pace can help you burn about 150 calories. Plus, working out will boost your mood and help you stay motivated on your health journey.